Thoughts on the 2020 PASS Virtual Summit as an Attendee from Blog Posts – SQLServerCentral

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Last week was the first PASS Virtual Summit. This was the first time that the event wasn’t held in a live setting, and this was the third conference for me this year that I attended virtually.

I took some notes during the event, and this is a summary of my impressions. I’ve also submitted this feedback to PASS as an evaluation.

Tl; Dr: I give the event a C

Overall

Things went well, and I was pleased with the way that the Summit was handled Huge kudos to the staff at C&C, who were behind the scenes. I saw a number of their efforts as a speaker, but they managed to run this event well.  Thanks to Cadmium and Falcon Events as well for the mostly smooth operation of the event.


I was able to attend sessions, chat, ask questions, and enjoy the week. I didn’t get to a lot of sessions, but since I can watch later, I wasn’t too stressed. I liked the ability to see live sessions together and just pick one to engage in. The moderator and Q&A seemed to work well.

The basic event ran well. The bare minimum was there, so I give PASS credit for pulling this off.

Pre-Con

I attended Meagan Longoria’s pre-con on Monday. I enjoyed it, learned a lot, and got some notes out of it. I do wish I had the chance to re-watch some of it this week, but I also understand the speaker perspective here.

There were lots of communications, which was good. One thing I find with many events is that limited communication gets buried in my inbox. It’s nice to get a few reminders the day before and day of to help me remember and figure out how to get into the session. I had to track down credentials, which is fine. I learned to save this separately.

I do wish I had a calendar reminder. While I saw 5+ emails that said 11amEST, I kept interpreting that as 11am in my time zone, which is where Meagan lives. As a result, I was late to the event. My fault, but I do think an .ics file might have helped me.

I do wish that this were earlier or later, so that I could actually rewatch some of the pre-con. I had other work to do Tues, though I might have done another pre-con in other years, and I had work and some live sessions on Wednesday. It the pre-con were the week before, I would have more time to review or catch something I might have missed.

This is still better than a live event, where it’s one shot on one day, but it feels disappointing to me as though I’ve lost something.

Grade: A-

Schedule

While I loved the “live session” list, I wasn’t thrilled with the rest of the schedule. I’m often looking to see what’s on now. I had to scroll down to find the current time, or next time, and then if I looked at a session’s details, the page would often scroll back to the top when I closed the popup.

The time zone was also a problem. I deal across time zones constantly, and I’ve learned how to schedule things in different time zones, however, I would get confused at times and forget to subtract 2 hours from EST to get to MST. I do think that not supporting a user, really a per-user, time zone is a large failure. While it would be good to auto-detect browsers, at least let me set a time zone for display.

Search worked well, but I’m a browser, and it was hard to find things. I also found the scrolling through the list by time was difficult and the details of the session put me back at the top.

I didn’t see many community items, nor did I see the yoga, meditation, and other breaks. Maybe my fault, but not easy to find if it was me.

Grade: C

Opening Night

I went to the opening session, which was the DJ playing tunes. While I enjoyed the music, watching someone spin records isn’t great. The chat was good for a few people that knew each other, but it flew by on my screen. I do think that some separation of chat into channels or some way to allow some interaction here would be good. I’d also prefer some live (or recorded) item on the main stage, with some conversation, some discussion, or something besides the DJ.

The chat was live, but it didn’t work well for me, having hundreds of people in one chat session doesn’t scale or work.

I also a little disappointed that the bartender session was at the end, and not sometime earlier. Be nice to make a drink early in the session, not later. I don’t know if things changed after 830EST as I went to a music bubble.

I hosted one bubble, which were music themed, but no music was provided. Since I have a Yeti mic, I played Spotify with my theme in the background, as I was chatting with a few people. I thought the small, 6-7 people chatting was good, but I also think there’s an opacity here. Someone has to join to see who’s in the room, and if there is any conversation. It’s an awkward time to jump in to see something and have someone then try to engage you when you’re not sure if you want to be there.

I wish these were open all week, but with more transparency as to who is in them and organized around some topic.

Grade: B

Keynotes

I enjoyed a couple keynotes, with a few more on my list. I was surprised at the screen quality, without the ability to maximize the live screen and be able to see the screen. Two things here.

1. Presenters need to understand that the attendees see a slightly different view and screen. Please, make things larger in browsers, zoom in, etc. Understand it’s hard to see. It’s something I need to learn to be better at.

