Editor's Note: Today Microsoft kicks off the PASS Summit 2011 for 2011. To coincide with this, the following MVP Monday guest post is an article by SQL MVP Robert Pearl.

With 650 Sessions submitted, over 170 technical sessions, 200+ speakers, 2 days of Pre-Con Seminars, Networking with MVPs, experts, peers, face-to-face support with Microsoft CSS and SQLCAT, and even Ask the Experts Pods, folks are gathering far and wide to come together in one super setting in Seattle, Washington.

The excitement is in the air, and the mood among SQL Server enthusiasts is simply electric! As they all converge at the convention center, the lucky attendees will be treated to several days of all SQL Server, all the time. 

Yes, summit of all summits, the event to end all events, the best SQL Server training and networking event of the year - the one and only PASS Summit 2011, the largest SQL Server and BI conference in the world, is finally here!

This conference is planned and presented by the SQL Server community, for the SQL Server community.  Here you will meet and learn from the top industry experts in the world, get the top-notch training, technical tips and tricks, and preview technology and features of the future.

But, this all-encompassing event is so much more than just SQL. It is as much about SQL as well as networking and making connections you need to take your SQL Server skills to the next level. Take advantage and maximize your PASS experience! 

Not only will there be incredible days filled with learning, lunching, leisure and laughter, the fun continues into the evenings, as folks network, meet up, review the the day, and plan for the next.  Indeed there will be many sleepless nights in Seattle!

To say there are so many things to do and so many sessions to see is an understatement. SQL Server professionals need to plan their days accordingly.  And this can be a daunting task. Luckily, the SQL Server Community is here to help!

A formal first-timer's program at PASS is being sponsored by Confio Ignite8, and Redgate- two pillars of the SQL community. Click through on this first-timer's program link, and you will find all the information you need to know, including a can't-miss First-Timers Orientation and Speed Networking session for all new Summit attendees, a Big Brother/Sister program to guide you through Summit's ins and outs, a schedule of events to help first-timers network, navigate the conference, what to expect, tips, tricks, and more!

On the site is also a blog round-up of all the SQL Server Industry Experts & MVPs, who have shared their PASS memories.

Whether you’re a first-timer or PASS pro, you won’t be able to be everywhere during the summit. So let’s take a sample and cross-section of some of our awesome presenters, and see what they have to say.  I engaged some of our speakers, and invited them to participate in a short Q&A roundtable discussion. These dynamic individuals have graciously provided their busy prep time to give you a preview of their sessions, advice, insight, and share their own PASS experiences.

The Panel

Allow me to introduce our panel.  Joining our roundtable discussion are, in no specific order, the following expert speakers: (You can click each of their names for a more detailed bio)

Grant Fritchey, (blog|twitter) SQL MVP and Product Evangelist for Red Gate Software;

Karen Lopez, (blog|twitter) SQL MVP, Sr. Project Manager and Data Architect for Info Advisors;

Denny Cherry, (blog|twitter) SQL MVP/MCM, independent consultant, maintains MrDenny.Com;

Andy Leonard, (blog|twitter) SQL MVP, SSIS expert, Chief Servant Officer at Linchpin People;

Buck Woody, (blog|twitter) SQL Server SME, speaker and Sr. Technical Specialist for Microsoft;

Louis Davidson, (blog|twitter) SQL MVP, author, Data Architect for CBN, his site at drsql.org;

Marco Russo, (blog|twitter) SQL MVP, Consultant & trainer in SQLBI & software development;

Don Gabor, (blog|twitter) President of Conversation Arts Media, author, professional speaker and networking expert.

Q & A Rountable 

I first asked our participants to talk a bit about their presentation, with the question:

[RP:] What is your session’s goal and/or objective? What you will be doing at PASS?

Grant, you want to kick off the discussion?

