Got Ideas For Improving PASS Chapters? Grant Fritchey is Listening

New PASS Board member Grant Fritchey just did his first post about his activities. He’s just getting started and getting ready for his first meeting, a busy and exciting time. He’s asked for feedback, so I added a comment to his post. I’ve been holding off on a post about Chapters to let him get going first, now – with two weeks under his belt – I thought I’d post some ideas for him. Maybe not all are good, or doable, but even a less than doable idea might spark him (or you) to do something event better. I did a quick search and found a few old posts that I think make sense to surface again. Grant, if you only have time to read a couple, I’d suggest SOME THOUGHTS ON RUNNING A CHAPTER and THOUGHTS ON A STATE OF THE CHAPTER STATEMENT (AND DOING MORE). Here’s the rest of the list:

 

 

And here’s my wish list:

  • Report annually to the members on how Chapters are doing overall and individually. How many did we gain/lose? Which ones are growing? If we care about them, we should monitor how they are doing so we can help those failing, celebrate those succeeding, and share the lessons learned. If I had a business with 200+ stores/franchines/whatevers, I’d want to know – every month!
  • Get a first class UI and email template for Chapters.  It’s not expensive and it will get a lot of use. Clearly we care about how the Connector looks, why not the Chapter email?
  • Celebrate and reward the speakers that support Chapters
  • Provide liability insurance for Chapters (and SQLSaturday)
  • Do whatever you can to reduce the time it takes to run a Chapter so they can use the time they have on the things only the local person can do
  • Fix the disconnect (that I think is there) about sharing member lists between the Chapter, their local SQLSaturday, and PASS. Its one org, not three.
  • Train and re-train and invest in Chapter leaders. Where’s the wiki? Where’s the 2 day class, the video? If you had a business with 200 branches, how would you grow leaders to manage them? Hand them the keys and say go?
  • No Chapter should be a one person operation. Drive and challenge them to leverage volunteers, and require them to identify someone each year who can take over if they fall down
  • More focus on networking. Make it about people as much as technology
  • Don’t make a bunch of rules, make patterns. Show them ways to be successful, let the leaders continue to make it their own.
  • Treat the Chapters Portfolio like a committee. Yes, Grant should make decisions (along with the Board, when needed), but find a small but diverse group to bounce ideas, argue, and even split up the work. You’ll get better results and be less tired too!

That’s probably too much. I bolded the two I think are most important.

Kudos to Grant for asking for feedback. It’s on us if we don’t provide it.

SQL Track at Orlando Code Camp

One of the things I worked on as part of SQLSaturday Orlando last year was increasing the engagement with the local .Net group (ONETUG). One of the offshoots of that is that they’ve invited the SQL groups to chair the SQL track this year for Code Camp. Kendal asked for feedback on what kind of SQL content they wanted and we got back the notes below. Will be interesting to see how well we can fill that list! We can also start thinking about topics we want to see on a Developer track at SQLSaturday Orlando. I’d like to see content that educates DBA’s/data people on what/why developers need, are doing, hate doing, challenges with databases, etc. I also want to repeat something I try to say a lot – there is always interest in SQL at Code Camps. Speakers, it’s another place to go to practice your skills and share your enthusiasm.

Here’s the note, or close, that Kendal will be sending out to the Orlando speaker list today:

The Orlando Code Camp is coming up on March 28, 2015 and they have asked oPASS/MagicPASS to chair the SQL track this year. We asked for feedback on the type of SQL presentations they wanted and we received this:

  • A DBA’s guide to dealing with Code First EF
  • Version controlling your database objects
  • Troubleshooting the database side of a slow application
  • Things that every developer should know when working with a database
  • Top database mistakes made by developers and how to avoid them
  • SQL and the Cloud – Good/bad/ugly
  • Why all developers should learn how to work with SSMS
  • SQL vs NoSQL
  • Avoid topics on installation and pure administration
  • Audience is primarily developers, but will include some QA, managers, and of course DBA’s

The call for speakers closes on January 25th and we expect the schedule to be published by February 2nd. Priority will go to sessions that most closely match the list above and we have seven slots to fill. If you don’t have an exact match we encourage you to submit the presentation you have ready that you think would be most interesting to a developer audience. Attendance at the event is typically 600+ and we’ve always seen good attendance at the SQL presentations.

SQLSaturday Events Leaders – Notify Speakers of Selection As Soon As You Can

I was reminded of this when I got a nice email from the SQLSaturday Tampa team letting me know that I had been selected, though it would still be some time before they decided which of my sessions would go on the schedule. This is a great courtesy to a speaker. It allows me to start nailing down work, family, and travel plans based on the event date. On the event side, you have flexibility about when or if you do this:

  • You wait until the call for speakers closes, then figure out the best schedule, let everyone know. If you get this done early it’s fine, it’s painful for a speaker that will be traveling to find out anything less than 60 days out. This gives you the most flexibility. For what it’s worth, I think the schedule should be published 90 days out and never any later than 60 days out.
  • You can notify any/all of the speakers that you know you will put on the schedule (could be locals, “big names”, someone traveling, etc) and let them know if they can publicize it yet or not, then wait until the call for speakers closes to sort through the remaining speakers to figure out the best/balanced schedule you want.

