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Orlando PASS – Moving on Up

I listened to this catchy tune from a classic T.V. show, The Jeffersons, the entire time I wrote this post. Feel free to do the same as you read this. You will have it stuck in your head all day long, even with a little skip in your walk. Consider yourself warned.

After two years at the same meeting location, Logan’s Restaurant on Hwy 46 in Sanford, we’ve bitten the bullet and made a tough decision to go ahead and move OPASS to ITT Tech here in Lake Mary. It was a nice steady ride, which the year prior to that we had a couple of changes, so we were feeling quite comfortable with what we had. However, there were two big problems with Logan’s, very limited seating (at max could hold 35) and sound issues.

I first want to thank Logan’s immensely for how accommodating they were to us. They did a great job of taking care of us and our attendees. Free space and we just paid for the food trays, which they would give us happy hour prices on things like the wings as well as carry over the happy hour prices on drinks through the meeting for our attendees; we’d have sliders, tenders, and a great Santa Fe salad with grilled chicken, and really all for about the same price that I hear folks spend on pizza. They always provided us with a dedicated server, (not SQL), for the entire three hour long meeting. They have a “garage style” room, which had a very cool “vibe” to it. Speakers really liked it, as it gave the meeting a more intimate feel to it.

However, the size was limiting us from bringing in some of the speakers that in the past had brought in between 45 – 60 attendees. We typically stick with good local speakers, by local I mean within a two hour drive to us, but of course on occasion you want to be able to take advantage of a speaker coming through that you know is going to pack the place out. We just couldn’t do it with what we had for space, so had to pass up some great opportunities.

There was also the issue with the sound. Not just the acoustics coming off the glass garage doors (was that even glass, maybe it was plastic, I’m not sure now, never touched it), but whenever regular restaurant guests would eat out on the patio. It would get so loud, that if you were sitting in the back of the meeting room, you couldn’t hear the speaker most of the time. (Funny how folks who sit out on patios are loud, wonder if that’s why I like eating outside everywhere I go. I’ll leave that one with you to ponder for a second). Overall it’s probably unfair to say we are “moving on up”, but in many ways, we are.

Two meetings ago we asked the attendees about moving, and the first question was “will ITT allow alcohol?”, which of course we knew they would not. This past meeting we asked again, stressing that the importance of these meetings was the training, and most everyone was in agreement that it was in the best interest for all that we go ahead and relocate. At this point, we hadn’t even contacted ITT yet, we were really just hoping we’d get a good response from them.

Well we did. I finally sent the dean an email about a week ago with a long explanation of who we were and what all we did. To my surprise I got an immediate response, copied in with two other ITT reps, enthusiastically saying that yes they’d love to have us there, and they’d be in touch. That same day one of the reps emailed me back and in a whirlwind of less than 48 hours everything was all set, and bonus, we were asked to come introduce ourselves to some of the students. How cool is that!

I think it was actually put to us as “would you mind doing a brief introduction”, to which I asked if we could present a few slides (15 it came out to be in total, and that was with cutbacks; there’s just so much to talk about in this amazing SQL community!). Then I asked if the whole OPASS team could be there, and that was also approved. Luckily the entire team, all 4 of us, were available for this opportunity. As emails flew, next thing we hear is that it will be recorded for all students to access. Awesome!

Last night was the presentation. They had us open first before their actual class started. We each took a few slides to talk to, for which I thought might take all of 10 minutes tops, but alas, we went over 30 minutes. This is only because the students were so engaged with what we were informing them on (ok, maybe a little of that was just how much we all love this community and what it has to offer). We talked about OPASS, MagicPASS, ONETUG, SQLSaturday, PASS, Professional Development, and touched some on social media. Ben talked about his first SQLSaturday just three years ago. I talked about SQLShots, and the importance of taking a stab at presenting, how important it will be as their careers evolve. One in the crowd was very much against it (typical), but you could see several others nodding in agreement. They know that they can’t just sit behind a computer; that they will at some point have to be able to talk to either clients, their supervisors, their co-workers. Rodney talked about the SQLSaturday Orlando track we’re doing this year “Student to IT Pro”. And el-Presidente Shawn talked about OPASS and the monthly meetings, and our new networking location, the Hyatt Place lobby/bar, just a block down the street.

