This will be an unusual post for me. I normally just write technical posts about performance issues I’ve been working on. But I did go to PASS Summit this year, for only the second time in person, and the social aspect was a big part of why I went.
I’m writing this largely because of a blog post by Paul Randal. I replied in the comments but wanted to relate more of my own experience with introversion and PASS Summit.
I am an introvert, and I’ve never felt networking was my strong suit. Long conversations with people I don’t know aren’t something I crave, but networking can drastically increase our options career-wise. That’s how I got my current job.
Several years back I was working on a contract that had just been extended. The project I was working on had been completed, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to remain with that company long-term. I had been to meetings with the local user group over the years and spoken a few times, but hadn’t been to a meeting in months. I decided to check back in and be sociable.
So, I went to the next meeting and during the intro, the leader, Kevin Feasel, said something interesting. His company was looking for a DBE, and to speak with him after if anyone was interested. That conversation led to me applying, and one interview later I had an offer.
It’s honestly ridiculous looking back on it. It feels like I put in a minimal amount of effort but got a great opportunity with a very unique company. This was about a year after leaving Microsoft CSS (customer support), which allowed me to see a huge variety of SQL Server issues. ChannelAdvisor has a very busy OLTP environment and had great database engineers already working for it. Working on the performance issues here has been enlightening.
So, when I submitted a talk for PASS Summit this year, I had to choose whether to apply for an in-person or online session. Since I’ve been hiding out from the coronavirus like many people for the last two years, I decided to try for an in-person session at the summit and spend the extra effort to do some networking while I was there.
At the summit
I’ve been to the PASS Summit once before in Seattle. There are a ton of great sessions, and I usually want to be in three different rooms for each session. I went to sessions all day, walked around Seattle a bit each evening, and crashed. It’s surprisingly exhausting to learn all day.
During this trip, I wanted to focus more on networking. I still went to a lot of sessions, but there were some I skipped to have conversations in the exhibitor lounge and elsewhere in the convention center. And if I was in a session that wasn’t what I was looking for, I was more likely to leave and just look for a chance to talk.
I ended up talking with about a dozen well-known people in the community. Some I had already interacted with; others not at all.
And it wasn’t comfortable or easy most of the time. As I said earlier, I’m an introvert. I had to make myself engage with people I had little or no contact with before. Several times I walked past a conversation before I made myself turn around and get involved.
I was mainly interested in talking with engineers doing consulting work about the work they do. There are similarities to the work I did in Microsoft CSS previously, so I’ve been interested in that part of the business.
I had some contact with a few speakers through work. I had replied to a few on a topic or two on Twitter. A few I had spoken with because I presented for a user group they were part of. I emailed Paul Randal several times through the mentorship he offered a year or two ago. Some like Brent Ozar I had never had any contact with, but he was more than willing to talk. I also had a few good conversations with consultants in the sponsor’s lounge.
What surprised me was hearing a lot (or all?) of the presenters I talked with mention that they were introverts during their talks. It seems unbelievable for someone presenting to a ballroom or keynote with seeming ease.
I referenced Paul Randal’s post because part of the feedback he received was from people who found the experience alienating. Some didn’t feel the community was very welcoming or felt like they were on the outside looking in or saw it as being very cliquish.
I wanted to post not to negate any of that; our feelings are always valid. But that doesn’t mean others are trying to be exclusionary.
And I did feel like I was on the outside looking in. And it was difficult\stressful to start up a conversation with people or join in one that was already going on. I’ve spoken at PASS Summit or Virtual PASS three times, but I’m not nearly as well known as many of the other presenters. So I certainly don’t feel I’m part of any clique.
But it did strike me that so many of the presenters had mentioned that they were introverts. So if people see the more well-known speakers gravitate toward people they already know, that’s what I’d expect an introvert to do.
I certainly did the same when I was feeling a bit overwhelmed and saw a friendly face.
In all of the conversations I joined in with or started, I didn’t have anyone turn me away. Once I engaged, I found everyone to be willing to answer questions, happy to give advice and giving of their time.
So as much as anything, I’d like to encourage people to be bold and engage. It may not be easy to start these contacts, but the results have been well worth the discomfort.
One thing that did make this easier was something I didn’t intend. Over the last few years, I’ve presented at PASS Summit, several SQL Saturday events, and several user groups as well. So I’ve had more interactions with people in our community over the last few years as a lead-up to the summit this year.
I didn’t present at those user groups and SQL Saturday events to make networking easier, but it does help when I can say to someone, “Hi, I presented online for your user group a few months ago, and I wanted to ask you a question.”
This is not to say that you have to present to be part of the community, but any way you can engage with the community gives you more connections and more opportunities going forward.
And I should specifically thank Tracy Boggiano because many of those speaking opportunities came from her pinging me when she heard of a user group that needs a speaker. So, thank you, Tracy!
About the community…
Before and after the summit, I heard a lot of people in the community express a desire to leave Twitter. And I get why, but it’s been the main place where #sqlfamily posted. It isn’t clear how much of the community is looking to move, but I thought I’d mention the options I’ve seen people refer to:
- CounterSocial: I saw people start talking about this before the summit. I haven’t seen a ton of activity here yet, but there are several names I recognized that have joined. Perhaps the chatter will pick up after the holidays, so try looking for #sqlfamily there.
- Mastodon: I heard more about Mastodon at and after the summit. This works a bit differently, not being entirely centralized. People have to set up a server for it, and it seems communities have to find the right server (don’t ask me for the details). But you can search for #sqlfamily there, or go to the server that Daniel Hutmacher set up at https://dataplatform.social/home. Not a lot of activity there yet, but maybe this is where things will reform.
- Linkedin: This wouldn’t have occurred to me, but Brent Ozar pointed to LinkedIn (and TikTok and Instagram) when he said he would stop tweeting. There’s some activity here, and I’ve linked my new blog posts here in the past.
So, if you are looking for people to follow or new events or groups to be part of here, there are three good places to start.
My LinkedIn should already be at the top of the page, but I have accounts on CounterSocial (https://counter.social/@sqljared) and Mastodon (https://dataplatform.social/@sqljared), and I’ll link those at the top of the page shortly.
I hope I’ve encouraged you to engage with the community in the new year, and I hope you will find it rewarding. I’m going to do the same myself and see if there are some more user groups that need a remote present.
Happy New Year!