Kathi: Nigel, you recently set up a new PASS chapter in Trinidad and Tobago. Why did you decide to do this?

Nigel: There has been a surge of Information Technology (IT) advances in Trinidad and Tobago recently and there are many IT systems and services that are yet to be implemented to improve the country. My core interest lies in my desire to affect the advancement of Information Technology in Trinidad and Tobago and I saw the opportunity of a user group as an initial step towards improving our IT ecosystem. The idea of the user group is not only to share information and network but to encourage other people to break barriers and initiate other IT groups or ventures. I decided to focus on a SQL Server user group mainly out of my passion for SQL Server. I realised I needed some co-pilots to help me meet my grand targets so I recruited two other colleagues who shared the same pipe dream of developing IT in Trinidad and Tobago, Anand Singh and Ruselle Seeboo (co-founders of TTSSUG).
 
There were no local Microsoft user groups at the time TTSSUG was initiated. A few Microsoft Communities sprung up and provided some level of assistance but these were short lived. Many of us (in Trinidad and Tobago) are Microsoft clients on some level, however we generally operate in isolation with very little networking between IT professionals. TTSSUG was created to fill this gap, to allow various people to meet and communicate their thoughts and ideas.
 
I have both frequently attended and been asked to deliver presentations at SQL Server events locally. On most occasions these events are centered around the introduction of a new SQL Server version or feature. I have recognised that some attendees may grasp the simple concepts of what is being presented at the event but I don't think that they fully appreciate the product knowledge being shared. This may be attributed to a lack of fundamental SQL Server knowledge. TTSSUG not only focuses on new SQL Server versions or features but will provide information for anyone new to SQL Server world. There are many methods to learn about SQL Server but at the end of the day nothing beats meeting local SQL Server users and learning from their personal experiences.
 
Kathi: Your group became an official PASS chapter in May. Was this a new group or was this a group that had been around for a while and you just converted it to PASS?

Nigel: The Trinidad and Tobago SQL Server User Group (TTSSUG) is a new group that was started as an official PASS chapter. The internal committee members agreed that we should not try reinventing the wheel so we decided to start the group as an official chapter. While we could have gotten guidance from other local groups we chose PASS as a guide because of the fact that they have assisted over 200 groups around the world and also they have an interest in SQL Server groups. PASS also creates international networking opportunities that can assist in the growth of your group, both in knowledge and size. A good example of this opportunity is this interview with you (Kathi). 
 
Kathi: How did you locate other SQL Server enthusiasts for your chapter?

Nigel: I have worked closely with our local Microsoft office and naturally approached them for support and guidance. They were excited by the prospect and willingly offered to sponsor a prelaunch event. This was just what we needed to give our group the visibility it needed to capture the attention of would be members. Our aim was basically to introduce the SQL Server User Group, to outline our goals, obtain feedback in terms of what members were looking for as well as to gauge how effective our first foray into the IT community world was. 
 
Microsoft Trinidad and Tobago sent invitations to their database of clients, partners and students as well as other IT related groups. Our internal committee members used our social and professional connections to get the word out. Prior to the launch I was the speaker at a SQL Server 2008 R2 launch event where I showcased a preview of the prelaunch presentation at the end of my session. There were over 60 positive responses and many more who indicated that they could not attend but who requested to be notified of future events. I attribute this success to all our combined efforts. 
 
Kathi: Do you have sponsors to provide refreshments and prizes? Was it difficult to locate sponsors?

Nigel: Currently our only sponsor is Microsoft Trinidad and Tobago. We are hoping to have other sponsors however we have to ensure that any organisation we approach understands the value of TTSSUG and understands the benefit of contributing to the chapter.
 
Kathi: Are most of your speakers from the local area or do speakers travel to your meetings?  Or do you use LiveMeeting for presentations?

Nigel: We are currently only working with local speakers. As part of the growth of TTSSUG we are hoping our Latin American Mentors will be able to secure MVPs from Latin America to be guest presenters. Even though our sessions are in Trinidad I still hope to see some of my SQL Server heroes such as Steve Jones, Brent Ozar, Jessica Moss, Kimberly Tripp, Adam Machanic, Douglas McDowell and Thomas LaRock attending one or two of our sessions. I think it would be great for a passionate community as ours is turning out to be, to actually meet some MVPs.
 
LiveMeeting has not come into play just yet. We have a LiveMeeting account which we will eventually use for meetings but right now I think it’s imperative to maintain the momentum with face to face meetings that have more impact and are most likely to keep our members’ interest keen. 
 
Kathi: What are the steps required to become a PASS chapter?

Nigel: The first thing that you have to do is verify that there are no existing chapter operating in your geographical area.
 
If there is no chapter in your area then you can email PASS at chapters@sqlpass.org to indicate your desire to start a group. You will receive the 'starter kit' which consists of three items: the Chapter Letter of Understanding, the PASS Benefits document, and a PowerPoint presentation about how to get started. After reading these three documents, just complete the Chapter Letter of Understanding and email it back to PASS to become an Official Chapter. The PowerPoint presentation should provide you with all the information that you need to start the chapter. The HQ Community staff will connect you with your Regional Mentors who can assist with any processes such as establishing a steering committee. If you need any further assistance or clarity you can contact Nancy Nasso. See the following link for more information: http://www.sqlpass.org/PASSChapters/BecomeAChapter.aspx
 
Kathi: Any advice to other PASS members who are thinking about starting a chapter?

Nigel: I think that anyone interested in starting a group should do lots of research so they understand the level of commitment necessary in order to create and maintain the group.
 
Attending a chapter meeting (in person or virtually), engaging some chapter leaders and visiting other chapter sites are some great ways of finding out what starting a chapter entails and you gain good insight for your own undertaking.
 
One step that PASS highlighted is making contact with your local Microsoft Office. This is very important and will assist you in building an effective user group.
 
If you are unsure of your next step, then contact PASS, don’t hesitate and don’t feel intimidated. When you are faced with challenges that call for experience and knowledge then contact PASS, they are a limitless resource for user group issues and resolutions that you cannot do without.