By Riley Major, 2018-03-30.
About a year ago, the PASSMN SQL Server User Group published two surveys– one about the user group in general and one specific to SQLSaturday. We reviewed the results of our SQLSaturday survey a few months ago and now address the responses to the more general group survey. Almost all of our 49 responses came within a few days of our initial email blast.
The motto of the global PASS group is “connect, share, and learn”, and PASSMN exists to implement that locally in the Minnesota. So it’s reassuring to see that every survey respondent was looking to learn. It was almost universally deemed “important” or “critical”. We agree and we think our current format, with one or more structured presentations, serves that key goal. Plus, as one comment notes, it provides a “Legitimate reason to get out of the office.”
However, free content is widely available online, where you can consume at your own pace and review as often as you’d like. Indeed, we believe the best way to learn is through hours-long practice, which isn’t feasible at our relatively brief monthly sessions. So we’re glad to see that the majority of you also believe in our mission of fostering connections among community members is important. We’re going to ensure our meetings have opportunities for interaction and we’re going to explore ways to encourage socializing and networking.
We’d love to see everyone attend our meetings as often as possible, both because that signals to us that our group is providing value, and because the more folks who gather, the more opportunity there is for member interaction. Based on your responses, overall you are only attending about a third of our meetings– and as survey respondents you are likely our most engaged members. We’ve also noticed that our attendance has dropped off from previous years. So we have some room to improve.
Why not more?
Unfortunately, the top two single reasons folks don’t attend more often is because they can’t leave work or they don’t want to miss family time. Our current time of 3:30 PM to 5:30 PM (with the main event at 4 PM) tries to minimize the impact on both family and work. But clearly it doesn’t go far enough in either direction for many of our members.
Other: Tuesday afternoon staff meetings at work can run late. And I preferred the 3-5 pm time. Meetings are now running past 5 pm, which interferes with evening plans.
Our meeting time is a frequent topic of discussion among board members. There are important community and diversity effects to our choices. For example, those most in need of the group’s help to form connections and learn content– those more junior in their career– are those least likely to have the respect at their job to be able to leave early to attend our meetings. Conversely, women still provide a disproportionate portion of child care in families, making evening attendance more challenging for them.
Other: mostly family conflicts with kids schedules around end of school day requiring advance coordination
We’ve met in the afternoon for most of our history, though as one commenter noted, the best intentions of leaving work early for our event can be derailed by issues which arise throughout the day.
Other: An issue at work arises that I have to resolve and cannot get to the group meeting
Other: Work commitments seem to interfere on days where I’ve planned to attend. Not as much about leaving early enough and more about something coming up that needs attention.
Other: Meetings in the evenings are difficult it would be better if the meetings were in the morning
We could try morning meetings. But the vast majority of tech user group meetings happen in the afternoon or, more commonly, evening. So it would be unusual for us to move to a morning meeting, even assuming our venue, Microsoft’s offices, could accommodate. And picking a morning time which worked broadly would be similarly challenging with school schedules, rush hour, and work start times. Plus, leaving work early is often more politically feasible than arriving late.
re: meeting time…. you are never going to find a perfect time. Every meeting I am at, there are 30-40 attendees. That’s really good. I think the current meeting time and location is great.
Finally, any change in timing— especially one as drastic as switching to the morning— risks alienating those who have come to rely on our late afternoon start times. So despite timing complaints being at the top of the list for those who don’t attend, we going to continue to strike our balance between work and family time.
While only 8 respondents cited dissatisfaction with our presentation contents, it was a refrain in the Other comments as well.
Other: Content does not apply
Other: If content is in a sub-area of SQL that I don’t do, then the entire meeting isn’t worthwhile.
Other: Don’t use the Azure in my job, and a lot are about Cloud technologies
Other: the content is too specific
Would highly recommend having 2 presentations per meeting, to be able to cover different interests. Might have to be tighter timing, e.g., very fixed 60-min max (or slightly less?) But might bring in more people, if folks aren’t interested in the single one that you cover now.
Unfortunately, we are somewhat at the mercy of the topics our presenters wish to cover, and we don’t have a surplus of speakers from which to choose. That said, it’s one of our goals this year to have more than one presentation per meeting. That way, even if one topic isn’t of interest, the other might.
