I read an announcement from the PASS organization this week that bothers me. I am less upset with the content than the manner in which it was presented, though I am not pleased with either.
Making SQL Saturday Sustainable was released this week, with a few changes to the SQL Saturday franchise. You can read the piece, but there are two fundamental changes being made for 2017 and beyond:
- [PASS] will be reducing this to amount to $250 and targeting those cities/locations that really need the financial support to grow, rather than well-established events.
- [PASS] is implementing a new 600-mile radius and concurrent event timing restriction to reduce competition between individual SQLSaturday events in Canada/USA.
There are comments on these notes at the bottom of the announcement.
Heavy Handed and Ham Fisted
I’m not sure why, but it seems that no matter who has been elected to the PASS Board of Directors seems to believe that they must make decisions without communicating, collaborating, or consulting the community. Decisions made year after year, on various topics (Summit location, pre-con speaker criteria, code of conduct, org name change, etc.) are announced without and sort of discussion or communication with the community they serve.
We are a community of diverse and disparate individuals. We won’t agree on many topics as a group, but we can discuss and debate them. We can have open and transparent disagreement about how to handle situations. Ultimately the board must decide (after a vote), but I’d hope and expect, really, I demand, that they solicit views before making decisions. It’s ridiculous in this age of instant communication, of no-cost publishing, of email votes, to not propose changes, gather feedback, and then make a decision.
Doing otherwise is as disrespectful as it is heavy handed.
This is not specific to this decision, but rather the way the PASS BoD has operated across a decade. I will say that I don’t think the Board makes all bad decisions. But they have made some that could have been avoided with a little more collaboration with those affected, us, the voters.
What about these specific decisions? Well, I have a few thoughts.
I do think these decisions are intended to slow the growth of SQL Saturdays. There is something to be said for this, in that sustaining fewer events for the long term is easier to manage and may not require replacing Karla Landrum as an evangelist. This benefits vendors, including my employer, but it’s not great for attendees. There will be fewer chances to learn, and smaller events in places that will never grow to 200+ people will likely die. Or move to a Code Camp/different model, abandoning SQL Saturday. That makes me sad. This appears to be less about growth, and mostly about controlling fewer events.
First, on the financial aspect. Let me say I know there are events that raise well over $20k (I have no idea what the record is). I also know there are events that have only raised $2-3k. The low level might even be lower. It doesn’t matter what you think about event cost, some events don’t need $500 and there is a limit to what PASS can support. I think not committing to funds for every event is good. However, what I’d like is flexibility.
Don’t set a hard limit, and note that events could get up to $500, but PASS reserves the right to not provide any financial support.
Now, the 600mi radius for events. Well, it’s not just 600mi, but also 600mi + a weekend either way. Let’s see 600mi from a few cities. Rob Volk tweeted this image:
This is 600mi from Nashville and Salt Lake City. That means that most of the US couldn’t have an event in a month with these two, at least not if there were a holiday weekend. Certainly some large cities are still here (major TX cities, NY area, etc), but most of CA, the West, the Midwest are all cut off.
Know what cities are within 600mi of each other? Vancouver and Portland. These two cities have held events book-ending the PASS Summit to allow speakers from overseas (or US speakers/attendees) to go to one or both events around the Summit. That’s now cut off.
There are probably others, but I will say this. The hardest part of getting an event going is the venue. There are more than a few organizers and events that have worked out deals with schools or other events. Baton Rouge and Oklahoma City? One might need to move. Those markets have had events in the same month, within 600mi of each other.
I have always thought the 400mi limitation was ridiculous. Events can happen within 400mi if they can manage to find speakers and raise funds. Rather than arbitrarily limit events by distance, why not limit by viability, or by fundraising?
I love that we’ve grown to over 100 events in a year. I think it’s great, but I also think the competition and effort put into making large events is crazy. I don’t like 10+ tracks. I don’t like 30+ speakers. I don’t like $20k spends that include fancy dinners.
The aim here is to train people, teach them something, inspire them, and expose them to options for SQL Server, including vendors. I get that vendors struggle to justify going to so many events. That’s fine. Make choices. I suspect vendors will support larger events and smaller ones will struggle.
I’ll put down thoughts, but smaller event, just be smaller. Don’t buy dinner. Don’t make shirts. Don’t try to provide a great meal for attendees.
Teach them. That’s what the event is about. Stop there and you’ll be fine. Everything else is nice to have, but in no way necessary.
And PASS, please, stop believing you need to earn your position and make hard decisions as a small group. Work with the community, with proposals, not decrees.