Roll on, 2013: PASS SQLSaturday Continues to Grow!

March 26, 2013 – It’s hard to believe we’re just one week away from the end of Q1 2013, and the PASS SQLSaturday “firsts” just keep coming all over the world.

At this point last year, we had 12 SQLSaturdays, compared to 13 this year. And even though there’s only one more in comparison, several of last year’s hosting cities have moved to later months in 2013, opening up space for some new locations to join in. This year, Q1 has seen two new countries (Mexico and the Philippines), two new North American states (New Mexico and Connecticut), and two new cities (Detroit in the US and Exeter in the UK). It’s so exciting to see these events continue to grow and provide free, quality SQL Server training - in many cases, in communities that rarely if ever get such an opportunity.

In addition to new events, we’ve welcomed several new sponsors to the SQLSaturday arena already this year. It’s rewarding as a mentor to see organizers get better each year at marketing and getting support for their events, especially at the local level. The skills it takes to show that a SQLSaturday is a good investment will cross over into other areas for these organizers, such as being better able to negotiate a higher salary or convince their employers to provide more training opportunities as part of their annual increase.

Of course, “selling” a SQLSaturday isn’t easy for everyone, especially first-timers, which brings me to something I’ve seen less of these past several months: SQLSaturday blog recaps by organizers, speakers, and attendees. And that’s too bad, because the lessons learned by others have been invaluable to SQLSaturday newcomers for years now.

I encourage the community to get back to blogging their experiences at these events. Organizers recapping the lessons they’ve learned in hosting a SQLSaturday help every volunteer team and event coming up, particularly those considering hosting one for the very first time. Speakers can provide some great feedback and tips to organizers, especially since they often participate in so many of these and other training events. And each attendee has his/her own unique experience at a SQLSaturday.

Everyone can provide some insight as to what worked, what could have been better, and ideas for the next time. For SQLSaturdays in particular, the sharing of these experiences has been key to the growth of one of the most recognizable “grassroots” events in our community. Let’s not stop now!

Join in “SQL Around the World” at the Community Zone!

Attending PASS Summit 2012? Want a chance to win a Microsoft Surface? Make sure you come by the Community Zone Wednesday and pick up your official “SQL Around the World” game card. If you’re wondering what the Community Zone is, you can read a couple of blog posts: one here by PASS Community Evangelist Niko Neugebauer and the other here by Jason Brimhall.

In a nutshell, the Community Zone is a place for Summit attendees who want to stay involved in the SQL Server community year-round. Come talk with PASS Community Evangelists, user group leaders, SQLSaturday organizers, and other SQL Server community groups about how you can participate.

During Summit, a variety of daily activities will be going on at the Community Zone, but the one you won’t want to miss is the “SQL Around the World” networking game. We hear about a first-time attendee to Summit who didn’t talk with anyone, or that those who know each other all just hang out in the same groups, making it tough for someone new to feel like they can join in. To help break through some of those barriers, we’ve come up with “SQL Around the World.”

Here’s how to play: 

  1. First, come by the Community Zone and get your official game card. You’ll want to do this early Wednesday so that you have as much time as possible to get your card filled out before the drawing on Friday. 
  2. Then, start finding other attendees who do not live in your home country. You must meet with at least 10 to fill in the 10 spots available on the card. Each person you list must be from a different country than the others on your card, so no two attendees from the same country can be listed on your card. There are 57 countries and over 4,000 attendees represented at Summit this year, so finding people from 10 different countries should be easy. 
  3. But not so fast. Because this is about networking, we want to be sure you are engaging in a conversation with the people you meet. So you must also list on your card an interesting fact about that person or their country. 
  4. By Friday at 11:00am, drop off your “SQL Around the World” game card at the Community Zone. Everyone who meets 10 individuals and fills up their game card will be in the drawing for a chance to win either a Microsoft Surface tablet or a $250 American Express gift card. The drawing will be held in the Exhibitor’s Hall at approximately 11:15am, and you must be present to win.
  5. As part of a spin-off of the above, we have another contest that involves pictures. Those who snap the most photos of themselves with the 10 attendees they’ve met will be entered in a second drawing, and will win whatever the first winner doesn’t select (the Surface or the Amex Gift Card). 


