Have you attended a SQLSaturday event? They are great events and in this episode we chat with a few organizers about what goes into putting on an event and what they think the future of these events looks like.
Having that core team is really, really crucial.
As a new organizer, if you can think of something in your area that’s unique, something that speakers would want to do on a Friday that you can kind of roll in, that will help you get some speakers without a lot of cost.
As long as someone coordinates a place we’re going to, and as long as at SQL Saturday there’s a speaker’s room where we can chat, then really I’m getting the main benefit of all of this.
Our attendees are much more focused on “is this a good topic, is this something that interests me, is this something that I can take back to my job?”
It is so worth it and I am very, very happy that I’ve gotten involved with PASS at this level. It has done wonders for me professionally and personally.
Listen to Learn
01:53 Compañero Shout-Outs
02:55 SQL Server in the News
03:57 Intro to the guests and topic
08:40 Do you have a succession plan?
13:21 What do you wish attendees knew about putting on a SQL Saturday?
17:13 Speakers who go to multiple events have suggestions of what is being done elsewhere
19:27 Do organizers feel like they’re in an “arms race” with other events?
22:03 Traveling to SQL Saturdays outside your town
24:07 What can you do to make your event stand out for speakers?
27:11 Is there competition for coordinators to get speakers?
31:57 Big names. Can you get them? Do you need to?
35:03 Scheduling and dealing with conflicting events and holidays
36:32 Finding sponsors for your SQL Saturday
42:46 Pre-cons – to do them or not to do them?
46:47 Don’t let any of this scare you off from doing your own SQL Saturday
51:07 Closing Thoughts
55:05 Bonus: Thoughts on ending events early
About Andy Levy
Andy Levy is a DBA and recovering developer who has worked with SQL Server and other Microsoft technologies for nearly 20 years in the insurance, real estate and SaaS industries. When he’s not tuning his databases and developers’ queries to perform at scale, he’s working on documentation for the dbatools PowerShell module and helping run his local SQL Server User Group, SQL Saturday, and activities for his kids. He hasn’t yet met a problem he hasn’t tried to code his way out of.
About Chris Hyde
Chris Hyde is an independent SQL Server BI and DBA consultant based in Albuquerque, NM, and is the leader of the Albuquerque PASS local user group. He is a part of the Friends of Redgate program and was recently named in the Idera ACE class of 2018. He loves loud music and cricket, but not usually at the same time.
About Eugene Meidinger
Starting out as an accidental DBA and developer, Eugene Meidinger now focuses primarily on BI consulting. He has been working with SQL Server for 6 years now, and is certified in Querying and Administering SQL Server 2012. He is a Pluralsight author on Power BI and also co-leads the Pittsburgh Power BI user group.
Music for SQL Server in the News by Mansardian, used under Creative Commons
Carlos: Hey compañeros. Thanks for joining us again on the SQL Trail. This is episode 126. Today we’re going to be talking about SQL Saturdays, which might be a strange topic, but this was actually first presented to me by Paul Turley. He’s from Vancouver, Washington, and he wanted to talk about the SQL Saturday Event they are holding in Victoria, Canada. And due to some scheduling, he wasn’t able to make that work, but I liked the idea and so I thought, well let’s go ahead and get some other organizers together and we’ll talk about it. And so I hope you’ll find the conversation interesting. So our guests today are going to be Chris Hyde, he’s from Albuquerque, New Mexico, Eugene Meindinger from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Andy Levy, he is up in Rochester, New York area. So you’ll notice that the intro was a little bit different. Again, kind of the continuation of the podcast and how we continue to change some things. The compañeros have spoken, the sounds were out, but again, as we were kind of moving onto this next phase, wanted to change things up a little bit, and so we won’t be doing the sounds anymore. So we are putting together what we’re now calling Season 2 of the podcast. So, this will be the next phase. A lot of the same things will continue, but we’ll continue to try to integrate some new ideas into the podcast.
We do, as always want to have some Compañero Shout-Outs today. The first one goes to Ben Davis. Ben wants to talk about the future, what he’s going to be in 10 years, and I think this is a common sentiment. We’ve talked about this a little bit on the podcast before, but I actually have some different ideas about how to approach Ben’s specific question. Want to give a shout-out to Jess Pomfret, who is going to adopt Greg’s DR motto from Episode 124, “When something really bad happens, the first thing you should do is sit down and make yourself a cup of tea.” And so, Jess, I’m very interested to know how that tea tastes, once you finally have to make that cup. We also want to give a shout-out to Jason Van Pee, Russ Johnson, Nigel Foulkes-Nock for checking in with us and saying hello. I actually did convince Nigel to come on to the show, and so we’re going to chat in a future episode.
So now, for a little SQL Server in the News. So our friends over at dbatools have been quite busy, as they have been trying to release new versions and actually new products. We’ll be talking a little bit about their DBA checks a bit later. For today’s news, their dbatools are now MIT licensed, and while I admit I am not a licensing guru, everyone seems to applaud the move. I think this is going to provide a bit more flexibility, more for organizations that have a structured approach to adopting software, it’s going to give the organization that uses the software a bit more leeway so that they can feel confident in integrating with it in future components or projects. And I think the dbatools team is ultimately hoping that this will increase adoption as well. So it will be interesting to see what happens in the coming year as the new license percolates and more people can adopt it.
The show notes for today’s episode is going to be at sqldatapartners.com/sqlsat or sqldatapartners.com/126. And so again, this episode, chatting with Paul, I think that that event in Victoria is going to be happening here in the next couple of weeks, if I’m not mistaken. And so if you’re on that side of the country and want to go check it out, obviously you can go say hello to Paul and tell him that we sent you. And so the idea today was to get some organizers on, talk a little bit about their experience in putting SQL Saturdays together, and so we hope that you’ll enjoy the conversation.
