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!

A trip to New York City for #SQLSaturday #SQLSat912

(Photo source: britannica.com)

As I promised in my previous article, here is the article that details my trip to SQL Saturday #912!

Early last year, I wrote about my trip to SQL Saturday #714, Philadelphia. That was an enjoyable trip (well, they all are), and I enjoyed writing that article. With my trip to SQL Saturday #912 in New York City, I thought it’d be a fun exercise to write another one. I figured it’d be a fun piece for people who’ve never traveled to a SQL Saturday, not to mention people who’ve never been to New York City.

So, come along with me as we take another trip!

The planning

Being the trip planner that I am, I mapped out my plans for this trip a while back. Plans for this trip have actually been in the works for months.

Planning began back in May, when I submitted my presentations. For planning purposes, whenever I submit presentations to any event, I assume that I’ll be selected to speak, even before I find out whether or not my submissions are accepted. As soon as I submit, my plans for whatever event I apply are pretty well written into my calendar, unless either (1) I end up not getting chosen for the event, or (2) some conflict that I can’t get out of comes up for the same date.

Ordinarily, I don’t firm up my travel plans until I know for sure that I’m selected to speak, but this time around, there were a couple of twists. First of all, I saw Thomas Grohser, one of the event’s organizers, at SQL Saturday in Albany in July. He told me that I was going to be speaking in NYC. Granted, Thomas is a friend, but nevertheless, it was still not an official selection. I wanted to make sure that I had the official selection email before I started booking my train and my hotel room.

In early August — still before I received the official acceptance notification — I got an email from Amtrak (I’m a Guest Rewards member) that included fare specials. I discovered a round-trip fare from Albany to Penn Station that was too good to pass up. Unfortunately, the deal had an expiration date, so I had to act fast. I decided to pull the trigger on it. Okay. I had a train reservation. Now I was committed to the trip, regardless of whether I was chosen to speak or not. It wasn’t a big deal; I regularly attend SQL Saturday in New York, regardless of whether or not I’m speaking.

I selected an early afternoon train to New York. I wanted to leave myself time to make the speaker’s dinner, if they had one. As it turned out, that would not be the case, as I’ll explain later on.

Now that my train was reserved, I needed to find a place to stay. My two siblings both have places down in The City, and my sister has repeatedly told me that I can use her place in Brooklyn. While I’m appreciative of the offer, I also wanted to stay someplace closer to the Microsoft office in Manhattan, preferably within walking distance, where SQL Saturday takes place. Of course, as anyone who has traveled to New York City can attest, inexpensive places to stay in midtown Manhattan are nearly non-existent. It also didn’t help that the office was located near one of the world’s biggest tourist traps. (I usually try avoiding it, but that was impossible for this trip.) I checked a variety of places, including a few on AirBnB and a few places that were farther away but near subway lines. I found a few places that had potential, but kept looking.

I hit the jackpot when I tried Hotwire. They advertised a deal where I could stay at an (unnamed) midtown hotel for $109. It promised that I would be booked at one of three hotels, which they listed. The actual hotel would be revealed after I booked. I looked at their locations, decided I could live with them, and decided to take the chance. I ended up getting booked at the Sheraton New York Times Square. The final damage was $173 after taxes and fees — granted, more than the advertised $109, but still a steal for a Sheraton in midtown Manhattan near Times Square!

At some point — I’m not quite sure when — I looked at my own speaker’s profile, and noticed that three of my submissions were now listed as “Regular Session,” not “Submitted Regular Session.” This is usually a pretty good indication that I’ve been selected to speak, although it still isn’t official yet. I was surprised, however, that three of them were listed. I figured, either (1) it was a mistake, (2) they were still working on the schedule, or (3) I was going to be one very busy boy on October 5!

In August, I got an email from Thomas Grohser. It was no mistake. Indeed, I had been selected to give three presentations! Thomas asked me, “let me know if this is too much or not.”

I sent him back a two word reply: “challenge accepted!”

So things were in place. Travel plans were set, and I was definitely speaking. I went about my business, awaiting the first weekend in October to arrive.

A funny thing happened along the way. I’m a big Yankee fan. The Yankees ended up winning the American League Eastern Division. At some point, I looked at the dates for the Yankees’ first two playoff games: October 4 and 5 in New York.

Hey, I was going to be in New York on October 4 and 5!

I looked into getting tickets for ALDS Game 1. They definitely weren’t cheap, but they weren’t so expensive that they would break the bank, either. The only thing that made me hesitate was that no game time was announced. If it was an early afternoon game, there was no way that I’d be able to make it. When they announced that it was a 7 pm game time, I pulled the trigger and bought myself a ticket! I’ve been going to ballgames for years, but I’ve never been to a playoff game before, and attending a postseason game has been on my bucket list for a long time. A weekend that was already going to be fun had just become more exciting!

