And not only was I a First Timer at the conference, at the same time it was my first trip to the US!
I believe I had prepared myself quite well so that I was ready to take maximum profit from all that was to be experienced in Seattle. I attended Denny’s interesting First Timers webcast and I read many of the First Timers blog posts available through the PASS Summit site.
And yet, still some things took a different direction once I was actually experiencing all the great stuff at the conference.
Here’s a write-up of some of my encounters over there. Not being an American I believe my post will contain some info which hasn’t been written down yet in the posts mentioned above. On the other hand, I’d like to think it also contains good info for all first timers in the years to come, American or not.
Experiencing The PASS Summit
The Jetlag Issue
Never having been to America, I thought the jetlag would be okayish. Well, it wasn’t! In my case I arrived Monday evening and I was attending a preconference session the day after. THIS IS NOT A GOOD IDEA!
Being at the conference means long days, really long days. Breakfast starts at 7AM, the sessions start at 8AM and continue until 6PM. And then the evening activities begin, you surely don’t want to miss out on those.
So, if you need to cope with a significant time difference and a long flight – in my case the trip took about 15 hours and there’s a 9-hour time difference with Belgium – leave at least one day earlier than I did so that you’ve got two nights in between arrival time and conference start.
Doing that also gives you a good chance to get to know the city a bit before it gets dark, and do some shopping if that’s what you’re after. Don’t forget the gifts for the kids and wife/husband who got left alone in your home country.
In my case I chose to skip the two keynotes to get at least some jetlag worked away. My reasoning was it’s better to skip the shows so that I could at least concentrate a bit more in the learning part of the conference. Okay, some new stuff was announced but you can, in fact you WILL, always find out about that later.
And I was successful in getting over my jetlag, by the time it was Friday… And on Friday, I kissed Seattle goodbye to get started on yet another, even worse, jetlag! :/
If you don’t have any American dollars yet, don’t worry about exchanging money in your home country. You can do that using Maestro. However, give your bank a ring before getting on the plane because Maestro needs to get activated specifically for the US. By default it is not activated because apparently 75% of fraud transactions is sourcing from the US.
At the same time, check with your bank if your VISA or MasterCard is activated for the US. You may also want to increase it’s limit, depending on what that limit is currently set to and what you’re expecting to pay for with it.
Once you’ve arrived in the airport, use your Maestro card to get some dollars out of one of the available ATMs. Also, insert your credit card and enter your pin code. You don’t need to do anything with it, but entering it into the machine makes sure it’s registered as “being located in the US”. At least, that’s what I was told to do and also what I eventually did. I’m not sure if this step is absolutely necessary, but better be safe than don’t have any access to your credit card, right?
I’m sure we all know how to use money, right? So this chapter is mainly about the tipping, which is really different in the United States compared to Belgium (and several other European countries).
Here’s what I was told. When going out to eat or drink something, you should always tip. How much depends on the service. The regular tipping amount is 18% and if you really liked it you should tip 20%. If it wasn’t any good, you should still tip 15%. That may sound weird to Europeans but apparently that’s how it works. Well, unless they’ve been rude without cause, I guess in that case it’s okay to walk away without tipping. Luckily I’ve only seen situations were I should tip at least 18%.
The last day I left my luggage with the bell boys. A general tipping rule here is one dollar per bag, though some people give 5 dollars in total.
I’m not sure if the above applies to the whole of the US. Next year the conference will be on the East Coast, Charlotte more precisely. So if someone could let me know if tipping in Charlotte uses the same percentages as in Seattle, that would be great!
Thanks to my activity in the SQL community, which has been going on for several years now, I knew some people who were going to be present at the conference as well. The Who’s attending list surely helped a lot here!
To make sure I didn’t forget anyone, I had made a list of names. However, if you’re thinking that you’ll meet them by just running into them, forget about it!
The convention center is huge and there are more than 4000 people through which you need to search. And as we all know, searching without an index can take a long time. If you’re lucky then you run into them. If you’re not, well, you don’t. So if you really want to ensure that you’ll be able to meet someone, get their phone number! This way you can text them to arrange a meeting location and time. I say “text” instead of “call” here on purpose: calling abroad using my Belgian provider is really not an option unless I want to go bankrupt quickly.
