Much has been said about SQL Saturday tools and how PASS is pulling back from development of those tools past a few active items, and letting SQLSaturday go “off to college as we play catch with our other kids” To get back to its “by the community, for the community“grassroots. Isn’t that what all of PASS is? I’m confused.
It seems, I’m not alone in that confusion. Andy Warren outlined a plan end of last year, a call to action for the PASS Board if you will, and he just published a follow up post recently, which seems to have left him a bit perplexed about the situation. I too am perplexed.
The problem, as we are told, is the budget is a hot mess and there’s no money to do anything. Andy shared some details about what he knows regarding the budget in his posts and I can understand that running an organization takes money. This post isn’t about the budget. Its about the organization, what IS it?
To be clear, I wasn’t involved, or even in the periphery, at the forming of PASS in 1999 so I have no insight into what the initial goal of the organization was at the time beyond what was written into the Bylaws, nor do I have any understanding of how the Board understands the organization, thus I can only use the data available to me for my position, and that is the PASS website. The website says that “PASS is a not-for-profit organization run by and for the community.” We are the community. The locals who attend the monthly user group meetings, those who live away from civilization but drive to their nearest metropolis to attend SQL Saturday, those who can’t get out but attend online Virtual meetings. WE are the community for which this organization is ‘for’.
WE are Community
Looking further at the definition of PASS, we see it says it is ‘run by’ the community, which as I know it, it is. At the internationally level, the Board, executives and directors are all members of the community, chosen by us every year to represent our wants and needs for the direction of the organization. At the local level, I am part of a team that runs my local user group and take part in organizing our local SQL Saturday, so yes, I am part of, and help run the community.
In any community, some folks are destined to do great things: to step up and handle the big picture items, do things at scale. I admire those guys who have the time and inclination to tackle the big things, its a thankless job that has to be done. I’m not there yet. Others of us, and a much large majority, are just meager local volunteers trying to do their part where they can. One of the things I volunteer with is SQL Saturday, I’ve been assisting in someway to organize our local SQL Saturday for the last 4 years, running a local user group for ~3. All volunteer positions because PASS is a volunteer organization and I love helping these events come to life.
One part of running these events are the tools we use. For our local user group, we’ve simply found an alternative in Meetup.com, its just easier and works better for us, thus we simply moved, but for SQL Saturday, I can’t easily take my ball and go home, I must use their tools, their website, their mailing functionality, their printed tickets and they don’t always meet the need. The problem is, we have a very technically inclined community. A community of volunteers that would love to help make the tools better. Personally, I like to consider myself fairly technically inclined, having done a few days as a software developer and manager. I’d by willing to do the work to add the features needed, but I can’t.
Help Me, Help You
When asked in various forums about open sourcing the SQL Saturday or PASS Group tools, the response has been ‘budget’, again, again, and again. In the Q&A session put on by Grant Fritchey, current PASS President and member of the PASS board since 2015, the SQL Saturday Tools topic came up multiple times, and Grant was quite amazing at sticking to his position and deflecting every, single, time. But the answers were circular (paraphrasing below)
Q: “How much money will it take?”
A: “We don’t know”
Q: “How do you know you can’t afford it, if you haven’t even looked into it?”
A: “Because, it will take time, which is money, for one of our IT guys to look into”
Q: “Could the community sponsor it?”
A: “We would need to know how much it costs to do that, and we don’t know”
Q: “Could we form a small committee of volunteers to investigate the costs so we have an idea moving forward?”
A: “Thats not something we are looking to do right now, we don’t have budget”
With a community of volunteers, very technically inclined volunteers at that, knocking at the door trying to help, we, as an organization have done nothing to allow for those with the skills necessary to drive forward the wants and needs of those at the ground level, closest to the membership, closest to the problems that need to be solved to step up and do their part. We won’t even have the conversation about how volunteer labor, outside the management of local events, could further the cause of our organization, save that conversation for another day.
I get it, Governance is hard, it’s nuanced, and it can be complex, but refusing to start the conversation is a cop out. If you cannot deliver on the wants and needs of your community, it will fracture and become its own thing. If this is an organization about the community, for the community, lets put our ‘free labor’ where our mouth is and make some honest movements towards the community rather than simply being a fund-raising wrapper for PASS Summit and its organizing company.
With much respect for all those stepping up and serving on the board, you have to do more than stonewalling. Setup a small volunteer committee to investigate the process. Use your standard NDA to protect what needs protecting, give the committee access to the code repo for initial analysis, use your pre-existing conference call softwares to host a call and start the conversation. START the process. Engage in an honest effort to engage the community in the places we can best help.