Our next guest post in our PASS Summit recap series is from MVP Jen Stirrup.  Jen is a Director at Copper Blue Consulting.  You can catch her on twitter talking BI and data visualization at @jenstirrup or follow her BI Blog.

If you want to hear the latest SQL Server news first – then go to SQLPass Summit. This is the highlight of the SQL Server year, and Microsoft used this event to talk about the release of SQL Server, strategy around Microsoft and Hadoop, and other SQL Server news such as the naming of Project Crescent to Power View. For me, my recent SQLPass Summit 2011 was a bundle of firsts! This was my first visit to a SQLPass Summit - a "first timer", my first time speaking in at the SQLPass Summit, and my first SQLPass event after having been awarded an MVP.

At the Summit, there was a high focus on Business Intelligence, given that the ‘real’ name for Project Crescent was released – Power View. For me, there was a real emphasis on providing as much information on Power View to as many delegates as possible. For me, this ties in with the perspective of Business Intelligence as a user-oriented paradigm, rather than solely within the hands of IT departments. I was also glad to see that there were discussions and sessions on Kerberos configuration and Sharepoint. If you’ve ever had to deal with Kerberos and security configuration for Sharepoint projects, from the Business Intelligence perspective, this was a real help. I’m glad that this topic was emphasized, since it can sometimes be seen as a barrier to Sharepoint/Business Intelligence projects. By offering sessions, it seems to me that the Microsoft teams are keen to help demystify the process as much as possible. Further, by offering an insight into Power View, it allowed delegates to see the ‘end goal’ in deploying Business Intelligence solutions with Sharepoint and the SQL Server Business Intelligence stack.

The SQLPass Summit had a range of seminars, which varied in terms of depth and content, which means that there is something relevant to everyone. I enjoyed a number of sessions, but the main focus for me was the seminars on Power View (formerly Project Crescent), and members of the Product teams were present in order to disseminate as much information as possible. Unfortunately I couldn’t attend every session that I wanted, so I am pleased to say that I’ve ordered the SQLPass DVDs so that I can enjoy the sessions whenever I like. It seemed that the Business Intelligence sessions all clashed in terms of timing on the last day – which meant that I couldn’t attend Kasper de Jonge’s or Marco Russo’s sessions, which was a pity. However, this did mean that there was a real feast of Business Intelligence discussions, and delegates could pick the sessions which were suited them best.

As a SQLPass "first-timer", it is probably fair to say that there is so much going on at SQLPass that it can be a bit disorienting. The event is just massive, with thousands of delegates from around the world. However, this shouldn't put you off attending. The team of volunteers at SQLPass put together a very useful and thoughtful introduction program for "first-timers". I would personally like to thank the following people for making me feel particularly welcome as a "first-timer" - Amy Lewis (Twitter), Karla Landrum (Twitter) and Wendy Dance (Twitter), who seemed to be constantly on their feet helping, and were still cheerfully smiling at the end of it all! I would also like to thank Mark Broadbent (Twitter) for being my SQLpass "Big Brother" and patiently guiding a team of "first timers" throughout our orientation. From my perspective, as a first-timer, it was great to have a 'base' person to contact in the event of any queries, and it was great to see the SQLPass ‘Big Brothers and Sisters’ look after the “first timers” with such enthusiasm.

At the SQLPass summit, I was immensely privileged to deliver sessions on data visualization in Reporting Services, and on the Management Data Warehouse. I regard this honor as the pinnacle of my speaking career in the SQL sphere. Speaking at SQLPass events is simply an awesome experience. If anyone isn’t sure whether to start trying out on a speaking career, I would heartily recommend it. The SQLPass community made me feel very welcome and ‘at home’ and volunteering has allowed me to try to give something to the community. Whilst I don’t have any insights into the speaker selection process at SQLPass, the only advice I’d offer is to try and volunteer for local events and webinars as well as national and international SQLPass events. I can recommend this as a way of gaining Speaker experience in addition to becoming more involved in the SQLPass community. For instance, I conducted webinars for the virtual Chapters in order to demonstrate speaking experience of the subject matter in question, and I then submitted the same sessions for SQLPass Summit. I was pleased to receive an ‘alternate’ session, which was then picked after someone had to drop out.

The SQLPass Summit was my first SQLPass event after having been awarded the MVP in SQL Server. I loved the sessions but the interaction outside of the sessions is invaluable. Where else would it be possible to interact with members of the Product teams or the SQLCat teams? The ‘Hands On Training’ sessions were very useful. I was very lucky to participate in the ‘Birds of a Feather’ lunch tables, and I’m glad to say that all of the tables were very well attended. At this point, I’d only add that I would have liked to see more chairs available for the ‘Birds of a Feather’ lunch event – some tables even had people sitting on the floor at one point! The ‘Expert Pods’ were also mobbed with enthusiastic delegates, debating issues which were specific to their own environments and business requirements. I was very pleased to help out here, since it is always interesting to speak with people who share passion for data and SQL Server.

To summarise, this was my first SQLPass Summit and I will definitely be attending again. I’m only sorry that I didn’t go previously! I learned a lot from my peers, and tried to give something back by volunteering. I also had great fun in meeting people with such a strong shared interest in SQL Server and I’d like to thank everyone – delegates and organisers - at SQLPass who made my first Summit so special and memorable.