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Interested in Starting a User Group or Hosting a SQLSaturday?

If you are interested in bringing to your community a new user group or to host your very own SQLSaturday, please come visit me at the PASS Community booth directly in front of the registration check in counters at the Summit next week.  I will be there most of the time next week, excluding Tuesday.  If I’m not there for some reason, ask for Michelle Nalliah, my partner in all things AWESOME at PASS, and if all else fails, send me a tweet to @karlakay22.  This invite is open to anyone and everyone across the World!  Even if you aren’t coming to the PASS Summit, send me an email, karla.landrum@sqlpass.org.

Looking forward to meeting you!

WAHOO! KALAMAZOO! SQLSaturday #84 Steals My Heart!

This weekend marked the 20th SQL Saturday that I have attended, SQLSaturday 84 in a place until now I had never heard of, Kalamazoo, Michigan.  Well, I can tell you, that this one broke into my top 3, as this small town, “home like” feeling event, literally warmed my heart!  It was admittedly very reminiscent of the first event I hosted in Pensacola in 2009.

When I arrived, with Tommy LaRock who happened to be on the same flight, volunteer Shelly Noll picked us up, the first sign of hometown hospitality.  After checking into the hotel, Shelly swung us by the event venue where we met up with the other volunteers.  Their event was held at the Kalamazoo Valley Community College, and let me tell you, one of the very nicest community colleges I’ve ever seen. This large venue was gorgeous, with trees growing on the inside, beautiful gardens and courtyards, and amazingly donated for FREE for this event.  NICE WIN!

There were at least 8 volunteers, likely more just didn’t count, all working diligently on preparing things for the big day.  Right off the bat, you could tell this group was super organized as they were nearly done, and it was only about 3:00 in the afternoon.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen such calmness the day before a SQLSaturday.

Things kicked off that evening with the speaker party, a get together at Tim Ford’s beautiful home and was sponsored by SQLSentry.  In attendance were so many top notch notables of the SQL world that I am not even going to begin listing them all, as I will surely miss someone.  Tim and his lovely wife Amy prepared quite a spread of delectables, from homemade guacamole to apple cobbler (and one cobbler wasn’t enough, there was a peach one as well!), assorted chips and dips and cheeses I’ve never even heard of that were to die for!  Plenty of delicious food and then the doorbell rings, as if we needed more, gourmet pizzas show up.  A cooler full of frothy beverages out on the deck, again, many I have never heard of, with a wonderfully warm fire roaring in the pit (which was MUCH appreciated by THIS Florida girl, as it was like 50 degrees there!).  As chilly as it was (okay maybe not for the others), most everyone ended up gathering out on the deck, surrounding the fire like we were at camp, telling tales of SQL.  It was so relaxing, lots of good humor and stories.  This by far is now my top Friday evening party for these events.  It was like being home.  The evening ended, at least for me, of an announcement that someone had eaten all the bacon off all the remaining pizza. One guess!

Early the next morning, once again, Shelly was kind enough to pick me up from the hotel and head on over to the venue to get things set-up.  Others were there and much of what was needed done was well on its way to completion.  I cannot say enough, what a super, efficient crew of volunteers!  I was there on behalf of PASS, so I went to work setting up our table in the sponsor’s area.  This I would say would be the only thing that I would recommend they look at changing up at next year’s event, the placement of sponsors. Unfortunately it was the only place with outlets all the way around the walls, hence why they chose this spot, but it was pretty far from the registration check-in, and tucked off to one side.  It was at least near the doors to where three of the sessions were being held, so Tim the quick thinker, placed a big billboard they had with the rooms and sessions posted directly by those doors, so we could sway folks over to our area as they stopped to find their way.  This worked out, as I do think many attendees managed to get their raffle tickets into the drawings all the sponsors had.  Maybe next year they can find some other way to get the registration and the sponsors closer together.

The day went by very quickly, probably because I spent most of the day working and in discussions with Alison MacDonald from PASS Marketing, oh, and that other person who seems to never stop talking, no, not Rob Farley, Tom!  (I hear Rob out talks Tom, I find that really hard to believe after this weekend).  Throughout the day many attendees, as usual at these events, were commenting on how great the event was and how happy they were that it came to Kalamazoo.  The turnout was very close to the numbered registered, I think they ended up with only about a 12% drop-off, even though there did seem to be a lot of food leftover, but I think that is typical when you do food trays with sandwiches. I think sandwich shops under state really just how many people one tray will feed. This was the first event that I attended that we had the new SQLSaturday laptop stickers and patches, and those went over big time, everyone wanted those.  Looking forward to seeing how many of these make their way to the Summit next month.  For their event, they had a WIT Panel during lunch led by Shelly, which unfortunately I missed due to talking too much myself!  The WIT Panel was a great line-up of Kendra Little, Wendy Pastrick, Yanni Robel, and Erin Stellato.  Since I missed it, I can’t do it justice, but Sarah Strate did a full detailed blog about it, that you can read up on here: http://sarahsjolander.wordpress.com/2011/09/17/3-questions-for-the-wit/

