Why I'm Paying my Own Way to PASS Summit 2010 and You Should Too.

A few months ago, I wrote an article about how thrilled I was to be going to PASS this year. Some of you may have gotten the impression from that article that I was given a Golden Ticket. I should have been more clear that I had bought a golden ticket, and not just for the price of a Wonka Bar. The trip is likely to cost me around $2,500 including conference registration, flight, hotel, etc. I am still excited to go, regardless of the price and you should be too.

Shouldn’t My Employer Pay for it?

Many of the top SQL Server bloggers have written that companies should invest in their people by sending themto the PASS Summit including Brent Ozar, Steve Jones, and most recently Thomas LaRock.

Please don’t misunderstand me, I respect these guys a great deal, and I certainly wish my employer would have been willing to pay for the conference. However they, like many employers have reasons for not doing so.

Let’s face it the economy is awful. Most companies are getting by on relatively thin margins. In general, they are not investing in new hardware and technologies in these lean times.

How long does the average IT Professional stay with the same company anyway? Three or four years? If you look at it from the employer’s standpoint, what exactly are they investing in?

From the employer’s view, it’s best to keep you in your little sandbox, using their current software and assets. If they’re not spending money on upgrading to latest and greatest that Microsoft has to offer then why would they want you to be trained in it? It’s not difficult to see why they don’t want you to take a week “off” from work, network with some of the most brilliant minds in SQL Server, and learn all about new toys which your employer doesn’t own. Besides, why should your company be willing to invest in your education if you aren’t?

If perks like going to PASS are important to you, then make sure to negotiate for them when you accept a new position or make sure your new salary will cover the cost of it. I’m not trying to suggest that employers are evil, they just people like us. This article isn’t really about them anyway. It’s about you.

Why Should I Pay to go to PASS?

While I understand that going to PASS will make you a better DBA, your employer may not. In the long run, nobody is going to improve your career but you, and you shouldn’t expect them to.

I can’t tell you specifically why you should go, I can only tell you why I’m going.

  • To be exposed to amazing things, get inspired to try something new. This kind of format is perfect to get exposure to topics outside of your area of focus. BI guys may want to look at Administration sessions and vice versa.
  • To be exposed to amazing people. I can’t wait to expose myself to several people. Wait, that didn’t come out right! Where else are you going to find the best and brightest all in one place?
  • Make new friends, possibly even Super Friends. I’ve already a few occasions where contacts I’ve made at SQL events have pulled my bacon out of the fire.
  • Meet the folks who develop SQL Server. I have quite a few questions for folks on the SSRS and SSIS teams. Suggest product improvements.
  • Recharge your batteries. Every time I go to a SQL event I leave in a great mood. It’s like natural Prozac.

And those are just some of the reasons I’m going. If you’re a member of the community, and you certainly should be, then you’re lucky, there’s free information and education everywhere. You can and should attend SQL Saturdays, User Group Meetings, and take advantage of all the free content given away on blogs.

However, if you want the best training, networking, and experience; you must go is the PASS Summit. If you want to be one of the best, you need to go and be with the best.

To paraphrase an old joke about getting a divorce, “Why is the PASS Summit so expensive?…. because it’s worth it.”

24 comments to Why I’m Paying my Own Way to PASS Summit 2010 and You Should Too.

  • Plus you’ll have a roommate with an unusual poultry fetish…errrr…brand. This should be a fun trip!

  • Hey David,

    I’ve paid my way to PASS before. It wasn’t even an option not to go. Every year I meet new people, learn new stuff and find employers who WILL pay my way to PASS every year…


  • Jorge (SQL Chicken),

    I totally forgot to mention that. I’m rooming with the Chicken which is a good way to cut hotel costs at the event and get to know someone better.

    And… I promise not to “expose” myself to you. 🙂

  • I paid my way the first year I went. It was a lot of fun and I would happily do it again.

  • Denise McInerney

    Good post. I have paid my own way a couple of times. I considered it an investment in my career.