At this point, all the plans were set. I only had to wait for October 4 to arrive.

The trip

Friday, October 4 arrived. My wife dropped me off at Albany-Rensselaer train station around 12:30. Other than the fact that my train, which was supposed to depart at 1:05, was about twenty minutes late, the train ride to Penn Station was uneventful. I arrived in New York around 4:00.

I took the E subway to my hotel. Upon exiting the subway, I had my first (pleasant) surprise of the trip. While I was at the street level, looking for my hotel, someone said hi to me. I was surprised to see that it was Michelle Gutzait, one of the SQL Saturday speakers, and her boyfriend! We spoke briefly. She was speaking at our user group in November, and said she was looking forward to speaking. They were looking for a theater for a show they were seeing that night, while I was looking for my hotel.

Randomly bumping into Michelle on the street turned out to be the first of numerous surprises on this trip.

I found my hotel, dropped off my bags, and proceeded up to the Bronx.

Here I am, attending my first-ever postseason playoff game!

Now, I’ve been a baseball fan since I was around 12 or 13. I grew up rooting for the Yankees. I’ve attended numerous regular season games, more than I can remember. However, despite all those years going to regular season ballgames, I have never been to a postseason playoff game. It’s something that’s been on my bucket list for quite some time. When I saw that the Yankees’ first two playoff games were at home at the same time I was in the City for this trip, I jumped on the opportunity and bought myself a ticket for Friday night.

My scorecard from the game

Friends told me that it was a different atmosphere from a regular season game, and it did not disappoint. The atmosphere was electric, and the crowd was loud — much more than a regular season game. Fans hung on to nearly every pitch during the first seven innings. By the time the seventh inning rolled around, the Yankees had scored ten runs and held nearly an insurmountable lead. I stuck it out until the end of the game and hopped the subway back to my hotel. I did stop to get a couple of slices of pizza on my way back (I can’t pass up genuine New York-style pizza!). It was well after midnight by the time I got back to my room, and around 1 am by the time I went to bed.

SQL Saturday

My alarm went off at 6. After hitting my snooze button a couple of times, I got up around 6:20. I rolled out of bed, showered, dressed, checked out of the hotel, and proceeded to Ellen’s Stardust Diner for breakfast.

At Ellen’s Stardust Diner, it’s about the singing wait staff!

This was the second time that I had gone to breakfast at Stardust; the first was when I spoke at NYC SQL Saturday last year. Now, I’ll say that the food at Stardust is good, but not great. If I picked a place to eat based on the food alone, Stardust would not be my first choice. However, I love Ellen’s Stardust Diner. It isn’t about the food; it’s about the experience. Stardust is known for their singing wait staff, and they put on a good show!

Amusing note: my waiter was named Kansas. Kansas is my favorite band! I told him as much, and he told me he was so named because they were also his parents’ favorite band! I hoped that he (or someone else) could sing a Kansas song before I finished my breakfast, but it wasn’t to be.

I could’ve sat there all morning and listened to the wait staff sing (and I told Kansas this), but alas, my first presentation was at 9:00. I wanted to get to Microsoft as soon as I could so I could prepare. Upon finishing my breakfast, I proceeded to the Microsoft building and SQL Saturday.

I arrived at the Microsoft Times Square office, directly across the street from the Port Authority Bus Terminal, around 8:15, and came across several #SQLFamily friends, including, among others, John Miner, Matt Cushing, Taiob Ali, Michelle Gutzait, George Walters, James Phillips, Thomas Grohser, Steve Simon, Kathi Kellenberger, Kevin Feasel, Alex Grinberg, James Serra, and Chris Seferlis. (I hope I didn’t leave anyone out!)

Me doing one of my three presentations

I wrote earlier about my presentations, so I won’t rehash them here. I will say that the combination of doing three presentations, combined with waking up at 6 am after having gone to bed at 1 am made for a long and tiring day! After lunch, for the sake of my own sanity, I decided not to attend any more sessions until I presented my own. There were some couches outside the speaker’s room, so I attempted to take a power nap — a plan that was thwarted by a security guard who kicked me awake (literally — he kicked the couch I was on) and told me, “you can’t do that here.” Sheesh.

At one point during the day, Matt hilariously sent this tweet. I got a good laugh out of this!

My trip of fun surprises continued at the end of the day during the conference closing session and raffle drawings. I was sitting in the front row. James Phillips, one of the co-organizers, was running the raffle. Since I was in the front row, he had me pick one of the winners. I stuck my hand in the bowl with the tickets, mixed them up, pulled one out, and gave it to James.

