#PASSDataCommunitySummit — the last days, and the journey home

Well, on Friday evening, I watched workers take down booths and banners from the Seattle Convention Center, as PASS Data Community Summit 2022 came to an end. The circus had ended, and the tents were coming down.

I flew home Saturday afternoon/evening/night, so I’ve actually been home for a few days (I needed to recover from my trip, and life happens — what can I tell you?), so I’m writing this a few days later than I’d like. Nevertheless, it was fun and exciting, and since I’ve written about the first couple of days of Summit, it’s only fair that I wind it up!

Let me tell you about what happened since I last wrote. I mentioned that I was going to sit in on Kris Gruttemeyer‘s session about being on-call and work-life balance. Quite honestly, I thought his session was the best one that I saw all week. He focused on on-call personnel — as he put it, “being on call sucks. How do we make it suck less?” But in my opinion, his session was for more than people who were on-call. It applied to anyone to has been stressed about their job situation — which means a lot of us, myself included. I think his session is one that can benefit all of us — even those of you who are not technical — so when recordings of the sessions become available, I’ll make sure that I link to it.

I also moderated a session as well. This year’s Summit was actually a hybrid event — that is, it was both online and in-person. A number of sessions were not only being presented live, they were also live-streamed as well, and they required moderators to coordinate questions with the speaker. (Sessions that were not live-streamed did not require a moderator.) So I got to field questions from both online and the live audience, and I also passed along time warnings (per the speaker’s request) as to how much longer he had to speak. It was an interesting experience, and if you ever want to experience a presentation from another angle, it’s one I suggest that people do at least once!

I mentioned two other presentations from the day before. I attended Eugene Meidinger‘s session on dealing with depression. You could tell that this was a deeply personal presentation for Eugene, and I appreciate him presenting it. There is a stigma attached to mental health, yet it’s something that we all have to deal with. I’m of the opinion that all of us should have a mental health primary care provider with whom we should meet regularly, but that’s another conversation for another time.

I also sat in on a session on how to speak to developers. As a technical writer, it was something that immediately caught my eye, but it wasn’t really what I expected. A lot of his talk showed SQL code and explained, “this is what developers expect” or something to that effect. I was hoping to hear more about techniques when DBAs communicate with developers, but that wasn’t what I got, and I’ll admit that I was a little disappointed with the presentation.

My favorite part of Summit is reconnecting with #SQLFamily! I started speaking at SQL Saturday in 2015, and since then, I’ve met a lot of awesome people, many of whom have become some of my closest friends! I even made a few new friends while I was there. When I left, I had a few new contacts on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook that I didn’t previously have! The highlights of the last day included getting together for drinks after the event, and having dinner with a large group of people at the Crab Pot! A good time was had by all!

I also forgot to mention a special moment on Thursday night. My cousin and her husband live in Seattle as well, and I made it a point to get together with them. We went for dinner at a place by Salmon Bay. I haven’t seen them in years, and it was great to reconnect with them as well.

I flew home on Saturday afternoon, and arrived back in Albany some time after midnight. After five days, four nights, and an awesome Summit, I was home again.

They said the numbers were down this year; where the 2019 Summit had something like five-thousand attendees, this year’s event had about fifteen-hundred in-person. (I have no idea how many people signed in online.) But in spite of the lower numbers, there was a feeling there that you don’t — and can’t — get from an online event. There’s something about being able to shake someone’s hand, give someone a hug, or having dinner or drinks with friends in-person that just doesn’t happen when you’re online.

I love attending events such as SQL and Data Saturday, but there’s something special about PASS Summit. I already can’t wait to go to the next one!

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#PASSDataCommunitySummit — day 2 debrief, and thoughts about the last day

It’s Friday, and it’s the last day of the Summit! This has been an amazing week! I always enjoy attending events like this, and PASS Summit is no different. It has been a great week of seeing old friends, making new ones, and attending some great sessions!

I will be attending a couple more sessions today. I promised Kris Gruttemeyer that I would attend his session this morning. I had a drink with him the other night, he told me about his session, and it sounded really interesting! I’m looking forward to seeing it! If you’re stressed out about the pressures of being on-call, or just stressed out in general, this sounds like a really good session!

I’ve also been volunteered to moderate a session as well, so I’ll have to make sure that I’m there for that! We’ll see how it goes!

I also witnessed something amazing yesterday. While I was sitting in the speaker’s lounge (writing yesterday’s ‘blog article, in fact), Ed Pollack came into the room, saying there was a room full of about a hundred people and no one to give the presentation. Apparently the presenter was a no-show. (I won’t name the presenter in question, but we all hope he is okay, and it was nothing more than “maybe he overslept.”) John Miner, who was in the room as well, said “I know that topic. I can do the presentation.” He packed up his stuff, went to the room, and gave the presentation — all without any notice! As far as I’m concerned, John gets the superhero of the day award!

Most of the day was uneventful. I hung out with #SQLFamily, and attended a couple of afternoon sessions. (I’d talk about the sessions some more, but I’m short of time as I write this.) The highlight of my night is that I got together for dinner with my cousin, who lives in Seattle, and her husband! I have not seen them in years, and it was great to be able to get together with them and reconnect!

One of the things that strikes me about PASS Summit is how this event is international, not just national. I have heard many British and Australian accents. I have met many of those people, along with people from Canada. At Tuesday’s first-timers’ networking event, we had at least two (it might have been three) people at our table who were from Canada. I enjoy meeting all these people from all over the world, and it adds to an already-great experience!

