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Time For a Change

Shortly after the turn of the century (Y2K anyone?), I restarted the Houston Area SQL Server User Group (HASSUG) with the help of Tyler Chessman, who has been our local Microsoft liaison the entire time and without whom I couldn’t have run the group on my own for so long. I think the first meeting was in 2001, but I no longer have records going back that far to pinpoint the exact startup date. I know we met bi-monthly for the first year or so and then moved to monthly meetings in January 2003. We became a PASS affiliated Chapter when they began that program. In 2013, we combined the meetings for the Houston Area SQL Server User Group and the Houston BI User Group (which Tyler sporadically ran) into a single meeting with 2 topic presentations, one of which is always focused on the BI stack.

So, here we are some 14+ years later, having held 160+ meetings and having executed 4 SQLSaturdays, and it is time for me to hand over the reins of the group to some new leadership. Lynn McKee and Derek Wilson (no relation!) are now the official co-leaders of the group. Lynn and Derek have been shadowing me for the past few months as “chapter leaders in training” and I am more than satisfied that they are committed and ready to take the group to the next level.

I will still be around – attending meetings and presenting when needed (like in July and again in August!). I also promised Allen Kinsel (who took the lead on the past two SQLSaturday Houston events) that I’d help with the next SQLSaturday, too. And now he has it in writing, in public, for all to see! Leading the local chapter has given me the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people in our SQL Server community (aka #SQLFamily) – and not just locally. Participating in the Chapter Leader meetings at PASS Summit every year I look forward to engaging with other leaders from around the world. Over the past 15 years that I’ve attended Summit, so many of them are #SQLFamily to me now, too. It has been a great run and part of me will miss it, but I’m excited to be passing the torch to Lynn and Derek. They have some great ideas for the future and I hope you will give them your full support. After all, this is a volunteer job – we all do it for the love of the community.

If you’d like to volunteer to speak, sponsor, or otherwise help with the group, you can continue to use the HASSUG@sqlpass.org email account to contact Lynn and Derek. Follow the @HASSUG and @SQLSatHou Twitter accounts for info and keep an eye on the website for upcoming meeting info.

See you at the next meeting!


SQLSaturday #408 Houston – Announcement

As Chapter Leader of the Houston Area SQL Server User Group, I’m happy to announce that we are having our 4th SQLSaturday in Houston; and we are returning to the great facility we used last year at San Jacinto College – South! Coordinating the event again this year is Allen Kinsel along with a host of other volunteers. Set aside Saturday, June 13, 2015, for a day of free SQL Server training.

The schedule is now posted and we have 48 sessions covering Database Administration, Application Development, Business Intelligence, Cloud, and Professional Development. We also have a great range of speakers presenting all those topics from local gurus to Microsoft MVPs. And, of course, we are having Texas BBQ again (there will be a vegetarian option) for lunch. Plus, during the lunch break our Gold Sponsors will be holding additional sessions where you can go learn more about their product offerings.

So, register today (last year we had a waitlist!) and join 400 other SQL Server professionals in a great day of networking and learning! You’ll be requested to pay $10 via PayPal when you register to help defray the cost of lunch and snacks, but otherwise, this is a free event.

If you are wondering about the #408 – each SQLSaturday event gets assigned a number when it goes on the schedule. Our first SQLSaturday back in 2011 was #57, so there have been approximately 350 other SQLSaturdays held around the world in the past 4 years! That’s a lot of awesome free training!

Oh – and did I mention that at the end of the day, our sponsors will have lots of great prizes they’ll be raffling off! So, plan to stay until the end!

Speaker Submissions for SQLSaturday #308 Houston Still Open!

