Notes from SQLSaturday #200

My first time in Philadelphia (and in Malvern, the actual event location). I drove up Friday night for the speaker dinner, nice seating area on the restaurant patio and hot enough to make me think I was still in Florida! Nice evening. I drove back to Philly to my hotel, and then drove back to Malvern again (I was combining SQLSat with family vacation) Saturday morning. It was about a 40 minute drive each way, but a nice drive, beautiful countryside and very few billboards.

I arrived early, but not so early as to beat the volunteers that had put out the signs to the event, first time in a while that I thought the signs were done perfectly. The event was held at a Microsoft office, this one looked to be fairly new and very nicely done, well suited to a SQLSaturday compared to some I’ve seen. The only immediate challenge was they turn the AC off at night, so at 7:30 am it was warm and getting warmer.

We started the day with a quick keynote, I started by talking about the very early days of SQLSaturday,followed by Steve Jones on the impact of the events on the community and the grand finale by Karla Landrum about the growth of the events,especially international events. All in just over 10 minutes!

My presentation was at 8:30 in a conference room that was what felt like 85 degrees, so I opted to not use the projector and sit at the table with the attendees. It’s fun to talk about professional development, to answer questions, to see people start to look at the problem from a different view point. Lots of good discussion.

I was also surprised (astounded) to see my friend Keith Lott in the room. Keith and I worked together long ago and I knew he was from Philly, but thought he still lived in Florida! Keith had a developer centric question about learning – with so many developer frameworks, which one or two should he learn? There’s no easy answer to that question, but here are some of the things I mentioned and a couple new ones I’m adding now:

  • What’s your best guess about where the market is going – which ones get mentioned most in job ads? Are there ones that seem to drive higher salary? Or positions with startups vs corporate jobs?
  • Are the frameworks equivalent? For example Entity Framework and SignalR cover two different areas. Figure out the general areas of frameworks and try to know one in each area.
  • How long does it take to learn/adapt to a new framework, in general? If you can learn the basics in 8-16 hours, why not?
  • If you were interviewing a candidate who used a different framework in the same space, would that be a reason to hire them or not? One view is that they know the topic and just need to learn the syntax, the other view is that you have to pay them to learn your framework. Turn that around – if you know framework A and they want B, what’s your answer? How about suggesting a second interview a week later after you’ve had a chance to try it, come back and talk about what you have learned?

Another question was about expanding the professional development plan to include everything – is it a good idea? Planning is never bad! My suggestion was to think of your life as a program, where you could build and implement different ‘projects’ and one of those would be your career plan.

One more – as we discussed the need to schedule time to match the plan I was asked about the need or benefit of a weekly plan. To me, weekly planning is essential, but it crosses over from career planning to being effective/todo list management. That’s not bad, just not my focus in the presentation. The ideal approach is:

  • Build a one year plan
  • Break that down into quarterly or monthly goals, then schedule time to accomplish those goals – put it on your calendar
  • Build a weekly plan once a week if your calendar flexes a lot
  • Depending on your style and rate of change in your workload, build a daily plan that tracks to your weekly goals

Adding to that, I’m a huge fan of weekly status reports (even to-self!) that show:

  • Here is what I planned and did/did not accomplish
  • Here is what I will do next week

You can see some great examples by Sacha Chua (and the blog is worth reading).

Presentation done and ready for a gallon of water, I came back to the same room to watch Brian Moran talk about asking good questions. Brian has been diving into the coaching end of things and it’s interesting to see some of the change in him that has driven. Nice discussion of open versus closed questions and when to use or not use them, and lots beyond that.

Finally, I watched my friend Steve Jones present on full text search, filestream, and filetables for doing binary searches. It’s funny that we talk a lot, but we’re rarely at the same events or on the same schedule, so I don’t get to watch him present often. Very smooth, very straight path through what can be confusing material.

I stayed for a quick lunch, and then started the drive back to Philly, thinking about just how amazing it is to think about 200+ events, how they’ve changed things, and how many of those events have shaped me.