Review: PostgreSQL at PASS Data Community Summit 2023

For PGSQL Phriday #014, Pavlo Golub asked us to write about PostgreSQL events. The invitation post is full of helpful prompts to help anyone, new or experienced blogger, to write about their experiences with PostgreSQL conferences. I’ve got to say, I think this is such a great topic to end 2023 with because there has been so much conference activity this past year, but more so because of the many events already in the works for 2024.

For my contribution this month, I’m going to primarily focus on the PASS Data Community Summit that finished two weeks ago in Seattle. It was the unexpected culmination of a dream I’ve had for the last 5 years and I’m excited to talk about it.

Why Conferences?

Before I talk about PASS Summit, I wanted to take a little bit of time to think through my conference experiences over the last 20 years. With very few exceptions, attending conferences have grown my community connections, spurred my curiosity more, and had a measurable impact on the work I do and the teams I’m a part of.

My first tech conference was Apple’s WWDC in 2003, the year that Steve Jobs introduced the G5 chip and the distinctive design of the Power Mac G5. I’m not going to lie, that was a fun moment to witness as Apple was roaring back to life and OS X was finally gaining traction.

But more than that keynote (and the free iCamera everyone got that day), I remember attending sessions about upcoming features in OS X and, in particular, one session about the new security features they were adding which was going to make my SysAdmin job easier in the long run. I was honestly shocked at how good the presenters were and how clearly I understood what I needed to do with this new information upon returning home to my team.

Years later, someone on another team recommended that we attend CodeMash in Sandusky, Ohio. Despite an adventurous trip in the middle of a winter blizzard, I specifically remember walking into a session near the end of a precon training day just in time to hear the presenter discuss solutions to a SQL Server problem that had been plaguing my team for more than a year. Although I got much more out of that conference, that one nugget of information discussed for a total of about 3 minutes, had a significant impact on the performance of our database and application.

In every case, I can look back and see where a specific session, often unexpectedly, increased my knowledge and confidence to move further into my areas of interest. Without being at the event, it’s hard to know when most of this information would have made it past one of my information feeds. Being in the right place, at the right time, proves to be true most of the time.

Far above everything I’ve learned, however, the #1 benefit I have received from attending conferences over the years has been connecting with, and feeling a part of, the community.

Knowledge only gets you so far. In my experience, real growth happens once you start to actively engage with a community of people learning about, and growing through, similar challenges. Plus, you get to see who in each community brings out the best in people, is actively working to spread access and knowledge, and fulfills the old saying, “a rising tide lifts all ships.”

Community is 🔥!

A Dream: PostgreSQL for SQL Server Folks

Here’s the deal. I’ve written numerous blog posts over the last few years about my love for the SQL Server community (ie. #SQLFamily) and how events like SQL Saturday and PASS Summit changed the trajectory of my career. As I moved to PostgreSQL as my fulltime gig, I lamented on more than one occasion about how I struggled to find something similar within the Postgres space.

Thankfully, some of these laments resulted in amazing PostgreSQL community members reaching out to help me understand how this new (to me) community worked and how to become more integrated. As the pandemic wore on and I started doing more advocacy work for Timescale and Postgres in general, I really started for feel welcome and able to contribute back to some degree.

And then, in December of 2021 at PGConf.NYC, I was fortunate enough to give a keynote for Timescale that focused on community. Specifically, I talked about how to prepare for members of the SQL Server community to start joining the PostgreSQL crowd and some of the expectations they would likely have for the community.

While ideas like PGSQL Phriday were born out of that talk, I also had an underlying desire to see future opportunities to bring PostgreSQL content closer to the #SQLFamily.

I had no idea at the time, but that reality was less than two years away!

PostgreSQL at PASS Summit

I was fortunate to join Redgate last October. I’ve known them to be active supporters of the SQL Server community for more than two decades and I was hopeful that they would work with me to support the PostgreSQL community in a similar way. From day one, it was clear they were ready to do that, freely.

Before the end of 2022, not long after PASS Data Community Summit 2022 finished, we were already talking about November of 2023 and how we could increase awareness of Postgres at the conference. As we worked through the first quarter of 2023, it became clear that there was support and opportunity to provide a dedicated track for PostgreSQL content at Summit.

For the next few months I started reaching out to many different Postgres speakers and ambassadors, folks I’ve come to know and build friendships with over the last few years. It was such a delight when many of them showed real interest in helping with this new endeavor. It wasn’t long before I realized this idea was really coming to fruition… and the content was going to be lit!

