I won’t be at PASS Summit this year, but that doesn’t mean I can’t give advice to those who will be there. I got an email asking for advice for Summit First-Timers, and after sending over the list of tips, I figured I’d write a blog post on the topic while I was thinking about it.
Connect. Share. Learn.
PASS has used the “Connect. Share. Learn.” tagline for years. However, the vast majority of first-timers tend to focus only on the last part. Learning is an important part of any conference–but most of the sessions are recorded, making it easy for you to consume the educational content when you get back to the office. The “Connect” part is a lot harder to do after you’re back at the office.
Don’t be a loner
Networking is an invaluable part of the PASS Summit experience. You don’t have to go to big parties or stay out late. You don’t have to do what everyone else is doing. There are thousands of other conference attendees who are there, and you have something in common with someone else. If your idea of a good night is a quiet dinner with one or two friends–then do that! The key is to put yourself out there and spend some time with some other people–in whatever way is comfortable for you.
Because Networking is so important, 9 out of 10 tips for Summit attendees focus on it–and none of my tips are about going to sessions.
1. First-Timer Orientation
(Full Disclosure: I’ve never been) At the first mention of “speed networking,” I ran in the other direction. If you ask me, forced/structured interaction with strangers is a form of torture that is banned by the Geneva Convention. However, I’ve heard great things about this event. Many people meet other first-timers and end up having a friend for the week, or for life. For some people, speed networking is just the nudge they need to meet new people. If that’s you, then check this out.
2. PASS Women in Tech Happy Hour
No, you don’t have to be a woman to attend. This event is put on by the PASS Women In Tech (WIT) Virtual Group. One of the goals of the WIT group is to promote the incredibly talented women working with data, and to help promote equality. I wouldn’t miss this event for the world. It is one of the most welcoming groups of people that you could hang out with while sipping a soda or beer.
This year, the WIT Happy Hour is doubling as a launch party Voices from the Data Platform. This is a for a book featuring women writers who are writing about the technology they are passionate about. Each chapter is written by an author who is one of the top experts on her topic. It’s exciting to see a book highlighting a selection of the best & brightest in the industry–who all happen to be women.
3. Use Twitter, even if just for the week
Twitter isn’t for everyone, but it is where the #SqlFamily hangs out. If you don’t have an account, sign up for one–even if you only use it for conferences, it’s worth it. At Summit, people use the #sqlsummit hashtag (and #summit2017 and a few variations…our data hygiene isn’t great) to converse. People will post a public call for others to join them–or looking to join up with others. It can be a great way to make a friend, or find a dining companion.
Last year, I tired on Sunday night, having just gotten into Seattle. I tweeted out looking for a partner in crime for a quiet night. It took exactly 3 minutes to get a response:
we're at Terra Plata if you wanna join.
— Brent Ozar (@BrentO) October 24, 2016
I was 3 blocks away, and headed off to Terra Plata for the quiet night I was after. (side note: Terra Plata is a great restaurant. I ate there twice last year.)
4. Play hooky. Skip at least one session every day
The sky bridge over Pike Street is converted into The Community Zone. There are bean bags, there are outlets (your phone isn’t going to charge itself), and there are people. Talk. Make some friends. Network. Pass out business cards.
Go for coffee with a friend. If you walk up the hill from the convention center, there are a few cool coffee places. If you need a break, you can walk up to Victrola Coffee, or the fancy Starbucks Roastery to have coffee and a quiet place to sit. Starbucks isn’t the best coffee in town, but the roastery is really cool. The best coffee in town is at Monorail Espresso, which is just a window on the sidewalk on Pike Street.
5. “Hi _________, my name is _________ and I read your blog.”
Introduce yourself to SQLebritites and bloggers that you see at Summit. Don’t be shy about walking up to someone you recognize and saying hello. It’s a great way to start a conversation. As a blogger, I get an incredible thrill to meet people who I have helped. As a conference attendee, I love being able to meet someone whose writing helped me and thank them. I’ve been on both sides of this introduction, and leads to great conversations.
6. Check out SQL Karaoke
There’s a big SQL Karaoke party on Tuesday night that requires Eventbrite registration (free). There’s also a smaller group of dedicated Karaoke fans who you can find by watching the #SQLKaraoke hashtag on twitter (see? You should be on twitter).
I hate doing Karaoke, but I still go to the big Tuesday night event. There is a live band playing the music, not just some guy with a MacBook Pro. PASS attendees take over the whole bar, so you’re surrounded by data platform geeks. It’s super fun to see big name SQLebrities singing and having fun. I bet if you ask Grant Fritchey (blog|twitter), he’ll join you to sing some Dropkick Murphys.
7. Talk to your vendors
A bunch of your vendors will be at Summit, too. Hardware vendors, software vendors, consulting companies…. they’ll all be there. Do you have an upcoming purchase you want to talk about? Do you have an ongoing issue that you want to corner them on and finally get solved? Maybe you aren’t that familiar with their product, and you want to get more info about it. Or maybe you just want to say hello and put some faces with some names.
Visit their booths in the exhibition hall (you might get some swag from them). If you know who your Account Manager is, you can email him/her and make plans to meet up with the specific people who can help you specifically. Also, many vendors will have customer appreciation events that are invite-only to their customers. Ask your vendors if they are having any events in Seattle to get on the guest list!
8. Birds of a Feather Luncheons
In years past, PASS has had one day with this lunch–it’s been so popular that they’ve expanded it and it will happen all three days!
In the back corner of the lunch hall, there are tables with a topic assigned. Each table also has an industry expert who is there to help lead discussion and answer questions. There are technical topics, plus community-focused topics for Women in Tech, LGBTQ+, Veterans, etc. Grab your lunch, and go sit down at a table to talk (or listen) to something you’re interested in. Want some free advice from the likes of Thomas Grohser or John Martin(blog|twitter)? The Birds of a Feather luncheon is the place.
9. Tons of community events
There really is an endless stream of things to do at Summit. If you’re a runner or walker, there is a 6am #sqlrun on Wednesday morning. There’s a Game Night for tabletop board/card games (Eventbrite registration required). There’s a page on the Summit website with both PASS-run and Community-run events. All the non-PASS events listed have agreed to adopt PASS’s Anti-Harassment Policy. These events are geared to create a positive, accepting environment for everyone–you can go knowing that you’ll be comfortable and safe.
Plus, there are all sorts of informal groups to get together with. Last year, I did a tour of the Seattle Underground with some other attendees (It was tons of fun–just purchase tickets in advance). People get together to visit their favorite places in Seattle: The Space Needle, Top Pot Doughnuts, and Biscuit Bitch are all popular stops. Last year, there was a photowalk–I haven’t seen details on one yet this year, but you can always do one on your own! Take to twitter, talk to people in the Community Zone, and you can certainly organize a group!
10. Pack carefully
My sister from another mister Jes Borland (blog|twitter) published her packing list for Summit. It’s spot-on and covers everything you should consider. I’ll just point out that you can’t have enough chargers & portable battery packs for your phone. Pack an extra that you can share for some bonus karma.
Also consider that you might be coming home with some extra swag that you didn’t have on your way to Seattle. Leave some space in your bag, or pack a lightweight duffel bag so you can come home with more bags than you left with.