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My thoughts on the PASS Board

September 27, 2013

As there are plenty of people across the US, and across Europe as well, I am going to take a very narrow minded view on the candidates: What can they do for us here in Africa?

Seeing as it’s just Jody and myself carrying the flag down here I feel justified. (a shout out to the other chapter people as well : Gail, Mike, Matt, Stephan and Anish)

I am going to put forward some suggestions I would like to see, and ask the candidates for their views.

Firstly, why Africa?

Well, to start with, we’re a lot bigger than you think.

From BigThink

Secondly, we have a vast population. We have an average density *higher* than Europe!


There were 1 billion people in Africa in 2009.

And unlike the rest of the world, economic growth is expanding massively here, with a huge emphasis on tech growth to enable this.

Basically, there is a huge need for PASS to get involved in my continent if they want to be relevant.

Item 1: Africa has been totally short-changed on events

No Rally? (And we were really trying to get one out here). SQL Saturdays are local events (although we had some people coming from our neighbours for my last one), and if PASS really wants to grow in Africa, we are going to need some big events that draw in people from a whole region. Most people will not be able to afford to fly to the US or even Europe (did you realize that it’s twice as far from South Africa to Europe as it is from the US to Europe?)

My suggestion would be to start with East Africa (Kenya) as it is a tech hub, and it’s a market that needs a lot more SQL exposure if Google and IBM aren’t just going to own the market. Another advantage for East Africa is that it can serve part of the Middle East.

West Africa would be a good second bet, and given the size of the Nigerian market, might even be a first bet.

South Africa (where two of the SQL Saturdays in Africa currently happen) is possibly not the first place ~ we have a big market, but our neighbours are smaller, and we also have TechEdAfrica : 2 big MS events in one year, so I’d say East Africa is lower hanging fruit. We’re also very far from the north African market.

A comment was made that virtual chapters would work for Africa: Sorry, but that is just so flat out wrong. Firstly, bandwidth. Barring a couple exceptions, Africa just doesn’t have it. And virtual chapters with no internet just plain don’t work.

Secondly, there is a cultural barrier. Us Africans generally don’t do business or engage until we have met in person, and even then, nothing happens unless it is in person. Emails don’t cut it, even phone calls. I am, in my business, scheduling flights to my customer areas (especially Nairobi) to do work that with Europeans or Americans I’d pop an email out and be done.

Item 2: More data about what PASS is doing

Access to the raw data would be best, but even regular regional reports. How many people are members of PASS in each country? Which usergroups are meeting where? What are the plans for Africa?

This lack of data hurts PASS as it hides the successes here and elsewhere. Just use Lightswitch and open an OData feed for us!

Item 3: More transparency and fairness

Why on earth are americans voting for the EMEA seat? And why are we voting for the US/Canada seat?

Over and above that, I propose regional councils at a greater granularity than the board has. EMEA is too damn big to be lumped into a single bucket. Europe is very much first world, Africa very much is not. To give an example, most Kenyan banking is done with a feature phone. Not a traditional bank, not a browser, not a smartphone app. It’s a different space and if PASS wants to be relevant here, then this is important to know.

Regional mentor choice is another thing I’d like to see more transparency on, and a defined process for how someone becomes a regional mentor, what their exact duties are, and a report card on how they are doing, with the information coming at least partly from chapter leads in their region, and a defined way of doing a handover.

This particular items isn’t just Africa of course, but I look at the RM process here, and it is completely opaque. This process should be made transparent and clear, and be regional in nature. Regional mentors should live or least spend a substantial amount of their time in the region they are mentoring. And the choice of regional mentor should be chosen by a regional council.

Finding out who is a regional mentor is also not easy. It should be right upfront on the website.

This closer alignment of RM and region (and for pity’s sake, we don’t have enough RMs for Africa? 1 RM residing in Africa, as good a job as Jody has done, is just not enough for 1.07 billion people.) will help to ensure PASS’s growth and relevance in Africa.

Item 4: Closer alignment with other communities

This is an interesting one, and I am sure I will get some flak.

Sometimes, the tech communities here are smaller, and we therefore cross-pollinate. Both in Johannesburg and Cape Town we have community nights where multiple user groups meet, and Cape Town had a joint SQL and SharePoint Saturday. These are successful initiatives, and broaden the reach, as the SP peeps pop into SQL sessions, SQL people pop across. In Nairobi, I see the SharePoint and the Windows Phone user groups doing a lot more together: these joint initiatives create a better value, as things like venues can be shared. This is something I think is uniquely African at this point, and a framework for how PASS UGs and non-PASS UGs can collaborate, on UG meetings, and on events, would be a powerful thing.

And comments

I’m hoping to hear from the candidates!

From → SQL Server

  1. Jen Stirrup is doing a precon, but passed on this link to her thoughts so long:

  2. Mark, you raise some really valid points and some that align with my platform of increasing the value of PASS membership by increasing the involvement and content at the local levels through SQL Saturdays and local chapters. Regional Mentors are integral to the process. I’ve privately made comments recently to those in PASS Leadership concerning the inconsistencies I’ve seen firsthand in the dedication and effort put forth by the RMs. As a Chapter Leader I’ve had good and bad experiences. More often than not though I’ve had no communication or involvement in my local chapter from my RMs when I was a leader. What I’ve been told that we need to take into consideration is that we are a volunteer organization and you can’t force a volunteer into increasing their efforts and time commitments to a volunteer task.

