PASS in Africa discussion

This is a repost from the SQLPass Discussion Board

A blog post has asked a series of questions on PASS by Mark Stacey, who is based in Africa and has previously spoken at PASS. I won’t repeat his blog post here but you can read it here:http://markgstacey.net/2013/09/27/m…ass-board/ The other candidates have commented on the blog, but in order to give the issue a wide readership, I have set up this Discussion Board question. 

Previous to this blog post, I wrote a blog asking a similar questionhttp://www.jenstirrup.com/2013/09/p…tions.html and http://www.jenstirrup.com/2013/09/s…n-top.html 

I’ve tried to distil Mark’s post to a few points, which I’ve put below. 

Point 1: Africa has been totally short-changed on events (see Mark’s post for more detail) 
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I’ve blogged here and commented in other places that I’d like to see a SQLRally Africa, particularly with a BA track. 
I have taken a broader approach and wondered if this could be a two-way process. Instead of criticising people’s ideas that won’t work, let’s talk about things that might work. I’m a firm belliever that good ideas can be wrought from ideas that initially seemed to be poor, once you’ve discussed them with people. Suggestions are valuable. 

If online events do not help, what about eBooks? Would this help the community in Africa? Considering online is an issue, are there other practical ways that help could be given? For example, would be good to have USBs with material sent out to the UG groups with material on it, for example? I sometimes take collateral from Microsoft, sponsors and PASS to hand out to my UGs and nobody has ever objected, not once. People like Mark Stacey have spoken at SQLPass Summit so perhaps a process could be put in place so that they are given a box of educational collateral to take back. This would be a matter of two things: putting a process in place and the availability of resources. This would assume, of course, that people wouldn’t mind taking items back with them. THis is just an example and I am sure that the community can think of other examples. 


It seems that if we get our thinking brains on, we can make things happen. We’re smart people and we should be able to do this. 

Point 2: More data about what PASS is doing (see Mark’s post for more detail) 
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I need to hold fire on this. There are usually issues with opening data up to the community. I’ve been through this before with other technical communities, and there are all sorts of issues around PII for example. 
I think we need to ‘baseline’ across the globe in order to measure global growth, trajectory of growth and so on. 

Point 3: More transparency and fairness (see Mark’s post for more detail) 
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I don’t believe that Mark is alone in becoming confused by the Regional Mentor role. It is something that I have been confused about in the past, and I believe that the role’s defined boundaries need to be clarified. It’s easy to think “Well, the Regional Mentor should be doing X, Y, Z” but it may not be part of their role. For example, they do not have to attend SQLSaturday events in their region although many of them do. Personally I think that the Regional aspect is an important part of the role, and I’d like to see the role clarified to the community as a whole. 

Point 4: Closer alignment with other communities (see Mark’s post for more detail) 
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The SQLPass Mission Statement clearly refers to ‘data professional’. Not ‘SQL Server’ professional. This is a move from being ‘technology’ specific to being domain specific. 
SQL Server has broadened to include deeply business-oriented people who use data, as well as including the deeply-technical folks. 
I see it as consistent with looking after ‘data’ professionals that there is a cross-pollination of skills in different areas. Some are BI ‘generalists’ who do end-to-end solutions, rather than focus on one area. 

Let’s take SQLSaturday Cambridge as an example. Mark Broadbent took the brave decision to include a SharePoint precon, and included SharePoint speakers, sponsors and community members amongst the SQLSaturday event. I attended, spoke and sponsored SQLSaturday Cambridge and saw the event from different perspectives, and I have to say that Mark and the team did a stellar job on every front. The additional point was that the event also held a strong community streak by visibly supporting a charity this year. Personally I love this aspect, and I hope to see it at other events.

SQLPass Board of Directors Election: Top Strategic Goal for PASS?

Kendal Van Dyke asked a great question on the PASS Board of Directors election candidacy today:

Candidates, 
If elected, what do you envision is your top strategic goal for PASS? How do you anticipate gaining support from your fellow board members to pursue that goal and what are some examples of tactical activities you would engage in during your term in support of it? How would you support that goal if you are assigned a portfolio that isn’t directly in line with what you want to accomplish? 

Thanks for putting yourself out there for the sake of the PASS community!

Here is my response:

Hi Kendal,
Great question, and thank you for taking the time to get involved in the debates on the discussion board. here is my response:

If elected, what do you envision is your top strategic goal for PASS? 
If elected, my top strategic goal would be the broadening of the community to involve data professionals who touch SQL Server products, not just SQL Server experts. I mean the Excel experts, the Power View addicts and the PowerPivot heroes. People who have data pass through their hands, cleanse it, shape it and make decisions based on it. They may be accidental DBAs but they will focus on front end tools to make magic with data.