[Grant Fritchey:]  I'm doing two different presentations this year. The first is an all-day pre-conference seminar that I'm presenting with Gail Shaw. It's called "All About Execution Plans." We're going to do, effectively, a brain dump on execution plans, where they come from, where they're stored, how to read them and how to use them for understanding your queries and then tune the queries. We'll pack as much information into the 7 hours we have as we possibly
can. My spotlight session is 90 minutes on using Dynamic Management Objects for performance tuning. I'll show you how to put together different DMOs to return useful information that you can then use for performance tuning.

[RP:] Karen, what about you?

[Karen Lopez:] I'm presenting on Database Design Blunders, so my goal is to get people thinking about the tricks and traps of working with data in the real world: numbers aren't always numbers; "best" practices aren't always best, etc.  I'll also be asking for audience members to contribute blunders they've seen in the wild, too.

[RP:] Louis, your sessions are also covering DB design, correct?

[Louis Davidson:]  [Yes.] All of my sessions focus on design. I find that if you get the design right in the first place you don't struggle against the SQL Server engine to achieve your desired results creatively and with performance. The SQL Server engine is implemented in such a manner that supports relational databases of almost any size, as long as you follow the known patterns. All it takes is a lot work up front and a bit of restraint to think through the problem 1st.

[RP:] Buck, please share a bit of what you’ll be doing at PASS.

[Buck Woody:] I'll be doing two presentations at the PASS summit - one in a lighthearted form to introduce folks to the concepts of distributed computing (cloud) technologies. That one is called "This Ain't Your Father's Cloud", and I'll be presenting with my friend Kevin Kline. The second presentation is a little more detailed, and a deeper level. It's on how to leverage distributed systems in a "hybrid" mode, so that you can put the cloud to use right away, and only where it makes sense. There's some great tie-ins to the latest release of SQL Server in that as well.

[RP:] Denny, tell us all about your session.

[Denny Cherry:] My big session is the half-day session that I'm doing with Stacia Misner where we will be explaining what is actually happening to the database engine when the BI tools are running against it.  It will be an interesting exploration into how all these tools work together and how using the BI tools against the production systems can and do have an impact into the production workload. [It’s called, “So How Does the BI Workload Impact the Database Engine?”]

[RP:] Marco, you’re also doing something on the BI track. What are you going to talk about?  .

[Marco Russo:] I will talk about what is going to change in data modeling for Business Intelligence with the adoption of Vertipaq. It is a common believe that DAX is a simpler language than MDX and only very simple models can be solved by using DAX. However, this is not always the case and DAX can be used as a tool that overcomes the lack of specific features (like the many-to-many dimension relationship)

[RP:] Andy, you’re actually covering multiple tracks, can you tell us about them?

[Andy Leonard:] I'm doing a few presentations: [On the BI Architecture, Development & Adminstration Track], a pre-con called A Day of SSIS in the Enterprise, co-presented with Tim
Mitchell
and Matt Masson [from Microsoft]; A regular session called SSIS in the Enterprise; [and on the Professional Development Track,] a Lightning Talk entitled Some Thoughts On Community;  a panel discussion on Linchpins – which will discuss some career management lessons to help you become indispensible.

[RP:] What else will you be doing at PASS?

[Andy Leonard:] I'm also hosting a Birds of a Feather lunch table Friday focused on SSIS Frameworks, and I'm trying to work in an hour or two at the Expert Pods area (if I can work that in).

[RP:] Don, as the non-technical person of the group, you will be focusing on the Professional Development track, which actually dovetails nicely with PASS’s big focus on networking and building relationships.  Please tell us more.

[Don Gabor:] [I will be doing a] 2-hour pre-con workshop “Networking for Business Contacts” on Tuesday 3-5 pm is to show attendees how to make mutually beneficial connections with colleagues and clients that lead to ongoing business relationships.  Topics in this highly interactive workshop include how to break the ice, remember names, continue conversations, change topics, close conversations, leave a positive impression, join other conversations and use social media to follow up.

