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PASS_Summit2013

It’s 3 more weeks before the PASS Summit in Charlotte, NC. I prepared this series of tips and guidelines for some of my friends and colleagues to help them make the most out of their very first summit experience. I hope you find this useful.

Congratulations! You have finally decided to attend the largest SQL Server conference in the world. You’re not alone. Every year, more and more SQL Server professionals try their best to attend the PASS Summit. It’s like a mecca for anybody who works with SQL Server. And, whether it’s their first time attending or have been coming back since their first attendance, the feedback has been the same: this is the best SQL Server event you could ever imagine. I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise but I assure you, you are in for a big one.

As you prepare to attend this year’s PASS Summit in October, I’ve put together several tips and guidelines on making the experience worthwhile. Like you, I was once a first time attendee back in 2007 when the PASS Summit was held in Denver, CO (it was also my very first time to speak at a North American event.) I will never forget that experience simply because it has influenced my career growth, my involvement in the SQL Server community, and developed my personality in the process. I hope you find these tips and guidelines valuable.

Travel

This year’s PASS Summit will be held in Charlotte, NC. If you are not from Charlotte, chances are that you will be travelling to attend the PASS Summit. I prefer the event to be in Seattle, WA because of several reasons but having it in Charlotte means that my body clock doesn’t need to be confused. Whether you’re flying or driving to Charlotte, here are several tips to help you prepare for your travel arrangements.

US Visa

If you’re from the United States or from a country that does not require a visa to travel to the United States, you can skip this section.  The reason I’ve included this section is because the PASS Summit has become a melting pot of SQL Server professionals from all around the world – Asia, Australia, Europe, Africa, etc. Make sure you have a US visa even before you arrange your flights. Citizens from countries that do not require a US visa are lucky enough that they can come any time they want. I had to apply for a US visa back in 2007 to visit Disneyworld in Orlando  :-)

Airfare

Whether you’re from the mainland US or outside, chances are that you will be flying in to Charlotte (or maybe you’re like me who prefer to do road trips and stop to see sights along the way.) Charlotte airport (Airport Code: CLT) is accessible via the local US carriers like Delta, US Airways, United, Alaska Air, etc. You should be booking your flights by now or you run the risk of increased airfare prices as you come close to the event. And, since Charlotte is a major hub for US Airways, don’t expect a direct flight from any other airlines. Plan which flights and routes you take. Sometimes, even the routes and the arrival/departure dates have an effect on the price. This is where travel sites like Expedia, Travelocity, Priceline, etc. can help you with the planning.

Accommodation

As of date, all of the hotels within the vicinity of the Charlotte Convention Center are all sold out. Your next best option would be about 5-10 kms away from the venue. If you can no longer find any accommodation, check whether or not you know somebody who would be willing to share a room with you. Just make sure you bring extra ear plugs in case you or the person you’re sharing the room with snores. I’ve done my fair share of room sharing on some of the events that I have attended due to budget constraints.  But these have been with people that I know and have engaged with. Trust is key here especially that you’ll be leaving some of your personal stuff in the room with someone that you don’t regularly spend time with.

It is recommended to find a place within walking distance from the venue. That’s because there will be activities and events outside of the main conference where you will be prompted to consume alcoholic beverages (I don’t drink so I don’t worry about this.) Parties from HP, PragmaticWorks, Microsoft, etc. will be hosted within blocks away from the venue. And, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t want to miss those. It’s best to be very familiar with reading maps – Google, Bing, MapQuest or your good old-fashioned printed maps – to get an idea of how far away your hotel is from the venue and from the party venues. You certainly wouldn’t want to be bringing your backpack/bag to the party after the conference day is over.

Public Transport

Whether you’re taking a cab from the airport to your hotel or taking a bus daily from the hotel to the conference center, knowing your means of moving around helps relieve a bit of stress. I know, because back in 2007 when I attended my very first PASS Summit, my accommodation was about 2 miles away from the conference center (that’s all my budget can afford.) You can check the local Charlotte public transport website for options and the schedule. This also helps you plan your after-conference events to make sure you do not miss the last trip of the local bus. I’m renting a car this time because I was late in booking my accommodation. Plus, I know a bit of Charlotte to drive around and see places.

TIP: SQLSentry, maker of the popular tool Plan Explorer and whose corporate office is in Charlotte, is providing a fleet of trolleys to take Summit attendees to popular destinations in and around downtown Charlotte. This is a great opportunity to explore Charlotte without having to worry about getting to those places. Check out SQLSentry’s President Greg Gonzales’ blog post about this for more details.

Travel Packages

I’ve tried arranging flights and accommodation both individually or as a package. Depending on the availability, one may be cheaper than the other. This time around, I booked my airfare, accommodation and transportation thru Expedia which proved to be a more cost-effective option.

TIP: Think you’re saving a few hundred dollars with one option versus another? Think again. If you end up spending more time and effort and stress muscles, I doubt it would be cheaper in the long run.

Communication

You can skip this section if you’re from the US.

Roaming charges are expensive. You don’t want to blow up your monthly plan by incurring international calls. Besides, you already paid so much by deciding to attend the PASS Summit. When you roam, both incoming and outgoing calls are charged. Grab a prepaid phone from any 7-11 or CVS stores for US$20 and top it up with a US$20 load. That is usually enough for about 200 minutes. You can forward calls from your phone to this prepaid phone to save on roaming charges. Plus, you can call anybody at the event using this prepaid phone in case you need to meet up before you go to the next session or the after-event parties. I’ve been using TracFone for 2 years now and that has saved me a lot every time I travel to the US. Just keep work-related calls to a minimum. You’re here to attend a conference, learn and enjoy. J

Data plans are a bit challenging, especially if your phone is locked to your service provider. AT&T and Sprint used to provide prepaid data plans where you can just plug the SIM card on your phone and you can be online. They phased those out last year. I hope to find a replacement soon.

WiFi is available at the conference center. But don’t expect it to be as fast as what you have at work. Plan your internet usage when you’re at the conference center. You can download work-related emails while at the hotel and sync them back at the end of the day. It doesn’t hurt to be disconnected every once in a while.

Stay tuned for the next part in this series. Meanwhile, be sure to attend this webcast later this week for the PASS Summit 2013 First Time attendees hosted by SQL Server MVP/MCM Denny Cherry.

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