Schedule Announced for SQLSaturday #49 in Orlando

Our schedule for this year has 47 one hour sessions plus another 6 “mini” fifteen minute presentations, plus a separate sponsor track. Sorted through more than 80 presentations to try to figure out the mix. That took some time and no easy decisions, but I think it’s a well rounded assortment.

So that’s 53 reasons to join us in Orlando on October 16th. Lunch is $10 (or bring your own) and we’ll be eating picnic style on the grass. Did I mention we’ll have free popcorn in the afternoon? It’s a low key event with great content, and it’s the fourth annual one we’ve done. Time flies when you’re doing good stuff. Hope to see you there.

SSC Editorial: Becoming Highly Productive

This editorial is about the idea of being highly productive more than how to actually accomplish it. Most of us tend to do the work put in front of us in the way that we know how to do it, certainly not the worst approach. The problem is that unless challenged – say by working way too many hours – most of us don’t look beyond that. Of course when we’re working too many hours, the part of our brain that lets us figure out better ways of doing things isn’t effective.

One way to become more productive is just working faster/more streamlined – think of the class time/motion study. I think that is the most common, and worth doing. The second way is to envision a different way to solve it. That might be technology, might be outsourcing or hiring an intern (which doesn’t directly increase productivity, but changes the cost of producing it), and sometimes it means that we stop doing it (the TPS report).

At the end of the day it’s a mindset. Adopt it and over time you’ll benefit, as will your employers. But like networking, it’s a leap of faith, there are no guarantees that an employer will adopt your ideas or even appreciate you having them.

Help Build the SQLRally Speaker/Topic Selection Process – Part 1

Last week we announced PASS SQLRally, the new event that we’ll be holding in May 2011 in Orlando (aka the “Spring Event”). A big item is deciding how we want to pick speakers and build the schedule. We have a process we use for the Summit and we could use that, but if we’re building something new, why not take a second look at this part of it as well? I’m going to list some ideas we’ve been working on and hope you’ll comment.

Pre-Con Seminars – 6.5 hours (4 available)

We’re pricing these at $149-$199 for the day. Speakers will be be paid a flat $2000 plus admittance to the main conference. Obviously the chance to get paid is enticing, and a big reason for us to build a strong and transparent process. We want great presentations of course. It’s a huge change to go from doing an hour to a day – managing time becomes much more important.

  1. Eliminate from contention anyone that presented a pre/post con at the 2009/2010 Summit (they’ve made it to the top, we want to grow next generation).
  2. Require candidates to have been a speaker at the 2009/2010 Summit (unless excluded above) (no short cuts, have to pay your dues by earning way to the Summit)
  3. Must submit a 1 page outline that explains seminar timeline and deliverables. One paragraph won’t do it. (This is what attendees look to to decide whether to attend)
  4. Can submit only one (No submitting 8 to increase chances)

Main Conference Sessions (36 to 48 available)

One of the things we’re still looking at is the possibility of doing some 2 hour ‘deep dive’ sessions and that decision will impact the number of sessions selected.

  1. Require speakers to have spoken at the PASS Summit or a SQLSaturday in the past 24 months to be eligible.
  2. Must have presented the topic at least one time prior to submitting it
  3. Must upload the deck (doesn’t have to be final) at time of submission.
  4. Can submit a max of ?? (2? 4?) presentations

The goal there is to have no newbie speakers – just can’t do it at a paid event. Quality has to be high. We also want to stop the madness of having speakers submit a lot of presentations that chew up valuable time in the selection process. Submit your best stuff and cross your fingers!

Goals

We want this to be a high quality event. We also want this to be the middle step in our speaker farm club system. You start at chapters or SQLSaturday, gather experience, earn your way into the Rally, then you’re a great candidate to move to the Summit. Same for pre/post cons. Pay your dues, earn some cred, get a shot at the big leagues.

Comments?