As the day was winding up, Tim needed someone to head over early to the after party venue to let them know we were coming, as they did not allow reservations ahead of time.  So Amy, Austen and Trevor (they ever so entertaining boys) and I all headed over, which meant I wasn’t there for the raffle drawings, which was fine, but I did miss out on a very special moment for Tim.  Josh Fennessy, who was that day announced as the new chapter leader for the West Michigan SQL User Group, presented Tim with a plaque of recognition for all his years of contributions to the SQL community.  Check it out http://lockerz.com/s/139887810

The after party was at a very cool restaurant/bar in downtown called Kalamazoo Beer Exchange .  Great food, but the absolutely coolest thing about this place was the Beer Market.  At 6:00pm, on various big screens throughout the three story facility, the Beer Market would open.  Think Stock Market.  You watch the price of beers go up or down based on consumption.  I had never seen this anywhere, and it was so cool!  When the price of the beer changed, it stayed at that price for 12 minutes.  There were arrows, just like the stock market, that showed if the price was going up or down.  At one point the beer market crashed, and all the beers were 2 bucks!  Drink, drink, drink!

After a while we all made our way to a nearby piano bar, something we do for the after party at Pensacola each year, and in my opinion, great entertainment and fun for all no matter where you live.  I had hoped to make my way to a third place that had bull riding, as I am determined to do this someday, but was just too tired and had an early flight out.  I was smart and booked my ride with Joe Fleming earlier in the evening, stating “make me go with you no matter  how  much I insist I want to stay longer”, so thank you Joe, I made it to the airport on time that next morning.  Which by the way another hospitable thing happened, my cab driver, Cliff, insisted on not charging me for the lift to the airport.

In closing, I want to say to the SQLSaturday Kazoo team, GREAT JOB!  Thank you so much to all of you for bringing this event to your community.  On a personal note, thank you to Amy and Tim for making me feel so welcome and having us all over to your home.  You are such good people, and I hope to spend time again with you some day.  I feel like I not only had a great opportunity to network, but made connections with some folks that I would consider good friends now.  And special shout out to Josh, don’t forget our date in Seattle, your christening of the Hurricane Café.  Rodney and I are both looking forward to it!

WAHOO! I’m working for PASS HQ!!!

Today I begin my journey as the newest member of the PASS HQ team.  I am still pinching myself as I cannot believe that this has happened to me!  It’s like winning the lottery, getting to do what I am most passionate about full time and still be able to feed my family, is indeed…chime in Tom LaRock [blog/twitter]… SQL WINNING to me!!!

To answer some of the common questions I’ve been getting, no, I am not moving to Vancouver.  As a matter of fact, I and the love of my life, Rodney Landrum [blog/twitter], just bought a new home in Lake Mary, Florida.  This Florida girl learned long ago, that she really needs to stay put in Florida so thank goodness I didn’t have to move, as that would have been a really tough decision to make, and I would of hated to have to pass on PASS.  Living on the East coast seems to me not just a great benefit to PASS, but to the community, especially our international communities, as now PASS will have a representative able to assist earlier in the day……which leads to the next common question I keep getting…JUST WHAT WILL I BE DOING for PASS.  Well, that will really be more defined this week while I am up here, but primarily I know that I will be heavily involved in SQL Saturdays (not getting to lead one anymore, so that is going to be a big adjustment for me!), but just helping the growth of these events in states and smaller cities that haven’t had one near them, and to help see these events moving internationally for PASS.  Also mentoring newbies who have never hosted a SQL Saturday, creating training materials such as help videos for the use of the SQLSat admin site, and helping “steer” new event leaders away from potential pitfalls they might run into.

Along with events, I’ll be working on shaping the Regional Mentor program along with current BoD Mark Ginnebaugh [blog/twitter].  A big part of this will be mentoring RM’s on their roles in the community and to their chapter leaders within their regions.  Lots to do here, but really looking forward to it as I myself have really enjoyed being an RM, and see a lot of potential for how this role could benefit the PASS community.  I know there are a lot of folks who don’t believe in this and don’t see the need for RMs, that’s it now in like it’s 4th or 5th reboot, but just hang in there and try to keep an open mind.  This role hasn’t really had anyone able to spend as much time developing it as I will be able to contribute to it, so that could be just what it’s been lacking…not just time devotion, but someone really believing in what Regional Mentors can add to the community.

