The Road to SQLSaturday Orlando – 2016

This year I’ll blog sporadically on the event, focusing on pain points, discoveries, and new ideas with the occasional progress report.

  • Requesting the event # is much better than the last time I did it (years ago). More of a wizard, lets you set the exact location (though it’s a little quirky) and add multiple admins (as long as you know which email address the admins use for PASS related stuff). I wish it suggested the admins from the year before. Once submitted they send out the form to sign (Shawn McGehee is the signer this year) and then there is still a pause while the logo is built and the site provisioned. Not effortless, but better than it used to be – progress!
  • The site has been a little flaky. Several speakers reported errors when trying to load the submission page and we were cautioned to not publish the URL right after the site went live. Feels like a little work to be done there.
  • As much as we’re excited about hosting our 10th event, we’re mindful of not taking on too much. Karla & Rodney aren’t on the team this year (returned to Pensacola, but we’re looking forward to having them back on Oct 8th!). Kendal, Brad, and myself have all changed jobs recently and Gilda did so last year, Shawn has been super busy at work, and  Josh has torn up his knee. Gareth is the rock this year!
  • We expect to do a couple pre-cons this year, most likely hosted at Nova for more central location and more flexibility on lunch options (we can bring in whatever we want). We love bringing speakers to town for full day classes, but as we look at our track record of attendance we’re struggling to justify the work/risk against the return. We’re not going to make a change this year, but I think for next year we’re going to have to look at higher pricing, foregoing them, or moving them to a different time of year. The hard part is we we know how important it is to give speakers the chance to practice their craft on these day long classes so that they can try to move up to the Summit. Expect a change of some type on this next year.
  • The admin web site still shows the registration count by week on the graph. We don’t need that. We need to see trend this year compared to previous years, so we’ll still be relying on Kendal and some back flip powershell to give us the visibility we need.
  • The admin site emailer is improved some, but still…not enough. I don’t see a way to save a draft. You can email to one or more previous events, but it’s not clear to me if someone asked for ‘no further email’ if they are excluded no matter what, or if we will spam them.
  • I’ll be writing the marketing content this year, Kendal will review and tweak the layout as we go (using the template from last year). I’ll also be working to combine lessons learned from two years of the Student to IT Pro seminar into what I  hope will be a close to final formula. I’ll be working with Gilda on that and she will again manage the execution on game day
  • We went out our first email to only the reg list from last year on Friday (5/20), so far our reg count is 60.
  • When Gareth returns from his world tour we’re going to do a site visit and try to find room for more sponsors. Gareth is in charge of sponsors this year, I’ll be helping out on trying to get more of the local staffing companies to participate.

On a wider scale, one of the things we’re thinking about is what could we ask PASS for in terms of extra support for our 10th event, being mindful that it could set a precedent so it has to be sustainable. I’m thinking cash equivalent. A billboard or radio ad (to try something new), or maybe funds to pay costs for someone to present a free all day session to reward the community we serve. We’ll see.

Events I Wish PASS Organized

I was talking a bit with a friend at SQLSaturday Jacksonville and realized I needed to write down a thought or two. I love the PASS Summit – its the great gathering of our craft. But I also long for specialized events to supplement both the Summit and SQLSaturday. Imagine that a couple times a year PASS held smaller (say 100-300 attendees, give or take) that focused on a specific area – maybe one with a lot of interest, maybe one that is trying to take off. In a way it might be a SQLSaturday for a Virtual Chapter, but I think it would be more than that. Not quite SQL Rally either. Similar in size, but different price point and different objective. I’d go to one that was 400 level on architecture, or performance tuning, or availability. Not just for the 400 level content, but to learn from and share stories people that are actively working on that stuff at that level all the time. I think the session format would still work, and getting picked to speak at one of these would be something. It would be slower, more personal, deeper. Worthy of a close to premium price (think $400-$600 per day, same as Summit).

I’m writing all of that in a hurry (or it won’t get written at all), so it’s less than polished. My point here isn’t to complain about PASS, just to encourage what I always ask; do more. Serve the craft. Serve the members. I want PASS to be more than just events, but it’s good at events, so let’s do more. Stop and think about whether you’d go to the boss to ask for funding to attend a three done conference on some topic here that was limited to 300 attendees and had 400 level content.

It’s smaller risk, easier logistics, more choices of locations. Why aren’t we doing this?

