The COVID-19 global pandemic was by far the biggest influencer of 2020. This virus has cost over 1.8 million lives worldwide, and has upended normal life and commerce for most everyone. Many thousands of businesses were forced to close, costing millions of jobs.
For those of us in the data community, we learned of one additional business casualty just before Christmas: The PASS organization is closing its doors as of January 15th, just a few days from now. Starting back in March, life in the U.S. had already changed significantly in response to the virus, and it was clear that in-person events, especially those the size of the PASS Summit, would be very different. In June, PASS announced that the 2020 Summit would be a virtual event. In light of the state of the world, that was the only realistic thing they could have done.
However, changing from an in-person event to one that’s entirely online is very challenging. Setting aside the technical challenges (of which there are many), most of the value for in-person attendees is being physically present. When attending a conference, you’re away from many of the distractions of your office (or home office), and you get to immerse yourself in the event. Participating in an online conference takes away those ad-hoc hallway conversations, the after-hours social events, and numerous other networking opportunities. While there is value in the training content of a virtual conference, the casual networking part of these events doesn’t work well in a virtual environment. Further, it’s tough to compete in the market as a paid virtual conference, with so many other events moving to the online model.
Unfortunately, the PASS virtual summit didn’t bring in the registration numbers needed to keep the machinery in motion. Since the PASS Summit supplied 94% of the revenue needed to keep the lights on, this was a huge financial blow to the organization. With revenue falling well short of what was required, the PASS board agreed to cease operations.
It’s hard to say goodbye
The closure of PASS is a sad day for the data community, and for me personally. For the past 15 years, I have been involved with PASS in several capacities, including chapter leader, speaker, volunteer developer, and counselor. On a couple of occasions I even considered a run for the board of directors. For a decade and a half, PASS has been a big part of my professional life, and I’m very sad to see it go.
The pain of PASS’s demise isn’t just sentimental. There are more tangible questions about the breakup, including:
- What happens to the recorded content that so many of us have contributed? How will those be disposed of, and who will end up owning that content after the liquidation is complete?
- Summit 2020 attendees are entitled to one year of access to the recordings from the virtual summit. How will PASS go about honoring that commitment to those who have supported the organization?
- What is to become of SQLSaturday? We learned this week that the SQLSaturday brand will be sold off as part of the PASS liquidation. Is there any path through which SQLSaturday could be returned to the community from which it came?
- What happens with the membership lists (names, emails, etc.) that are managed by PASS? Will those be shared with the local or virtual user groups for their continued use after PASS is gone?
What comes next?
The biggest question, of course, is where we go from here. With PASS gone, there is a big vacuum in the community. While the PASS Summit is the most obvious casualty, SQLSaturdays and the PASS virtual chapters collectively had more reach than the Summit. The ripples go further into local SQL Server user groups, many of which depend on PASS infrastructure for their websites and mailing list tools.
While I will mourn the end of PASS, I think the most important thing to remember is that PASS was not the data community. Yes, it was a vehicle that helped to bring together members of that community through the PASS Summit, SQLSaturdays, and virtual and local chapters. But the end of PASS does not mean the end of the data community. The community we’ve built is something bigger than PASS. The community is more about relationships than any one organization.
Already, we’ve seen several new initiatives rise up to fill the void left by PASS. In addition, there are numerous other ventures that have survived the pandemic and expect to continue on and eventually resume in-person meetings. Just a few of these initiatives are listed below.
- Data Saturdays: An analog to SQLSaturday, this is a grassroots effort to continue the tradition of one-day, low-cost events for education and networking
- Data Analytics User Group Organization (daug.io): Right now this is just a call for interest by the good folks at DCAC.
- Speaking of DCAC, they are offering to host SQL Server user group websites for free.
- SQLBits: This UK-based community has held an in-person summit for several years, and I’ve gotten to speak there on a couple of occasions. They moved to a virtual summit last year
- Data Platform Geeks: This has been around for several years, and transitioned to an online-only format last year.
- Meetup.com is an online platform to help manage local user group meetings. Some user group leaders had already been using this for event management, and many more are moving that direction with the dissolution of PASS
- There is a Slack group for keeping in touch with peers in a more conversational setting. This has been around for a while, but is even more useful with few local events taking place.
- In addition to these, Microsoft has made a strong commitment to support the data community. Both the community and Microsoft benefit from this support.
There are many of us who are passionate about both learning and networking, so you can expect to see the SQL Server/data platform community continue on even after PASS closes for good later this week.
An earlier version of this post first appeared in the Data Geek Newsletter.