  • For those of you who paid for your own trip (at least in the past) did you find that you took it more seriously or enjoyed it more because you paid your own money to go? Just an idea I had.

  • @David – yeah, I think I things more seriously when I paid for myself. Last year was completely comp’d from a variety of perspectives and I wasn’t as worried about attending as many sessions (I made it to 6) or picking and choosing my sessions as carefully as I did the first year. When I paid for it myself, I poured over the session guide before I got to Seattle and then did it again on site just to make sure I had backups for every session as well. This year, I’m treating it like that again. I won’t be able to make it to as many sessions because of BoD and vendor stuff, but the few sessions I make it to… I’m going to be VERY excited about those.

  • Name Withheld

    I would be willing to pay my own way, but it’s not just the monetary cost that makes me unable to do so. My employer would require that I take paid time off to go to the Summit. My time off is limited enough. It’s difficult to justify using a substantial amount of it to attend a conference on the other side of the country. Of course, this assumes that my request is actually approved in the first place and not cancelled at the last minute after I’ve already paid for everything.

    I would love to be able to reduce my costs and exposure by only attending one day of the Summit, but it’s not really practical for me to spend $500 and somewhere between 5 and 9 hours (depending on stops) to fly across the country for one day. My money and time would probably be better spent driving a few hours to a SQL Saturday. Since few people seem interested in changing up the location occasionally to make it easier for those of us with work or family commitments to attend, it would appear to me that PASS really isn’t interested in my participation in the first place.

  • Denise McInerney

    I don’t know if I took it more seriously (I still take it seriously!) but I probably spent more time trying to pick the “right” sessions. After a few years of attending the Summit I sort of relaxed about that–not every session is going to exactly meet your expectations, but certainly enough do.

    One of the times I paid my own way did require cross-country travel, from California to Florida. About a week before the Summit I got laid off. Attending the Summit turned out to be a crucial investment in my career that year.

  • Name Withheld,

    Andy Warren and PASS have been working on changing the venue, and the result of their efforts is the SQL Rally conference in Orlando April 2010. A lot has been said about changing the venue over the last few years in blogs by members of the community as well as blogs by the members of the Board like Jeremiah and Thomas LaRock. There are good arguments for both sides of the debate. Seattle is a known location that simplfies the logistics a good bit for PASS, and it is right in Microsoft’s backyard, which draws more cooperation and attendence of the actual product group, since Microsoft doesn’t have to foot the bill to fly them across the country. Having it on the East Coast or alternating the location might make it more feasible for members of PASS to attend but at the added cost of increased complexity in logistics for putting on the conference and a lower attendence of Microsoft Product Group members.

    My first year at PASS I faced budget problems with my employer and worked out free admission to the conference by acting as a reporter for an online publication company. I had to attend sessions, but I could pick the ones I wanted to attend, and I had to do a write up about every session I attended, aggregate the write ups of the other reporters for the event, format them for web publication including any images, and then upload them by FTP to the publication companies server nightly. I still had to pay my own way and for lodging, which I initially did out of pocket, and when I submitted my time off request to use vacation time to attend the conference, my employer refused to let me use vacation time, and picked up the expense of my flight and hotel expenses because it meant enough to me to pay for it out of pocket. I am not saying that your own employer would react in the same manner. The next year I got to attend PASS for free again, this time as a speaker, and my employer had already budgeted for me to attend the conference with expenses based on my interests the previous year.

  • […] David Stein (Blog|Twitter) recently wrote a blog post regarding paying to go to the PASS Summit.  I’m also paying my own way, as I do with all […]

  • Patrick Flynn

    Hi David.

    Agree totally with your post. For the last three years I have attended the summit at my own cost and using my vaction time. As I trave from Australia this in not cheap, but I still regard this as the best single investment I can make in my own education. As you said, “Why is the PASS Summit so expensive?…. because it’s worth it.”