Notes From SQLSaturday Jacksonville 2016

  • Everything ran smooth
  • The site reminds me of Orlando – limited space for sponsors, but offset by the other advantages (free venue, great parking, good rooms)
  • Lunch was 4 lines of real food and it looked like the max wait was in the 8 minute range (and less for many). Food was self-serve which works, but I’m still a fan of having a team of volunteers serve, the biggest reason is that it just makes it easier on the attendee.
  • Rooms had 6 sheets of paper taped to each door with session info. Each slightly overlaid a later session/sheet of paper. All they had to do was remove the top sheet. Simple and elegant.
  • I stopped by the room Brian had set up for kids to spend the day learning. 10 kids (capacity) and there were 10 more on the wait list. They were building paper bridges when I was there. Interesting note, each child had a name tag that included the phone number of their on site parent.
  • It was relaxing to be “just” an attendee. I found I preferred the auditorium type rooms because there was power at each seat. Learned a few things, a good day. On the long breaks I did some PC cleanup and finally have all my stuff running on Windows 10 (in VM’s hosted in Parallels on OSX).
  • Surprise of the trip was trying out Moxie, a restaurant near the event site. Interesting menu, you should go look. I had the bread pudding waffle and chicken (good), skipped the roasted pigs ears.

How Two PASS Chapters Join Forces to Run One SQLSaturday In Orlando

We’re lucky enough to have two PASS chapters here in Orlando, oPASS and MagicPASS. Both in Orlando, but about 40 miles apart, Orlando being the metro sprawl area that it is. Back when we nervously made the decision to launch MagicPASS we also talked through the implications for SQLSaturday and came up with a common sense plan – the groups would rotate the “lead” position each year, but both groups would be on the event team each year. So far it’s always been whoever the Chapter leader was, but it doesn’t have to be. The chapter could appoint someone else, though it would need to be someone that the entire event team was confident could take on the role effectively. It a simple system and has worked well. This year is the first time we’ve changed it (sort of), swapping the schedule around so that oPASS would lead two years in a row, a decision made when we knew Kendal (MagicPASS) was changing jobs and wasn’t sure about the workload or potential restrictions on participation at the new job. The rest of the core team varies from year to year a little bit, but it’s always the ones that are willing to put in a lot of extra time to make something good happen. Looking back I think we’ve done ok at growing and encouraging people to that level, but I wish we could do a little more, or do it a little better. It’s not just about volunteers for this year, it’s making sure we have a pipeline to support the event for years to come. That minor quibble aside, the people side of this just works. That’s not unexpected given the people involved, but it’s nice to be able to say it nonetheless.

Each year we each make known what area we’d like to focus on (marketing, sponsors, etc) and try to signal how much time/energy we have. We then figure out a way to get everyone doing something they want to do, or at least don’t hate! The time/energy thing is harder. Everyone wants to do their part and more, but it’s usually the ones that are swamped the most that are worst at signaling they might struggle for time. That’s not meant as criticism, it’s a core part of working with volunteers. We all start with time blocked and good intentions, but in practice life often conspires to use up that blocked time and energy in unexpected ways. We do a bi-weekly or weekly call which keeps things moving and reminds us all that we commitments. If we see something lagging we will nudge some and if that doesn’t help we take it offline to work on cross leveling the load. I can’t say we’re great at that, it’s always a little awkward calling a peer and a friend for that discussion. Care is called for and exercised, and I think the result is that whoever was behind is quietly relieved to get the help. Again, I’m not criticizing our team here. I’ve certainly had years where I was the one not keeping up. The most important thing we can tell a volunteer is this – if you fall behind or need help, ask early and keep asking. Getting the task done is what matters, not that it might tweak our pride a little to say that we can’t do as much as we promised.

The last part of this is the money. Whoever leads the event gets the funds and pays the bills based on the decisions we’ve made as a group (which speaker gift, that kind of thing). Once the event is done if we’ve exceeded our goal we’ll reimburse for minor incidental expenses (mileage, a group meal maybe, and sometimes a hotel room), something that might add up to a few hundred bucks a year. The important part is that the “profit” is divided evenly between the two groups as the final step. Each group can use that as they wish to support Chapter operations through the year. It’s a way to make sure the chapter leader isn’t paying for food at the meetings out of pocket and to acquire some nice to haves like a projector or screen. We try to build a fund raising goal for SQLSaturday with that in mind. We want to run a reasonable event, take care of our sponsors and attendees and speakers, and put a little bit into the coffers of each group. I’m not sure what the number was last year, but I’d say we try to put about $2k into each Chapter at the end of the event. We also use those extra funds to cover up front costs and to cover us in case we lose money on a pre-con (we guarantee the speakers travel costs and we have to pay for the meeting room). If you winced at hearing the word profit, or just disagree with the idea that a free event might make a profit, I’ll remind you that the two of the big goals of the event format are to raise funds and to grow the membership, both in support of the Chapter that is hosting the event. It’s no different than having a pancake breakfast or a carnival to support a local cause. Training our members is job one and the money goal comes after, but most years we do both and I think we do both in a way that is open and fair.

