It was amazing, to say the least.
And yes, I know I’m a few months late to the game to blog about last year’s PASS Summit, but I only recently got my blog up and running and have had a chance to compile myriad pictures I took during the conference. Whether you’re relatively new to SQL Server and are considering going or a veteran who has been multiple times, I thought I’d share my experience in hopes that you’ll glean something from it–maybe a new nugget of information.
To give you a little bit of background about me, I began working with SQL Server 2000/2005 in 2006 and have remained involved ever since. I learned about the Summit in 2012, around the time PASS sponsored a SQL Saturday in Rochester, NY. Once I realized that there was a much larger conference, usually held in Seattle, and with all of the SQL luminaries in attendance, I knew I had to register. However, the entire trip can get a little pricey. Conference fee, hotels, flights, meals (although the Summit did a great job of keeping its attendees well fed), local transportation, and anything else that one would want to do while in the area. I’m not saying that it’s not worth it (because it is!); I’m saying that it can be hard to come up with that kind of money individually.
My employer rotates through people on my team to send to conferences. Last year was my year to go. In addition, we had just completed a large-scale migration from a database with a smaller support community to SQL Server, with arguably the best and most supportive community. Therefore, I thought this was a perfect time to attend the Summit.
Booking the Trip
When I received the green light to start the whole process, the first thing I did was register. No problem. I didn’t get any kind of early bird discount because I was actually a bit late in registering, but no problem getting my name added to the attendee list!
However……because it was so late, I kept noticing hotels selling out on the PASS website followed by newly-available hotels with which PASS had made arrangements. I was just about to book the Four Seasons when that, too, sold out. Fortunately, PASS provided a contact person (Brooke Daley) who kept my name on a waiting list. Sure enough, a room opened up at the Westin.
Air travel was also no problem at all. I flew Delta as two one-way flights. I do this for more control over my itinerary. I could write a book (or at least a blog post) on my traveling tactics, but that’s for another day.
Now keep in mind, this was my first PASS Summit and my first time to Seattle (and the Pacific Northwest for that matter). To be honest, that’s why I was so excited–I like to try new things, and there was so much talk on Twitter and blogs leading up to the conference that I knew that there was always going to be something to do or talk to someone about. Before the Summit, I had made a list of the sessions I planned to attend, the people I wanted to meet, and the various extracurricular activities I needed to see for myself (i.e., SQL Karaoke). In fact, I had my own PASS Summit 2016 countdown where, for the 30 days leading up to the conference, I posted on Twitter a SQL-related link that I’ve found useful in my years of working with SQL Server.
Ok, so as I mentioned, I flew Delta–with a layover in Detroit, MI. Wouldn’t you know that I ran into Ed Pollack (@EdwardPollack), who was speaking at the PASS Summit, and who has either spoken at or organized multiple SQL Saturdays in New York? I appreciated the fact that he was wearing a Summit polo! He’s a really nice guy and we had a brief discussion before we boarded the plane.
Once I arrived in Seattle, I was both surprised and excited to see the following sign right in the airport on the way to baggage claim:
Once I grabbed my luggage, I searched for the “Light Rail.” A few weeks prior, at a PASS chapter meeting, some of my fellow cronies who had previously attended the conference mentioned that this was an easy, inexpensive way to get from the airport to downtown Seattle, and that it’s quite the scenic ride. After asking around, I found the train, made my way downtown and checked in to my hotel.
I was happy to be done traveling, but with the time change and all of the modes of transportation, I was dehydrated and my head was pounding, so commence my search for ibuprofen……
The three-day conference itself began on Wednesday, October 26, with pre-cons the two days prior. I opted not to attend the pre-cons this first year. It saved some money and gave me something to look forward to in future years. When I arrived on Tuesday afternoon, I picked up my registration contents–my lanyard, name tag, and my hi-vis highlighter yellow “FIRST TIMER” ribbon (just in case there was any doubt that I had attended the conference before). Oh, and as a gift, they gave us what looked like a laptop sleeve and a notebook, both with PASS SUMMIT 2016 branding.
