I Need Your Help Improving #SQLPASS

Posted on by Brent Posted in Blog Posts | 65 Comments

Read this if you’re a #SQLPASS attendee – you’re the one I’m trying to help.

Last week I wrote about how conference organizers pick sessions, and I closed by talking about how there’s no clear right or wrong way. However, some ways are wronger than others, and today let’s talk in general terms about what happens when things go wrong.

I can’t possibly discuss this subject with actual speaker names lest I hurt people. (Disclaimer: that’s a dark music video about drugs and violence, but the song is insanely danceable and catchy, and it’s been stuck in my head for weeks. You’re welcome.)

Enter Speaker 47.

PASS-Summit-Not-About-SpeakersPresenters, if you’re reading this, I want you to really understand that I am making this guy up. You’re so vain, you probably think this post is about you, but trust me, it’s not. However, if you see elements of yourself in Speaker 47 – and hey, I do – that just means your journey to improve your public speaking isn’t over yet, and mine certainly isn’t either.

Speaker 47 is the really friendly, magnetically charismatic person that you like right away. He has a great name that’s easy to pronounce, he doesn’t look intimidating, and he’s always got a wide smile for any stranger who comes bearing a question. He loves technology, and he loves sharing what he knows. He loves helping people, so he knows exactly what kind of title and abstract to write.

You love Speaker 47.

But his presentations and his delivery are horrible.

I don’t mean like kinda bad. Attendees complain that he mumbles through his delivery in a monotone. His demos have a 50% chance of working on a good day, and they don’t convey the material anyway. His material doesn’t match the title or the abstract, and the attendees have a hunch that he’s never actually done any of this stuff in production – he’s just playing with it on his laptop to learn, and they need real help for real world environments.

This isn’t his first time at the rodeo, either. He does this same routine over and over at local user groups and SQLSaturdays. The leaders and volunteers simply hand him his feedback forms. They don’t compile the numbers, and they’d feel too guilty to do it anyway. Sure, they all kinda know he’s bad, but he’s such a nice guy, and he’s working to get better, isn’t he?

And then Speaker 47 gets into the Summit.

Years ago, I wrote about why national speakers should get good feedback locally and regionally first, but that’s not how PASS works. The Summit selection committee has no idea how bad the speaker’s feedback is, so he gets in.

He bombs.

PASS compiles the data, sends out the rankings, and other speakers notice him at the bottom, but nobody wants to say anything – because he’s just so darned nice, and it would be unprofessional to say something. It’s his first year, so you gotta cut the guy a break, right?

So Speaker 47 gets in again.

Even though he bombs, the selection committee doesn’t lock him out of the Summit based on one bad session. After all, people grow and learn, right? Maybe he’ll do better next time.

In an ideal world, they’d look at his session feedback from local user groups and SQLSaturdays after his bad Summit session to see if he learned from his mistakes. In reality, they can’t, because local user groups and SQLSaturdays don’t compile feedback and send it up to the national level. Even if they wanted to, the infrastructure isn’t in place today, but I applaud Stuart Ainsworth’s move to make it happen.

Speaker 47 keeps getting a fresh batch of attendees because for the most part, people choose sessions by topic and title, not by presenter name. Even if you as an attendee wanted to make decisions based on data, you can’t, because PASS doesn’t publish speaker ratings. You’re helplessly stuck in bad sessions, and when you want to leave and get into a better one, the room’s already full – because other people left bad sessions too.

Meanwhile, amazing speakers don’t get in.

They submit, but because the selection committee doesn’t know what great sessions they’ve put on at the local and regional level, they get rejected over again and again. They get burned out because they see Speaker 47 get great sessions – sometimes even paid pre-cons! – and they just give up.

Unless you spend a lot of time watching presentations online and at local user groups, you’ll never get the chance to see these incredible speakers. I’m going to name a name here because it’s such a standout example – I sat in Paul White’s pre-conference last year, and it ranks among the very best sessions I’ve ever seen. This year? Rejected. Part of that is probably his own fault – he only submitted a pre-conference session, and I bet there’s rules about pre-con presenters also having to present regular sessions too. But all of this is locked in the secrecy of the PASS selection process that isn’t explained to volunteer speakers.