Speaker submissions for SQLSaturday #308 Houston on May 10th are still open, but you only have until next Friday, March 21, to apply!  As of 5:30pm CDT on March 14, we have 33 distinct speakers who have submitted, but we will be selecting 50-60 sessions!  Thus, there is still plenty of opportunity to submit with a high probability of having your session selected.  However, be sure to check out what others have already submitted (under Submitted Sessions) and come up with your niche topic!  So, write up that abstract this weekend and apply

SQLRally 2012 Dallas – Recap

PASS and NTSSUG (North Texas SQL Server User Group) hosted this year’s SQLRally. As the chapter leader for HASSUG (Houston Area SQL Server User Group), I was also part of the host team and volunteered on the program committee and served as a room monitor during the conference. Putting on a conference of this size with mostly volunteers (there is some paid staff from PASS HQ, but the majority of the work is by volunteers) is no small feat and the NTSSUG team did a great job of organizing.  

Sessions Attended

Based on the sessions offered at SQLRally, I set my focus on learning about SQL Server 2012 features, investigating areas outside my current area of expertise (enterprise deployments), and considering my future career development.

  • Bob Ward – What’s New for SQL Server 2012 Supportability
  • Craig Purnell – Upgrade Roadmap: Let’s Delve into SQL Server 2012
  • Kathi Kellenberger – SQL Server 2012 T-SQL
  • Denny Cherry – Using SQL Server 2012’s Always On
  • Suresh Kandoth – SQL Server 2012: Memory Manager Rebooted
  • Tim Mitchell – Introduction to Data Quality Services
  • Robert Davis – TempDB: Performance and Manageability
  • Erin Welker – So, You Want to Start a Career in BI
  • Andy Warren – Building Your Professional Development Plan

All of the sessions were top quality and I will definitely use what I learned in both my day-to-day work and overall career development.


SQLRally had lots of opportunities for networking, both informal and formal. The scheduled opportunities included:

  • Wednesday night’s “Meet the SQL Professionals”
  • Thursday night’s “SQLKaraoke”
  • Friday morning’s “SQLRally at Starbucks”

During lunch and between sessions provided ample opportunity for informal networking. And, I took time off during one session timeslot to continue networking and be available at the PASS Community Corner to promote local user groups (continuing the networking after attendees get home) and the virtual chapters. As several people have confessed (among them Andy Warren, Brian Moran, and Tim Mitchell), the networking aspect is actually probably the most important activity when attending a conference. This is how #SQLFamily is built.

Things Done Well

  • Guidebook – This mobile app is a great way to keep attendees up-to-date with speaker/session changes. Other than seeing that a printed agenda was in our attendee bag, I never looked at it and used Guidebook exclusively for checking where I needed to be next!
  • SQL Clinic – This was a “must-have” with the event in Dallas so near to the SQL CSS team’s home and didn’t disappoint with members of SQLCAT also in attendance.
  • Networking opportunities – already mentioned. Good job by the planners!
  • Bus – looping between convention center and SQLKaraoke site was a win!

Things to Improve

  • Guidebook (yes, it is on both the “done well” and the “to improve” list!)
    • Include room numbers along with the Session Title and Session Number in the main entry, if possible. You had to click the session to find the room number; simple once you knew to do this, but many people didn’t realize it.
    • Include all activities in the “schedule”:
      • Welcome Session 
      • Closing Session
      • WIT Luncheon
      • Include all “extracurricular” activities – from SQLKaraoke to Starbucks Networking.
  • Beverage choices during breaks – coffee or nothing – how about some water and sodas?
  • Ensure bottled water in the sessions rooms for each speaker.
  • Signage to A4 ballroom from the majority of session rooms could have been better. It was confusing to most attendees that one session room (A4) was far away from the majority of the session rooms and on a different floor level. 
  • Station volunteers at the top of the escalators and along the hallways, not just at the rooms to help attendees find their way. 
  • Where to find the speakers’ slide decks? I had several people ask me during the conference, but I had not personally looked for them yet and couldn’t answer. Now, I have looked and I can’t find them either!
  • Overall Event Evaluation form – I hear they will be done electronically after the event, but I would have liked to have it available to comment on as I experienced the conference real-time.

