With PASS Summit being virtual this year, one of the first questions I had was whether the event was going to be able to offer more than just technical sessions. While I have benefited from the technical sessions in the past, the most valuable aspect of the conference for me, has been the other parts such as the community events, clinics, networking opportunities, and the vendor exhibit hall. The good news is that many of these elements are included in the virtual PASS Summit.
While it is great to have on-demand access to over 250 technical sessions for 12 months, all these other events complete the conference and give it an in-person feel.
In this post, I highlight some of my favorite events.
Vendor Exhibit Hall
Each year in the vendor exhibit hall, you could walk around, talk to vendors, watch product demos, learn about their services, and as an added benefit, collect a few fun swag items.
This year, you will be able to do this virtually! There is going to be an actual floorplan and you would be able to click on a vendor booth to start interacting with the vendor. When the booth comes up, depending on the level of vendor sponsorship, you would be able to watch videos for product showcases and enter a one-on-one session with the vendor. Some vendors are going to have virtual swag bags, most likely including downloadable items.
Each year there used to be a competition for the best vendor booth. This year, each vendor is preparing a one page poster and attendees will vote for the best virtual booth.
PASS to Prizes
Each year, some of the vendors participate in PASS to Prizes. The prize is provided by PASS but this gives the attendees an incentive to visit all vendors who participate.
Previously, you would get a card with all of the participating vendor names on it and you would walk around the hall to locate them. Once you found them, you would talk to them about their offerings and in exchange, you would get a stamp on your card. Once you had all the stamps, you would drop the card into a PASS raffle bucket. The raffle was done on the last day of the conference and you had to be present to win the prizes.
This year, all of the this will happen virtually! You can run around the virtual Exhibit Hall and collect vendor QR codes to be entered in with a chance to win a prize. You must use the event app (on your mobile device) to be able to collect the QR codes. Each QR code will earn you points and you will be added to a leaderboard. Some QR codes will be available during live sessions in which you can earn points by answering PASS trivia.
There will be daily drawing for a prize of $100 on Wednesday and Thursday. The final drawing will be on the last day of the conference as usual. You must have at least 15,000 points in order to enter the final drawing. See more details here.
Finally because this it is a virtual event, attendees will not need to be present to receive their prize! They will be notified if they win. I personally like this because most of the time I was not able to be present at the drawing time and when I was, it was overcrowded.
At previous conferences, I have been able to take technical questions and mockups of various issues to Microsoft clinics and come back with solutions each time.
This year, Microsoft is providing a Microsoft Azure Data Clinic. In order to get a spot, attendees must schedule a time beforehand. Spots will be limited so this will be a first come, first severed.
The virtual experience may be better than the in-person experience depending on how you attend the conference. If you connect from a work computer (with your company’s permission), this might be the golden opportunity to get feedback on your technical issues in your own environment where you might be able to screen share with a Microsoft expert vs. having to present a mock-up of the problem on your laptop during the in-person conference.
It remains to be seen how smoothly this part will run and how the length of the one-on-one sessions are moderated. If done correctly, this section has the potential of being better that the in-person conference.
Ribbons have been a fun part of the conference in the past. If you are not familiar with what they are, the ribbons have a sticky end and you would add them to the bottom of your badge to show other attendees your work background, interests, community membership, what you are proud of, awards, and etc. Ribbons can be a great way to get a quick glimpse into another attendee’s interests/expertise/background before you start a conversation with them.
This year you will be able to collect Virtual Ribbons to personalize your virtual badge! You can add up to 7 ribbons per category.
In the past, there has been a competition by attendees to collect the most number of ribbons during the conference. Here are two images shared by Rob Volk (@sqlr) and Rob Sewell (@sqldbawithbeard) of their previous year ribbons!
There will be many opportunities to network with other attendees one-on-one, in small groups, and in break-out rooms called Community Bubbles. For the one-on-one messaging, when you register, you can opt in or out to be found by other attendees and whether they can message you directly.
The following is a sample of how these events could look like.
Some of the Community Bubbles such as the regional groups, will take place in the local time zone of the community and will have a local flavor to them.
Some of the PASS beloved community events such as SQLRun, Speaker Idol, Birds of a feather, and virtual kilt day will have their own bubbles this year.
Looking forward a great conference
While nothing can replace the experience of an in-person conference, I am pleased that the virtual PASS Summit has more than just technical sessions planned this year. Don’t forget to follow #PASSSummit on Twitter. Even when attending in person, I find the the twitter feed around the conference very informative.