And it’s your loss.

This process wastes your time and money as an attendee.

PASS-Summit-Attendees

You spent over five million dollars to attend Summit. You deserve not just good, but great sessions, one after the other. You should walk out of there saying, “Holy cow, every session was amazing! This wasn’t like three SQLSaturdays back-to-back – this was like a world-wide, the-very-best-of-the-SQL-community Greatest Hits event!”

But you don’t.

It’s not Speaker 47′s fault. There will always be many Speaker 47s, and we should be encouraging people to speak, not discouraging them. I know some speakers will read this as a warning, and I can’t do anything about that.

It’s not my fault either, although I know a few bloggers who are more than happy to paint me as a whiny celebrity who’s only interested in myself. As I write this, I know full well I’m going to piss off people by demanding a higher level of quality for our five million dollars. For too long, PASS has been about the speakers when it should really be about the attendees.

It’s not the selection committee’s fault. They’re made up exclusively of volunteers who pour their hearts into picking the best sessions they can given the limited amount of resources they have available. We have to get them more resources, and with the sheer amount of profit involved, PASS can afford to do it.

It’s your fault. It’s time for you to stand up for the sessions you want, and to demand quality.

I need you to do three things.

Ask info@sqlpass.org for attendee feedback be considered in the PASS selection process. It’s your registration money – why should you be forced to repeatedly get burned by sitting through Speaker 47′s sessions?

Ask that attendee feedback be made public. You need help making session decisions. It doesn’t have to be the raw numbers – for example, in the agenda, maybe put gold stars next to speakers that got great feedback last year. I’m not saying this to get the gold star either – if this idea goes through, I will personally request that I never get a gold star just so there’s never even an appearance that I’m being greedy here. This is about you, not about me.

Lastly, share this blog post. I’m not in this for the hits – I just want to get this message out to people whose opinions matter most: attendees.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
Dr. Seuss*

* – Not a real doctor

Partners? What Partners?

Posted on by Brent Posted in Blog Posts | 7 Comments

A few related news posts made me chuckle (in a good way) this week:

Microsoft unveils storage arrays with ties into Azure – Their StorSimple 8100 and 8600 can migrate your infrequently-accessed data up to the cloud, sorta giving you infinite capacity for archival. I doubt EMC and NetApp are quaking in their boots, but it still puts hardware partners on notice that Microsoft is willing to brand all kinds of hardware – not just tablets and phones – and use its cloud capacity as a feature.

Microsoft possibly working on Azure-in-a-box – it’s not clear yet whether these will be partner-branded hardware like the PDW Analytics Platform System, or  whether they’ll carry MS branding like the StorSimple storage arrays, Surfaces, and Windows Phones. After all, they’ve already shared their open server designs for their own data centers, and they’re in the hardware business. It would make sense to start selling these, with the ability to LiveMigrate your VMs right up into Azure, or move your SQL databases up there. One support number to call for everything, like Genius Bar for the enterprise.

Microsoft acquires DR software tool InMage, will integrate w/Azure – so you can do backups of your on-premise servers and use Azure Site Recovery as your disaster recovery site. Traditional DR providers like HP and SunGard are suddenly on notice.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella changes the company mission – sure, sure, these kinds of memos don’t mean much on the surface. He lets go of Ballmer’s mission of “devices and services” and rephrases it as “At our core, Microsoft is the productivity and platform company for the mobile-first and cloud-first world.”

Amazon announces Zocalo, a Box/Dropbox/Google Drive competitor – shared file storage in the cloud. These types of services usually launch atop Amazon’s dirt-cheap S3 storage. Amazon watched Dropbox slowly become successful, and then stepped in to provide their own service – competing with one of their own clients. (Although these days, isn’t everybody an Amazon client one way or another?)