Carlos: Compañeros, for a special treat today, we have a motley crew, if you will, here with us. Ultimately, we’re talking about SQL Saturday events. And so we’re going to go from East Coast to West Coast, here. So, gentlemen, why don’t you take a second to introduce yourselves and then talk about how the SQL Saturday got started in your city. So, again, we’re going to go from east to west, Andy, that means you’re up first.
Andy: I’m up first. Okay, my name is Andy Levy. I am the primary organizer for SQL Saturday Rochester, New York. This year is our 7th edition of SQL Saturday here in Rochester and it’s my 5th or 6th time being involved to some degree. So a few years ago our previous lead organizer, Matt Slocum, he just kind of looked at me and said, “hey, you’re doing it next year.” I said, “okay” and didn’t totally know what I was getting myself into and I keep coming back for more. SQL Saturday Rochester this year is March 24th, so it’s just coming up in 5 weeks or so, so we’re getting close to crunch time on that. And the way SQL Saturday started was, I had to talk to Matt about this last night because I didn’t know the full history. Matt Slocum went to PASS Summit in 2011, it was his first Summit. He heard about SQL Saturday there. That was his first time hearing about it. From there he talked to Karla Landrum, who was the community evangelist at the time and stayed in touch with her and he put that all together within the next 8 months or so, I guess it was. So that’s how it got started.
Carlos: Okay, very cool. Eugene?
Eugene: Yeah, so I’ve been– going to SQL Saturday for a while and Pittsburgh was one of the earliest ones all the way back to 2012. But I didn’t attend until the 2013 one. And I’ve never actually been involved with the organizing, but ever since I attended my first one, I was pretty much hooked. I remember thinking that, like, the SQL community was aggressively helpful. You know, like the world’s friendliest cult. And then when I actually did my first presentation at SQL Saturday, I never looked back, because it was just such an exhilarating experience. And so now, even though I’m not involved with the organizing piece, pretty much any SQL Saturday within a four-hour driving radius, I go to. And I was informed last year that Rochester and Wheeling are both within four hours of Pittsburgh, so I get to go to quite a few every year.
Carlos: There you go, and bringing up I guess a sore point, so you’re a little further than four hours from Richmond, but Rochester and Richmond are on the same day, that same March 24th and so you know, Andy and I still have to duke that out at some point.
Eugene: Right, fight for my love.
Carlos: Okay, Chris?
Chris: So I’m Chris Hyde. I’m a chapter leader here in Albuquerque and we’ve got a really good team for our SQL Saturday here. Some of us have been doing it for like 6 years, now. This coming May 5th will be our 5th one. We took a year break when we lost our venue. I’m sure we’ll be talking more about that in a little while. But we started similar to Andy’s story. Keith Tate was the chapter leader at the time and he’d heard about this. He talked to us, the rest of the team, “do you want to do this?” And we said, “heck yeah.” And he got in touch with Karla and she was super, super helpful. You know, that’s a big loss to the SQL Saturday community that she’s not still in that role. She was amazing. We took last year off due to the venue issue and we’re ramping right up for May the 5th this year.
Carlos: You’re back up again. Yeah, that’s interesting and I want to go back to Pittsburgh just for a second, Gina Walters was actually one of the key people to help get that off the ground and then she ultimately passed it off to Matt Nelson, who’s now still involved there. That’s an interesting thought. Let me go ahead and let’s start the conversation there and that is succession planning. So, we have had in these instances, Andy, you mentioned at Rochester Matt started it. You know, other people have started it, so let me give that Richmond history. I was the one who said “hey,” you know, it’s very similar to Matt, “I hear about these SQL Saturdays.” I went to one in Philadelphia and I said, “hey, what about Richmond, why not?” And so we started that off, but very quickly, because like Chris, you have chapter leaders who end up doing SQL Saturdays and it doesn’t take much to get burnt out. Right? So I guess thoughts about succession planning and maybe even broadening that idea just a little bit and getting help on the team?
Andy: Well, as far as succession planning, we have not thought that far ahead, to be totally honest. Like I said, Matt started it several years ago the second year, we had it in Rochester, I volunteered to help out, just taking pictures around the event, things like that. And then got thrown into helping out with a lot more of the details and leading up to the days before and then day of, the actual implementation. So, the succession planning for us was really me working side-by-side with Matt and then him taking a step back and letting me take the lead. It was a time issue for him, more than anything else. SQL Saturday really is a passion project, I think, for any organizer and really most of the volunteers as well. We do it because we love the community and we want to see these sorts of events keep happening. And I know from both my experience with this and with other things that we talked about at the SQL Trail Mix back in November, you know, that sometimes the best way to make sure something keeps going that you like is to make sure you stay involved with it. Right?
Carlos: Yeah, that’s right.
Andy: We haven’t gone out looking for successors. If someone wants to step up, I will gladly take them on and let them take over, or you know, work side-by-side. But we’ve got a fairly small SQL Server community here in Rochester, so I don’t know how soon we’re going to see something like that happen. But I would certainly love to see it happen. But it’s not something you can force to happen.
Chris: Well, I would say I’m not too worried about succession in Albuquerque, because we’ve got a core team of four that we’ve done, I think three of our four all together, now. So if one of us was to leave the others would be able to pick it up pretty easily. We’ve got it working like clockwork right now. Now, that being said, I did just shanghai one of our group members into joining the team.
Carlos: Good for you.
Chris: I gave him some specific responsibilities to look into the catering. He’s just knocking it out of the park for us right now.
Carlos: Oh, good.
Chris: Yeah, he came back with five different quotes and you know how it is when you get somebody new in, they’re really enthusiastic. So yeah, that’s awesome.
