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This is part 3 of the series of tips that I’ve prepared for those attending the PASS Summit 2013 in Charlotte, NC. In part 1, I talked about preparation for travel, accommodation and communication.  Part 2 talks about what to bring to the summit. This blog post talks about what you need to prepare for prior to travelling to the summit. Feel free to add to the list by posting in the comments section if you can think of anything else.

Preparing Before Travelling

For those who travel a lot as part of their job, this comes as second nature. For those who don’t, this is for you (and me, too.)

Travelling to a city you’ve never been to can be both fun and challenging. It’s fun because it opens the door to a lot of learning opportunities, challenging because you need to deal with something new and unfamiliar. If you come from North America, the only challenge you might face when travelling to Charlotte for the PASS Summit is the time zone difference. You speak the same language, drive on the same side of the road, have burger and fries for dinner, etc. I could go on and on to assure you that it’s no different from going on a road trip. Your body clock may throw you off a bit if you’re coming from the west coast because you now have to sleep and wake up a bit earlier than usual. Imagine how it felt like for somebody who comes from the other side of the globe. It took me about 22 hours to get from Singapore to Denver back in 2007. So, whether your time zone is off by 3 hours or 13, these tips will help you prepare before you hit the road.

Get enough sleep, be fit and have a balanced diet

I do my best to get an average of 7.5 hours of sleep a day. That’s because my brain doesn’t function well when I don’t get enough sleep. And, I’ve proven that a lot of times when solving critical issues. In order to really maximize your PASS Summit attendance, your body has to be prepared as well. Get enough sleep the week before you travel. This is the best preparation you could ever make especially if you’re coming from a different time zone. You want to be physically prepared for the changes that you’ll face during the summit.   Plus, remember all those parties I told you about? You’ll have the Welcome Reception, the Annual PASS Virtual Chapter Quiz Bowl, the Exhibitor Reception and the Community Appreciation Party to start with. I haven’t even told you about the SQLKaraoke nights throughout the week and all the other unofficial parties going on that I’m not supposed to talk about. I bet that your earliest time to hit the sack may be at around 10PM every night. If you don’t get enough sleep now, don’t expect to get it during the week of the summit. And, you have to really be intentional about this especially when you’re coming from a different time zone. I knew how it felt like to be half awake the week after my very first summit experience. And that was just because of the time zone difference because I was already in bed as early as 10PM.

Physical exercise is something that a lot of IT professionals don’t get much of. We sit in our desk the whole day to fix issues and fight fires. If we’re lucky, we get to implement cool projects. But that shouldn’t prevent us from keeping ourselves fit. I always say that we are the only person responsible for taking care of ourselves. Get yourself fit and exercise. You don’t need to go to the gym. All you need is determination and willingness to fit (pun intended) this routine in your schedule. Even a 20-minute walk twice a day would be enough. This will help you become a better IT professional overall, not just in preparation for the summit. Oh, and if you want to join your fellow SQL Server professionals do the third ever SQLRun at the summit, sign up here. It’s a fun way to be fit at the summit.

Since I already mentioned about those official and unofficial parties at the summit, expect a lot of junk food pouring along your way. I’m not a big fan of eating out because my wife’s a great cook but you can’t avoid that when you travel. This is especially true at the summit. You will be digging in to a lot of great food and refreshments – alcoholic and not – most of which is definitely junk food for those health-conscious individuals. You might want to load up with a lot of healthy food prior to hitting the road. Now, I’m not saying there won’t be any healthy ones during the parties but they usually don’t go well with alcoholic beverages. All I’m saying is to get yourself ready with a lot of unhealthy food during the summit and make sure you prepare for it. That also means a lot of coffee in the morning to keep you awake during the sessions.

Prepare your personal schedule

You’ll be at the summit for a week at most. You want to learn as much as you can and meet as many people as possible. But that doesn’t mean you’re completely off the radar. As you prepare your summit schedule, be sure to include time to call back home and say “Hi” to your family. Put it in your calendar so you get an alert when it’s about time to make that phone call. You also need to include time to call your colleagues back at the office for updates. They may have a pressing issue that can be resolved by implementing an idea that you’ve just learned from one of the sessions. You might even be able to raise this issue with the Microsoft engineers at the SQL Server CSS Clinic – a free engagement with the Microsoft SQL Server CSS engineers, the very folks who get on the call when you open up a ticket with Microsoft. Or, you may even share the excitement with your team that they would think about attending next year’s summit. This is crucial if you’re coming from a different time zone. You wouldn’t want to be calling your spouse or your colleagues at 9AM when they’re in the west coast. Get it in your calendar so you don’t forget.

Learn how to read maps

In the digital age of Google Maps, Bing Maps, Yahoo Maps, MapQuest (does anyone still use this nowadays?) or other mapping technologies available today, it’s easy to laugh at somebody holding a printed map to find locations and directions. But this has been one of the most important skill that I’ve learned during my years in the army reserve training (I even blogged about its importance.) When your smartphone battery has run out of juice and there’s no electrical outlet in sight, knowing where you are and how to get to where you want to go spell the difference between a sumptuous meal and a chilling walk back at the hotel. Know where your hotel is relative to the convention center. If you’re driving, know where the parking spaces are. If you’ve scheduled attendance to the parties, know where the restaurants are. This will help you schedule which parties to go first. If the venues are completely opposite to one another, measure the distance and the time it takes to go from one party venue to the other.  I’m not really concerned about the weather during the week of the summit so walking to the party venues is not a challenge. However, I’m more concerned about carrying my bag to go to these parties if they are about four to six blocks away from each other.  Also, know the architectural layout of the convention center. If you have scheduled a session that is on the other side of the convention center, be sure you get there in time to get a seat. We had feedback several years ago about the location of the conference halls relative to the banquet halls. Reading the conference center layout is the first thing that I do after I get my registration onsite.

Prepare your party schedule

This is the nth time I’ve mentioned this. It doesn’t mean that I only go to the PASS Summit to attend parties. But I certainly want you to have as much fun as you can possibly have during the summit. And, going to these official and unofficial parties is one way to make sure you do. I’ve listed down some of those that are publicly available. Those that aren’t publicly available, I leave that for you to find out. I’m sure you are aware of the party etiquettes but here are the top three in my list – RSVP, network and D.I.M. (drink in moderation.)   I use the acronym RnD to remind myself of these three things, although the last one doesn’t really apply to me. Still, while these parties are open to public, some of them require that you sign up prior to going. For the official ones that are sanctioned by PASS, you need to show your conference badge and, in some cases, a wrist band as proof of attendance. The unofficial ones do have their own registration sites so be sure to check those out and register if you plan on attending.

Official PASS Summit parties

  • Welcome Reception – Tuesday, 15-Oct 6:30PM to 8:00PM (Convention Center)
  • Annual PASS Virtual Chapter Quiz Bowl – coincides with the Welcome Reception
  • Exhibitor Reception – Wednesday, 16-Oct 6:00PM to 8:00PM (Convention Center)
  • Community Appreciation Party – Thursday, 17-Oct 7:00PM to 10:00PM (NASCAR Hall of Fame)

Un-Official PASS Summit parties (with their registration links)

If you would like to get in on the unofficial parties, be sure to check out their registration links. As I’ve mentioned, there are a lot of those that are by-invitation only and I am not allowed to mention those.

I’m pretty sure you’re excited to attend the much awaited gathering of SQL Server professionals worldwide. You’ve got a few more days to go to prepare.

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