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.
 

Anti-Harassment Policy Adopted for PASS Summit

The PASS Board of Directors recently approved adoption of an Anti-Harassment Policy for PASS Summit.

The policy states: "We are dedicated to providing a harassment-free conference experience for everyone, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, disability, religion, or any other protected classification." It outlines in general terms the type of behavior that is not acceptable and explains the steps that can be taken should someone engage in harassing behavior.

I had three reasons for drafting the policy and proposing its adoption:

  • Other technical conferences have had incidents of harassment. Most of these did not have a policy in place prior to having a problem, though several conference organizers have since adopted anti-harassment policies or codes of conduct. I felt it would be in PASS's interest to establish a policy so we would be prepared should there be an incident.
  • "This is Community" - Adopting a code of conduct would reinforce our community orientation and send a message about the positive character of PASS Summit. 
  • PASS is a leader among technical organizations for its promotion and support of women. Adopting a code of conduct would further demonstrate our leadership in this area.

 

PASS members pride themselves on being inclusive and ensuring that all attendees feel welcome at the Summit. From the many networking opportunities to the First Timers program to the #sqlpass conversations on Twitter, we encourage everyone to particpate fully in the conference. Having an anti-harassment policy is another way we ensure everyone feels welcome and safe at the Summit.

The Board had some thoughtful discussions as we worked through the details of the policy. I applaud the Board's willingness to take this step. I also want to thank PASS Governance Administrator Michelle Nalliah for all of her help in getting us through this process. 

Proper Care and Feeding of a DBA

Twice a month, PASS’s DBA Virtual Chapter feeds an average 220 webinar attendees the essential information they need to grow into happy, healthy, productive SQL Server caretakers. On the menu next: “What on earth is a contained database?” with VC leader Sharon Dooley, today (August 22) at noon ET/16:00 GMT.

“Our mission has always been to provide an online PASS community for the database administrator,” Sharon says. “We provide a forum for open discussion and good information on issues that face SQL Server DBAs in their day-to-day jobs. Even if people cannot attend the regular meeting times, we make sure the recordings are available.”

The DBA VC began as what was then known as a PASS Special Interest Group (SIG) and was the first SIG to present an online event, using a Live Meeting site provided by one of its members. Its first Live Meeting event was in March 2007. Today, the VC hosts two events each month, on the second Wednesday at noon MT/18:00 GMT and the fourth Wednesday at noon ET/16:00 GMT. And it’s looking at scheduling additional meetings in other time zones as well to accommodate more international members' schedules.

The VC’s mailing list has over 13,000 names on it, with the last five meetings averaging 220 attendees. The secret to the group’s success? “The dedication of our volunteers, no doubt,” Sharon says.

The DBA VC leadership team consists of Julie Bloomquist, who makes sure the recordings are posted; Alex Buttery, who posts meeting announcements on the LinkedIn group; and Mike Clark, who facilitates most of the meetings (Julie fills in when Mike's not available). Sharon schedules the speakers, manages the website, and handles mailings.

Meeting presentations include slides, demos, and a time for questions and answers, with topics driven by the speakers, representing some of the most experienced DBAs in the world. The meetings are recorded and archived for on-demand viewing, usually within a week after the live meeting. Sharon says the group hopes to soon make the recordings available in downloadable format in addition to online viewing.

“We have also been fortunate to have sponsors that make it possible for us to have door prizes at our meetings,” Sharon notes. “This year, our sponsor is Quest, and we are grateful for their support.”

The VC is always looking for good speakers. “We pride ourselves on growing new speakers, too,” Sharon adds. “If you would like to speak, just send a brief abstract of your proposed topic to me at sharond@voicenet.com.”
 

24 Hours of Summit Preview

What a difference a day can make. I’m talking about a literal 24-hour time frame, starting September 20, when top SQL Server speakers from around the world will deliver free, live back-to-back webcasts straight to your computer on some of the hottest topics in the industry.

Registration is now open for 24 Hours of PASS – Summit 2012 Preview edition. With less than 3 months to go, content for PASS Summit is looking excellent, and the conference is shaping up to set records as the largest SQL Server event ever. To give you an early look at what you can expect, we’ve invited some of Summit 2012’s leading presenters to show off their stuff and help you decide which conference and pre-conference sessions to add to your schedule.

