PASS virtual summit: thoughts, pre-con, and sessions

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As you probably already know by now, the 2020 edition of the PASS Summit will be held as a virtual event.

Drawbacks

That has drawbacks, of course. I’ve been to many PASS Summits in the past, and it’s always a great experience to be among so many fellow data professionals. To be surrounded by thousands of people that I know to have the same passion for data as I do, to face the same struggles in their daily work that I do, and to share my eagerness to absorb more information. The interactions in the hallway, the casual conversations during lunch, and the parties in the evenings … I’ll miss those interactions. And I know that PASS is working hard to set up as much social interaction during the event as they can. Just like SQLBits has done, and undoubtedly many other events. But no matter how hard they try, this part of an event will never be the same for a virtual event. I do encourage everyone to try out the social channels PASS is setting up, and I will do so myself, but I already know that even if they are as good as they can be, they won’t be up there with real, face to face, social interaction.

Another drawback specifically for me as a speaker is not being directly in front of the audience. Some speakers may see this as a benefit, it may help them, with the jitters. Not for me, though. I thrive on seeing my audience. I get so much energy from seeing a room full of people listening to me. I know how I adapt my pace, my tone, my entire delivery, to the silent feedback I get from the audience. Are people on the edge of their seat, paying close attention? Are people getting glassy eyed because I go too fast? Or are people dozing off, which probably means I should speed up a bit? I have done several remote presentations since the Covid-19 pandemic changed the world of conferences, and while I would not say that I got better at it, I will at least say that I start to get used to it. And I’m convinced that I by now get close to how I’d present on a live stage, but I’m still falling short a bit. And that will probably remain so.

Benefits

But let’s try to be a glass half full kind of person. PASS Summit going virtual surely has benefits too. Let’s look at those now.

One very obvious benefit for a virtual event is that I can attend from my own home. The trip to Dallas, where this year’s Summit was originally scheduled, would for me have been a 15 hour flight in, and a 20 hour flight back. In a cramped economy seat chair. While being served airline food. I’d spend the week in a hotel, on my own. Guess what? I do prefer the idea of “staying home, sleep in my own bed, next to my wife, and not have a jetlag” a lot more! And let’s not forget the total price tag of those airplane tickets and the hotel nights. All that money now remains nicely in my own pockets!

But there’s also a broader benefit. The in-person PASS Summit has always been a great opportunity for those who can afford to come. But as mentioned above, the total cost of flights and hotel adds up quickly. Add to that the added revenue loss for people who are charged by the hour, or the loss of vacancy days for employees who don’t get the time off from their employer. I am very much aware how privileged I am that I have always been able to attend the PASS Summit when I wanted that. A lot of people in the USA and in Europe have that privilege, but definitely not all. And for other countries, where wages are lower and travel to the USA is harder (due to distance or visa restrictions), only a minority of the data professionals will be able to come to a traditional PASS Summit. For those people, the virtual format is a huge benefit. There is of course still the ticket price (although those, too, have been reduced). But overall, I am sure that the virtual format has enabled hundreds, perhaps even thousands of people to sign up who would never have been able to visit in person.

And as a speaker, I am excited to have those people in my audience, and in the audience of all my fellow speakers. This is an unparalleled opportunity to share my knowledge and skills with people who I would otherwise never have been able to reach.

Time zones

As a virtual event, with an audience distributed over the entire globe, time zones become a unique challenge too. When everyone is in the same place, there’s little doubt as to the proper time for sessions, for lunch breaks, and for evening activities. But that cannot be taken for granted for a virtual event.

PASS has decided to grab this challenge and turn it into an advantage. Just take a look at the schedule (which, by the way, is still subject to change). The first two conference days have sessions running from 8:00 AM EST to 4:00 AM EST the next day; the last day runs from 8:00 AM EST to 2:30 AM EST the next day. There will be more sessions than in any PASS Summit ever before. You will of course not be able to catch them all, depending on your time zone and your personal life. But PASS fixed that as well. Session recordings used to be sold for an extra price; now on-demand access to all recordings for a full year is standard included in the admission price. So if a session you really want to see is scheduled in the middle of your night, exactly during that one important meeting your boss insists you to attend, or when your child needs help with their homework, you can simply watch it later.

My sessions

As you can see, I consider the overall balance of drawbacks and benefits to be positive. And as such, I am excited that I am allowed to contribute to the success of this event as a speaker. So here is some shameless self-promotion: a list of the sessions you really cannot afford to miss I will present.

Execution Plans in Depth

On Tuesday November 10, I will present Execution Plans in Depth. This is a full-day pre-conference session. I will present this session live, from 9:00 AM – 5:30 PM EST. (Note that the preliminary schedule on the PASS website lists a different time; this will hopefully soon be updated).

This schedule obviously doesn’t work for everyone. No schedule does. But that does not mean you cannot attend this session. It only means you cannot attend it live. The entire session will be recorded, and if you sign up for this session, you will get access to this recording at any time you want, until Thursday November 12, 7:30 PM EST.

The benefit of live viewing is of course that you can ask questions, and I will try to answer them right away. But if you can’t watch me live and watch the recording instead, you can still mail me your questions, and I will still try to answer them. Promised.

Finally, all those who attend this session and survive will receive a promo code that unlocks a 20% discount on all existing and all future videos of the SQLServerFast Execution Plan Video Training.

Execution Plans … Where Do I Start?

My first regular session of the PASS Summit, Execution Plans … Where Do I Start?, covers the basics of execution plans: what they are, where to find them, and the basics of how to read them. The session will be presented live on stream 4, on November 11, 8:00 AM – 9:15 AM EST.

Normalization Beyond Third Normal Form

And then, as if I haven’t hogged the virtual stage enough yet, I will return with yet another regular session the next day. On November 12, 8:00 AM – 9:15 AM EST, I’ll present Normalization Beyond Third Normal Form. In this session I will not only debunk the myth that the so-called “higher normal forms” are not needed. I will also prove that database design and normalization can be fun. And that there is really no need at all to spend an entire semester on this topic, despite what many universities make their students believe.

Conclusion

Whether you like it or not, conferences can only be held virtual at this time. And PASS Summit is no exception.

I think PASS is doing a pretty good job of organizing an event that minimizes the drawbacks of the virtual format, while capitalizing on the potential benefits. As such, I am happy to be invited as a speaker, and to deliver a pre-conference session and two regular sessions to this unique event.

I hope to “see” you there!

T-SQL Tuesday #131 – Join operators simplified

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