Insights into the PASS Summit Speaker Selection Process

Selecting the program for the PASS Summit is a complicated and lengthy process, one that requires a Program Committee of over 100 volunteers to work together to review abstracts, speakers, and session tracks. Starting immediately following the previous year’s Summit, this very committed and passionate group of individuals spends countless hours evaluating the previous year’s program before laying the groundwork for the following year.

This year, we have a Program Committee that includes three managers: Lance Harra, Senior Program Manager; and Angela Henry and Mindy Curnutt, Program Managers. The Program Committee included 28 volunteers representing our global regions (LATAM, EMEA, and APAC), with the balance coming from the United States. Over half the Program Committee members have experience selecting sessions for PASS Summit or other conferences.

The Program team has completed the process of selecting the sessions for the community slots for PASS Summit 2016. This year we received 840 abstracts from 255 speakers, for a possible 112 community sessions, 10 pre-conference sessions, and four lightning talks. As part of the sessions selected, 20% are first-time speakers at PASS Summit and 80% have spoken at least once in the past. The remaining sessions will include Microsoft sessions, vendor sessions, and 10 sessions that we will be selecting as part of the recently completed community survey.

The actual review process takes between eight and 10 weeks, following the close of the Call for Speakers. The initial process, led by Mindy, removes speaker names from session titles and abstracts. Review of abstracts is done without the reviewer knowing who made the submission. While the review of abstracts is underway, another group of volunteers rated the speakers, led by Ben DeBow.

The speaker review team uses the Speaker Profile provided and evaluates each speaker based on their history of speaking at events, and, as much as the data is available, on the evaluation scores of those previous events. The reviews are scored, and the speaker's overall score is then associated with the speaker's ID number. The abstracts are reviewed at least four times, so that no abstract either benefits or suffers from having been first or last on all readings by each team. The ratings are then averaged together and each abstract is then assigned its score.

Once this process is complete, the Speaker ID (not the name) for each session is given to the track team leads, and the teams are given the number of sessions in their track to be selected for Summit, and from that, the track team provides recommendations. Using the combined scores and the track team recommendations, the Program Managers and I selected the sessions for this year's Summit. We rely heavily on the recommendations from the abstract review team to make these decisions.

The Program Managers and I work to ensure that the overall program works together to deliver a balance of first-time speakers, established speakers, industry leaders, and thought leadership from Microsoft.  Creating a robust and competitive program ensures that PASS will continue to be the largest community conference that supports technical data professionals who leverage the Microsoft Data Platform.

Thanks for all of your support, and thank you to all of the volunteers on the Program committee, as well as my Program colleagues at PASS HQ, for all of your hard work to put this event together!

Allen White
Director, PASS Programs

Improving the Speaker Contract


Two weeks ago I invited each member of our community to share their thoughts on the Summit Speaker Contract with us. We received valuable feedback and comments on the process and the Speaker Contract. 

I want you to know that we listened to your feedback. We have now produced a revised version of the contract and wanted to make it available for review before the 2016 PASS Summit Speakers are announced later this month.

While we received feedback encompassing the entire contract, we have focused our efforts in the immediate on clauses 14, 15, and 16, which are the sections of the contract that have been modified. Please read the Speaker Contract now. Please provide your feedback by 9 AM PDT next Monday, 13 June, to ensure that any comments and concerns are addressed and incorporated into the final version. You can email feedback@sqlpass.org or leave your comments at the end of this post.

I thank you for your patience and also your continued involvement in this important element of Summit planning.

Adam Jorgensen
President, PASS

Keeping Discussions Professional


One of the strengths of the community of professionals that work with the Microsoft data platform is exactly that: it’s a community. People want to contribute, to help one another be better at their jobs and grow their careers. That’s why we contribute so many volunteer hours to putting on events, speaking and writing. We invest in the community because we believe in it. And because we invest in it we feel a sense of ownership over what happens in it.

As the largest organization for these data professionals, PASS is one of the places where decisions that impact the community are made. The sense of ownership people have in this community extends to PASS. It is one of the main reasons why people have passionate debates on topics like speaker contracts, policy changes and elections: they care deeply about the outcome. Debates and exchanges of ideas are good, they make our organization better. The feedback we are getting now on changes to the speaker contract will help us improve that document. As PASS President Adam Jorgensen said in his blog, we recognize that we didn’t quite get it right. We welcome your input so we can fix it.