How do you anticipate gaining support from your fellow board members?
I anticipate gaining support from my fellow board members to pursue this goal by fairly putting across that this is totally consistent with the PASS mission statement as a cornerstone of where PASS have been, and where PASS envisage themselves in the future. The data professional is central to Microsoft’s data platform and PASS are uniquely placed to support and educate this formative community. 
This is on PASS’ critical path.

What are some examples of tactical activities that you would engage in during your term in support of it?
– ebooks – I believe that PASS already produce stellar educational facilities but I’d love to see the introduction of e-books or e-chapters written by volunteers, peer reviewed by volunteers and so on. I suspect that the data professional might stumble across a library of well-written chapters. I think that there is a wealth of great community writers out there who already write fantastic blog posts, so why not wrap them up and shape them to form e-books which are downloadable, and may attract a new membership? We already have a great set of free ebooks from microsoft but I feel that the PASS community has a wealth of real-world experience and I’d like to see this leveraged. 
– inperson events – I would love to see more BA focused events around. This could include BI/BA focused UGs or even BA SQLSaturdays – BASaturday, anyone? 
– the Virtual Chapters already do a great job with the Business Analytics VC, and I’d love to see this grown into other languages. 
– global growth – my own personal passion is to see a PASS BAC in Europe or another part of the world. I’d be interested to know if there was a demand for this type of event in Africa, for example. It would be great to have a SQLRally Africa with a BA track, just to test the toes in the water.

I hope that helps.
Kind Regards,
Jen

SQLPass Board of Elections: ‘Doing’ the Mission Statement

Tom LaRock asked an excellent question on the SQLPass Board of Directors election campaign discussion boards:

I’d like to hear thoughts about the new PASS Mission statement and how each candidate expects to be able to contribute to the PASS mission during the next two years.

Here is my answer:

Hi Tom, 
Great question and thank you for asking. 

PASS’s updated mission is to “empower data professionals who leverage Microsoft technologies to connect, share, and learn through networking, knowledge sharing, and peer-based learning.” Ultimately, PASS seeks to support data professionals throughout the world who use some, or all, of the Microsoft Data Platform. This breadth goes outside SQL Server to other technologies, particularly in the Business Intelligence and Business Analytics spheres. I would also argue that this breadth reaches out to emphasise the importance of diversity; more on this below. 


A mission statement is a combination of an organisation’s foundation, and its goal for the future. I’d like to see more emphasis of the ‘Professional’ in PASS. People often come to PASS events to grow their career, whether it is in networking, depth of technical expertise, or professional development. The word ‘Education’ comes from the Latin ‘ducere’, which means to lead: prefixing with an ‘e’ means that it literally means ‘to lead out’. PASS can help people to be ‘led out’ to meet their personal goals, particularly where these include professional development. I occasionally attend non-PASS conferences, and it seems to me that companies do not always know what PASS is or does, and neither do potential community members. I think we need to go ‘back to basics’ a bit, and make sure that we evangelize, and keep evangelizing, about the Professional aspects of PASS. There are a number of areas that could be tackled, but one important one is social media and deploying its benefits to meet the mission statement and ‘lead out’. Achievable ideas include: 

– Empowering volunteers – I believe in empowering our volunteers so that they have better assets in order to achieve their ambitions for their User Group, SQLSaturday or other event. For example, there is no route for new volunteers to ‘bed in’ to becoming a PASS volunteer. MyPASS can be difficult to use, for example, unless you know the ‘tips and tricks’. I’d like to see us empower and support volunteers in the same way that we do for the wider SQL community; through webinars, events, and a feeling of a ‘volunteer community’. For example, if we had a Volunteer VC, we could have webinars with titles such as ‘Thinking of planning a SQLSaturday? Here is how!’ and this would allow more experienced PASS members to help the new volunteers to grow. 

– Empowering ‘data professionals’ – I would like to see more to ’empower’ data professionals. I would work to see the BA Conference to become more established, and look to promote SQLSaturday events with a BA slant. BASaturday, anyone? I would look to work with Microsoft to ensure that the needs of the data professional are met. I’d like to see the ability for data professionals to sit exams at BAC, for example, so that the Conference has a feel of training as well as networking and sessions. This breadth could also include other technologies such as Hadoop, which sit beside the Microsoft ecosystem of data solutions. 

