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.
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.
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.