As COVID-19 prevents us from gathering in the same place and has us moving to virtual platforms, I was curious to see how other events would handle what I feel is the most critical piece–interaction. Technical content is important, but Google can’t be your only friend and sometimes you just want to talk through a problem with someone. The first events I attended simply slapped some technology on remote presenting and called it a conference. While I can see a value to ‘real time’ training, you couldn’t ask questions–you didn’t know who else was in attendance. How do organizers continue to put on compelling events?
This had a major impact on my thoughts around SQL Trail–SQL Data Partners’ in person event. I had thought to cancel the event; however, after talking with Matt Gordon, he has given me reasons to reconsider and we are looking forward to having an event in October. Matt put on an event in April and I was interested to get his take on how things went and how he accomplished his goals for the event. I have also participated in several online events and in the episode we discuss the pros and cons of virtual events and we give our take on how to make them better.
Matt is a Microsoft Data Platform MVP and has worked with SQL Server since 2000. He is the leader of the Lexington, KY PASS local group and a frequent domestic and international community speaker. He’s an IDERA ACE alumnus and 2020 Friend of Redgate. His original data professional role was as a database developer, which quickly evolved into query tuning work that further evolved into being a full-fledged DBA in the healthcare realm. He has supported several critical systems utilizing SQL Server and managed dozens of 24/7/365 SQL Server implementations. He currently utilizes that real world experience as a data platform consultant helping clients design solutions that meet their ever-changing business needs.
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“A virtual event, if you have it and nobody shows up, you’re out a few bucks because you bought the domain and whatever. Where an in-person event, if you go to all that trouble and 5 people show up, it’s a big screw up.”
Read the full transcript of this episode.
Carlos: Compañeros! Welcome to another edition of the SQL Data Partners Podcast, Episode 202. Our guest today is Matt Gordon. Welcome Matt!
Matt: Thank you, hi!
Carlos: And we’re here with Kevin Feasel and Eugene Meidinger.
Eugene: Howdy, everybody.
Kevin: Well, I probably should say something for the audio.
Carlos: Yeah, I was going to say, Kevin is now playing the silent role.
Kevin: Wait, this is a talkie? Thought I got paid extra for those.
Eugene: You’ve got to renegotiate your contract.
Carlos: So, Matt comes to us from Lexington, Kentucky, where he is working with various tool vendors, which I didn’t know you could do. I see Idera Ace and Friends of Redgate.
Eugene: He’s playing the field.
Carlos: Playing the field, that’s right.
Eugene: He’s afraid of commitment.
Matt: Please don’t tell my wife, though. She doesn’t listen to this.
Kevin: That would be awkward.
Carlos: So, he’s currently a consultant and a Microsoft MVP and it’s not painful at all to see all of the notices– I shouldn’t say all of the notices, but all of the LinkedIn messages. I log into LinkedIn today, MVP, MVP, MVP. I’m like, “guess who won’t be posting that?” Me!
Kevin: Also me, because yeah, I got renewed, but I’m not going to, like, “hey, let me tell you about it.”
Eugene: Yeah. I’m in this limbo state, because I got nominated like a year or two ago, but it was during– I think was when I was transitioning from a crappy job to working for myself. And there’s a lot of paperwork involved, and I just never I never did it, and I like always feel like a butt about it. So, there was actually one point where a Microsoft guy tried to throw me some work because he’s, “well, you’re an MVP,” and I’m like, “no I’m not.” So, I’m like some orphaned row in their database. I’m like the ghost of MVP, I don’t know.
Carlos: That’s funny.
Shout-outs & t-shirts
Carlos: Okay, so today what we want to talk about– so let’s see, somehow, I don’t have shout-outs, which seems surprising to me.
Eugene: You just don’t care about anybody, then, I guess.
Carlos: I guess. I can say a couple of things. So, thanks everybody who signed up for– oh my gosh, talk about editing. Why can I not remember anybody’s name? And these are people–
Eugene: Are we allowed to edit? This is video. We’re going to do it live.
Kevin: We’re doing it live, people, we’re doing it live!
Matt: Do it live!
Eugene: Yeah, exactly.
Carlos: Yeah, oh my gosh, who was Episode 200 with?
Kevin: Bob Ward.
Carlos: Bob Ward, thank you, oh my goodness gracious.
Eugene: It’s not like his name is hard to pronounce. I mean, it should be easy.
Carlos: And this is why I’m not an MVP, right here. I cannot remember his name. Okay, thanks to everybody to signed up for Bob Ward’s book. We were able to get all of those copies taken care of, so if you missed it, sorry. We didn’t have that many, better luck next time. Okay, so we could also mentioned in that episode, we talked about selling T-shirts on Amazon. So, if you have been to the URL, there’s a slight change there. Long story short, we’re not selling them on Amazon just yet; they’ve kind of paused that program we were going to be using, so we’re actually selling them through Etsy. But if you want to help support the program and wear some SQL Data Partners Podcast apparel, you can go to sqldatapartners.com/tshirt, singular, although we probably should make the S there just in case, as well.
Matt: You want people to buy more than one.
Carlos: You can buy more than one, there you go. Put it in their minds.
Matt: The link only has one, I can only buy one. Yeah.
Carlos: Then you can go there, and we’ll make that happen. Our show notes for today’s episode is going to be at sqldatapartners.com/mattgordon, all one word or always the episode number, which is 202.
Matt Gordon’s Day of Discovery
Carlos: So, Matt, you mentioned, we were talking about this in what we were going to put together today. So, you ended up putting together a Data Platform Discovery Day. That was in April. SQL Saturday Richmond, which also I think was in April this year, ended up being virtual. We had just a couple weeks ago, the 8K conference, which is–
Carlos: 8KB, thank you.
Kevin: Yep, and then a little bit before that, Data Architecture Day.
Carlos: Okay, so we’ve started to see these virtual events start to pop up.
Eugene: I describe them as the sourdough starter of the tech world right now.
Carlos: Oh, there we go.
Matt: I like that. It’s true.
Eugene: It really is.