This is how you can help us quite a bit. You want to learn things, but you also know things. Please contact us about speaking so you can share your knowledge. We promise no one wants to eat you.
Hills I will die on:
1. If you want to give a tech talk, you should
2. If you think you have something to say, you do
3. If you want to submit to a CFP, you are worthy of every KB of that server's disk space
4. You know something someone else hasn't learned yet. Teach them.
— e-rhino (@eryno) March 27, 2018
What’s that? You think you have to be an expert. Actually, beginners learn best from those who were recently beginners themselves, as they still have the perspective of a beginner. And our members want beginning topics:
Perhaps more presentations with basic or beginner/intermediate level topics and best practices? Or additional mtgs for newbies/students? Great job overall as is though, I am thankful for the mtgs and love the Edina location.
About a quarter of you simply forget about our meetings. Really? You can’t make a recurring calendar appointment? It’s been at the same time of the month for, like, a decade at least.
Nonetheless, we’ve committed to sending out reminder emails after the initial meeting invite to be sure it doesn’t slip your minds, and we’ve already done so for the three events so far this year.
I would prefer that the topic notifications are sent out earlier. If it’s a topic I’m interested in, I can get approval from my manager and make plans to attend, otherwise it can be difficult to make it to the meeting.
In 2017, we often notified users of meetings later than we should have. This was usually because we hadn’t confirmed a speaker until shortly before the meeting. There is a straightforward fix. We need to lock down speakers further in advance and keep our members informed of future speakers. This year, we have set a goal of announcing official meeting details at least two weeks in advance. We will also strive to always have 3 future months’ worth of speakers and topics selected. These are already being announced at meetings, and we plan to include them in our emails as well.
Other: You don’t offer any sort of virtual/web attendance
We have received frequent requests to broadcast and/or record our meetings. Our venue, the Microsoft Technology Center, actually has good AV tools which we can use. However, there is a surprising amount of fiddling and coordination required to use them. It’s an additional burden and source of potential issues which we want to avoid, especially since we believe– and you agree— that an important aspect of our meetings is getting to know other community members, and that doesn’t work well with a webcast.
Brent Ozar Unlimited’s Group By webinar-style conferences work well because everyone is remote, the presenter has AV specifically for remote presentation, and a good percentage of the audience interacts using Slack. But any remote users for our meetings would be essentially isolated.
We believe that the best remedy for this issue is more local meetings– around the Twin Cities and around the state
Location, location, location
10% of respondents aren’t in the Twin Cities, and 10% of locals still find the location inconvenient. That’s a total of 20% who aren’t happy about where we’ve met for years.
As we’ve said before, “we call ourselves PASSMN — The Minnesota SQL Server User Group. But we are clearly focused on the metro area.”
We’ve tried setting up a Rochester chapter and we’ve explored meetings on the east side of the Twin Cities, but nothing came of either effort.
We want to expand our footprint and bring the PASSMN meeting experience to more of our distant members, but we would need more sponsors, more speakers, and more volunteers. It’s not something we can commit to at this time.
Speaking of more speakers and more volunteers, we asked who would be willing to help us out and several of you volunteered.
We expect that the 8 of you who were willing to do lightning talks and 6 who were up for full presentations have contacted us about presenting or will be doing so now.
Our members seem to be interested in and roughly evenly split between classic topics such as database development and database administration, but there is still a strong interest in business intelligence. Only about a third are strongly interested in Azure.
Given these preferences, it becomes more clear why several respondents expressed dissatisfaction with our meeting content, since over the past few years, we’ve had nearly as many cloud talks as administration topics, and few developer talks.
We saw similar strong developer interest at SQLSaturday, where we had only one developer track but it filled our biggest, 80-person room most of the day.
We have made it an official goal for 2018 to increase our development topic coverage at SQLSaturday this year. But still, we can only choose from the topics speakers offer, so we once again implore you to share your knowledge with us, especially if you have a development background. The user group is a great opportunity to get some practice in front of a more familiar crowd before a bigger group at SQLSaturday.
