The Argument Against Attending The PASS Summit

Back in 2016 I wrote a post called The Missing Piece of SQL Conferences which provided a perspective of a few DBAs, at various points in their careers, and what the Summit could provide in helping them to move forward. Upshot is that I believed that there was a serious gap for senior level DBAs (this could be true of other folks working in the SQL space, but I focused on what I know best). The post came to mind this week when I was talking with my boss.

“Are you planning on attending Summit this year?” he asked. Instinctively I went to respond in the affirmative, but stopped myself and thought about it for a few seconds. I contemplated the things that I had learned over the last few years of attendance, the things that I could potentially learn this year. This provided me with a few questions that I needed to address as someone with > 15 years as a DBA working with SQL Server.

Does this provide a solid ROI?

Getting a return on the cost of attending is something that everyone should be asking themselves, be it paying for yourself, or your company paying the costs for you. You will probably be more concerned with this if you are the one paying, but realize that companies have a limited training budget and if you use that budget to attend Summit then there might be a different training opportunity that you miss out on that would be better for you. This is all good and well, but what constitutes returns on your investment?

Does this help me in my current role?

This is probably the biggest question, especially if attending on the company funds, as they will want to know if it’s going to make you better at your job.

As an old DBA I find that Summit does not provide much help here. There are aspects of SQL that we don’t use, and never will. We have specific performance needs and so are not “all in on the cloud”. We are a mixed version shop. We’ve spent a lot of time getting things to where they run (relatively) smoothly. How will attending Summit make me better and more effective at what I do?

I cannot see any way that it can. There really are not any advanced DBA topics. Those that do exist do not provide much in the way of real benefit because the amount of information that can be transferred over the course of a 75 minute session provides pointers on where I might want to dig. I can get more out of a well written blog post as I can step through the examples people provide, or go back and read it multiple times in an attempt to understand it.

“But there are 400-500 level sessions that last for 3 hours” is an argument against this. That seems valid, so I took a look at the 3 hour sessions from 2017 that were at a 400 or 500 level.

Conference Sessions _ PASS Summit 2017

If I were an aspiring data scientist then the R session might be good, but for a level 400 session I would be expected to know R already, and I don’t, so that’s no use.

SQL Server on Linux is a “deep dive look under the covers on how we built SQL Server 2017 on Linux”. I’m sure that’s fascinating, and Bob Ward is a great and knowledgable speaker, but does that help me do my job in any way? Not at all.

So where’s the value for me in my current role? I just don’t see it.

Pre-con sessions that last all day can make a difference here, but there’s no requirement to attend the entire Summit for one of those, and often they aren’t at a higher level for attendees.

Can it help me with future endeavors?

This depends on where I want to go. If I want to start down a new track and learn some BI or data science there might be some use. There are always good 100 and 200 level sessions to go through. There are also sessions on Azure that could be attended to get some learning there. But like other sessions there is such a limit as to what can be provided over the course of 75 minutes. I’m still likely to get more from a blog post or watching a series of Channel 9 videos.

What about my future as a DBA? Where can Summit take me to? Well if it isn’t able to provide much for my current role then it does not bode well for being able to do anything for the future there either.

Can it help me connect with other people?

Absolutely. This is where Summit stands out. It is a great way to connect with people of a similar mind when it comes to working with this specific piece of technology. You can meet people (and stay connected with them) at the Summit. They can become people who you generally know, or they could be close enough that they officiate your wedding.

These connections can be important in helping you find new jobs, for bouncing ideas off of, for mentoring, or just being an understanding ear when things aren’t going well. They can also work as inspirations to help you want to achieve better things for yourself.

If you are an independent contractor this is particularly important. It can help drive business towards for you for years.

Let’s not forget there are other ways to engage with people. There are several social media platforms that can keep you in contact with others, not to mention email. It might not be the same as seeing people in person, but hey, you do this 51 weeks out of the year even if you do attend Summit.

ROI summary

Help me in my role – nope

Help me in a future role – nope

Get connected – yeah (but doesn’t keep you connected)


So, should I attend?

These decisions are always individual ones, but for me I struggle to see the value. The fact is that I’ve struggled to see it for several years now but have managed to convince myself that there is worth. I decided to look at see what other training options there are for me to learn things to make me more effective at what I do. Truth be told there seems to be a real dearth of options out there.

I almost feel as though I am better off investing my time in either taking time off of work to spend on my own learning something new, or spending $300US on a Pluralsight yearly subscription that would give me access to a wealth of different subjects.. An alternative would be to spend time working on a command for the DBATools open source project; something that could genuinely make me more effective at work.

I feel that for people who are in years 1 – 7 of a career with the Microsoft Data Platform then you can see a solid return on the money and time you would spend attending Summit. After that though, unless you are an independent consultant or a presenter (preferably both), then the drop off in that return is steep and significant. So before you attend, ask yourself, am I really getting something from this, or am I just attending so that I can hang out with my friends (not that there is anything wrong with that). If there’s no value, why go? Maybe there is something better out there for you.


5 thoughts on “The Argument Against Attending The PASS Summit”

  1. Your time as an attendee is over.

    I think of the Summit just like I think of any conference: when you’re just starting out in your career journey, all of the value comes from attending the sessions. It feels like every session is a firehose of interesting information that you haven’t heard before.

    As your career matures, and you start to make friends on social media and in blogs, you start to get more value out of hanging out with other attendees – and eventually presenters. People start to recognize you, and they look forward to catching up with you. If you have a question on a project, or if you end up needing work, you get value out of the connections you’ve made.

    You also find that the value you get from sessions starts to drop because your career has specialized. In the beginning, every session seemed amazing to you because you hadn’t found your niche yet – but now, you know your niche well. The sessions at the Summit are covering information you’ve already learned – either via blogs, online presentations, or from your own work, first-hand. You find yourself attending less sessions, and cherishing the people time more.

    It might feel like, “I could get this people time anywhere, for free” – but you can’t. People need a reason to assemble in one place, to fly in from all over the globe. In your career maturity, that’s what the Summit is – face time with people outside of your usual Seattle peer group.

    Is it expensive? Sure – but you can easily offset that.

    Because your time as a presenter is now.

    Be the change you want to see in the Summit, ha ha ho ho. You’re exactly the kind of person that I want to see present. You have the scars from some awesome AG battles, and you owe it to the community to get your ass up there on the stage and give back. On your way up, you learned so much from other volunteer presenters, and now you need to pay it forward.

    In exchange for speaking, you get free admission. Does that mean you have to be in the conference center the entire time? Not no but HELL no – at the last Summit, my most cherished time wasn’t at the conference center at all, but hanging out with Tom Roush.

    Give back by speaking. Time to earn some more scars.


    1. PASS created a situation a few years ago which, for me, went against everything it was meant to be. I raised the issue with more than one board member. The situation was never addressed so far as I am concerned. This leads me to not have the slightest interest in submitting a session to the Summit (SQLSat is a different kettle of fish, I submit locally).


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