[RP:] You’ll also be facilitating a special interactive session called “Speed Networking: Making Connections in a New York Minute” on Tuesday evening.  

[Don Gabor:] Yes, after a brief, humorous presentation of networking “worst practices,” attendees will have a series of 5-minute, one-on-one meetings where they will exchange cards, share their professional backgrounds, area specialties, products and services, plus their “who-do-they-want-to-meet” wish-list.

Comedian Johnny Carson once joked, “A New York Minute is the interval between a Manhattan traffic light turning green and the guy behind you honking his horn.”  Come join this event during Tuesday night’s Welcome Reception and see how speed networking can make finding new business contacts faster than you ever thought possible.

[RP:] BTW, as an added bonus, everyone who attends this workshop gets a copy of Don’s best-selling book, How to Start a Conversation and Make Friends, (Simon & Schuster).

[RP:] So, now that we know what all of you here are going to present at PASS, let’s move on, and have you all tell us what excites you the most about the PASS 2011 Summit.  In short order, Grant?

[Grant Fritchey:] That's easy. It's the people. The chance to meet all the people whose blogs, books and magazine articles I read all year long is just amazing. I get a chance to build direct, personal relationships with these people and that just wouldn't be possible any other way.

[RP:] Karen, back to you.

[Karen Lopez:] While I'm looking forward to the massive amount of learning, it's the networking and meeting with SQL friends in person that makes me hop on a plane to Seattle this year.  I keep in touch with others in the SQL community via Twitter and other social networks, but getting together with people in real life is awesome.

[Denny Cherry:] [Definitely.] The PASS summit is a great time to learn and a great time to see friends from all over the world that you don't get to see very often.  It isn't often that you get so many top notch people from a single field in the same place all giving information away for basically nothing (don't forget speakers aren't getting paid for their sessions).

[RP:] Andy, you feel the same way?

[Andy Leonard:] I attend PASS to meet new people and reconnect with old friends. Social media is awesome! It allows folks to get to know each other without ever meeting face-to-face. The PASS Summit is a great place to make and meet friends.

[RP:] Marco, you came all the way to Seattle from Italy to be here, what excites you?

[Marco Russo:] I’ll be happy to meet old and new friends, most of them I only know through written mails and other docs. And, of course, I’m excited to talk about DAX and other changes that are coming with SQL Server Denali.

[RP:] Louis, your turn, and then Don.

[Louis Davidson:] Honestly, there are two things that are equal in stature that I probably wouldn't go if either of these were removed. Getting an idea of what to learn about next excites me the most, as it helps to keep me ahead of the pack and direct me what to write about and what to do for my customers/coworkers. The other thing is the people. It is so wonderful to have this tremendous online community on twitter, forums, etc, but getting a chance to shake a hand, see a face, some I have known for 12 years, some I have never met, makes it an exciting experience.

[Don Gabor:]  What excites me about the PASS 2011 Summit is meeting new people, reconnecting with those I’ve met at past Summits or worked with as a part of Andy Warren’s and Steve Jones’ Mentoring Experiment. My goal is always to find people with whom I share professional and general interests. That’s when the PASS Summit gets really fun!

[RP:] Speaking of fun, I want all of you to share a quick first-time experience or memorable moment for you at PASS.  Marco, you kick this one off.

[Marco Russo:] I was so happy to encounter people I only written to before the first time I went to PASS Summit. And today, after many years, I still get motivation from these in-person encounters.

[RP:] Karen, give us a memorable moment

[Karen Lopez:] So many of them to think of, but i have to say the most memorable part of my first PASS Summit was seeing how many men chose to wear a #SQLKilt and t-shirts supporting Women in IT.  One of my professional interests is encouraging girls to take more math and science courses and I believe this issue is something that we all have to support, so seeing everyone supporting the cause was great.

[RP:]  Yes, well that certainly is memorable. J  I know you are a champion and promoter of WIT.  Denny, can you top that?