Andy: Yeah, having that core team is really, really crucial and I may be the person who signs the paperwork in the past to make the event official and really happen, but yeah, I’m not the only person working on it. Matt’s taking care of the financials, he’s taking care of the catering, he’s taking care of a number of other details. And then we have our volunteer wrangler, Kim St. Jacks. She takes care of getting our volunteers in the right rooms all day Saturday and making sure we’ve got coverage and pulling people off the street, sometimes, to help us out. Her daughters help us out with the event. She’ll have them come in and they’ll watch the raffle prize table or they’ll help out as room proctors or anything like that, whatever we need. So it’s a family thing for her. And without her managing the volunteers on SQL Saturday, we would just have a mess on our hands. Cause with everything else going on, I don’t know that I could juggle that as well.
Carlos: I haven’t been to too many SQL Saturdays where the attendees are overly critical, but I’m curious, what do you wish the attendees understood better about putting on a SQL Saturday?
Andy: Well, I kind of alluded to it earlier, SQL Saturday, for I think, all of us who organize these, and speak at these, it’s a passion project. We enjoy it, we enjoy interacting with the community and doing this for the community. Because I know that the SQL Server community has given a lot to me, personally and professionally, so this is my way to give back, and that’s why I do this. I don’t know how many of the attendees who aren’t heavily involved in the community realize that this is 100% pure volunteer and at the same time that we’re organizing SQL Saturday, we’re also juggling work, we’re juggling families. And sometimes a couple things may slip through the cracks because, you know, just somebody got overwhelmed with something going on at work and we overlooked some little detail. The other thing, just thinking back to some of the feedback that we’ve gotten from the event feedback forms over the years. We just do a pretty simple buffet catered lunch kind of deal, and it’s pretty standard fare. I think we do barbecue pork, we’ve got a salad, we’ve got a vegetarian, actually I think it’s a vegan option of baked pasta and tomato sauce. And we try to accommodate as much as we can diet-wise. But we can’t always necessarily meet everybody’s dietary requirements because the budget and the scope of the event just don’t allow for that. I don’t think people are overly upset about it. It’s something that we see on our feedback form year over year and I wish there was something more I could do there, but we just can’t do a special lunch for two or three individuals. Lunch is optional, you’re not required to purchase lunch at SQL Saturday. You can certainly bring your own food, so it’s not like we’re telling you that they can’t do that.
Chris: I think the vast majority of attendees kind of really appreciate what we’re doing and they understand that they spent ten or fifteen bucks for a free day of training. You know, there is that maybe two percent that have a complaint that the free food wasn’t good enough or the free training wasn’t good enough. But I think that two percent of people, they wouldn’t be happy, whatever went on.
Carlos: Yeah, they could probably still find something wrong with it, right?
Chris: The fact that we make 98% of our customers very happy year in, year out across all these different events across the country and presumably everyone’s pretty happy in the rest of the world, too. I think it’s just amazing.
Andy: The overwhelming response to our SQL Saturday events has been positive. You know, we do get a lot of people saying “thanks, this is really great, we didn’t know that this was even out there for us to take advantage of.” I actually have had a number of RIT professors come through and say “hey, this is really awesome, can my students attend? Do you have content that would be good for my students?” And my answer to that is, “yes, we are trying to do that.” And I actually had a professor email me back in January asking what our schedule’s looking like, and so I contacted him as soon as we had our sessions selected. And he was very happy to see that as well. So I think we’re going to hopefully get some students coming to the event this year who are looking to start their careers.
Carlos: Now, this is an interesting segue. So we’ve talked about attendees most of them are happy, but then you get into this different cross-section, and that is the folks who go to multiple SQL Saturdays and really this is kind of the speaker circuit, for all intents and purposes. And here’s where I think some interesting, I don’t know, dynamics, and admittedly, maybe I’m being a little too sensitive to it. So, let me just throw that out there, first. But it’s interesting that because they go to all of these different events, they take this idea they thought was really cool and they go to you as an organizer and they’re like, “hey, you know what, so-and-so is doing this. You guys should do that,” by way of feedback. Or the other thing that, again, I’m sensitive to is that when they’re Tweeting or using social media, “hey, look what we’re doing here.” And it makes me think, “gosh, should we be doing that?” And, to use that example of students as an example, there’s lots of talk in the organizer/speaker community about doing that. However, we have not had very good luck there. And I’ve seen organizers try to put together a beginner track, like ‘you don’t have to be professional’ track. Start here, kind of a thing. It’s difficult, it adds another layer of complexity because one, you have to get speakers who will fill those slots and then two, just getting enough students there. Are you going to have enough population that the speakers who are there then feel satisfied? That they’re getting their needs met, in a sense, from an attendance perspective. And so, it does bring some challenges there.
Eugene: It’s funny. You talk about speakers being a little bit too helpful. And literally, as Andy was talking about the student thing, I wanted to suggest something that we did at Pittsburgh. I don’t think we do it every year, but in the past we’ve done, like, You Wanna Be A DBA track. And it’s a full track of like intro sessions and you talk about getting speakers and keeping them happy for that sort of thing. And I think in our case it’s pretty easy because all the RDX people just take all their junior DBAs and force them to present. So I think that works out.
Carlos: So that’s interesting. That’s one of those things, it’s very city specific. What’s the balance between what the event’s supposed to be, like your own unique, individual culture from a city or an organizer perspective?
Eugene: When you’re dealing with this arms race, cause I think it’s part of what you’re talking about like leads to this thing where the definition of SQL Saturday gets so nebulous that you’re keeping up with the Joneses and this is how you end up with thousands of dollars in a budget and then you have one year where maybe the vendors are having vendor fatigue because there’s so many SQL Saturdays and now you’re in the red. Like that’s a dangerous thing to definitely be careful about.