At this time, I’m looking at the clock, and as much as I’d like to write more, I promised Kris that I’d sit in on his session, so I should probably try to go and find his room. I’ll try to write more later when I have a chance. (On the other hand, I fly back home tomorrow morning, so it’s also possible that this might be my last ‘blog article before the end of the Summit.) Hopefully, you’ll hear from me again before I leave Seattle, but if I don’t, I’ll write more when I’m back home!

#PASSDataCommunitySummit — day 1 debrief, and what I look forward to for day 2

Greetings from Summit day 2! This morning, I’m writing from the speaker’s lounge in the Seattle Convention Center, where a number of speakers (myself included) are busy looking at their laptops. I’m not sure what the others are doing — working on their presentations, maybe? — but I know that I’m here writing in my ‘blog and enjoying a few refreshments that are provided for the speakers who partake this room and its resources.

It probably makes sense for me to talk about what went on yesterday. My session was scheduled for the very first time slot of the three days of general sessions — and, unfortunately for me, that turned out to be problematic.

I did my presentation about networking, which happens to be one of my favorite presentations to do. I enjoy giving it, I get my audience involved (there is an opportunity for my audience to do some networking themselves), and I get the impression that my attendees enjoy it as well. A big deal has been made about networking for this event — indeed, I was told that about 40% of the attendees were first-time participants, so I was looking forward to a good turnout for my presentation.

It turned out to be a disappointment. Only five people showed up for my presentation.

I had two things working against me. First, I understand that yesterday’s keynote ran over time. Since my session was at 9:30 (and I intentionally waited five extra minutes, until 9:35, to start to allow stragglers to come in), it likely interfered with my (and others’) session. Second, my room was located in a relatively-new section of the convention center, located right across the street from the main convention center, and the room was a little difficult to find.

Now, let me be clear. It isn’t so much the low turnout in and of itself that disappointed me. I’ve presented to smaller audiences before (the smallest audience I had was two people — heck, I one had a session where nobody showed up). I couldn’t care less about stroking my ego. No, I was more disappointed in the fact that, at an event where networking has been emphasized all throughout up to this point, only five people got to hear my presentation describing how to network — information that I really felt could help many people throughout this event. I felt that I had a really good message to pass along — especially to the first-time attendees — and it only got through to less than 1% of the people who are here. I had seriously expected ten times that number to show up to my presentation. That, to me, was the big disappointment.

However, attendance numbers aside, those who were there said that I gave a really good presentation. And now I can say that I am a four-time PASS Summit speaker!

There was another disappointment before that. I had signed up to attend a vendor’s breakfast. I’m not going to lie; my main (in fact, my only reason) for attending was the word “breakfast.” For a decent breakfast, I’ll spend an hour listening to a vendor’s sales pitch. But it was not to be. When I arrived, there was no food left. Apparently, when they opened the doors, breakfast disappeared very quickly. I was told they were ordering more Egg McMuffins for attendees. Um, no. Lack of planning on your part does not constitute patience on mine (at least not in this case). No food, no sales pitch. I blew off the vendor’s spiel and settled for the continental breakfast they were serving in the dining hall.

But, enough of my disappointments; let’s talk about the good stuff!

After I did my presentation, it turned out that another session that interested me was in the room next door in the next time slot. Blythe Morrow did a presentation called “How to Write a Kickass Anything.” As someone who writes for a living, the session title alone was enough to pique my interested, and she did not disappoint. There was a lot to cover — too much for me to recap — but a couple of takeaways were to come up with your own professional branding (something that I’ve already done), and that “simplicity” and “clarity” are not synonymous. In regards to the latter, for most of my technical writing career, I’ve maintained a principle of KISS. When I told Blythe this, what she told me was along the lines of “making it simple doesn’t necessarily make it clear.” That was a huge takeaway for me, and it’s definitely something I’ll carry with me moving forward.

Getting together with #SQLFamily friends after the first day!

After I did my presentation, I’ve been joking that “now that my commitment to PASS Summit is done, I could technically hop on a plane right now and fly home.” But the thing is, while presentations and learning are a big part of Summit, they aren’t the only things. I’ve often mentioned the importance of #SQLFamily. It’s a real thing. In only a couple of days here, I’ve seen so many friends whom I love dearly and don’t get much of a chance to see, except when we cross paths on the SQL Saturday circuit or at other various events. These people are important to me, and I want to spend as much time with them as I can. Last night, after the day’s sessions were over, I joined friends for some drinks at the hotel across the street, then joined a few more at the Cheesecake Factory (also across the street). My friends are very important to me, so any opportunity I can get to get together with them is cherished!

I spent some time at the exhibitor hall, where the vendors have their booths set up. I’ll admit that I look for booths with good swag and prizes to win, but it’s also important to make sure you support vendors at events like this. They are, after all, a big reason why these events exist. Vendors are big supports of conferences such as PASS Summit and SQL Saturday; without them, many of these events wouldn’t exist.

One of the big booths was Redgate (of course; they’re the ones who are responsible for coordinating Summit), and they did an interesting promo. They handed out these little mini Lego Steves (see the pics below). If you took a Twitter selfie with Lego Steve, you had a chance to win a prize! I took a couple of selfies, including the ones you see below. Honestly, it doesn’t matter whether or not I win, but I thought it was fun to take these pics!

A Lego Steve, along with the contest instructions
Me, Lego Steve, and actual Steve! (Lego Steve is the one I’m holding in my fingers!)

This morning, I woke up at 4 am (local time), before my alarm went off. I got up, showered, dressed, and went to the convention center.

