It was a dark age for SQL Server training. DBAs huddled around their netbooks, desperate for knowledge. They absorbed the blog posts of the SQL Server professionals that have been at this for years; they laughed at the blog posts of the SQL Server professionals that had been at this for days. Yet they all did this alone, so alone.
Blog posts are great, but text on a screen is a bit impersonal. And though some blogs allow you to post questions, the blogger may take some time to get back to you, assuming he gets back to you at all. User group meetings are sometimes hard to find and usually consist of local guys talking about problems at work. The speakers and attendees may not have the deep knowledge that some of your crazy SQL Server problems require.
Then there are the annual conferences; they’re awesome, assuming your boss will give you a week off, money for a flight, hotel, food and conference fees. Even in this day and age, many managers see conferences as a way to get a week off and go drinking at the company’s expense.
In 2007 SQL Server training was thrust into the light with a new idea, SQLSaturday. A full day of free training (some charge a few bucks to help cover the cost of food), and you don’t have to take a day off work to attend. A lot of SQL Saturday events attract big-name speakers. Some have had up to 20 or 30 Microsoft MVPs at a single SQL Saturday (I’m looking at you, SQLSaturday 33, in Charlotte, N.C.); others are smaller, with just a few speakers, like SQLSaturday 54 in Salt Lake City, Utah. No matter the size of the event, there are always educators willing to come from far and wide looking to share their knowledge and meet new people.
Every SQLSaturday is different, and yet they are all the same. Great speakers, great sessions, a great location and a chance to meet new and old friends. At this point, there have been dozens of SQLSaturday events across the county and a few scheduled in Canada, New Zealand, Portugal, and South Africa, among others. The amazing thing about the SQLSaturday events is that no one is paid to speak. SQL Server experts often fly in on their own dime from across the country or around the world and speak at the events. I believe the current record holder is Gail Shaw, who traveled from South Africa to Vancouver, B.C., to present at SQLSaturday 65.
Perfection is overrated
Not every SQLSaturday is perfect, and each event learns from mistakes made at the last one. As someone who travels to lots of SQL Saturday events, I’ll tell you that signs at the event venue are very important. I’ve been to a few events where I’ve not known where to go.
Remember that not all the people going to a SQLSaturday are regular user group attendees, so they may not have gotten the details at the last meeting. A few simple signs pointing the way on a large college campus, say, go a long way to helping SQL Server pros get to what they came for. Truth be told, this is getter better, but it is still an issue.
This can also be a problem once users find the right building, especially at the larger SQLSaturday events, which require more rooms. SQL Saturday marks many attendees’ first visit to the event site, so getting lost on the way to sessions is easy.
At the Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS) annual conference there is a volunteer army in fetching red vests; Microsoft TechEd has staff in blue, and EMC World has its helpers in gray. It would be great if SQLSaturday events had a small group of volunteers called the “where the heck do I go?” group. This group should not just answer questions about which session is where but should be looking for people with confused looks on their faces. Many in our field don’t like asking questions and need to be approached first in order to get the information to them.
Another problem is extra food; it just can’t be helped. SQLSaturday organizers have to order more than is actually needed to make sure that everyone can find something they can eat. At our last SQLSaturday here in Southern California, we called a local battered women’s shelter and had them come and pick up a load of extra food. This way it went to a good place, to people who needed it, and we didn’t feel bad about ordering and then throwing away 50 or 60 boxed lunches.
SQLSaturday events have started having a problem that’s really a pretty good one to have. There are too many speakers at some events. One of the goals of SQLSaturdays is to help cultivate new speakers, and that is something SQLSaturday events have done exceedingly well. So much so that at some events speakers are limited to presenting a single session because there isn’t enough time in the day or enough rooms at the venue for multiple sessions.
All in all, every SQLSaturday that I’ve gone to has been a success. When the goal of the events is to get knowledge to people, and you’ve got such a large talented pool of local-, regional- and national-level speakers who are willing to give away that knowledge for free, how can you not call the events a success? If you haven’t yet gone to a SQLSaturday, I highly recommend that you go. Take in the sessions, enjoy the lunch, talk to the speakers and the other attendees and above all have fun with a great group of data professionals.
About the author:
Denny Cherry has more than a decade of experience managing SQL Server, including MySpace.com's over 175-million-user installation. Cherry specializes in system architecture, performance tuning, replication and troubleshooting. Check out his blog at SQL Server with Mr. Denny.
This was first published in August 2011