Mind you, I did not look at the ticket. Upon seeing the ticket, James shook his head and said, “I don’t believe it.”

He showed me the ticket. It had my name on it. I had pulled my own ticket! I’d won a Bluetooth speaker!

After SQL Saturday was over, I proceeded to 32nd Street, where Koreatown is located. It’s one of my favorite neighborhoods in Manhattan. As a Korean-American, I feel somewhat obligated to visit this place now and then, but as one who was born in New York State, I also feel at home when I come to this place to visit. I picked out a Korean BBQ place — one where I’d never been before — and had myself an excellent meal.

While I was waiting to be seated, a gentleman who had seen my shirt came up to me and introduced himself as a fellow Syracuse University alum. Yet another example where my clothing became a conversation piece! We spent about ten minutes talking about our alma mater before we were finally seated.

I had purposely scheduled a late train back home so that I could enjoy dinner while I was in Manhattan. After dinner, I walked the block west to Penn Station so I could catch my train.

Yet another surprise on this trip; I ran into Greg Moore and his daughter on the train heading home!

Upon boarding the train and finding myself a seat, I heard a familiar voice say, “boy, they’ll let anybody on this train!” I turned around and saw Greg Moore sitting a couple of seats back. Yet another surprise on this trip!

Although Greg is very active in the SQL Server community, he did not attend SQL Saturday. Instead, he attended ComicCon with his daughter. (Greg wrote a nice ‘blog article about their ComicCon experience; you can read it here.) I moved back to sit across from them, but we didn’t converse much (if at all) during the ride; we were all pretty tired, and we planned to sleep on the train ride home. No matter; I see Greg often enough, anyway. (I’ll see him next week at our next user group meeting.)

I didn’t sleep well on the train; no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t get comfortable. My wife picked me up at the station, and I arrived home sometime after midnight.

Epilogue

Despite getting very little sleep, I had an absolute blast on this trip!

Mind you, I always have fun every time I go to a SQL Saturday, but I especially have a blast whenever I travel to New York City. It was an opportunity to get together with #SQLFamily, it was an opportunity to network, I got to practice my presentation skills (again), and as an added bonus, I got to attend a postseason baseball game! I absolutely love taking this trip, and I hope to do this again for NYC SQL Saturday again next year!

This is my last scheduled SQL Saturday for 2019. I don’t have any more SQL Saturdays lined up — I applied to speak at Boston BI SQL Saturday, but I will likely withdraw because of a conflict. There are “save-the-dates” listed for Rochester, Philadelphia, and Boston (non-BI) set for next year, and I intend to apply for them once they go live. (I might also apply to Virginia Beach as well; we’ll see.) And, of course, our Albany group usually has our SQL Saturday at the end of July.

My next scheduled presentation is in Seattle for PASS Summit, which is in four weeks (!!!). I’ll ‘blog about my PASS Summit experience as I go along. Hope to see you in Seattle!

Thanks for taking this trip with me — we’ll see you later from the road!

#SQLSaturday #892 Providence — the debrief #SQLSat892 #SQLFamily

I arrived home last night around 9:15, after driving four hours (including an hour-long dinner break) from Providence, RI. As usual, it was another great SQL Saturday! As always, I had a blast! And as always, I was wiped out after it was over! Even as I write this, on this Sunday afternoon, I had intended to take care of some work around the house, and ended up taking a nap instead. C’est la vie.

So as seems to be tradition lately, here’s my most recent writeup of my most recent SQL Saturday.

I’ll start with something I did before I even left on Friday. I was getting my things organized and packed for my trip. While going through my briefcase, I came across my laptop dongle. I told myself, “most places these days use HDMI video inputs for their projectors. I haven’t needed it yet. So I’ll just leave it here.” I tossed it back in my briefcase, and packed my laptop without the dongle.

I didn’t know it yet, but I had just shot myself in the foot. (Read on, McDuff.)

SQL Saturday speakers at dinner (photo courtesy of Paresh Motiwala)

I checked into my B&B (a cute New England cape house in North Kingstown, RI) and headed to the speaker’s dinner. One of the B&B’s co-owners told me that the restaurant was a former train station. It sat by some very active railroad tracks. Not only was I able to see trains as they went by, I could feel them. Several Amtrak, Acela, and MBTA commuter trains passed by during dinner.

Of course, it isn’t a SQL Saturday unless Paresh and I go out for ice cream!

My session was scheduled for 10:00 on Saturday. Unfortunately, it didn’t go as smoothly as I would have liked. For starters, I found out that the wrong room was listed on the schedule. I went to an empty room, which surprised me, because I was expecting to walk into the previous session already in progress. It turned out that it was down the hall.