Carlos: And so, now admittedly, I’m coming to this by way of our event SQL Trail. We’ve been trying to get off the ground, well, to grow a little bit, if you will. So, we’ve had it for three years, this was supposed to be year four, and I was against the idea of having a virtual event for reasons which I can get into. But they are starting to be more and more popular and now the Big Kahuna of them all, of course all the Microsoft events have gone virtual through next year. But then the Summit, so PASS Summit, which is the one that we all know and love, is also going virtual. So, it’s going to be in Houston, now they even did a whole big speaker renewal, you could submit again, etcetera, etcetera. And so ultimately, what I thought we’d talk about a little bit today is the idea of virtual events. So maybe The Good the Bad and the Ugly. So Matt, as you’re our guest, we’ll let you take first dibs here. So, talk to us about the Data Platform Discovery and maybe let’s start talking about virtual events and give us your take.
Matt: Yeah, so the idea came to me I guess late March, and it was when all of this stuff was really, really bad. Everything’s closed, you’re pretty much locked at home, and at the same time with everything closing, I started to know friends of mine in the industry or not, who are losing jobs at a rapid pace. So, I’m sitting here like, “man, I really feel like I can’t do anything. Like you can give to a GoFundMe for your local restaurant or whatever, but I don’t feel like I’m doing much.” So, the idea that I had was to do a 100-level one day virtual conference to help people either new to their data career kind of change streams; maybe they’re a programmer and they want to do dataviz or something like that. Or to help somebody who’s brand new; maybe they just got laid off as a bartender or server or whatever. And they’re like, “you know, I really need to know more about this stuff because, jobs in our sector mostly are okay. Not all of them obviously, but most. And so, I wanted to have an event that I hoped kind of help folks like that. And so we put it together really fast, myself and Stuart Moore, he did the UK/EU time zone version, and we were blown away with the submissions we got. I hope it helped people. We got some nice feedback back, and the nice thing was, as you probably see, when you go to a lot of these events you see a lot of the same people. If you scroll down the list of who’s there, it’s a lot of the same folks. What we were really pleased about was that when we went down the list of ours, we knew very few, and it was generally somebody popping in to see their friend’s session and then off they go, so most of the names were brand-new. A good bit of the feedback we got was that people were brand new. I had pretty ambitious goals for it and we didn’t meet those, but we had, I think, almost 900 people across the two events and almost all of those people stayed for the whole time. So, I was pleased. There’s a lot I would do differently.
How it rolled out and what Matt would do differently
Carlos: So now, what was the whole time?
Matt: It was 10 hours, which looking back was probably– I wanted to give people a full day to feel like they got their investment’s worth even though it was free. That was probably too much. Looking back, I was exhausted and all I was doing was hanging out on Slack and kind of making sure everything worked and moderators showed up. Having to actually absorb every bit of information or try, that was too much. So, I’ve had some thoughts on if I were to do it again, how I would want to do it. But yeah, it did seem to kind of set the ball rolling for these targeted events, because you had 8KB that came out and announced their thing shortly after that. We went on one side, they went on the other side, but you can do it because a virtual event, if you have it and nobody shows up, what you’re out a few bucks because you bought the domain and whatever. Where an in-person event, if you go to all that trouble and 5 people show up, it’s a big screw up.
Carlos: Oh sure, and food and travel, because you’re trying to get speakers, they have to come and– you know, the data platform space I think is, what’s the word, has gotten has gotten by, or has kind of created this culture where speakers are willing to go across the world and pay their own way to do that. I think that’s somewhat unique, but there are potentially still some costs there and whatnot. So yeah.
Matt: But yeah, it does allow you to kind of take some risks that you otherwise couldn’t. And it was really funny, we announced it quietly. You know, I wouldn’t say either Stuart or myself are well-known or SQL Famous, as my wife says, so we just kind of threw Tweets out. Like, “hey, we’re going to do this event and it’d be cool if you sent some sessions in.” Because in the back of my mind at least, it’s like, “well, if we don’t get any sessions for a few days, we’ll just pull the Sessionize page down and pretend we never talked about this,” and then, yeah, they just started to flood in. So, I was surprised by that, I mean, for the US event I got 104 sessions for 10 slots.
Carlos: So, you did the single track?
Matt: Single track, and I tried to get some introductory, like dataviz stuff, querying, intro DBA, kind of touch the main pillars of this, I mean even though everything keeps growing. We didn’t touch everything, but by the end of it I was turning down people on the product team. I was turning down good friends of mine, just because I didn’t feel like it was quite the right fit. I mean, the selection was excruciating; I hated that part. I just spent the night messaging people like, “I’m so sorry I didn’t pick your session. I hope we’re still friends.”
Carlos: Yeah, the political fall-out.
Matt: But yeah, so then the next thing, I’m like, “well, alright speakers.” Everybody had had a bunch of events cancelled, so I’m like, “well, I guess it’s not surprising I got a bunch of sessions, because nobody has anywhere to speak right now.”
Carlos: That’s right, sure.
Matt: Then, are people going to show up? And we we did our best advertise it. What we really wanted to do is have like local recruiters and stuff pick this up and share it on LinkedIn and stuff like that. We got some of that; I’d like to do more, but part of it was because we put it together so fast. It was a month from– well, a little over four weeks from idea to thing. We’d probably give it more runway next time, because it has to get outside our bubble to be kind of what I really wanted. But yeah, it was really interesting, and it was a project, and at that point in this year, a project is kind of what some of us needed, I think.
Carlos: Sure, sure. Okay.
Would Matt do the event again?
Kevin: You mentioned what you would do next time. I guess the big question would be, would you do it again?
Matt: Well, one of the troublesome moderators, Mr. Ben Weissman already announced the second one while he was moderating the first one, so there is a bit of pressure to do it again. A source close to the organizer cannot confirm or deny that we’ll do it again, but we are talking about some things we would want to do. Because the one part, I wanted there to be more visibility of– I didn’t want people to think, “oh, there’s one speaker and we’re just sitting here on this thing,” so I wanted the moderators to be a bigger part. We had some longer breaks and we invited people to flip their cameras on and have a little bit of conversation. That’s the one part I would revise quite a bit and try to do more of. I’ve sent a couple ideas to some folks on the PASS board for some things that I felt like we learned that I think could help Summit, so I’ll be curious to see if any of those make the cut. And if PASS doesn’t do them, then I very well might spin up a round two and see if my ideas are any good or not.
