What I found fascinating, however, was the interaction between the two gentlemen. Both were from Long Island. They traded contact information, and started discussing the idea of creating a SQL user group around there.
It brought to mind a memory from eight years earlier. It was in 2010. I was traveling down to New York for my very first SQL Saturday. I had exchanged messages with someone on a SQLServerCentral.com forum about the conference; he was also coming from the Albany area, and was attending the same conference. We met on the train, we talked, and we discussed the idea of creating a user group in the Albany area.
The gentleman was Dan Bowlin. Our forum conversation from eight years ago is still on SSC, and can be found here. We became friends, and we still remain friends to this day (although Dan no longer lives in the Albany area; he took a job down in Connecticut a couple of years ago). The group we ended up founding is now CASSUG (Capital Area SQL Server User Group). We didn’t know what we were getting into with our initial foray into this endavor, but CASSUG now has a few hundred members, holds meetings every month, and hosts its own SQL Saturday (our next one is coming up in July). From a simple beginning, a user group was born!
This year was my 10th anniversary of working for Redgate. The actual date was a bit ago, but they held off my celebration until I came over. These are nice at Redgate, better than at some companies where I’ve seen someone in management just give a mention during a company meeting and a token gift. At Redgate we get a really nice gift, which was a Garmin Forerunner 645 for me.
At Redgate, the CEO comes around and does a 5-10 minute speech on the person, with some of his thoughts and memories, and also shares some stories that others in the company have sent in. There is usually a few embarrassing notes, and in my case, I got this picture, which is likely one that everyone thought would generate the most red from me. It didn’t, though I don’t think there are any really embarrassing pictures or video for…
I lost my job! Now what?!? This is my career/job hunt presentation, and it’s becoming one of my best-sellers. In this talk, I provide tips and advice for surviving a jobless situation. Anyone who is looking for new employment is encouraged to attend!
“I can’t wait to get on the road again”
— Willie Nelson
For this article, I decided that I would take you on the road with me. If you’re interested in speaking at a SQL Saturday away from home, I figured that you’d like a taste of what it’s like to travel to an out-of-town SQL Saturday.
Of course, people travel to these events in different ways, so everyone’s traveling experience will be different. Some people fly to these conferences. For events in New York City, I usually take Amtrak. People will travel using the means that makes the most sense to them, and especially in a way that’s cost-effective (as I mentioned in a previous article, we speakers mostly make these trips on our own dime). Most SQL Saturdays where I apply are generally within a somewhat reasonable driving distance for me. As of this article, my longest distance traveled to a SQL Saturday is Pittsburgh, which was an eight-hour (one way) drive for me.
So, I decided to document my trip to SQL Saturday #714, Philadelphia. For this trip, I’m driving. It’s roughly a four hour drive from my home in Troy, NY to southeast Pennsylvania. Most of the trip is on interstate highways and through large metropolitan areas (I’ll be skirting the New York metro area on this drive), so the drive won’t seem as tedious as it is on a long stretch of rural highway.
So off we go!
How early I make travel arrangements depends on what SQL Saturday I apply to speak. If it’s an event where I’m likely not to be chosen, I’ll usually wait to see if I’m picked before I start making travel plans, although there are some exceptions. If the event is one where I think I might have a reasonable chance of being chosen, or if it’s one where I can cancel plans if I’m not picked, I’ll make plans as soon as I possibly can.
I’m traveling solo for the Philadelphia trip. Once in a while, my wife accompanies me on SQL Saturday trips; she knows that she has an open invitation to come along for the ride. Alas, work and other commitments kept her from doing this trip, so she elected to stay home.
For lodging arrangements, I contacted my friend, Jerry, who lives about forty-five minutes from the event site — not necessarily right down the road, but close enough to make it convenient. Jerry is an old college buddy and fraternity brother; we both attended Syracuse University, and we were in the same Kappa Kappa Psi pledge class. This is the third consecutive year that I’ve been selected to speak at Philadelphia SQL Saturday, and the third straight year I’ve stayed overnight with Jerry and his family. I’ve joked with Jerry about making this an annual thing; when I left his house last year, I remember telling him, “I’ll see you next year.” I guess I wasn’t kidding!
I Google-mapped directions to both Jerry’s house and the event site in Blue Bell, PA. When I spoke to Jerry, he informed me that he would be returning from a trip on the same day that I would be driving down. It was possible that Jerry’s wife would be at home to greet me when I arrived, but even that was uncertain, given Jerry’s travel schedule. So I made sure that I mapped directions to go directly to the speaker’s dinner on Friday night.