Sound hard? Or feel you can’t possibly randomly walk up to someone you don’t know and talk to them? We can help with that, too. On the back of the game card, we’ve provided some talking points and tips on what you can say to start a conversation with a fellow attendee. No matter where we’re from, everyone here at Summit shares a common language: SQL Server! That alone should make it easier for you to start chatting with someone. So be sure to stop by the Community Zone, get your card, and start networking. Even if you don’t win a grand prize, you’ll be a winner because of the connections you make this week!

SQLSaturdays #171 and #174: North by Southeast

October featured seven SQLSaturdays, all US-based and three of which were first time cities: Pittsburgh, Lincoln, and Nashua (which was also the first SQLSaturday for New Hampshire). A big treat for those of us in the Southeast were the long- awaited returns of Nashville and Charlotte, which hadn’t seen a SQLSaturday in over 2 years.

For my travel this month, I decided to go one of the first-time cities, Pittsburgh, and one of the Southeast options, Charlotte. I chose Pittsburgh because I haven’t been able to make any of the other Northeastern events this year, and it was led by first-time event organizers Gina Walters and Madhu Kudaravalli. Nashua, even though a first-time host city, was being led by Mike Walsh and Jack Corbett, two seasoned SQLSaturday organizers.

I’m a huge fan of Nashville, but again, that event was being organized by a team with lots of SQLSaturday experience: Joe Webb, Kevin Kline, Lou Davidson, and Christina Leo. That brings us to Charlotte, and its new BI Edition SQLSaturday led by another team of first-time organizers. Rafael Salas, Melissa Coates, Javier Guillen, and Jason Thomas all had been working on this SQLSaturday since the beginning of July. The idea for the Charlotte BI-only SQLSaturday came in May when Rafael began investigating starting a new PASS BI Chapter in Charlotte. After discussing the potential, we decided that first hosting a BI SQLSaturday would let the team see if there was enough interest in the area to spin off a BI-specific user group from the current strong Charlotte SQL Server User Group, led by Peter Shire.

First up: Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh SQLSaturday had a unique venue for its speaker dinner: a restaurant inside a casino. What really made this casino stand out was the tribute to National Breast Cancer Awareness Month - the entire building was surrounded by intricately woven bras of all shapes, colors, and sizes. It was a work of art indeed! Another bonus was the beautiful evening lights over the Ohio River right outside the restaurant’s patio. 

For the event itself, LaRoche College provided a nice, clean venue with a large area for the opening keynote and comments. All the sponsors were along the sides of this large space, and the team did a good job of making sure attendees funneled directly to the sponsors after they checked in. As much as these spaces are great for gathering the entire audience in one place, it’s often challenging to keep attendees coming back, except during longer breaks such as lunch, because sessions are typically outside of these areas. Overall, everything went smoothly for this new event team - which even had a record of just four attendees out of their first 100 check-ins to not pre-print their SpeedPASS. Nice!

On to Charlotte. With registrations growing rapidly throughout the summer for this event, it became obvious that BI has huge interest in Charlotte. In late August, we decided to move forward with creating the new BI PASS Chapter, fondly name CBIG, and announce the official January 2013 kick-off meeting during the SQLSaturday.

As I worked with the Charlotte BI team leading up to their event, I was impressed with their organization, the great questions they asked along the way, and the creative ideas they had on making their SQLSaturday extra special. The CBIG team added a Microsoft SQLClinic at the event and did a good job of keeping attendees informed, especially the week before the event. The venue, Central Piedmont Community College, was very nice and ideal for this type of event. Sponsors were set up in the main hallway, where everyone had to constantly walk through them. My only recommendation for next time would be to either have a microphone during the opening announcements or stand on the second floor and talk down to the attendees, which has worked well for carrying voices over the crowd at several other SQLSaturdays.

