Dreaming of SQL Saturday

I’m truly stunned at the responses I received to my post asking how far people have traveled for a SQL Saturday. I posted here, and at SQLServerCentral. In addition, I got plenty of emails from people, detailing their travels.

Early warning, this gets a little long.

I am truly stunned. In fact, when I read some of the notes and comments, I got tears in my eyes.

Tears of joy. I’m touched by the way people feel about SQL Saturday. A few random things that stood out:

“This was my first time attending and I would gladly attend again.  The distance is about 3000 km.  I elected to attend the SQL Saturday in Orlando and to include it as part of my vacation plans. ” 

I asked, and this person moved their vacation plans to get to the event. That’s amazing. Someone changed vacation plans (slightly) to attend a SQL Saturday.

(paraphrased) “As an attendee and volunteer I’’ve been to 14 SQL Saturdays, from 7miles to 266miles from my home” – This person moved, and has been to multiple events, each in the state of residence.

Another person had gone to 2 events, both over 100mi. away. their quote: “Why? bc I love hearing the discussions and learning. Also since they are on weekends I make mini vacations out of them and do other fun activities. That may be something you may find others do as well. I have asked my company for Friday off since I am spending all my own time and money which makes it a 3 day weekend.

This one is sad to me: “We (3 of us) traveled 160 km twice. Two of our colleagues, from our remote site, traveled 300 km once. It is just too much, so we stopped attending.” I understand, especially in less populous areas that it can be hard to get to events like this. I have a dream, see (way) below

This is great: “Pursuant to your article on  SQL Saturday, the controlling issue is “information and not “distance” – if the information is extremely valuable,  I would travel one thousand miles!” 

While it’s quite exciting, I’d hope that no one would have to travel 1000 miles.

This next response stuns me. I’ll describe it because it’s a mix of things. A person has lived in the middle of the country. There is a SQL Saturday in their city. In fact, they’ve been to that event 4 times. In total, this person has been to 19 SQL Saturdays with distances of: [21, 21, 450, 516, 251, 21, 511, 516, 319, 21, 450, 319, 378, 203, 6, 595 516, 319, 378]. Of those, they were an attendee at 16 of those events.

Now, you might say, “see, people will go over 400 miles for an event.” Absolutely, and I don’t argue that. However, what I’d do is flip this around.

How many events would this person attend if there were more within 100mi of their house? How many more people would get training if there were more SQL Saturday events, more often, in more locations? 

Dreaming of 500

I’d like to see 500 events a year in the US. I’d like to see three or four events in many cities a year. I’d like to see a thousand more speakers, just average DBAs and developers that are willing to share some knowledge. I want more, many more, many more slim, easy events. Have big ones if you like, but let’s get more training out there.

I want more chances to speak, and learn, with the challenge of picking and choosing. I want to think of what we can do, not what holds us back.

There’s a great scene in Apollo 13, which I bet a few of you remember. The engineers need to get the power usage to 12A from 60A. They have to find a  way to get the spacecraft back to Earth from the projected point in between the Earth and Moon where the astronauts might die.

They are challenged to do so, with a famous quote that you may remember.

I challenge you. I want you to think about how we make that leap to 500 events a year. I want every organizer to think about how they can create more events, not just their one big event a year. I want the events to fit a budget, not the other way around. Find a way to 500 events a year.

I want every speaker to think about how you can inspire, prod, cajole, convince, and support another person or two in your area to speak. I challenge you to staff 500 events a year.

I want everyone at PASS, from the Board of Directors to the staff at HQ to the volunteers that help PASS to think about growing SQL Saturdays, and finding ways to provide support. Maybe more support for some events and people than others, but take the challenge. Don’t tell why you can’t, dream of why you can. I promise you, more events will create more SQL Saturdays, and more changes to make larger, paid for events work for PASS.

I want every attendee to share SQL Saturdays with your friends, and help grow to more events in your area, or a new area closer to you. Fifty people can make an event, if you just give back a little.

Failure is not an option.

It shouldn’t be. Let’s dream big. After all, who would have thought we’d get this far? Andy and I certainly used to wonder if we could actually have 12  year.

500 events in the US in a year is crazy. It’s silly. Maybe it’s not possible, but I’d like to think we can get to 500 if you challenge yourself and just dream a little.

About way0utwest

Editor, SQLServerCentral
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24 Responses to Dreaming of SQL Saturday

  1. rsterbal says:

    I hope someone can revive the SQL Saturday Wiki – http://wiki.sqlsaturday.com/ . It will help.

  2. There are quite a few SQL people in my area that don’t get the chance to go to a SQL Saturday at all and never really even heard of PASS. The nearest one is a three hour drive (Madison) and the next closest is a 6 hour drive (Minneapolis, Chicago). I am trying to organize one in that sort of PASS dead zone, but my fear is the 600 mile radius might make it too difficult to coordinate a venue.

    • Peter Shore says:

      The 600 mile rule should only affect your ability to get a venue due to venue nonavailability on an “eligible” date.

