User Group Funding: Twitter Chat summary

I was part of a very interesting chat on twitter on how to find funding for user groups and SQL Saturdays. The conversation was initiated by Brent Ozar with an RT of Andy Warren’s blog post stating that running chapters is a lot of hard work. It was followed up with an active discussion on funding and how to find more funding to support chapters, particularly smaller ones. Those who participated include – Brent Ozar, Grant Fritchey, Kendal Van Dyke and Andy Warren. Matt Velic and me added our thoughts also. Following are some interesting observations.

On funding for small groups:

Me: ‘Funding for small groups has become inconsistent after UGSS and Idera pulled out of consistently sponsoring.’
Kendal: ‘Ideally that’s where SQLSaturday activities can help fund the group for the year.’
Matt: ‘SQL Sat would have to charge a fair amount to fund for a whole year’.
Brent: ‘Charge $25 for SQLSaturday,still the deal of the century’.
Andy:’Hard to justify cost/effort/reward for small groups if you’re a sponsor. Have to find ways to change that’.
Kendal: ‘Having a marketing plan, good look/feel, consistent messaging – all help bring in more sponsors.’
Grant:’ Fact is, small UGs suffer. I know. Trick is, minimize your needs, don’t emulate big groups.’

On topics and speakers:
The topic deviated to if or finding big-name speakers was important or as important as topics. I spoke to my experience that big names draw big crowds – at user groups or sql Saturdays. Others chimed in as below.

Brent:There’s less of a “celebrity” factor in the SQL community than folks think.For most attendees, local presenters *are* stars.
Andy: ‘Topic matters as much, or more.’
Grant : ‘ Another vote for more. Topic wins huge. I’m seeing that more & more.’
Grant: ”Fight like heck to get big name speakers, even if it’s just remote.’

On drawing bigger crowds of people :
We had some debates on quality versus quantity of people. Charging a fee might mean fewer people but draw those who are really interested.
Brent – ‘Vendors want quality too, not just quantity’.
Grant – ‘Speaking as a vendor, we want quality, but let’s face it, quantity has a quality of it’s own.’

Everyone agreed that Andy had done a great job with Orlando SQL Saturday and also with blogging consistently on these issues. We look forward to more posts and guidance from him (with other thoughts and ideas also). as we move forward into the next year.

 

 

TSQL Tuesday #60 – Something new learned..

This TSQL Tuesday is hosted by my good friend Chris Yates – the topic is on something new learned in the recent past. It is a simple topic but can sometimes be hard to articulate. I am a big believer in an open mind and learning anything new that comes my way – and have learned that the older you grow the harder this can be. The one practical lesson I claim to have learned, finally, in the recent past – is to sell myself and my work better. Or..to put it in other words, that publicity for what you learn and do is as important as the work itself.

I grew up in a culture that did not think too well of people – in particular women, being very extroverted. That combined with the fact that I was home-schooled for health reasons did not make me a huge extrovert by nature. My good friend Kevin Kline once did a survey of geeks and explained that most people who take to computers in a big way are, in some ways introverted. I don’t think being introverted has anything to do with self esteem, or even being shy or anti social. I just think these are preferences around how we are – that we prefer quality company over numbers, and are somewhat deliberate in our thoughts and actions. I do think though that it does impact how we sell ourselves – or publicise our work. For someone to know you you need to get out there and show them who you are – or it is more likely that those people who know far less than you do and drum up their work better will get the right chances to get ahead.

In my 13 years of attending the PASS Summit – I have always tried to spend time in classes, attending the occasional evening party. This time, I did something different. I spent most of my time networking – hanging out in community zone, asking people if they’d like to do lunches or dinners where we shared each other’s cares and concerns, and introducing myself to many SQL celebrities I had only known by name. I found the experience very rewarding – I got a lot of insight into options for career advancement, upcoming trends and changes in nature of work (more telecommute, more data analytics, more ‘unlimited’ vacation…) – not to mention the emotional support from a  huge number of #sqlhugs. I was selective, of course – in some ways, like I have always been. I usually hang with people whom I feel are genuine at some level, not just all about fluff, and are intuitively easy to relate to. That is something that I will want to keep.