Bob Ward moderates the Microsoft Q&A breakfast

My first order of business was breakfast. I attended the Microsoft vendor breakfast — and yes, this time, there actually was breakfast. I got myself a good breakfast and listened to a Q&A with some Microsoft bigwigs. Bob Ward was the session moderator.

Now, a little explanation is in order. Bob Ward is probably the Elvis Presley of SQL rockstars. He is very well-known throughout the SQL community. He has written books, he has been on the front lines of SQL Server development, and people flock to his presentations when he speaks.

That said, he has one flaw. He’s a Dallas Cowboys fan. He’s such a big fan that he has been known to incorporate the Cowboys into his presentations. In fact, SQL Server 2022 was code-named “Dallas” because of him.

Because of this, I asked for the mic (I was the first to do so), and I asked this question.

“My question is specifically for Bob. What’s the over-under on the number of wins the Cowboys will have this year?”

Yeah, I know, but I had to ask. It got a good chuckle from the crowd!

After the breakfast, I attended the morning keynote, where a number of people from Redgate, including my friends, Steve Jones and Kathi Kellenberger, got to speak! I couldn’t tell you everything they discussed (I couldn’t remember it all if I tried), but Steve did mention (and I’m mostly paraphrasing here) that we are now living in a multi-database platform world, and that isn’t going to go away.

And now, here I sit, writing a ‘blog article. There are a few more sessions I want to attend, and they look like good ones! I’m looking forward to seeing what Day 2 brings!

Greetings from #PASSDataCommunitySummit day 1!

Before I get started, let me just say that I’m talking about my first day at PASS Data Community Summit, not necessarily the first day of the Summit. Although today is the first day of general sessions, the first round of pre-cons started Monday, and I didn’t arrive until yesterday (Tuesday).

Getting here was a long trip. I woke up at 3:00 am (Eastern time) to catch my flight, which left at 5:38 am. I had about a five hour layover in Detroit, where I got myself breakfast and took a bit of a catnap, before catching my flight to Seattle. My flight from Detroit to Seattle actually arrived almost an hour ahead of schedule, so there’s that! I checked into my AirBnB, dropped off my things, and headed to the Seattle Convention Center.

I didn’t expect much from my first evening here, but it ended up being quite busy! First, I tracked down my friend, Andy Levy. We chatted for a bit (while taking a little time to recover from our travels), and I suggested we go scope out my room where I would be speaking in the morning. It’s interesting, because since I was last here, there have been changes to this venue. First, there’s the name change. It used to be Washington State Convention Center; now it’s Seattle Convention Center. Second, it has expanded; there is now additional space where there wasn’t before, and my session is in one of them. I’m in a room called Skagit 3, which is located across the street from the main Convention Center. I just hope people are able to find my room!

I signed up to volunteer here, but communications have been both scattered and voluminous, and I’ve had a hard time keeping up with them. I did make it to the First Timer’s Buddy Event, which was an opportunity for first-time attendees to network and get together with veteran attendees (like me!). It was a great event, and tired though I was, I managed to catch my second wind here. I sat at a table with a few friends of mine and about five first time attendees.

It was here that I realized that I’d made a mistake. Those of you who follow my ‘blog likely know about my networking business cards. It was then that I realized that I’d left most of my cards back at my AirBnB (and I wasn’t about to hop back on the light rail to go back and get them). I did have a few in my wallet, so I handed out what I had.

There was also a networking slide presentation. I looked at the slides, and I’m absolutely convinced that Steve stole them from my presentation! 😀 Much of what was on those slides was material that I will be covering during my presentation this morning! With that, I did my best to promote my session! (I also saw my friend Taiob, who also told me he was promoting my session as well!)

The welcome reception followed. When I first attended PASS Summit in 2019, I was overwhelmed (in a good way!) by this event, and although the attendance numbers are down this year, I felt a very similar vibe this year! There were food tables serving a variety of items, along with drink stations (I’m generally not a cocktail drinker, but I decided to use my drink ticket on a Jack and Coke. Hey, if I have a free drink ticket, I’m going to take advantage of it!). I met up with a number of friends, including Ed Pollack, John Miner, Kathi Kellenberger, Grant Fritchey, Peter Shore, and several others whom I can’t remember right now. (Ed. note: I’ll come back later and edit this to include names I forgot and link their pages, if I can!)

I did have one lady at the reception tell me that she recognized me, and told me I was “internet famous.” Well okay, I’m not entirely sure that I buy that, but whatever! I also ran into a Kappa Kappa Psi brother from Northwestern State whom I’d met before, when I was last here in 2019! I made it a point to wear my letters cap to identify myself as a fraternity brother; you never know who you’ll run into!

I had signed up this morning to attend a vendor breakfast, but when I arrived, they had run out of food. I’m not going to lie; I signed up specifically for breakfast, not the sales pitch, and if there isn’t any food, what’s the point? Instead, I went downstairs to get the general continental breakfast that they were serving.

I’m writing this article from the speaker’s room at Summit. My session is in the very first time slot of the three-day session schedule for Summit, and as I write this sentence, I will be speaking about a little less than an hour from now.

Events like this are always a good time, and so far on my Day 1, this one has not disappointed! I’m looking forward to seeing what the rest of the week brings!

Well, I need to get ready to go do my presentation! Wish me luck!

Getting ready to travel to #PASSDataCommunitySummit

I’m taking the week off from work, as I prepare to head out to Seattle for PASS Data Community Summit! As I write this, I’m taking the day today to rest up before I spend tomorrow traveling, and to prepare!