    • way0utwest says:

      I agree. The 600 mi radius makes things tough. PASS will give exceptions, and the more you make it a slim event, limited funds, smaller in scope, the easier I think it will be t0 get an exception.

  3. notarian says:

    I think it’s an admirable goal but probably more than PASS can or is willing to take on. There is no reason it can’t be done though. Anyplace you have 30 or 40 people and a couple of willing speakers it could happen. You would have to rethink the whole approach though. Start having the events in public schools, libraries and houses of worship and it definitely (re-)becomes a grassroots thing.

    • Peter Shore says:

      For research purposes, I looked at one of the public school systems as a host. For non-district activities they want $100 per hour per room, that starts to push $1000 for a single room event.

    • way0utwest says:

      I’ll disagree. PASS doesn’t need to do much more, certainly providing the website and those services don’t cause them a lot of work.

      I do think that other venues, partnering with schools, libraries, is a good idea.

    • way0utwest says:

      $100/hr is expensive. In that case, we’d need other solutions. However, I’ll also say that by building relationships with people, working with them to understand the idea of the event, I wouldn’t be surprised if you could dramatically reduce that. Heck, maybe a few school board meeting visits would be in order to try and get support from the people making the rules.

    • Peter Shore says:

      I am absolutely quoting the web-site of a single school district in the Columbus suburbs, no conversations, no relationships.

    • notarian says:

      I was thinking in terms of Karla or the future-Karla having to look after 500 events a year, plus the financial support that PASS may or may not give to these events. Those things don’t scale as well.

      Trouble finding venues is universal. If things were truly grass roots and tiny it would be easier. A lot of the tools (outside of the PASS provided tools) are free for small enough groups (e.g. Meetup). On the day we started drawing circles I divided DC into its suburbs into the circles I feel like people would drive on a weeknight. Pretty small circles. Saturdays the circles get bigger. I live about 6 miles from SQL Saturday DC venue, so it took a trip to central Colorado last week to remind me not everyone is so strategically located.

    • way0utwest says:

      I think for PASS, the key is they need less “hand holding” for events. At 500, they’d certainly have to provide financial support to a fraction of the total. That’s fine. We shouldn’t depend on PASS for all events.

      The venue is definitely the number one issue. Period. That’s the number one issue. Everything else comes after that, so I want smaller venues (more choice, cheaper, easier to schedule) and have everything build off that. A good reason not to provide any limitations on dates or distance. If I can get a venue, everything else should be easy.

  4. Peter Shore says:

    I love your passion for SQL Saturday and the community in general Steve. To this point my furthest trip to a SQL Saturday is just over 450 miles to Madison, though that will be eclipsed in the fall when I travel near 950 miles to Orlando, which ends up being the tail end of a vacation. While I agree in principal with your idea of growing SQL Saturday, I have two issues off the top of my head. First, as you get closer to the Northeast U.S. locations get closer together, for instance from my home just out side Columbus, Oh there are 17 SQL Saturdays within the 450 mi radius I created by going to Madison, including “premiere” events like Chicago and Atlanta. Additionally, I hear and have experienced that obtaining low cost venues is getting more and more difficult, which makes it a challenge to keep the budget low, which I would LOVE to do.

  5. way0utwest says:

    Challenge yourself to help find solutions. I’ve been to SQL Saturdays in churches, in elementary schools, as well as “real” venues. We can make this happen.

    Having them close together isn’t an issue. I wouldn’t be worried about Salt Lake City, Denver, and Kansas City on the same day. I think it would be amazing that we’d have people in all those cities getting the chance to learn and get excited about their careers.

    • Peter Shore says:

      Trust me, we wanted to use a less costly venue than the “real venue” we used this year. However, constraints we imposed about location (ease of access, hotel proximity etc.) coupled with the lack of return calls from many other options left us with the venue we used. Personally, I was not sure how using a church as a venue would go over, but we will certainly take a look at that.

      I am sure you know that the drive from Denver to SLC is over 500 miles, which using a radius rather than driving distance would encompass 20 events. I am on-board with more events where they can be supported. My goal is to add some perspective on what “close” is as the concept differs across the country. Adding to that (for all who read this not just you Steve) the driving distance between Denver and Salt Lake City is roughly 80 miles more than the driving distance from Washington D.C. to Boston.

  6. yetanothersql says:

    I expect to triple my distance in 2016. So far my longest drive has been 600+ miles to Pittsburgh. This year, I expect to make 1910 miles to Portland, OR. I still have zip compared to Cathrine Wilhelmsen (Oslo, Norway to Chicago, IL), and even Cathrine has zip compared to Gail Shaw or Rob Farley!

    I REALLY like Steve’s idea of smaller, local, more frequent events. It might be necessary to separate these into a different type or class of event than traditional SQL Saturdays, and it might be that PASS decides not to support these events directly. If we keep them small, nimble, and very lightweight that shouldn’t be a lethal block to the event.

