What to expect at a SQL Saturday

Those of you who follow my ‘blog know that I post a lot about SQL Saturday.  I attended my first SQL Saturday in New York City in 2010, and had a great time.  I’ve attended SQL Saturday events every year since, and my involvement has grown, first when my hometown SQL user group started hosting our own SQL Saturday events, then again in 2015 when I first started speaking with my own presentations.

For the benefit of those of you who have no idea as to what SQL Saturday is, here’s a primer.  SQL Saturday is a technical conference that takes place on (mainly) Saturdays at various locations (despite the name, SQL Saturday does not necessarily have to take place on Saturday).  As the name implies, these conferences revolve primarily around technologies related to Microsoft SQL Server.  However, while SQL Server is the primary focus for these conferences, not all presentations focus on SQL Server.  Some presentations may be of interest to developers, other data professionals, and people who just want to learn more about data technologies or technological trends in general.  Some presentation topics don’t focus on technology at all; SQL Saturday includes a professional development track where presentations focus on various professional soft skills, including (but not limited to) non-technical business skills, business-related social skills, networking, career, job hunt, communication, and so on.

My friend, Ed Pollack, wrote an article about happens at a SQL Saturday.  It’s a great read, and I highly recommend it.

So for people who might be interested in attending a SQL Saturday, I put together this primer (in a FAQ format) based on my own experience with SQL Saturday.  Hopefully, this will answer your questions as to what SQL Saturday is about, as well as whet your appetite for attending these conferences!

If this article doesn’t answer your questions, feel free to comment!

Who can go to a SQL Saturday?

Short answer: anyone!

Longer answer: anyone who has an interest in databases, data science, analytics, business intelligence, statistics, technology, development, career and professional development, or even if you just want to network with professionals in technology.  Not only is SQL Saturday a wonderful opportunity for free training, it’s a fun social event where you can meet people in the field.

Most SQL Saturday events do require you to register, since space is often limited (also, some locations are secure facilities, which require pre-registration).  Register on the individual location website for the event that you want to attend; these links can be found at sqlsaturday.com.

I know nothing about technology, or I am not a technical professional.  Can I go to SQL Saturday?

Yes!  See my answer above.  You do not need to be a professional to attend.  If you have an interest in anything related to data, you’re encouraged to show up.  And because the event is free, it’s ideal for students.

Did you say free?  How much does it cost to attend a SQL Saturday?

Yep, that’s correct.  SQL Saturday is free to attend.  Most events charge a nominal fee for lunch; that amount varies with the event.  It’s usually in the ballpark of around $10 to $15 (US).

So who pays for all this?

Sponsors cover the costs for these events.

What about this fee for a precon?  What is a precon?

A precon is a daylong presentation on an individual data topic (topics vary).  These precons generally take place the day before SQL Saturday.  Unlike the main SQL Saturday  event itself, there is a fee to attend a precon, usually in the ballpark of $150 to $200, depending on the topic.

Do I need to know anything about SQL to attend a SQL Saturday?

Nope!  SQL Saturday welcomes people of all technical levels, even if you don’t know anything about databases.  Some events even include a beginner track that offer introductory topics for SQL and database newbies.

What topics are presented?

It varies, depending on the event.  Different events can have different subject tracks.  Also, because these events have different speakers, presentation topics vary as well.  Most topics revolve around SQL Server, but application, administrative, and professional development topics are offered as well.

How much do SQL Saturday speakers and staff get paid?

Zero.  Nada.  Zilch.  SQL Saturday is an all-volunteer event.  When I apply to speak at SQL Saturday events, I do so knowing that I’ll do this on my own dime.  Distance from home, transportation costs, lodging, food, and schedules all factor into my planning whenever I apply to speak at a SQL Saturday.

How should I dress for a SQL Saturday?

SQL Saturday tends to be a casual event.  I’ve worn t-shirts, jeans, summer shorts, sandals, Hawaiian shirts, baseball jerseys, and baseball caps to these events (not necessarily all at the same time).  Heck, I even remember a SQL Saturday where Grant Fritchey wore a kilt.  (No, I have no idea if he wore it in the “traditional” Scottish style, and I didn’t ask.)

I’ve often seen job seekers attend SQL Saturday dressed in full suits.  While suits can be worn at these events, be advised that you will likely stick out like a sore thumb.  Additionally, note that SQL Saturday is an all-day event, and a suit might not be comfortable for an entire day, especially if it takes place in the middle of the summer!

My advice: dress comfortably, and however you think is appropriate.  If you feel a need to dress up to impress potential employers, I would recommend slacks and a decent shirt (if you’re a guy, that is; I’ll admit that I don’t know what the female equivalent would be).  A tie and jacket are optional.  You don’t need a full suit.

I want to be a SQL Saturday speaker.  How can I get started?

You can start by reading my previous article that talks about how I got into it.  Additionally, I have a presentation that talks about becoming a SQL Saturday speaker (this is a brand new presentation that will make its debut at SQL Saturday #716, New York City!).  There are also a number of other presentations about becoming a speaker as well; go check them out!

I have more questions.  How can I get them answered?

Did I not answer your question?  For starters, you can leave me a comment, and I will answer your question as best as I can!

I also recommend SQL Saturday’s website.

There are also a number of articles that discuss what to expect at SQL Saturday.  I highly recommend Ed’s article, for starters.

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