Carlos: Yeah, you definitely can’t afford to be in the red.
Chris: I will say that in Albuquerque we’re trying to keep the mindset that this is for the attendees. I mean, the speakers will be in Albuquerque. If we don’t pay for a speaker dinner, the speakers will still get together and have dinner because they’re friends with each other and they’re friends with us. So if that doesn’t happen, at least for us, we feel okay about that. We don’t feel that we’re in an arms race. But we’ve made a very conscious decision not to join the arms race and just be happy with the community that we have.
Andy: Yeah, we definitely have not gotten into any kind of an arms race, if you will, partly because our budget simply doesn’t allow for it. And also because, yeah, you’re right, Chris, it’s really about the community. In the past, we tried doing some larger, maybe a little fancier speaker dinners on Friday night before the big event, and they were okay. But this past year, we had our speaker’s dinner at a restaurant in town, Carrabba’s. They have like a bar-height table there and it seats 16 or 20, it’s like a big, long family-style table, and afterwards, there were a couple of us that just kind of looked around and said, “you know, this was the best speaker dinner that we’ve ever had.” Because it wasn’t about being in a restaurant that was unique, and we didn’t have a room off to the side that was just for us, but the people that we had around the table, you know, our community, our speakers, that’s what made it so great. We didn’t have to go and do anything extravagant to get that. We just had the people there and we go together and that was it.
Carlos: Now we talked a little bit about the four-hour drive with Eugene. So I am curious, so from Rochester, what SQL Saturdays are within a four-hour drive?
Andy: Within a four-hour drive? Well, if it’s drivable for Eugene to come up, then Pittsburgh is drivable for us from here in Rochester. Albany, New York is about a three and a half hour drive for me. I live on the east side of Rochester, so it’s a little shorter for me. And unfortunately, I’ve been to Albany their first year, and I haven’t been able to make it back since, despite the fact that I have free lodging there. I grew up in the area, so I can just drive out and crash at my parent’s house, but it just hasn’t worked with family vacations. So Albany is a very easy drive for us. Cleveland is a little closer to five hours for us, but I’ve been there. I’ve driven down for that the past four years.
Carlos: And what about you, Chris? Within four hours?
Chris: Well, actually, the Las Cruces El Paso group did one a couple years ago and that was a four-hour drive for me. The only other, you know, Colorado Springs is six hours. Phoenix is six and a half to drive.
Carlos: I also wonder if the proximity, so Richmond, we’re kind of on that I-95 corridor, so we’ve got Raleigh, we’ve got DC, we’ve got Philadelphia, Pittsburgh is closer to five hours from us. But there are several, I mean, even Columbia, South Carolina, it’s still in that four-hour range and so I feel like there is a, I don’t know if, yeah, again, arms race is maybe not the right way to think about that, but at least we’re getting that pressure of, hey this–
Eugene: Some cross-pollination.
Carlos: Yeah, some cross-pollination, that’s right.
Eugene: Yeah, you go west and the states are too big.
Carlos: And I think it makes it difficult.
Chris: So I think this leads into something that some of the newer events can do to help themselves stand out. Traditionally Albuquerque has been in February, so we’ve had a #SQLSki. And we’ve had nearly a dozen people sometimes ski up in Taos the day before and come down and the day after, so it was something that was different about our event. Kansas City, for example, has the barbecue tour that they usually do. So, as a new organizer, if you can think of something in your area that’s unique, something that speakers would want to do on a Friday, maybe you’ve got a great place to hike that’s a little bit off the beaten path. That’s something as an organizer that you can kind of roll in that will help you get some speakers, without a lot of cost, without getting into that arms race that we’ve been talking about.
Carlos: Well, that’s funny that you say that. Now in both of those instances, I’m assuming the skiing as well, like I know the barbecue crawl, they’re paying their way to participate in that, at least there’s some group rate or whatever, but people are paying their own way. But it’s funny that that thought comes across so much. I mean, in Richmond we’re planning 2018, this is our 6th year, 7th year of SQL Saturday and we’re still having a conversation about “should we do something more for the speakers?” I think it’s tough if that’s the, again, I’m not saying that the idea necessarily is bad, but to feel like you have to stand out for the speaker’s perspective, I think you’re already kind of putting yourself in that dangerous position because you’ve stopped thinking about the attendees. Now, you could make the argument that more speakers or better speakers would be better for the attendees, but is that really what you need to make a successful event? I think that’s kind of a fine line there, right?
Chris: Well, I think the cost thing that you mentioned is key. It’s something that we in Kansas City, we’re not putting money into that event. We’re putting money into the main event, the SQL Saturday. The fact that there’s something else for the speakers the day before is a good bonus to get people there. I just want any new organizers listening, so that they don’t feel that they have to join the arms race, that there’s plenty of stuff locally that they can do that the speakers will enjoy because it’s something different. And then you can channel the financial aspects into the main event for the local attendees.
Carlos: Gotcha. Yeah, that’s an important distinction, I guess, is still having some kind of event but not feeling like you need to come up with money to support that event, is also I guess something to keep in mind. Okay. So then I’m curious, and I want to bring Eugene a little bit here into this. Andy’s suggesting that they’re a little bit more immune to it, but can you see how it would be a challenge, maybe, for organizers who feel like they have to compete for speakers?
