Three Wishes from in 2015

When I walked into the welcome reception at the 2014 PASS Summit in Seattle last year, I have to tell you that I was a little verklempt. I had a moment of “My baby has all grown up!” The event was so packed with people, so well executed, and so flashy. Thomas LaRock (b | t), the current president, and the rest of the board of directors have simply done a fantastic job growing and leading the organization. Comparing the 2014 Summit to the original 1999 Summit in the conference space of the Chicago Sheraton that cold September was quite a bit like seeing your little daughter coming down the stairs in her prom dress to when she was in pig-tails on the backyard swing set. You just have to take a deep breath and rejoice, with a hint of sentimentality and nostalgia.

And just like with my teenage daughters, I’m not above giving the PASS board of directors a piece o’my mind. So here are a few suggestions that I think could further improve the organization and offer a lot of value back to the community. And rest assured, none of these will include “Get back up there and put on something decent!”

PASS Summit 2014 By The Numbers


1. Salary & Workplace Survey: I speak at a lot of SQL Saturdays around the world every year. A common question I get, usually in private after delivering a professional development session, is “Am I being paid fairly?” A similar question I get is “I was offered a job at the rate of 123. Is that good?” Usually, just in asking the question, I know the answer is “Probably not”. After all, if you don’t know what you’re worth, you’re not likely to get it. Sometimes, you might work for an unusually fair-minded organization which pays at or above market rate. But that’s a rarity and not the norm. The best advice I can offer for most people is to point them to the Information Week yearly salary survey, which is the best survey of salary and pay rates in our industry that I’m presently aware of. (If you know of other good salary surveys, let me know in the comments). However, it is a broad but not deep IT industry survey with as many responses from devs and admins as from data professionals, let alone Microsoft SQL Server professionals. One of my words of advice to IT pros in leadership trying to find a way to establish their “cred” is focus on the thing(s) that only YOU can do. If, for example, you’re the only person on the dev team who is a really competent presenter, then do more presentations – to other teams, to management, to new hires – since lots of other people on the team are competent developers. It makes you memorable and invaluable. To continue the analogy, a well-executed salary survey is something that PASS can do in a way that nobody else can. And in our community, who wouldn’t want to know how we’re doing as a profession – by industry, geography, company size, and a bunch of other dimensions? Ideally, PASS would conduct a yearly salary survey, also collecting valuable information about workplace attitudes, parameters for productivity, and employer relations. This could also be a new opportunity for PASS to flex some data analysis and visualization muscle, and to give a team of volunteers some cool opportunities.

2. Third-Party Software Assessments a la Consumer Reports: The buy-or-build decision is more important than ever as executive management puts increasing pressure on IT organizations for greater responsiveness and speed of execution. And one of our best ways to be responsive and fast is to buy a good product that meets our requirements rather than build it ourselves. (By third-party software, I mean products designed to satisfy a specific line of business need, such as an inventory management system, a resource scheduling system, etc). And yet, we’re encountering third-party products of startlingly poor quality and/or oafishly bad security every single day. I was in a SQL Server security session delivered by the esteemed Brian Kelley  (b | t) in Charleston late last year where he described a third-party employee badge management system (y’know, the kind that controls who gets in which doors of the building) that required a blank SA password… ON. A. SECURITY. SYSTEM! Outrageous. I recall thinking to myself “I call ‘shenanigans‘. A company selling products like that needs a flogging”. It’s so outrageous an example among multitudes (how many times have I seen third-party apps without any indexes?!?) that the public should know about it. And PASS has the industry-wide gravitas to do something like this without being capricious or arbitrary. Again, this could be a volunteer-driven effort in which various third-party and vertical applications are assessed on a handful of topics, such as security, database design, and code design. It could be a grade score, up/down score, or merely “passed”. I don’t care which, as long as I’m informed of which loser products to stay away from.

3. Advocacy: For the first couple years of PASS’ existence, there was a board portfolio dedicated to advocacy. This portfolio was dedicated to collecting and pushing community sentiment back to Microsoft for things like new features, user experience, and product satisfaction. (If you’ve been a SQL Server person for a long time, you might remember the now defunct mailbox where you could request a feature). The advocacy portfolio was dissolved when Microsoft implemented the Connect program, since you can use that site suggest bug fixes, comment on features, and otherwise seek engagement with Microsoft. So why would I suggest that PASS invest time and energy in advocating for specific and material action when Connect already exists? Basically because Microsoft doesn’t seem to be paying more than perfunctory attention to Connect. The most common complaint among my MVP brethren is that everything gets marked as “Will not fix”. With a PASS advocacy stakeholder, it becomes possible to come back and say “No, really, this is very important to us!” In addition, Connect doesn’t provide a means for dialog. Here’s an example, what if you wanted to have a discussion around which features are in Enterprise Edition compared to those in Standard Edition. That’s a little too broad for a Connect entry. At present, the only way you can make your feelings known is passing them along to an MVP or to someone who works on the team at Microsoft. After that, you’re out of options. So I think the time has returned for PASS to provide a community-based method for advocacy of features and product priorities.

And an honorable mention – Technical Fellows: A surprising fact I learned back when I was still a board director for PASS wrangling with Microsoft Learning about the creation of a high-level certification, which later became the MCM, was that the experts who contributed to the creation of the certifications could never receive the certification itself. Of course, that makes sense in hindsight, since the certification creators have unparalleled insight into the success factors of the certification. Yet, it seemed somehow unfair. I will allow that the Microsoft MVP program is probably an acceptable substitute for the merit in many cases. Except that Microsoft employees cannot get the MVP nod either and, in some cases, there are Microsoft employees who go way above and beyond their job requirements in the services of the wider SQL Server and data professional community. And so this discussion might dead-end right there. When I began to mull over this certain cadre of people who deserve an added bit of recognition, my mind went back to the IEEE Fellows program. Putting ‘Technical Fellow’ on your resume is a big deal. If you’re not familiar with exactly the degree of prestige associated with that credential, then definitely read the IEEE program description. But, again, it somehow seems not quite right that some of our greatest independent luminaries, such as Adam Machanic (b | t) and Greg Low (b | t), or some of the great former Microsofties, like Donald Farmer (b | t) and Paul Randal (b |t), are omitted from the highest honors.

So what do you think? Do these suggestions have merit? Or are they good, but not as good as another idea you have? Care to share?

I’m looking forward to your comments! Best regards,


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