Tell us how to make it better. Think about what you don’t like in the Summit system. Is the above fair and achieve the goals? Does it disenfranchise someone wrongly? Looking forward to your comments.

PASS Update #38 (SQLSaturday Wiki)

For the past couple years we’ve had a few different documents that covered how to run a SQLSaturday, but as you all know building and maintaining documentation is hard, and we just didn’t have a good process for capturing new lessons and folding them in. A couple months back I set up the wiki and staged a good number of ‘todo’ topics, but we struggled to get started – the feedback I heard was that it was a bit overwhelming to start with a blank slate.

So, decided to try something new, and after some budget wrangling, worked it out so that we could bring 7 volunteers plus me to one location to spend a good day building the wiki out. I wanted a good assortment of people, made my list and thought on it some – so many good people! Ultimately it was arbitrary, and if you didn’t get invited it wasn’t that you wouldn’t have been valuable, just only had x dollars to work with.

Interestingly as I worked down the list everyone said yes. That’s yes to flying to Orlando (to use my office & Orlando is easy/cheap destination) on a Friday to work all day Saturday and then return home Saturday night or Sunday. In no particular order, I invited Greg Larsen, Jorge Segarra, Jessica Moss, Jack Corbett, Sri Sridharan, Scott Gleason, and Patrick Leblanc. Of those I had in met all except Sri before, Jack was local, and both Jorge & Scott lived within driving distance.

All but Jack met up for dinner on Friday night and we spent hours talking about PASS, SQLSaturday, career, and having some fun listening to Scott tell stories about work. A nice quiet evening, just a long dinner, and then everyone heading off to the nearby Residence Inn.

We started Saturday morning at 8:30 discussing how we might capture all the thoughts we had on a single topic; shirts. Polo, t-shirt, various vendors, personalizing, etc, etc. It turned into mild chaos for the first half an hour, then we split into 2 person teams to work on topics that seemed most important. We did that for about an hour, did a quick review, then switched teams around and went again. After the second iteration we stopped doing reviews and just focused on content.

We took a short break for lunch (sandwiches from Jason’s Deli) and then back to the grind. At about 2 pm we took a 15 minute break to stroll around the parking lot a few times, then back to it once more. At about 3:30 or so Jack and Jessica started going through what we had done, weeding out some empty pages and finding pages that they thought could be consolidated. By 5:15 we were at a good stopping point and tired too. Not 100% perfect, not 100% done, but a good bit of content added that we can now build on. Then it was Jack, Greg, Patrick,and myself heading to dinner, the rest heading home.

So we’ve got some review and clean up to do, and we’ve also got to figure out what we’re missing. Nancy from PASS HQ is going to start using LiveMeeting for event kick off calls and will include a walk through of topics in the Wiki pertinent to the start up phase. She will also be doing a call at the end of each event to try to find out lessons learned (and to say thank you for leading the event!), and we’ll take those and figure out where to put them in the wiki. Beyond that though, I think we’ll work on a blog/feed/newsletter to those that lead or volunteer at SQLSaturday, not workable to expect them to catch all the wiki changes (there is a feed for it) and some of the lessons learned might just catch them at a time when it would make sense.

So looking back, did it work? Was it worth the travel, the money? That’s a tough question!

I think it largely worked. We got more done than I feared, maybe not quite as much as I had hoped (formatting for example), but it worked much better than emailing them each a set of topics and asking them to fill in some pretty large blanks. What’s hard to share here is the enthusiasm that filled the room, the idea swapping and discussion that went on as we wrote about topics. For example Patrick had not heard of the concept of having a “greeter” like you see at Wal-Mart, and for him it was an instant ‘we will do that this year’. It’s also more than just building content, the less obvious value is the team building (thus the swapping around of team members during the day). Ultimately I thought it went well, was worth the money, and is something I would try again for ‘big push’ kind of effort.