We invited all the Summit pre-con presenters to speak, along with half-day session presenters, anyone giving two spotlight sessions, and a selection of Microsoft speakers. The resulting 24HOP lineup is simply amazing. The event will feature pre-con presenters from around the world – including international all-stars Klaus Aschenbrenner, Davide Mauri, Rod Colledge, and Peter Myers, as well as American masters Denny Cherry, Louis Davidson, Allan Hirt, and Allen White. Half-day deep-dive experts such as Mark Tabladillo and Stacia Misner will be joining the show, along with spotlight heroes Andy Warren, Kevin Kline, and Erin Stellato. Throw in Microsoft greats like Michael Rys, Jen Underwood, and Cindy Gross, and I dare you to miss a minute.

So here’s what you do: Head over to the 24HOP registration page and check out the full schedule. Register for the sessions that speak most to your business needs, and then arrange with your boss to watch them with some of your colleagues. (Remember to emphasize that this is free, high-quality training.)

I encourage you to catch as many of the 24HOP sessions as you can. And with your appetite thoroughly whetted for some serious SQL learning come November, don’t forget to register for PASS Summit by September 30 to get $500 off the full rate.

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. 
 

Last Day: Apply for the PASS Board

Several years ago, someone gave me some advice that changed my life. Now, I’d like to pass it on: “You should run for the Board.”

The year was 2006. I was at PASS Summit in Seattle, talking with someone about PASS when they made that comment. Until then, I had been involved with the PASS Special Interest Groups (SIGs, now called Virtual Chapters), but I wasn’t well known in the PASS community as a whole. I looked over the requirements for serving on the Board of Directors, talked a bit about it with then PASS President Kevin Kline, and in the summer of 2007, I submitted my first application for the PASS Board. (I wasn’t elected that year, but ran again and joined the Board in 2009.)

I can say with all sincerity that applying for (and ultimately serving on) the PASS Board has been one of the most rewarding things I have done as a database professional. I’ve had the opportunity to learn so much by serving the PASS community as a Board member, including leadership and presentation skills, budgets and finance, and communication and marketing strategies. Serving on the Board has made me a better person, and I hope along the way I’ve been able to help others improve their skills, careers, and overall well-being.

I believe SQL Server professionals have tremendous opportunities to grow themselves simply by being members of or volunteers with PASS. They can grow technically (such as learning more about SQL Server Reporting Services) and non-technically (by leading a Virtual Chapter, for example). It is important that we continue to offer such opportunities to develop leaders within the PASS community. Serving on the Board of Directors is one of those non-technical ways you can grow, and for some reason most folks are uncertain if they are right for the Board.

Today is the deadline for applying for 3 seats up for election on the Board. (You can see the complete 2012 elections timeline here.) If you are on the fence about applying, or are interested but aren’t sure if you are good enough, let me help you decide:

You should run for the Board.

Virtual Chapter Feeds BI Hunger

Can’t get enough business intelligence and data warehouse training? PASS has a Virtual Chapter for that.

With over 11,000 members on its distribution list and growing – and featuring three to four free webinars a month on various topics and in different time zones – the BI/DW VC has something for every taste.

“The arena for data warehousing and BI is red hot – people can’t seem to get enough,” says VC Leader Amy Lewis. “The Microsoft BI stack is wide and far-reaching, which gives us a great opportunity to cover multiple topics. There are so many wonderful speakers in this space worldwide who love to share their knowledge, and our goal was to give them an environment where they could do so.”

The BI/DW VC, formed in 2007, is one of PASS’s oldest and most active, averaging 70-100 attendees per web session. Session topics range from dimensional modeling, data warehouse architecture, and ETL best practices to Analysis Services, MDX, and Reporting Services. The VC also hosts popular webcasts on PowerPivot, Power View, SharePoint, PerformancePoint, Mobile BI, and more. You can watch session recordings going back to 2010.

The BI/DW VC team decided to make it easier to schedule speakers by having its calendar “wide open.” “That is, we don’t set a specific time or date for our sessions each month,” Amy explains. “Rather, we try to have at least three to four sessions a month that are scheduled to best fit the speakers’ busy calendars.”

The VC’s mission this year is to have more internationally hosted sessions with local speakers in UK, European, and Australian time zones, she adds. The VC’s August schedule features sessions by speakers from New Zealand (August 10), Australia (August 17), the UK (August 15), and the US (August 21) – all scheduled in their respective time zones.

In addition to a consistent lineup of top-notch presenters, Amy credits her team of volunteers from around the globe for the BI/DW VC’s success, including Alberto Ferrari, Tim Mitchell, Sandra Mueller, Scott Murray, Roger Noble, Marco Russo, Jen Stirrup, and Chris Webb.

The VC is always looking for more volunteer and speakers. Interested in getting involved? Email PASSDWBIVC@sqlpass.org, and follow @PASSBIVC for the latest updates on Twitter.