Last week was the 2016 Pass Summit, and this was one of the few times that PASS did not provide a large party for the attendees on the Thursday night. That brought back memories as my wife and infant son attended the first summit with me in 1999. We all went out, well, actually my family indulged me, to Comisky Park in Chicago on a cold, October night to catch the last White Sox game of the season that year. I enjoyed it, though I can’t speak to my family or the other 300 people that showed up that night (the White Sox weren’t very good that year).
While there were many vendor parties, including the #RedgateRocks one from my employer, those parties only serve a small percentage of the attendees. I’m sure many technical people end up being “that guy” and go off on their own. That’s easy to do, and something I’ve done many times in my career, especially when I was younger. To give people an alternative, Andy Warren and I set up a #sqldinner meetup.
We had no idea what to expect, and in the afternoon, we hurried to set up a few signs.
We had recruited a few volunteers to help us organize people. The idea was that we’d get people to show up in the lobby of the convention center, ask the to write 3 topics on a card (technical or not), and then our volunteers would help them find 4-5 other people they could go to dinner with.
That’s it. Find someone to spend an hour with that you might enjoy.
As people wandered down, we got them to talk in groups and look for a group with some common interest. Andy held people in the area for a bit to build a little crowd and then we sent them off. We had cards with restaurant names on them, to try and encourage people to spread out to a variety of locations. If everyone had gone across the street to the Cheesecake Factory, the wait would have spanned hours.
I think things went well, and we ended up sending lots of groups out together, most of them having met their companions for the first time that night. We heard back from a dozen or so people later that night or Friday that they really enjoyed themselves.
This was an experiment for us, and we had no idea of 20 people or 200 would come. The result was better than expected.
We had a large crowd. I never did a count, but at one point most of the lobby between the escalators and the lower area was full of people. My conservative estimate is that there were over 300 people there, but it could have been more. Andy and I have had success with some of these events, and they tend to spiral slightly out of control. In a good way, but larger than we expect.
The location was great. About 50-70 people came down between 5:30-6, but when the last sessions ended, hundreds of attendees were coming down the escalators. Scott Gleason and Ted Stathakis were very helpful in holding up signs at the bottom of the escalator and encouraging people with no plans to come meet others. I think this really contributed to the size of the crowd.
The idea of having people list a few topics was great. While there were attendees that never did more than carry a card at their side, others used this as an ice-breaker to ask others what they were interested in. Some other people walked around looking for those with topics they might like.
Things to Work On
These aren’t bad things, but items that need help.
First, the restaurants. My handwritten cards got lost in the crowd, and we hadn’t disseminated the information to enough volunteers. We really need a way to display a list of restaurants in a highly visible way, perhaps on a large whiteboard or on a wall. We went with just names, and certainly I know most people can use their phones to look up details, but I think we should have listed the name, price, and a short caption of the type of food. This would help people decide where to go. I’m thinking little tear-off strips at the bottom that might let us manage load as well. Tear off a name and walk away with a group.
We didn’t train the volunteers that well. Partially because of time, partially because we weren’t sure how this would go and wanted to experiment. In the worst care, everyone would just walk away and find a place to eat.
However, that’s what they would do anyway.
No great risk here, but next year I’d like to have a few people pitching the idea to attendees, and others that had specific goals of matching people up. Then a few that might manage the restaurant selection. I envision a bit of a workflow with volunteers.
The space was great, but it needs more signage, and organization so that we can get groups together and send them to a spot for restaurants, and finally a picture location. Doug got some great shots, and I can’t thank him enough. It would be easier if we organized this a bit, and I’d love to see this as part of the montage before the Friday keynote.
The other thing is that I didn’t get my own dinner. Between this, Game Night, and the #RedgateRocks party, I didn’t get anything to eat until I returned to my hotel around midnight. Fortunately, I had a protein bar in my room.
I really hope PASS will do this next year as an official meetup. I’m happy to help, but getting some marketing behind the effort, organizing volunteers, and helping with some logistics like a large sign with restaurants would help.
I also think this is the type of thing PASS should be doing. Encourage and promote networking, giving attendees a safe, comfortable way to enjoy their time at the conference.