I go to PASS every year and I like many people have been waiting for something to happen. The problem has always been that the conference was always more like a group of people getting together than it was a bonafide conference. I mean, we didn't even get a Press room until last year.
Well, it looks like a lot of that has changed. I'm not sure what sparked the renewed interested in the conference by the PASS board members, but they've made some drastic improvements to both the conference and to the organization itself.
For starters, they've hired real marketing and PR people. It's pretty amazing what can happen when you've got people dedicated to making something better. In the past PASS relied solely on volunteers who really didn't do much. Even my own personal experiences with them were very negative because I simply couldn't get them to do anything. Requests just went into a blackhole.
Now though, I hear they have dedicated people who actually work for the organization and their job is to make sure things happen. And this was seen in the amount of effort they put into the conference this year.
OK, so what was so much better? Well, let's start by talking about what we're all there for to begin with... the content. The content this year was better than that of any previous PASS. They had a new track with sessions delivered directly by the SQLCAT team from MS. The CAT team knows so much and has so much collective knowledge you can't help but awe at the kinds of things you learn from them.
As well, this is the first time in quite a while that PASS has been able to attract Paul and Kim Tripp. For those of you who don't know Paul and Kim I feel sorry for you. They're not only tremendous speakers, but Kim makes the most wonderful hand gestures when she lectures. It's almost like watching a hula.
Another huge advantage this year was it being in Redmond. MS sent out their top 300 devs to be at the conference and answer questions for the general public. Well, 299 and Buck Woody.
So these elite devs(and Buck) wore brown shirts and at times there were brown shirts as far as the eye could see. All of them are directly involved in writing SQL Server, and all of them there to do nothing but answer your questions. It just doens't get any better than that. Now, I realize that MS can't afford to send 300 devs to every PASS, but it was nice this time around.
They also gave away 100 free cert exams at the show. I took my free exam and passed. I believe you could also pay for a cert exam at a discounted rate.