Eugene: Yeah, I can definitely see the issue and I think there’s two things that fit into it. One is that, for better or for worse, there’s sort of this sense of prestige in the SQL community. And I think as you get more comfortable with that, you realize it’s not as much of an issue because you realize that some of these people, like Kendra Little or Erin Selato or whoever, that you’re like, “oh, you know, I could never talk to them,” you realize they’re normal people that have dogs or go running or whatever. And so, it’s no longer like you’re trying to get Mick Jagger to come to your SQL Saturday, it’s “oh, it’s this person that I know.” So I think that’s one of the things, it’s just not worrying so, not getting caught up in that prestige game. But then the other issue is that, unfortunately, the flip side of that sense of prestige is a sense of entitlement, and some speakers feel entitled. And like I’m guilty of this. I try not to be, I’m working on getting better, but you know, if I don’t get a shirt and some little card, I get a little sad. Like I know at SQL Saturday Cleveland, they didn’t do shirts this time. And ultimately, really, at this point I’ve got like 15 of them. If you’re a new speaker, it’s a little different, it’s kind of a badge of honor, but for me personally, I’ve got 15 of them and if I were to sit and be a responsible, mature adult and reflect on it, the things that I get the most benefit from is the chance to connect and collaborate with other speakers. So as long as someone coordinates a place we’re going to, and as long as at SQL Saturday there’s a speaker’s room where we can chat, then really I’m getting the main benefit of all of this. But it’s really, really easy to either feel entitled or to get used to something. Like I swear, the next time I actually have to cut out my speed pass, I’m going to throw a fit and then I’m going to realize I’m a 5-year-old for getting upset at that. But you get used to these things. So I think that’s why there’s this pressure, but I think a lot of times you just kind of have to let it roll off your back. And that’s easy to say, I haven’t organized a SQL Saturday.
Carlos: Sure, sure. Yeah, and so Chris, I want to get your take on this. So it’s easy for us to get on I-95 and go, but like you mentioned, you’re in Albuquerque, you’ve come out to Richmond before, you’ve made the East Coast trek. So thoughts or thought processes into how you decide where you’re going to go? I mean, obviously budget, I’m sure, plays a role there.
Chris: No budget ought to, but it really doesn’t.
Carlos: Well, I don’t know, excuse me, let me rephrase. Your personal budget, not the budget of the SQL Saturday. Your personal budget, right, you can’t–
Andy: That’s what he means.
Chris: Oh no, no, that’s what I mean. See, I’ve lived in so many places and I’ve been traveling for work for so long, yeah, I’ve done Rochester three times because I went to high school 30 minutes south of there.
Carlos: Okay, interesting.
Chris: I’ve done Albany because I lived in Albany. I went to college in Pittsburgh, sorry Eugene I haven’t made it out there yet.
Eugene: It’s all right, I forgive you.
Chris: But I will one of these days. You know, I came out to Richmond cause Carlos and I started talking about soccer when we met in Charleston, where I’d been for work. I like the community, I like seeing everybody. A little while ago, maybe a couple years ago I had a weird realization that I’m seeing a lot of these other speakers more than I’m seeing my real friends. But then a few months ago I had a different realization, which is “wait a second, a lot of these speakers, they are my real friends now, as well.”
Carlos: So that is something else to keep in mind, is that as you’re reaching out to people that you feel like want to come, make sure you’re asking about your friends, cause they’re going to have contacts and could they help in some way beyond just speaking? You mentioned the events, beforehand, “hey, guys, what would you be interested in doing, coming to my city? What would you be interested in doing here?” That might be an interesting conversation to get them a little bit more involved, maybe even take something off your plate and still get what you’re looking at from a speaker perspective.
Chris: I’d like to touch on something that Eugene mentioned. He mentioned kind of the chase for the prestige status and what I’ve noticed is for our attendees, there really are not many prestige speakers at all. Most of our attendees know three or four people in the community as the huge, huge names. Those of us who are plugged into the community, there are a lot of people that we think of as big, big names, that our attendees know nothing about. So our attendees are so much more focused on “is this a good topic, is this something that interests me, is this something that I can take back, to my job?” So it’s all about the topics, for our attendees, far, far more than who the speaker is.
Carlos: Right, and there’s also the flip side of that, too. So, having a big name. I remember being in Pittsburgh a couple of years ago, and there was a big name, probably one of those top 5 that everybody knows about. And it’s cool, right, cause they’re there, but on the flip side, if you are slotted in the same session timeslot, you know, forget about it, right. I mean well, I shouldn’t say that, maybe it goes back to that idea of entitlement. You feel like more people should be at your session, but they get sucked in to the other room because, they know who that person is and that’s the one slot that they get.
Andy: Definitely and to Chris’s point, yes, to us, there’s a number of people who are the big names and you know, “wow, if I could get that person, that would be amazing.” But a lot of the people that come to SQL Saturday, they’re not as plugged into the community as we are, and so they’re looking more at what the content is. And when I go to events, I look at who do I want to hear speak because there are people in the community who I would let them read the phone book to me, just because they are so good at presenting, I want to learn how to present from them. It’s not as much about the content for me, it’s learning how to present the content to people. And yes, so if I learn something about the material as well, then, you know, great, it’s a bonus to me. So yeah, definitely focused on getting the right mix of content for people. Would I really like to have those, you know, headliner acts every year? Yes, if I’m being totally honest. But I also recognize that not everybody’s going to know those names and really what’s important is making sure that we have a good balance of content and programming, regardless of the name attached to that content that’s going to bring people in and get them what they want to learn.
Carlos: So Albuquerque, you’re an outlier in February, slightly early, but we’re late March, so that’s definitely kind of the beginning. But April is packed, April and May, packed and you get September, October packed. And then you have all the other months. And so yeah, that can be difficult from a scheduling and when do I put this thing? I wonder that we don’t have any summer– didn’t you guys used to be in June, actually?
Andy: Rochester? We did it in June one year and we had a lot of trouble getting attendance.
Carlos: Yes, that’s right. So that’s why I feel like that’s why the summer months have just almost dwindled. I mean, there are still a handful out there, but they’re fewer and fewer.