This is one of those things that was a risk, and we should take some small risks. It’s also part of what I think PASS is and should be more of, an organization that empowers our members to do interesting things. As any first time event leader will tell you, there is a lot to learn. Just by trying to devote a little more time to keeping up with lessons learned should pay some nice dividends over time.

See it live – http://wiki.sqlsaturday.com.

Blog posts from the volunteers so far:

Pillbox Application

Ran across Pillbox in Government Computing News (GCN), a web app that lets you identify what a pill is based on shape, color, imprint, and more. They have an HTML version and a Flex version, the latter definitely more user friendly (more graphics), but both are useful. The article about it says Poison Control Centers get over a million calls a year, so reducing that by even a small amount is interesting.

Just another place where sharing data is interesting and worthwhile.

The Vacation Backlash

Maybe I need a better name for it, but I’m describing the pain that happens when you’re getting ready for vacation and returning from one. I bet most of you have gone through it, and it’s easy to get to the point where going on vacation seems like more trouble than it’s worth!

The upfront pain is good pain. If you haven’t been diligent about cleaning out your inbox, making sure you’ve set good goals that take into your time off, and groomed someone to cover for you – then you deserve it! There’s nothing better than the feeling you finally get late on that final Friday afternoon before you start vacation where all seems to be in order. Imagine feeling that way once a month, or every Friday, wouldn’t that be something? I think for most of us the lack of a read deadline to end the week with all in place means we never build the habit – and so vacation preparation feels like working an extra day or two just so that we can go.

The return to the office pain, that’s harder to live with, and harder to fix. Most of us return to find hundreds of messages in our inbox, all that have to be read. Turning on the ‘out of office’ flag is useful, but it doesn’t stop the flow of mail. Even if the person covering for you handled everything, much of it still necessary FYI that you have to read. It’s so awful to look at that many dread returning to work. It’s not that so much extra work has piled up, it seems like it has, and that causes stress.

I can offer three strategies to counter that:

  • Delegate access to your inbox and have someone screen it for stuff that you don’t need to read or that has been handled. This is a more common model for executives, but it can help some.
  • Come in 2 hours early your first day back to catch up on email. 2 hours, and from there you’re back on a normal schedule. Budget for it, do it early so that you’re not distracted by morning meetings and people stopping by to ask about the vacation.
  • Instead of ‘out of office’, change it to ‘On Vacation’ and include a note that you will not receive email during that period, direct them to your fill in person, and ask that they contact you when you return on x date. On return to the office, select all, delete.

Beyond email, it’s easy to arrive at the office stress free and by 5 pm feel like you never went on vacation at all. Recognize that maintaining that stress free state of super relaxation isn’t possible, but also remember to put things in perspective. If you can’t do it the first day back from vacation, when will you be able to do it? One of my tricks is to block out time on that first day back, gives me time to re-acclimate. Make that Monday a slow day. Come in early to do email, leave an hour early to compensate.

The strange thing about all of this is that managers live it as much as anyone, but they could – if they chose to – do more to reduce the stress of that first day back. One way would be to not schedule you for any meetings, no Monday deliverables. Stop by your desk by mid afternoon to see how you’re managing and if overloaded already act as a calming influence. Think about it, we know that returning from vacation sucks and can actually increase stress, why wouldn’t it be a good idea to actively manage that transition just like you would a first day employee?

I’ve seen many people (including me) check email while out of the office on vacation to reduce the stress upon return. Bad idea. Unplug, the organization will survive, or will send someone to find you if it’s that important.

Can’t say I’ve mastered any of this yet, but planning for it instead of reacting to it is the first step towards healthier vacations.

SQLRally Logo Contest

Kendal posted the announcement yesterday that we opened the design content on 99designs. I’ve used the site before and it’s a decent system, typically get a logo for around $200 – and you get to pick from a lot of options. I know most of us are data people, but probably more than a few of us know Photoshop or the equivalent, or someone that does, which means it could be someone from the SQL community that designs the next really big PASS logo. Why not give it a try?