Ed Pollack

Everything you wanted to know about SQL Saturday (but were afraid to ask)

February 7, 2018 by

Description

Technical training is an important part of our careers. Meeting professionals, learning about new technologies, and making the most of the time and resources that we have can make a profound difference on the work that we do.

SQLSaturday provides a quality, inexpensive, and fun way to learn and get involved in the SQL Server community. It is a free, full day of technical presentations from experts that will travel from around the world to help make these events a success!

Introduction

SQLSaturday came about in 2007 as a way to not only to bring free training to the SQL Server community, but to create a reusable conference model so that this concept could be easily implemented around the world. Andy Warren, Brian Knight, and Steve Jones were the initial founders of SQLSaturday.

Since the first few SQLSaturday events in Florida in 2007-2008, the program has quickly expanded so that about 100 events are held per year, with #750 recently added to the calendar.

The Professional Association of SQL Server (PASS) owns, maintains, and manages the SQLSaturday program at the administrative level; each event is managed locally by teams of volunteers. The focus on decentralizing each SQLSaturday and recruiting strong teams of volunteers has allowed events to expand worldwide without the need for a complex management structure.

PASS is a non-profit organization that was founded in 1999 to promote education, training, and networking, with a focus on SQL Server technologies. They are run by community volunteers and have since created one of the strongest and most effective technical communities in the world!

What happens at a SQLSaturday?

A SQLSaturday is a distinct event from other SQL conferences. While often run by user groups, it is not a user group meeting or a weeknight-style event. Instead, it is an all-day event that will feature technical sessions for much of the day. Because of the localized nature of SQLSaturdays, they will vary greatly from country to country and locale to locale. Some SQLSaturdays will draw over 500 people and boast 10+ tracks. Some will include breakfast, lunch, or both. Others are smaller and more intimate events that succeed with 50 attendees and a tightly-knit group of dedicated volunteers and speakers.

This variability is a great strength of the program. Every SQLSaturday is a unique event with its own cadre of volunteers and sponsors that make it a success.

A typical SQLSaturday will start relatively early with registration & check-in. When attendees arrive, they can sign-in, grab any materials that are provided, and take this extra time to mingle with other attendees and the sponsors. This passive approach to networking has been very successful over the years, as it allows everyone to benefit from the collected knowledge and experience of each other.

The bulk of the day is made up of technical sessions, which begin shortly after check-in and will continue throughout the day, breaking periodically for lunch, snacks, or a chance to take a deep breath and relax. The following is an example of what part of a SQLSaturday schedule looks like:

The session topics are wide-ranging, from business intelligence to query optimization to hardware, professional development and more! PASS provides few guidelines on this and encourages creativity when choosing tracks, sessions, and the subject matter therein.

Most SQLSaturdays will provide a variety of raffles and prizes for attendees. These are typically paid for by event sponsors, user groups, or the event itself. These are chances to win some cool swag, such as a drone, tablet, or Bluetooth speaker. Attending a free event and walking away with a fun and useful giveaway is quite a good feeling 🙂

How does SQLSaturday work?

SQLSaturday is a 100% volunteer-run event. The organizers and presenters are not paid for the time and energy that they invest in these events.

All of the funding for SQLSaturday comes from the support of sponsors. These can be businesses, colleges, non-profit organizations, or state/local agencies. Ownership of the event budget and all logistical details falls to the event planners. This model encourages each event to be efficiently run and self-sustaining. It also places a particular focus on gathering local and regional businesses to support their events, thereby giving back to the community they directly serve.

Why go through all of the trouble to host a SQLSaturday? As an organizer, bringing SQL training to my local area was important to me as the nearest events were at least 3 hours away. In addition, it was a great growth opportunity for our user group. Creating our own SQ Saturday allowed our local group to expand immensely as we found new people interested in SQL Server technologies. It also provided a chance for anyone interested in leadership opportunities to help organize and volunteer at the event. The organizational and managerial experiences gained from this is invaluable and not easily found elsewhere

What will I learn?

PASS provides minimal guidance as to the topics and sessions that should be covered at SQLSaturday events. This ensures a schedule that is both diverse, but also inclusive of more advanced subject matter. The audience at events is broken somewhat evenly between software developers, database administrators, and business intelligence professionals. Here are some of the more common topics that are currently being covered at SQLSaturday events:

  • Business Intelligence
    • Report/warehouse performance
    • Report building
    • Self-service BI
    • Big data
  • High availability, disaster recovery, backups
  • Azure/cloud-based database solutions
  • TSQL and scripting
  • Performance/optimization
  • SQL Server
    • New features
    • Existing features
    • New products/offerings
    • Architecture/internals
  • Professional development
  • Scripting
    • PowerShell
    • Python
  • Security
  • QA/automation
  • …and more!

In short, if it relates to data, it will likely end up at a SQLSaturday event!

Speakers

SQLSaturday exists because subject matter experts from around the world volunteer their time and energy to share their knowledge with us. For a SQLSaturday (or any conference for that matter) to be successful, it needs a wide variety of speakers from different backgrounds and areas of expertise.

Anyone can be a speaker! This is not something reserved for SQL legends or Microsoft employees. If you have a specific area of expertise that you want to share, or have a professional challenge that you overcame in a legendary way, then that knowledge may form the basis for a great SQLSaturday session. Many of the best speakers in the world became great by throwing their hat in the ring repeatedly until they got very good at this.

If you are interested in speaking at a SQLSaturday event, you can submit your session abstracts directly from the event home page:

The link in the middle labelled “Speakers” will lead you to a PASS sign-in form, and then to the session submission form. A date will also be provided for when the call for speakers ends. Typically, the event schedule will be announced within a few weeks after this date.