Andy: Yeah, I think when we did that, it was very close to either Father’s Day weekend or the end of school, because here in New York we’re in school until the 3rd-ish week of June. So there’s a conflict there is just hard to get attendees.
Carlos: Everybody wants to go on vacation. Anything else we should be talking about?
Eugene: I think the biggest thing is just how interesting it is to actually start to understand how the sauce just gets made. And you really do develop much more of a respect when you realize how many hours and how much effort goes into this. And I definitely know my first maybe two or three years going to SQL Saturdays, I was pretty oblivious to actually how much effort went into things.
Carlos: Yeah, and this may rile some folks up, but as we’re organizing the SQL Trail, I think sometimes as SQL Saturday organizers, we don’t recognize or maybe appreciate, sometimes, all of the tools, or at least the culture or the mechanisms that PASS has provided to get us up and running. Now we could argue about how much they’re doing for us, but the reality is that they do have that culture and there is kind of an expectation. “Here is the template,” and while there have been issues with sponsors, “we’re going to plug you into sponsors on a national level”. And I think that the effort required to get most sponsors is less than it would be if they were trying to do something similar on their own. Yeah, so I guess thoughts there?
Chris: I would agree with that. What I would really like from PASS, and this is my wish list, is a way to keep the branding the same, but to allow the organizers more flexibility. To see, for example, if I wanted to put on an event and charge $40 and not have to worry about sponsors, I would like to be able to.
Carlos: So from that perspective, you are a little bit locked into that template, those are the rules, that’s one of them. Thou shalt not charge admission.
Chris: Right, yeah, frankly I’m not worried about sponsors because we’re not going to have any, so we’re figuring out how to put on an event without any sponsorship money other than the generous money from Microsoft and PASS. But we’re probably not going to have any other sponsors, unfortunately.
Carlos: Wow, now is that by choice, or just the result of kind of timing and everything else?
Chris: I think it’s the result of the sponsor pool dwindling as maybe they realize that the pool of attendees at a SQL Saturday, they’re the people giving their free time up to learn stuff because they’re doers and builders. Whereas a lot of the vendors want to sell to shops that they’re not builders, they’re buyers. So maybe some of the vendors are not seeing the (?) that we’d like, so they’re dropping out of that ecosystem. And so that’s okay, but I would like ways to be able to put on an event in my smaller community in different ways, to keep the branding. I recognize there’s some challenges there, but maybe a licensing model rather than a rigid template model would be something that could be pursued.
Carlos: I think that– that is a challenge that everybody’s going to have to deal with at some point.
Andy: Yeah, we definitely struggle with finding sponsors as well, and that’s one of our main sources of stress when we’re putting the event together. And I’m not a marketer at all, and so just not even knowing what companies exist in Rochester or in any other city, that I can reach out to and say “hey, we’re doing this cool thing. If you can sponsor us and be here and have a table at our event, there may be potential customers, there may be people looking to make a career change, maybe if you have any openings you could advertise those to them.” Things like that, and just not knowing who those companies are in town that we could go to and even a small amount of money for sponsorship. You know, you get five, six sponsors that are each kicking in a small amount of money, it adds up in a hurry. And money doesn’t buy happiness, but it buys options. It gives you a little more flexibility.
Chris: So, we tried to go the other way this year. We lowered our Bronze down to 250, figuring, if we could get five or six people in at 250 that otherwise wouldn’t have sponsored, that would make up for the loss of a couple of those 750 Silvers. But I’m not having any luck with the people that I’m reaching out to.
Carlos: Gotcha. Now, have you already had your event?
Chris: No, we’re still planning. We’re doing May this year. By the time we found a venue, we couldn’t squeeze it in to our traditional February slot.
Carlos: Yeah, okay, cause we’ve been talking about February, so I thought you were still in February, so I thought, “oh gosh”, okay. That’s interesting.
Chris: So if any companies are listening, for just $250, we can put you in front of 180 rabid SQL people in Albuquerque.
Carlos: There you go. Yes, we didn’t talk about it earlier, but to promote some of the other things that are going on, actually, in the Rochester event, even though Eugene’s not coming to Richmond, we could still plug him at Rochester. He’s going to be doing a pre-con on PowerBI.
Andy: Well, we just made it official about, what, an hour ago. Eugene will be doing a PowerBI pre-con implementing the other 90%. And we’ll be doing that on Friday, March 23rd and we’re actually going to be hosting that, not at RIT, but at the University of Rochester. So we’re kind of doing a split venue sort of thing this year. So it’ll be the pretty standard deal as far as the pre-con goes. You know, you buy your tickets and you attend and we actually include lunch in that, so get a lunch out of it as well as a full day of training from Eugene.
Carlos: Yeah, it’s interesting that you bring that up, cause that is another area of sourcing for SQL Saturdays. I feel like a lot of SQL Saturdays are doing pre-cons and I expect that number to actually go up in the future.
Andy: I like having the pre-cons for a couple of reasons. Number one, yes, it does help with offsetting some of the costs for SQL Saturday. It also gives us some extra time to set things up and get a few things ironed out a day ahead. So that forces me to be at the venue early on Friday morning getting some stuff set up and in the afternoon to finish picking everything up and so it gives us time to basically pre-stage the things at the venue so that on Saturday we’re not loading everything in at 6:30am.
Chris: I was going to say for us in Albuquerque, at least, we’ve seen sharply decreasing attendance at pre-cons. The first year, we had really good attendance, I think partly because it was new and partly because we had a couple awesome pre-con speakers. But then it’s declined so much that we’re not even doing any this year. The extra hassle that Andy mentioned, it’s just not worth the tiny bit of revenue that we’d get from it.