I’m not saying we do it all perfectly, or that we get it all right, but it’s a system that has worked out well for us. All common sense in my view, but it’s nice – even important – to work it out, especially if you have multiple chapters in the same city.

A Speaking Sabbatical

Lately I’ve been thinking about taking a break from doing presentations. Not sure what triggered it – maybe just a sense of wanting some more time for other things.

I’ve been doing presentations on a regular basis since 2006. Before that it was once a year at PASS and maybe something at work. Along the way I’ve taught one day and all week classes. Teaching is fun and useful – those of you who do so know what I mean. It still requires effort though. Effort to write the presentation, which usually means digging into something deeper first. Then practice, revising based on feedback, getting comfortable, and then – for me at least – picking a new topic for the year and repeating the cycle. It adds up. Certainly not as many as some (Kevin Boles!), but a lot.

The effort then is a combination of how often you pick a new topic and how often you present it. It’s certainly possible to reduce one or both. The biggest driver for me on picking a new topic once a year is thinking about the local groups. It’s nice to have something new to show them. Frequency has been driven by trying to do more with the Florida groups (such as my trip yesterday to Clearwater) and the many events we have in Florida. A few years back I decided to scale back to one event a quarter and that worked out to be a good rhythm – when I had the discipline to stick to it. I hate to miss events!

So part of this is about time, part is about effort, but part also is about enthusiasm. A sense that I’m not growing, or growing in the right direction. Whether that’s true, or I’m just tired, or both, it’s hard to tell. In any case taking a break is the start of figuring that out.

It won’t be a vacation though. I’m on the NomCom (meeting every two weeks for a while) and I’m on the SQLSaturday Orlando committee (meeting every two weeks for now. I’ve got a couple of blog posts PASS that I’ve had in draft for months – need to get hose finished, and I’ve got a lot of work to do on the Student to IT Pro seminar plan for this year too.

SQLSaturday Orlando will be October 8th year. That’s close to six months from today which seems like a reason amount of time for a sabbatical. I bet it goes by all too quickly.

 

 

Notes From the April 19, 2016 Pinellas SQL Meeting

I drove to Clearwater (and back) yesterday to attend and present to the Pinellas SQL group. Misc notes from the trip:

  • Started my trip at 2pm because Tampa traffic is very heavy after 4. Crossing the bridge (it’s a long bridge) there was an accident on the other side, traffic stopped. For once I was on the right side of the road.
  • Meetings are held at the Juvenile Welfare Board office. That doesn’t sound good, but it’s a modern space and a great meeting room. Very large displays  mounted around the room, plenty of seats, even a tiny kitchen area. Very nice.
  • Jason Carter leads the group now and did a nice job of going through the meeting deck talking about PASS and upcoming events. Special note; he had a slide showing speaker & topic for the next meeting. That’s powerful, but it depends on having the speaker lined up!
  • Presentation went ok. I think this was the best audience I’ve had for questions, good ones!
  • Dinner was pizza courtesy of a local staffing company that came through when a sponsor was needed. Oh, and salad, and cookies.
  • After party is at a sports bar that is several (4?) miles down the road. Further than I’d recommend (because attendance drops off the further you go) but almost everyone goes by it on their way back home, so it works out. Was able to help someone solve a problem while I was there and offer a suggestion on a different problem.
  • Trip home wasn’t bad. No traffic until just outside of Orlando, so I was home just after 11:30.

Insurance For Events

Posting here mostly because I’ll need this link again sooner or later! We’re hosting our more or less annual joint meeting of OPASS & MagicPass this  month and the facility we use requires an insurance certificate. We use Eventhelper.com. It was $105 for the one day certificate. Takes five minutes or less to fill out the online form and pay with a credit card. $105 feels a bit high for 40 people in a college classroom, but for now the low friction option they have wins out over saving a few bucks. Note that unless you have a corp of some sort set up, you have to put someones name on the application. That’s all good unless something goes wrong, then you’re in the liability chain.

Related to the topic, I’ve suggested several times that PASS could provide blanket coverage, it’s never gone anywhere – the loudest reason was it would be a US only solution. Cost? When I quoted it way back when it was $12,000 a year to cover all the US chapters for all their meetings. Worth doing? Depends on where you stand on risk management and budget priorities.

SSC Editorial: Would You Move for a Job?

I won’t say never, but it’s unlikely I’d move for a job – my roots are here in Orlando and I like it that way, but things change, and certainly there are other points of view on the risk/reward calculation. I was struck by the comment that this is a “first world problem” which is fair to a point – getting a job trumps just about everything else. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a topic worth consideration and discussion. Lots of interesting points of view in the comments, especially those from people who have elected to live in areas with fewer opportunities.

See what you think: http://www.sqlservercentral.com/articles/Editorial/138237/.