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Andy Leonard

Andy Leonard is CSO of Linchpin People and SQLPeople, an SSIS Trainer, Consultant, and developer; a Business Intelligence Markup Language (Biml) developer; SQL Server database and data warehouse developer, community mentor, engineer, and farmer. He is a co-author of SQL Server 2012 Integration Services Design Patterns. His background includes web application architecture and development, VB, and ASP. Andy loves the SQL Server Community!
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This Isn’t Hard: Allow Spouses to Attend Conferences

There was a bit of a hubbub at Tech Ed 2013 North America. It began with generalized disorganization, escalated when site security escorted Greg Young’s (blog | @gregyoung) wife from the building, and ended with him cancelling his presentations at both the North American and European conferences.

Greg’s post has generated some responses, but – according to him – nothing from Microsoft. That’s disappointing. Greg and his wife deserve an apology.

Why Not?

The best conferences I’ve attended (I’m looking at you, SQLBits and DevLink) don’t have a problem with family members attending. And other awesome events like SQLConnections encourage spouses to attend peripheral events – at no extra charge. Somehow, with their lower budgets and tighter fire marshal requirements in smaller spaces, they manage to allow spouses and/or children to attend; while conferences with literally million-plus-dollar budgets (I’m looking at you Tech Ed and PASS) do not.

Why not?

Are the event organizers worried the spouses are going to ruin the event for the other geeks? Are the seven-plus-figure budgets of the organizers not sufficient to cover a handful of family-member attendees? Are the planners unable to plan for an extra handful of people on the premises? Are the event organizers worried people are going to get married in order to cheat the organizers out of a couple thousand dollars? I mean, exactly what is the problem with a few other people attending?

People are attending the event. The last time I purchased event insurance for Richmond Code Camp the insurance cost a couple hundred dollars and insured all the people on the premises at the time. The family members are people. They’re covered. So it’s not insurance.

Event organizers can plan for this. Add a checkbox to the online registration form, just in case the organizers are worried about the event being overrun by significant others (I hope the excuse isn’t this lame).

Speakers have families (is this news?). Some speakers travel a lot, doing interesting work, which is kind of why the conference selected them to speak in the first place. If the conference doesn’t pay the speaker to present, and many do not, why in the world will they not allow a spouse to step into a room to take a few pictures? Or watch someone they care about do what they love? Or experience the honor of presenting at a major conference with their partner?

This is solvable. Let them in. For free. Limit their access to their family member’s presentation if you must. But let them in. This isn’t hard.

Published Saturday, July 27, 2013 12:20 PM by andyleonard

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Mike Walsh said:

This is a really good point. My family would love Charlotte. I wouldn't expect the kids to be at the conference and hitting sessions, but I bet my oldest may get a kick out of seeing me present or my wife would like to heckle Brian Moran for his Crocs.. Plus it would be fun for them to bum around at some point.  I think having my 3 year old tearing around the event would be disruptive and we have the sense to not bring him in or let him do that, but not everyone has the same sense, so some rules make sense. And lunch costs money, etc. But even still I bet they can do something like you suggest in your last sentence.

But you have to remember PASS is a not for profit Member Driven organization only to a point. The board is unpaid and serves and sacrifices quite a bit.  The folks who run HQ and run the event are an event marketing company that makes a profit. And I would gather that Christianson & Company does alright, but if you start allowing spouses and all this, then a lot of questions come up (behavior, fire codes, etc, sure - but also a fear of profit concerns, I imagine :) )

As I understand - SQLBits and DevLink are truly not for profit and seeks to make no money, with any proceeds remaining probably going to the next event or local user groups (if there is even anything left over?). Each individual SQL Saturday is not for profit with any left over funds going back to user group event funding... I'm not making an excuse here, just pointing that out. I know sometimes I get in the trap of thinking of PASS as a non-profit member benefiting organization and forget that there is a for profit company in the midst.

July 27, 2013 11:39 AM
 

Mike Walsh said:

Not that I'm complaining about having an Association Management company. I understand the things they bring to bear and the need, but I do sometimes wonder if it is always the right investment to have one full time for all aspects. Event planning is hard. Following up with members is hard. I love our HQ staff and think they put themselves out there and do an outstanding job with the Summit each year. So don't take that comment to mean anything against having a for profit entity involved in managing our organization and running our events, but just something to remember.

And I think those relationships should be looked at often by any board and make sure we are using them right and they are handling us properly. Just good business.

July 27, 2013 11:50 AM
 

Andy Galbraith (@DBA_ANDY) said:

Well said!

July 27, 2013 12:59 PM
 

Kris Lewis said:

I was asked if I wanted to see Denny speak at PASS previously. Also, last year PASS Summit held not one, but two different events for spouses. One of them was created specifically to be family friendly.

July 27, 2013 4:51 PM
 

Reza said:

Hi Andy,

Thanks for blogging about this, This is good topic to discuss. I completely agree with your words here. for an international speaker who travels a lot, it is important to be able to be with wife or husband in at least few number of those travels. I wish all great conferences consider your words.