It was so exciting to see that most of them actually really were “into” this. I’m not sure what I expected, I think I probably imagined it would be just a bunch of blank faces wondering who are these “old farts” and what the heck is SQL Server. They asked some great questions, all of them took the SQLSaturday flyers we brought, and probably half of them took our business cards. One student’s father was with her, and they were already on the SQLSaturday Orlando registration page on her laptop. The teacher got up at the end and said a few words. He himself has only been in IT for the past 4 or 5 years, previously was in healthcare for over 20 years. A comment he made really resonated with all of the OPASS team, and that was that he had wished that a group like ours would have come to his college when he was young and opened his eyes to all the various opportunities there are in the IT community. We realize now that we should be trying to do this at all the local colleges. How many of us wish that someone had told us when we were young about all these opportunities. It’s time to up the ante on this here in Orlando, and reach further.

As we made our way out, I had goosebumps, a tear in my eye, yet a beaming smile over what just occurred. They took our pictures, and Shawn and I met with the dean briefly. They were thanking us so much, yet here we were so thankful for this opportunity and for the meeting space for our meetings.

By the time I got to my car, one had already sent me an invite on LinkedIN. How cool is that! At the beginning of the talk, while we waited for some students from another class to join, Rodney asked how many had heard of SQL Server, and only one hand went up. An ex-military guy who worked with SQL Server some while in the Army. At the end, he then asked how many were interested in SQL Server now and taking the career path of a DBA, and 8 hands went up. Now that is #SQLWinning!

Meet the OPASS Team:

Shawn McGehee (far right) – President

Ben Cork (far left) – Webmaster

Me (the short one) – Community Outreach Coordinator

Rodney Landrum (the tall one) – Local MS MVP (aka, backup to all, including speakers)

TeamOPASS

“Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.” – I just love this!

Interview with Jason (the Cannonball) Horner, presenting “Zero to Dimensional Modeling Hero” Training Seminar for SQLSaturday Orlando

SQLSaturday Orlando is coming up quickly, set for Sept 27th. We have some amazing speakers coming from all over the state, as well as, outside of Florida. Check out our schedule to see what you can learn this year (for FREE) from our SQL Server experts. And don’t forget to register so you can secure your spot! 

In addition to SQLSaturday, each year we like to provide some deep dive training sessions the couple of days prior to the event. These trainings aren’t free, but we keep them reasonably priced ($120 per) for training that would typically cost a lot more.  It’s top notch quality training that these presenters have offered to do at a low cost because of their love for sharing what they know and have learned themselves through their own experiences. (ok, maybe a big part of it is their love for the SQL community, something many of us have been bitten by).  

This year we have the DBA seminar being held on Thursday, Sept 25th, and led by MCM (Microsoft Certified Master) David Pless (more on him and his day of training in my post next week). On Friday, Sept 26th, will be our BI focused seminar, and it is being led by another MCM (lucky us, we snagged two MCMs), Jason Horner

Horner_pic

I was able to catch up with Jason first this past week to ask him some questions that I think will help folks get to know more about him, and just why his session might be worth their while. 

How long have you been working with SQL Server, and what brought you into working with it? 

I started working with SQL Server 6.5 / 7.0 back in early 2001 at a regional ISP. I was a Systems Administrator and my first major project was upgrading all our client databases from 7.0 to 2000. We also had a custom ecommerce platform that was based on 6.5. 

The training you are doing here for us in Orlando next month, “Zero to Dimensional Modeling Hero”, what do you hope attendees will gain from it? 