A few days before the event, I finally got a location for the speaker’s dinner (until that point, it was listed as “TBD”). Once I had that last piece of the travel puzzle, I was able to finalize my plans.
Friday, April 20 — heading down to Philly
I decided to take the day off from work on Friday — not just to prepare for my trip and to drive down, but with my schedule the way it’s been for the past several weeks, I decided I could use the mental break. It felt good to sleep in this morning.
I took a 45 minute walk in the morning; I’ve been trying to get into the habit of doing so each day, especially lately when I haven’t had time to get to CrossFit. After a quick shower, I left my house around 12:45, got myself lunch at Panera, and got on the road around 1:45.
Along with a couple of rest stops, I made it to the speaker’s dinner a little after 6:00. It generally wasn’t a bad drive; the worst traffic was the stop-and-go traffic on US-202 in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. I had thoughts about getting gas on Route 202 before I crossed into Pennsylvania; gas prices in New Jersey tend to be cheaper. Unfortunately, almost all the gas stations I passed were on the other side of the highway. (Those of you who’ve dealt with New Jersey highways know what I mean when I say how much of a pain it is to get to something on the other side of the highway.) I wasn’t in any danger of running out of gas, so I figured I could wait. Unfortunately, as I would find out later that night, I probably should have stopped.
Many SQL Saturdays have a speaker’s dinner on Friday night before the event. It’s a great opportunity to say hi to fellow speakers, reconnect with friends you don’t see very often, and maybe even make new ones. Today’s dinner was held at an Indian restaurant in Norristown, PA, a few miles from the event site. I saw several familiar faces when I arrived, including (among others) Greg Moore, Chris Bell, Gigi Bell, Grant Fritchey, Eugene Meidinger, Sebastian Meine, Lisa Margerum, and John Miner, among others. (I hope I didn’t miss anyone there!) Gigi, who had met my wife the year before, asked where she was, and said that she forgave her for not coming on this trip. The food was very good; I went back up for several extra helpings of the Tandoori chicken.
I left the dinner around 8:30, but not before picking up my ID lanyard and speaker’s gift.
After I left, the first thing I wanted to do was put gas in my car. This was when I started to regret my decision not to get gas in New Jersey; gas prices around this area were 20 to 30 cents per gallon higher here than it was in Jersey.
I got to Jerry’s house around 9. I was promptly greeted by their dog, Daisy (for some reason, I keep wanting to refer to her as Sadie). I spent about an hour or so hanging out with his family in the family room, and decided to go to bed at the same time Jerry put his son to bed.
Something I ate definitely didn’t agree with me this night; I was feeling somewhat queasy when I went to bed. I fell asleep quickly, hoping that whatever it was that made me feel ill would clear up in my sleep. Tomorrow’s going to be a long day.
Saturday, April 21 — SQL Saturday
My alarm woke me up at 6 am. I took a quick shower, dressed, and went down to the kitchen where Jerry had coffee waiting for me. I didn’t bother with breakfast; I figured there was going to be plenty of bagels and coffee at the event. And as I correctly guessed, whatever was bothering me when I went to bed cleared itself up by the morning. I left Jerry’s house a little after 7:30, and made it to the SQL Saturday location a little after 8:00.
As with most SQL Saturday conferences, signs were out to direct people to the proper site.
SQL Saturday events usually have a speaker’s room where speakers can park themselves and their things; it’s basically a home base for presenters. I put my things in the speaker’s room and went out to the main reception area, where the vendors had their tables.
SQL Saturday is funded by sponsors, who usually set up booths at the conferences and include swag and raffle prizes to be given away at the end of the day. Attendees enter raffles by dropping tickets (that come with their registration packages) at each vendor’s table. Vendors will raffle off a variety of items, including software licenses, books, Xbox game systems, drones, tablet computers, Bluetooth speakers and headphones, and so on. Of course, the deal is that when you enter these raffles, you give vendors the opportunity to contact you via email.
And number three, Greg is a friend, and I like to heckle him! 🙂
(I said this to Greg as I walked in the room. His response: “I know where you live! Better, I know your wife!”)
Greg, as always, gave a very good presentation. He mentioned a number of points that didn’t occur to me.
At 11:40, my own session started. I didn’t count, but I’ll guess-timate that there were about seven or eight people in my session. There was plenty of discussion and a few questions, which is exactly what I want in my presentations. Well, I would’ve liked more questions, but at least it was a receptive audience. I don’t want an audience that isn’t receptive; I’ve had that happen before.
