A couple of weeks ago, it was announced that the SQL Saturday franchise was voluntarily transferred to PASS. This change of ownership could be a good thing for SQL Saturday, but I do have some questions and concerns.
Let me say for starters that the SQL Saturday franchise is near and dear to me, since it was one of the early events (SQL Saturday #3 in Tampa) that helped me get my start as a technical presenter, which has led to a lot of other opportunities since. Since then I’ve attended and spoken at several other SQL Saturday events, I am part of the team putting together an event in Dallas this summer, and I’m planning to attend at least two more out-of-town SQL Saturday events this year. As result of my involvement, I’ve come to appreciate both the mission and the implementation of this framework. I’m also friends with Andy Warren, Steve Jones, and Brian Knight, the founders of SQL Saturday, and I’ve spent a lot of time talking with Andy about these events, their value in the community, and how they could be sustained and even improved. With all that said, it’s a fair assessment that I’m more than just a casual observer to all things related to SQL Saturday.
Because PASS is such a large organization with a larger pool of potential resources, the change of ownership could be a good thing for the future of the SQL Saturday brand. With more volunteers to draw from, a full-time administrative staff, and of course the PASS name and rather large megaphone, the possibility exists to grow the already-successful franchise into a strong and ubiquitous series of localized events. There is a good deal of content overlap between the functions of PASS and the SQL Saturday events, and aligning those goals into a consolidated effort has the potential to improve both entities.
There is, however, risk in this change. The most key issue for me is the possibility that the management and implementation model will be changed. SQL Saturday has already established a strong record of success in its short history through a ground-up, grassroots approach. Andy specifically built this brand to be a framework and not a management hierarchy; as such, the local user groups were given an immense amount of latitude on the details of the implementation of these events. There were very few rules that constrained the use of the SQL Saturday brand, and as a result, I think the local group leaders and volunteers felt a strong sense of ownership over the process. If they own it and believe in it, they’re going to pour themselves into it. The risk lies in the potential changes that PASS could make to integrate SQL Saturday into its existing infrastructure. I’m hopeful to find out answers to the following:
- Will PASS try to take a stronger role in running the local events, and if so, to what extent? Specifically, is the local user group leadership in charge, or will the events be run by PASS?
- Will there be a long checklist of boundaries and constraints on the details of the implementation?
- Can we still give first-time speakers the opportunity to speak, or will there be a qualification process that excludes those who have never given a technical presentation before?
- How are finances (sponsorship monies and event expenditures) handled?
- Can local groups still raise sponsorship funds locally, or are we locked into those sponsors provided and approved by PASS?
- How will the SQL Saturday mission be integrated into the current PASS initiatives, and will it be changed to accommodate same (or vice versa)?
- Will the name be changed? (A lesser concern, but a name change could adversely affect the already strong name recognition)
I know that all of these questions don’t have definite answers yet – after all, the ink is barely dry on the paperwork – so I’m willing to be patient for answers until the dust settles 🙂
I hope I don’t sound pessimistic, because I’m not; to the contrary, I’m excited about what this could do for SQL Saturday. If I can offer any advice to the decision makers, it would be this: Don’t try to change the event too much. Yes, brand it as a PASS event, and offer whatever resources (personnel, cash/merchandise, promotion and marketing) that can be spared for the event. But we can all (hopefully) agree that SQL Saturday has been highly successful, especially when you consider the brief time it has been in existence. I also know that Andy, Brian, and Steve have put in a lot of work on these events, and they wouldn’t give it away without some assurance that the brand is in good hands.
As things shake out, I’ll be sure to share any answers I get along with my analysis of same.