For Orlando this year I’d really like to see us do more of the second option because from a marketing perspective it gives us some news to share. It’s definitely news to publish the schedule, but it’s nice to have some early news, especially if it might drive some early sign ups.

Disable the IE Proxy, At Least in IE9

Proxies and web content filtering are common, maybe even required, but it can be annoying, and sometimes you need to test to see if the proxy is the problem. Usually you can change this via the Connections tab in IE, but I ran into a case where it was gone, doubtless turned off by some domain group policy. I didn’t figure out how to enable the tab, but I did figure out how to enable/disable the proxy directly via a registry edit. It’s HKeycurrentuser, software, Microsoft, Windows, CurrentVersion, Internet Settingg, and then ProxyEnable:

 

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I was local admin when I did this, have not checked to see if it will work with anything else. From a security/audit perspective bypassing the proxy is a big deal, so use this wisely.

Finding Instances That Aren’t Using Kerberos

If you have a central management server set up, or a similar way to run a query against a list, the query below will identify those that are using NTLM instead of Kerberos (or just run on each instance individually). Not necessarily a big deal depending on what you’re doing, but sometimes being able to double hop is useful.

SELECT net_transport, auth_scheme FROM sys.dm_exec_connections WHERE session_id = @@SPID and auth_scheme = ‘NTLM';

If you need to figure out what’s working and what isn’t on a per server basis, the Kerberos Configuration Manager is a useful download. It will show what is and isn’t setup correctly and show you how to fix it, though DBA’s typically won’t have enough domain permissions to do the fix.

Thanks To Sri Sridharan For Serving on the PASS Board

I was thinking about Sri today as I volunteered for a task at SQLSaturday Tampa on the new PASS volunteer sign up page. That was part of what he worked on during his two year term and while it may seem like an obvious feature and function, it was only this last year that it was finally built and deployed. I know it was important to him. He took it to heart when members complained about wanting to volunteer, offering to volunteer, and not getting a response, and he decided that was a problem worth fixing. I think it’s another block in the foundation of PASS, and that is not a bad legacy at all.

Serving on the Board is hard work (and unpaid work), it takes a lot of time, and I appreciate anyone who will make the commitment for two years to maintain and grow PASS and the SQL community. Thanks Sri for volunteering and serving a two year term on the Board.

Excel Substitute and Replace

Maybe I knew this and had to relearn it, but was momentarily stumped when I needed to do some quick clean up and started to use the replace function. The syntax for it seemed strange:

 

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Turns out what I needed was Substitute. Here’s what the help page says:

Substitutes new_text for old_text in a text string. Use SUBSTITUTE when you want to replace specific text in a text string; use REPLACE when you want to replace any text that occurs in a specific location in a text string

And here is what it looks like:

 

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I’m sure there is a reason for it, but it sure seems like a strange implementation

Suggestions for PASS: Transparency & Communication

Earlier this week I posted How To Improve The PASS Connector in response to a general request for feedback about the Connector on Twitter. I had been accruing some notes based on my initial efforts on the PASSWatch blog and I used some of that as the source of the Connector suggestions, but I have some remaining and thought I’d post those today.