[Denny Cherry:] This isn't my first timer experience for myself, but what I saw of other first timers.  Me and a group were sitting in the Sheraton bar one year and a guy still with his name badge came in looking a tad bit lost.  So we told him to pull up a chair and join us.  The look of amazement that a random group of strangers wanted him to join them was just great.  I have no idea what the guy's name was, or even where we was from, but he stayed with us for a while before heading off to hopefully do something else fun.

[RP:] Grant, I’m sure you have a memorable moment as well.

[Grant Fritchey:] The first time I went up to a speaker after their session and asked a question that the speaker didn't know the answer to, was an event for me. I just figured those people knew everything. Great thing was, the person asked me for my email address, looked up the answer and sent it to me, personally. Great moment!

[RP:]  Louis, is your experience similar?

[Louis Davidson:] The most memorable experience for me was when one of my heroes asked me a question about SQL Server. It was that point that I realized that we were all in this together, and not everyone knows everything.

[RP:]  Don, you’re first PASS Summit was last year in 2010.  What was your most memorable experience there?

[Don Gabor:] At the 2010 Summit I met with Andy Warren, Steve Jones and several other PASS MVPs for an early breakfast at a little coffee place a short walk from our hotel. It was memorable for me because everyone there treated me as part of the PASS community, so I felt comfortable and welcome—even though I’m not a technology person. 

[RP:]  We’re glad your back, Don.  It is also true that a brief encounter can change your life?  It truly can be transforming, and have a positive effect on your career and success.  Andy, you experienced such a moment.  Please share.

[Andy Leonard:] My first Summit was 2004 in Orlando. I arrived thinking that any day I would be fired for impersonating a database professional. I left that event a database professional. I blogged about the pivotal moment in my career and described “Why I Love The Pass Summit

[RP:] This year there has been a terrific campaign to get first-timers at PASS to fully engage with their colleagues and peers.  An enormous effort has been initiated to push first-time attendees to step-up, get involved, network, and get the most out of the summit. On that note, what is your advice to first-time PASS attendees, and those who want to enhance their career, or get more involved in the SQL community?  Buck?

[Buck Woody:] I can’t tell you how many technical conferences I’ve been to in my life — I started a really long time ago, when the conferences were normally held in small hotel conference rooms with only a few dozen folks.

But PASS isn't all about presentations. There are "Birds of a Feather" tables set up by topic, so that you can access amazing talent on any topic you care about in one place. The vendor pavilion has a huge amount of both services and products companies all aimed at SQL Server, there are keynotes each day where you learn the strategy Microsoft is taking for the future, there are parties each night, and of course you simply can't beat the pure networking you can do with people who work with SQL Server every day.

I have a full article of my recommendations on attending a technical conference, specifically entitled, “How to Attend a Technical Conference”. (Click on the highlighted link to read).

[RP:]  Marco, do you agree with Buck that PASS isn’t just about presentations?

[Marco Russo:] Sure. Don’t spend all of your time in technical sessions. I mean, these are important (don’t miss mine! :-) but spend at least 10-15% of your time in social networking. Visit stands, booths, talk with sponsors, talk with Microsoft, participate to the “informal” discussion all around.

[RP:] Louis, your thoughts on engaging with the SQL Server Community?

[Louis Davidson:] I think there are two ways to approach the SQL community: as fun, or as work. I definitely fall more deeply into the fun category. My goal with the SQL community is to enjoy my craft in a way that is void of managers asking me to do stuff in a less than ideal manner because of time. So I make sure that all of the things I do in the community are things I have fun with. Some folks use the community to enhance their career as consultants, I personally work as a permanent employee for a non-profit, and so the community may help me in my next career, but doesn't do much in the short run.

In either case, it is important to get what you want out of the community in a manner that you can enjoy and live with. There are a lot of people that come and go, but longevity in the community comes from gradually becoming a citizen of the community and doing it for a sustainable reason. I mean, after nearly 12 years of doing this stuff day and night, I occasionally get burnt out. But the camaraderie and friends I have made keeps me coming back.