After seeing a lot of Data Warehouses at different organizations, and spending a lot of time talking with others in the industry, I saw that Dimensional modeling was a bit of a foreign concept for most people, yet it is also one of the foundational things you need to get right if the project will be a success. My class is all about helping inexperienced people jumpstart this knowledge and helping more experienced people fill in the gaps in their modeling knowledge while at the same time expose them to some patterns and concepts they may not have yet encountered in their organization. 

I see you are an MCM. How long and what exactly did it take to get this high level industry recognition? 

I achieved my first SQL Server certification MCDBA in 2001, since then I have always tried to stay on top of the Microsoft database related certifications, when they announced the changes in the MCM program in 2010, I was intrigued and began to study up primarily using the videos and setting up a lab using Azure VM’s. The cost of the exams seemed a bit daunting; but eventually I was able to get my employer at the time to help pay a portion of it. Receiving notification that I passed the lab at the PASS Summit last year was one of my favorite career moments so far. 

What do you feel are the top 5 most exciting features to have come out in SQL Server over the past 3 years? 

There have been a lot for new features added to SQL Server, I tend to geek out over the smaller TSQL Language enhancements; but I have to say that the clustered columnstore indexes in 2014 and the new cardinality estimation model will help a lot of folks get around there current performance problems. Currently I’m really digging into a lot of the Power BI features including getting up to speed with power query which I think is getting close to making a huge impact on the way we do ETL and the types of data we can reach and surface out to our end users. 

This year will be your first time presenting at the annual PASS Summit. That’s a big event. How excited are you about being selected? 

I’ve spoken at a lot of SQ Saturdays and numerous other events including the PASS Business Analytics conference this past April, but speaking at the Summit will be an interesting experience for sure. There are a lot of other good geospatial sessions as well and I hope I can spark some interest and show folks how they can deliver some geospatial reporting visualizations that push the limits of the SSRS and the other reporting toolsets. 

You will be traveling all the way from Denver for this event. What are some things you like to do for fun in the Mile High city? What made you choose to submit to Orlando’s SQLSaturday? 

Back in Denver I spend a fair amount of time up in the mountains snowboarding in the winter and hiking in the summer. I didn’t really have much of a choice, Karla (who me?!) told me I was going and that was it. Plus the family was interested in seeing Walt Disney World so in the end there really wasn’t much debate on the issue. 

One last question, as I’m sure inquiring minds are wondering. Your close friends in the #sqlfamily often call you Cannonball. How did you come to earn such an attractive nickname? 

John Morehouse and Dan Hess gave that name to me. I think it’s from the movie Cannonball Run, because I always jump into things full speed ahead without forethought. But you may want to ask them, maybe they are talking about my beer gut. 

We look forward to having you here Jason!  

Get full details here on Jason’s seminar on Dimensional Modeling. Next week I’ll post the interview with David Pless, in the meantime, you can read up on David’s seminar here.  You’ll see on these websites that we are offering a $20 discount if you sign for both day’s seminars, but seats are filling fast, so get your seat reserved today!

SQLShot – Growing New Speakers

I was talking at SQLSaturday #161 East Iowa with one of the newer PASS Chapter Leaders, Sheila Acker [t] of Quad Cities PASS, about ideas for growing more local speakers. I described a little program called SQLShot that we do in Orlando at the OPASS meetings. Sheila thought something similar could work for her group and that other Chapter Leaders might like to hear about it as well. Here’s what SQLShot is all about.

You know how during the networking time at user group meetings, you’ll often overhear one person sharing with another something they did at work that day that really helped their company or just made their day easier? Or maybe you hear the opposite conversations – a DBA talking about what a brute of a day they had trying to figure something out, and the other person sharing a technique or tool that might help. What these database pros probably don’t realize is that so many others in the room might also benefit from that knowledge.

This is when you, the Chapter leader, strike and ask the member if they’d consider doing a presentation on that very topic at an upcoming meeting. Of course, as most of us know, DBAs as a whole tend not to be that outgoing, and the thought of talking in front of an audience of their peers can be terrifying.