I collected around 30 names of people interested in Peter’s chapter, and CBIG incorporated a few questions in their event survey to ask what topics people would like to see at their meetings. The survey offered an option for attendees to opt in for the new user group’s mailing list, and the team used the surveys for the SQLSaturday’s raffle giveaway.

As I shared details about the two Charlotte user groups throughout the day with attendees, it was clear that the area’s technical community is as thriving as it has ever been. And, boy, you should have seen their faces when I told them that next year’s PASS Summit was going to be in their own city! 
 

International Firsts: SQLSaturday #145 Recife, Brazil

After visiting nine straight US-based SQLSaturdays, I kicked off a three-country tour of international SQLSaturdays August 25, starting with SQLSaturday #145 in Recife, Brazil.

Brazil had already hosted two very successful SQLSaturdays: #100 in São Paulo last November and #127 in Rio de Janeiro in April. Both cities have strong existing user groups, so there wasn’t much risk in supporting SQLSaturdays in those locations. For the most part, SQLSaturdays are led by existing PASS Chapter Leaders, but on a few occasions, some of these events have been part of “planting the seed” efforts to try and establish new user groups in areas that don’t already have one, Recife falls into this category, with the nearest PASS Chapter about 90 minutes away.

The lead organizer for the Recife event was Fabio Avila, who I met at the after party during SQLSaturday São Paulo. He really enjoyed the event and asked a lot of questions about putting on a SQLSaturday, but he seemed skeptical about one in his area as this was the first of this type of event for Brazil. Then along came the Rio event and the recognition that SQLSaturdays were gaining more interest in Brazil. Just before the Rio event, Fabio contacted me ready to bring some SQL Server training to the northeast region.

There are many technical events in Brazil each year, but SQLSaturdays seem to be filling some voids for this country, providing more SQL Server-focused training and another avenue for the many SQL Server MVPs and other SQL experts in Brazil to share what they know. It was great to see at the Recife event a number of the speakers who I had the pleasure of meeting in São Paulo. And even though they knew it would be a much smaller event, they were happy to have made the long trip to present at it.

The mission for me onsite was to see if I could find that “hidden gem” in the crowd - someone so excited about SQL Server and the community that they want to help continue the effort by starting a local user group. Normally, I don’t find this task very difficult; passionate and excited DBAs are pretty easy to find, especially at a SQLSaturday. However, I wasn’t prepared for the gaping language barrier. In larger cities such as São Paulo, plenty of people speak English, and naïve me, I thought it would be no different in Recife. I was wrong, as I discovered the minute I checked into the hotel. For the most part, the only people I could converse with event day were those speakers I had met before, Fabio and one or two of his volunteers, and Denny Cherry [b|t], who was there to do a pre-con.

Although I left a bit discouraged, I haven’t given up. I’ve since had a conference call with some of the MVPs in Brazil, and they are on board with helping start PASS Chapters in parts of Brazil that don’t already have a SQL Server user group. Thanks to them and others in the SQL community, the sowing will continue.

Next stop for me, Cambridge for the first-ever SQLSaturday in the UK. Stay tuned!

SQLShot – Growing New Speakers

(Cross-posted from my personal blog; you can read the original here.)

I was talking at SQLSaturday #161 East Iowa with one of the newer PASS Chapter Leaders, Sheila Acker [t] of Quad Cities PASS, about ideas for growing more local speakers. I described a little program called SQLShot that we do in Orlando at the OPASS meetings. Sheila thought something similar could work for her group and that other Chapter Leaders might like to hear about it as well. Here’s what SQLShot is all about.