My good friend Grant Fritchey once remarked  to someone who was a very strong techie and yet very humble and unassuming – ‘you need to be more assuming’ (he meant that you need to sell yourself more/better). That , in one sentence has been what I learnt recently – to be more ‘assuming’ while being true and genuine, at the same time.

PASS Summit 2014 – People to meet

I am late writing this…between getting ready to take one week away from work, things to pack and keep the home in a reasonably tidy shape there was no time to blog. But I have been gathering thoughts in my head as I went by doing my chores – on whom to meet and what to do. This is my summit #14 in a row, and have never ever regretted coming back here because of the friends I make and the connections that enrich me in every way.

1 Whom to meet – I am one of those many people who learnt the hard way that the community that matters the most are those in your own neck-of-the-woods – people who work at companies nearest to you, volunteer at your sql Saturdays and user groups and so on. So my very first preference is my breakfast with the team from Louisville – I know several of them already and most do not have a blogging or tweet presence. But I do look forward to meeting Dave Fackler – the user group lead after me who has been doing an awesome job keeping up the meetings, and Chris Yates - whom I met on twitter and is growing to be a good member of our local #sqlfamily. Our group is scheduled to meet on Wednesday morning for breakfast at the summit.

2 The non celebrity friends network – I like to call it that – we are people who are regular attendees of the conference – none of us are celebrities/MCMs/MVPs. Some are ardent PASS volunteers . We like to support and offer grounding to each other as we grow in our lives and careers. My long time friend from St Louis user group Julie Bloominquest, SQLSaturday champion Pam Shaw, Microsoftie friend Karthika Raman, other friends like  Meher Malakapalli, Dan Brennan and Adam Belebczuk.

3 New people to add to the network – Some people I have only known via twitter or other people’s blogs – Doug LaneNancy Daniels , Theresa Iserman, Andy Galbraith, Joey D Antoni are some of them. I think I have more just not getting names out yet.

The number of people I have known over the years and want to catch up with is simply too long for a blog post…that is what makes the summit worth returning to every single year.

Some posts you may want to read that are similar are from two awesome #sqlgals – Tamera Clark and Mickey Stuewe.

http://mickeystuewe.com/2014/10/29/who-you-gonna-meet/

http://clarkcreations.net/blog/last-minute-thoughts-for-summit-2014

 

Wishing everyone a happy conference!!

 

 

TSQL Tuesday #59 – My hero(es) – The Quiet Achievers

I decided to resume my effort at consistent blogging again..after more than a year..with this week’s TSQL Tuesday Invite – this invite is by Tracy McGibben and is on ”Heroes”. There are many heroes in the SQL world who have inspired me and continue to. But there are two among them whom I wish to single out for this post.

1 Joseph Sack – I met Joe during a Sqlskills Immersion Event at Florida. I had known him to be the former director of MCM program before he joined SQLSkills, and I had a mental image of him to be atleast twice as older than he really was. Joe was much younger, very smart and thorough in what he knew, kind, funny and very easy to be around with. Soon after that event Paul Randal put out the yearly mentoring program that they do, and the candidates each of them had picked to mentor. I was long looking for a mentor – and was a bit saddened that I did not make it. I sent out a personal request to Joe – asking if he would mind mentoring me. Honestly did not expect to hear anything in the affirmative but he responded immediately – yes, he would be happy to. I spent a year on mentoring program with Joe – talking every month on things that mattered to me and asking for his advice, suggestions and like. After a few months we would up good friends who shared each other’s cares and worries rather than just a mentor and mentee. What impressed me about him initially are the same qualities that impress me still – humble,  down-to-earth, hard working and always willing to lend a helping hand. (Unfortunately Joe is no longer on social media or blogosphere for me to add any links). Proud to know you and be your friend, Joe.

2 Wayne Sheffield - I met Wayne as a speaker for one of my SQL Saturdays. That particular SQL  Saturday was not really a great event for me and my team. Two of my most senior volunteers had to depart to attend to some personal duties – I was very short on help and struggling to pull together with many things falling apart. One of the things that ‘fell apart’ were speaker shirts, which were misplaced. I was unable to find Wayne’s shirt – he had come with expectation that he would get one and needless to say, it was not the best experience for either of us(The shirt was found later). But the year after – I went on SQL Cruise Alaska, and joined Wayne and his family the day before for a tour of Seattle underground. During the cruise I got to know him much better and we are good friends. I have since followed his journey towards the MCM and various job changes too.He has  always been there to help me – with SQL advice, professional help, or just lend a listening shoulder. Like Joe – the qualities I admire with Wayne are his patience, humility, hard work, down-to-earthiness and willingness to help.