If you build your business on someone else’s infrastructure,
and they notice you making a lot of money,
and they have enough in-house expertise to copy you,
and their own margins are under pressure,
beware.

I’m not immune, either. I’m a consultant on Microsoft products, and Microsoft has their own consultants too. I know I have to compete, and I’m coming from behind. I’m going in with less resources and less salespeople, so I have to be wily – but I’m making that decision knowing my competitors.

Dropbox, Box, HP, SunGard – these companies are getting surprised by a much larger partner. I’m excited to see how these battles shape up.

How Conference Organizers Pick Sessions

Posted on by Brent Posted in Blog Posts | 5 Comments

As we reflect on the #SQLPASS selection process this year, let’s take a big step back and look at a lot of possibilities. When you’re building a conference or training class, there’s so many ways to build a good agenda. There’s no right way or wrong way – it’s all up to the organizers.

Let’s pretend you’re building an all-new event from scratch.

Will the final decisions be based on numbers or personal curation? Sounds like a loaded question, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with picking sessions based on feelings. Heck, that’s how we do it as a company – when Jeremiah, Kendra, and I are building a training class agenda, we take some numbers into account, but the agenda is really driven by what we think makes a good flow across the entire event. You want to know this going in, though, so you don’t even bother pretending like the decision is based on math, and it affects some of the decisions you make along the way.

Will you accept speaker submissions from the public? Private-run training events don’t, but most conferences have a public call for abstracts. SQL Intersections doesn’t – Paul and Kim curate the list of speakers, and then let the speakers submit sessions. This is a totally valid “right way” too – I think it leads to a great group of speakers. The key to making that work is that Paul and Kim are heavily involved with the community and know a ton of speakers well. This approach wouldn’t work for a community-driven conference where the organizers have regular day jobs. (Whatever regular means these days.)

Packed house

Packed house

What topics will you accept? Who is the training for? I like to write down the perfect attendee’s profile complete with job description, background, and pain points. That profile drives the agenda and the modules. As the event gets larger, like a regional or national conference, the profiles get more and more general.

What are the session requirements? Does it require demos? A minimum percentage of slides? Does it have to have been given before at a smaller event? Does it have to be a world premiere?

Will you communicate these requirements to submitters? As crazy as it sounds, not all conferences do. They want to hear what you’d love to present, and then they’ll decide whether it’s the right fit for their event.

Will you take speaker experience into account? How? Will you take the speaker’s word for it, or will you check references? (Keep in mind that all this takes real work.) If someone has never presented before, will you take them at your event? Would you allow any exceptions, like a Microsoft employee who was involved in developing the actual feature being discussed, or a case study by a real-world DBA?

Will you take past speaker feedback into account? How? If someone HAS presented before, do you want to know if they bombed? How will you get the data? If the feedback was extremely bad due to events outside of their control (overheated room, broken projector), how will you account for that? This is really hard if the other events under your control, but I love how Stuart Ainsworth is taking a first step to help.

Will you take speaker ethnicity, gender, and employer into account? How? If you’re trying to build a more diverse conference, these are tough questions you have to ask.

Will you let attendees vote on the sessions they want? It usually takes weeks for the conference organizers to go through sessions. During that time, you could display the speakers & abstracts to the public and let them vote and comment. Think of it as crowdsourcing your proofreading process. Related questions: who actually gets to vote? Do you display the running votes and leaderboards, or keep those hidden?

How will you take those votes into account? SQLbits lets the public vote, but doesn’t show the vote totals, and doesn’t say that the sessions are chosen by votes. I love this approach because it just uses voting as another component in the selection process. After all, it’s not like any one of the above components purely drives the final choices. The voting may not even influence selection at all – the marketer in me loves the concept of letting people vote because it makes them feel like a part of the process. That probably makes people more likely to attend.

How will you take all of the above into account? Is it a simple percentage basis where each part counts X% towards the score, or do you have showstoppers? For example, if someone has presented before and the topic is relevant, but no one votes for it, is that an instant showstopper?