Carlos: Well now, so we’ve talked a little about this before, so at one point, maybe it was offline. We had an event and it had to have a speaker’s room kind of track. So, let’s get into some of the networking. So, for example, SQL Trail, the whole reason in my mind to putting on the event is for networking and kind of that collaboration. So, I don’t know you, Matt, and I want to be able to have interactions with you that are, yes, some of them are technical, but also, we’re talking about our kid’s soccer league and whatnot, that are outside of work but help us form relationships. And those connections. It’s like, “oh, okay, well, Matt’s in Lexington. I don’t know, next time I want to go to the Kentucky Derby,” which I’m not even sure is in Lexington.
Matt: It’s in Louisville. It’s about an hour away, but the hotels are cheaper here, so it’s basically here and then you just drive an hour.
Carlos: There we go. That’s the connection that I want to make, and I feel like, and my first initial thought was, “hey, I am not going to do an event this year.” But they persist, you know, there’s lots of energy that continues to kind of want to be there, and even at PASS, they’ve said, “oh, come for the networking.” And I’m like, “you have got to be joking me,” because I am not convinced that that can happen. Now, there’s four of us in this meeting. I’m going to say four, maybe five, is the limit, and once you get beyond that, like talking over each other, that whole idea of having, again the camera’s always on you, I think Kevin mentioned this.
Kevin: Just watch this. I can talk over Carlos right now; I just destroyed his conversation and there’s just one of me.
Matt: What are you talking about? I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Carlos: And I think, particularly, because you get a couple of very dominant personalities, we’ve all been to that event where a person just talks and talks and talks and talks and talks. Like, that’s just going to kill the room, and again, you’re in single track, you have a moderator, but then how are people supposed to engage?
Can attendees network at a virtual event?
Carlos: So maybe, I don’t know if you consider those secrets or not, Matt, but I’d be interested to et your take in how an attendee, so I’m not a speaker, I’m not a moderator, how can an attendee attempt to network at a virtual event?
Matt: So that’s the hard part, and that’s the part we didn’t do right, and kind of almost missed completely. Just thinking back on my journey from in this stuff, like I think my first Summit was in 2013 and sat in the back and didn’t talk to anybody. I would go to SQLSaturdays and stuff, but I didn’t know anybody. Then I got a job as a consultant and was told, “you have to go speak”, and had to kind of get over my fear of that, because I wanted the job. And then, thinking back to starting out from that, then getting my MVP and speaking at some large events and stuff like that, a lot of that was a series of kind of happy accidents. Like I would have the room before or after somebody who is really well-known, and they would introduce themselves to me and we’d chat and they thought I seemed smart enough, I guess, and they’d be like, “oh, you should submit for our event that’s this,” and so you go to that, and you meet somebody else there. That’s really hard to replace right now. Now the nice thing is, it’s easy if somebody’s having an event in Asia and they’re like, “you should submit for our” whatever, you just can, because you can’t fly or do any of that.
Carlos: The SQLSaturday LA is probably the best example, they had people from all over the world submit to that event, and technology made it possible.
Matt: So, I’d like to think, and I don’t know how Summit’s going to do this, and like I said, I have a couple ideas that aren’t well-formed enough, probably, for me to share them here, because they might be stupid, and I wouldn’t want to say anything dumb.
Ideas on what you can do to connect people
Carlos: Well, and so admittedly, well, let’s deescalate that a little bit, so I’m still on the fence in terms of, okay, so having my event. I said to my team, we’re not going to do it. If we can’t do it in person, we’re not going to do it.” But we’re trying to rebrand slightly, and there’s also the idea of just continuing to have it, so the momentum of putting it together and putting something on, even if it’s smaller.
Eugene: So, I’ve got some input, because–
Carlos: Here we go.
Eugene: Yeah, well I’m involved with multiple virtual conferences.
Carlos: And Group By is one we haven’t talked about.
Eugene: Yeah, right, so I’m involved with Group By and then I’m a program manager on Summit, which means I have no idea how we’re doing it from a technical perspective, I just help pick the sessions. But a couple different things, so with Group By, I’m one of the three volunteers on the committee, and then there’s like three people from Paper Sword Marketing, which is the company that Blythe Morrow owns. So, there’s basically like 6 or 7 of us on the team, and so far, the main networking has been doing a Slack channel, and that’s okay. Like you can start threads, you can get some of that kind of stuff, but I really wish Slack had a great feature for “I want to turn this thread into a DM”, a group DM or something, to kind of replicate the “let’s have the three of us walk away from this bigger conversation and go chat about something.” I’d love to see something more like that, but I mean, Slack works well for like a bare minimum chat functionality as long as everyone’s comfortable with that. Stuff that we’ve talked about is, we thought about doing like a virtual happy hour kind of thing, and maybe doing some party games that have a minimal risk of people drawing body parts. So, there’s a bunch of great–
Kevin: Femurs. You can’t draw femurs in public.
Eugene: Oh man, ankles get me going. No, so there’s like the Jackbox Games are great for Zoom or GoToMeeting or whatever, especially the ones that again, don’t allow you to fill in the blank, because people will fill in blanks that maybe they shouldn’t. So, you can either pick like a selected group of people to be the official players, and then the Jackbox Games allow the audience to participate and they can vote on things.
Carlos: Now, you’ll forgive me, when you say Jackbox Games? For those who are less than knowledgeable about–
Eugene: No, no, no, that’s reasonable. You should check it out. So, if you Google like Jackbox digital games, it’s basically just a bunch of party games where you can play on your phone, and you just need to be able to see the host’s screen. So, think about like trivia games, think about, maybe not Pictionary, so there’s one that I love that again, would not be safe for work, potentially, depending on the group, called Patently Stupid. And you’re brainstorming an invention, and so you’re given some sort of prompt that someone else has created. Like, “don’t you hate it when you get ideas in the shower?” Or something like that, and then you might come up with the idea of a water-proof notepad, which is an actual thing. And you have to come up with the title, you have to draw the invention. And then you have to come up with your tagline, and so you present it and that sort of thing. So, there’s a bunch of these great party games, or you could even do something simple like Jeopardy. So, there’s stuff you could do.
Carlos: So, I see that in terms of interaction. Well, I shouldn’t say interaction, in terms of involvement. So as a participant, I can participate in more than just listening in there.