Event Format

Instead of 2 pre-con days, consider having only 1 pre-con day or splitting into a pre-con day and post-con day. Consider having the post-con session on Saturday. The success of SQLSaturday has already shown that many of us are willing to give up some of our personal time to improve our skills.  As part of the purpose of SQLRally (at least in my mind) is to provide a “taste” of Summit and at a lower price point, I don’t see many people justifying being out of the office 4 days (or 5 if Monday is a travel day); that would be practically the same as Summit (unless they are local).  By combining the SQLRally 2-day main event with a post-conference Saturday all-day seminar, maybe more people could convince their employers to pay for SQLRally and the post-con since in theory it isn’t all on “company time”.  Attendees can make the case that they and their employer have a joint investment in their training.

Personally, there was a pre-con on Tuesday that I probably could have justified, but not one on Wednesday which fit my development needs. Since I was coming from out-of-town, this just didn’t work for me logistically or financially. Consequently, I didn’t attend any pre-con. If I could have attended that all-day session on consecutive days with the main SQLRally days, then I would have done that – even if one of the days was a Saturday. However, I recognize that this format (especially using a Saturday) may not work for others and may not work with venue rental. I know PASS has tried the pre-con\post-con format in the past with Summit, but is back to two days of pre-cons for whatever reasons. I think the host team for the next SQLRally, however, should seriously reconsider this concept for maximum attendance.


Overall the event provided great technical content and networking opportunities to the SQL Server community. While many people who attended SQLRally have previously attended a PASS Summit, I talked to just as many people who have not attended a Summit, but now have it on their list of things to do! I think the event also did a good job of reinforcing the value of local user groups, and even encouraged some folks to consider starting a user group or hosting a SQLSaturday in their area.  This was only the second SQLRally event in the United States, so it will be interesting to see how this event evolves for 2013 filling the gap between Summit and SQLSaturdays.

Improving Speaker Rating Evaluations

I finished compiling all the individual session speaker ratings from SQLSaturday #107 held in Houston on April 21, 2012 and sent the results to the speakers this past weekend.  We used the default form provided on the SQLSaturday Admin site, which had two basic inputs.

1) Expectations:  Did Not Meet \ Met \ Exceeded. 

2) Overall Quality of the Presentation: rate 1-5 where 5=great.

Plus there was a request to write any other comments on the back of the form.  A few people did provide some constructive criticism which the speakers can use to improve; many people provided positive encouragement; but most wrote nothing.

Anybody have a problem with this form?  I do; and I’d like to make it more useful for both organizers and speakers.  But, how?

We’ve been conditioned since early childhood in school to receive a grade for our performance. Consequently, we tend to provide evaluations with number ratings so that we can come up with an average rating for each speaker.  The problem with this type of rating for speakers, in my opinion, is that there are no defined criteria for the students (e.g. graders) to use in their evaluation – it is purely subjective and purely based on the individual’s experiences which could vary wildly at an event like SQLSaturday.     

The “Expectations” rating to me is really not very useful – it is too general.  There are two things that I, personally, am gauging from an “expectations” basis when I attend a session: 1) the content to be delivered based on the abstract provided; 2) the quality of the speaker based on the presenter’s professional credentials.  However, what if I’m so new to a topic area that I really do not comprehend what the abstract means (although I think I do) and therefore my expectations of what I’m about to experience are very different than the reality?  Or, what if I have really high expectations of a well-known speaker and I feel like their presentation is just average? How do I handle this in my evaluation? Based on what I saw in our SQLSaturday evaluations, it seems to me that most people whose expectations were not met also rated the overall quality of the presentation low.  But, how can that be, when the majority of the other attendees at the same session believed that the session met or exceeded their expectations and gave a high rating on the overall quality?  I saw this anomaly several times.

One of the goals of SQLSaturday is to grow the speaker base. I don’t know about you, but “grow” to me doesn’t mean just numbers, it means providing experience and maturity. How do we get the necessary feedback to the speakers to enable them to improve their presentation skills in order to better train us?

