SQLRally, Pre-Cons, and Taking Risks

Before I get into my thoughts, go vote! Here are the options this year for the SQLRally pre-cons:

Here is the voting link. Voting closes 8 am PST on November 2nd, 2010.

For those of you not following along already a “pre-con” is the term we typically use for a one day seminar before an event. In the case of the PASS Summit we might have a dozen or more (some after the Summit, “post-con”), and for SQLRally we’ll have four.

So how are we doing so far?

I love seeing the blog posts and the twitter comments about people voting and speakers plugging their seminars. Good to have that free flowing discussion. We worried that it would be a popularity contest of sorts (which isn’t necessarily wrong), but based on the voting so far (which we aren’t sharing to try to preclude gaming), it’s a combination of content plus marketing that seems to be driving votes. That’s me reading the tea leaves of course!

Pre-con’s need to be marketed, and marketed often (and preferably well). “Vote for me” is a start, but why vote for you? Show me why I need to learn the material and why I should pick you to teach it to me. Do you have experience? Credentials? Passion for the topic? Have you been paying your dues in our community and earned the chance to step up? What we’re trying to do here is put more of the marketing work on the speakers. It’s not enough to just submit an idea, you have to help us get people to want to attend, and that starts with convincing enough people that you’ve got the best content out of the three options on your track!

We haven’t done as well as I would have liked on communication. Some of that is honest mistakes, some of it is limited resources in the time when we’re in final prep mode for the 2010 Summit, some of it is mistakes that we didn’t realize were mistakes! We’re trying to catch up, and hopefully post-Summit things will smooth out. Please continue to let us know when we miss something or could do something better, we need to know and we’ll do what we can to fix things.

At the same time, I hope you’ll temper any frustration with the knowledge that we’re deliberately taking some risks – new event format, new team running the event, new process for selecting pre-cons, and more. None of them individually are big risks, collectively though we’ve got a lot going on. That’s deliberate, and a tough call. If we try to do too much and we fail (or don’t do it cleanly), one could argue that we should have tried to do less. The key for me is that while some of the challenges we encounter might have been avoided, we’re trying to take risks where we can learn something and/or gain a nice advantage.

Go vote!

Bloggers-Don’t Blog About Spam!

Earlier this week I posted Bloggers, Quit Worrying About Spam, discussing what I felt was an over-focus on preventing spam in blog comments. I stand by that, but since that post the rate of spam being posted to my blog is up by a factor of 10 or more. Whether that’s because the spammers finally found me based on the post or whether it was just a coincidence doesn’t matter, it’s definitely more noise.

Akismet has, as of this writing, tagged over 100 comments as ‘pending’. Not as true spam (though surely most are), but at least they aren’t all publicly visible and there by somehow enriching the idiots (I try to be nice here, but seriously – random posts to blogs to make money?) that engage in this madness.

Anyway, let the spammers do their worst, I’d still rather make it easy for you to comment.

Do You Have Other Opportunities Open?

Imagine you’re talking with a recruiter about a position that seems like a good fit and during that conversation they ask “Do you have other opportunities open?”. What’s the right answer? And what is the underlying intent?

In general I’m in favor of honesty, but I’m also in favor of being employed! If you say “I’m looking at two other positions” does that decrease their interest level, or does it make you appear more valuable? If you say “No, nothing else right now”, does that mean that they push another candidate they might lose and hold you for the next time? Or is that just conspiracy theory thinking?

Another alternative is the tried and true “why do you ask?”, which in hindsight would have been good as I wouldn’t be guessing on this particular question. I suspect they have a reason, but I suspect answering yes doesn’t improve your relationship or your chances.

SQLSaturday National Blog Sponsors

With SQLSaturday #49 we tried something I call micro-sponsors, charging $5 for a blogger to sponsor the event. It’s a way to do brand building and to contribute in a fun way. It’s not a huge amount of money, about $4.50 after the merchant fees, and I think for Orlando we netted $50$60. At least for SQLSaturday Orlando it’s not a revenue engine, though I think it was worth doing.

I set the price point thinking about wanting someone to be able to sponsor a lot of events, we hope to have 50+ in 2011. Now that I’ve looked at it some more, I think that’s the right idea, wrong implementation. It’s a bit of work to plug in your info 50+ times a year, pay the $5 bill 50+ times a year. So, need a slightly better plan.