By The Numbers

So, what were we able to offer the wider data community of more than 1,800 people at PASS Summit?

PostGIS Precon

Ryan Lambert offered a full day of training on PostGIS and Postgres. In true Rustproof Labs style, Ryan knocked this content out of the ballpark. Along with his wife, Julie, the content was engaging, informative, and really helped users experience special data with Postgres. It also happened to be the first time I’ve ever met Ryan and Julie in person, so that was an added bonus!!

Regular Sessions

There were 16 regular sessions that focused on Postgres, including 5 specifically curated into a Learning Pathway to help introduce newer users to key aspects of the database. Some of these sessions were specific to vendor offerings like Microsoft Azure CosmosDB for Postgres or AWS RDS/Aurora. But 13 of the regular sessions were topic-based and high quality. While it’s hard to call out every session, a few of the highlights that sparked a lot of interest from attendees included:

  • Think Like a Postgres (Robert Treat)
  • Indexes – Contrast & Compare PostgreSQL to SQL Server (Kevin Kline)
  • Postgres at Scale: Vacuum, MVCC & Table Bloat (Chelsea Dole)
  • Practical Memory Tuning for PostgreSQL (Grant McAlister)
  • PostgreSQL: Extensions Shape the Future (Ryan Lambert)
  • What’s New in PostgreSQL 16 (Christophe Pettus)
  • Professional PostgreSQL Scheduling Made Easy (Pavlo Golub)
  • Wait! What’s going on Inside my Database? (Jeremy Schneider)
  • How to get Involved with Postgres without being a PG Expert (Claire Giordano)

Throughout all three days of the main conference, we kept hearing how thankful the attendees were for PostgreSQL specific content, delivered by active members of the Postgres community. All of these speakers, and others that I didn’t mention, represented well and made a lot of new Postgres fans. ❤️

Panel Discussion

We also had time scheduled for a panel discussion about the future of Postgres. Claire, Christophe, Ryan Lambert, Pavlo, and Robert Treat were the panelists. We covered a wide range of topics and were able to answer some audience questions. I’m excited for this audio recording to be made available at some point in the future.

Keynotes

Two of the three morning keynotes had dedicated discussion about PostgreSQL and the way that various companies are working to provide tooling and support for developers and DBAs.

During the day one Microsoft Keynote, Claire Giordano presented on the new vector extension that is offered with Azure.

On day two during the Redgate keynote, I was able to specifically talk about bridging the gap between SQL Server users and their ongoing journey, in many cases, to Postgres. I can’t express what an honor it was to share about all the wonderful things happening in the Postgres community and how folks can get involved. It seemed like a slow grind the last two years trying to find ways to make this happen. And then suddenly, I was on stage in front of 800+ Microsoft data professionals talking about PostgreSQL! (I even got to throw in a good “elephant in the room” joke! 😂)

Community Zone AMA

With so much buzz around Postgres and the realization by many in attendance that there were a lot of experts present, we had an hour long AMA opportunity in the community zone. Although there was nothing specific planned, we ended up with dozens of people gathered around in small groups discussing various aspects of Postgres with lots of participation.

Postgres US Booth

The Seattle Postgres User Group volunteered to host the booth for PgUS. Every time I walked by the booth, there was at least one person there asking for more information, learning about the membership or community, and overall just fostering great connections. Serious hat tip to the crew that gave of their time to be present and represent the Postgres community! You were all 💯!

Just the Beginning

After nearly a year of planning, it’s hard to believe that PASS Summit 2023 is already over and discussions are underway about how we can make the 2024 event even better. Without a doubt, we’ll see more opportunities to engage both the SQL Server and PostgreSQL communities together, and honestly, I think that makes everyone stronger in the end.

All of the major cloud vendors are also investing heavily in PostgreSQL and their coverage and focus on Postgres specific content was an added bonus. Each of them has a active team primarily dedicated to helping the open-source project move forward. Being able to engage with some of them face-to-face fulfills one of the primary benefits of attending a conference like this.

Above all, however, the best part was seeing many people building friendships and connections through their time together. As I said at the beginning of this post, networking and expanding your community is probably the biggest benefit people get from attending conferences like this. Whether you’re interested in checking out PASS Summit 2024 or one of the many PostgreSQL events closer to home in the coming year, commit now to choosing an event and making plans to attend. And when you do, encourage others to go with you and share what you learned with others when you return!

I hope to see you at a PostgreSQL conference in 2024!

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