You know how during the networking time at user group meetings, you’ll often overhear one person sharing with another something they did at work that day that really helped their company or just made their day easier? Or maybe you hear the opposite conversations – a DBA talking about what a brute of a day they had trying to figure something out, and the other person sharing a technique or tool that might help. What these database pros probably don’t realize is that so many others in the room might also benefit from that knowledge.

This is when you, the Chapter leader, strike and ask the member if they’d consider doing a presentation on that very topic at an upcoming meeting. Of course, as most of us know, DBAs as a whole tend not to be that outgoing, and the thought of talking in front of an audience of their peers can be terrifying.

At OPASS – the Orlando user group started by Andy Warren [b|t] years ago and now led by Shawn McGehee [b|t] – we do what we call a SQLShot , a 10- to 15-minute presentation typically done by someone who has very little, if any, previous speaking experience.

Of course, you can ask during the opening announcements if anyone is interested in doing an upcoming SQLShot. But usually all you’ll hear is the crickets. That’s why it’s important to recognize opportunities like those mentioned above and reach out to specific members on topics you know they can talk about.

As your user group’s leader, you are also a mentor. Your members just need someone to encourage them, someone to eliminate the obstacles going up in their minds. Explain that a presentation on what they were just talking about could benefit others. Let them know it doesn’t have to be some super-polished PPT that they spend hours on, trying to think up (dare I say it) bullet points. Paint the picture; keep it simple. Let them know their presentation might involve just opening up SSMS, showing off the query they created, and describing what the problem was and how this code helped.

The typical rebuttal is, “That won’t even fill 10 minutes.” Tell them that’s fine. Because, just wait... once they are up there and start talking about their solution, before they know it, they’ve shared for 30 minutes. Database pros are excited about what they do, and that excitement usually starts pouring out about 2-3 minutes into the demo.

The next retort will be, “Everyone knows this already.” As we all know, even the most seasoned DBAs learn at least a thing or two in almost any session they attend. Remind your novice speaker that many of the audience members are beginners, and even if they’re not, they’re attending the meetings to learn from their peers’ experiences.

Now here’s a rebuttal I often hear from user group leaders: “I just can never get anyone local to present at our meetings.” I’m not so naïve to believe that all user group leaders are outgoing and can easily approach others and dare to “ask” someone to do something as bold as present. Times like these are YOUR chance to improve your leadership and mentoring skills.

If you’re reading this thinking “that’s me,” brace yourself. My recommendation is that YOU do the SQLShot for your next meeting! There are so many benefits to presenting the SQLShot yourself. You get to learn more about it yourself, mentor others what to do, and lead by example. Show them just how easy it is to do a brief demo. That will be all it takes to generate others to give it a shot.
 

SQLSaturday #144 Sacramento: Northern California Makes Its Mark!

After a much needed 6-week break in travel, my FY2013 adventures began at Sacramento’s very first SQLSaturday. Having lived there long ago, I was a little leary of Sacramento in the middle of summer, but was pleasantly surprised to arrive at record low temperatures in the 70s. It made for a beautiful weekend at what was a superbly run event!

Let’s start with the speaker dinner. More and more organizers are hosting the dinner at a home versus a restaurant. It makes for such a nice environment for conversation and for being able to move around and talk to everyone without being confined to a table. For SQLSaturday #144, one of the organizers, Will Meier [t], hosted the dinner and prepared all the good eats, featuring North Carolina-style BBQ right down to the slaw. Dinner entertainment was provided by another organizer, Angel Abundez [b|t], who sang and performed an amazing array of upbeat music via, of all things, a harp. Don’t believe me? Check out the unique treat here.

Onto event day and a quick look at what worked well and lessons learned. The event had to be moved from a local university to a hotel late in the game, which always makes me nervous because of costs involved with hotels. SQLSaturday budgets typically can’t afford such a venue, but the Courtyard Marriott gave the team a really good deal because they were in a crunch. The hotel provided the back lobby area for registration, which was one of the smoothest registrations I’ve seen for a first-time event.

