The PASS Summit is something special. It is the largest gathering of SQL Server aficionados on the planet. With attendance reported at over 4000 people each year, that is one biiig pile of SQL Server geeks!
As the PASS Summit is held in the USA, it is quite special to be able to attend for me (and many other non-US based people). I was lucky in having employers that were happy to send me on an all expenses trip to Seattle for the past few years (I skipped the Charlotte-based Summit to make sure my buddy and former co-worker @Fatherjack got to go). Attending has allowed me to learn plenty about SQL Server, but to also make some life-altering connections with people that I would probably never have otherwise met.
The first life-altering connections cajoled me into speaking at SQLSaturdays: my good friends André Kamman, Mladen Prajdić and Marco Blasio. They convinced me over many beers and steaks that speaking was the next step on my journey. This culminated in my submitting my very first session to SQLSaturday Exeter 2013 entitled “Replication: What, How and Why“. While nerve-wracking, it was one of the best career moves I have ever made. Since then I have spoken at numerous SQLSaturdays and other events around Europe and met a ton of people. My speaking career hit a couple of high notes recently, I was a contestant in last year’s Speaker Idol at PASS Summit 2015 (losing in the finals to David Maxwell) and also delivering both a standard session as well as a pre-con at SQLBits XV.
However, back to the title of this post. This was both my fifth and also my first PASS Summit. It was my first, because it was the first time I have delivered a full-length session at PASS Summit. I had submitted session in previous years, but failed to be chosen for varying reasons.
This year was different! I received confirmation that one of my three submitted sessions had been chosen…… “Replication: What, How and Why”! To say I was surprised is an understatement. After multiple years of not being chosen, I had received a positive response. On top of that, the session that started my speaking career had been chosen. This was quite unexpected, although in previous years when PASS had surveyed attendees on what subjects they would like to see more of, Replication was regularly in the top ten.
So I dusted off the session and made some much needed updates to the flow of the session and attempted to make the content clearer. I was surprised to find that I was able to rattle off the outline of the session pretty much from memory when practicing at home. The tweaks I made allowed me to run a full 75 minutes instead of a “normal” 60 like at most events.
I was assigned an afternoon session slot on the Thursday of PASS Summit. This means I would be in the middle of the conference, straight after lunch. Going by past experience at other events, this means that pretty much all attendees are still around (unlike Friday afternoon sessions, where many take an afternoon flight home), but as it is after lunch, some people struggle to stay awake! With that in mind, I tried to keep the audience engaged with questions and interaction. This is a great way of making sure that wandering minds are re-engaged and gives me something to focus my nervous energy on.
When I stepped into the session room I was more nervous than usual – the sessions are recorded and the room looked like it had seating for about 300 people! This is larger than most events and I assumed the room would be mostly empty. Replication is a niche subject/feature and I have had between 20 and 50 attendees in this session at other events. You can imagine my surprise when I saw about 60 people already in the room. I immediately took some photo evidence
Please bear in mind that this was 20 minutes before my session should start, so I made sure that my title slide was visible to the entire room.
This didn’t scare anyone off, on the contrary, the room continued to fill. I was officially shocked/concerned and took more photos to prove to myself after the session, that I wasn’t dreaming. I went out of the main entrance to check that the signage for the room was right (it was) and the room attendant told me she had counted 220 people into the room with 5 minutes before kick-of!
I proceeded to deliver the session to a packed room, only a few seats remained empty with a number of people standing at the back of the room too. The session went great, with some fantastic questions from the audience – directing my explanations deeper where possible and ensuring people took the information they needed. I ended my session on time and fielded questions from about 20-30 people at the edge of the stage and then in the hallway afterwards. There are a lot of people using replication in ways that neither I nor (I’m sure) Microsoft had ever dreamed of. It was also great to hear that the SQLClinic, run by Microsoft, had a chalk-talk about replication and there were mentions of replication potentially receiving some more attention by the dev team in Redmond (about time if you ask me!).
The next few hours after my session were a blur of adrenaline. Even a week later, it is hard to believe that my first session at PASS could go so well (as far as I could assess). Now I need to wait for the session feedback and see what I can do to improve. According to some of my attendees, a deeper dive or extended session on replication is something for me to think about submitting next year.
All in all I can say that my fifth PASS Summit was great fun – I saw some new things, met some new people and enjoyed Seattle (again).
As for my first PASS Summit: fantastic. I never expected this “old” session to be such fun to present, or to be so well attended. I look forward to next year to see if I will be able to present a new session.
PS: If you attended my session, please fill in the feedback (or write a comment here). That is what helps me to improve my sessions and my presenting in general.
Thanks for reading and see you around.