It’s three months away, and I’m counting the days.
My prep work for my very first PASS Summit continues. I’m still waiting to hear as to whether or not my PowerPoint slides are accepted and good to go, or if I need to make any tweaks to them. I’m waiting to announce my presentation schedule (per PASS rules, I’m not allowed to announce it until they do). (Edit: the schedule has been released! I’m speaking on Friday, November 8 at 8 am PST!) There has been plenty of chatter on Twitter (which I’ll get to in a little bit) in regards to the approaching event.
I did have one setback, which didn’t make me happy. I had originally scheduled my flight home for the morning on Saturday, November 9 (which reminds me — travel tip — I discovered that it was actually cheaper for me to buy two one-way tickets, not one round-trip ticket). Per the advice of nearly everyone who’s been to PASS Summit before me (especially Matt Cushing), I was told that I should stay through Friday night and book my flight home for Saturday. I took that advice to heart, and booked a flight back to the East Coast for Saturday morning.
Unfortunately for me, American had other ideas. My flight, which was originally supposed to be 8 am on Saturday, was switched to 10 pm on Friday. To put it mildly, that did NOT make me happy. I fired back to American with a very angry email — my wife practically had to force me to NOT use any — let’s just say — colorful language in my message. I looked into changing my flight. The available options fell into one of two categories: either the schedule didn’t work for me, or the airfare was absolutely ridiculous. There was no in-between. (And if that wasn’t enough, I have something going on that Monday, which precludes me needing to be home at a reasonable time.) So, for the moment, it appears the best option is for me to keep the flight to which I’ve been switched.
It is exactly for reasons like this why I’ve come to hate flying. It is also one of the biggest reasons why I prefer taking Amtrak. I seriously considered it for this trip, but rejected it because of schedule constraints. I do love traveling by train, and believe me, I would’ve enjoyed taking 3-4 days to take a train across the country, but that’s a luxury that I just don’t have for this trip. (I’ve toyed with the idea of taking the train cross-country as a vacation idea — i.e. I wouldn’t be taking the train to get to a vacation. I’d be taking the train as the vacation! Maybe someday…)
And in addition, American Airlines has been dropped to my list of “airlines of last resort” (if I ever bother flying with them again at all).
Anyway, as I mentioned above, Twitter has been very active in regard to PASS Summit. I reluctantly joined Twitter last month. I didn’t want to join, but it’s the medium of choice for just about everyone involved with PASS, and my acceptance as a PASS Summit speaker pretty much forced my hand.
I posted my frustration at American Airlines on Twitter, and as a first-time PASS Summit attendee, asked #SQLFamily for their advice. A number of people told me that it wouldn’t be a big deal. Sea-Tac Airport would likely be busy on Friday night (which was one of the big reasons why I booked Saturday in the first place), but multiple people, including Matt Cushing and Grant Fritchey, told me that PASS generally doesn’t schedule events for Friday night. Mostly, what I’d miss is the opportunity to get together with #SQLFamily friends. And therein lies the rub.
The flight switch also affects other plans. I sent a message to my AirBnB host saying that my stay might end up being one night shorter than I planned. I want to wait a while before making that determination — for all I know, American might switch it back to Saturday. Dear airline industry: it’s not like we travelers have plans or anything like that. I swear that some of the things they pull are downright criminal. I’ll say it again: there’s a reason why I prefer Amtrak.
In any case, my plans continue to roll along. It should be fun! November will arrive before I know it.
Ever buy something online, then become inundated by emails from that vendor? Of course you do.
I’ve attended numerous out-of-town events, mainly SQL Saturdays, and every once in a while, a user group (I spoke at one earlier this year). Of course, once I was subscribed to their mailing lists, I’d start getting email from them.
I used to unsubscribe from some of these lists (why, for example, should I maintain a mailing for the Pittsburgh user group when it’s an eight-hour drive away). But it occurred to me not long ago that maintaining these mailings might be a good idea (in fact, I might even re-subscribe to some of these mailing lists).
You receive news about activities in that area. Of all SQL Saturdays I’ve attended, I’ve probably attended New York City‘s the most, going all the way back to 2010 (long before I became a speaker). I travel to NYC fairly often (well okay, maybe more like once in a while — not as often as I used to, but still often enough to know my way around), so events in the City (as we upstate New Yorkers refer to it) tend to interest me. Maintaining contact with the NYC user group (and others) provides me with information regarding activities in the area.
It’s a form of networking. Staying connected with non-local user groups expands your reach. You’ll get news and announcements from the remote group, and in turn, maintain contacts with people involved with it.
You can get an idea about how other groups operate. I’m heavily involved with my local user group, so I have a pretty good idea as to its inner workings. Seeing what other groups do gives us ideas that we might like to implement within our own group.
Are you relocating? If you’re looking for opportunities beyond your area, a user group in your location of interest may be a good place to start. You can connect with people who know the area, and you can get information regarding job opportunities, where to live, and so on.
If you happen to be in the neighborhood… If you’re visiting a particular location, and the user group local to that area is meeting while you’re there, why not attend? You’ll get all the benefits that I listed above (and maybe some others that didn’t occur to me). If you’re a speaker, maybe they’ll even schedule you to speak while you’re in town.
While you might not be able to attend events for a user group that is not geographically local to you, it doesn’t necessarily preclude being involved with them. Just because a user group is not nearby doesn’t mean you can’t get involved with it.
Are you traveling to speak at your first SQL Saturday? Congratulations, again! You’re nervous, you say? That’s certainly understandable. Traveling for the first time to speak someplace you’ve never been can be daunting, but as I wrote previously, you need to step out of your comfort zone to get ahead.