But there can be a shadow to all the passionate debate and that shadow is revealed when the tone of the discussion stops being professional, when it ceases to be civil.  PASS as an organization has no room for insults, name-calling or misogyny. Personal attacks of any kind, be they based on gender, race, political affiliation, religious beliefs or anything else, are not welcome in PASS and should not be welcome in the community as a whole.

Let’s all channel our passion for this community in a constructive way and keep our discussions professional and respectful.

Send us your feedback on the speaker contract, or any other any other PASS topic, to feedback@sqlpass.org. Together let’s continue to make our organization better and fulfill PASS’ mission to help our members connect, share and learn.

Denise McInerney
Vice President, Marketing

Getting the Speaker Contract Right


As President of PASS, I would like to address the recent communications surrounding the PASS Summit speaker contract. While the contract is written for selected speakers, the intent is to ensure that every person attending Summit, whether a speaker, vendor/partner, or attendee, has the best possible experience at our event and is able to connect, share, and learn.

Every person that attends a PASS event is critical in ensuring that we deliver an excellent event and fulfill our educational delivery goals. This means we have to get the balance between our community and our partners right. The creation of paragraph 16 in this year’s speaker contract was designed to address and help balance this concern. However, in this instance, the Board is aware that we got it wrong.

In changing the speaker contract, our intent was to ensure that attendees receive an exclusive focus on quality training. I think we can all agree that sessions should not be marketing-driven. We want PASS Summit to continue delivering quality education and networking opportunities.

We have a unique presence in the industry, delivering events that are practical and training-focused. That is what the community wants. But to keep offering the conference, we need to also ensure that the conference and PASS as an organization remain financially stable.

We recognize that we didn’t quite get it right and many of you have had very strong opinions on this. The Board and I have all been monitoring our social media channels, listening to your feedback and comments. This blog is the beginning of our response to your concerns.

We are all trying to do what is best for our global PASS Community, which is why we are not going to rush a response to this issue. Instead, I am encouraging further open and professional dialogue to help us reach the goal of an effective speaker contract. We want to consider all of your feedback and comments before formulating any contract revisions. Please provide your feedback in the comments below, or email feedback@sqlpass.org.

I look forward to your hearing from you.

Adam Jorgensen
PASS President

Business Analytics Community Portfolio Update


Since PASS was founded in 1999, we have developed a dedicated global #sqlfamily. We are focused on becoming the leading professional association for all data professionals. With both the technical and non-technical data professional relying on business analytics (BA) more significantly in their roles, this is the perfect time for PASS to support and develop that segment of our global membership.

The numbers are certainly encouraging. We currently have over 25,000 global members who identified a professional interest in BA. This is an excellent position to be in, given we only started to diversify our membership and training focus to include BA five years ago. That is why we will implement a number of strategies this year to continue that momentum.

We also saw about 27% YoY growth in our BA Virtual Chapter, adding 1100 members between May 2015 and May 2016 to a total of 3987 members. Recognizing this growth, we will work closely with our Chapter leaders to better understand the BA community, their training needs, and preferred learning modes.

Following detailed discussions with the community, we announced at the Business Analytics Conference this year that we will be rolling out intensive Business Analytics Days. These will be regional events focused on training and professional development, designed to provide more in-depth information than is possible in the standard conference format. The aim is to develop programming that meets the needs of our BA professionals, including seminars, hands-on labs, and half- and full-day sessions.

We will also undertake a number of other initiatives to continue supporting our BA community. Our next BA Marathon will be hosted in July. The BA Marathons work similarly to the 24 Hours of PASS events, where BA specialists present back-to-back virtual webinars on a variety of BA topics. We will also look to develop a series of a podcasts with leading analytics experts, intended to explore a variety of industry-related topics.

These are some of my portfolio responsibilities as we work towards building and supporting the global BA community. If you would like to provide any feedback, or help us to support these efforts as a volunteer, please reach out or comment on this post below.

Jen Stirrup
Director, PASS Business Analytics Community

Virtual Chapters Portfolio Update


Hello all. I’d like to take a few moments to update you on the Virtual Chapters (VC) portfolio. I’m excited to share that we are on-track to deliver a total of 35,000 training hours by 30 June 2016. We are also making good progress on our target to increase VC registrations from the LATAM and EMEA regions by 25%.

