Conferences, SQL Saturday

My Thoughts on SQL Saturday #596 – Denver BI

I had the pleasure of attending SQL Saturday Denver – BI this past weekend. They even let me help out a bit with registration and other volunteer tasks. This SQL Saturday was an experiment of sorts to prove out Steve Jones’s idea of slimmer SQL Saturdays. We had two tracks and 80 – 100 attendees. Steve would like to see each city be able to do 4 SQL Saturdays a year (which is currently against the rules), but keep them slim.

I think it’s great that Steve and Carlos put together the event for about $650 (and I heard it would have been close to $300, but they decided to do a speaker dinner to use up some sponsor money). This should show other organizers that their event doesn’t have to be big and expensive to be considered successful. Everyone had a good time and learned new things, and the venue was nice. They worked with a local university to get the space for free, which is much easier to do when you only need three rooms and a hallway. The quality of speakers was still quite high (Peter Meyers, Melissa Coates, Steve Wake, and others).

Part of the slimmer SQL Saturday is that they didn’t provide lunch. But our venue was within walking distance of several places, and it was nice to take a walk and get whatever food I wanted.

My Concerns and Things I’m Still Pondering

Here’s what I didn’t love or what I need more time to consider compared to other SQL Saturdays:

  • A lot of SQL family didn’t attend because they weren’t speaking and didn’t want to take up a spot for someone else who might be attending for the first time or needs the learning opportunities. For me, SQL Saturdays are about learning and community. I missed some of my SQL people. Having slimmer SQL Saturdays also means that the range of topics isn’t as broad, and there may be less incentive for more experienced people to attend (outside of the community aspect) if most/all of your topics are beginner level.
  • The little things matter to me. I ended up printing session evaluations so that speakers could get feedback and making sure people knew they could submit feedback online. Would the event have been fine without evals? Yes. But do some speakers very much want feedback from the audience, especially when trying out new sessions? Yes. If they had warned the speakers ahead of time, the speakers could have grabbed a few trusted people and asked them to attend their talk and provide feedback, making this a non-issue. I think whatever you can do to make things run smoothly and give people a good experience is usually worth it. Evals fall into that for me, but I fully acknowledge that they do not make or break the event.
  • There is still some overhead associated with planning even a small event. You still have to secure a venue, choose speakers and set the schedule, market the event, and spend your Saturday running the event. This is fine, sometimes even fun. I have organized 5 SQL Saturdays, and enjoyed it. But it is still time-consuming, and doing 4 of them a year makes me feel tired just thinking about it. If you can assemble a team of volunteers where 2 – 3 people plan and execute each event and you rotate duties, that sounds reasonable to me. Not every city has such a good team, though. We are more than just SQL people and lives get busy with personal or even other professional stuff. This needs to be something that isn’t overly burdensome for any one person in order to make it work.
  • Someone else made the comment “If we do these quarterly, what’s the difference between this and user group meetings? You would spend about 8 hours a quarter during the week attending meetings or 8 hours in one day attending a slimmed down SQL Saturday.” I can understand that thought process. I think of SQL Saturdays as a special once/twice a year thing. I don’t know that smaller/more frequent SQL Saturdays are better or worse than the norm, just different. I imagine that each city would find their own way to differentiate the value of SQL Saturday vs the user group.

My Takeaways

I hope this helps prove that a small event can be a great event. Do not feel like a failure just because your event doesn’t have 350 attendees or because you couldn’t get shirts and expensive gifts for the speakers and volunteers. I will admit that there was a bit of pressure to be bigger and better each year that I organized SQL Saturday KC, but that was almost entirely self-imposed. This was a good experience to help me really understand what is essential versus what is nice to have. When it comes down to it, having a slim but well planned SQL Saturday is better than not having one at all. That being said, if your SQL Saturday is large and well-funded and making people happy, don’t change a thing. Slimmer SQL Saturdays provide alternatives for events with smaller markets and/or smaller sponsorship availability.

I am now a fan of letting people get their own lunches, if your venue is in a location that can support it. Lunch at SQL Saturday KC was always expensive and took several volunteers to set up (taking money, placing orders, having food delivered and set up, accommodating dietary restrictions). And there were always people who felt like it wasn’t worth the $10/$15 dollars and wanted to complain to us afterward. As an organizer, I like the idea of skipping the headache of lunch and giving people the freedom to go get what they want. Plus it’s nice to take a walk after sitting in sessions all morning.

I love the partnership with University of Denver, not just use of their space. Part of the agreement made in getting the space at no cost for SQL Saturday Denver – BI  was that there would be sessions that were relevant and accessible for some of the students. Although there are more and more higher education programs focused on BI and data science, I still think the opportunity to get applied learning from the “real world” is valuable for them. I hope to see more SQL Saturdays partner with colleges and universities in the future.

I give this slimmer SQL Saturday two thumbs up and think others should consider it an option. Each event organizer should decide what’s important to them and make it happen. But know that you can have a good event for less than $1000 and minimal time spent planning if that is all you have.

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