– Empowering members, wherever they are in the world – I would like to see more ‘lead out’ by offering more local language Virtual Chapters: Denise McInerny has already done great work in this area. It would be good to work closely with Microsoft in the local areas, in order to produce local-language material. I would also like to see the production of a report that is transparent, and shows clearly the geography of the SQLSaturday events throughout the world. I would like to do ‘Business Intelligence’ on this data, for example: are there Microsoft offices that do not have a SQL user group nearby? What conferences and non-PASS events take place that could use support? 

– Empowering those who would like to step into professional development and management – As someone who has organised Women in Technology events across Europe, I’m aware of the organisational difficulties that can take place when trying to organise an event remotely. I would like to see a process put in place whereby it is easier to work with Microsoft, for example, to make sure that the logistics are in place for Women in Technology events. This could be something as simple as helping with room booking, for example. Often the logistics mean that the Women in Technology events are put aside because of the logistics – no other reason, even if there is an appetite for the event itself, and it is a pity to miss it out. I believe that the ‘Professional’ part of PASS should have an element of professional development and learning, and the best managers will be aware of the importance of having diverse team members to build stronger, more profitable groups for the enterprise. To facilitate this, managers, and managers-in-training, need to have opportunities to learn about diversity and its importance in the success of organisations, problem solving and teamwork. In The Future of Diversity and the Work Ahead of Us, Harris Sussman says, “Diversity is about our relatedness, our connectedness, our interactions, where the lines cross. Diversity is many things – a bridge between organizational life and the reality of people’s lives, building corporate capability, the framework for interrelationships between people, a learning exchange, a strategic lens on the world.” It is so much more complex than it initially seems, and I believe that Women in Technology is a key aspect of the ‘Professional’ aspect of PASS since the shrewest organisations place an emphasis on it; omitting Women in Technology from events purely due to logistics is a missed opportunity to allow PASS members to learn about the complexities, and I would like to see a more well-defined process put in place to Women in Technology event support and logistics in order to help make it happen. 
– ’empower’ the readers in the data community – I am interested in asking PASS community members to write downloadable free e-books in the same way that they produce webinars, like we see free books offered by Packt and RedGate. The books themselves would not have to be very long; chapter sized, even. I think that this could be an important tool we are missing when thinking about evangelising to the BA community for example, who might stumble across PASS ebooks on topics such as Excel and SSAS cubes, for example, or data visualisation. This would allow us opportunities to work with other disciplines, and would be an excellent ‘take away’ for promoting the Professional aspect of PASS. I do think that organisations would see books as a way of educating teams, and this may speak to companies and management too. Further, e-Books are translatable into local languages, and it is possible that there are volunteers who would enjoy the challenge of translating, for example. 

It’s late here in the UK so that’s all for now! I hope that putting down some thoughts has helped. 

Kind Regards, 

Jen 

Here is more about me: 
Candidate Page: http://www.sqlpass.org/Elections/Ca…irrup.aspx 
My Election Summary site: http://jenstirrupforsqlfamily.wordpress.com/ 
Blog: http://www.jenstirrup.com

Leadership Styles: My perspective on how to say no to ideas

Denise McInerny posed the following question on the PASS Election Discussion Board, and I have posted my answer here:

PASS has a lot of passionate and creative people with many good ideas. Like all organizations we have finite resources, which means we can’t do everything we want to do.One of the hardest things about being on the Board is saying “no” to a good idea. How would you approach that aspect of the job?

Let me give you an example recently where an email precipitated a huge and very heated community debate – the closure of the MCM program. Although I was not part of the decision-making at all, I was part of the process of the communication around the closure of the MCM Program because I chaired a conference call between Microsoft and the MCM community. For some reason, the Register obtained a copy of it without my knowledge, but it was supposed to be restricted to the MCM community.

In order to understand more about why the decision to close the MCM happened and to facilitate conversation and discussion between the community and Microsoft, I opened a Connect case, which ended up being the highest-voted SQL Server connect case with over a staggering 800 upvotes.
By opening a Connect case, I opened a two-way conversation which, unfortunately, ended up turning sour as people vented a very personal series of criticism on individual community members, which I will not deign to repeat here. Due to this, the Connect case was closed, unfortunately, since the Case was being dragged around by a tiny but extremely vocal minority who felt a Connect case was an appropriate forum to make personal and wholly unfounded criticisms of people who worked at Microsoft, or were attached to the Community in some way.