We’re waiting for a killer conference app to be created
Carlos: It seems like I’m still lagging in the, “I want to make a connection” category, because it doesn’t foster the conversation, which again, I think is really, really hard. Now, granted, you can have a shared experience and that might turn into something else. You follow each other on Twitter, etcetera, you have kind of a–
Eugene: So, like specific to your thing, I think what would make sense is, okay, set up a Slack server and invite everyone in and have different channels and have channels for presenting so people can talk about the sessions, but they can also connect. You have some way of sharing information. I think we talked about last year it would have been nice to have a social media board where you could go and be like, “oh, this is that person’s Twitter.” And that shared experience of like, you know, that network track, let’s do a trivia night or something, is potentially a way to connect or feel like it’s more than just a bunch of webinars. Because that’s the challenge that we ran into, and I’m sure you did, too Matt, with the Group By thing, is I attended SQLSaturday Cincinnati and I presented two sessions. And I had a great time, but it basically felt like a bunch of webinars in multiple tracks. Like, I mean this with no offense to anyone, the reason that I attend SQLSaturday these days is the speaker dinner. Literally, you think about it, a third of my income every year comes from connections that I’ve made during speaker dinners. When I go to SQLSaturdays as a speaker, I generally at this point, attend one session, I present one session and spend the rest of the time in the speakers room just BSing, and that’s where I get my value. And I think one of the things that we’ve run into, and I’ve been thinking about with the PASS side is the more you want to try and replicate the actual conference experience, it gets exponentially more difficult.
Carlos: Oh, sure. And so that’s the other piece. Obviously, at my– well, again, I’m speaking for our conference, the SQL Trail event.
Eugene: Yeah, yeah, yeah, you have a motivated interest, here.
Carlos: We want some technical components, but there’s so much, I mean YouTube, you can go watch hours and hours and hours of technical detail already.
Eugene: Right, right, exactly.
Carlos: So, I don’t still quite understand. Now, Matt, you mentioned the niche. You’re transitioning, you’re new, and I think the 8KB also had kind of a very similar idea in terms of, “hey, this s what we’re trying to provide,” okay, well, obviously if you meet that target demographic, it makes that a little bit–
Eugene: I think it’s an unsolved problem right now. I think we’re all figuring it out and we’re waiting for Microsoft with Teams or Slack or GoToMeeting to come out with a killer app for running a conference a year from now that allows you to do these hallway talks and that stuff.
Matt has some ideas for virtual networking, but it can get expensive
Matt: So, one thought I had, and it’s one of them that I did pass along to PASS that I think is well-formed enough that I’ll share it here. Maybe it’s not.
Eugene: Modestly coherent.
Matt: Yeah, right.
Carlos: You’ve entered the no-judgment zone. Now, our compañero listeners, be nice to Matt.
Matt: One of the things I wished we had done is, we were doing okay. We had a Slack channel for the public, we had a Slack channel for speakers, that’s no cost, easy to do. And the speaker interaction behind the scenes, like speakers and moderators was good, but we kind of all knew each other, like I picked people that if I had not selected their session, I wanted the people attending to know these people because I think they’re awesome, so, it’s not like we were introducing anybody new. But that’s the part we missed out on is I wanted those people to feel like they got to know the organizers, speakers, moderators, and I think I missed the mark, there. and one of the ideas I had to kind of improve on that is if you speak on a topic, then you need to commit to, like a Birds of a Feather on steroids, where there’s a room and I spoke on High Availability, or whatever. Then there’s a room that people go to and they have access to the speaker, just like the hallway at an event. “Hey, I saw this thing in your talk,” or “I have this thing that has nothing to do with your talk, but I think you might know.” Like, when I spoke at Data Platform Summit, in India last year, they had you commit to a time of Q&A where you just go sit someplace and people can come up and ask you stuff. I thought that was really cool, so I’d kind of like to replicate that. I hope PASS does it. If not, I’d like to take a swing at it, but the problem is, that gets expensive. So, the only way, really, we were able to put on our event was that Redgate was extremely generous and gave us a GoToWebinar seat that we could put 500 people on for free. They didn’t want us to make a big deal out of it; we had a couple Tweets thanking them, we had a thank you slide. They were really helpful, Grant especially, and he’s probably going to yell at me if he hears this, was incredibly helpful making this go. Because I pretty much just asked him like, “hey, I know you guys have a bunch of seats for this stuff, here’s my idea for an event, can we have one?” And he did a lot of work to make that go and make sure that all the RSVP stuff worked and so, Grant’s awesome. But it was just off them that we were able to do it. If Stuart and I had to go find a tool, pay for a tool, you know, some of the ideas I’ve had, then you go from one room to maybe 8 and that’s not free. And then you’ve got to go find sponsors, and then you have to give those sponsors value. It gets exponentially more challenging. So, like it’s great to come up with the idea, and that’s why I tossed a couple of these at PASS, because I hope they do it, because I think that’s the part that everybody misses. Part of the reason I have the job I have now is because of conversations I had in the hallway at SQLSaturday New York in 2015. “Oh, Matt, meet this person.” And then, you know, you end up with a new job and you end up speaking at somebody’s event and off it goes. That’s the part we have to figure out how to plug in now. That kind of Birds of a Feather on steroids is one idea I have.
Why people spend the money to go to conferences
Eugene: Yeah, I like that idea a lot. I mean, that’s, you know this will probably sound controversial, but I think it’s true and everyone will agree, no one pays $3000 for the content at a conference. That is the catalyst.
Carlos: Well, except for the approver of those funds.
Eugene: Yes, the economic buyer, sometimes. No, no, no, whenever you– yes.
Carlos: So now, you may not be the one, like if you’re the employee–
Eugene: But I mean, if you’re paying out of pocket, right?
Carlos: Sure, if you’re paying out of pocket, if you’re paying for your own.
Eugene: Yes, I agree.
Carlos: And if you are, then you’re missing the mark.
Eugene: I agree. If your boss is paying for it, you’re not going, “I really, really want to find a new job and I was hoping you could send me.” Right?
Matt: Here’s the thing though, my first two Summits, the way I sold it to my boss was that the CAT team was there, or that such and such expert in clustering was there, and I was going to ask them stuff about issues we had, and he’s like, “oh, you can do that?” And I was like, “yeah, okay, cool, here’s $2500, off you go.” So, you do need that. You know, I didn’t tell him like, “here’s the agenda and here’s the 10 sessions I’m going to go to.” I said, “here’s the people that I intend to talk to and ask about struggles we’re having.” That’s the part we have to have.
