The other night I get an email from fellow PASS Board member Andy Warren. To be honest, I am still star struck that someone like Andy Warren would even know who I am, and out of the blue I get this email:
Not a problem Andy. And since I’ve got you on the line, let me start with you.
I asked Andy some questions that I knew he would give us honest answers about, and ones that some people would be uncomfortable answering. He started his response by saying:
Yeah yeah, last time I compliment you!
Tom, I’d like to start this interview by reproaching your ambush style of journalism. I email you with a positive comment about your blog, next thing I know you’re interrogating me – is that the best that Batman can do?
SB: In your time being involved with PASS, what are some of the more positive advancements you have seen?
AW: I’ve been involved with PASS since 2000, and I’d say the biggest positive thing was changing management companies. That has removed a road block that really prevented PASS from moving forward.
SB: What is PASS doing right these days?
AW: PASS is focused on membership, and by that I mean increasing the number of members, and that’s exactly the right focus because it makes us work on providing value. We do a great job at the annual Summit, and we’re making some progress on the PASS European Summit. 2009 has seen two big changes that I think will make a huge difference long term; one is that we’re trying hard to provide translucency – our members need to know what we’re doing and what we’re thinking, and the other is that we’re not competing with anyone, we see PASS as a peer among all the SQL Server communities, each serving a subset of the entire community in different ways. I’ve been very pleased with our full time staff at PASS HQ, they’ve been very supportive of my efforts and just in general have a very positive outlook, and that makes a difference too.
SB: What is PASS doing wrong?
AW: Our chapters aren’t fully integrated, we don’t have much PASS original content, and more – all the pain that any growing business goes through trying to move from startup to established. We ask too much from our Board members, but we don’t have much choice, we need that sweat equity right now. We’re still not translucent enough, even within the Board I struggle to understand the progress we make from month to month. Our technology still lags and we just don’t have a lot of money to put there, and we all understand how much lack of technology can hamper efforts.
SB: Where should PASS look to focus their efforts?
AW: A big one is technology, we have to get that fixed and soon – I’d push for getting it done by the end of the year. We need to work harder at driving regional events in the US, because not everyone can afford to attend the Summit, and because it’s a great way to grow our membership while providing value. I also believe that PASS should learn to speak as an organization, to take a stance on things of interest to our members like certifications and professional development, but also to speak up with one voice to Microsoft about things that would help our industry grow long term.
SB: One thing that stands out to me when we have our Board meetings is that you are able to leverage your experience of both being a business owner as well as a member of the SQL community. You are always able to put things into perspective that others may not see. Do conflicts of interest ever arise and how do you handle them?
AW: Many people that have served on the Board have been consultants or worked for some of the larger vendors, so we all have to be cautious about conflicts. I started by making sure the current board had a clear understanding of my current business projects, and of them, only SQLSaturday represents an unusual conflict. In the case of SQLSaturday, it’s more of a potential conflict because to a degree it’s competing with PASS for the regional event market. I’ve agreed to stay out of conversations and votes that pertain directly to regional events, at least until such time as the Board decides the conflict no longer exists or matters. It’s an interesting situation because I (actually we, we being myself, Brian Knight, and Steve Jones) don’t make any money on SQLSaturday. Ultimately the most valuable thing I own is my professional reputation, so if anything I err on the side of safety rather than risk the perception of using my position with PASS for personal gain.
As far as experience, I think business and/or management experience is important (though not required) because PASS is a business, and I’ve been lucky enough to acquire experience that adds value to our discussions in some cases. I think that’s something PASS hasn’t placed enough value on over the years, and that makes me a sort of test case to see if that should change!
SB: When you sold SSC, were you concerned that Redgate would play too large a part in the delivery of the content?
AW: I think my main worry was that they would push the Red Gate brand too hard and ruin a first class community. They had a couple small missteps early on, but I think if you look at SSC now the minor branding they do is easily offset by the continued value they bring to the community. Of course, ultimately the community decides what is good for the community! They could spend less and the community would most likely self sustain, but they continue to employ my friend and partner Steve Jones as the editor, and that is a pretty sizable investment to make for something that doesn’t directly drive revenue.
SB: You are a very busy person, what are some time management tips that work well for you?
AW: I try to do most of the time management basics, touch an item once or tag it for future work, and that works to a point. I’d say one thing that really works for me is bucketing time. Every day when I start work I spend 15 minutes parsing email and catching up on few favorite blogs, every Sunday morning I work on some side projects. The other tip is to periodically evaluate your workload and productivity. It’s really easy to take on tasks that end up taking more time than you expect, or delivering less value than you expect. It’s also easy to spend too much time doing stuff that is fun like reading blogs. Quarterly I try to reassess how I’m doing and fix the bad habits. Scrum and the concept of sprints work great in a small team setting, help you keep your eye on the things that really matter.
SB: You seem to focus on processes, managing processes, making them efficient, etc. Does that come naturally to you, that way of thinking? Or did you have some training that helped along the way?
AW: I think it comes naturally at this point after a lot of practice but no real training. I like solving problems, and trying to find the shortest/fastest/easiest way to do something is just a special kind of problem. From a business perspective I’m always interested in both repeatability and scalability, and of course process is a key piece of making both of those possible.
SB: How is your chess coming along?
AW: I’m still averaging about 2 games a week, me versus computer, and I’ll still losing pretty badly. I can see that I need to spend a lot more time on learning the openings because a bad move or two there makes for a very downhill experience. I wish the software did a better job tutoring! There are definitely days when losing isn’t fun, but most days I smile at missing what was in hindsight an obvious attack or error. There are probably other games that do the same, but for me chess is a reminder to think deeply before acting, but to remember that time is limited – have to make a decision – same in the business world.
SB: Do you have a decent chess travel set? If so bring it to Seattle in May, we can wager some bacon over a few games.
AW: I do have a travel set – do they have bacon in Seattle?
SB: Surprisingly yes, they have real bacon, from real pigs, and not made from a processed soy bean. I know, I am just as shocked as you are.
For more info on PASS check out http://sqlpass.org, and you can follow Andy’s blog at It Depends. I wish I had thought of a name for this blog as good as that one. I also have Andy currently ranked in the Master group, and chances are he will be there for quite some time. And I will look to tweet the results of our bacon-chess-death match in May. You think chess by mail is boring? Wait until we start tweeting chess notation, Bxc3+ or the ever popular O-O-O!