Who will make the decisions? If the decisions are based purely on data, this is easy, but as you’ve figured out by now, there has to be human intervention because this is seriously hard work with lots of opportunities for exceptions.

How much flexibility do they have to override the data? If a very popular speaker completely bombs the process, do we give him a session anyway?

Will you share the decisionmaking process? Do the speakers and attendees get to know how this all works? (This is why conference selection committees often have to sign NDAs – the conference organizers don’t want to show the public how the sausage is made.)

The conference organizer's worst fear

The conference organizer’s worst fear

Will you share the scores and rankings? Do the speakers get to know how close (or far) they were, and what they need to do in order to get closer?

When will the decisions be made? It can actually be the day of the event. At unconferences, the room lineup is a whiteboard where speakers write their session titles on post-it notes. At the beginning of the day, attendees drive the agenda. The agenda can change throughout the day as the discussion encourages new topics. Read more about how unconferences work. I haven’t seen one of these in the SQL Server market yet.

Can people buy their way past the selection process? If someone hands you a check, can they get their own session? Don’t recoil in horror – most SQLSaturdays work this way, and this past 24 Hours of PASS appears to have went the same way, although PASS still hasn’t publicly admitted money was involved yet.

Will paid-for sessions be labeled as such in the agenda? In a rather disturbing trend, purchased sessions aren’t even labeled as marketing sessions anymore. Unsuspecting attendees are walking into these sessions expecting education, and getting a rather nasty surprise.

Will you solicit feedback about your own process? If you don’t share the process, then this question is already answered, and you can expect continuous grumbling about the lack of transparency, hahaha. Deciding to keep the process secret means deciding to accept criticism, and you can’t complain about public complaints. You made your bed.

How will you measure the success of your process? Speaker ratings aren’t just about how the speakers are doing – they’re about how satisfied the attendees are with the session selection process. Given the exact same questions year over year, and excluding venue-related questions (broken AC, broken projector, overcrowded rooms), how did the speakers do? An upward trend here is the single most important thing for a conference organizer.

Building the right agenda is especially important for multi-million-dollar events when their attendees can often only afford to hit one conference in that subject area per year. For example, Ken Wilson writes:

My training budget is thin, so I had to choose one event to attend this year. It was a tough choice since there are so many great events, like the PASS Summit, the SQL Skills Immersion Events, the Brent Ozar Unlimited training, SQL Intersections and many more, but I chose the PASS Summit. Therefore, my experience at the Summit needs to be both an excellent time of community and networking as well as top-shelf training.

Continue reading Ken’s post on the Summit selection process.

You might be in Ken’s exact position – only able to attend one training event per year, or maybe still aspiring to fund your annual learning adventure. How would you want the conference organizers to build the agenda?

There’s no right or wrong answers to all of these questions – there’s just a lot of gray area. However, some combinations of answers get a lot darker than others, and next week we’ll talk about what happens when conference selection processes go darkly wrong.

My #SQLPASS Abstract Feedback (And How to Get Yours)

Posted on by Brent Posted in Blog Posts | 12 Comments

When volunteer speakers submit a session for the PASS Summit conference, volunteers on the Program Committee have the tough job of ranking them and picking winners. In the past, this has been done completely in private, and speakers had no idea why their sessions weren’t accepted. This meant they couldn’t work to get better.

Thanks to requests from the community, that’s changing this year! Amy Lewis, the Board of Director member responsible for the process, writes in her blog post announcement:

“If you submitted a session proposal for Summit 2014 and would like the comments from the abstract review team, please email program@sqlpass.org and we will send you the comments that are available for your abstract. Please note that, as stated above, not all abstracts have comments, and the comments are related to the abstract only and not why the session was or wasn’t accepted.”

This is awesome news, and it’s a great step in the right direction. The second step would be telling speakers why the session wasn’t accepted, which can be for a totally different reason. (You’ll see why that’s important in a minute.)