Speakers, what input would you like from your audience?  If you were to redesign this simple evaluation form, what 2 or 3 questions would you ask? Do you derive value from a subjective numeric rating?

SQLSaturday organizers and User Group leaders, how would you like to see speakers evaluated to help you in selecting sessions for your next event?

Please post your comments here.

Have Your Say – SQLRally Pre-con Sessions up for Vote!

SQLRally is a PASS-sponsored 2-day training event scheduled May 10-11, 2012, in Dallas, Texas, and hosted by the North Texas SQL Server User Group with support from all the South Central Region PASS Chapters.  For additional in-depth learning opportunities, there will be 2 days of pre-conference sessions (aka pre-cons) offered on May 8 and May 9.  

6 pre-conference sessions have already been selected and the remaining 2 sessions will be decided by community vote. Voting will close on February 9, 2012, at 5pm Central time – so what are you waiting for – go vote now and plan to attend SQLRally Dallas 2012!

Register for the main 2-day event before March 15, 2012, for only $349!

SQLSaturday #97 – It’s a Wrap!

On Saturday, October 1, 2011, CACTUSS – The Capitol Area Central Texas Users of SQL Server – hosted their first SQLSaturday in Austin.  CACTUSS is led by my good friend and fellow PASS Chapter Leader, Wes Brown (twitter | blog). Saturday was a big day for Wes. In addition to pulling off a successful SQLSaturday event – Wes was finally named a SQL Server MVP by Microsoft on Saturday as well. In view of Wes’s many years of contribution to the SQL Server community many of us were shocked to realize that he had not previously received this well-deserved designation. So there was much to celebrate at the end of the day.

A big thank-you goes to the key volunteers on the SQLSaturday #97 team – AJ Mendo (twitter), Jim Murphy (twitter | blog), Richard Heim, Mike Byrd, and Amy Muehleman. Another big thanks goes to the sponsoring vendors and especially to Idera for providing not only Platinum level funding, but manpower too!

The SQLSaturday #97 team did a really good job of focusing on one of the original key tenets of SQLSaturday – providing opportunities to grow new, local speakers. Of the 5 sessions I attended, 3 were presented by “new” speakers – AJ Mendo, Rudy Rodarte (twitter | blog), and Jim Murphy (all from Austin). All three did a really good job and I hope they continue to get opportunities to share their passion for SQL Server with the community. There were other new speakers as well, plus some of the “usual suspects” and high profile speakers like Jennifer and Sean McCown (aka the Midnight DBAs), Thomas LaRock (aka SQLRockstar), Conor Cunningham (from the Microsoft SQL Server Dev team), and, of course, being in Austin – Joe Celko.  From what I heard, the overall program selection and speaker ratings were a hit with the 200+ attendees.

While I didn’t get everyone’s story, I did visit at length with another new speaker at the networking after event held at Iron Works BBQ. Steven Ormrod (twitter | blog) is an excellent example of what SQLSaturday is all about. With this conference, Steven completed the 2011 Texas SQLSaturday Trifecta. It started with his attending PASS Summit in November 2010 and learning about the SQLSaturday concept. He attended SQLSaturday #57 in Houston in January; followed that up in April by attending and volunteering for SQLSaturday #63 in Dallas; then he took the big plunge and submitted to speak at SQLSaturday #97 in his current hometown of Austin. While I did not witness his presentation, I did hear the praise he received from a couple of folks sitting with us as they rehashed his session.

So, it appears that the two main tenets of SQLSaturday (providing free training and growing local speakers) were definitely accomplished by the organizers of SQLSaturday #97.  Well done!

For those who are looking for session slides for my presentation “Managing SQL Server in the Enterprise with TLAs”, they are available on the SQLSaturday #97 Schedule session link here. Thanks to all who attended my session and for being an engaged audience with my topic. I enjoyed sharing my passion for SQL Server with you.

And, finally, before you start asking – yes, we will have a SQLSaturday in Houston in 2012 – hopefully, we’ll be announcing a date very soon.