Our growth in regional attendees is tremendous in supporting our global community. But this has also made us acutely aware of the need to expand our time zone availability, as most VCs are currently held between 5pm and 6:30pm UTC. This time frame makes it difficult for southern hemisphere attendees to be involved. We are currently undertaking an off-hours pilot project with select VCs to investigate how we can expand these time zone offerings to other VCs.

We are also currently developing a VC Learning Pathways page where you will be able to easily access a variety of previously-recorded VC sessions. They will be categorized by topic and we’ll also have a “Highlights” section that will feature the top sessions chosen by VC leaders. This is an exciting new addition and we hope you will enjoy easy access to the many incredible presentations put on by our community members.

These are some of the activities we are undertaking to enhance Virtual Chapters in 2016. As we work to make changes and bring you improved learning opportunities throughout 2016, I will share more details with you.

Thanks,

Wendy Pastrick
Director, PASS Virtual Chapters

Addressing Confusion Around the AHP


I'd like to address some concerns that have been brought up surrounding the recent changes to the PASS Anti-Harassment Policy (AHP).

There are concerns that the policy will be used to ban someone from PASS Summit for swearing or that joking among friends will be policed. The PASS AHP has been in place since 2012; in that time there have been no examples of the policy being used in this way.

This policy is about protecting people against real harassment: women being groped, people being subject to unwanted sexual advances, people being threatened with physical harm. These examples are not hypothetical; they have occurred at other industry events, and unfortunately some have occurred at PASS events. When considering the AHP I'd ask every member of the community to keep this top-of-mind.

Before the recent changes we could only take action if an incident occurred at an activity directly sponsored by PASS: a session room, in the convention center, or at a PASS-sponsored social event. If the same incident occurred at a partner-sponsored party, in a taxi cab or in the hallway of a hotel, we could not take any action under the original version of the policy. Think about that for a minute: if a woman was groped by another attendee at an off-site party we had to tell her "sorry, we can't do anything."

There have been concerns raised that any complaint will result in someone being removed from PASS Summit. To be clear: we are committed to investigating every complaint; that does not mean that every complaint will result in an action being taken. The AHP is not a zero-tolerance policy, as some have suggested. The Anti-Harassment Review Committee (AHRC) has discretion as to what action it takes, if any. And all AHRC activities are reported to the full Board of Directors.

I hope this clears up some of the confusion and misunderstanding about what the AHP is actually designed to do. I encourage every PASS member to read and better understand this important policy document.

Thanks,

Denise McInerney
Vice President, Marketing

Why We Revised the Anti-Harassment Policy and What that Means


The PASS Board of Directors recently approved a revised version of the Anti-Harassment Policy. This is a very important policy document for PASS, designed to ensure that everybody has an enjoyable experience at PASS events. I made developing this policy part of my campaign platform for my Board seat in 2011, recognizing that it was something we needed, and an essential element of other technical conferences and events, and have remained committed to its development and refinement since.

As has been outlined in a 2015 blog post by Immediate Past President Thomas LaRock, there was an increase in the number of incidents reported at last year’s PASS Summit. The policy is designed to reduce incidents, and to clearly outline the recourse/action to be taken when incidents do occur.

The policy has been in effect since it was first developed in 2012. Since then, the Board has been monitoring its effectiveness. Following PASS Summit 2015 we decided it was time to revisit the policy and I undertook the reporting and management of this on behalf of the Board with my PASS HQ counterparts and PASS Governance. This was a comprehensive process and I want to make clear that we took this very seriously: we researched other conferences to see what their policies were, we spoke to vendors, and we considered community feedback.

The actual policy purpose and definition of harassment remain exactly the same:

We are dedicated to providing a harassment-free conference experience for everyone, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, disability, religion, or any other protected classification…

Harassment includes, but is not limited to, offensive verbal comments related to gender, race, sexual orientation, disability, religion, or any other protected classification directed toward an individual or group. Intimidation, threats, stalking, harassing photography or recording, sustained disruption of talks or other events, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome attention will also be considered harassment. Similarly, sexual, racist, derogatory, threatening, or other inappropriate language and imagery are not appropriate for any conference venue, including sessions.

So what has changed? Well, we have extended the range of coverage. The previous policy made it clear that it was onsite at PASS events, but now it also covers event attendees at all times and places during the duration of the conference/event, including offsite vendor activities. As I mentioned previously, we consulted with vendors and they are onboard with our changes. We have updated the PASS vendor agreement to include this requirement, moving forward. We also ask that any members of our community who may organize an offsite social activity or event also sign on to following these guidelines.