At OPASS – the Orlando user group started by Andy Warren [b|t] years ago and now led by Shawn McGehee [b|t] – we do what we call a SQLShot , a 10- to 15-minute presentation typically done by someone who has very little, if any, previous speaking experience.

Of course, you can ask during the opening announcements if anyone is interested in doing an upcoming SQLShot. But usually all you’ll hear is the crickets. That’s why it’s important to recognize opportunities like those mentioned above and reach out to specific members on topics you know they can talk about.

As your user group’s leader, you are also a mentor. Your members just need someone to encourage them, someone to eliminate the obstacles going up in their minds. Explain that a presentation on what they were just talking about could benefit others. Let them know it doesn’t have to be some super-polished PPT that they spend hours on, trying to think up (dare I say it) bullet points. Paint the picture; keep it simple. Let them know their presentation might involve just opening up SSMS, showing off the query they created, and describing what the problem was and how this code helped.

The typical rebuttal is, “That won’t even fill 10 minutes.” Tell them that’s fine. Because, just wait… once they are up there and start talking about their solution, before they know it, they’ve shared for 30 minutes. Database pros are excited about what they do, and that excitement usually starts pouring out about 2-3 minutes into the demo.

The next retort will be, “Everyone knows this already.” As we all know, even the most seasoned DBAs learn at least a thing or two in almost any session they attend. Remind your novice speaker that many of the audience members are beginners, and even if they’re not, they’re attending the meetings to learn from their peers’ experiences.

Now here’s a rebuttal I often hear from user group leaders: “I just can never get anyone local to present at our meetings.” I’m not so naïve to believe that all user group leaders are outgoing and can easily approach others and dare to “ask” someone to do something as bold as present. Times like these are YOUR chance to improve your leadership and mentoring skills.

If you’re reading this thinking “that’s me,” brace yourself. My recommendation is that YOU do the SQLShot for your next meeting! There are so many benefits to presenting the SQLShot yourself. You get to learn more about it yourself, mentor others what to do, and lead by example. Show them just how easy it is to do a brief demo. That will be all it takes to generate others to give it a shot! J

We are planning here at OPASS to order some custom SQLShot glasses and coffee mugs. Unfortunately the ones we want from 4imprint are a minimum purchase of 72 each.  If you’re a user group leader interested in doing SQLShots at your meetings, and would like to be able to provide a prize like these as well, let me know.  We’re hoping to maybe get 5 or 6 others interested to help with the costs.  Here are the two items we’re looking at purchasing:

http://www.4imprint.com/search/shot%20glasses/product/111769/Square-Shot-Glass-2-oz

http://www.4imprint.com/search/coffee%20mugs/product/6184-C/Seattle-Mug-Colored

 

SQLSaturday #144 Sacramento: Northern California Makes Its Mark!

After a much needed 6-week break in travel, my FY2013 adventures began at Sacramento’s very first SQLSaturday. Having lived there long ago, I was a little leary of Sacramento in the middle of summer, but was pleasantly surprised to arrive at record low temperatures in the 70s. It made for a beautiful weekend at what was a superbly run event!

Let’s start with the speaker dinner. More and more organizers are hosting the dinner at a home versus a restaurant. It makes for such a nice environment for conversation and for being able to move around and talk to everyone without being confined to a table. For SQLSaturday #144, one of the organizers, Will Meier [t], hosted the dinner and prepared all the good eats, featuring North Carolina-style BBQ right down to the slaw. Dinner entertainment was provided by another organizer, Angel Abundez [b|t], who sang and performed an amazing array of upbeat music via, of all things, a harp. Don’t believe me? Check out the unique treat here.

Onto event day and a quick look at what worked well and lessons learned. The event had to be moved from a local university to a hotel late in the game, which always makes me nervous because of costs involved with hotels. SQLSaturday budgets typically can’t afford such a venue, but the Courtyard Marriott gave the team a really good deal because they were in a crunch. The hotel provided the back lobby area for registration, which was one of the smoothest registrations I’ve seen for a first-time event.

