Getting to PASS on the Cheap

The PASS Summit is coming up in a few months and I bet you’re worried about attending. It costs money; I totally understand that. But there are a lot of ways to go for cheap.

  1. Be a speaker – oh, that deadline has come and gone
  2. Be a chapter leader – hrmm… not too many of those, let’s try another one
  3. SPONSORS! – You didn’t think you could get a sponsor for a conference?

Here’s what I mean by a sponsor: Ask your employer to sponsor your trip to the PASS Summit. They aren’t paying for it, they’re sponsoring you.

What You Do For Your Sponsor

You’re asking someone to spend what might initially appear to be a large chunk of money on you.

Wrong.

You’re asking your sponsor to make an investment in your career. But, in addition to this, you’re telling your sponsor that by sending you to the PASS Summit that you are going to be investing back in the company. By sending you to the PASS Summit, they are investing roughly $3,000 on training for you, give or take a few pennies. Sounds like a lot, right? Well, not really. Because, if you think about it, at the PASS Summit you are getting three days of training from the best and the brightest that the SQL Server community and Microsoft have to offer. Nowhere else are you going to have the chance to learn from so many great minds. This opportunity alone would normally cost you an ungodly sum of money. Now, ask yourself: How many people are on my team who could benefit from this knowledge? How many people are on other teams in my organization who could benefit from this knowledge? Let’s say there are 8, including you. What’s 8 x $3,000? $24,000. That’s a lot of money. There’s no way your company could possibly afford to send 8 people to the PASS Summit (bear with me, I’m going somewhere).

Act now and you can get $24,000 worth of training for only $3,000

Act now and you can get $24,000 worth of training for only $3,000

I said something about you investing back in the company, here’s where that comes into play. Take a look at the list of Program Sessions andSpotlight Sessions. There’s a lot in there to learn. More importantly, there’s a lot in there that could benefit your company and your co-workers. Here’s what you do: pick out a two sessions that you want to attend. Write down the title and a quick summary of the abstract but summarize the abstract in a way that shows the value it will add to your current role. Now pick four more sessions that could help your co-workers do their jobs better. Or, if you’re a consultant, you can also pick sessions that can help increase your bill rate (e.g. pick SSIS or BI or DBA sessions if you’re primarily a T-SQL developer). The key here is to show how these sessions are increasing your value to the organization as well as how you can act as a force multiplier for your organization. Remember those force multipliers in old school video games that quadrupled your damage? You want to be that. But helpful instead of destructive. When you show this list of sessions to your boss, be ready to pull out the Ron Popeil schtick.

That’s right, boss! For one easy payment of $3,000 you get $24,000 of value!

How can you possibly deliver this much value? Well, you take copious notes. Take notes in such detail that you could give the presentation. If you don’t think you can do that, talk to the presenter and get their slide deck. Most presenters are more than happy to give you a copy of their slides. Plus, I’m pretty sure they have to make the slides publicly available if they want to present at the PASS Summit. Why are you taking so many notes? Because you’re going to make presentations when you return from the PASS Summit! That’s right, youare going to bring the PASS Summit to your company. You’re going to go to the PASS Summit so you can come back to work and teach everything you learned to your co-workers. Remember how I mentioned that you were investing back in the company? This is how. You’re going to cram your brain with knowledge at the PASS Summit. You’re going to distill that knowledge for when you get back to the office. Then you’re going to deliver training that is specifically tailored to your organization.

What Your Sponsor Does For You

They write you a check. Seriously, though, this knowledge thing you’re doing isn’t free. Someone has to write a check. By the same token, if you’re sending yourself to the PASS Summit on your own nickel you’re going to attend sessions that you’re interested in. If someone else is sending you, the topic turns to “investment”.

Keep pushing, you'll get smarter

Keep pushing, you’ll get smarter

Your sponsor makes an agreement with you: They will pay for airfare, hotel, and the Summit registration costs (hopefully all three, although registration is fine too). In exchange you do everything we talked about above. Their side of things is, frankly, pretty easy: find a couple of grand laying around that they can invest in your career. Money doesn’t grow on trees, but three grand is pretty easy to find.

Sample Letter

Need some ideas on how to put this letter together? I’ve done the basic homework on this one. This sample letter is, in fact, the letter that I’ve sent to my employer asking them to give me money in exchange for my smarts. It also includes the sessions that I want to attend as well as the sessions that I think might be of some use to my co-workers.

Why give away my secret sauce?

