Earlier this week, the Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS) announced speaker and session selections for the Summit 2014 and there was spirited community feedback, questions, and debate. I offer the following analysis and opinions:
In Defense of PASS…
Full disclosure: I was selected to present this year and have been selected to present for several past years. In 2012, I was selected to co-present a full-day, paid, pre-conference session in 2012 but not selected to present during the Summit proper.
Speaker and session selection is a zero-sum game. There are a finite number of session slots. In order for a non-selected session to be selected, one of the selected sessions must be de-selected. Over 900 sessions were submitted to fill roughly 165 slots.
Selecting sessions is hard. That’s one reason PASS (wisely) allows volunteers to do the selection work*. There will be winners and losers, and the losers are not going to be happy about losing. I wasn’t happy about not being selected when it happened to me. I wanted to know why and I asked for feedback. After much persistence I got the feedback I asked for, and I wasn’t happy about that either.
Session Selection is a Process
PASS has a process for selecting sessions. I know the process is designed to facilitate session selection. I know it’s a different process from one used by my friend Allen Kinsel [blog | @AllenKinsel] in years past. There are benefits and liabilities to having a process – any process.
People should always trump process.
PASS and Processes
When people are unhappy with the results of a PASS decision, PASS holds up their process in defense. *But PASS has a history of “overriding” process results. In an earlier Summit pre-conference session selection process, the selection of the volunteers was overridden by PASS leadership. The response of one participant in the selection committee was, “PASS, Don’t Waste My Time.” And this (valid) complaint led to all sorts of trouble in the PASS 2010 Board if Directors election. When PASS makes these sorts of decisions – for whatever reasons – people become suspicious and request more transparency. (I was once asked by a PASS Board member, “How much transparency is enough?”)
Is it better to have no process? I don’t think so. But I think it is hypocritical and a leadership failure to hold up a process as a defense when the process isn’t always followed.
When an MCM who consistently ranks in the top 10 sessions at the PASS Summit, Tech Ed (US and Europe), SQLBits, SQL Connections, SQL Intersections, and almost every other conference at which he presents is not selected to deliver a full-day, paid, pre-conference session and three full-day, paid, pre-conference sessions are awarded to employees of a member of the PASS Executive Committee (which is elected by the elected-members of the PASS Board of Directors, and not elected by the PASS membership – meaning PASS membership has no voice in this Executive Committee member’s future in PASS leadership), ethics questions are inevitable.
I call for a public explanation from PASS leadership of why Brent Ozar [blog | @BrentO] was not selected to deliver a pre-conference session at the PASS Summit 2014.
The Appearance of Misconduct
As Kendal Van Dyke points out in his post, Thoughts On The 2014 PASS Summit Selections, it “smells” when three (of seventeen) day-long, paid, pre-conference session speakers work for the same company and that company’s president sits on the PASS Executive Committee. Are the selected individuals qualified to deliver pre-conference sessions? Yes, they are some of the best and brightest in our community. Are there others in our community who could deliver pre-conference sessions of equal (or higher) quality? Yes.
Is it fair that qualified people be disqualified because they are employed by a company whose leader sits on the PASS Board of Directors? No, it is not fair. But it is right. In business and life, ethics demands we avoid “the appearance of misconduct”. The appearance of misconduct means we are technically (and perhaps morally and actually) right; but the action, words, or decision appears suspect. This is why I’m against having two (or more) members of the PASS Executive Committee work in the same company, and three or more PASS Board of Directors work for the same company.
And this is why I believe the company’s of sitting PASS Board and Executive Committee members should be excluded from the (potentially substantial) financial benefit of being selected to deliver full-day, paid, pre-conference sessions at the PASS Summit.
- Collect and distribute feedback from the PASS volunteers selecting the sessions. (After some digging, I’ve learned feedback was collected from volunteers serving on the session selection committees, but the collected feedback has not been distributed. There may be more written about this in the coming week…)
- PASS should either follow PASS processes completely or stop using “process” as an excuse for a failure to lead.
- Do not allow sitting members of the PASS Board of Directors and Executive Committee, or people they employ, to present pre-conference sessions.
I write these words because I care deeply about the SQL Server Community and the subset of the Community that is PASS. Historically, PASS does not respond to Community concerns. I’m not sure if PASS leadership takes the SQL Server Community for granted or merely acts like they take the Community for granted. Either way, it’s no fun for the SQL Server Community.
This is fixable. There’s time to rectify this before the Summit in November. Will PASS leadership make corrections? Will PASS leadership address the concerns of the community? Or will they write the complaints off as coming from “a vocal minority” (unless this post goes viral and gets 250k hits)? We shall see.