Thursday, November 10, 2011

My PASS 2011 Experience - Part 2 - Pre-con Sessions

My PASS 2011 Experience - the continuing saga.

Pre-conference (pre-con) sessions were available both Monday and Tuesday and I signed up for sessions both days.  These all day (8:30am - 4:30pm), deep-dive sessions, thoroughly immerse you in the subject matter.  I highly recommend twisting the arms of your managers to get them to pay for these additional sessions as they are a fantastic way to really delve into the topics covered.  Personally, I feel that the pre-con sessions held so much value that I got my money's worth (or more specifically my company's money's worth) just from the 2 pre-con sessions alone.  However, there is just too much fun to be had, knowledge to be gained, and people to meet that skipping the main portion conference is just not an option (more on that in my next post).

One recommendation, bring a plug strip with a long cord on it as outlets were at a premium.  I found myself plugging my laptop in on every break (15 minute break mid-morning, 1 hour lunch break, and a 15 minute break mid-afternoon).  This allowed me to have full use of my laptop during the all day sessions (albeit my battery was nearly exhausted by the end of the day).

A beverage recommendation.  When the drinks are available, take advantage of them.  Juices were available at breakfast, water or iced tea were the only drinks available at lunch, and  coffee, tea and soda were available during the mid-morning and mid-afternoon breaks.  If you get pretty thirsty like I do, grab 2 or 3 bottles of juice with breakfast or cans of soda on your breaks so that you have enough to drink throughout the day.

Monday, October 10th.  
I woke early on Monday (still on East Coast time) and had breakfast with Aunt Kathi (Kathi Kellenberger - @AuntKathi on Twitter).  Kathi had interviewed me shortly before PASS 2011 as I participated in the First Timers program (that interview can be found here on the PASS Blog).  The First Timers program was absolutely brilliant!  Pure genius!  Being able to talk to Kathi about what to expect during PASS made it much more enjoyable and I was able to take advantage of many opportunities to learn and network that I would have missed if I were going alone.  I also had a very enjoyable time learning more about her history (she started off as a Pharmacist and moved into SQL - talk about a career leap).

After breakfast I went to my first pre-con session: "Virtualization and SAN Basics for DBAs" with Brent Ozar ( @BrentO on Twitter).  I have attended some of Brent's sessions in the past, and he is an excellent presenter.  He knows his stuff, and his enthusiasm and excitement are infectious.  I eagerly anticipated attending this session as we are in the process of migrating to and expanding our VMware and SAN infrastructure.  

Brent Ozar displaying his trademark "Jazz Hands" at SQL Saturday in Chicago
Brent does a really cool thing in his sessions; he offers a chat session for attendees to interact and ask questions.  Periodically he reviews the chat session and answers any questions there.  About an hour into the session, I realized that I had more experience with SAN and Virtualization than I initially realized and I started answering questions in chat.  I think there may have only been one question in chat that I was not able to answer for the remainder of the day.  I was also able to verbally ask quite a few questions about our infrastructure and the challenges we're facing.  It felt great to really be able to participate in this session.  My favorite moment in this session was when Brent said, "Folks, Matt Slocum is not a plant."  

After Brent's awesome session, I went to the Networking dinner at Lowell's on the water front.  Andy Warren and Steve Jones coordinated the dinner and it was a great time to meet people as passionate about SQL as I am.  I left there with several new friends and we made our way over to the Tap House to hang out and chat.  It was a great time to meet more SQL geeks like me, many of whom I have seen online and read their blogs.  After that, Aunt Kathi and quite a few of my new friends headed over to Bush Garden for karaoke, but still being on East Coast time I retired back to the hotel to rest up for my next pre-con session.

Tuesday, October 11th.  
I slept a bit later (starting to get used to West Coast time) and headed to breakfast at the Convention Center. Breakfast left something to be desired.  It was a very nice continental breakfast (fruit, cereal, muffins, bagels, bread, etc...), but I was hoping for something more substantial that included eggs, ham or bacon (really wanted the bacon).  I was able to stock up on a couple bottles of juice and head off to Adam Machanic's session "No More Guessing! An Enlightened Approach to Performance Troubleshooting."

Adam (Blog - @AdamMachanic on Twitter) and I had already been tweeting back and forth a bit on Twitter, so it was cool to be able to chat face-to-face before the session started.  Adam knows his stuff and keeps the material engaging.  I gained precious insight into troubleshooting SQL server performance and I have a whole host of things I need to follow up on after this session.  

Steve Jones snapped this pic of Adam's Performance session (I'm the one in front giving a thumbs-up)
Tuesday evening was the Welcome Reception and quizbowl (sponsored by Dell).  Being my first PASS, I had never witnessed the quizbowl before and I found it very interesting (all the participants were awesome and Rob Farley was especially hilarious).  There was some fierce competition and very humorous responses.  I was able to find enough food at the reception to stem my hunger and retired back to the hotel when things started to wind down (still not quite used to the time zone).

Overall, I learned a lot on Monday and Tuesday.  I really enjoyed the deep-dive into the topics, and meeting a lot of new people.  Friendships were forged in those days that will last a lifetime.

Stay tuned as next time I'll begin coverage of the main conference when things really start to get interesting.


  1. I would like to hear more about Adam Machanic's session "No More Guessing! An Enlightened Approach to Performance Troubleshooting" - what were the takeaways?

  2. You've heard the expression, "Know thyself", right? In short Adam Mechanic's sessions was all about knowing your SQL servers. He covered how to know your servers and set up performance baselines. Also, his sp_whoisactive SPROC is very sweet!