Sacramento used SpeedPASS and never had a line waiting at check-in. The team did a great job the week before the event reminding registrants to pre-print and cut their SpeedPASS. In the first hour registration was open; only eight attendees hadn’t pre-printed their SpeedPASS. Lead organizers Eric Freeman [b|t] and Dan Hess [b|t] were pleasantly surprised, but the team was prepared for the worst case, having pre-printed and organized all the SpeedPASSes in advance. Now, they know they won’t have to go to the extra effort and cost at their next event.

The hotel provided four meeting rooms and the hallway in front of those rooms for the sponsors. It also catered a nice variety of box lunches, which included some of the best wraps I’ve ever eaten. However, although the event’s final head count was around 200, it did have an unexpected high dropout rate, so a lot of pre-ordered lunches based on registration numbers had to be donated.

The Sacramento event had a few factors working against it. Two other events were going on in town the same day, one of which was the State Fair in its final weekend. Why would anyone go to a State Fair when they can be going to a SQLSaturday? :) While the DBA in the family might have preferred the SQLSaturday, their family likely had other desires. The lesson here would be for event organizers to do more messaging the week before the event to make sure those who have made other plans opt out. A lot of people fear they are spamming the week before the event, but we’ve seen that the SQLSaturdays with lower percentages of no-shows are typically those that have done a lot of messaging those last few days. It really does help organizers get a more accurate headcount and keep costs down.

Something else to mention on the topic of competing activities in your area, especially since it has affected two recent events, is to be sure you check with your local Better Business Bureau (BBB) before locking in your date. The BBB should know in advance if any major events are happening in your city the same day you are looking to host your event. 

Those who didn’t attend SQLSaturday #144 missed a great lineup of speakers, including a fantastic Women in Technology (WIT) lunch panel including PASS Board member Denise McInerney [b|t], PASS WIT Virtual Chapter leader Meredith Ryan of The Bell Group [b|t], Microsoft SQL Server MVP and author Kalen Delaney [b|t], Confio’s Janis Griffin, and Cal State’s Helen Norris. The event sponsors filled the entire hallway and then some, with Southwest PASS Regional Mentor Phil Robinson [b|l] helping me at the PASS table. Team organizer Mitch Bottel [b|t] scored SQLSaturday temporary tattoos at a great price for all the attendees - you know I had to sport one of those! The end-of-day raffle was in the back lobby area with plenty of room to spare, and the After Party was on the back deck at Chevy’s overlooking the Sacramento River, a perfect setting for an evening of networking.

The Sacramento team made its mark on the SQLSaturday map, hosting a very successful event. This makes two Northern California events in just 4 months and the attendance at both SQLSaturdays shows that this region is definitely hungering for more dedicated SQL Server training. 
 

SQLSaturday #118 Madison Recap – Energy and Organization

The “Go Jes Go” tweet chanted by the SQL community whenever @grrl_geek Jes Borland [blog] goes on her daily run took on a new meaning last Saturday. That’s when Jes and her team hosted the first-ever SQLSaturday in Wisconsin to great reviews.

Not only was this the first SQLSaturday for this organizational team, but it was also the first SQLSaturday for many attendees.  When I asked at the end of the day how many were attending a SQLSaturday for the first time, almost everyone in the auditorium raised their hand. I was pretty shocked, since there have been several events in the Midwest region, including Chicago’s SQLSaturday just three hours away.  My initial thought was, “Wow, where have these people been?” Right behind that was, “How proud Jes must be at how the community embraced this opportunity” - a feeling all of us event organizers cherish.