Developers: Who Needs a DBA? (Accepted)

Abstract:

You store data in SQL Server, but you don’t have enough work to keep a full-time DBA busy.

In just one session, you’ll learn the basics of performance troubleshooting, backup, index tuning, and security. Brent Ozar, recovering developer, will teach you the basic care and feeding of a Microsoft SQL Server 2005, 2008, 2012, or 2014 instance and give you scripts to keep you out of trouble.

Program Committee feedback:

  • Accidental DBA’s are a big group and this session sounds like a good session form them.
  • Great name and great description. Looks like a great session.
  • Nice story. Clear objectives and tells me what I’ll learn. Then I get scripts woo-hoo! I’m there!

No negative comments, so good news there. I didn’t correct the spelling/grammar mistakes in the comments and I’m not going to make fun of them because I’m just happy to have comments at all, although I will point out that they ding US for spelling or grammar mistakes. (We’re all volunteers here, so no calling the kettle black.)

Conquer CXPACKET and Master MAXDOP in Ten Minutes (Lightning Talk, Accepted)

Abstract:

CXPACKET waits don’t mean you should set MAXDOP = 1. Microsoft Certified Master Brent Ozar will boil it all down and simplify CXPACKET to show you the real problem – and what you should do about it – in one quick 10-minute Lightning Talk.

Program Committee feedback:

  • fits criteria, light talks no demos are ok, description looks good.
  • Excellent introductory topic that is confusing even for seasoned DBAs.  Topic appears well laid out and suited for a 10 minute lightning session.

Note the first comment – “light talks no demos are ok” – and read between the lines. The reviewer is saying that for a full session, he requires demos. This is where it gets to be fun, putting yourself in the reviewer’s head.

Watch Brent Tune Queries (Rejected)

Abstract:

Ever wonder how someone else does it? There’s no right way or wrong way, but in this session, you can peer over Brent’s shoulder (virtually) while he takes a few Stack Overflow queries, tries various techniques to make them faster, and shows how he measures the before-and-after results.

Program Committee feedback:

  • Great topic and aimed at correct level I feel – should attract a big audience.
  • I don’t really know what BE CREEPY is, and couldn’t find it on a search. I will also admit that the title and knowing who this is didn’t cloud my review (though I wanted to tweak the subjective rating even higher because of his involvement.), I like the idea of room sized mentoring going on and I expect the speaker rating will balance out my enthusiasm. I thought the abstract was the weakest part of the entry. I would like 5-10% slides for a session like this, to make it easier to remember later…
  • I’ve seen this before. It’s great.
  • avoid including names in abstract looks like some formatting issues. never heard of this guy, does he work for Microsoft?
  • catchy abstract – interesting topic. clear goals. love the fact that its 100% demos.

About not putting names in the abstract - this isn’t bad feedback about me – it’s bad feedback about the process. Here’s why.

First, note that both of my accepted talks have my name in the abstract, and in both cases, the reviewers didn’t even mention it in the comments. That means this isn’t an abstract problem – this is a committee consistency problem.

Second, the title of the session is Watch Brent Tune Queries. I used to call it “Watch an Anonymous, Genderless Person Tune Queries” but the turnout just wasn’t as good.

Finally, when I was an attendee, I didn’t know most people by name. I did know a few major folks, and I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss their sessions. Call me vain, but given the way people seem to react to me at conferences, I appear to be A Big Deal. (It still makes me laugh when people call me a celebrity – until I can walk into e by Jose Andres without a reservation, I’m not a celebrity.)

So no, I’m not changing this approach, but I’m sharing it with you, dear reader, so that if you want to get a higher chance of getting into Summit, keep your name out of the abstract. And gender too. Certainly no sexual preferences, because they don’t want to hear anything about your individuality or background.

About 0% slides vs 10% slides – note that one reviewer loved 100% demos, the other said she wanted 5-10% slides. This is why Jeremiah says conferences end up like cheese pizza – you have to try to satisfy every single committee member, and that’s simply not going to happen. I bet if I’d have put 90% demos, the person who loved 100% demos would have been fine with it. (Technically, the session has 14 slides, but I rip through those in 90 seconds because they’re just takeaways for the reader to reference at home. 90 seconds out of 75 minutes is 2% slides, so I rounded to 100% demos.)