I then worked with Microsoft in order to host a conference call with the MCM community, whom I deeply respect. Despite the presence of the trolls on the Connect case, it was clear that there were a number of extremely smart engaged people, who had great ideas about the way forward for the MCM program and for MSL in particular. This was in despite of their huge personal disappointment at the closure of the program, which many had spent a lot of money, time and effort in participating.

I chaired the call between the MCM community and Microsoft, collating questions over a number of days and distilling them into a number of common themes due to the repetition of some questions.

Although the call did not produce the outcome that many wanted, it was at least a way forward for facilitating communication between Microsoft and the MCM community in a more formal environment, which reduced the heat of the Connect case which had been hijacked by trolls. It at least gave a voice to the MCM people who really deserved it, and had great questions and comments about the MCM closure decision, and plans for the way forward.

To summarise, this is an example where I’ve played a part in trying to resolve a very heated community situation, through communication, active participation in the community, and an absolute belief that the good hearts and best minds in the community deserved a hearing, as well as allowing Microsoft to have a say. Incidentally I’d like to thank Tim Sneath and his team for his time for making the time and facilities available to make the communication happen. I also found a way forward to deal with the trolls who were hijacking the normal means of communication i.e. by comments fired to a Connect case.

It was one of these situations where people deserved more than an email, and I think it was right to make it happen. I think that a ‘copy and paste’ email misses the point somewhat, since it does not seem to echo the idea of listening to the individual(s), or taking them seriously. Getting a somewhat modified template answer just doesn’t seem to fit with the energy that people have put into bringing an idea to you.

Saying no can be hard, but if you can clarify ‘why not’, then it can help to reach a common ground between yourself and the community. Sometimes what you mean is ‘not yet’. Communication, and fair communication which isn’t one-sided (like an email) isn’t the way forward.

In my experience, it is too easy to email, and much harder to pick up the phone or do in-person – but the effort can be worth it. It can come across as disrespectful, even. Also, if it is a bad idea that morphs into a good idea after discussion, it is important to give credit where it is due.

I propose that sometimes picking up the phone, or a proper conference call, might be the way forward. It depends on lots of factors, such as the range of the idea, numbers affected, how the idea generators might take it, and so on.

Whilst it is important not to get dragged around by a vocal minority, sometimes a simple conversation is all that it takes, and in today’s connected world, there is no excuse not to do that.

PASSVotes SQLPass Board of Elections: What about the ME and A in EMEA?

One thing that hasn’t come up in this election much so far is the ‘ME’ and ‘A’ in ‘EMEA’. Notice that they take up 3/4 of the acronym! Let’s not forget the growing communities here.

I believe that there is a community to be forged and supported in these regions too. I’d like to see more practical help where it is needed and identified. I’d like to take a step back, look at the activity that’s taken place. I would like to do some ‘business intelligence’ to understand more about the existing work in the region. For this, I would listen carefully to the existing technical community leaders (such as Jody Roberts) for their input and ideas. I also believe that it would be important to learn about culture and how it can be preserved, respected and supported.

I have not been to Africa or the Middle East, ever. It is my loss. I’ve never had the time to do that, although I would love to. Therefore I can’t pretend that I know everything about it, but I’d love to act as an ‘enabler’ to channel the support of PASS to the local superstars who are already doing fantastic work.

What active steps would I take for these regions? 
I would *love* to see a SQLRally Africa. They already have user groups and SQLSaturdays in Johannesburg. There are already well-respected community leaders there. I think it just needs given a chance.
My role as Board Director would be to enable; to learn, listen and support.

PASS Business Analytics Strategy

Denise McInerny posed a great question on the SQLPass Board of Elections discussion Board. “Recently PASS has begun to reach out to a new group of data professionals by hosting the Business Analytics Conference in Chicago and launching the Business Analytics Virtual Chapter. The 2nd BAC will be held in May 2014. What is your point of view on this strategy and the specific activities, particularly BAC?”

I’m running for the Board, and I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk about something which I’m extremely passionate about: the PASS Business Analytics strategy.

What is my point of view on this strategy?
PASS has hosted the BA Analytics Conference in Chicago this year, and I was lucky enough to attend as a speaker, giving two sessions. PASS are repeating the experience by holding a second BA Conference in May 2014

In 2012, the release of SQL Server marked a real sea-change in approach; it introduced user-friendly, non-technical tools for the first time. This was Power View, which built on earlier solutions such as PowerPivot and the Tabular model. More recently, we have seen the Power BI tools grow to include Power Query. I strongly believe that the adoption of the Business Analytics community into the PASS family is the right thing to do. Ultimately the inclusion of the Business Analytics arena is a reflection of the growing user base for SQL Server itself. 