Eugene: Yeah, well, and part of the reason I bring that up is PASS is going to be a premium virtual conference and there’s a lot of competition. We just named a bunch, like again, these virtual conferences at the lower end are the sourdough starter of the tech world, and so everybody’s trying to be like, “okay, what can we do? We need like a GoToMeeting thing, we need 10 speakers, and we need a little bit of planning and we can put something up.” And that’s not to denigrate anybody, it’s awesome, but that’s the minimum bar and that’s free. And so, to charge $500 or whatever Summit’s charging, you have a much, much higher bar and a lot of the value that people are willing to pay money for isn’t there by default in a virtual conference and it’s hard to get there. And so yeah, I am glad that I’m not on the board and I’m just the schmuck that has to pick the sessions, because I mean, it’s a heavy lift. Like, I hope we’ll do it, I hope we’ll do it well.
Thirteen hours is actually more than 6 hours
Carlos: So, what do you think from a timeline perspective? So, admittedly I’m using this as a sounding board. So, Matt, you had mentioned the 10 hours.
Eugene: He invited you just to help his conference. That’s why you’re here. He’s not even recording. There’s no red dot on the–
Matt: I’m here to help. Oh, man, you’re right, I don’t even see it.
Carlos: Hey, why do you think I started this podcast? To be able to pick people’s brains. Okay, so you said 10 hours, SQLSaturdays have been going, I want to say 8, like 9am to 5pm. I guess throwing in some lunch or some time away. So, in terms of, I’m actually thinking of, and in this case it’d be a mini-conference, so like a half day, 4 hours. Do you think that that– you said 10 was too long.
Matt: It was, yeah.
Carlos: So, what, maybe where’s the– how do you right-size that?
Matt: For my mind, I kind of think maybe for one of these a conference day probably ought to be around 6 hours.
Matt: Because it just, like I said, even when my event went off, like all the moderators were great, speakers were great, so I was just hanging out, making sure stuff didn’t break and responding to people saying, “hey, can I get a copy of the slides,” or “I need a certificate for my boss that I attended this.” I was doing stuff like that, and I was worn out, so 10 hours, way too much.
Eugene: Yeah, it’s just exhausting.
Matt: Yeah, I think 6 is about right, and if you have some of these ancillary things around them, whether it’s a happy hour or a Birds of a Feather thing, or a panel or something, you can kind of fill out the day there. But yeah, in terms of instruction, I think I don’t want to sit through more than 6 hours.
Kevin: I’d actually go a bit lower than that. So, when I did Data Architecture Day, it was 13 hours.
Eugene: Thirteen’s not lower than 6, Kevin. I mean, you’re really good at math, but–
Kevin: I’m going to let you finish, but.
Eugene: Go ahead.
Kevin: So, when I did Data Architecture Day, that was a good 13 hours; it was all at OBS Studio, I was the one running everything, so I kind of had to be there for everything. And at the end of it I’m like, “that was fun, it was absolutely exhausting, and 13 hours was too long.” Realistically, three hours. So, for a conference, there are costs to getting there, not just in terms of actual dollar amounts, but time to travel, time to get over there, those sorts of costs. You don’t have any of them with a web conference. The opportunity cost for a web conference is much lower, because I’m already in an area where I can do so many other things, versus physical conference where, okay, I’m essentially sinking some of my time into this, so I want to get the most out of that that I can. And that’s where, yeah, a full day really makes a lot of sense, because I’m investing enough, I want to be able to get all of that out. Whereas, for a web conference, no, after two, three hours, you know what, something’s going to distract me, I’m at the point where I’m saturated and it’s time to move onto something else.
Matt: Yeah, well, and think of what most people do at Summit. I mean, I was a good student my first two years, like, “well, the boss man’s paying, so I’m going to every session slot.” What I realized is, you can’t do that, because you don’t remember anything that you didn’t write down. So then what you start doing is, “well, I’m going to go to a few sessions and I’m going to grab lunch at Taphouse, or I’m going to go to the Sheridan and have a coffee.” I assume Summit will do full days and I know that they’re still kind of grappling with how to handle time zones and all of that. But, yeah, if you’re going to do a full day virtual conference, you need to give people something to pop in and out of if you want to keep them there. Because eventually your eyes are just going to cross from trying to sit in sessions, but if there’s a social component, a networking thing, whatever you’ve got that, if there’s a virtual Taphouse that they can hop over to and hang out, it kind of refreshes you.
Carlos: Yeah, and even the physical piece, like I’m moving from room to room, I have to go from session to session. With the webinar, I’m here, it’s like even Lord of the Rings, at the end you’re kind of like, “man, I’ve been sitting for a long time.” You know?
Breakout rooms might work pretty well
Kevin: Yeah, and the other problem that I see is that, we’ve mentioned it already, but it’s worth bringing it up again, with an online event, you really only have one voice thread that can go at at time, and so, you’re limited. If you want proper interaction, you’re limited to text. And even then, the equivalent is I’m just shouting to everybody in the room and that means you can have a couple of threads going, like, we host all of our events on Twitch, and the ethos behind Twitch is that you do have chat that’s a little unruly. It’s like a Greek sport.
Eugene: Spam emojis, yeah.
Kevin: I try to avoid as much of the emoji spamming as possible, because I hate emojis. But you know, you can have a couple of threads going, two, three threads going, but still, there’s a limit to how much can happen in chat before people start saying, “I don’t understand what’s going on.” So, you’re really limited in how many proper interactions you can have. When you’re at a real event, a physical event, there can be dozens of conversations happening in a large enough room, because we all find little corners and modulate our voices so that not everybody hears it. We have indoor voices; some of us do.
Carlos: Some of us. Yeah, there’s always going to be the all caps person.
Kevin: Leeroy Jenkins.
Carlos: Okay, so that’s interesting. So three hours? I like that Birds of a Feather. I’m interested to see one of the things that Zoom has, to get into technology for a second, we’re on a Zoom conference right here.
Kevin: They’ve got rooms.
