First up – I'm not speaking at the PASS Summit this year. The virtual one in 2020. But I've registered and will attend, because the PASS Summit is still worthwhile.
I had made a big deal about submitting – I wrote a long thread about it on Twitter. I put three sessions in and hoped to be selected. But I wasn't and that's fine. That's not what this post is about.
Those of you who know me well might know that I'm not even someone who typically enjoys attending sessions at a conference. It's not my preferred way of learning, and even just sitting in a conference theatre chair for a long time gets to me and makes the learning experience hard. If I'm attending your session, I'm doing it because I'm interested in you more than in your content. For me, attending a conference is about what happens outside the sessions, not inside.
So if I'm not interested in the content of the event, and I'm not speaking, and I don't get to see people in person, what's the appeal of the PASS Summit this year? Why should I register and attend? Why should you?
And the answer is the same as if it was a real one – for the community and the networking.
PASS has always been about the community and providing ways for people to Connect, not just to Share or to Learn. "Connect, Share, Learn" has been a PASS motto for ages, but I think sometimes people see PASS as being all about the content, when it's really about the connection.
Many conferences are all about the content, and that's fair enough when you consider that it's usually employers that pay for people to attend these events. Attendees are often told to bring back knowledge, and maybe even give presentations to colleagues about what they've learned.
And yet for the PASS Summit, I'm not sure that content is the main draw.
I don't think content is what it was. When I first attended a large technical conference, which would've been TechEd Australia 1999, I was getting content that I couldn't really get anywhere else. A colleague and I flew from Melbourne to Brisbane, and we split the sessions we wanted to attend so that we got good coverage of the content. The parties were fun, and there was plenty of swag to be had from sponsors, but I didn't try to build a network at all.
By the time I got back to TechEd Australia it was 2005 and I had been actively involved in my user groups for a while. I spent time meeting people, especially presenters and other influencers, and got a sense of where things were moving. Instead of trying to catch a glimpse of what was going past, I tried to get caught up in the stream. By the time TechEd 2006 had come around, I had made a few trips to Redmond, I was involved in the hands-on labs, and my career was different.
The content from TechEd Australia 2006 was mostly already available through blog posts, articles, and videos from other events. But the networking was something I couldn't get in the same way.
PASS makes no bones about the fact about the networking side. They promote the "SQLFamily" concept enthusiastically. They provide activities to help first-time attendees get to know people. The content is still important, but the focus is on community. It is a community-focused organisation, after all.
This is what makes this year's PASS Summit tricky. Content-wise, people can get a lot of similar content from elsewhere. The sessions themselves are unique, but I'm sure that many sessions will have significant overlap with other sessions that have been given elsewhere. It's simply how presentations work. But without people gathering in person, that networking side will be hard. What will make the PASS Summit different this year, and different to most other online events, is that they are pushing to find ways to let people interact with each other despite the online-only format. You might not be able to physically walk up to a presenter at the end of their session, but they will still be available for questions, conversations, all that. With a wider reach possible because of the online approach, allowing networking between people in different parts of the world, it could be very significant.
Besides the presenters, many people who aren't presenting this year (myself included) will be hanging around. Time zones might make this trickier for some, considering that daytime in America is night-time where I am, but I'm typically jet-lagged at these things anyway. I'm hoping to be able to hang out in virtual rooms to see some of the old faces, meet new people, and be part of discussions. Most of the learning we do in life is through conversations not conventions, and I don't want that to stop just because we can't meet in person.
So I've registered as an attendee for the Virtual PASS Summit 2020. Hopefully I'll get to see you there.