Thoughts and Observations on SQLSaturday Events

TLDR

Some of this will make sense. Some of this might not. Adapt to change!

“It All Started…”

This post started as something I saw on Twitter on 12/28/17 and then looked at some of the chatter on the #sqlsaturday channel on Slack: https://sqlcommunity.slack.com/

And this is the challenge with multiple social media platforms and electronic communication avenues: one piece of information here, one piece of information over there, direct messages between people outside the conversation, e-mails to others trying to get more information about this rumor or to confirm or deny some official decision, and anything else in between. There has NOT been anything official about this so to use a trite cliche my grandfather would often say,“Don’t get your panties in a bunch”.

My answer to what I see as someone popping off on a theoretical question: “What if SQL Saturday died?”

THAT got a reaction from people. Whether due to budget cuts or whatever, why in the world would PASS not fund or continue SQL Saturdays? Why would someone even speculate on something like that?

To Look Towards the Future, Let’s Look at the Past

(Someone in an official capacity, please update the entry on Wikipedia. This seems old and out of date!): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Professional_Association_for_SQL_Server

SQL Server was around before the formation of PASS. So! Marketing dollars to sell SQL Server software was directly from Microsoft. Microsoft did not have the traction it does today in large part due to the entire SQL community especially including PASS. I believe PASS and PASS-branded events have helped make Microsoft a lot of money in the form of intangible goodwill and tangible software license sales in addition to other revenue streams. It has been instrumental in helping the data careers of hundreds of thousands of people around the world, including me.

SQLSaturday

SQLSaturday started from an idea and became the reality we enjoy today. It is now over eleven years old and as of this post have had over 700 events around the world booked. WOW! http://www.sqlsaturday.com/About.aspx

SQLRally

In the original Star Trek 2 The Wrath of Khan, Admiral Kirk once said to Doctor McCoy, “As a physician you of all people should appreciate the danger of re-opening old wounds.” History for history’s sake, SQLRally was envisioned as a regional, smaller event than the PASS Summit. Especially for people outside of the United States, it was a chance to provide a way to have a great event hosted by and attended by regional people. I never had a chance to attend one and I was saddened to hear about it going away. For a synopsis of it, here is a post by SQLAndy https://sqlandy.com/2015/07/14/the-end-of-sqlrally/

What I love about the SQL community is that they are not afraid to try new things, adjust when necessary and at times let things take their course and even if that means letting things die.

IF SQLSATURDAY EVER DIED- something else would take its place. Personally, I do NOT think that would happen. Here are some of my thoughts on alternatives and ideas for reflection.

Enter Stage Right – The Free Micro Event

The biggest criticism for hosting any kind of large event is cost. Where does the money come from for SQLSaturdays? Typically it has been from sponsors. PASS does not charge membership fees although it sounds like they once did in the distant past. On twitter I had some quick thoughts and one of those which I have re-visited again over the years is what would happen if PASS started to charge membership fees like other professional organizations? How many people would leave PASS and dare I say it? How many would see that as a sign to leave PASS and try to start a competing non-profit or for-profit organization? At what price point would people begin to balk? For me I don’t have a problem investing in my career. I must be getting older as I am beginning to have less and less patience for people who bitch, moan and complain about free events like SQLSaturday. Yes, I said that. I’m curious- how many Microsoft employees regularly attend SQLSaturday events and local user group meetings? Do they NOT think they are getting their money’s worth for Microsoft?

I think free micro events can make it. They already do! Personally I attend many MeetUps a year and most of these have nothing to do with SQL Server. Using free tools like Meetup.com and free venues like public libraries people can host limited attendance training and educational sessions. Note this is a very small event- it is more of a technical gathering on a specific topic. No food or drink. No tokens of appreciation for speakers and presenters. Just a gathering. Sometime we watch and participate in a live webcast from a remote speaker or sponsor. The question becomes is creating it on a regular schedule. Finding champions to run it and get the word out. Having several micro events a year in addition to SQLSaturday is a viable no-cost strategy. But here is the deal-killer: in order to stay within the PASS brand, rules, and use Chapter/User group tools like e-mailing the Chapter membership, it needs to be run by those authorized to use those tools. And this puts an additional burden on the User Group. I will now spell out the flip-side of the Dark Side of that idea too: trying to host non-PASS data-related events which PASS members attend is something frowned upon by many and openly derided by others. Other people simple don’t care where they get their training and education from as long as it is professional and value-added.

Enter Stage Right 2 – The Paid Micro Event

How about a pre-con style event independent of a SQLSaturday event? In either case paid or unpaid speakers can get a chance to deliver and polish their material.

SQLSaturdays and User Groups

I have helped host every single SQLSaturday event here in Denver in various capacities. I have also spoken at many events outside of Denver to get ideas and to see how other people do things. Sponsors are critical but they need to get their money’s worth too. I will reserve my observations and direct experiences on The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly from sponsors for another day but I will say that most of the people who have signature authority to buy their products and services do NOT attend SQLSaturday events. It is usually the people in the trenches who attend these events and may or may not be in a position to buy. Perhaps in the future yes, these people can get promoted and get that signature authority or influence but then that simply becomes a case of sponsors building their own brands. The sponsors who I see getting the best immediate value? Local recruiters. And yes, it does get a little weird when you have more than one recruiting firm at your event.

So far I have not mentioned User Groups. I wanted to limit this post to just SQLSaturdays but I wanted to say a few things some people might not be aware of. Did you know there are some SQLSaturdays run by people which have nothing to do with the local user group? Or people from a different state running a SQLSaturday? Or that some SQLSaturdays are so large they have to outsource key functions? Or that some user groups are so small they sadly will probably never host a SQLSaturday?

Creative Fundraising

When I was a Scoutmaster of a Troop for my son in The Boy Scouts of America, I got insight into both funds and fundraising. I had no idea how much money comes in and goes out for a Troop. From annual dues, camp fees, summer camp fees, other fees, it is a lot of money. Dare I say it? WAY MORE money than a local user group or a SQLSaturday event.

And when your son wanted to attend an event? It had to be paid from their Scout account. Low on funds? Raise money. Popcorn sales, garage sales, community garage sales, delivering phone books, hauling stuff to the dump, etc. Not ashamed to work for money or ask for money.

As data professionals we might be quick to look down on such events as beneath us but I just wanted to ask the question, “What would you be willing to do to help raise money to run your User Group or SQLSaturday event?

Is it something that can be done without having to use a formal Statement of Work or having to sign an NDA, or get security access? What about providing free SQL training to a company in exchange for a reasonable donation?

‘So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish’

I am stepping down as Chapter Leader/President for the Denver SQL Server Group (DSSUG). My term is up and I am not seeking re-election. I have been on the board in some capacity for six years now. There will be some new and familiar faces running the DSSUG board. DSSUG has helped me learn, network, find a few jobs, and grow throughout the years. While I might not be attending as many events as I would like, I still feel part of this GREAT community and will continue to help out as I can. PASS has some new and familiar faces at the helm too and I am looking forward to seeing what is in store for 2018 and beyond. I just don’t see SQLSaturdays going away anytime soon.

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