I seem to be getting better at this conference travel prep thing. All I need for my presentation on Wednesday is to make sure I have my presentation slides on a flash drive, but that said, even though I don’t need my laptop to present (like I would for SQL Saturdays), it’s coming with me, anyway. You never know if there’ll be an issue with any of the equipment supplied, so always have a backup plan. There’s also a matter of making sure I’m packed for five days and four nights, but I don’t expect that to take too long.

Also, having my laptop means that I’ll be able to ‘blog about my PASS Summit experience, which I’m hoping that I’ll be able to do!

As I write this, I’m seeing some friends’ social media posts about Summit pre-cons, which are already in progress. I won’t be able to partake in any of the pre-cons, but I should be in town by tomorrow evening to take part in other programs, such as the buddy program for first-timers. (Note: I haven’t been able to find this link, but will update this article if I come across it.)

Events like these are always a good time. PASS Data Community Summit is a great opportunity to reconnect with old friends and make new ones as you build up your network!

See you tomorrow in Seattle!

Leaping before you look

(Image courtesy of The Telegraph)

Not long ago (I don’t remember how long — I’ll say a couple of weeks), I stumbled across a ‘blog post that someone had written. Apparently, this person was a new SQL Saturday speaker. I don’t remember his name, and from what you’re about to read, it’s probably just as well.

I don’t remember exactly what was said, so I’ll paraphrase: “I just applied to speak, and was accepted at, a SQL Saturday in (some city that’s not local to me). Now I have to figure out how to pay for my trip! Can you all help me? Here’s a GoFundMe page to help me out!”

I resisted the urge to write him back to say, “you’re a f**king moron. You’re not getting a single dime from me. Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency (or charity) from mine!!!”

SQL Saturday is an all-volunteer event, and organizers go through a great deal of time and effort to plan it and ensure that the speakers are lined up to the schedule. Committing to speak at SQL Saturday and not keeping that commitment disrespects the organizers, and it does not reflect well on you. If you renege on your commitment to speak at SQL Saturday, try seeing if you’re ever invited again.

It’s not just about travel planning, either. If I was interviewing this person for a job (note: I’m in no such position), I would highly question his ability to make smart decisions. Unless he could demonstrate to me that he learned from this mistake, I would not ask him back for a second interview.

Clearly, this person leapt before he looked, and in my mind, he has no common sense whatsoever. Whenever I apply to speak at a SQL Saturday, the first thing I do is check to make sure that I can do the trip. Among other things, I make sure the date is clear on my calendar, and I make sure that I can actually get there (there’s a reason why the large majority of SQL Saturdays where I present are ones to which I can drive).

On March 21 (a few weeks from today), I will be speaking at SQL Saturday Chicago. I Googled the driving time from Albany to Chicago, and it told me it would take 12 hours, which is much longer than I am willing to drive for a short weekend trip. I put together a hypothetical itinerary using Amtrak (I love traveling by train — I prefer it over flying whenever possible) and Chicago-area public transportation, Lyft (which I tend to prefer over Uber), and hotels. (I also looked into renting a car, but there were very few rental agencies near Union Station that were open for the hours that I needed it; besides, I didn’t want to deal with traffic in a strange city, and it was also more expensive than the other options.) I came up with a game plan that was workable and would not break the bank. When I realized that the trip was do-able, I went ahead and applied to speak (and was accepted) at SQL Saturday #945 in Chicago!

I wrote a previous article about choosing which SQL Saturday to submit. You can read the article here.

So before you commit to anything, make sure you can honor that commitment. It does not reflect well on you if you cannot keep your word. Don’t leap before you look.

#SQLSaturday #953 Rochester — the debrief #SQLSat953 #SQLSatRoc

This past weekend, I spoke at SQL Saturday #953 in Rochester, NY. As it is with all SQL Saturdays, I had a great time: doing my own presentations, attending others, and spending time with #SQLFamily! And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Andy Levy and the crew at the Rochester SQL User Group, who did a bang-up job putting the event together! Great job, all!

The weekend began with the speaker’s dinner. While I had a great time hanging out with all my wonderful SQL friends, we also had a compelling conversation — enough that I wrote about it that night. It reaffirmed just how important professional development is within technical circles, and the importance of my endeavor of presenting professional development topics. Even Matt Cushing sent a tweet mentioning just how important professional development is. It made me feel pretty good knowing just how much I’m contributing to the technical community.

Image
#SQLIceCream with (L to R) Paresh Motiwala, Slava Murygin, and yours truly!

Of course, after dinner, Paresh and I just had to go for ice cream. On this occasion, we hit a Coldstone Creamery around the corner from the speaker’s dinner. For those of you who don’t follow me regularly, it has become tradition for Paresh and me (and anyone who joins us) to go out for ice cream at any SQL Saturday that we both attend. Paresh even started using a Twitter hashtag for it: #SQLIceCream!

There was a lot of talk about the weather leading up to the event. The National Weather Service had predicted heavy lake-effect snow (as much as two feet) leading up to the event. Rochester sits right on the bank of Lake Ontario, and as anyone who lives in upstate New York knows, is prone to lake-effect snow. The weather forecast even prompted the University of Maryland to reschedule a women’s lacrosse game against Syracuse. As it turned out, the talk about bad weather turned out to be exactly that: talk. When I drove out to Rochester on Friday, the amount of snowfall was negligible, and the Thruway was clear sailing all the way from Albany to Rochester. There was a light dusting of snow on the ground when I woke up the next morning, but that was about it. Despite all the hype about the weather, it turned out not to be a factor.