Carlos: They’ve got the breakout rooms, so you have the idea of coming together and then kind of shifting, you know, like breaking out. So that makes it a little bit easier. I don’t know that the GoToMeeting or GoToWebinar, you can have different rooms, but then you’re side-load and I don’t– you can’t get in together, so I can see that being a challenge.
Eugene: The Zoom breakout meetings actually works decently well, because I’m in– this is going to sound really specific. I am currently in a virtual Bible study on racial reconciliation and justice. And so, my church started that after all the recent events, and there’s like 100 people in it, and it’s been working out well because, yeah. So, there’s like 100 people, it’s an hour of sermon or lecture, however you want to think of it, and then it’s 30 minutes of small-group. And so there’s like 10 breakout rooms and so you listen for an hour and then you have half an hour of 10 people trying to do that dance of, like, “okay, I’m not going to talk over this person.” And I feel like for what we’re trying to accomplish it’s working really well. But again, like it’s presumably a shared community, it’s very respectful and all of that kind of stuff. Once you get into like a conference of thousands of people, like you said, you get the loudmouths and stuff, that can be more of a challenge. But I like how Zoom is able to do it.
Matt: Yeah, I mean, that’s the hard part. If you did any sort of like an open room, whether you call it Birds of a Feather or whatever, you have to aggressively moderate it, because we’ve all been to enough conferences, even in sessions a lot of times there’s that person that either they’re trying to stump the speaker or they’re trying to show off that they know a lot. And that’s going to be a real challenge in this venue, because you’re really just going to have to say like eventually, “hey, stop talking and let some other people talk,” and if you’re passive in this, it’s a complete mess and everybody’s just going to sign out.
Eugene: There’s a whole ‘nother wrinkle, too, that again makes me glad I’m not on the board, is you know, Summit has an anti-harassment policy. So it’s like, that’s a whole ‘nother layer. There’s the guy who’s trying to stump the chump and then there’s the guy who’s a little creepy and needs to be dismissed. And it’s like, I’m glad I don’t have to think through those problems. Again, I just think about curriculum and how much Hadoop content do we want. We’re going to have more than enough, because of Big Data Clusters, I can promise you that, for this year.
And Carlos’s virtual conference problems have all been solved
Matt: Alright, so we solved everything. Good job everybody.
Eugene: We solved Carlos’s problem. He’s going to do it, it’s going to be three hours, there won’t be snacks.
Kevin: Bring your own snack.
Carlos: No, I am thinking, so that idea actually makes it sound– so, for example, we had been doing shirts, so another thought that I had to get everybody together is, so I was thinking four hours, Kevin said three. I think maybe in total it will be four, maybe three sessions, if you will, with some breakout time. Get everybody to register. And admittedly, at least the physical event, I was focused mostly in the Richmond, VA area, that’s who I was kind of drawing as attendees. Virtual changes that a little bit. But the thought was to then send everybody t-shirts, so then again, in terms of participating, “hey, when you come, wear your t-shirt.” That way we’re all in the same thing and it kind of builds that.
Eugene: I think for your thing what you should do is plan it to be five hours and three hours of actual content and two hours of fluff. Like have a keynote or some sort of socialization thing, three focused hours and then like maybe a trivia game, or something like that. And so, the people who have SevOne issues they need to deal with, just try to block out the three hours for the technical content. The people who have a slower day can be there for the whole five and they know that the bookends don’t require a lot of mental fatigue or anything like that. And so, I think there’s a way to do it that could work well.
Carlos: We could potentially even do the breakout, we could potentially even try a multi-track, at least one or two, because we could use the breakout rooms, where everybody gets together, “hey, if you want to be in this one, let me know. we’ll coordinate you and we’ll shove you into those rooms.” And then meet for an hour and then come back together and do whatever. So yeah, I think we’d have to prepare for that, make sure the mechanics are very sound, that everybody knows exactly the steps and whatnot, and what happens when you get somebody that joins in the middle of a breakout room and could you get them over there; things like that. Just on the technology a little bit. Well, interesting, so Kevin, I felt like you were going to jump in there with something.
Kevin: I was.
Eugene: Now we’ll never know.
Carlos: Now we’ll never know. the world will have to wonder. Okay, so now–
Kevin: It was a mention of Fermat’s Last Theorem.
Eugene: Zoom has much bigger margins that he did, let’s be honest.
When are we all getting together in person again?
Carlos: Yeah. So, I just got an event for a networking group here locally that wants to start in July. They’re going to have an in-person event in July, which seemed a little aggressive to me. But I’m curious, to transition slightly, when do you think we’re going to get together? We’ve talked about this a little bit. So Matt, let me ask your thoughts. When is Kentucky or Lexington going to get together for in-person user group meetings again?
Matt: So that’s interesting. I did try to take advantage of this to get some speakers that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to get, because I just know it’s hard for them to come here or it’s very expensive because they’re not from the states. So, I scheduled remote through October and kind of talked to the group and said, “let’s do that.” Now, what we’ve talked about, though there’s no interest in it right now is, maybe if we get to October and things are okay, which seems unlikely, but who knows, that we could get together. Our site, our new meeting site is quiet enough where we could just have a Bluetooth speaker, whatever, and everybody’s sitting in the room would be able to hear the session. And we could have the in-person component back. Candidly, I assume we won’t get together in person until next year. And our numbers for all of this are actually decent. Kentucky, there’s not lots of things that we’re awesome at, but we’ve done a solid job with this, so it might be possible for us to be in person, but there doesn’t seem to be any appetite in the group for that yet.
Carlos: Right, and that’s a key thing, appetite.
Matt: Customer is always right, especially with this. If I have an in-person event and I’m the only one that shows up, I failed. So, if they want to be in person, we can do that. If they want to be virtual, then we’re going to do that.
Carlos: Right, that makes sense to me.
Kevin: Yeah, it became a lot more convenient for me when running the group when it’s all done from my house. So, I mean, that is a legitimate factor, that hey, I spent half an hour before sessions setting up all the video equipment so I could record everything and have it be available. Well, now it’s all just on this computer. I press start and now I’m streaming. So, I don’t think there’s any pressure at the moment for, yeah, let’s get user groups back going. I think user groups will be a lagging phenomenon, because people will be at work first. As long as most people are still working from home, I don’t think there’s any urge for a user group to meet in person.