What I’m thinking is that for $100, a blogger (defined as an individual blogging for themselves, even if they are independent consultants) could sponsor ALL the SQLSaturday events for a year. Enter the info once, pay once, have your info show up on all the events for one year. Give these bloggers a badge for their blogs to acknowledge their support. I’ve done some informal polling and there are a least a few of us that would do it in a minute.

What about the money? Even if we get 50 bloggers to do it, in the scheme of things it’s not a lot of money, and there is no good way to divide that up across an unknown number of events easily/fairly. Instead, I think we should find something good to do with the money. My first though was a scholarship, but that’s helping one or two people at most, and while it would be good, sometimes we need to do good closer to home.

My idea – entirely up for discussion – is that we use it to fund quarterly prizes for speakers at SQLSaturday and chapters. I’m thinking a couple prizes. One could be to draw a name from the new (first time) speakers, one might be for the person with the most in person presentations, etc. Maybe $100-$250 per prize depending on the size of the funding pool.

I need to talk to the the event leaders (many will be at the RoundTable at the Summit) to make sure they would support this, and make sure we decide how to give these bloggers exposure without reducing the value that the big dollar sponsors get. We should probably also continue to support individual event blogger sponsorships, and I’d say that the events should just keep that money, easier to manage that way.

Is it a good idea? Maybe we should do something different with the money? Think about the micro-sponsor thing, how we can do more with that? I think I’d pay a few bucks to be listed somewhere at the Summit, what about 24 hours of PASS, etc? Note that for all of these ideas I’m not trying to just raise money. Raising money is good, and we should good things with it. But we’re also teaching brand building, and I think that’s useful. Looking forward to your comments.

Bloggers, Quit Worrying About Spam

I don’t comment as often as I should on blog posts. I say should because as a blogger I know that it’s a bit of a treat to have someone post a comment, especially when you don’t know the person, or realize the person was reading what you wrote on a regular basis. Bloggers crave feedback!

So why don’t I comment more often? Some of it is time, but it’s also because many bloggers don’t make it easy. Many require a real login, such as a Google account or OpenID, others make you do a captcha, all designed to reduce the number of junk comments. It’s fair to say that there is a LOT of spam directed at blogs, most of it obvious, some of it reasonably sly, things like “Nice post, that really helped me out” with a link to some junk somewhere in the world.

Realize that on any given day very few people will comment, and if you put any roadblock in their way, they just move on, it’s not worth the time. I’d rather sort through some junk than lose out on a good comment. Now that’s a volume judgment, if I had to read/review hundreds of junk items each day, I might feel differently.

Here on my blog I use Akismet, which does a fantastic job of catching spam. Good stuff goes live right away, stuff that is a maybe comes to me with a link so that I can approve (or just ignore, leaving it invisible), and spam just gets ignored altogether. I review the spam stuff once a week or so to look for bad matches, but it’s rare, and I could easily never check it and do well.

Don’t invite me to your house and make me climb over the fence to talk to you.

PASS 2011 Budget Posted

Bill Graziano posted our 2011 budget today. This runs from Jul 1, 2010, through Jun 30, 2011. I hope you’ll review it, and consider reading my thoughts on the budget process as well. It’s not easy reading. That’s not intentional, it’s just a lot of detail. Dig in, ask questions!

If you look at the “Community Programs” section you can see the lines pertaining to SQLSaturday. For 2011 PASS plans to spend about $80k on SQLSaturday. That’s a substantial amount, and at this point I believe it’s enough. We’re hoping to reduce the amount we spend on management by streamlining processes and putting more knowledge into the wiki for self service use, but we will always have costs here – events, especially first time events, need a lot of time and we’re committed to providing that assistance.

Scroll down to “SQLRally – 350” and you can see the entire budget for the event. As I’ve written about some, we worked and worked that budget to preserve the $299 price for the 2 day conference, and that is hard. Meeting space isn’t cheap and they require you to buy food and beverage from them – note the projected spend of $48k on food. Just this sub-budget went through days of discussion and a lot of heated debate, but in the end I think it’s a good try at the model we want to build and sustain.

I’m just lightly commenting on areas I’m involved in, Bill will answer the detail questions. That’s to make sure we get you precise answers, because numbers are, after all, precise. Building that budget isn’t fun, and as Bill noted in his comments, it took 31 iterations to get it done. Something to think about the next time you pass by the office of your own CFO.