I grabbed lunch after my session; barbecue catered by a place called Mission BBQ. Very tasty!
A month earlier, I was talking to Tracy Boggiano at Rochester SQL Saturday. She told me that she had taken a number of SQL Saturday trips (a lot more than me!), and was telling me how she had gained weight from all those trips. Up to this point this weekend, I could definitely see why.
I also saw that massage therapy students were giving free chair massages. They said they would be there until 4:00. I told myself to get one after lunch.
During the lunch break, Taiob came up to me and asked me if I would be interested in speaking for his user group out in the Boston area. It would most likely be a date next year. Just another example of my efforts paying off! I told Taiob that yes, I was interested. He said he would contact me. He also promised to pick a month where we were unlikely to have snow on the ground!
Sarah Hutchins, a recruiter from Harrisburg, PA, was doing a presentation called “How to Ace Your Job Interview.” Because it was related to my presentation that morning, I made it a point to sit in. It was her very first SQL Saturday presentation, and I thought, for her first one, it went very well. It wasn’t perfect — there were things she could have done better — but I think (and hope) she was pleased with her effort.
James Serra sat next to me during the presentation. He commented how it seemed that we saw each other at every SQL Saturday, and joked that all of we speakers should just get a bus and take it from conference to conference together! Indeed, I regularly see a lot of these speakers I mentioned earlier in this article. It does seem like we travel from event to event!
Sarah’s session went long; it was a little past 3:30 by the time we got out. I decided to sit out the last round of sessions; by that time, my brain was cooked, and I could use some downtime. I went to the speaker’s room to relax a bit.
It was at that moment that I realized that I’d forgotten about the chair massages. By then, it was 3:45. I had fifteen minutes to get one! I managed to get it in, and it was well worth it!
Sessions started wrapping up around 4:30; around that time, everyone started gathering around the reception area. The vendor raffles began. Gigi Bell won a set of Bluetooth headphones.
I got back to Jerry’s house around 6:00. We hung out for a little while; I worked on this article a bit, and watched his son play Xbox games in the family room. I told his kids that I wanted to thank them for letting me crash there for the weekend by taking them out to dinner, and they could pick the place. I took Jerry, his wife Debbie, and their kids to a T.G.I. Fridays for dinner, and went to Rita’s to get dessert.
The rest of the evening was quiet and uneventful. Jerry and I chatted in his kitchen, while we watched his son play more Xbox in the family room. I said my goodbyes to his wife and daughter; with my early morning departure time, I didn’t expect to see either of them the next morning.
Sunday, April 22 — heading home
I told Jerry that I was hoping to be on the road by 7 am; I had a mid-afternoon commitment, and needed to get home as soon as I could. As it turned out, I didn’t get out of bed until 7:30. It wasn’t a huge deal; it would take me four hours to drive back to Troy. I figured that if I could be on the road before 9 am, I would be in good shape.
I left his house around 8:30. On my way out, I said to Jerry, “I’ll see you next year!” I fully intended to apply to SQL Saturday Philadelphia again the following year, and assuming I was selected (which might be a safe bet, since I’ve gone three straight years), I’d likely be calling upon Jerry to ask if I could utilize his guest room once again.
I took a slightly different route home, since I went directly to the speaker’s dinner on Friday night, rather than stop at Jerry’s house first. Really, the only difference was that I drove up to Allentown and picked up I-78 to I-287, instead of taking US-202 like I did on my drive down.
I took a break around 10:45 at the Sloatsburg rest stop on the NY Thruway. As I get older, I’ve noticed that I can’t really drive longer than a couple of hours at a time. I took about 45 minutes to use the facilities, stretch my legs, grab a cup of coffee and a quick bite to eat, before continuing my trek back home.
After about four hours of driving (and not including my rest stop), I pulled into my driveway a little before 1:30 pm. My trip odometer said that I had driven 541.7 miles on this trip since Friday afternoon.
And that ended yet another SQL Saturday on the road for me. I was pretty exhausted by the time I got home, but nevertheless, I felt pretty good about notching yet another satisfying SQL Saturday trip on my list!
I hope you enjoyed taking this excursion with me! My next scheduled SQL Saturday is #716 in New York City next month (this time, I’m taking Amtrak, rather than driving). Hopefully, this gave you a taste of what it’s like to travel to a conference, and further encourage prospective speakers to go outside of their boundaries.
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.
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?