Eugene: Yeah. I think we’ll probably see it like spring next year. Because I think what’s going to happen is you’ve got–
Kevin: Yeah, it’d be after winter, sure.
Eugene: I think right now we’re got some states that are swooping back up and a lot that are going down. But then we’re going to hit the fall and we’re going to hit flu season and I really don’t think we’re going to be truly over this hump until winter’s over and we’re after flu season and like we’re either getting–
Carlos: Sure, because it’ll be hard to tell the difference and all of that stuff.
Matt: I think you’re right, yeah.
Eugene: Yeah, so I’m expecting sometime in spring next year.
Carlos: Okay, so then I’m curious, so in terms of, so I’m thinking about the 360 event, they’re still in Florida. As far as I know they’re still panning on moving ahead. What does this do–
Kevin: They’re not. They’ve postponed.
Carlos: Oh, they’re not?
Matt: Yeah, they’re off for this year.
Matt: Yeah, they extended the call for speakers a few times, cause I had submitted a couple sessions, because I’ve always kind of wanted to do that. then they sent an email out that basically said, “no event this year, have it roughly the same time next year.”
Carlos: Gotcha. So then what does that do for the fall conference season?
Kevin: The only conference I know that currently has not either cancelled or gone virtual is SQLBits.
Carlos: Which was a postpone from the spring.
Kevin: Right, which was already postponed from the spring, and it’s in England. And I wonder if–
Eugene: We can’t attend. Americans are banned from like every country right now.
Matt: We are right now. Yeah, I mean I feel for those folks, because that’s all volunteer conference. You know, there are a fair number of speakers from the States and I had sessions there. I really want to be able to go, but it’s a dynamic situation, let’s say. So somebody told me that the conference center where they’re having Bits actually has an in-person event booked for the end of August. I don’t know what kind of conference it was. So they have something on their calendar. Yeah, I don’t know, I mean they may face a thing where they can go forward with the event, but half their speakers can’t get into the place to talk. I don’t know.
Carlos: Right, that is a challenge. Okay.
Eugene: Fun stuff.
Virtual might be here to stay, but the in-person event isn’t dead
Carlos: Well, very good, so I guess last thoughts?
Eugene: I will be interested to see the innovation that comes out of this. You know, I’m really hoping that in 2021 one of the big players comes out with a product that solves this issue.
Carlos: Well, and now to me, that means then that virtual conferences are here to stay and that there’ll be a need to kind of keep going. If that’s the case I don’t think that bodes well for in-person events.
Matt: Well, so I think we’re going to have a healthy mix, because in-person events give you some things that virtual events just can’t, and for all the things we’ve just talked about. But virtual events do allow you to target a niche. And like I said, you can take a shot and if nobody shows up, it wasn’t a good choice, but if a lot of people show up, it was. And it also allows you to open your attendance to more folks, because there’s not that barrier of cost. It’s not like, “well, I really want to go and learn all of that, but I don’t have $3000.” You know, it might be, “I really want to learn all of that, and I only have to have a few hundred or a couple hundred, or nothing, cause it’s free.” I think we’ll settle into some sort of medium, here, cause yeah, I’ve read all of those blogs where people are like, “the in-person event is dead.” I don’t believe it, because the connections you make there, whether you’re speaker, attendee, sponsor, just isn’t the same.
Carlos: Right, but if you can then create a way through technology to provide some of that connection options, admittedly to a lesser degree, and the technology is no longer a factor, because I can go buy a course. I can go, again, on YouTube and get all of that detail, I feel like it does make it more challenging to–
Kevin: No, there’s still a human factor.
Carlos: No? that’s fair.
Kevin: You’re looking at a screen. Yes, it’s a screen that has people’s images, but I can understand, no, that’s not a person. That’s just a box. A box with noises coming out of it. And, you know, especially when you’re in a conference scenario, if you’re in a breakout room with 10 other people, I don’t have a personal experience, I have a remote experience. And the in-person experience is radically different, so there will be that desire for, “I want to be able to actually talk to a human as a human and not through some device.”
Matt: Yeah, and I think especially for our little part of the tech world, I feel like we’re almost stuck in limbo, here. Like I can think of as I started to get into speaking and things like that, you begin to have a sense of, oh, well, these people are really well known, and then kind of the people that are up and coming a bit. You start seeing them at more events, you start hearing people say, “wow, have you seen such and such talk? They’re really good.” There’s none of that going on right now, and I feel like we’re almost kind of stuck with all of the relationships we have and the people we know and all of that. and I can speak for me and a few others to say like, I don’t like that feeling I want to get out and see people. And I’m not an extrovert by any sense, but yeah, that human factor, no matter how good the technology gets, you’re never going to be able to pull off the atmosphere of a speaker room with 30 people sitting in there talking about this event and that event, and, “oh, how did you fix this?” And “oh, well I have an idea, we should start an event that does–” like you just can’t do that, here. It’ll come back; but yeah, I mean I think early to mid next year.
SQL Family Questions
Carlos: Very good. Should we do SQL Family?
Carlos: So, Matt, we haven’t talked much about SQL Server today, so we’re going to assume that you still use it.
Matt: No, Access only, 100% of the time.
Carlos: So how did you first get started with SQL Server?
Matt: So, when I graduated college, I got a job as like a general IT guy and I had run cables and built servers, just kind of all of that stuff, fixed the phone system. Cause it’s a computer, it’s the same. So, the place I worked, they bought an accounting package and it ran on SQL Server and they didn’t know– we didn’t have anybody who knew database stuff at all. And so, my boss came to me and he’s like, “hey, in school did you take any database classes?” It’s like, “yeah, I took one on Oracle.” And he’s like, “well, figure it out, it’s started running slow and the company doesn’t know how to fix it.” So that was my first exposure to it and then that kind of lead to a series of other jobs of databasier things, and here I am.
Carlos: There you go, the rest, as they say, is history.
Matt: That’s right.
Carlos: So then what advice would you give to someone wanting to pursue a career similar to yours? SO maybe the talk that you couldn’t give at your conference, what would you suggest for those folks looking to move in?