[RP:] Denny, give us some of your first-timer advice

[Denny Cherry:] The most important piece of advice I can give to people that are coming to PASS for the first time is to spend as little time in your hotel room as possible.  There are lots of people there that want to talk and make new friends and everyone there has a common ground that they can talk about, SQL Server.  You don't have to drink all night with the crazy folks, but go and hang out somewhere find some other attendees to talk to.  You never know who you'll find.  Personally I've made some great friends from sitting in the hotel bar to the Tap House and just randomly walking up to groups of attendees (they aren't hard to find, trust me) and just introducing myself.

[RP:] Andy, you want to jump in here?

[Andy Leonard:] My advice to first-time attendees is: Don't be shy. Yes, it's true you don't know anyone. With the exception of the minority of folks who know each other, no one knows anyone. It's ok. If you see someone you want to meet, go introduce yourself. You may have to step out of your comfort zone some - do it. Trust me on this: they're people just like you. With rare exception, people who have reached a pinnacle in their career are decent, hard-working folks. Those who return to the Summit year-after-year remember their first experience as well. If at all possible, they will make a minute to chat with you.

[RP] And, on getting involved with the sql community?

[Andy Leonard:] Although PASS is large and the Summit is an awesome event, there's much more to the SQL Server Community than PASS. There are other events and opportunities out there; including SQL Skills Immersion events, SQLCruise, SQLBits, SQLPeople, SQLInspire, and many more. And there's the virtual community online at Twitter and Google+.

[RP:]  Karen, and then Grant – give us your first-timer advice.

[Karen Lopez:] The best advice I can give is to talk to people in the sessions, don't hide out in the corners; don't just go back to your room to eat. The SQL community such an amazing group there's no need stick just with your co-workers or to eat alone.  I'd also encourage everyone to at least follow the Twitter stream #SQLPASS so that they can be part of the "other conference" on at the same time. Joining in on the conversation is even better.

[Grant Fritchey:] Totally agree.  Don't go back to your hotel room. Find out where people are heading. Follow #sqlpass on twitter. You don't have to post anything, just watch for people whose session you attended. See where they're going and go there yourself. That's your best bet to start the networking process. And if you're no good at talking to people, then take Don Gabor's two hour seminar on Tuesday to learn that too.

[RP:]  Certainly a great recommendation, Don, don’t you think?  J

[Don Gabor:]  Well, I already spoke about my networking sessions.  My advice to first-timers and everyone else is to take the initiative, introduce yourself and network with the PASS leadership, volunteers and session speakers. [That’s what I did.] These people will help you make the best connections and help you get the most from the conference.

[RP:] Finally, let’s talk about the future a bit. What in your opinion will have the most impact on either the future of SQL Server or the DBA?  How many of you bet the future will be built around the cloud?  Andy?

[Andy Leonard:] I believe the confluence of hardware advances and cloud computing are going to have the greatest impact on the future of SQL Server and the DBA.

[RP:] Grant, what’s your take on how SQL Server in the Cloud (SQL Azure) will affect the future of the industry?

[Grant Fritchey:] I think a very large percentage, 30-40%, of all the databases today that are sitting on someone's machine or on an under-utilized server, are going to go to the Cloud. We're going to see an explosion of the small, secondary, data sets out there. It won't put anyone, or very few, out of work, but it's going to change that work pretty radically. You're going to have to know more about that technology to be competitive going forward, because 1/3 of your job will be there.

[RP:]  Buck, care to chime in about this?

[Buck Woody:] The two most disruptive changes for the DBA, [in my opinion] are Business Intelligence and how far it's being pushed down into user tools and of course the cloud. Both are covered in great depth at the PASS summit.

[RP:] Microsoft has indeed been investing big time on cloud integration.  Louis, what is your opinion on SQL Azure?