Cool Story, Bro: The DBAreactions Guide to SQL Server 2014 (Rejected)
Co-Submitters: Doug Lane and Jeremiah Peschka

Abstract excerpt (because PASS doesn’t show full abstracts after sessions are denied): “You’re hearing about the new features in SQL Server 2014, and you’re not quite sure where to start…”

Program Committee feedback:

  • Goal 3 does not seem to have any purpose, therefore I consider there to be only two goals.
  • The topic is probably the most popular one at the moment, and subjectively speaking this sounds like it would be a lot of fun. I knocked the abstract down a point mainly because of the goals. They are funny and entertaining, but strictly from the abstract perspective they do not give a clear idea for what the goals of this will be.
  • Parts of abstract and goals do not seem to reflect a serious commitment to presenting a useful session.  This topic will likely be covered in depth by Microsoft speakers given the timing of this years Summit.

Response:

just-be-cool

In all seriousness (because like the Internet, the PASS Summit is serious business), we were pretty sure this would be rejected. Again, cheese pizza philosophy here – this session would draw a small group of raving fans, but it’s never going to appeal to a wide audience. That’s okay – was worth the shot.

500-Level Guide to Career Internals (rejected)

Abstract excerpt: “This is not yet another career session that tells you to be friendly and network. Forget that..”

Program Committee feedback:

  • Name in the abstract must be avoided to ensure that the reviewer is not influenced by the speaker’s name. Session name is brilliant and well designed for the SUMMIT audience. Level 500 should be better explained in the pre-requisites as it’s considered as “level of skills to attend ” and not complexity for the speaker. However, given the speaker (supposed to be unknown) the session is deemed to be a success.
  • Not sure that there’s anyone that would not want to attend this session.
  • Contractions throughout. Individual experiences might not apply to everybody. Level 500 in utterly inappropriate.
  • The title is not very clear. What is “career internals” anyway? Abstract is well written and makes clear what the speaker will present, however comes with some negative remarks about networking.

About the name - okay now this part is just flat out wrong. When I pick up a professional development book, the very first thing I check is the author’s credentials. If someone’s gonna tell me how to be successful, I want to know that they’ve been successful.

About the contractions – ah, that’s interesting. DANG, I used a contraction. See, I write like I speak. I gotta work on that.

About the 500 level and internals – I totally understand. Again, wrote this one with my oddball sense of humor angle, and I was pretty sure it would not (see, I didn’t use a contrac…oh, dammit) get in.

About the networking – if you want to scale, physical in-person networking is dead. Yep, I said it. It still works to sell stuff to old white guys in suits, but everybody else is online, and networking is very, very different here. (That reviewer is probably the one who most needed to attend the session, sadly.)

Power Tuner: DBAs are the New BI Performance Tool (pre-con, rejected)

Abstract excerpt: “How can you make SQL Server fast when you can’t predict the queries coming from SSRS, SSAS, SSIS,…”

The selection here is a little different – pre-cons are chosen by someone, we don’t know who, and we don’t know how. I’m actually fine with that because PASS has serious money on the line here. Pre-cons bring in big money. For example, I was told that our pre-con last year was the top-selling pre-con of all time, bringing in around 250 people. (That’s about $125K USD in revenue for PASS.) This year, not accepted, and I’m totally fine with that – PASS needs to do what’s right for them.

But I want to share the feedback anyway, because it’s valuable to other pre-con submitters:

  • Precon addresses problems many users may face.  SQL 2014 is a brand new version so this may entice some users to check out this session
  • Thanks for the abstract, It’s good to have someone talking on DW solutions mainly on Performance tuning, the abstract topic is quite not match along with the abstract content. Also , prerequisites is not completed. Thanks

With only 2 comments, I’m not quite sure how to take this one, but I’m fine with it.