Sacramento used SpeedPASS and never had a line waiting at check-in. The team did a great job the week before the event reminding registrants to pre-print and cut their SpeedPASS. In the first hour registration was open; only eight attendees hadn’t pre-printed their SpeedPASS. Lead organizers Eric Freeman [b|t] and Dan Hess [b|t] were pleasantly surprised, but the team was prepared for the worst case, having pre-printed and organized all the SpeedPASSes in advance. Now, they know they won’t have to go to the extra effort and cost at their next event.

The hotel provided four meeting rooms and the hallway in front of those rooms for the sponsors. It also catered a nice variety of box lunches, which included some of the best wraps I’ve ever eaten. However, although the event’s final head count was around 200, it did have an unexpected high dropout rate, so a lot of pre-ordered lunches based on registration numbers had to be donated.

The Sacramento event had a few factors working against it. Two other events were going on in town the same day, one of which was the State Fair in its final weekend. Why would anyone go to a State Fair when they can be going to a SQLSaturday? 🙂 While the DBA in the family might have preferred the SQLSaturday, their family likely had other desires. The lesson here would be for event organizers to do more messaging the week before the event to make sure those who have made other plans opt out. A lot of people fear they are spamming the week before the event, but we’ve seen that the SQLSaturdays with lower percentages of no-shows are typically those that have done a lot of messaging those last few days. It really does help organizers get a more accurate headcount and keep costs down.

Something else to mention on the topic of competing activities in your area, especially since it has affected two recent events, is to be sure you check with your local Better Business Bureau (BBB) before locking in your date. The BBB should know in advance if any major events are happening in your city the same day you are looking to host your event.

Those who didn’t attend SQLSaturday #144 missed a great lineup of speakers, including a fantastic Women in Technology (WIT) lunch panel including PASS Board member Denise McInerney [b|t], PASS WIT Virtual Chapter leader Meredith Ryan of The Bell Group [b|t], Microsoft SQL Server MVP and author Kalen Delaney [b|t], Confio’s Janis Griffin, and Cal State’s Helen Norris. The event sponsors filled the entire hallway and then some, with Southwest PASS Regional Mentor Phil Robinson [b|l] helping me at the PASS table. Team organizer Mitch Bottel [b|t] scored SQLSaturday temporary tattoos at a great price for all the attendees – you know I had to sport one of those! The end-of-day raffle was in the back lobby area with plenty of room to spare, and the After Party was on the back deck at Chevy’s overlooking the Sacramento River, a perfect setting for an evening of networking.

The Sacramento team made its mark on the SQLSaturday map, hosting a very successful event. This makes two Northern California events in just 4 months and the attendance at both SQLSaturdays shows that this region is definitely hungering for more dedicated SQL Server training.

SQLSaturday #132 Pensacola Recap – Teamwork Prevails

With all the buzz around the flood in Pensacola, I thought I’d take time to do a brief recap of the event, and to say “thanks” to some awesome volunteers. This certainly was a team effort this year, and I for one cannot thank everyone enough. I’m sure I’ll forget some names here, but I’ll do my best, so here goes…

Friday, Pre-con Day

  • Jamie Beck for being onsite early and getting security wrangled up to get the doors open in time and helping me out with the check in process.
  • Rodney Landrum for helping out with the coffee and bagel pickup, and for the extra run back for the missing sugar and creamer, oh, and waters for the speakers.
  • Kelly Thompson of CTS (one of our sponsors) for helping me get the bags stuffed. There wasn’t much to stuff this year, so between the two of us we were able to get it done in under an hour.
  • Mark and Jeannie Holmes for making the Sam’s run for sodas, snacks and other misc. items.
  • Robert Davis and Argenis Fernandez, our pre-con speakers, for putting on a fantastic day of training.  Each break you could just hear the excitement by the attendees on what they were learning.