Andy: Yeah, we’ve definitely had an ebb and flow in the attendance for the pre-cons. Some years it’s very strong, some years it’s not so strong, but it’s always been enough for us to keep it going in hopes that it remains a viable venture for us. And some year we may reach a tipping point where we decide we’re not going to do it on a given year, but we take that year by year and see how things play out.
Carlos: I think we see that a bit in our user groups as well. There’s the core group of people that will be there no matter what, but then a lot of it is just they’re topic-sensitive. And I think more so than the SQL Saturday, the pre-cons tend to need to be cutting edge, or at least, new and shiny for people to invest a whole day in it. Some of the bigger names can get away with doing like performance reviews and things like that. I think that still happens, but it’s a little more complicated for somebody like myself on the D list, to do something that’s kind of tried and true. They want the new shiny toy.
Andy: Right, I think one of the ways that we’ve tried advertising the pre-cons in the past has been yes, it’s a full day and yes, there is a price tag attached to it, but if you go and look at some of the other training options that are out there, it’s still a really, really good deal.
Carlos: Oh, there’s no question.
Andy: And that’s how we try to package it to people who are trying to decide “should I go, should I not go”, and just say “look, your boss does not have to pay for a hotel, he doesn’t have to pay for travel, he doesn’t have to pay for meals, you’re staying here in town, it’s one day, it’s focused training, and you know going into it that it’s going to be useable when you get back to the office on Monday.”
Carlos: Well, that’s the other challenge, though, is that at the pre-con price at 100 plus dollars, you cross the threshold where people will give up their Saturday and pay the 10 or 12 dollars or whatever for lunch, okay, they kind of get that, right, but they say like “100 dollars? Okay, now you’re asking me to invest in myself and I have to go to my boss” and there’s kind of this question in their mind is, “is it worth the hassle of me going and seeing if I can get permission to do this thing?”
Chris: I’d like to say if there’s any new potential organizers out there, I really hope we haven’t scared you off. Yeah, there’s some hassles, it’s a lot of work, but it is so worth it. It’s paid me back in spades for the effort that I’ve put in. And you know, if you’re struggling to figure out all the things you need to do, there’s a ton of people out there. If you post something on Twitter, you will have a dozen people within 5 minutes offering to help out, to guide you along, to mentor you in the process. So, please reach out. Or, existing organizers, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, reach out. The community is there for you.
Andy: Yeah, I have to echo what Chris said 100%. Yes, it’s a lot of stress, it’s some sleepless nights when you get into crunch-time there, but it is so worth it and I am very, very happy that I’ve gotten involved with PASS at this level. And it has done wonders for me professionally and personally. I’ve made some great friends as an organizer, and I get to reconnect with those friends, you know, they come into town or I go out to their SQL Saturdays when I have the opportunities, or you can catch up at Summit, what have you. It’s been very worthwhile and I usually spend the Sunday after SQL Saturdays saying, “oh boy, I don’t know if I can do that again.” And then when Fall rolls around I say, “is it time for me to schedule that yet? Can I get the venue booked?” And I start getting that itch and then “yeah, let’s go for it, let’s do it again.” So, yes, potential organizers, don’t let this scare you off. It is absolutely worth it. If you’re not an organizer yet, but you do have a SQL Saturday in your area, contact the organizer, just say “hey, is there something I can do to help you out?” Whether it’s coordinating volunteers or it’s putting out the signs on the road to guide people to the parking lot, we need people to do that. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but every little bit that any volunteer gives, helps us as organizers.
Carlos: Many hands make light work.
Andy: Exactly, and any assistance is greatly, greatly appreciated. It’s easy to get involved at that level. It’s a few minutes here or there through the course of the day. It’s really easy, it’s a good way to get your foot in the door.
Carlos: Let me come back to that idea of, SQL Saturday gives you the template. Use it and don’t feel like you have to do anything more. You are going to see a lot of things on social media, you have the template there, if it’s going to take more time and energy, maybe that’s a year two thing, you don’t have to do everything in year one. And then of course if you can get a team together, you know, it has to be more than you. Yes, there are people out there that do it all by themselves. I think that they’re running a dangerous game, at least in my mind, as far as from a continuity perspective. But get help as quickly as you can, and have that person commit to a single task, because there are the different sections. So sponsorship, one, speakers, registration and then advertising. Those are kind of the main focus areas. And volunteers might be a fifth one. But then everything else kind of goes off of from there. So if you can make it as simple as possible, you’ll increase your chance of success, and the fact that you’ll actually want to do it again.
Andy: Yeah, definitely, your first SQL Saturday does not have to be a huge event. It can be something small just to get an understanding of what it is to run the event, what goes into it and you just need speakers, a venue, some topics, and people to come and join in for the day. You don’t need to have five or six tracks of six sessions all the way through the day. You can do it with a smaller roster, if that’s what you have. It’s whatever you want it to be within the core template that PASS gives you.
Carlos: Thank you gentlemen, for your input and we appreciate you coming on and chatting with us. It’s always good to have you. And Andy, I’m glad that we finally got to have you on the show.
Andy: I’m happy I could be here. It was a pleasure being here.
Carlos: And to you, as always, Chris, it’s good chatting with you.
Chris: You too. Andy, good to talk to you, as well. All right, take care, fellas.