I arrived at RIT a little later than I would’ve liked. Ordinarily, I like to settle into the speaker’s room, maybe get myself some coffee, talk to some people, and relax a bit. But by the time I arrived, sessions were about to start. I barely had enough time to drop my stuff off in the speaker’s room before getting to the first round of sessions.

Of course, the first session I attended was Matt’s. I’ve pretty much attended his session each time I’ve had the chance. For a while, I had attended it every time he presented it, but that streak was broken when he started traveling to other places (such as Austin, TX) that were difficult for me to get to. Last year, Matt (along with another friend, Deborah Melkin) were named IDERA Aces. I won’t get too much into the IDERA Ace program (use the link for more info), but one of the benefits is funding that allows you to travel to speak at events like SQL Saturday. (Congrats, by the way, Matt and Deb!) Matt is encouraging me to sign up for the IDERA Ace program for this year. When applications start coming out later this year, I will definitely look into it!

During his session, Matt complained that he and I didn’t have a selfie together. Well, consider that rectified!

Speaking of Deborah Melkin, her session was up next in the room next door. I’ve seen her session before, and she does a great job with it. I have to confess, however, that I wasn’t paying all that close attention (sorry, Deb!). The reason: my lightning talk session was up next, and I was going through my slides, making sure everything was ready to go. Last November, I had purchased a new laptop (an HP Pavilion x360), and this was my first time using it for a SQL Saturday presentation. I checked my slides, I tested my presentation clicker, and made sure everything was ready to go.

I do my lightning talk!

The next round included my lightning talk. I was scheduled to do my talk, along with two friends: Taiob Ali and Kimberly St. Jacques. The last time I saw Kimberly was at PASS Summit, which wasn’t a good time for her. She had been scheduled to present a lightning talk at Summit, but was unable to do so because she had lost her voice. I’d felt really bad for her! I was glad to see that she had regained her voice and was able to present again!

My talk was sandwiched between Kimberly’s, who spoke about SQL Server 2019 Enhanced PolyBase, and Taiob’s, who talked about extended events. Kimberly and Taiob both gave great presentations!

Going on at the same time was a presentation by Tracy Boggiano, who talked about mental illness in tech. It sounded like a really interesting talk, and I desperately wanted to attend, but it conflicted with my lightning talk session. I told Tracy that I intend to attend her session the next opportunity that I had.

Lunch was the next order of the day. It was either Andy or Matt Slocum — I don’t remember whom — who had a good relationship with a BBQ restaurateur. This same person has catered Rochester SQL Saturday every time I’ve attended, and the food was excellent every time. I highly recommend the pulled pork!

I decided to take the next round of sessions off. As much as I love attending SQL Saturday, one thing that never fails is that it tires me out. After lunch, I felt like I was going to fall asleep, so I retreated back to the speaker’s room to relax. I pretty much just surfed the web and conversed with other speakers in the room.

I did attend the next session by Anna Hadnagy, who gave a presentation about feedback. This was her very first SQL Saturday presentation, and she knocked it out of the park!

The last time slot of the day came about, and it was time for me to do my own full-length presentation. I actually had a pretty good-sized audience: I’ll guess around fifteen to twenty people. Even though it was the last session of the day, and everyone (including me) was tired, I made it a point to keep my audience engaged. They seemed to be into my talk, and I like to think that I presented well.

I did attend the after-event party. I enjoy hanging out with these people (they’re called #SQLFamily for a reason), and any chance I get to spend time with them is welcome. I had a long drive home ahead of me; I left the party around 7:45, and pulled into my driveway around 11:30.

All in all, it was yet another awesome SQL Saturday! (Of course, I think they’re all awesome!)

My next scheduled event is SQL Saturday Chicago on March 21, only a few weeks away! This will only be my second time in Chicago (changing planes at O’Hare doesn’t count), and it’ll be my first SQL Saturday where it is not feasible for me to drive. It should make for an interesting trip. See you there!

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.

#PASSSummit — the debrief, and impressions from a first-time speaker and attendee

A week ago last Saturday, just before noontime, I returned home to Albany after departing Seattle the night before, and traveling across the country on a redeye flight. To say I was tired was an understatement; indeed, after my wife picked me up at the airport and brought me home, I went straight upstairs to the bedroom and just slept all day. Even a day after I arrived home, I was still not completely recovered from my trip. I spent a couple of hours going through almost 300 emails and getting caught up in general. It took me a while to get caught up, if I ever got there at all.

I had every intention of live-blogging my PASS Summit trip, but it didn’t happen. I had wanted to ‘blog about my experience each day of the trip. As it turned out, I never even touched my laptop. I ended up not needing it at all (and that includes for my presentation, which I’ll talk about below). On top of that, I was so busy during the week that I never had the chance to sit down and ‘blog like I wanted to. Instead, I’ll write about my trip exploits in one article. Warning: I expect that this will end up being a long article, so bear with me!

Day 1: Tuesday, Nov. 5

My alarm woke me up at 3:30 am Eastern time (time zones are important to note in this writeup) so that I could catch a 5:30 flight to Baltimore. Upon arriving in Baltimore, I found myself an in-airport diner where I had myself breakfast, then proceeded to the gate to wait for my flight to Seattle. I had a four hour layover in Baltimore, so I had plenty of time to kill!

That’s me on the aisle, Andy Leonard by the window, and another PASS Summit attendee (Mike) in the middle!