Saturday, Game Day

  • Shawn McGehee for driving Friday night all the way from Orlando (7 hours) to bring the yard signs, as the Pensacola ones that I had made last year were stolen. Shawn also handled the non printed SpeedPASS line, as he did last year, so super glad to have his experience onsite.  This was the second year in a row for Pensacola to use SpeedPASS, and once again, less than 10% of the attendees didn’t pre-print, with the bulk of this being the speakers, which were to have been pre-printed but apparently time ran out to get that done in advance.
  • Shawn and Rodney for combating the downpour and getting all the yard signs posted around the campus.  They were gone a long time, and came back just drenched!  Apparently they did a great job because comments were made that the signs did an excellent job leading you right in to where you needed to be.
  • Carston Bahnsen, Michael Wells and Victor Rojas for handling the regular registration line. They were fast and efficient, and definitely key to making check in smooth for our attendees.
  • Mark and Jeannie for making the second Sam’s run, and tackling the donut snafu. They also came back with battle signs from the monsoon.  Also for getting the Event Evals stuffed into the name badge holders the evening prior, this made it easy for us to be sure to collect them at the end (they were bright orange, couldn’t miss them!)
  • Kimberly Smith for being the photographer for the day, also filling in where we had gaps for room monitors, posting the door signage around to all the rooms, and getting the speaker evals to the rooms. She literally was all over the place, and fast!
  • Phillip Kirkland (of another sponsor, BitWizards), Jamie, Shawn, and Rodney for helping get the cart of sponsor’s tables unfolded and set up everywhere.
  • Carston leading a couple of others in getting the raffle boxes assembled for the sponsors.
  • Calvin Jones for helping out with miscellaneous items both Friday and Saturday, and for also filling in with room proctoring.
  • John Baldwin, lead of the Birmingham SQLSaturday, helping Jeannie manage the volunteers as they checked in throughout the rest of the day.
  • Barry Coker for being the upstairs greeter and making sure folks could find their way across to the auditorium.
  • Pat Byrne, Michael Viron, Victor, Allen Kinsel, and a couple of others for helping get all the lunch boxes into the building…DRY!
  • Jorge Segarra, Southeast PASS Regional Mentor, for helping out at the PASS table while I was running around orchestrating.
  • Victor for risking his own life in the monsoon and flooded streets to get the leftover lunch boxes to the Waterfront Mission for the homeless, whose shelter had been flooded, so he had to do some searching to find where they had all been relocated to. True dedication to taking care of others resides in this man’s big heart!
  • And lastly, to Mark and Jeannie for all their work leading up to this event, and for putting up with all my “poking and prodding”.  I know they realize now it was all worth it!

A HUGE THANKS TO ALL OF YOU!!!

I’d also like to thank all the attendees for weathering the storm, oh wait, that’s right, we pretty much had you captive. heehee. No really, I’m proud to say that Pensacola has consistently ever only had about a 13% average in “no shows” each year, with most other events having anywhere from 30-50%.  When you say you’ll be there, you are! Thank you!

This year was definitely the year of teamwork for Pensacola.  For the first time in four years, we actually had the bulk of the volunteers arrive early, which really helped to get the event kicked off on the right foot and running smoothly all day long, even with all the havoc Mother Nature was throwing at us.

 

March Madness with PASS and SQL Server 2012

March brought the much anticipated SQL Server 2012, and with it a slew of events, including Microsoft’s Special Ops tour, several PASS SQLSaturdays, and rounding out the month with DevConnections and SQLBits X.

My own March Madness took me to three of the month’s SQLSaturday events. Two were first-time events: #103 Silicon Valley, organized by Mark Ginnebaugh [blog|twitter] and his team, and #105 Dublin, organized by Sandra Gunn [twitter] and her team. The third, #110 Tampa, was organized for the fifth straight year by Pam Shaw [LinkedIn|twitter] – the Queen of SQLSaturdays and my mentor.  All three events were very successful, with strong attendance and fantastic speaker lineups, great sponsor support (all with several exhibiting onsite, always nice to see), and as much SQL Server 2012 content as you could pack into a day.