  • Hi David,

    This year is my first PASS conference and I am also paying for myself to attend. I believe paying for myself this year has helped get the PASS conference on the budget next year for myself and another DBA. I realize that it might be cut as budgets do get cut but at least it’s on there.

    I am really excited and cannot wait for next week. I have already done several reviews of the sessions. I recently found out you can download the PowerPoint slides and I have used this as a tool to figure out which sessions I will attend. I have also pinged several people who have gone before for advice. The biggest tip I received so far is to not attend every session and spend time networking. Remember you can buy the DVD’s after event.

    I am going on a limb here but I bet hanging out in the main hall, vendor hall or sofa area is similar to being in the speakers room at a SQL Saturday.


  • […] Why I am paying my own way to PASS Member Summit 2010 – David does a great job explaining why you should take care of your own professional development.  I am actually following his advice and paying for myself to attend this years Summit. […]

  • Doug Lane

    Hi David,

    You make a lot of valid points. I agree that if your company can’t afford to pay your way but you can, you absolutely do it. I wonder though if companies unwilling to pay for ongoing training are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. That is, IT employees would stay longer if they thought the company cared enough to pay for their pursuit of mastery. From the company’s standpoint, if you could defer that employee’s departure by an extra year, isn’t that worth $2500?

  • […] my previous article about paying my own way to PASS an anonymous commenter said he wouldn’t attend because he would have to take vacation to do […]

  • […] Dave Stein on paying his own way to the PASS Summit – I met Dave back when he was just starting to blog, and it’s been a privilege to watch him get more involved in the SQL Server community.  I believe that blogging, attending, presenting, tweeting, and volunteering will make you a happier, more fulfilled person, and Dave is proof of that. […]

  • It makes me chuckle a little bit hearing about some of the “I paid for myself” stories since most of you guys have been fortunate enough to be located (at worst) on the East coast keeping costs still relatively low (Patrick you are probably in a similar boat to me). In addition due to the extra miles and jetlag, a few extra nights stay was really a must pushing costs even higher. I’m guessing that with the DVDs and other expenses thrown in I probably came to around double your costs David. I also had to take 7 days of my own holiday allowance. Was it worth it though? Yes absolutely. Would I do it again? Another yes without hesitation, but next time (hopefully 2011 Summit) I would certainly do a few things differently and I am sure with proper planning I could shave off some expense from the total bill. Look forward to seeing you all there next time!

  • Mark, I’m glad your experience was worth it. As I tried to point out, mine was totally worth it. I hope next year I won’t have to pay my own way, but even if I do, I’ll gladly do it.

  • The first year (2007), my employer paid my way. I was completely shocked at how much I learned, but the whole networking thing was totally lost on me. Twitter wasn’t around, and I couldn’t find anybody who would talk to me. I didn’t get into any vendor parties – didn’t even know where they were. Even still, without any of the networking angle, I never wanted to miss another Summit, and I’ve been going ever since.

    These days, I pay out of my own pocket. I get zero salary while I’m at the Summit – as a consultant, if I’m not billing, nobody’s paying me vacation time. I still wouldn’t miss it. It’s completely worth the money to me in terms of education and networking.

    I’ve had people say, “Yeah, but you’re a hard-core SQL guy, so of course you find the education worth it.” Well, that’s how you BECOME a hard-core SQL guy. You’re not going to master SQL Server sitting at home – there are too many other distractions keeping you from really learning.

    I’ve also had people say, “Yeah, but you’re a consultant, so you get business at the Summit.” Well, that’s how you become a consultant, too. If you wanna bust out and start doing fun SQL stuff full time, you have to establish that network of people who know you and trust you.

  • […] written articles about why it’s worth paying your own way, how going is like finding a golden ticket and even like going on vacation. Many people, including […]

  • I took the first course in Nashville – it is exenclelt.Great info on SQL Reporting Services integration in MOSS 2007, as well as creating data connections and reports using excel reporting services and report sites.Money well spent!- Chris

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