  1. PASS Blog/News. One of the things that I’ve noticed during my weekly scan is that what I consider useful events such as the posting of minutes to the governance page aren’t accompanied by a post on the PASS blog. The latest budget did get a post (good), the latest Board Q&A did not. Some might merit a full post (release of the budget is a good example), some might go into a ‘this week’ type of post, but either way it’s something that would make for a better experience by the member interested in keeping up with PASS but not willing to go check separate pages on the site to see if they were updated. It would be a win for PASS as well. As it is the effort expended to create and post things like the minutes often goes unnoticed. Packaging and volume are fair considerations. What I want is a member is a way to reasonably monitor what PASS is accomplishing or thinking about. That can be one feed, or several, as long as it’s easy to discover those sources. Right now it feels like the blog plus the separate press release (for “official” stuff for other news organizations to consume) is good enough, it’s just the blog is under used. Share the stories.
  2. Twitter. PASS is reasonably active on Twitter and there are often good threads on the #sqlpass hash tag. That’s good, but it’s easy to forget that not all members are on Twitter and not all check #sqlpass on a regular basis. It would be worth reviewing the Twitter stream once a week to see if there is anything that should go on the blog and perhaps even in the Connector, ranging from a screenshot to a post that goes into more detail than can be done on Twitter. That might in return drive a few more people to monitor the Twitter stream. That said, it does take effort. [Note: I’ve looked at the stream for PASSWatch to try to figure out if I should post it entirely as an archive, or try to find the top two or three tweets, and I think I’ll go with the archive approach soon]
  3. Summit Locations. PASS has currently decided the location for the Summit quite a few years in advance (required to secure the space) and that’s recorded in the minutes, but it’s not published anywhere else that would be easily found by a member. I see no harm in having a location on the web site that lists the location (and dates, if known) for future events. Back when I served on the Board there was a concern that members might elect to skip a year if they location for the next year was going to be closer to them. I think that’s an overblown concern, but more than that, why not let our members make good financial decisions by telling them what we know (and have decided, and published, if obscurely)?
  4. Financial Reserves. Similar to the comment on Summit locations, I’d like a place where I can see the balance and activity for the reserves over the past five years or so. I don’t want to hunt through minutes and budgets to figure it out.
  5. Budget Summary and Planned vs Actual. The PASS Board puts a lot of effort into creating a budget each year and publishes that budget with a fair amount of detail. I don’t want to lose the detail, but I’d really like to understand what changed in the budget from this year vs the previous year at a department/portfolio level, or a bit lower down the hierarchy. Changes in allocation represent a change in interest/commitment. Such changes are necessary, but very hard to parse out right now. Right now PASS creates a full budget and a very high level post about the budget for the new fiscal year. I’m asking that we also get a mid level change summary to be added, either as a separate document or as part of either of the two that are currently created. Planned vs Actual is something we’ve never had to my knowledge. Budgets aren’t set in stone. They can flex up or down based on changes in revenues as well as due to responses to problems or opportunities. Without seeing the final spend we cannot determine if the funds are being used as we were told they would be. That is not meant to imply any sort of unethical activity as we can see some of the changes via votes on budget exceptions, but again we’d have to dig through the minutes to find them and still not get the entire picture. The work has to be done internally anyway, there is no reason to not publish a planned vs actual summary along with any commentary that seems appropriate.
  6. Board Q&A. Right now the Board holds one Q&A each year, at the annual PASS Summit. That only allows a very small number of people to participate as it’s limited to those members attending the Summit and of those, the ones that are willing to give up an hour of learning to participate. I don’t want to see that eliminated, but clearly one hour a year is not enough to address questions and concerns from members. The issue of more than one Board Q&A each year was mentioned at the 2014 Board Q&A as possible for 2015) and I hope that happens, with at least one being accessible online in real time. I think the Q&A has value to the Board as well, it’s the only time they deal with members as a group at the same time and that helps them build a shared understanding of concerns presented in a way that reading an email thread can never do.
  7. Committee Notes/Minutes. Right now there are almost no committee notes being posted. I’ve always found it invaluable to capture notes during meetings and circulate them for review. We did this for the first SQLRally, and they used to do it for the Program Committee as well. I get that some discussions need to be confidential (much of the NomCom meetings for example), but right now we can’t even tell if and when the committees are meeting.

To that list I’ll add this; telling the story is important. It’s a lesson we all learn eventually as employees, that our boss/client doesn’t always know what we’ve done unless we tell them. PASS volunteers do a ton of work at all levels and it’s important to share that. It’s also important to understand that telling the story as you go takes them with you on the journey and it’s a chance for in-flight course corrections if someone reads what you’re doing and has suggestions (or complaints!). Publishing minutes (the Board minutes are good quality, I’d score them a ‘B’) isn’t the same as telling the story. It’s part of it, but it’s not all of it. Said differently, being transparent isn’t the same as communicating.

There is the risk with every single thing that gets published that it will be taken badly or misinterpreted. That will happen, and it’s not a reason to stop publishing. It can be reduced by looking at the news/decision from other perspectives, or asking those with other perspectives to review it with a critical eye before it goes out.

Finally, here’s a question I’d ask Board members to think about – do the members know what you’re doing and what you’ve accomplished? If not, why not? If you don’t like to write, find a writer. If you don’t have time, you’ve got (in my opinion) your priorities wrong – tell us about the work, even if means you do an hour or two less of “real” PASS work. Don’t wait until the next election, tell us as you go. We’ll understand what you’re doing or trying to do, and it helps to prepare the next generation of leaders as you model both transparency and the work of serving the members. I can tell you from personal experience that doing so makes the entire effort a lot more fun.

Closing Out 2014

I’m writing this on Monday as I’ve been thinking about the year and what I’d like to do next year. More than ever I appreciate that plans and lists are important, but so is the ability and willingness to adapt as things change, A once a quarter plan/review has worked reasonably well for me. I hit some of my goals, missed others, grew some personally and maybe not as much professionally, though one always affects the other. I’ve enjoyed putting time into the local SQL community and will try to do so again in 2015, though probably in different ways than in 2014.

There are a few things I want to do and try next year, some things to finish, and I have to remember to focus more, to say no more, and to continue building the skills I’ll need for the next steps in life and career.

Wishing you all a safe holiday.