    As for the comment about the US Members being eligible to vote for EMEA and visa-versa, we have to think about where we draw the line. We’re trying to globalize our organization and drawing lines is counter-productive to that process in my opinion. Perhaps a weighting will eventually come into play. I can see being an advocate for that. I do believe that ALL members should have a direction in voting for all seats as the board is currently structured. Also, as currently structured how would we handle the disenfranchisement of those members globally that don’t have a regional seat – such as Africa?

    Do I believe Africa is important to the future of PASS – damn straight I do! I feel the same way about Asia and the Middle East as well. I want to see the strides made by LATAM occurring with our SQL Family in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia as well. Language is less of a barrier in Africa so I see that as the next region of growth in my opinion. With advocates such as you, Jody, and Gail we have a good start in the South, but we need to see that passion applied to Central and Northern Africa as well.

    Heck, if you need boots on the ground and can find a way to get me there and pack my schedule with valuable events to drive the process I’m definitely all for that as well!

    Thanks for providing your opinion on the value that you (and so many of us) think is left on the table by not reaching out in a more-concerted effort to Africa and thanks for all you do down there to promote PASS and SQL Family!

    – Tim

  3. Hi Mark,

    Thank you for your taking an active part in the election discussions.

    As someone who comes from Israel, a country from the same region as you and with some similar challenges, I can truly sympathize with your pain.
    By the way – I have been in Africa more than once. I’ve visited South Africa shortly and spent some time in Uganda and Sudan so I am not completely ignorant about the local culture and business society.
    Having said that, from the very little I do know, I realized that you can’t even begin to generalize anything about Africa.
    What is true for Uganda is not true for Zimbabwe and Ivory Coast. The community efforts in Johannesburg will probably be quite different than in Kampala. As you mentioned, a value of an RM who is unfamiliar with the local culture is limited. I had a similar challenge when running the Israeli chapter for 8 years. My regional mentor was from another country with totally different culture so our communications were naturally limited.
    I would like to address the points you mentioned in order:

    1. Don’t feel bad about it – you are in very good company. There hasn’t been a SQL Saturday for example in Israel, which has only 8 million population but is known to be one of the most technologically advanced and hi-tech oriented countries.
    How about instead of saying “Africa is short-changed for events”, I say “Let’s do something about it!”.
    I think more people like yourself are needed. People who care and are willing to act. If elected, I will reach out to you and others like you to hear your thoughts and ideas and learn what needs to be done in your region. I will work to find the right leaders for PASS across Africa and we will make more events happen. My mission statement ( is all about that.

    2+3. I just tried to find out who the RM of Africa was and couldn’t… I believe in this case it’s not due to secrecy. It’s simply due to the shortcomings of the current interfaces and communication channels between PASS and its members, including the web site. There is a lot to be improved in that regard and you can see some more ideas I have for this on my campaign page. The issue of seat allocation per region is much more complex than it may seem. There are several ways board seats can be allocated and each has its pros and cons. I’m not convinced either way is more ‘right’ than the other but I definitely see a case for reevaluating the board structure periodically. I’ve expressed my concerns regarding the current RM management and I will work to strengthen and revitalize this program. Better defining the structure and process as you mention, is part of this revision I plan.

    4. I think this is great. You hear a lot in this campaign about “twinning” of user groups but that is typically for neighboring SQL groups. Why not extend that to non-SQL groups? I’ve delivered many sessions to .Net developers and learned a lot about the challenges they face with interfacing with SQL Server. Network administrators have a lot to learn about SQL Server from the infrastructure aspects, and DBAs will have a lot to learn from them in return. We’ve actually implemented that in Israel where we had many guest speakers who were not SQL Server experts but provided huge value for us. Why not make a global program out of it?

    Thank you again for your sincere concerns.
    Perhaps we’ll get to meet in Africa soon as I promise to do what it takes to ‘get things going’.
    Ami Levin
    My Campaign Page:
    My LinkedIn Page:

  4. Hi Mark,

    First off, I greatly appreciate your heart and passion for the African SQL Community.

    You raise some great points which mostly boils down to the Global Growth of PASS. From an overall Global Growth standpoint, PASS is still at the beginning phases, having just kicked off offical Global Growth efforts back in the Summer of 2011. SQLRally Nordic was the first SQL Rally to happen outside of the US, with its first one in 2011. There are many opportunties to expand to more areas including LATAM, Africa, Asia, and India. I feel that the PASS BOD is working on a roadmap and prioritizing these Global Growth efforts effectively, reviewing the practical limitations and costs of implementing as well as a vast of other factors vs the benefits received the

    But to take a step back, I believe that the first step to get into these areas is to enable and equip the local chapters in these regions, growing volunteers and speakers. The global PASS community is more effective with strong local chapters that are meeting their members career and professional needs. I believe the Global Growth Committee (mentioned below) should partner with the SQLSaturday, VCs (where applicable), and Chapters portfolios so that many people will have a stake in the success in the Global Growth Efforts of PASS.