Matt: It’s so challenging right now, because there’s so many, there’s so much going on that you can feel like it’s too much. People smarter than I am may say, well here’s the 5 things you have to learn or whatever. I think what I’d say is network, I don’t want to say aggressively, but don’t stop. That’s the one thing I messed up for a long time is I didn’t network myself at all. Like I went to work, I did my thing, I went home, I never reached out on a message board or something like that. so I guess I’d say, if you have an interest in software, data or whatever, kind of find a local user group or something like that and volunteer there and help there. and you’re likely to end up maybe in a job you don’t think, you know, that may not even exist when you start. But I guess that’s what I’d say is, volunteer at whatever level you’re comfortable with, whether it’s getting up in front of the crowd and doing a talk or helping organize things or chase down sponsors or whatever. Networking’s really been the key to how I’ve gotten to wherever it is I am.
Carlos: What’s one thing that can instantly make your day better?
Matt: Hearing a good song.
Carlos: Oh, now do we have a genre or a group or a band or?
Matt: I’m one of those really annoying people that says I listen to everything. But it is kind of true, like whenever my wife goes through my phone and sees whatever the playlist was, she’s always like, “what’s wrong with you? Why don’t you like one kind of thing?” No, it’s just a good song. Some days that’s a happy song, some days it’s not, but yeah, something that you’re just like, “man, that was good.” It just kind of picks me up a bit.
Carlos: Good deal. You’ve got $10K, what kind of computer or tech stuff are you going to get?
Matt: A sim racing rig, because I like to drive race cars sometimes, and that’s a bit of a challenge this year. We’ve had the car out once, but yeah, I mean, just like everything else, the calendar shifts and races that are going to happen lose their dates to other series and all that. But yeah, I have this plan in the back of my mind to buy a sim racing rig, have it do folding at home stuff when I’m not racing, and then having it do sim racing stuff when I want to. I haven’t found 10 grand in the couch cushions just yet, though, so.
Carlos: There you go, but 10 grand will get you there?
Matt: That would get you a pretty nice rig. You can actually build them a lot cheaper than that, but 10k would get you, not a high-high end one, but a proper one.
Carlos: But a proper one, okay, very good. Now, what famous person in history would you want to spend the day with?
Matt: Man, that is such a tough call. There’s a lot of interesting folks. Thomas Jefferson, I think.
Carlos: Okay, Virginia man. I knew there was something I liked about you, Matt.
Matt: There you go. You know, obviously an imperfect person, to be sure, but yeah, it’d be interesting to pick the brain of somebody that intelligent and kind of forward thinking, in certain ways, obviously not in other ways, but yeah.
Carlos: Yeah. We’re all going to get judged through the lens of history a little differently. Okay, and our last question for you today, Matt. What’s your favorite ice cream topping?
Matt: Peanuts, like crushed. I know that’s kind of boring.
Eugene: It’s not bad.
Matt: It’s solid. It’s never bad; you’re never like, “those peanuts were terrible.”
Carlos: Even the McDonald’s ones, you get them with your cone.
Matt: They’re probably the low end, but yeah.
Carlos: That’s right. Now, is there a certain kind of ice cream?
Matt: So, we’ve got an ice cream place here in town called Crank and Boom, which I have no relationship with them, but the ice cream’s really good. So, I think if you go on Goldbelly, they’ll ship like nationwide.
Carlos: Ice cream, huh? Man.
Matt: Yes. I assume it’s expensive, because you’ve got to ship that fast and frozen, but yeah, you can actually get it everywhere. But they have a shop probably about 10 minutes from my house and they have a bourbon ball ice cream that is so good. So good and yeah, I can’t think of polite ways to describe it. It’s really good and everybody should have it.
Carlos: Everybody should have it?
Matt: If you don’t like whiskey, it is pretty bourbon-y, so if you don’t like whiskey, it’s probably not for you, but it’s delicious. Chocolatey and oh.
Carlos: I’ll have to go with some other option then, Matt, but I’ll take you at your word for it, then.
Matt: All of their ice cream is good, so yeah, that just happens to be my favorite.
Carlos: That makes it convenient.
Closing Thoughts & Contact Info
Carlos: Awesome, well, Matt, thanks so much for being on the program today. We do appreciate your insights and your thoughts.
Matt: Thanks for having me, this was really, really fun.
Carlos: Yeah, now if folks want to contact you via social media, how can they get in touch with you?
Matt: I am sqlatspeed everywhere online. So, Twitter, LinkedIn, GitHub, though I don’t have much exciting out there, yet. I have some things I’m working on that’ll be out there this summer, but that’s a project I can’t really talk about quite yet.
Carlos: There you go.
Matt: But yeah, sqlatspeed, data stuff, racing stuff, happy to talk about all of it.
Carlos: Nice. Eugene?
Eugene: Well, Kevin has left us, but you can find him in the About menu in OBS studio, and you can find me at sqlgene on Twitter and sqlgene.com for my blog.
Carlos: And compañeros, as always, you can reach out to me on LinkedIn. I enjoy connecting with you there. if you have reached out to us through the podcast, just let me know, send a little note when you connect, I’d appreciate that. otherwise, I will respond back and ask, “hey, how do we know each other?” I am there at Carlos L Chacon. Thanks again for tuning in, thanks Matt for being our speaker, and compañeros, we’ll see you on the SQL Trail.
Listen to Learn
00:27 Intro to the team and guest
02:17 Shout-outs & t-shirts
03:57 Matt Gordon’s Day of Discovery
07:28 How it rolled out and what Matt would do differently
10:49 Would Matt do the event again?
13:53 Can attendees network at a virtual event?
15:29 Ideas on what you can do to keep people involved
18:46 We’re waiting for a killer conference app to be created
21:19 Matt has some ideas for virtual networking, but it can get expensive
24:23 Why people spend the money to go to conferences
26:23 Thirteen hours is actually more than 6 hours
30:30 Breakout rooms might work pretty well
34:24 And Carlos’s virtual conference problems have all been solved
36:38 When are we all getting together in person again?
40:49 Virtual might be here to stay, but the in-person event isn’t dead
44:06 SQL Family Questions
49:33 Closing Thoughts & Contact Info
[…] to hang out and talk to folks – a sentiment I heard echoed this morning when I listened to SQL Data Partners Episode #202 with Matt Gordon (blog | […]
[…] SQL Data Partners Podcast Episode 202: Virtual Conferences (Carlos L. Chacon) […]