I remember the first time I traveled to speak at SQL Saturday: Providence, RI in 2015. It was only the second time I’d ever spoken at a SQL Saturday; the first was within the friendly confines of my home town earlier that summer. This one was a little more intimidating for me; it was my first SQL Saturday (either speaking or attending) outside of New York state, I was in an unfamiliar town, and I was alone (I only knew one other person at this particular event). I was confident in my own abilities, but nevertheless, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit nervous. If you were speaking at your first out-of-town event, I’m sure you would be, too.
Well, since I started speaking at SQL Saturday almost four years ago, as of this article, I’ve since spoken at nineteen (and counting) SQL Saturday events in ten different cities in six states (seven, if you include DC*). I think I can safely claim that I am now a seasoned veteran when it comes to speaking at out-of-town SQL Saturday events (yes, several people have been to more than me, but I digress). And I’ve picked up some experience along the way. Here are some things I’ve learned during my travels as a SQL Saturday speaker.
(*Okay, DC SQL Saturday was technically in Chevy Chase, MD. However, DC was literally across the street. See for yourself!)
Now that your appetite (hopefully) is whetted, here are a few things to expect when you’re traveling to speak at SQL Saturday.
You’re doing this on your dime. Keep in mind that SQL Saturday is an all-volunteer event — and that includes you, the speaker. The costs for transportation, lodging, and food are all coming out of your pocket. It’s possible that you might be able to have your employer foot the bill for your trip — for example, if your employer is a sponsor, it’s possible that they could foot your bill as a duly-designated representative of the company.
Unfortunately, not every speaker has this option. For those of us who don’t…
AirBnB is a wonderful thing. Often, a hotel costs more than I want to pay. If you’re only looking for a place to lay your head and aren’t picky about a front desk, room service, or a concierge, I’ve often found rooms on AirBnB for a fraction of the price of a hotel.
And of course, if you want to stay in a hotel, it pays to shop around.
I’ve also attended a number of SQL Saturdays in cities where friends live. I’ve often asked them if I could crash in their guest room, or even their living room couch. For SQL Saturday in Philadelphia, for example, I have a college friend who lives near the event site, and I’ve stayed with him and his family every time I’ve attended this event. I’ve done this often enough that I no longer need to use my GPS to find his house.
How are you getting there? So far, I’ve traveled to all out-of-town SQL Saturdays either by driving or taking the train. I have yet to attend an event that requires me to fly there. (I did set a goal this year of speaking at an event where it isn’t feasible for me to drive. I’m hoping that that event is PASS Summit. We’ll see!)
Why don’t I fly to these events? Well, partially, it’s because I don’t like the hassles that come with flying. But as for my primary reason, go back and read the above paragraph about doing this on my own dime.
Make it an experience! My wife has an open invitation to travel with me to these events. She doesn’t come to all of them, but when she does come with me, we’ll often make an experience out of it. When I was chosen to speak at Virginia Beach, knowing that there’s a lot of touristy-type things to do in the area, I told her, “let’s take a few extra days and make a vacation out of it!” We went to Colonial Williamsburg and went to the beach, and we had a great time!
Network, network, network! Nearly four years ago, I traveled to Providence knowling almost no one there. Since then, I see many other SQL Saturday speakers fairly regularly, and I’ve become good friends with many of them. Even to this day, I continually make new network connections whenever I attend these events. Take advantage of the networking contacts you make, and bring business cards if you have them!
Above all, have fun! There’s a reason why I keep applying to speak at SQL Saturday. I could write more about the networking contacts, the data training, and the boost to my resume. But above all, I love doing these events. I genuinely enjoy attending SQL Saturday! I would attend more if my schedule and my budget (and my wife!) allowed it, but I try to attend as many as I can.
So if you’re looking to present at SQL Saturday events, go ahead and apply to a location that looks interesting to you. Hopefully, I’ll see you at one sometime soon!
As is the case with most SQL Saturday events, I had a chance to network and connect with a number of people. Most notably, I had the opportunity to meet Andy Leonard, who has written a number of books, writes frequently for SQLServerCentral, and is considered a rock star among SQL circles. I told him about my writing exploits, and he hooked me up with the editor at Apress publishing. Once I’ve had a chance to get everything settled and back into the normal routine after nearly a week away, I’ll have a conversation with him. Could a book be in my future? I’ve always dreamed about having my name on a book. We’ll see!
My own presentation went well, although I still think it could be better. This was the first time I’d given this presentation since I revamped my slides. I’ll have to see what feedback I received and use it to make the presentation even better.
Tomorrow I fly away again. Next week is our first 2019 SQL in the City Summit and I need a couple days to adjust to the time and prep, hence the trip starting tomorrow to get to the UK by Sunday. I’ll ensure that I say good bye to my wife and kids, and give them hugs before I go. I’ve done this dozens of times, and things always work out well. I’ll be back Wednesday and more hugs will ensue.
I don’t usually worry about travel, or really any major issues affecting my family. They do happen, and we’ve had our share of ER visits because of something, but I don’t worry about the potential issues. I do, however, appreciate every day I get with family as I have seen tragedy befall others. I have had too many friends die in their 40s to not respect the wonderful life…
Things are getting busy. My SQL Saturday presentation efforts are paying off. It seems like I have a lot of stuff coming up! So for those of you who are having trouble keeping my schedule straight (like I am), here’s what I have so far.
There are some other events for which presentation applications are not yet live, but once they are, I intend to submit to them. They include:
October 5: SQL Saturday Pittsburgh
November 5-8: I intend to apply to speak at PASS Summit, Seattle! PASS Summit has been described as “the Super Bowl of SQL Saturdays,” so getting picked to speak here would be a big deal. We’ll see what happens!
So that’s how my schedule is shaping up so far! Of course, as the year progresses, this schedule is subject to change.
“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.