It turns out many of our members might not be familiar with Meetup.com. But for those who are, the vast majority thought we should join it.
Meetup is a platform to manage local group meetings of all sorts– from knitting and photography to business and technology. In addition to providing valuable organizing tools for groups, such as the ability to set up meetings and track attendees, it allows members to communicate with each other in comment threads and upload pictures. Instead of a sea of anonymous audience members passively listening to a speaker, our meetings can be enriched by sharing relevant links, asking follow-up questions, and helping match names to faces. Plus, Meetup’s algorithms surface other area groups you’re probably interested in but never knew about.
Some on the board (me especially) have been interested in joining for a while now, but not everyone shared the enthusiasm and we were concerned about the recurring fees. This year we decided to move ahead and make it an official goal. And thanks to Dan English, our Director of Technology, we’ve already accomplished it.
If you’re on Meetup, please join us. If you’re not, you really should be. It’s free for attendees and it’s a great way to stay in touch with your fellow PASSMN members and find out about other technology groups you might be interested in. Plus, we will likely be transitioning our registration to that platform exclusively to eliminate having to join together the two lists of attendees.
We’re happy to see many respondents are also involved with other local technology groups. We believe that our community becomes stronger through cross pollination of ideas and word of mouth is still a valuable information sharing tool.
We have a goal this year of establishing partnerships with other data-focused technology groups in the Twin Cities to spread awareness of our group and inform our members of other groups in the area. Toward that end, here is a list of the groups listed in our survey question and those listed in the “Other” answers.
- Microsoft BI User Group Minnesota
- Power BI + Microsoft Analytics Meetup!!!
- Twin Cities .NET User Group
- Twin Cities (Data) Visualization Group
- Twin Cities Spark and Hadoop User Group
- Analyze This! Crowdsourced Data Science
- Twin Cities Tableau User Group (TCTUG)
- MN PowerShell Automation Group
- DevOps MSP
- Minnesota Azure User Group
- Twin Cities Oracle User Group
- PyMNtos – Twin Cities Python User Group
- Minneapolis St. Paul Cassandra Meetup
- Google Developers Group – Twin Cities
- League of Extraordinary Algorithms
Want even more? Check out Tech.MN’s calendar.
What if you can’t find one covering a topic you’re passionate about? Then start your own group! If it’s data-related, we’ll help.
We should have more interactive content.
We agree, but it’s not easy. Minnesotans are reserved folk. The minutes before our main presentation– our networking time– are usually filled with a stony silence. Questions and requests for (verbal) feedback are often met with blank stares.
From my personal perspective, our best meetings have been those where the audience members are actively involved in a conversation. We will continue to encourage this participation, and we hope you will raise your hand and contribute.
New member intros and/or intros of board members (I am new to the group and would be interested in getting to know who else is in the room)
In the past, we occasionally would pass around a microphone and encourage everyone to introduce themselves. We’ll consider reviving that practice.
I noticed how the PASSMN Daily Paper has become more of a political publication. There is enough political opinion available elsewhere. I would prefer my user groups and their publications stick to their stated subject. “This paper focuses on SQL Server resources, blogs, and twitter activity in the Minnesota area.”, which it doesn’t, so I unsubscribed from this a few months ago.
The PASSMN Daily Paper is algorithmically produced by Paper.li. It was set up several years ago and we adjusted the algorithm a couple of years ago. It draws from hashtags like #sqlserver, but a lot of weight is given to the general Twitter feeds of the PASSMN Board and to a lesser extent past board members and speakers. So it is focused on twitter activity of members of the SQL Server community. However, we are not merely members of a technology community. We are whole humans and we have other interests and aspects to our lives. We live in an especially charged and divided political climate and that is reflected in our tweets and therefore the paper.
That said, we do question the value of this publication and have considered its discontinuation. We will continue to discuss it in the months to come.
Thank you to the 49 members who took our survey. We’re glad that the average time of 2 minutes and 44 seconds was well below our “5-10 minute” estimate.
We’ve already used the results to inform our goals for 2018 and we will continue to keep your feedback in mind.
We hope you’ll join us for many meetings this year and especially our SQLSaturday on October 6th.