While waiting at the gate, I bumped into my first #SQLFamily for the trip. Andy Leonard ended up being on the same flight! We had a nice conversation, and when the time came to board, Andy said he would save me a seat. Sure enough, I found him at the back of the plane, and he had indeed saved me a spot. I took the aisle seat; I figured that six hours was a long time to spend inside an airplane, and I might want to get up and walk around a bit.

The middle seat ended up being taken by another PASS Summit attendee: Mike, from Akron, OH (last name withheld for privacy reasons). The three of us had a wonderful conversation as we flew to Seattle.

Our flight arrived a little after 2 pm Pacific time. It would have arrived even earlier, except the Southwest pilot executed a go-around on our landing attempt. I think he mentioned something about being too close to the flight ahead of us (wake turbulence is not a fun thing, especially on a landing). It was my first experience with an aborted landing, so it was interesting to feel the jets power up and see the flaps retract on our initial landing attempt. The second attempt was more successful.

I had planned all along to not rent a car and make use of public transportation for this trip, so I made my way to the light rail and rode to the Columbia City stop, where I checked into my AirBnB. After taking a few minutes to introduce myself to my host and drop off my bags, I reboarded the light rail and made my way to Westlake Station in downtown Seattle, only a few blocks from the convention center.

Of course, getting off a transit line in any city can be disorienting, even more so in a city with which you’re not completely familiar. I exited Westlake Station at the opposite end (as I would find out later) from where I should have exited. It took me several minutes (and Google Maps on my phone) before I finally figured out which way I was going. After walking a few blocks longer than I should have, I finally found the convention center.

My PASS Summit badge (along with my first few ribbons). Now I know it’s for real!

I made my way upstairs, and ran into another friend: Andy Levy. Having just arrived at the convention center for the first time, Andy took me over to the registration area, where I picked up my badge and started getting myself situated. I also picked up a couple of items that came with my association as a PASS Summit speaker: a hoodie jacket and a polo shirt.

As I walked around the facility, I was stopped by a few different people. I wrote before about how your clothing can be a conversation piece. I made it a point to wear my fraternity hat, as I promised I would. Two people identified themselves to me as members of my fraternity. Another told me that he was from Syracuse (the city, not the university). More examples of clothing as networking in action!

Andy said to me that one of the things about PASS Summit was that “it takes you fifteen minutes to walk fifty feet.” If you’re involved with SQL Saturday (like I am), PASS Summit is, essentially, a great big reunion. Even within my first hour at the conference, I’d already bumped into several people whom I knew. Andy’s words were true; within a short time, I already came across a number of friends I knew from my SQL Saturday involvement!

My first event was the first-timer’s event. That was an interesting experience; it was a large room, and the seats were arranged in groups of six. We were all encouraged to interact with each other and introduce ourselves. We were treated to a few talks from some PASS volunteers, including, among others, my friend, Matt Cushing, who gave a shortened version of his Networking 101 talk. (I just can’t get away from your talk, can I, Matt! 🙂 ) There was even a trivia quiz that matched up our groups of six as teams. The winning team received tickets to one of the game nights. Alas, we didn’t win. Oh well.

The welcome reception was one big party!

The second event of the evening was the welcome reception. After PASS president Grant Fritchey kicked off the reception, it was essentially one great big party! There were multiple drink stations and tables of food, and large crowds of people everywhere. The event was overwhelming — and I say this in a good way! I thoroughly enjoyed myself! I reconnected with a number of friends of mine from the SQL Saturday speaking circuit, and met a number of new ones as well!

One of the new people I met was Anthony, my designated SQL buddy. The idea of the SQL buddy program is for first-time PASS Summit attendees to have a “buddy” with whom they can connect so they’re not overwhelmed by the large crowds of strangers attending. I think it’s a great program, but I have to admit that it probably wasn’t completely applicable for me, because, even despite that this was my first PASS Summit, I wasn’t a stranger, either, since I knew dozens of people attending the event. As it turned out, the few minutes I spent with Anthony was my only contact with him during the week. I had wanted to talk to him even more during the week, but I lost him at the welcome reception, and didn’t reconnect with him again. (I am going to make it a point to drop him a line later!)

I left the event to attend another one, a volunteer party for PASS Summit volunteers. This event was invitation-only; only Summit volunteers were allowed to attend. I’m not sure whether it was my association as a PASS speaker or my willingness to help with the event, but in any case, I did receive an invitation to attend the party. It was held in a bar called SPIN, a ping-pong-themed bar. The venue was pretty cool; I wish we had one of these back home! (Their website says there’s a couple of locations in New York City, which are probably the closest ones to me.) I conversed with a number of people, and had a great time!

I would’ve enjoyed it even more, but by this time, the fact that I had been awake twenty hours was catching up with me. I decided to call it a night and head back to my AirBnB. If the rest of the week was going to be anything like this first day, I was going to be in for a long and tiring, but exciting, week!

Day 2: Wednesday, Nov. 6

My alarm went off around 5:30 — granted, that’s 5:30 Pacific time, and my body was still living on the East Coast, so it wasn’t that much of a problem. I showered, dressed, and caught the light rail to the convention center.

The first order of business was breakfast. I had signed up for a vendor breakfast, and went straight to the conference room. I filled up on my share of breakfast sandwiches, juice, and coffee. I’ll be the first to admit that I signed up primarily for the breakfast, not for the vendor talk. That said, vendor sessions are an integral part of just about any conference; as sponsors, their input and support are invaluable.