Even though I will be ramping up the RMs to work more closely with their Chapter Leaders, I too will be very closely working with CLs, this will include the Virtual Chapters as well.  I am very excited about this part, I hope I get to talk to every single CL out there regularly!!!  I’m especially looking forward to helping out new chapter leaders and those who may be struggling out there.  Currently when a new chapter starts, they sign an agreement, and then are thrown out to the wolves. Ok, maybe not quite that callus but we all know that those first few months are very tough for a new chapter, and I’m looking forward to being able to provide guidance to get them rolling in the right direction so they can get some “out of the gate” traction and continue to grow.

That’s all I know for now, and really need to get dressed, don’t want to be late on my first day!  We’ll see where this week leads things.  Stay tuned!

Pensacola TKO’s another Great SQL Saturday Event!

It’s been a heck of a week, as I had to go right into another three day event post the SQL Saturday #77 one in Pensacola, but I am finally able to sit and “brain-dump” all my thoughts about this year’s event.
For the first time in Pensacola we added two pay for pre-cons the day prior to the event.  We were honored to have Andy Leonard [blog/twitter] train on “A Day of SSIS” and Kevin D. Wolf [blog/twitter] trained on “Real World Windows Phone 7 Development”.  Due to very few technical events coming to Pensacola, we typically add a couple of dev tracks to the SQL Saturdays at this location, so we decided to have a pre-con for our local Devs as well as the DBAs.  These events were very well received, and really added some value and a few dollars to help cover additional expenses for Saturday.  I highly recommend adding a pre-con if you can manage it.
This year the SQL Saturday was held at the same venue, however at a different building, so added a bit of confusion for folks attending.  Even though the building was right next to the one we’ve always used, it required people to enter into a different parking lot. Well, one side of that parking lot, the side that is the actual physical location of the college, was blocked off with cones for a motorcycle training class going on that morning.  For people not familiar with the college, and coming to SQL Saturday Pensacola for the first time, they had a hard time finding the entrance on the opposite side of the block.  We assigned a volunteer to stand over there and direct folks to the other entrance, however the first track of sessions had very low attendance which I’m sure was due to people unable to locate us.  Something to note for next year if the event stays at the same college, offer all routes of entry to the college in email prior to the event.  By the second session, the numbers were looking good, and rooms were starting to fill up, although I’m sure we had some just give up and leave altogether.
Another “hiccup” in the morning was the printer not working.  We used the Speed Pass registration process this year for the first time, and for folks who didn’t register online or forgot to print their pass, we planned to print them onsite the morning of the event.  We had about a dozen people lined up when we finally just gave up and went across the street and bought another printer.  So added an unexpected expense, and caused some hold up for a few attendees, but not sure how to avoid this type of thing for next year, as I do feel the Speed Pass overall was a huge help in creating a very smooth check in.
One thing that was really great for our new location was the ability to have enough room for more exhibiting sponsors.  This year we had more sponsors actually onsite then we’ve ever had in the past, and the attendees really got to see/hear about a lot of great products and services available to them.  After reading some blogs, I know the sponsors really felt it was worth their while as well.  I always try to encourage sponsors to come onsite, as I really feel it adds more value to the event for the attendees, and equally helps the vendor to get more exposure.
Lunch was Lenny’s Sub Shop, as they always give us a great price for their box lunch and deliver and set them all up for us, which is nice since its one less thing we need volunteers to do.  We typically encourage folks to eat outside, but this year had to be the hottest June I’ve ever seen in  Pensacola, so we may consider moving it up into April next year…although that will mean SQL Sunday fishing will take a “hit” as red snapper season isn’t open that time of year.  Again, some things to weigh out for next time.
The day ended with the raffle drawing, and we had a lot of great giveaways this year, so we had a good amount of attendees hang around all the way to the end of the day, then off to the after party at Seville Quarter.  Some good eats and winding down time, which I know for THIS GIRL was much needed.  I don’t think I’ve ever been so quiet at a networking opportunity.
All in all, I’m satisfied with the outcome.  A lot of people have made some great comments about the sessions being higher level this year, so even those more advanced DBAs and Developers I think walked away with some new knowledge.  Thank you to ALL our great speakers for coming to Pensacola and making it a huge win for our hometown.  I really cannot express enough how deeply appreciative I am to all of you for making the “haul” (I know some came very far away!) and tolerating some unusually hot weather for that time of year!

You can check out some pics from Russ Fustino [blog/twitter] here. (several links at the bottom of the post).  If anyone has links to other pics, please post a comment here with the link.  Thanks!

