Before we get started, a HUGE DISCLAIMER – this is all my opinion. It may be worth its weight in gold or lead, take your pick. It is certainly not any form of official guidance from PASS… in fact, PASS doesn’t even know I wrote this. So with that out of the way let’s see how we can make our dreams of being a
SQL rock star valued PASS volunteer a reality.
Benefits of Volunteering
First, there are a lot of personal benefits to be had from volunteering in PASS and the SQL community and none of them are financially related. At least, not directly. The biggest benefit for me has been meeting new people and helping others advance their knowledge in SQL server related topics. Quite a few people have helped me along the way when I first started in this wonderful world of data, and volunteering helps me pay that forward.
Second, it makes you better at what you do. If you doubt that, then pick a SQL topic and prepare an hour long talk on it. I bet you dollars to pesos that you will spend at least 5-10 hours researching that topic and increasing your own knowledge.
Finally, if you are like me, it forces you to step out of your shell and interact with the community. I grew up as an introvert and was quite content to just do my own thing. Volunteering in PASS activities has exposed me to the brighter, funnier, and crazier world of working with other people. I’d wager that most top people in any field are extroverts, so if I want to be an Internet famous SQL celebrity, I’d best work at being able to fake being an extrovert.
Step #1 – Join a PASS Local Group
The best way to volunteer is to volunteer at home. Joining a local group in your area will allow you to meet other local SQL professionals as well as giving you an idea of what needs to be done. For example, you might notice that your local group needs help getting sponsors to help cover some of the costs of meeting each month or in broadcasting sessions to the web. If you don’t have a local Local Group and there isn’t one within a 45-60 minute drive, then start one!
Step #2 – Identify How You Can Help
Once you figure out what needs to be done locally then you can figure out how to apply your unique skill set to solve the problem. Here is an easy problem to solve: most local groups I know of have a hard time finding speakers month in and month out. You can help by becoming a speaker yourself! It’s not hard, and it’s very rewarding.
Step #3 – Help
Now that we have identified how we can help our local group, it’s time to execute on that plan. For example, if we decided that we could give a session on data lineage in ETL processes then it’s time to build the slide deck and demos for that session. Once that is done, talk with the person in charge of coordinating speakers in your local group and mention that you have a session you would like to give. They might just give you a big hug for being able to fill an empty calendar slot.
Step #4 – Volunteer at a Regional SQLSaturday Event
Once you are comfortable with helping locally with either speaking, or coordinating meetings, or however else you decided to help, it’s time to scale the game up to help put on a SQL Saturday event. Most regional SQLSaturdays need all the same support and skills that local groups need. They need speakers, they need fundraisers, and they need people to coordinate facilities, food, and door prizes. Again, if there isn’t a regional SQLSaturday within 2-3 hour drive, coordinate one! Just do some research to make sure you are not competing with any other events in a 6-hour radius.
Remember, SQLSaturday events don’t need to be huge productions. Simply finding a few rooms in a school, getting some subs from Subway for lunch, and bringing in a handful of speakers is enough for an effective event.
Step #5 – Identify a Grand Goal
Once you reach this step, you will realize just how much hard work being a PASS volunteer is. There are tons of emails, phone calls, status updates, and that is just during the planning phase of an event. Now if you are speaking then you have hours of research, writing, and re-writing, and rehearsal to look forward to. All of this will take time that you are currently spending elsewhere. You will need to make sacrifices, and there is mainly a thankless job. Ego stroking doesn’t really occur here.
To sustain yourself through the long hours, it helps to have a grand goal. For me, it’s becoming a Microsoft SQL Server MVP and PASS Director at some point in the future. All my volunteering and community contributions support the grand goal of reaching the upper echelon of the community. Just don’t let this grand goal consume you and become the end-all, be-all of your volunteering. People can spot fakes real easily, and once you are spotted as one, it can be very tough to overcome that.