I decided to skip the keynote and took the time to explore the convention center. With everything that was going on, I figured it would be my best chance to get some downtime. I located my room where I would be speaking on Friday and got myself a sense of what was where.

At 10:15, I attended the session titled “Becoming a Technical Leader,” presented by Denise McInerney and Kellyn Pot’Vin-Gorman. I had previously crossed paths with Kellyn at Boston BI SQL Saturday (and likely some others — I’d seen her name before), but as far as I knew, I’d never met Denise (at least not that I remembered). They emphasized communication throughout their session, a topic close to my heart. Overall, it was an excellent presentation.

I had a variety of reasons for choosing sessions to attend. One of the big ones was to advance my own career. I will likely not be doing what I’m currently doing forever, so I wanted to attend sessions that I could use to improve my own professional standing.

I wasn’t about to miss Kathi‘s presentation!

With that in mind, I also attended a session called “Build Your Brand with Technical Writing,” presented by my friend, Kathi Kellenberger. She focused on tips and advice for getting published. I’ve had a couple of articles published before (my article on the history of major-league baseball in Troy comes to mind), but writing a book is a bucket list item of mine. I picked up some good pointers from her presentation. I did speak with Kathi, and she suggested that she might have some opportunities for me to write! I might just take her up on it!

For the last session, I decided to take in round 1 of Speaker Idol. For those not familiar with Speaker Idol, it’s an opportunity for people to give a quick presentation — within a span of five minutes. The presentation is judged by a panel, and the winner moves on to the final round. The grand prize is a guaranteed speaker’s slot in next year’s PASS Summit!

Last year’s winner was Rob Volk, who did a presentation of being “the very model of a SQL Server DBA.” (Imagine him singing to the tune of “I Am The Very Model Of A Modern Major-General,” and you’ll get the idea.) Click the link and check out his winning presentation. Trust me on this!

Slava and I had a few drinks on Wednesday night!

There were a number of vendor-sponsored events that evening, but I hadn’t registered for them. I ended up having drinks in a hotel bar with another friend from my SQL Saturday travels, Slava Murygin. We spent a few hours chatting and having drinks before deciding to call it a night.

Two great days down!

Day 3: Thursday, Nov. 7

Another day, another vendor breakfast. The spread was a little more substantial this time: scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, pastries, and so on. If you’re interested in having a fulfilling breakfast at PASS Summit, I definitely recommend signing up for vendor-sponsored breakfasts! And it also helps if the vendor is doing a talk that interests you!

I started my day of sessions by attending “Making the Leap to Management” by Chris Yates and Adam Jorgensen. Honestly, I’m on the fence as to how interested I am in pursuing a career that involves management. Nevertheless, it is a possibility as I advance further in my career, and a sense of what I could potentially get into is never a bad thing. I did find it interesting that good communication was a common thread throughout the session. I’ve always been a big believer that the vast majority of the world’s problems can be solved by improving communication, and this session seemed to validate that belief.

I attended “Successfully Communicating with Your Customers” after lunch. Denise McInerney gave this talk, and I saw a lot of similarities between her presentation and what I do with some of mine — enough to the point that I told her, after she was finished: “you could do my presentation.” I sent her a LinkedIn connect request and asked if we could stay in touch so we could compare notes.

Right after the presentation, the vendors did their prize drawings. If you’ve ever attended a SQL Saturday, it’s the same concept as the vendor prize drawings at the end of the day (the only difference was that they held it in the middle of the conference): you submit your ticket, and maybe your name is drawn for a prize. You need to be present to win. No, I didn’t win anything on this day. C’est la vie.

And of course, I had to attend Speaker Idol Round 2 that afternoon!

I attended another sponsor reception that evening at The Tap House Grill. It was billed as “a chance to meet and network with people outside of the conference.” Among others, I met Janice Gerbrandt, who, along with my friend, Paresh Motiwala (who did not attend Summit this year), lead the PASS Professional Development virtual group. I had previously been acquainted with Janice when I did my virtual presentation on networking back in May; now, I finally met her in person for the first time. During the week, I met a number of people whom I’ve only gotten to know through emails and online correspondence, including most of the staff at PASS.

Good to see my friend George Walters in town!

I also bumped into my friend, George Walters. He was not attending Summit, but he was in town for work-related reasons, and decided to crash the party. It was nevertheless good to see yet another familiar face in a somewhat-strange town!

Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay out too late. Since I was presenting the next day — not to mention leaving town — I had to go back to my AirBnB and pack my things, as well as get some rest so I could do my presentation the next morning!

Day 4: Friday, Nov. 8

My turn to speak!

At last, it was my day to speak! My presentation was scheduled for the first time slot of the day, at 8 am.

I checked out of my AirBnB before 6 am and made my way, with my luggage, to the convention center. For the last day of the conference, PASS had a baggage check set up, and I made use of it. I checked my bags and went off to find myself breakfast.

Unlike the previous two days, there was no vendor breakfast that morning, so I had breakfast at a hotel restaurant right across the street. Up to that point, nearly every meal I’d had was provided by some PASS or vendor event, so this breakfast was the first meal since I’d arrived in Seattle that I paid out of my own pocket. After finishing breakfast, I went up to my conference room to prepare for my presentation.

As I mentioned earlier, I did not touch my laptop at all during this trip, including for my presentation. Each presentation room included a laptop that was already connected to a projector. All I needed was my presentation on a USB stick. I also used my own presentation clicker. (That said, I kept my laptop nearby anyway, in case a problem came up with the equipment that was supplied. Always have a backup plan.)