If you didn’t get a phone number, get at least their email address. Get linked with them on LinkedIn and start following them on Twitter, prior to the conference. Also, let them know in advance that you’ll be there as well and that you’re looking forward to meeting them! Ow, and find out if you’re staying in the same hotel. That can surely help to meet them during the evening hours.
Having done all the above will increase your chances of meeting your friends significantly.
Was I successful in this? Well, partly. I met some, I didn’t meet others. Better luck next time! I believe the more you’ve been there, the easier it will become. The reason for that is that your friends have connections as well. So the more connections you have, the higher the chances become that your connections know the ones you haven’t met yet. In that case, they can easily introduce you!
So far we’ve only mentioned peers whom we’ve already been in contact with somehow before. How about the new ones?
To make sure you remember who you’ve met, you should ensure that you have a stack of business cards with you. That’s the fastest way to give someone your contact details. Don’t try memorizing names, unless you’re really trained for that. You’ll meet so many people in such a short amount of time that it will become really challenging.
If you run out of cards, note down their name on your smartphone. Or add them on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Be Smart, Get A Smartphone!
No, I don’t work for a hardware reseller. But really, if you don’t have a smartphone yet, now’s your time to get one! If the previous paragraph didn’t make that clear yet, I’ll explain why you need one right now.
A lot of SQL Server professionals are active on Twitter. And there will be free wireless internet at the convention center. This results in a lot of Twitter activity during the whole conference period. You’ll be able to gain a lot of additional info which you wouldn’t have without a smartphone and access to Twitter.
In fact, Twitter is used so widely that now and then you’ll even see your friends asking where you are, through Twitter! Don’t forget to install the Twitter app too, much easier than using a browser!
To give you an idea, my Twitter Followers count has increased with at least 25 in one week time!
Finding A Room
Don’t worry too much about this. A convention center is used to having to deal with lots of people unfamiliar with its layout. There are signs everywhere. And if you’re in a rush, every entrance door is guarded by people who know their way around there so just ask them in what direction you should walk.
Also, if you followed my previous tip, you should have a smartphone. This year, PASS used an app called Guidebook. Get it installed and you have the maps (and much more) in your pocket, real easy to reach!
Getting Into A Room
Do worry about this!
I missed out on two good sessions (well, three actually but one of them is not a regular session) because the room was stacked with people sitting on the floor even before it started! So if there’s a particular session that you really don’t want to miss, go there early!
There’s only 15 minutes in between the sessions and if you need to switch floors, take into account that 15 minutes is really, really short. Don’t start a conversation with people you meet on your way, tell them to meet later (lunch, evening) because you don’t want to miss the session. Don’t worry too much about hurting their feelings, they’ll probably have the same on their mind. To avoid any misunderstanding, just tell them what you’re up to. Who knows, if you’re lucky they’re on their way to the same room!
If really needed to ensure you can get into the room, leave the previous session a little early. But only if needed and the speaker is going over the end time.
How do you know to which sessions you should go super early? That’s a bit difficult to predict, but certainly don’t look at room size. The two I missed were located in the larger rooms. Or maybe do look at room size: if the speaker is in a larger room, that may indicate it’s a popular one! If you know that the speaker has a popular blog, or has written popular blog: another good indicator! And if the speaker is a regular I’m sure that’s a good indicator as well!
Then there are the special sessions, such as the Lightning Talks and the BI Power Hour. I didn’t have a problem with the Lightning Session that I attended, but the Power Hour was a totally different story. Even though it was the last session on Thursday evening, the room was packed half an hour before it even started!
Ensure you’ve got some space left when you close up your bags at home. You’ll be getting your hands on some swag and I’m sure you don’t want to leave part of that at the hotel because it won’t fit in your bags!
In my case I was travelling with a Swissgear backpack as hand luggage and a compact trolley for regular luggage. At the conference entrance we were given a nice backpack and I didn’t want to walk around at the airport with two backpacks. The new backpack was too large to fit in my other one so only one option remained: it had to fit in my trolley!
I was also lucky enough to get my hands on a free, signed copy of the Professional Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Integration Services book by Brian Knight and co, which didn’t help either.
Long story short: I went home with a trolley zipper that wasn’t far from bursting and a heavy backpack because of the book!
The conference is not only about improving your SQL-fu. It is about much more! Meeting people you know but have never seen before, meeting new faces and minds, and of course also seeing your friends again! Be well prepared and you’ll certainly have your hands full at the conference.
Looking forward to seeing my SQLFamily again!
And as always: remember to have fun!