Two words come to mind when describing this day: “organized” and “energized.” (You can read Jes’s recap of the day here.)The core team spent a great amount of time planning and coordinating the event, and it showed in the smooth flow throughout the day. All the volunteers - possibly the most I’ve ever seen for a first-time event - executed their assignments like pros. Volunteer team leader Gina Meronek  [twitter] was constantly moving or on her walkie-talkie, checking in with all the volunteers and making sure everything happened on cue.

This event used the recently implemented SpeedPASS for registration. SpeedPASS allows for a quicker flow at check-in, and eliminates some pre-event tasks like printing and organizing all the name badges and raffle tickets for attendees. Even with some attendees who didn’t print their SpeedPASS in advance, there were never more than two or three people in line waiting for their pass to be printed. Kudos to Leonard Murphy [twitter], who worked diligently the week before with the Manage SpeedPASS section of the admin site, even finding a bug that PASS IT fixed before game day. His attention to detail has now helped the next events that use this process.

The speaker lineup was a great mix of locals and seasoned pros, including former PASS Board member Chuck Heinzelman [twitter] of the Microsoft SQLCAT community team. Another key to the success of SQLSaturday #118 was the great venue… for FREE! The event was held at the local college in Madison, MATC, which was spacious and looked brand new. The team did a great job of utilizing the space appropriately, having sponsors near the meeting rooms, where attendees had to walk by if they wanted refreshments. The cafeteria was large and provided a great platform for the event’s “Cows of a Spot” tables, a local spin on PASS Summit’s Birds of a Feather luncheon. With a whopping 21 different topics for attendees to choose from, this was a great added value at lunch, featuring burgers and, of course, Wisconsin brats.  The end-of-day raffle was held in a large theatre-style auditorium, with glowing purple spotlight lighting up the stage.  And Jes did a great job covering all the PASS events and free resources beyond SQLSaturday that community members can take advantage of.   

As I reflect more on SQLSaturday #118, I think it clearly helps if organizers have been to other SQLSaturdays before planning one their selves. Jes and team clearly by-passed most of the usual obstacles you see at first-time SQLSaturdays. Jes has volunteered to help mentor other new event organizers, and I’ll be having her join me on some pre-event calls with new SQLSaturday organizers so she can share some of what she went through.  If anyone else is interested in mentoring event organizers, send me an email. The more the merrier!

SQLSaturday History Is Made Again!

Last Saturday, the SQL community had a record-breaking five PASS SQLSaturdays, all on the same day and all around the world. The April 14 lineup included one US event, three in LATAM, and one from the fondly called ANZ Tour (Australia/New Zealand) in New Zealand:

  • #111 Atlanta
  • #124 Colombia
  • #127 Rio de Janeiro
  • #133 Costa Rica
  • #136 Wellington, NZ

I was fortunate to finally be able to attend a SQLSaturday in Atlanta – their fifth event. Audrey Hammonds [blog|twitter] and her volunteer team put on quite a show. Much like Tampa, it was a well-oiled machine. You could see where they implemented lessons learned from previous events and pulled everything together – from a smooth registration check-in and good use of room monitors to appropriate signage inside and out – in high-quality style.

It makes me proud to know that in a single day, over 1600 people around the world were able to take advantage of free, quality training. On occasion, someone will tell me they think there are too many SQLSaturdays, but I beg to differ. These events aren’t intended to be the once- or twice-a-year type of conference like PASS Summit or SQLBits. They are more like a “souped –up” user group meeting, in my opinion, bringing more choices to individual communities and providing it for free.

Every community should be able to experience these free learning and networking events, especially when so many community members aren’t able to make it to the larger conferences every year. Not all the national sponsors and frequent speakers, such as MVPs, can support all SQLSaturdays – and we don’t expect them to. SQLSaturdays are intended to grow the local speaker pool, turning to those presenters first and then rounding out the lineup with featured MVP or Microsoft speakers, especially for more advanced sessions. Still, we absolutely appreciate all the more-seasoned presenters who are willing to contribute their own funds and time to present to as many communities as they can. That’s what I love so much about SQLSaturdays – the balance of beginner to advanced sessions. 