The presentation went well! It really wasn’t all that different from my experience with doing SQL Saturday presentations. The audience was larger, it was more geographically diverse, and because it was being recorded, I had the use of microphones. I passed it around when attendees had questions; that way, their questions could be captured as part of the session recording. People I spoke to later told me that they enjoyed my session, and I did a good presentation!

And after it was over, I could honestly refer to myself as a PASS Summit speaker! Achievement unlocked!

One disappointment about my presentation was that it conflicted with round 3 of Speaker Idol. It was especially disappointing, because two of my friends were participating in this round: Slava Murygin and Deborah Melkin. While I never got the chance to see Slava present, I would later get to see Deborah!

Andy and I got our Minecraft swords!

I hooked up with Andy Levy so we could go to the exhibitor booths. RDX gave out what was widely thought to be the best (and definitely the most popular) vendor swag: Minecraft swords! We had tried to get them the day before, but they had run out. We were told that they would have twenty more at the beginning of the day, and if we wanted one, we would have to be one of the first twenty. Indeed, Andy and I were number one and two in line when the vendor fair opened for the day!

I volunteered to moderate the Storytelling & Visualization “Birds Of A Feather” lunch table.

I had volunteered to man a Birds of a Feather lunch table. These special-interest tables allowed people to congregate and discuss a common area of interest during lunch. As someone with writing, UX/UI, and design experience, I ended up moderating the Storytelling & Visualization lunch table.

The CASSUG Albany user group (L to R: Greg Moore, Ed Pollack, and yours truly) poses for a photo!

Since the entire CASSUG (Albany user group) leadership team — myself, Greg Moore, and Ed Pollack — was at PASS Summit, I decided that we needed to take a photo of the three of us. Our local user group was well-represented in Seattle that week!

We took our photo at the PASS Community Zone. I spent a lot of time there during the week. It was a good place to congregate, meet people and network, and relax (there were beanbag chairs around the area). It was also a good place for me to recharge — literally. There were outlets set up around the zone, where I could plug my phone in to let it recharge. I spoke to a number of people and made some new networking contacts there throughout the week.

I did make it to the final round of Speaker Idol. As it turned out, I did not miss Deborah’s presentation, as she was one of the finalists. And wouldn’t you know, she ended up winning the entire thing! She was the Speaker Idol winner for 2019! She now has a guaranteed speaker slot for next year’s PASS Summit in Houston! Congrats, Deb!

By this time, PASS Summit was beginning to wind down. There was still another slot of sessions going on, but I didn’t attend. PASS Summit is an exciting, but tiring, experience. I learned that I needed to be picky about what sessions I attended, because trying to attend them all is impossible. I took some time to get myself organized, making sure that my stuff was together, packed, and ready to bring home. The Minecraft sword I’d obtained earlier in the day wouldn’t fit in my carry-on luggage (and it wouldn’t have surprised me if TSA flagged it while going through security). There was a FedEx office on the ground floor of the convention center, and I took advantage of it, shipping my new toy, along with a few other swag items, home. They’d be sitting on my doorstep later in the week.

At this point, a number of people were making arrangements for final dinners and plans before venturing home. Apparently, there was a tradition for a number of #SQLFamily to get dinner at the Crab Pot at the end of PASS Summit. Greg had invited me to accompany him to a small private party with Rensselaer alumni in west Seattle, which is what I elected to do. Unfortunately, because of issues with ordering dinner, I had to settle for taking a couple of hours to reconnect with some old friends before getting a Lyft to the airport and catching my cross-country redeye flight home.

Epilogue

By the end of PASS Summit, I’d amassed quite the collection of ribbons!

There’s a number of things I left out of my commentary; most of it is superfluous. Besides, I didn’t want to feel like I was rambling, not to mention that I’ve been sitting on this article for over a week.

PASS Summit was everything I’d been told and I expected: exciting, overwhelming, tiring, and fun! I had an absolute blast during my week in Seattle! I would attend every year if I could. Unfortunately, there are mitigating circumstances that prevent me from attending more often (the biggest being the registration fee; unlike SQL Saturday, PASS Summit is not free to attend. Since I’m doing this on my own dime — my company does not pay me to go — my resource to attend are limited. I was able to attend because I was selected to speak, so my fee was waived). That said, should an opportunity for me to attend ever comes up, I will not hesitate to go again!

I will definitely submit my presentations to speak at PASS Summit again. Hopefully, I’ll be selected again! And hopefully, you’ll be able to experience the same excitement and learning experience that I did at PASS Summit!

Hopefully, I’ll see you in Houston in 2020!

#PASSSummit — Under 24 hours to departure

It is now less than twenty-four hours before I depart for Seattle and PASS Summit!

I still need to pack. From my quick little poll from last week, it looks like I’ll wear my fraternity hat, and I’ll pack lots of orange shirts! And don’t worry, Yankees haters; my baseball jersey is staying home.

Last week, I got an email from Southwest, saying that my flight plans have changed. I was originally supposed to depart at 6:20 am, flying from Albany (ALB) to Chicago (MDW) to Seattle (SEA). Instead, my flight leaves at 5:30 am and going through Baltimore (BWI) instead of Chicago-Midway. And if the earlier hour wasn’t enough, I now have a four-hour layover in Baltimore. Ugh. At least I’ll have plenty of time to grab breakfast and relax before my flight to Seattle. Note to self: bring a book to read (or something to do) while waiting for four hours in an airport.

Other than that, travel prep continues. By this time tomorrow, I’ll be on my way to the West Coast!