Life at Stack Overflow: My Developers are Smarter Than Your DBAs (Nick Craver, rejected)

Nick Craver (NickCraver.com@Nick_Craver) is on the Site Reliability Engineering team at Stack Exchange, the company behind StackOverflow and DBA.StackExchange. He’s the main developer behind the open source SQL Server monitoring tool Opserver, and he knows more than I do.

I did volunteer to help with a few of his abstracts, though, which he’ll “thank” me for later because none were accepted. He volunteered to share his feedback here too though:

Abstract excerpt: “What happens when you don’t have a DBA getting in the way? Awesome, that’s what happens.”

Program Committee feedback:

  • I think this would be good for dba’s \ devs and general interest from attendees. Obviously a high profile installation and in the current climate of cross-functional teams – very appropriate.
  • So, on the one hand, this presentation concerns me with the snarky title. Get better DBAs! On the other hand, the abstract text is interesting, in that what it could be suggesting is that collaboration works (but dismissing the concept of DBA as a team member ruins this one for me). If you have data developers that know what they are doing, that is great. I see only mention of performance and nothing of data integrity, which is acceptable for certain sorts of data, but not others.
  • This is very interesting. You can’t get too many opportunities to peek on this type of databases so this is a must see.
  • Well written abstract that conveys business value with techie stuff. Reference to real-life examples are make this soud like a session that an attendee will want to attend and also possibly use to leverage mgmt for financial support of summit attendence.
  • Session name is not very “nice”.
  • Could be interesting
  • this is a very unique and interesting topic. very catchy and well written abstract. clear goals – relevant and useful. lots of developers will be interested in attending this session

Not surprised there – the title was purposely over-the-top to get attention.

Note that there’s absolutely no technical feedback here – zero mention of title, abstract, prerequisite, level, demos, etc. Just purely personal feelings. To me, that’s a winning abstract – one that challenges people to think differently and provokes conversation. That’s not what wins in committees, though.

Failure is AlwaysAn Option: Keeping Stack Overflow Online and Fast (Nick Craver, rejected)

Abstract excerpt: “Stack Overflow’s Nick Craver will take you on a tour through their AlwaysOn Availability Groups…”

Program Committee feedback:

  • I appreciate the real world example of this abstract. It is helpful to learn from the experiences of others.
  • Not sure how this is a 200 level and the session prereqs are supposed to be taken for real?  25% demo and yet in additional notes says he will demo how stuff is working but I’m sure the % is about 50.  No conclusion sentence on what I will learn.
  • The prerequisite is inadequate to allow the attendee to determine if they have the requisite knowledge to understand the material.

That’s great feedback! Really helpful – I’ll pay more attention to prerequisites now.

Opserver: Keeping an Eye Your SQL Servers, For Free (Nick Craver, rejected)

Abstract excerpt: “You’re a DBA or developer who needs to figure out why your SQL Server is running hot, but you don’t…”

Program Committee feedback:

  • Abstract could be written better. The topic has brilliant offering to beginner DBAs.

My guess, and this is only a guess, is that by accidentally a word in the title, Nick was totally doomed. No comments because people probably just low-voted right then and there and bailed. (I wish I had the whole abstract here to check though.)

What You Can Learn from Our Failures

The big takeaway: reviewers are independent human beings with totally different opinions on what matters in a session. If you want to get in, you have to appeal to as many as possible, which means making your abstract as inoffensive as possible. I’m still stunned and grateful that “Developers: Who Needs a DBA?” got in, and I’m not surprised that the rest didn’t.

I’m still going to keep taking chances, pushing boundaries, trying different session styles, and putting my name in my abstracts. For me, it’s about being the speaker I want to be. Some conferences will have me, and some probably won’t. Sooner or later, I’m going to get outright zero sessions at PASS, and that would be totally okay too – competition from other speakers is a GREAT thing.

After all, that’s why I just spent hours putting this post together – to help you beat me.

Because I want to see good sessions too!

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