Without Further Ado – SQL Saturday #77 Pensacola Speaker Line-up

Sunday closed the call for speakers for Pensacola’s 3rd Annual SQL Saturday, and each year it gets tougher and tougher to decide just what sessions to select.  This year we had 93 sessions submitted and had to narrow it down to about a third of this.  Knowing historically how hard this part can be, I started analyzing a few days prior to Sunday, and thank goodness I did, because I still didn’t make my goal of announcing the final agenda on Monday.  I have my excuses, but what would be the point of that now. (ok, maybe one, the SQL Saturday website update Monday evening…let’s just say, took an upper cut to the chin!).

This year I wanted to really mix it up, so I’m excited that we will have 16 new faces speaking for Pensacola’s SQL Saturday for the first time.  We will also have 13 returning, most of which have spoken at the past two year’s events, and several of those being local talent.  And since I know someone is going to ask, we have 7 MVPs presenting this year…wait, make that 9 since we have Andy Leonard [blog| twitter] and Kevin D. Wolf [blog| twitter] doing pre-cons for us on SQL Friday this year!

Ladies and Gentlemen, let’s get ready to rumble LEARN! I present to you Pensacola’s 3rd Annual SQL Saturday Heavyweight Champions:

http://www.sqlsaturday.com/77/schedule.aspx

See you all in June!  As our hometown pride Roy would say, Pensacola in the House!!!

Hawaii SQL Saturday #72 Recap

The month of April began with the very first ever SQL Saturday in Honolulu, Hawaii.  I didn’t get to attend, but from what I’ve been told and watched all that day in pics via twitter, it was a great success for them.  Their final attendee count via the website was 158, and 132 of those were actual “shows” for the day of the event.  That’s a very good number for a first time SQL Saturday, and for only having three tracks.  You can tell by some of the pictures (see below), these presenters had some very full rooms.

Team SQL Saturday Hawaii and I had a “debriefing” call this past Thursday to discuss what they felt went right, and what could they do better, and they wanted to go ahead and actually pick next year’s date for their 2nd Annual SQL Saturday (which I think they are looking at closer to mid April 2012). W00T!! Things that went right for them, the venue was very ideal, and parking was free from the college, so made it very easy for attendees to get access.  The rooms were very large and held a decent amount of people, which was needed.  Something they hope for next time is the ability to get into the facility the evening or day before and do the set-up of the vendor tables and post the signage.  They weren’t able to do any of this until the morning of their event, so they felt very rushed, even though based on event evals submitted so far, the attendees felt the check-in process was very efficient.  They had gone with very traditional bento boxes for lunch, but based on feedback so far, it sounds like they should go with another option for lunch time next year.  They mentioned in the call potentially using the college cafeteria, which apparently provides a very nice lunch for such events.

As far as next year’s date, I recommended that they one, post it up as soon as they know, so more speakers can potentially be involved in the next event.  And two, that they space the date farther away from other large conferences.  This year’s SQL Saturday fell the same week as DevConnections, which I think a couple of those presenters would have tried to make it to Hawaii.  They also plan to add more tracks next year, in particularly, a full track for SharePoint and BI.  Their local presenter, Wen He [blog| LinkedIn ], did two SharePoint sessions, one including BI, and both rooms were packed out.  (By the way, received an email from Wen post the event, thanking us for picking him and sharing an email he received from someone saying how professional a speaker he was and that he was TechEd quality. How nice!  Wen, btw, bought a new $2K laptop for his SQL Saturday debut, said it was well worth it. Sweet!).

Many thanks to all the speakers, sponsors, Team SQL Saturday Hawaii, and of course the attendees for making SQL Saturday #72 a great event!  Looking forward to next year, hopefully I’ll be at it!

PASS Chapter Leader Elections – What Should Nominees Be Asked?

A couple of chapters that I’m working with are getting ready to transition leadership of their user groups.  Change is a good thing, and we all need a break once in awhile, so I’m glad to see that these volunteer leaders are doing what’s best for them right now, but also reaching out and wanting to do what’s best for their members and their communities.

In an effort to help out with a proper election process,  I started creating a list of questions to ask candidates, of course having the usual ones like “Why are you interested in leading a user group”, “What qualifications do you have that you feel makes you a good leader/candidate for this position”, “Do you have X number of hours in your spare time to devote to duties required in having a successful user group”, oh and my favorite, “Are you just plain crazy?”…KIDDING of course!

I wanted to field from the rest of you, what do you think should be asked on such a survey?  And I’d also like to ask, what do you think is the best mechanism for tracking/collecting this type of information, is something like Survey Monkey good for this?  Or is there something more appropriate and/or more efficient that someone should use for this type of thing?  Also, any advice anyone has that they’ve gleaned from their own experiences in such a process, would be very welcomed!

Please post all your suggestions here, versus twitter, so I can have it all in one collective spot.  Thank you in advance for your input!