The PASS Summit is the largest technical conference for the Microsoft data platform community. This year’s conference returned to Seattle on November 6-9. With over 200 sessions including topics about Advanced Analytics, Application Development, Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing, Database Administration and Cloud Solutions, there was sure to be a track that engaged every Microsoft and SQL Server professional.

Since RDX supports hundreds of SQL Server clients, we send team members every year to expand their knowledge and skill sets. This year, several of RDX’s top SQL Server, Azure and Microsoft BI professionals made their way to the PASS Summit. We were also very lucky to have an RDX speaker, Jeremy Frye, who presented Speed Up Your SSAS Data Refresh with Dynamic Partition Processing. Jeremy was victorious during last year’s Speaker Idol competition and was awarded a speaking session as his prize. Speaking of Speaker Idol, RDX also had two participants this year, Jim Donahoe and Peter Shore, who represented RDX very well!

Now that everyone has returned to the office, we interviewed four of our RDX attendees to see what they learned and what their PASS Summit experiences were like:

  • Jeremy Frye- Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing Team Manager

  • Dan King- Sr. Manager, Business Intelligence Architecture Design and Implementation

  • Jim Donahoe- Cloud Solutions Architect- Azure

  • Kevin Richey- SQL Server DBA

If this was your first time attending, what did you like the most about the PASS Summit?

Kevin: As a first time attendee, I thought it was great to hear about the strategy and direction of SQL Server. Microsoft gives their insights, and trusted members of the SQL community give their perspectives. This helps RDX develop their strategy relating to Microsoft technologies and future service offerings.

If you have attended before, what drew you back to the PASS Summit?

Jeremy: In addition to speaking, it is always an honor to attend the biggest conference in our technical field. It is extremely beneficial to see where the industry is heading and what kind of new technologies we need to stay abreast of to continue providing innovative support and services for our customers.

Jim: I love the networking opportunities that are available at the PASS Summit, sharing experiences, challenges and discussing various solutions with peers. I was also selected to participate in Speaker Idol again this year.

Dan: I have been trying to get back for a while and missed the atmosphere of being around tech guys similar to myself. The networking aspect is one of a kind. Also, to be able to showcase the knowledge that we possess from our careers at RDX validates why working for RDX is a great decision. Being able to touch multiple technologies as an RDX resource is something a lot of others in the industry don’t get to experience.

Which session(s) did you enjoy the most and why?

Jeremy: All sessions I attended were informative in their own way; however, I enjoyed Modernizing Your Data Warehouse the most. Since Azure cloud architecture and SaaS (Software as a Service) seems to be the direction where business intelligence is going, in addition to data science and artificial intelligence, understanding the various components of a warehouse using these technologies will help us in future support for customer requests. The keynote on day 1 of the conference, SQL Server and Azure Data Services: Harness the future with the ultimate hybrid platform for data and AI, was also very informative and interesting because it showed many of these new technologies in action.

Dan: I enjoyed an R programming session presented by Ryan Wade, the keynotes and a session on tabular data warehousing, which gave me more confidence in my abilities. I also liked being able to support Jeremy’s session as he presented for the first time.

Kevin: I really liked a session I attended related to identifying and handling infrastructure bottlenecks. The session gave an overview of the tools and methods available to troubleshoot these bottlenecks and how to effectively communicate with the infrastructure team to resolve them.

What are some key points you learned while at the PASS Summit?

Jeremy: I learned more about Azure BI architecture components (Databricks, Data Catalog and Data Factory), Python tips and tricks, Dataflows in Power BI and Cognitive Services. 

Kevin: Microsoft is really pushing the cloud. Knowing this strategy will help facilitate architecture discussions with current/future clients. Also, improvements in the query optimizer may be a significant reason to upgrade to SQL Server 2019.

Jim: I learned about the PROS and CONS of when to use an FCI (failover cluster instance) versus AG (availability group) and more about Azure VNET stability.

Dan: Artificial intelligence, which was a part of the keynotes, was probably the best aspect of PASS for me, hands down. It gave me ideas about future SQL Saturday sessions that I am preparing, and it pushed me to think about how to link different technologies together: BI, AI, Data Science, plus real-time analytics, for example.

Did you learn about any product releases or updates for 2019 that are noteworthy?

Jeremy: Some new updates I learned about were SQL Server 2019 and its new features, Azure Hyperscale, Azure Data Studio and scalability of spark in the database platform.

Kevin: In the SQL Server 2019 release, dynamic memory grants and batch execution mode will change how we analyze and tune TSQL queries. The optimizer will behave differently, so learning and understanding this will be essential.

Dan: Yes! R, Cosmos DB, AI, Hyper Scaling, Power BI, paginated reports…honestly, this list could go on…

What do you love the most about the PASS community?

Jeremy: The willingness for people to share and teach their expertise.  The community is tightly knit and is very welcoming.

Jim: The “family” type atmosphere that many friends and peers present.

Kevin: PASS is a true community of database professionals. Many of the long-time members are familiar with each other professionally and personally. There are many opportunities for networking.

Dan: I love the acceptance of being a professional in this industry. I love the fact that members of the community push each other to speak and highlight their talents. People honestly have a passion for helping each other and teaching, and they come from all difference aspects of life and regions of the world to learn. Everyone likes to introduce you to others they know and has the desire to build a bigger SQL community. 

If you spoke at the PASS Summit, what was your experience like?

Jim: I gave a 5 minute talk on Configuring Azure SQL Database HA/DR. It was an awesome experience to give this talk and to then be given feedback on the presentation.

Jeremy: It was an honor and blessing to take the stage at PASS Summit and to say I’ve presented at one of the biggest conferences in my field, where so many of my mentors and people I’ve looked up to have done so.  To have Microsoft MVPs in my session tell me I did an amazing job was priceless. I have learned so much from others in the community that it is only right that I share my knowledge and give back as well. It was so much fun to talk about what I love and to have so much positive feedback.

The 2018 PASS Summit was another success! The sessions were diverse and informative, and the networking opportunities were very valuable. Our team members came back with fresh insights and ready to apply what they’ve learned. If you missed the PASS Summit this year, be sure to save your seat next year to gain the knowledge you need to succeed as a Microsoft professional.

We hope to see you next year!