We have also made it easier and safer for people to make reports, including the ability to report anonymously, and will provide easier access to the form used for reporting an incident, both online and in hardcopy format. The policy also now includes new language defining physical danger, and making it clear that this is not an emergency service.

The process for handling reported incidents is unchanged. The Anti-Harassment Review Committee (AHRC) will review all reports, investigate, and take action as it deems appropriate.

As part of the broader awareness campaign for the policy, we will ensure that it is more widely visible, publishing it in the conference program guides and clearly onsite, as well. While the revised version was not endorsed in time for the PASS Business Analytics Conference, it will be in place for Summit 2016 and future events.

I hope you recognize the importance of having this more robust Anti-Harassment Policy. As has been mentioned before, this is not about policing the community; it is about ensuring that all of us are able to have a safe and enjoyable experience at PASS events.

Thanks,

Denise McInerney
Vice President, Marketing

Portfolio Update: PASS Programs


The first PASS Summit I attended was in Seattle in 2003. It was the first time I'd been to Seattle since I attended the 1962 Seattle World's Fair as an eight-year-old. It was the start of a significant change in my life, one for which I'm eternally grateful as I met people who were as passionate about data as I am.

I’d thought about a seat on the PASS Board of Directors over the years and always felt that I'd most be interested in the PASS Programs portfolio, because the content of Summit is what brings people together (at least initially). Once there, the connections made and the relationships formed provide meaningful value, but as in so many other aspects of life, content is king. Those are some of the reasons why I feel so passionate about this portfolio.

The program portfolio will deliver 160,970 technical training hours in 2016 and there are a number of activities that I will be overseeing throughout the year to ensure that we continue to deliver the best possible program content.

This includes refining our current conference programming and better understanding attendee data to ensure that our program offerings will continue to meet the changing demands and needs of data professionals, now and into the future. This will also include reviewing the structure and format of Summit (e.g. number of pre-cons, lab offerings etc.) to ensure that we balance great content with financial considerations, and continue to uphold the quality of our events.

In addition, we will look to provide attendees with learning paths for their individual learning objectives, a way for them to define for themselves the direction they want to go with their learning and then also help to provide the content necessary to meet those goals.

A large part of continuing to deliver quality education and training is our speakers. I am proud of the fact that we are one of the only major technology conferences where we encourage the participation of new speakers. We will continue to grow our community speakers and help them to put their best foot forward for speaker selection with efforts like the abstract coaching service and speaker resources. 

All of this is designed to deliver the best possible training and development opportunities for all of you in 2016 and beyond.

If you have any ideas about improving our program offerings, please reach out in the comments below.

Allen White
Director, PASS Programs

Project Priorities for the SQLSaturday Portfolio


As I have only recently transitioned into this portfolio, I will provide a mid-year update based on Tim Ford’s previous strategic focus for the remainder of the PASS fiscal year. Later in the year, I will provide an update on 2016-17 priorities, once I have had the opportunity to explore the portfolio in more detail and start to develop some of my own priorities and deliverables.

I should start be mentioning that the SQLSaturday portfolio is in really good shape. We saw a record 115 events in 2015, with the largest increases in EMEA and LATAM for new events, which is very encouraging as far as our global growth.

In addition, updates to the website have made it possible to link speaker evaluations and help to develop new speakers. Leveraging this information aids the PASS Programs team during the speaker review process for PASS Summit. However, the evaluator tool is only used by some SQLSaturday organizers and I encourage you all to use this valuable tool.

While many of you share enhancement/design suggestions on the SQLSaturday website, and we do appreciate that, we will only be responding to existing support tickets/issues, and are not currently looking at feature enhancements. Any such changes will need to be planned as part of the IT roadmap for FY2017 and beyond.

For the remainder of this year, we are looking at making improvements to onsite logistics, registration, and reporting for organizers of SQLSaturday events. This will include registration efficiencies achieved through enhancements to ticketing and the event package that attendees receive.

As part of this process, I will be working closely with Tim to collect and analyze more of our attendee data. Tim has already covered this off in his recent blog post, so I won’t spend any more time on that here, except to say that collecting this data will help us to improve not just future SQLSaturdays, but other PASS events and activities, as well.

As a SQLSaturday organizer or attendee, if you have any questions or comments, or would like to provide feedback on anything related to SQLSaturday events, please get in touch.

Argenis Fernandez
Director, SQLSaturday