  1. It’s not secret
  2. I want you to go to the PASS Summit
  3. I really want you to go to the PASS Summit

Seriously, I want to see as many new faces at the PASS Summit as I can. I want to meet people and learn from them. I want to make new friends. And, frankly, I want you to have a chance to experience everything that the PASS Summit has to offer: sessions, networking, food, vendor swag, all of it. I put the letter together with the help of a few community people because we want to see you at the PASS Summit. The kicker: I don’t get a single cent if you got to the PASS Summit. I just want you to go and have as much fun as I had.

Here’s the Sample PASS Summit ROI document. This is very similar to the document that I sent to my employer.

What if my Sponsor Won’t Cover XYZ?

Let’s say that your sponsor will only cover the registration for the PASS Summit. What are you going to do? There are a lot of ways to get to the Summit for cheap. More importantly, there are a lot of ways that you can stay at the Summit for next to nothing. For the purpose of this example, I’m going to assume you’re arriving on Monday, November 2nd, and flying out on Friday, November 6th. It’s a bit hectic, I know, but it saves on the hotel.

Let’s take a look at flights, first.

Flying to Seattle

Point of OriginCost
Columbus, OH$194
Chicago, IL (any airport)$309
New York, NY$258
Atlanta, GA$242
Milwaukee, WI$197
Los Angeles, CA$179
Denver, CO$159
Dallas, TX$257
Tampa, FL$238
Ljubljana, Slovenia$1936

I just looked these up on Expedia. So, it’s pretty easy to see that you could get to the PASS Summit for about 300 bucks, max via airplane. Less if you ride a horse. Or maybe more. I don’t know how much travel by horse costs. Point is, you can travel for pretty cheap.

NOM NOM NOM

What about food while you’re at the Summit? Well, I survived last year largely by eating the food provided by the catering folks and then buttering up vendors and getting invited to fancy dinners. It sounds gross, but it’s true: if you butter up vendors you can get invited to dinner. Even if you don’t butter up the vendors, you can still get invited to dinner. Even then, you can still eat for incredibly cheap in Seattle. There are a number of great local restaurants within an easy walk of the convention center. As long as you’re willing to eat breakfast and lunch at the convention center, you could probably get a way with spending no more than $15 a day on food. So that’s 4 days at $15 a day, roughly, which works out to $60.

$300 + $60 = $360, in case you’re keeping track at home.

But Where Will I Sleep?

Park bench? Well, unless you enjoy the homeless chic look of Derelicte and freezing to death on a bench, you probably want something better than a park bench. This is where cheap hotels and your network come into play.

Taking a quick look on expedia (search in Seattle and narrow down the search to “Downtown Seattle”), there are multiple hotels within walking distance of the convention center starting at $80 a night. If you split that with a friend, you’re down to $40 a night. That’s only $160 for all four days that we’re talking about for our hypothetical trip to the PASS Summit. Keep in mind when you’re reviewing your hotel choices that you’re going to be spending about 30 minutes standing up and awake in your room over the entire course of the Summit. The rest of the time you are probably going to be in a session or at some kind of event. The hotel doesn’t need 200 cable channels, a whirlpool, HBO, “magic fingers” or anything like that. Bed + walls = win.

So, now we’re looking at a total price of $300 + $60 + $160 = $520.

Here are some pricing comparisons if you don’t believe me (all prices exclude tax and whatever exorbitant “hotel fee” the city government has decided to levy on us):

HotelPrice per NightWith Roommate
Sheraton (Conference hotel)$199$99.50
The Roosevelt$116$58
Red Lion Hotel$161$80.50
Grand Hyatt Seattle$191.00$95.50

SRSLY?!

That’s right, if you can get your company to foot the bill for the PASS Summit registration, the total cost for you could be as low as $520 if you’re careful about things. With 2 months left until the Summit, that’s a very small amount of money that you need to save between now and then. Don’t get coffee every day, stop renting movies, don’t get another tattoo, stop going out to lunch, do something. There are a lot of ways to save yourself $520 between now and september. Remember, you don’t have to pay for the hotel until you check out, but you do have to find the cash for your airfare.

Round Up

There you have it! If you work with your employer to bring value back from the PASS Summit it becomes a lot easier to justify your attendance. Becoming the trainer not only makes you more valuable through your ability to train your co-workers, but it also increases your ability to communicate clearly and fluently as well as think on your feet. If you think creatively, you can easily find ways to save money at the PASS Summit and make it possible to attend on the cheap. So, remember to ask your employer for money and offer to make a deal and work things out however you can. You never know, they just might give you a big pile of money.

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