In regard to sponsors, as much as many of them wish they could sponsor and exhibit at every SQLSaturday, we know that’s just not possible. Part of my role is mentoring event organizers about how to market to local companies and show them the value in supporting a community event like SQLSaturday. There are a lot of techniques to try with the different industries out there. If you have a SQLSaturday coming up and are struggling to raise funds, be sure to email me. Let’s talk – that’s what I’m here for!

If you are a SQLSaturday organizer who may be feeling your venue isn’t as unique anymore due to the number of events in your area, my recommendation is to change things up every year. As Andy Warren likes to say, “Try new things.” It might also be time for you to take it to the next level and host a SQLRally. 

SQLSaturdays are definitely helping to spread the PASS message and benefits more globally, an important initiative for PASS. If you look at FY 2012’s already held and upcoming SQLSaturdays through June 30, we have 10 new countries hosting SQLSaturdays. FY 2011 had a total of 33 US events; FY 2012 will have 38. Surprisingly to me, there have been only five new US cities added to the SQLSaturday roster. My goal is still to see at least each US state get to host a SQLSaturday, and from what I’m hearing, at least a couple more look promising. Stay tuned for more SQLSaturdays on the schedule soon!

March Madness with PASS and SQL Server 2012

(Reposted from my blog - you can read the original here.)

March brought the much anticipated SQL Server 2012, and with it a slew of events, including Microsoft’s Special Ops tour, several PASS SQLSaturdays, and rounding out the month with DevConnections and SQLBits X.

My own March Madness took me to three of the month’s SQLSaturday events. Two were first-time events: #103 Silicon Valley, organized by Mark Ginnebaugh [blog|twitter] and his team, and #105 Dublin, organized by Sandra Gunn [twitter] and her team. The third, #110 Tampa, was organized for the fifth straight year by Pam Shaw [LinkedIn|twitter] – the Queen of SQLSaturdays and my mentor. All three events were very successful, with strong attendance and fantastic speaker lineups, great sponsor support (all with several exhibiting onsite, always nice to see), and as much SQL Server 2012 content as you could pack into a day.

Registration and logistics flow at the veteran Tampa event coasted along smoothly, with the first-time SQLSaturdays experiencing a few bumps, as is typical. There’s still more we can do with mentoring new events in this area, although sometimes you just don’t know the best layout for registration and sponsors until you’re onsite and shifting things around. The events all resembled each other, as they should since there is a “model” to follow for a SQLSaturday – most importantly providing high-quality free training to attendees. But it’s always fun to see how each team puts its own stamp on SQLSaturday, often expressed in the speaker/volunteer appreciation parties. March brought some very special touches.

Silicon Valley catered to the Big Geek in all of us by having its Friday event at the nearby Computer History Museum. I think we were all more interested in getting our picture taken in front of Charles Babbage’s Calculating Engine than eating what was probably the best food I’ve ever seen at a SQLSaturday appreciation party (my particular favorite was the asparagus spears wrapped in pancetta - had to fight Denny Cherry [blog|twitter] over these).

Closer to home, Tampa’s Friday evening featured the traditional sit-down Italian dinner, fostering that comfortable feeling of family. The SQL Florida Mafia (yes, we really do call ourselves that – ask Scott Gleason [twitter] why) was joined by many of our out-of-state SQLSaturday circuit speakers, and even the godfather of SQLSaturday himself, Andy Warren [blog|twitter], was present, rounding out the #SQLfamily dinner.

And Dublin, the last of my SQLSaturday March tour, provided dinner on a barge, which turned out to be much different than what I first envisioned. The barge wasn’t the large bare-bones steel ship that you see transporting goods or military supplies. This one was a large cabin cruiser-style boat, with a cozy dinner room downstairs, décor in a lavish plum color, and soft lighting. In between courses during the 3-hour canal cruise, we took in the wonderful evening weather from an open upper deck. I’m pretty sure this type of party was a first for a SQLSaturday event.