2. The tech platforms need to ensure that we can pause, maybe rewind slightly, move backward, and maximize the screen.

I also am glad I reviewed my sessions before uploading them as I was really disappointed in the sound quality for Bob and Conor’s demo.

Overall, these were what we normally see at a keynote, albeit with some issues with display.

Grade: B

Sessions

There were a few types here. For the live sessions, I thought these mostly went well, albeit, without the ability to easily see the whole screen. I liked being able to ask a question and have a moderator bring this up to the speaker.

I do think we might need some practice as speakers with pauses or asking for questions more during session. That isn’t great for recordings, but it would be nice. I ran into one recorded session that was a mess (Ray Kim’s blogging session). Since we pay for content for the year, that needs to be re-recorded, along with others that are broken.

I can’t decide what I think about the Q&A and Chat. I don’t like them in the browser window, because that takes up space I could use elsewhere. Really, I preferred the discord server that Jen McCown set up for the event. That was better real time interaction.

I also didn’t like that pre-recorded sessions didn’t start at the time. I had to press play, which was odd for me. I brought up a session, left it there and started to answer some email, expecting it to play. It didn’t, and when I started it 10 minutes late, the chat didn’t make sense. If we’re going to have the session at a time, it ought to just play. I can watch the recording later.

For the recordings, I can’t maximize them. That feels like an ergonomic fail. I also don’t have a tooltip on the reverse/forward. These are 10sec, which is good, but it would be nice to know. I also wish the chat or Q&A were available, especially the latter. I don’t see a way to access this.

Grade: B

Networking

To me, one of the great things at the PASS Summit is being able to see old friends and meet new ones. This is a big part of the reason why I go, take the time out of schedule, and make a case to my boss. Or in years past, why I paid to go.

This was almost non existent. The bubbles on opening night were good. I met 1 new person and saw 5 friends. In one Redgate video chat, and one text chat, I responded to 2 friends, but since I didn’t have times in the chat, I didn’t realize I’d missed that person. After my session, I had 1 friend in a video chat.

Outside of that, the Community Zone hours never worked for me. One of the great things in Seattle (or any city) is that the community zone is always open, so I can pop by and see a few people. I can walk between sessions with someone for a minute, or stop in the hallway.

As far as I could tell, there wasn’t a good way to do this. On the discord server, I had a few  conversations with people, but it wasn’t great networking. Not something I think is better than catching many of these sessions at a SQL Saturday, UG, or GroupBy.

Messaging in the platform was hidden, but more, there just wasn’t an easy way to see someone or know if they were around. I actually had more text conversations with friends on my phone or Twitter than on the platform. The Summit only reminded me of a few people.

That’s not nothing, but it’s not necessarily great.

Grade: D – this is a big weight in my mind.

Security

Some big security fails, with passwords, emails, and various other information leaking. That might be fine with some events, but it feels like a problem for me. Disclosure of data isn’t good, and this wasn’t well handled by the platform. Not PASS’ fault, but it is in some sense as they should be cognizant of this and check for it.

I can’t tell how much of an issue this was, and I only saw some complaints, but if this leaks stuff, there could be fines there that wipe out profit. This needs to be taken seriously for next year.

Grade: D

Value

I’m torn here. The content worked, I learned things, and I could ask questions. I still can, I guess, as many speakers have their email on the site, or a link to some social media/blog. That’s a portion of what I get.

The pre-con was great, and it’s not really much different than in person. I could still get distracted, need to step out, or lose focus.

The networking was subpar. The community activities were mostly non-existent, and I felt less energy on Twitter and other places than I have in years past. Some might be me, but this wasn’t great.

Ultimately, I think at $599, it’s not bad for the content and the ability to watch it for a year,

except

Lots of these sessions are being presented at SQL Saturdays, user or virtual groups, and other events. With a lot of other events moving online, is this worth it? Everything is together, and I can search for something like “polybase”, but is this better than Google?

Maybe I can assume these speakers do a better job than random videos on the internet, this is curated, and that helps. However, I’m really not sure. There is something here, but it’s hard to judge.

Before the event, thinking of maybe interacting with people, I thought $200/day for content and networking wasn’t bad. Now, with networking essentially non-existent (1 new person, 10-12 old ones), I think I’m not sure.

Overall Grade: C – I don’t think this was great, but also not horrible. Mostly, meh.

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