Registration and logistics flow at the veteran Tampa event coasted along smoothly, with the first-time SQLSaturdays experiencing a few bumps, as is typical. There’s still more we can do with mentoring new events in this area, although sometimes you just don’t know the best layout for registration and sponsors until you’re onsite and shifting things around.

The events all resembled each other, as they should since there is a “model” to follow for a SQLSaturday – most importantly providing high-quality free training to attendees. But it’s always fun to see how each team puts its own stamp on SQLSaturday, often expressed in the speaker/volunteer appreciation parties. March brought some very special touches.

Silicon Valley catered to the Big Geek in all of us by having its Friday event at the nearby Computer History Museum.  I think we were all more interested in getting our picture taken in front of the Charles Babbage’s Calculating Engine than eating what was probably the best food I’ve ever seen at a SQLSaturday appreciation party (my particular favorite was the asparagus spears wrapped in pancetta, had to fight Denny Cherry [blog|twitter]over these).

Closer to home, Tampa’s Friday evening featured the traditional sit-down Italian dinner, fostering that comfortable feeling of family. The SQL Florida Mafia (yes, we really do call ourselves that – ask Scott Gleason [twitter] why) was joined by many of our out-of-state SQLSaturday circuit speakers, and even the godfather of SQLSaturday himself, Andy Warren [blog|twitter], was present, rounding out the #SQLfamily dinner.

And Dublin, the last of my SQLSaturday March tour, provided dinner on a barge, which turned out to be much different than what I first envisioned.  The barge wasn’t the large bare-bones steel ship that you see transporting goods or military supplies. This one was a large cabin cruiser-style boat, with a cozy dinner room downstairs, décor in a lavish plum color, and soft lighting. In between courses during the 3-hour canal cruise, we took in the wonderful evening weather from an open upper deck. I’m pretty sure this type of party was a first for a SQLSaturday event.

SQLSaturday #103 Curacao Recap – Planting Seeds

This past weekend, there were two SQLSaturday events: #108 in Redmond and #103 in Curacao. I heard all the “Oh sure, tough choice there” comments, but my plans early on were to be in attendance at the Curacao event.

The original vision for this new role as PASS Community Evangelist was to get to one first-time venue each month to talk to attendees who might not be familiar with PASS. In addition, my being onsite to assist with some logistics and last-minute details at these events helps out the first-time organizers as well. Plus, I can see what areas I need to make sure I’m mentoring on before event day.

This trip was only 3 hours from Miami. I was greeted at the airport by event leader and local PASS chapter leader Roy Ernest [blog|twitter]. Roy went out of his way to not only pick me up, but to also pick up each speaker who came from over from the US. None of us arrived at the same time, so it wasn’t exactly convenient for someone already with so much stress of his approaching event.  SQLSat #103 had three non- local speakers – Bill Pearson [blog|twitter], Rob Volk [blog|twitter], and Tim Radney [blog|twitter] – and two local presenters: Roy and one of his volunteers and co-worker Rohan Joackhim [twitter].

Friday evening’s speaker appreciation dinner was at a great Indian restaurant – one of many in this renovated fort called Rif Fort. From the outside, it looked like a castle, but when you walked in, there were all kinds of restaurants on several levels, all with open seating. You could look out in one direction and see the beautiful crystal-clear, aqua-colored ocean and then look inward around the fort at all the entertainment, from drummers and bands to folks dancing in the open center area. It was really a unique setting; I would say the only downfall was that the band was so loud, it was hard to hear even someone sitting directly across from you.