Everyone who attended these parties took away the special feeling and character of each SQLSaturday.

 

SQLSaturday #103 Curaçao Recap – Planting Seeds

(Condensed from my Community Pollination blog – read the full version here.)

This past weekend, there were two SQLSaturday events: #108 in Redmond and #103 in Curaçao. I heard all the “Oh sure, tough choice there” comments, but my plans early on were to attend the Curaçao event.

The original vision for my new role as PASS Community Evangelist was to get to one first-time venue each month to talk to attendees who might not be familiar with PASS. My being onsite to assist with some logistics and last-minute details at these events helps out the first-time organizers as well. Plus, I can see what areas I need to make sure I’m mentoring on before event day. 

This trip was only 3 hours from Miami. I was greeted at the airport by event leader and local PASS chapter leader Roy Ernest [blog|twitter]. Roy went out of his way to not only pick me up, but to also pick up each speaker who came from over from the US. None of us arrived at the same time, so it wasn’t exactly convenient for someone already with so much stress of his approaching event. SQLSat #103 had three non- local speakers - Bill Pearson [blog|twitter], Rob Volk [blog|twitter], and Tim Radney [blog|twitter] - and two local presenters: Roy and volunteer and co-worker Rohan Joackhim [twitter].

Friday evening’s speaker appreciation dinner was at a great Indian restaurant - one of many in a renovated fort called Rif Fort. From the outside, it looked like a castle, but when you walked in, there were all kinds of restaurants on several levels, all with open seating. You could look out in one direction and see the beautiful crystal-clear, aqua-colored ocean and then look inward around the fort at all the entertainment, from drummers and bands to folks dancing in the open center area. It was really a unique setting; the only downfall was that the band was so loud, it was hard to hear even someone sitting directly across from you.
 
The event had two tracks, DBA and BI, and was held at the University of the Netherlands Antilles, courtesy of the head instructor, Rinnus Felipa. It’s always nice to meet those who help make a SQLSaturday happen, and kudos to universities such as this, which offer their venues for free to the IT community. It was obvious that the success of this day was important to Rinnus - he was onsite all day and meticulous about details that the university was responsible for, such as lunch. On the lunch menu was “Steak de Wea,” a local combination of rice and steak covered in a savory sauce, with fresh green beans and salad. It was delicious, and I enjoy trying something local and new to my taste buds. SQLSat #103 didn’t charge attendees for lunch, and the university kept the cost very reasonable (I believe each plate was around $7 per person).
 
The morning of the event, there were 95 registrants, including those who opted out the week prior. Actual attendance ended up being around 60 - so as typically seen at SQLSaturdays, about a 30%-35% drop-off. The event had only three sponsors: PASS, Redgate, and O’Reilly. But even with the little budget he had to work with, Roy managed to put on a great event for his community. As I talked with attendees during breaks and addressed the group as a whole at the end, many comments rang a common tune - they want to see another SQLSaturday… and most don’t want to wait another year for it (hint, hint, Roy!). As always, I stressed to the attendees that they should work on becoming presenters themselves for the next SQLSaturday event, and they could start sharpening their SQL and presentation skills by speaking at their local user group.

This post would not be complete if I failed to mention another key Curaçao volunteer: Surenda Djaoen [twitter], another of Roy’s co-workers and someone he is mentoring to become the new leader of the Curaçao SQL Server User Group. With Roy doing so much running around on Friday, and still prepping his own presentation for the big day, Surenda took on a lot of the last-minute details for the SQLSaturday. One of the highlights of the trip for me was getting time to talk with her about running a user group and some tips on growing the local speaker pool. It’s always rewarding to see volunteers’ eyes light up with excitement as their minds start racing with ideas. That’s all it takes - just plant a few seeds, and watch them grow!
 

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