Carlos: So, while we did cover a wide range of topics, we didn’t really scratch the surface on some of the other things. So this idea of the opportunity that it gives for people to be able to speak, to share what they know. The ability for, I guess it’s maybe a given, but the ability for attendees to be able to take advantage of free training, to be able to connect and get to know other people that they may or may not follow, or that they may come in contact with their blogs. I mean, just the amount of information that is available is super useful and to know that there are other people struggling. And again, just like we do on this podcast, compañeros, that there are other folks that are trying to make their own way, it’s just helpful to get together in a room and be able to talk with people face to face that way. And so again, we think SQL Saturdays are great opportunities. But it will be interesting to see how they evolve. What we didn’t also talk about was the future of SQL Saturday. And again, this is something that we could probably debate for a while. It had come out before we had recorded, but I didn’t want to put any pressure on the guests, but PASS had come out with a letter, Grant Fritchie from the board of directors, basically giving some guidance on the future of the SQL Saturdays and saying “hey guys, thanks for all your input, but from an infrastructure perspective, and from a monetary perspective, there’s not much more we can do.” And while I think, it might anger a lot of the organizers, that they feel that they don’t have all the tools that they need, I’m cautiously optimistic that this might be a way for us to evolve the event and to make it more our own. I do think that it might require, and Chris alluded to this idea of breaking up or changing the structure of the SQL Saturdays slightly, but with that leeway, we, as organizers will be a little bit freer to make the event our own and to do something that is unique to the city. And so that we’re not quite comparing ourselves as much. And I’ll be interested to see how that works. I know I’ll be headed to several SQL Saturdays here in the month of April. Of course we have ours in Richmond in March, and if you’re coming to Richmond and want to say hello, obviously I’d love to connect with you. I’ll be down at Raleigh, and I’m actually headed to Wheeling, West Virginia as well. I think there’ll be some others in the future that I’ll be attending. But yeah, it will be interesting to see how things continue to change and how they evolve. And I think there will be some struggles, but I think as organizers it will hopefully help us take a step back and say, “okay, why are we doing this? Why are we putting these things together? Who really are our customers? And what are we going to define as success criteria?” You know, while it’s great, perhaps the number of attendees or the number of tracks that we have, things like that, aren’t necessarily the metrics that we’re going to be using in the future. And so I’m interested to see how that all plays out. Of course, compañeros, I’m sure that you have some ideas or some thoughts on this. Obviously, we’d love to hear from you. You can leave messages on the show notes page, which is going to be sqldatapartners.com/sqlsat or you can reach out to us on social media. If you think there’s topics we should be talking about, that’s always an interest of mine as well. You can reach out to me on LinkedIn. I am @carloslchacon and I’ll see you on the SQL Trail.
Carlos: Now that is an interesting thought. I’d like to get your feedback on it. So I find myself being pro-ending early, so whatever time you start at, 8:30, 9:00 to five. That kind of seems to be the typical schedule. We had a situation a couple of years ago in Richmond where I think we actually had five speakers cancel the week of and so we were in a panic, you’re in the final throws of everything. And so we just decided to cut the last track and moved who was there into the other slots that were now empty. And so we ended up finishing up like at 3:30 and it was awesome. And I loved it and I thought we should do this again. And we went back to the five o’clock time. I guess I am curious, it is only once a year and I think there are those who will stay, but thoughts about ending a little bit earlier?
Chris: I think the draw back to ending earlier is people go home rather than to the after-event. Now depending on how your after-events have gone, but our last one in Albuquerque, we had, I think, over 60 people and it wasn’t one of those after-events that is 100% speakers.
Carlos: Oh yeah, that is the largest event that I’ve ever seen. And now some of the big city ones, that might be slightly different. But I’ve never seen that many people. I think, like 35, 40 people is a lot. You know, you’re doing good. And when you think about the attendee size, I think you threw out like 180, something like that? That’s about what Richmond is. That’s like what we’re going for as well. We say 200, but we’re really more at 180. And I think that 70, 80% of it is speakers and then we get maybe a handful of other people.
Chris: Yeah, it was just such a good feeling to have that many people from the community there. Not just the speakers, but to have so many locals plugged in and engaged with all of the speakers and engaged with each other. I mean, that was my favorite part of the event.
Andy: Yeah, that’s very interesting, because we typically have an after-event, but it’s always been very small and it’s usually a few volunteers, a few speakers and a couple of local group members. It doesn’t get very large at all, and I wonder what would happen there if we were to end an hour earlier, more or less, hour, hour and fifteen minutes earlier. Because I think a lot of people just, they’re tired from the day.
Carlos: Right, exactly.
Andy: And would they just pack up and go home or would they stick around for that party? Maybe it’s something we could throw a poll out.
Carlos: Yeah, to that point, so we talked about cross-pollination and all that stuff, so here I am, maybe I can preach it better than I can practice it, but that idea, what if you nixed the last session, but, now obviously, your sponsors would be the question mark, here. Although we’re seeing a lot of our sponsors bail and they’re not even there for the raffle anymore, either.
Chris: Yeah, we see that.
Andy: We see that as well.
Carlos: But what if you held your raffle at the after-event? Now, cost, that becomes a problem, cause who’s going to pay for all of that if you’re actually shelling out money for that. Now we’re not going to do that in Richmond, so this is just a according-to-Carlos thought.
Andy: Yeah, my concern with doing that is the way that we do the raffle is you have to be present to win. You’re probably the same way there in Richmond.
Carlos: No, that’s right.
Andy: So, if you have the raffle at the after-party, and people say, “well, I don’t want to go to the after-party, so maybe I’m not going to put my ticket in the raffle box at all, because there’s no point to it.”
Carlos: Oh, that you’re not going to win. Oh, that’s true. Yeah, the tickets, yeah.
Andy: And now are our sponsors not getting the return that they were expecting because of the tickets. So that would be a big risk, I think with doing it that way.
Carlos: Yeah, that’s true. That’s a good point.
Chris: Yeah, I think we’re going to get around that this year by not having a raffle, period. I mean if by some miracle we get a good couple of sponsors in, then yes, we’ll obviously have that part of a raffle. But yeah, we’re not expecting that. It would be great if it happens. We’re not buying event sponsorship gifts. I don’t think we need to have that. I think our attendees are going to be happy with the training.