I recently attended the DevConnections conference in Las Vegas. This was my first time attending this particular conference. Having attended the PASS conference the previous 4 years, I thought I’d do a little analysis of the two from my perspective.
The main and obvious difference is in the subject matter. PASS is designed specifically for SQL Server. It covers all things relating to SQL Server from query performance tuning, to data warehousing, to Sharepoint integration. The sessions are clearly marked for difficulty level and can get very deep and technical.
DevConnections, on the other hand, has a plethora of “connections”. They each have their own focus and so there is a little bit for everyone. If you focus on Windows management or .NET development there are sessions for each. There is also a SQL Server Connections track for DBAs. If you happen to span both camps of DBA and .NET developer then you can attend a mix of the sessions as the registration allows for access to any session at the entire conference. Strangely, the sessions under the SQL Server track were designated with numbers that gave you an idea of the experience level required, but all of the other tracks were numbered seemingly randomly.
There are between 100 and 200 sessions at both events. That’s quite a lot for three days and there is potential for seeing lots of different presenters. I was very pleased at the overall quality of the presenters at DevConnections. Every session that I attended had a very good to excellent presenter. It is my understanding that there are only seasoned presenters at DevConnections. With PASS anyone can submit to present. The presenters are then chosen to fill all available slots. Because there are roughly the same number of sessions, but all focus on SQL Server instead of spread across different fields, there is opportunity for newer presenters to enter the scene. This can be hit or miss. I have attended a couple of session over the past 4 years that were not well delivered. But PASS also has many excellent presenters from all across the SQL Server field.
There isn’t much surprising about the vendors. The number of vendors is about the same. There are some big ones and there are some smaller ones. At PASS the vendors are all focused in some area related to SQL Server. At DevConnections they are as diverse as the breadth of the sessions. Both conferences give ample opportunity to visit the booths during exclusive hours and around lunch time. Each conference also provides for a time one evening set aside for meeting the vendors while enjoying some food and drink.
One big difference I see is the availability of session recordings after the conference. PASS records the audio and slides/demos of every session and makes them available for purchase during and after the conference. With these you can virtually attend any sessions that you missed due to time conflicts or non-session experiences. When registering for DevConnections you automatically get a DVD for the connection of your choosing. You can also get the other DVDs pretty cheaply. What I came to find out was that it simply contained the slides and scripts for the presentation. Sometimes, the presenter must not have gotten their materials in on time so you simply get a session description. In the SQL Server and .NET sessions in particular there is heavy emphasis on demonstration and so slides are sparse and scripts don’t tell the whole story. Because of this I found that I had difficulty deciding what I would attend and what I would miss. With the session recordings from PASS I never feel that I will miss something I want to hear.
At PASS there are multiple reasons I might miss a session. One simple one would be a time conflict between two sessions of interest. But PASS also offers a computer lab where you can go through lessons on how to use certain features of SQL Server. There are also tables in the exhibit hall where you can talk to experts on different areas from database design to BI. In another area you can meet with members of the SQLCAT team to discuss matters large or small with your SQL Server environment. Yet another option is hallway chat with other members of the SQL community that you only get to see in person at this event.
DevConnections offers sessions. That’s about where it stops. There was one evening that you could attend an open forum to discuss any matter thrown out. I did attend with about 75 other people out of the thousands of attendees. It was a good experience and I did get some insight out of it. However, it was after a long day of sitting through presentations.
The last difference I noticed was that of community. PASS, being specific to SQL Server probably has an easier time developing ways to bring together to whole group of attendees seeing as how they can at least relate in their product focus. DevConnections, because of its diversity, seems like it has some cliques. DevConnections does have a Facebook page and a Twitter hash tag but I found that after the first day I stopped paying attention to them because people rarely posted anything, it didn’t relate to my areas of interest, or it was a vendor asking for people to stop by their booth.
Conversely, at PASS, Twitter is constantly humming. Perhaps the problem is trying to keep up. Additionally, each night there is a gathering of some sort to bring everyone together for merriment and discussion outside of sessions. It’s a chance to unwind and have a good time with each other. As I mentioned before, you also have opportunity throughout each day to sit with various people in the community and get to know fellow SQL Server professionals. PASS has also pushed to get local user groups to host events throughout the year all around the world to encourage continued learning and community. Perhaps the user groups are strong in the other areas like .NET but it isn’t obvious from the DevConnections conference what’s going on when you get back to the office.
Both conferences definitely have their merits. Obviously, if you are not a SQL Server professional then PASS doesn’t hold much interest for you. But if you are a SQL Server professional or wear many hats, then you may find yourself deciding which to attend. If you primarily focus on SQL Server I would suggest PASS. If you deal mostly with another area and only dabble in SQL Server then you might find DevConnections useful for learning something about many different areas. DevConnections does happen twice a year in the spring and fall so if your budget allows you could even give them both a shot. Give me a shout if you attend and hopefully I’ll see you there.