On Tuesday evening, PASS held a first timer’s orientation prior to the welcome reception. This was like speed dating with hundreds of people, talking about your favorite things, like tables, efficient queries, and high availability (I’m sure there’s some joke to be had there). In all seriousness, it was a great networking event that put together a bunch of people that were all newbies to the conference but shared an interest in SQL Server and data, in general. It’s a great idea, and the orientation allowed me to meet many wonderful people.
The welcome reception was also a great event. A plethora of attendees, a spacious room with the perfect amount of lighting, and no shortage of food or variety of food. Oh, and a bar. Or three. In any case, I again met several great and interesting people, which seemed to be a recurring theme at the Summit. I was getting an even stronger sense of community and why the hashtag #SQLFamily is so frequently used on Twitter. Since I had a big day ahead of me and because of jet lag, I called it an early night and walked back to my hotel.
As I previously mentioned, I had marked all of the sessions I wanted to attend at the conference–and I’m not one to skip time blocks, so I had at least one, and in many cases two to three sessions for each hour block on my list. The first one I attended was Brent Ozar’s (@BrentO) session titled, “Intro to Internals: How to think like the SQL Server Engine”. This was really cool. For one thing, Brent was on my list of people to meet. For another, as you might expect, this presentation was held in a HUGE room that was packed with people. And, the topic itself interests me, so it was kind of a trifecta.
Following Brent’s session, I attended Eduardo Castro’s (@edocastro) talk, titled “R Language for the SQL Server DBA”. R was relatively new to me, so it was helpful to get this exposure.
The next session was Gail Shaw’s (@SQLintheWild) session titled, “The Many Latencies of TempDB”. Here’s the thing about Gail–she could be giving a talk on seemingly any topic surrounding SQL Server and I would have attended her session. She not only has a wealth of knowledge, but she’s consistently helping so many members of the SQL community, both old and new, understand database concepts and strategies, and she’ll tell you why or why you shouldn’t do something. I commend her selfless attitude and general commitment to the overall community. Regarding her session, it was actually quite interesting. I’m sure if I told any of my friends that a talk about tempdb in a SQL Server database piqued my interest, I would get a puzzled and disturbed look. In any case, it was interesting! Good information about what TempDB is, why it’s an important part of the database, how you could really create some bottlenecks, and what the heck to do about it.
For the last session of the day, I went to David Klee’s presentation, “Virtual SQL Servers. Actual Performance”. I’ve seen David at a few SQL Saturdays in the past, and he’s an incredibly nice guy who really knows his s#%t when it comes to virtualization. This is a little out of my area, but that’s why I attended–to get more information so that I could apply it to my work.
Another person who has helped me learn or clarify so much about SQL Server is Kendra Little. She spoke in the first time block on Thursday. Similar to Brent and Gail’s session, the presentation was held in one of the large rooms with a plethora of people in attendance. I could see that I wasn’t the only one she’s helped–people obviously knew about her. Kendra used some concrete examples of locking issues, explained what each type meant, and how they could be addressed. This was particularly useful because I think locking is something every DBA contends with at some point or another. All the better that Kendra was the one to share the knowledge.
For the next time block, I had planned to go to “Hacking SQL Server for Fun and Profit” by Argenis Fernandez (@DBArgenis). However, I think PASS may have slightly underestimated interest because the room quickly filled to capacity and I couldn’t go inside to listen. So instead I went to Mike Lawell’s (@sqldiver) presentation, “Execution Plans for Mere Mortals”, which I had wanted to attend anyway. I was a bit late but Mike was doing a fine job of going through execution plans. In the months leading up to the conference, I had done quite a bit of research on execution plans, so I didn’t take away a ton of new information, but the room was pretty full and I’m sure many attendees did.
