Choosing which #SQLSaturday to submit

I saw an interesting (and amusing) tweet from Matt Cushing about applying to three SQL Saturdays in February and questioning his own sanity. Matt, I could’ve told you that you’re insane! 😉

All kidding aside, it did get me thinking: how do I select the SQL Saturdays to which I apply to speak? If you’re a new speaker, this might be a question that you’re considering.

For those of you who may be new to my ‘blog, I’m a regular SQL Saturday speaker. I’ve been speaking at SQL Saturday since 2015. I’ve written before about what to expect at a SQL Saturday, and I’ve even written about some of my experiences traveling to SQL Saturday. So I figured I’d write a primer as to what I consider when selecting where to submit my presentations.

Before I do, however, I should lay out a disclosure. I present at SQL Saturday completely on my own. And by this, I mean on my own time and on my own dime. I don’t do this for pay, and my employer does not dictate what events I attend or where I speak. I do this because I love doing it (and it doesn’t look bad on a resume, either). All schedules are my own schedules, and all expenses come out of my own pocket. My employer does not reimburse me for my trips (some speakers have their companies pay for their trips, but I do not have that luxury). This plays a huge factor into my planning, as you’ll read about below.

Will it break the bank?

Since I mention that I do this on my own dime, I’ll start there.

Cost is a huge factor whenever I consider where to submit. Traveling gets expensive (and traveling also incurs other issues, which I’ll talk about in a minute). The easier it is for me to get to an event, the cheaper it is for me to get there. I apply to nearly all SQL Saturday events that are within easy (about a few hours) driving (or, for NYC, commuting) distance from my home in Troy, NY. I have yet to apply to an event (other than PASS Summit) where I have to fly. There is good reason for that. Flying is neither cheap, nor convenient.

Of course, I apply to speak at Albany every year. It takes me all of twenty minutes to drive from my home to the UAlbany campus, where the event is held. It’s my hometown event, and it’s sponsored by my local user group, of which I’m a member. I am not paying for a hotel, and my trip expenses are no more than my normal commute to work. Other than nominal expenses, I pay nearly nothing to attend this event.

I attend New York City pretty much every year, regardless of whether I’m speaking or not. It’s an easy trip — doable in a day, in fact. Amtrak goes directly from Albany right into midtown Manhattan, making it a very easy trip. If I do need to stay overnight, my siblings live in the City, so I have a place to stay. Or, I might splurge a little for a hotel. New York isn’t the cheapest city to visit, but if you look hard enough, deals can be had.

Boston — straight shot down I-90 for me, roughly a three-hour drive. And while Boston area hotels aren’t necessarily cheap, I can find lodging that won’t break the bank.

I did apply to speak at Chicago this coming year. I created a theoretical itinerary and realized that I could make it work. If I’m accepted, it would represent my first SQL Saturday where it wasn’t feasible for me to drive there.

There are a number of other examples, but at this point, you can see where I’m going with it. Finances will often dictate whether or not I can attend an event. However, finances alone aren’t the only factor. There are other things I need to consider, such as…

How easy is it for me to get there?

One event that I’ve never attended — and would like to — is Cleveland. With its relative proximity to New York State, you’d think that Cleveland would be an easy one for me to attend.

It isn’t.

For starters, Cleveland, for me, is roughly an eight-hour drive… in good weather. Now consider: Cleveland holds their event in February. Imagine trying to make that drive in unpredictable, snowy, winter weather. Maybe I could get lucky and get good weather on a drive out that way, but it’s a crapshoot and not guaranteed.

Okay. Amtrak goes to Cleveland. How about hopping the train?

The Lake Shore Limited, which travels between Boston/NYC and Chicago, makes a stop in Cleveland. Is it a direct line from Albany? Yes. Is it convenient…?

That would be a big no. The train arrives in Cleveland at 3:30 AM. As for the return trip, it departs at 5:50 AM. Either way, it would make for a very inconvenient itinerary.

That pretty much leaves flying. In years past, this would also not have been an option. Flights from ALB to CLE have been expensive and inconvenient. Additionally, there are no direct flights between the two cities. I did look up a theoretical flight for SQL Saturday #930 and found a roundtrip flight as low as $218. I’d have to fly through Detroit to do it.

Maybe I could’ve applied to speak in Cleveland and flown out. But I didn’t want to deal with the hassle.

One of these years, I might be able to make Cleveland work. That day hasn’t yet arrived.

Is the travel convenience (or inconvenience, as the case may be) worth it for a short weekend trip? That’s up to you to decide, but it is another major factor that I consider when I think about submitting to an event.

Does it fit my schedule?

Another event that has interested me is Pittsburgh. I spoke at Pittsburgh in 2016, and it was an enjoyable event; in fact, I’ve been wanting to return ever since. It’s a long drive for me, about eight hours. At the time, it was the farthest that I’d ever traveled for a SQL Saturday (that has since been surpassed by Virginia Beach).

I decided that eight hours is a long time to spend in a car, so I’d prefer not to drive there. It turns out that I can get Amtrak to Pittsburgh, and the schedule works for me. On top of that, I have a friend who lives there, so I’d probably have a place to crash. Pittsburgh is a long trip for me, but it’s one that I can make work.

So why haven’t I been back? Mostly, it’s been because of scheduling issues. One year, I withdrew from Pittsburgh because it was separated by only a week from another SQL Saturday where I was accepted to speak, and I decided that traveling on back-to-back weekends was a bit much. This past year, I’d fully intended to apply… and New York scheduled theirs for the same day. Other years, I’ve had a number of things come up on my calendar that have interfered with the event.

I’ve withdrawn from or didn’t submit to other events because of schedule conflicts. As much as I’d like to submit to every event that’s within a couple of hours from me, it doesn’t always work out.

If I was able, I’d apply to as many SQL Saturday events as possible. However, there’s also something to be said about work/life balance… and maintaining your own sanity.

Summary

So if you’re a road warrior, you like to keep a busy schedule, have deep pockets, or have an employer who will fund your trips, a lot of these issues might not affect you. But for other SQL Saturday speakers (like me), we do this on our own time and our own dime. These are the things I consider whenever I decide whether or not to apply to speak at a SQL Saturday. Whether or not you can handle the issues that come with getting to an event is up to you.

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