Sessions are selected based on a number of criteria that will vary slightly from event-to-event. Some of the more common criteria are:

  • Written quality of the abstract. Like any publication, does it pass spelling and grammar checks and concisely describe the session’s purpose and content.
  • Subject of the session. Is it interesting, in-demand, and relevant to SQLSaturday and its attendees?
  • Other submitted sessions. There can only be so many sessions on a single topic. Often, organizers need to juggle topics and sessions to ensure that the schedule contains a wide variety of subject matter and does not focus too much on any given area. You may check the list of already submitted sessions on the SQLSaturday event page in order to gauge if your proposed topic will fit a solid niche within the event.
  • Speaker history & location. Being a first-time speaker is encouraged. SQ Saturday focuses on growing local and regional speakers in order to strengthen our technical communities and user groups. Events will often try to strike a fair balance between local and national speakers, as well as between new and experienced speakers.

Once your session is selected, all that is left is to perfect the presentation, show up, and put on a great show!

Session feedback is solicited after all SQLSaturday sessions and events. For a group of data junkies, this is very helpful in understanding what topics are most useful and relevant to a quickly-changing market. Similarly, we want speakers to be given honest and direct feedback, thus allowing them to grow and improve as well. Feedback is used to improve everything from the event tracks to the variety of donuts provided with breakfast and is critical in allowing future events to succeed.

Sponsors

Free training is only possible if someone pays the bills and supports these events. Fortunately, there are many businesses, agencies, schools, and non-profit organizations that are happy to sponsor SQLSaturday events.

Sponsorship costs vary from event-to-event, but typically are not expensive. Most common sponsor plans vary from $250 for minimal involvement to $1500 for those that want to be on-site and have a strong presence at the event.

There are many benefits of sponsorship, including:

  • Advertising products, software, and services
  • Recruiting to fill open positions
  • Company marketing & PR
  • Supporting training for local employees, colleagues, and affiliates
  • Increase branding and reach by giving away literature, freebies, and raffle prizes

Specific sponsor benefits vary from event-to-event, but will often include:

  • Logo/branding on event materials and giveaways
  • Inclusion in event raffles
  • Included in opt-in email lists of event attendees
  • Lunch demo sessions
  • Printed materials included in attendee bags
  • And more…

Events are generally flexible with sponsors and will work to make their partnerships as beneficial as possible to those involved. SQLSaturday exists only because sponsors are consistently supporting events worldwide and helping make sure that they are well funded, attended, and advertised.

Precon events

Some SQLSaturday events will host all or half-day precon events on the days leading up to the big event. Precons are longer, more in-depth sessions that cover a given topic in far more detail.

For SQLSaturday attendees, these are inexpensive ways to get even more out of the event. While precons are typically not free, they are inexpensive when compared to all other classroom or conference-style training. Many will include meals, snacks, or learning materials to make the experience more engaging.

Common precon topics include optimization/tuning, business intelligence, machine learning, database design, and new SQL Server features. The instructors are the best-of-the-best and put an immense amount of time and energy into ensuring that their precons are well-researched and presented, and that they are available for questions or further discussion after the event is over.

If you are attending a SQLSaturday, check for precon events and find one that interests you, it’s a great decision 🙂

Getting involved

SQLSaturday events can only be planned and run with the help of volunteers. Volunteers help in planning the event by coordinating food, sessions, dinners, hotel space, registration, and much more! In addition, volunteers will help run the event by staffing the check-in table, running errands, directing attendees where they need to go, setting up, cleaning up, and managing food or refreshments.

If you’d like to help, contact the coordinator of a SQLSaturday event near you! You can find an email address to the coordinator, as well as the event feed, Twitter info, and more on the event page. Scroll down past the introductory information and you’ll find some details that look like this:

Not only is volunteering fun, but it is a great chance to support an amazing program, gain leadership skills, and work with a team of dedicated people towards creating a local training event. If you volunteer for my Albany, NY event, I promise you will be well-taken-care-of. Ask anyone in the area, if you don’t believe me!

SQLSaturdays will often work with local and regional user groups in order to make events happen. If you do not have a SQLSaturday event in your area, consider starting one! If you can find a location and a handful of sponsors, then making an event like this happen could be a great experience for your user group, local community, and anyone else that gets involved!

Conclusion

In a world where free training and networking events are exceedingly rare, SQLSaturday has flourished for 10 years. If you have never been to one, consider making the trip! Many companies are happy to cover the costs of travel when the event is as inexpensive as this. The value of training combined with the chance to meet and trade ideas with industry experts and other professionals has been immeasurable. The consistently positive feedback that the program receives worldwide has continued to support its purpose, even as the number of SQLSaturdays has increased so quickly.

This is a great way to spend a Saturday!

References


Ed Pollack

Ed Pollack

Ed has 20 years of experience in database and systems administration, developing a passion for performance optimization, database design, and making things go faster.He has spoken at many SQL Saturdays, 24 Hours of PASS, and PASS Summit.This lead him to organize SQL Saturday Albany, which has become an annual event for New York’s Capital Region.

In his free time, Ed enjoys video games, sci-fi & fantasy, traveling, and being as big of a geek as his friends will tolerate.

View all posts by Ed Pollack
Ed Pollack
Professional development

About Ed Pollack

Ed has 20 years of experience in database and systems administration, developing a passion for performance optimization, database design, and making things go faster. He has spoken at many SQL Saturdays, 24 Hours of PASS, and PASS Summit. This lead him to organize SQL Saturday Albany, which has become an annual event for New York’s Capital Region. In his free time, Ed enjoys video games, sci-fi & fantasy, traveling, and being as big of a geek as his friends will tolerate. View all posts by Ed Pollack

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