July 27, 2013 5:54 PM
 

Craig Berntson said:

Microsoft did plenty wrong re: Tech Ed and Greg and his wife. But...Greg also did one thing wrong. He did not talk to Microsoft before the event about his wife being there. If you're a presenter that is planning to take family to an event, talk to the organizers ahead of time.

July 30, 2013 2:00 PM
 

Jes Borland said:

In two weeks, I'll be attending That Conference (http://thatconference.com) in Wisconsin Dells. It's being held at a water park and resort. Not only are attendees encouraged to bring their families for summer vacation, but there is a "Family Ticket" that can be purchased, allowing the entire family to participate in extra fun activities like a petting zoo during the day, and still join the evening festivities, like a pig roast. That's doing right by the families, and I'm excited for this conference!

July 30, 2013 5:50 PM
 

Tim Radney said:

Well said Andy.  I agree that more technical events need to be family friendly. Our work lives are already so demanding of our personal family time, when we then give up more time to better our career attending technical events and volunteering for them as well.  Why not encourage speakers to bring their spouse. What spouse wouldn't be proud of their significant other and want to see them present, take pictures, etc.  I love that SQL Saturday's are becoming more kid friendly with having a room dedicated for the kids to hang out and have fun.  From other comments it seems other event organizers are recognizing this need, sad that Greg and his wife had this experience though.  Maybe this will be the catalyst to create the change.  

http://www.timradney.com

July 31, 2013 9:50 AM
 

Thomas LaRock said:

Hi Andy – I wanted to thank you for your post and ideas around better supporting our volunteer speakers, especially providing more options for family members to share in the PASS Summit experience.

Last year, we tried out a Speaker Spouse program – directed by some great community volunteers – which included a tour and other day-time activities for those accompanying speakers. We got nice feedback from those who participated, but we didn’t have many take advantage of the program. My plan was to take a different approach this year, but given the craziness of Summit planning, it had dropped off my to-do list. So thank you for reminding me that something needed to get done.

We’re taking your suggestions to heart and rolling out guest passes for a spouse/partner/family member to attend PASS Summit on the day of the speaker’s session (the pass is for 1 day only) and join in the evening events; details are going out to speakers now. We’re looking forward to welcoming these guests to Summit, giving them an in-person look at how their family member contributes to the PASS community, and thanking them for sharing their "speaker" with us. (Wouldn’t it be fun to see Summit through their eyes?)

I realize this is late in the game, but hopefully we’ll get some takers, and we’re looking forward to making this a regular community speaker benefit. Thanks again for your ideas and to all the community and Board members who’ve participated in the many discussions around how we can continue to enhance our speaker program.

Keep the ideas coming!

August 19, 2013 1:09 PM
 

andyleonard said:

Hi Tom,

  Thank you and PASS leadership for making this happen! I imagine a small number of people will take advantage of this new initiative, but it will mean a lot to each one.

Thanks!

Andy

August 19, 2013 9:39 PM
 

Sarah Strate said:

Tom,

This is the perfect solution! I've been trying to get something like this for the past couple years. Even when we bought into the spouse/guest option so I could volunteer two years ago, I wasn't technically allowed in during the day, and security gave me a hard time. While this was not an issue last year, I'm glad you created this option this year. Kudos to you all for making it happen! I hope to take advantage at a future Summit :-)

August 19, 2013 11:57 PM
 

Ralph Wilson said:

@Craig Berntson,

It seems to me that, having had the apparently protracted discussion regarding the purchase of _2_ tickets (one of which was in his wife's name) instead of _one_ should have been something of a clue that someone else was coming with him . . . given the name, it should probably have been a clue that the person was somehow related to him, as well.

I've gone to several events where my wife was the "attendee" and I was the "picture taking spouse".  I have never, even when it was a "women's retreat", been treated in the rude manner in which Greg and, especially, his wife were treated.  I _have_ been asked if I would be willing to share my photos with the organizers and I am reasonably sure that Greg's wife would have accepted that as her "price of admission".

On second thought, though, I was turned down on that offer when I wanted to video a presentation, even though the presenter was willing to allow it.  The grounds for the denial were something along the lines of "if we let _you_ do it, then _everyone_ will want to and we won't be able to sell our _audio-only_ DVDs." ;-)

August 20, 2013 7:08 AM
 

Geoff Hiten said:

Tech-Ed is the poster child for big conference problems.  Everything is contracted through so many layers that each person is only responsible for a very specific isolated task.  Nobody is responsible for the "speaker experience" only airline tickets (at the lowest price) or security (at the lowest price) or getting speakers to the room on time (at the lowest price).  These people literally cannot talk together or work outside their contractual obligations.  Nor do they seem to want to overcome those issues.

One very positive thing I can say about C&C management from my year on the board is that everyone there "owned" the event experience.  Yes, they were bound by the directives given them by the board and their contract, but they did everything in their power to make the event great for every attendee.  Not perfectly,but close and getting better each time.  Judy and her team are good at what they do.

Tom, congrats for doing the right thing.  Maybe at the start it won't be very big, but it will always be important.  SQLFamily includes SQLFamily's family.

August 20, 2013 9:12 PM

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