    I’ve also toyed with the notion of a “destination SQL education event” that would encourage people to travel and take a bit more time than just one day. Doing something like what SQL Cruise does, but at a place like The Dells, Door County, or Branson that offers a place to stay and an opportunity to spend some time with family, etc.

    I don’t know if my ideas are even interesting to the SQL Community, much less fiscally viable. Is there interest in smaller events? Do people have any desire for “destination events”?

    Darn you Steve! Now you have me thinking again when my plate is already too full!

    • way0utwest says:

      Go slow, make changes, do something new. I am not looking to destroy SQL Saturday. I do not want to have different events, but if you go there, that’s your decision. I would like this to work within the SQL Saturday brand and framework.

    • rileywmajor says:

      For ideas on a destination event in the Dells, you could check out That Conference (https://www.thatconference.com/). They have a 3-day, family-friendly general tech conference at the Kalahari. Some #sqlfamily have been speakers there, such as Jes Borland, Kevin Boles, and Mike Wood.

  7. rsterbal says:

    The venue issue would be the next thing I would hope Kevin Feasel looks at with his data analysis. Thanks for suggesting the idea.

  8. Andy Eggers says:

    Hi Steve,
    I think PASS needs to get honest and open about the intent and goal(s) of SQL Saturday?
    a. Get education to as many people as possible and covering as many areas as possible.
    b. Make some money to fund trips for the PASS User Group members to the PASS Summit. I understand that the events must fund themselves. However, maybe this is where PASS can ask the big events to help fund the smaller events by PASS not providing as much funding to the big events and let the big events get more money from the sponsors and / or attendees.
    My goal, is education for all (Which is why I volunteer to help at every event in Dallas). To me it is not about the money (yes, I have pulled money from my own pocket for fund training classes in Fort Worth). I have even considered going to SQLSaturday’s in California or Florida and I live in Keller, Texas (1,200 to 1,500 miles away) to see the right presentations.
    The Fort Worth SQL Server User group has put on SQL Server training classes for donations and some people have attended multiple classes from free on the Andy discount. With that being said I am currently working through some family issues (death in the family and I am the representative for the Estate) so my efforts have been a little reduced and will be reduced for a little more time in the future. So once my family situation changes I will be presenting on R and SQL Server. I look forward to presenting sometime in the future in Colorado, California and Florida and maybe in some of the areas in between.

    • way0utwest says:

      Thanks, Andy, and please send this feedback to PASS. My goal is education. That’s the first thing. Every other item beyond a room and a speaker for a SQL Saturday is an extra. Good if you can handle it, but the lack of a speaker dinner or shirt shouldn’t stop the event.

  9. rileywmajor says:

    I get the desire to keep this under the SQL Saturday umbrella, but that does limit events to being free and on Saturday. I understand how that serves those whose employers won’t fund and provide time for training, but it then requires sponsors and it puts a strain on personal time for attendees, speakers, and organizers.

    There seem to be two extremes in conferences and training– (1) expensive ($400-$4000), usually during the normal workday and (2) free, usually after hours or on a weekend (code camps, SQL Saturday, user groups).

    Is there room for a middle ground– economical events during business hours? For several years, Minnesota has done pre-cons the Friday before our SQL Saturday. It’s about $100 for all-day training on a single topic. They’ve done really well.

    So is there room for $100 single day SQL mini-conferences during the work week? If you get 50 attendees, that’s $5000. You could do a single track– say 5 speakers. You could comp the speakers’ admissions and give them $100 for their hour presentation. That still gives you $4000 for your venue and food, which should work for 50 people and one track, since that’s just a single room.

    Are employers so reluctant to help employees get training that this just wouldn’t work? If that’s the case, should we stop giving employers the excuse of so much good, free training and push back as a community? Should we try to raise the bar– to set the expectation that employers fund and support their employees?

    #sqlfamily is nice and all, but I still prefer to spend time with actual family members. 🙂

    • way0utwest says:

      There is room for middle ground, though I’m not sure this is the place for the SQL Saturday franchise. There have been SQL Saturdays on Friday, and I have no opposition to these. If that works, that’s great.

      Running a conference for money introduces some variables. Space usually requires payment, and perhaps more care since the organizers are potentially working in a for-profit, and definitely tax implication area. Paying speakers moves into the need to track the payments and issue 1099 forms as well. Nothing that’s too difficult, but is more complex, has more effects, and potentially creates more work.

      I’ll say this from having worked on events on weekdays and weekends. A percentage of people won’t get a day off during the week for a free, or paid for, event. Their employers might not pay the $100. I have no issue asking people to invest in their careers, but some will, some won’t. Likewise, a group of people won’t come to an event on Saturday. I absolutely appreciate spending time with family, and I certainly make choices about that regularly. I make some events in Denver, skip some, usually because of family.

      I think that you need to do what works for you. If you think a paid for event could work, why don’t you try one? Get some speakers to agree and try to fund one. I bet $1000 would get you a guaranteed hotel room and then you can work from there.

  10. Pingback: Are SQL Saturday’s Worth It? | The SQL Professor

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