    Representation for all of these areas may not constitute a PASS Board of directors seat. But, I do strongly believe the EMEA community should be represented in the Global Growth Committee, including, but not limited to, representation of all of the global growth areas. This Global Growth Committee, which is lead by the owner of the Global Growth portfolio, would be help determine recommendations for key areas of growth and resources needed.

    As a fellow data lover, I too am starving for data from a PASS membership standpoint (data map of members per area, SQL Saturday’s per area, number of PASS members with Twitter account, % of PASS members that voted, number of Virtual Chapter members per area per chapter,etc). In order to get accurate information, some data goverance and processes need to be put into place or updated.

    In the Phoenix, Arizona area, I have seen a cross-polination take place as well. Especially with the .NET and SQL Server user groups. And as we span more into the BAC space, there will be more need for effective partnerships with other communities.

    -Amy Lewis

  5. Hi Mark,

    Thanks for taking the time to create such an extensive blog post on this subject. It is clear for everyone to see how passionate you are about expanding PASS into Africa. I’m sure whoever wins the EMEA seat will be reaching out to discuss plans with yourself, Jody, Gail and others in due course.

    Item 1

    What really intrigued me was this quote: “No Rally? (And we were really trying to get one out here).”
    What problems are you facing here? I agree that from a membership point of view would suggest that holding a Rally event would be a great idea. As there is a wide range in culture and technical infrastructure across Africa I would be looking for your guys input on where and when PASS would make the best in roads and make this a reality.

    You mention that South Africa would be your third choice due to TechEd. I’m wondering if we can view TechEd as an opportunity to bring speakers and sponsors into the area. As I mentioned your input would play a pivotal part on any future strategy so I may be way off the mark here, but if sponsorship and speaker attraction were problems then piggybacking on TechEd may solve some of those issues as well as receive buy in from Microsoft.

    Either way I think we would need to reach out to Microsoft and see if they can provide us with any information about growth areas and possibly a breakdown of certification passes which would indicate a desire for career progression that PASS could nurture. This may make a future location crystal clear.

    Virtual Chapters

    Technical infrastructures in some areas are going to be problematic, we are likely to have exactly the same kind of issues in South America and APAJ, you are not alone here! As a thought, would the “SQL Lunch” format work where people could go to a central location and watch a virtual session? It may be that this hybrid physical/virtual approach might satisfy the cultural barrier that you mentioned.

    Item 2

    There is no doubt about it, data quality and transparency of data for its users are a problem. Recently I have seen multiple tweets, blogs etc. saying that people have voted for candidate x multiple times as they received multiple ballots under different member accounts. Until our data is cleaned we simply can’t do any of the things that you are asking for here. Getting the data right is the first thing we need to do. We also need to be wary of data protection laws and look at what we are allowed to do with the data at the point people signed up.

    I love the idea of a global calendar of events and have tried to implement something myself when I joined the SQLServerPedia team, but finding good feeds was a problem. For PASS to be able to tell people these events are happening Chapter leaders need to let PASS know they are happening. A lot of events run completely autonomously of PASS even though they are signed up. If we can get the budget then this should definitely happen, we are missing lots of engagement through sub-optimal communication. You mention you travel a lot, you are the prime example of person who would benefit from being able to being able to perform a global search rather than hoping you are on an individual chapter leaders mailing list and your trip coincides with their event.

    Item 3

    There have been a few people on the internet that have asked the same question regarding which regions you should be allowed to vote for. At first when I started my campaign I though the same as you. Is it right for US citizens to vote for me, shouldn’t EMEA votes count for more on an EMEA seat and US/CAN votes on a US/CAN seat? Then I realized that what we are doing at board level isn’t just going to affect my region but the global membership as it stands and for years to come. Each of us will be assigned portfolios and will diligently do our duty if elected. Now it could be that the person elected from US/CAN has been given the task of reviewing SQL Rally’s, at this point wouldn’t you have rather picked the candidate that had the same ideals as you? I sure would in your situation.

    Agreed, there does need to be more transparency into certain areas of the organization. It is not always easy to know who you should approach. I think we will also need to revisit how much an RM can do and look at ratios. Having two in the UK and one in Africa doesn’t seem to stack up. My plan to introduce twinning may help here as if your RM is unavailable you could reach out to your twinned chapter for help too.

    Item 4

    I think that cross-pollination is a good thing too. This weekend we just had the first SQL Saturday in the UK (Cambridge#228) to have a Sharepoint track which seemed to go down well, in November SQL Relay (not PASS) is having a Cloud OS track in a number of its events too. I personally think we should have some more core Windows sessions in our events, by having sessions on deployment, virtualization etc. you are more likely to be able to increase your audience by picking up those accidental DBA’s that may not have known about the community otherwise.

    Richard Douglas

  6. I posted up commentary here on the PASS Discussion Board in order to foster communication in a single place. If the Board questions become fragmented, it can be hard for candidates to follow. Plus I’d hoped to give the query the visibility that it deserves.

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