Remember how I said that I shot myself in the foot when I didn’t bring my dongle? Here’s where it raised its ugly head. It turned out that the only projector connections were VGA, which I didn’t have on my laptop. I was not able to find an HDMI adapter. That’s when I resorted to Plan B.

Before every SQL Saturday, I always make it a point to upload my slides to the website. They’re there so that attendees can download them. However, they also serve a secondary purpose: my backup, in case something happens with my laptop. Sure enough, I had to resort to it. I used the desktop computer in the classroom, downloaded my slides, and used that for my presentation. (A thought popped into my head while they were downloading: does the desktop have PowerPoint installed?)

I was angry with myself, because I usually take pride in that I’m always prepared — and on this day, I wasn’t. Note to self: always bring the dongle with you. I made a mistake, and I paid for it by losing ten minutes of my presentation time. I suppose I’ll chalk it up as a learning experience, and remember to pack my dongle for next time.

The presentation otherwise went without a hitch. I did tweak it a bit, per the feedback I received the previous time I’d presented it.

I’ve conversed with this gentleman online for years — and finally met him in person for the first time at SQL Saturday!

I was in for a surprise (a pleasant one, this time!) after my presentation. One of the attendees (the gentleman you see in this picture) introduced himself to me after I was done — and when I saw his name tag, I realized immediately who it was! (For privacy reasons, I’m withholding his name.)

I often peruse the forums on SQLServerCentral.com. It’s my go-to forum whenever I have database-related questions. There are a number of people whom I see regularly on the forum, and I interact with them often enough that I consider them friends. The fantasy football league in which I play came from these forums. There is one person with whom I interact regularly on the forums, including fantasy football. He is our league’s defending champion, and as the only two people in the league who have multiple titles, we are rivals. I’ve been conversing with him for year and years. I consider this man a friend.

This weekend, we met face-to-face for the first time! He attended my presentation, and I had no idea that it was him! His attendance totally blew my mind, and it made my day!

Grant Fritchey gave a great presentation about SQL injection. It blew my mind — and not in a good way. Although SQL injection was identified as a security problem in 1997, it still persists as a problem now in 2019. If nothing else, Grant’s presentation reminded me that we still need to be vigilant about fighting code injection, even with all the safeguards we have in place now.

Probably one of my favorite sessions was the last one of the day. Linda Groszyk, who is a relative newcomer to speaking for SQL Saturday, gave a great presentation called Breaking the Social Code: How to be Socially Intelligent at Work. It was a fantastic session about human psychological dynamics that, I think, everyone should be aware of. I was impressed enough by her presentation that I encouraged her to apply to speak at our SQL Saturday in Albany when it rolls around next July, as well as our user group, if she is able to arrange it! (Greg Moore, if you’re reading this, consider this a heads-up!)

Another weekend, another great SQL Saturday in the books! If you are able to make it to one near you, I encourage you to do so!

The case for non-local user groups

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).

I’ve extolled the benefits of getting involved with your local user groups. But why would you want to bother with groups that aren’t local? Well, here are some reasons to do so.

  • 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.

A SQL Saturday travel primer for first-time speakers

Are you a first-time SQL Saturday speaker? Congratulations!

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!)

Before we start, let me direct you to a previous article I wrote about what it’s like to travel to a SQL Saturday. That should give you a taste of what it’s like to travel to speak at an event.

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!

SQL Saturday Virginia Beach — the debrief

My wife and I arrived home in Troy, NY around 10 pm last night after driving all day from Norfolk, VA. Despite the lengthy drive home from Virginia, it was, nevertheless, a fun and fruitful trip!

First, Greg Moore, who also attended SQL Saturday #839, summed up his assessment of the event in his article here. Go ahead and read his article. I don’t think I could’ve summed it up much better than he did.

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.

I met a fellow fraternity brother who recognized the letters on the hat I was wearing!

I also had another textbook example about how your clothing can initiate a networking opportunity! On Friday, my wife and I were enjoying the Norfolk Harborfest. While walking through the park, a guy recognized the letters on the baseball cap I was wearing, and came over to say hi! He was a fellow fraternity brother from the chapter at Norfolk State University. We took the photo you see above. Always a pleasure to meet another fraternity brother!

The rest of the trip was a great time! I knew that there was a plethora of activities around Norfolk/Virginia Beach, and suggested to my wife that we make a vacation out of it. We hit Colonial Williamsburg, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, and the beach while we were there.

Although it was a lengthy trip, it was a good one! I look forward to doing it again at some point!