I hope you’ll also appreciate that is an ongoing part of our efforts to show you as much as possible about what PASS does and what we’re trying to do in 2010-2011.

SQLSaturday #62 in Tampa on January 15, 2011

So far SQLSaturday Tampa will be the first SQLSaturday of 2011, and the first one I’ll be attending in 2011 as well. I’m going to try  to attend one event a month, the try portion meaning there is a terrible temptation to do more (as in all of them) and that sometimes as much as I want to go every month, sometimes it’s nice to imagine a string of uninterrupted weekends!

I submitted my talk on professional development so far, may submit another technical talk. I’ve been talking about statistics for the past year, and usually I try to change topics each year, not sure what to do next. Have been thinking about one on advanced statistics (my current one is very intro), but also thinking about service broker. I’m fan of queuing in general, and SB lends itself to some nice demos. Historically I’ve picked niche topics, which aren’t as “wow”, but where’s the challenge in getting someone to go to a session on indexing? Everyone wants to go to that!

The Tampa event is held in Ybor City, lots of bars and restaurants, don’t miss getting a burger at the Green Iguana!

Review: All Things at Once by Mika Brzezinkski

One more from the ‘new book’ shelf at the library, All Things at Once is an auto biography of Mika Brzezinski, a moderately well known TV news person who is currently the co-anchor of a morning news/political commentary show. The book, in my view at least, isn’t about politics. It’s about the struggle to be a mother and a driven career person and finding the balance, and it’s about falling and climbing again.

It’s a candid book, but not in the sense of shocking. She talks about falling down the stairs with her baby as a result of being tired from trying to do too much, and then the baby not moving. That story ends happily, but it’s easy as a parent to understand the pain and sense of failure such an accident could cause, and how it could change you – and not all in good ways. She talks about almost being raped as a child, and does so in a way that is direct, yet not graphic.

She juggled trying to be a full time mom and a full time career person, and talks about not always managing that balance well. Trying to be a full time mom only and realizing that role, defined that way, wasn’t a good fit, and trying to accept that, to realize that there is more than one path.

She built a career in network news and was poised to do more, then the Dan Rather incident happened at CBS and even though wasn’t involved, the resulting changes cascaded in a way that at age 39 she ended up on the outside looking in. Imagine working your way to the top and in a space of few minutes being unemployed and just about unemployable. Working through that and taking a job that was a step back. Not just a demotion, but just about starting over. Being praised for doing things well that she had mastered 10 years earlier, as if she had learned a new skill. And then, the amazing ending, at least so far, of being “re-discovered” and getting a “real” job, and then having one unexpected moment catapult her to the top again.

Worth reading, for men as much as women. We should talk more about expectations and pressures of managing career and family, and the choices we make, and sometimes the guilt that comes with the choices.

Saying Thank You

I was just writing a thank you message to our speakers for SQLSaturday #49 and wanted to write down a couple thoughts about that. The SQLSaturday tools remind us to send a thank you note and even suggests text, but whether you modify the boilerplate or write something from scratch, it’s worth doing. Does a thank you make that big a difference? I think it does, and it’s something I try to say a lot, in particular to volunteers.

The act of writing the thank you in particular is valuable because it makes me think about the contributions and their value. In the case of a SQLSaturday it’s easy as a speaker to think that I “only” reached 10 or 25 or 50 people, but that’s short sighted. We would look at the big number of 270 attended, which is mildly impressive, but I think it’s really about 6 hours – the amount of training each of those attendees received. What would it have been worth to you in the early months of SQL Server to get 6 hours of training from people passionate and knowledgeable?

Here’s the email that went to our speakers today:

Good morning all,

We finished up SQLSaturday #49 with 400 registered and 270 attendees on site. Thanks to your participation we delivered approximately 1600 hours of training. Stop for a minute and think about the impact that has on the local community, and the careers of those that attended. Imagine the impact of going to an event like this back when you were getting started. It can make a big difference, and it does.

On behalf of all the attendees Jack & I want to thank you for donating your time to the event. We hope you enjoy the coffee cup and place it someplace where it can be seen (and used!), a reminder of a sunny day in October well spent.


Andy & Jack

Say thank you. You’ll be glad you did.