Similarly to the previous time block, I had planned to attend Grant Fritchey’s (@GFritchey)’s presentation, “Faster Provisioning with SQL Clone”. Again, the room had filled quickly and I couldn’t stay to watch. I was a little turned off by this, but I tried to make the best out of the situation and visited the SQL Clinic to have a deep conversation about performance tuning with one of the SQL Server team members at Microsoft–Wes Springob. Wes is a great guy who listened to everything I said, offered some incredibly helpful advice, and even invited me back to talk more the next day. Superb idea for Microsoft to offer their resources to Summit attendees. So cool.
The second day of the conference came to a close for me with Mark Broadbent’s (@retracement) session titled, “Lockless in Seattle: Using In-Memory OLTP Transaction Processing”. Mark got deep into the subject matter, which was pretty neat. I wish I had taken better notes since this is one area I would really like to brush up on, especially given its tremendous benefits to OLTP systems. And, I unfortunately had to leave the session a little bit early to prepare for the SQL networking dinner organized by Steve Jones (@way0utwest) and Andy Warren (@sqlandy), which didn’t quite go as planned (more on that later).
On Friday, the final day of the Summit, I had a full day of sessions ahead of me. It began with Jimmy May’s (@aspiringgeek) presentation, “Columnstore Indexes in SQL Server: Flipping the DW Faster Bit”. This is him doing a handstand to represent data compression achieved through Columnstore Indexes. Awesome? Yes.
I took the next two hours to return to the SQL clinic so that Wes and I could continue our performance discussion. This was my last opportunity to glean some good information before the conference ended.
The second-to-last session of the day for me was Pinal Dave’s “Kick Start! SQL Server 2014 / 2016 Performance Tips and Tricks”. Pinal is another SQL luminary who has shared his knowledge of SQL with thousands of IT professionals, primarily through his blog — https://blog.sqlauthority.com/. He usually does this in an extremely practical, easy-to-understand way, which I’ve always appreciated. This presentation was not a disappointment–he was humorous about his wife not believing he was actually in Seattle presenting (and therefore made us all take a selfie), he focused on some very simple SQL features that can seriously improve or hinder performance, etc. Oh, and if you haven’t guessed it yet, he was on my list of people to meet too.
After Pinal’s session, I was both excited to attend and intrigued by Steve Stedman’s presentation, “When Database Corruption Strikes”. I feel like knowing what to do in this type of situation is paramount in a DBA role. Since I have a hand in both development and administration, I wanted to listen to what Steve had to say and possibly learn about new techniques to combat corruption. And that I did. Steve went through a couple of database corruption scenarios and their respective solutions. The most notable one (to me, at least) was one he demoed from a client whose solution required going into a hex editor, copying a subset of values from a “good” page into a “not-so-good” page of the database. I was actually in awe.
Now, following this last session of the day and the conference itself, I have to say the Summit has been nothing short of amazing. I know this was my first time attending, but I can see why so many SQL Server professionals return year after year. The camaraderie, the knowledge share, the parties, Seattle.
The Other Stuff
As I mentioned, the Summit was awesome. An important part of my experience, and probably others’ too, happened outside of the classroom, so to speak. Here are some key moments from the week that made what would have been a really good week, a great week!
An unexpected and extremely fun dinner with the Microsoft SSRS team and friends, Jorge and Laura:
The bean bags at the Community Zone:
The Starbucks Reserve Tasting Room (only one in the world):
The PASS The Bacon Breakfast with David Klee, Denny Cherry (@mrdenny), Joey D’Antoni (@jdanton), and Geoff Hiten (@SQLCraftsman):
[No pictures…to protect the innocent]
The “How did you get involved with SQL Server?” Wall:
The Query Challenge:
Awesome massages at the conference:
This gigantic pumpkin:
Pike Place Market:
This amazing gym at my second hotel:
Most importantly, getting to spend time with my beautiful wife, Amy!
Looking forward to the next PASS Summit!