PASS have a wealth of unparalled experience in growing the SQL Server community globally. I believe that this experience puts PASS in a unique, very well-placed position of mentoring the nascent BA community as well. The roles of BA, Data Scientist, and Data architect may be more broad than SQL Server specialists, but this should not mean that they are excluded from the SQL Server community. IF you have some time, do a search on twitter for terms such as #DataScientist and #BusinessAnalytics on twitter. You’ll come across reams of results. This illustrates the presence of this community, and PASS are right to get behind it and move it forward towards in-person events that are accessible. 

I play a small role, as I did last year, in being part of the Committee and working with some of the others as part of a Committee focused on BAC, bouncing ideas around, and feeding ideas towards how we can get the first-class content that people expect from PASS, in the BA sphere.

The increase in breadth of membership to the PASS family does not extend only to community members who would benefit from the learning, education and networking that being part of the PASS family brings. The BA community ecosystem also extends to volunteers, a potential new speaker base, and also to sponsors who would like to participate in being part of the community. This is an extremely exciting time for PASS and it is great to be a part of that. 

What would I do about BAC, if elected to the Board?
If I’m elected to the Board, I would like to see an emphasis on the growth and development of the BA community. I’d like to see:

 – more BA / BI SQLSaturdays – or should we call them #BASaturday perhaps? What do you think? Perhaps we have a community ‘tweetjam’ to choose a name. I’d like to see these in the US and other parts of the world as well. A global growth of this community is required, and again, PASS are well-placed to support.
 – a clearer speaker base for the BI, BA and BigData Virtual Chapters, which are aligning together very closely in content. It might be good if a BA topic gets into the BI VC, that it is handed over to the most appropriate chapter. We tend to grab our speakers with both hands since we are so happy to have volunteers to speak at the VCs! However, this approach may not be best and I’d like to see more co-ordination within the VCs so that the most appropriate presentation is directed to the correct Virtual Chapter.
– Existing, well-established SQLSaturdays might consider a dedicated BA track
– I’d love to see more BA user groups. This might be difficult to set up since it is a nebulous user group. But it would be great fun!
I hope that helps.
Kind Regards,
Jen

My top 5 tasks for implementing as a PASS Board member, and a cheeky number 6!

One of the SQLFamily I was lucky to meet at SQLRally Dallas, TJay Belt, posted a great question on the SQLPass Election Discussion Board:

What are your top 5 tasks you would implement right now, if you had the manpower, the approvals, the money and the time? Why would these be so important to our community and how will they help us out? 

And knowing that this is a dream list, what obstacles do you see in the way of these tasks coming to fruition? 

Here is my answer, and thanks to TJay for his question.
Hi Tjay,
Great question and thank you for engaging with the election process! It is good to hear from you. 
Here are my top 5:

1. Do a member merge on the PASS membership list. I am sure I am not the only one with multiple memberships!
2. Support volunteers, the lifeblood of PASS. Make MyPass much easier to use. Hold volunteer skills webinars, twitter chats and google hangouts so that volunteers can get to know one another more easily.
3. Social media strategy. It enables everything else; outreach, recruitment and retention of new volunteers, speakers, and members. It spans technical disciplines. It helps the global communities to grow. Why not have a LATAM twitterchat, for example? In one of the local languages? 
4. Take a step back to take steps forward, based on data. Where are PASS growing? What about the Russian community, for example? How can we learn from non-PASS events and organisations. This would feed into my idea of a PASS Charter, so everyone can see what PASS is (and is not!).
5. The Business Analytics community – I would like to forge this forward. All of the above would go towards supporting this nascent community. I’d love to see BASaturdays as well as SQLSaturdays, for example. Why not?

And a cheeky number 6:
my ‘task’ would be to thank each and everyone who has made this campaign good, fair and honest, and has taken the time to engage. This goes from the existing Directors, the Nom Com, and everyone who has taken the time to engage (like you have, TJay) over Twitter, and taken the time to vote. So a cheeky number 6: my thanks to the SQLFamily who have allowed me to have this opportunity to serve them better. Even if I am not elected, I will be grateful for all the interactions and support that I’ve had along the way, and those memories will last a long time.

Thank you,
Jen

I didn’t post about the obstacles; that will probably be another separate post!
Next topic, I will answer Denise McInerney’s great question about the Business Analytics community. I have a lot of thoughts so it will need a separate blog post.

Thanks again,
Jen