[Louis Davidson:] Part of me thinks that a product like Azure is going to be that next big thing that changes everything from a DBA standpoint, but it doesn't seem realistic that it can replace all local databases. Truly, when they get the concept of a database container than can be moved from local server to the cloud that is seamless to the user experience, I think the whole cloud experience is going to be very much more palatable.

[RP:]  Interesting.  Perhaps that is indeed the plan, with the advent of contained databases in SQL Server Denali, where a contained database has no configuration dependencies on the instance of the SQL Server Database Engine therefore making it possible to easily move the database to another instance of SQL Server.   

So let’s talk a little bit about the next version of SQL Server, aka Denali.

[Louis Davidson:] For Denali, I would certainly suggest readers get into the contained database concept as heavily as they can, to get ready for the future!

[RP:]  Marco, what features in SQL Denali stand out as most significant to you?  And, then let’s hear from Karen.

[Marco Russo:] High Availability and columnar indexes are the most important features of Denali, in my opinion.

[Karen Lopez:] I'm looking forward to the features that address non-relational or extra-relational data stores.  Not all data persistence needs to be normalized or stored in the same way.  We can support all kinds of data usages now.

[RP:] Denny, what do you feel will have the biggest impact on the future of SQL Server?

[Denny Cherry:] The one thing that will impact the future of the SQL Server Product is the people that use it.  Microsoft gives the general public a huge amount of influence in how they steer the product in the future.  If you come to PASS sign up for one of the Microsoft Focus Groups (I did a couple my first year and found them to be very interesting), submit ideas for new features on connect, etc.  Not all the ideas will make it into the product, some may be set aside for several releases, but they will take the ideas and put them on the list of possible features for the next release.  It is just a matter or what they have enough time to actually get into the product.  Some of the great features that are being introduced in SQL Server "Denali" are showing up there because one of Microsoft's customers requested them on Connect and the community voted those items up.

[RP:] Don, from a career perspective, what do think the future holds for the SQL Server DBA?

[Don Gabor:] Being good (or even great) technically as a SQL Server DBA will not be enough to secure one’s job in the future. I believe that a DBA’s ability to connect with and bring additional customer service value to his or her company, colleagues and clients will be his or her greatest career-accelerating asset.  

[RP:]  Well, that’s all we have for today.  I want to thank all my panel participants in this lively and insightful discussion!  Their contribution to this piece is greatly appreciated by me, as well as the SQL Server Community. Make sure you catch all of their excellent sessions at PASS,and enjoy!

In Closing 

I hope these unique perspectives on PASS and the SQL Server industry will help everyone attending the summit, as well as those reading, to understand what a tight knit supportive community we truly are.

Don’t forget to visit the PASS Summit Web Site for all necessary details, and be sure to plan accordingly.  Now get out there, learn, have fun, and remember to mingle (that’s party talk for networkingJ) Two final words to sum up this summit sensation –

IT’S SHOWTIME!

 

About the Author

Robert Pearl, President and Founder of Pearl Knowledge Solutions, Inc., and SQL MVP,  has grown through the ranks as a solutions-oriented Senior Database  Administrator/Engineer and has over 12+ years of experience in the management of  critical database operations. His focus has allowed him to become an expert in  Microsoft SQL technology. 

In searching for a simple clear-cut solution  to manage multiple SQL Servers, he has developed SQLCentric – a web-based  database monitoring and alert system with the DBA in mind. It has won Best  Performance and Database Monitoring in SQL Server Magazine's Reader's Choice in  2004, and the Silver Award in the Community Choice Awards in 2010. Mr  Pearl also participates in online forums, has also contributed several articles  on MS SQL Server to SQLServerCentral.com, other sites and publications, and  covers local events in the New York City area.He was Chief  Marketing and Co-coordinator of the New York SQLSaturday#69, arranging speaker  interviews, sponsors.

He maintains a regular blog at SSC.com, called  PearlKnows. http://www.sqlservercentral.com/blogs/pearlknows/default.aspx