The event had two tracks, DBA and BI, and was held at the University of the Netherlands Antilles, courtesy of the head instructor, Rinnus Felipa.  It’s always nice to meet those who help make a SQLSaturday happen, and kudos to universities such as this, which offer their venues for free to the IT community. It was obvious that the success of this day was important to Rinnus – he was onsite all day and meticulous about details that the university was responsible for, such as lunch. On the lunch menu was “Steak de Wea,” a local combination of rice and steak covered in a savory sauce, with fresh green beans and salad. It was delicious, and I enjoy trying something local and new to my taste buds. SQLSat #103 didn’t charge attendees for lunch, and the university kept the cost very reasonable (I believe each plate was around $7 per person).

The morning of the event, there were 95 registrants, including those who opted out the week prior. Actual attendance ended up being around 60 – so as typically seen at SQLSaturdays, about a 30%-35% drop-off. The event had only three sponsors: PASS, Redgate, and O’Reilly. But even with the little budget he had to work with, Roy managed to put on a great event for his community. As I talked with attendees during breaks and addressed the group as a whole at the end, many comments rang a common tune – they want to see another SQLSaturday… and most don’t want to wait another year for it (hint, hint, Roy!). As always, I stressed to the attendees that they should work on becoming presenters themselves for the next SQLSaturday event, and they could start sharpening their SQL and presentation skills by speaking at their local user group.

This post would not be complete if I failed to mention another key Curacao volunteer: Surenda Djaoen [twitter], another of Roy’s co-workers and someone he is mentoring to become the new leader of the Curacao SQL Server User Group. With Roy doing so much running around on Friday, and still prepping his own presentation for the big day, Surenda took on a lot of the last-minute details for the SQLSaturday. One of the highlights of the trip for me was getting time to talk with her about running a user group and some tips on growing the local speaker pool. It’s always rewarding to see volunteers’ eyes light up with excitement as their minds start racing with ideas. That’s all it takes – just plant a few seeds, and watch them grow!

Some personal comments and tips on this trip.  Nearly all the hotels are with an ocean view, most have casinos, it is also a port for cruises, so lots of great shopping, snorkeling (which Tim Radney and his son managed to get a couple of trips in while there), and all kinds of great cuisine to choose from.  Like most islands, you just instantly feel relaxed, even with the feeling that there is a nonstop party going on all around you.

Admittedly there was one thing that kept me from completely relaxing and that was the interesting local wild life, a wide variety of lizards. Most know that Florida is covered with lizards, but these were no ordinary lizards folks, we’re talking mega sized lizards, some with double tails (I kid you not, freaky looking!).  The so called small lizards were about 7-8 inches in length, and just like lizards here in Florida, you’d walk down the side walk and they would scurry out of your way, however the lizards on my way to the cafeteria were closer to >12 inches in length and a bright green.  I was jumping my way down that sidewalk, not walking.  Then your next size up after that were the 18 inch and larger, these.  Let me tell you, they don’t have armadillos or possum as road kill, they have iguanas, and yes, I had the unpleasant chance of seeing one on the way to the hotel.  But don’t let the lizards and iguanas deter you from making a visit there, they are all harmless and either run or act like you aren’t even there.

One interesting thing you must see when you go is the Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge.  This bridge is supported by 16 floating pontoon boats, it separates the two halves of the city, and swings many times daily to allow ships and large barges access through the harbor.  If this happens when you are ready to cross, a ferry free of charge will transport you to the other side.  Here are some other great pics of this bridge:  http://lazytoad.com/travel/cruise/curacao-Pages/Image6.html  and http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g147278-d148574-r32109942-Queen_Emma_Pontoon_Bridge-Willemstad_Curacao.html .

A couple of benefits for US citizens visiting Curacao, you don’t need a special converter for your electrical items, they take US dollars everywhere including the slot machines, and most everyone speaks very well English.  It was like being home without all the “noise” that comes with day to day life.  I’m already planning a mini-vacation in September for Rodney and me, as he didn’t get to go this time, and it is indeed a great place to escape to for a little romance!