‘A person is known by the friends they keep’ is an old saying – so if people know me by my friends such as these, am sure I am known well :) As a last word – would like to recommend everyone to find  people they vibe well with, not just people who are celebrities or big names. Find people who understand who you are, and are willing to support, encourage and motivate you. And do the same for them. Attend programs like SQL Skills or the SQL Cruise - they are not just for learning, I  have found some of my best friends this way.

Finding new goals…

The sudden and sad demise of the #sqlmcm program had me thinking on many levels..particularly on future goals and aspirations, and on how to market myself.

To give an introduction of some sort – in my younger years I was not particularly in favor of degrees or certifications. I was strongly of the belief that experience, interest to learn and creativity were the ‘real’ stuff that got you places. I dropped out of a high tech engineering program where I was 1 out of 300 people selected from among nearly 60,000 people who took it, and chose to pursue my life and career based on what I believed I had – interest in technology, creativity and hard work. Needless to say, it was not an easy journey. Particularly in a country like India where degrees and certifications were almost a cultural obsession. After a few years of working poorly paid jobs I went back to school for my masters. My masters degree and the process of doing it taught me many positive things. One, that having a hard goal – such as an exam or someone to rate me gave me better focus than learning on my own. Two, degrees helped you get through visas and other places where you do not have personal interaction with whoever is handling your stuff, and three, it helped you find community among others who had similar degrees. I never went crazy about degrees or certifications, but I did learn their place in the world, the hard way.

In the sql server world, there are many paths to progress. The most common one, by far, is by speaking/blogging/becoming a technical evangelist. There are many without MCM who have gone this way and been remarkably successful. But speaking and blogging unfortunately are not everybody’s goal nor does everyone have the time needed for it. To me – as someone who has a lot of food allergies, travelling intensively is really not a good goal to have. I have tried blogging but my time for it is rather limited and also not had success coming up with something creative to write about, I guess again that needs a lot of experimentation. That is part of the reason I picked the MCM as a possible goal. I was also interested in being differentiated from the average brain dump MCITP down the street by getting to be an MCM – and I did find this a worthy goal. Even saying you are pursuing an MCM at an interview got a lot of appreciative nods and interest. It also got employers to pay for good training programs such as those offered by #sqlskills, which they otherwise would not understand the value of.

Now with that certification gone we are back to the world where there is really not much by way of proof to tell an average employer how different you are from brain dump MCITPs. If you are like me into doing community work such as organizing sql Saturdays or running user groups you may want to use that to some extent but not everyone is highly impressed by community work to hire you, or even give you pointers to jobs (including people in the community itself). And to many of us it is not just about career growth or progress, it is also about acceptance among people you respect and acknowledge.

There is a scene in one of my favorite movies ‘A Beautiful Mind’ – where Professor John Nash – played by Russell Crowe, gets accepted and acknowledged for his intelligence after a nobel nomination. The other professors walk over slowly to him and hand him pens as a token of their respect and his acceptance into their club. I have a pen with the ‘Microsoft certified master’ printed on it – a little gift from the #sqlskills class I attended some years ago. It was my goal and the goal of many others I know to be accepted like John Nash was into the elite #mcm community. It is a sad day to have that taken away from us. It is my sincere hope and wish that all of us will find bigger and better goals to pursue.

SQL Saturday 2013 Louisville – A Recap

This year was SQL Saturday #5 in a row for us at Louisville. It was by far the best event we have had and we greatly enjoyed hosting it. Below are some things that worked and did not work this time:

What worked:

1 The location – ideally situated, no parking hassles, walking distance from the discounted hotel, all rooms on one floor, a very friendly and cooperative staff – in short everything we wanted in a location came through this time with this one. Our sincere thanks to Indiana Wesleyan University for hosting us (in particular to Leigh Ann Black) and our volunteer Dave Mattingly for finding them for us. We hope to have the next event(s) at the same location.

2 An enthusiastic crowd – although our turnout was not as high as usual (190 compared to 220+) we found most of the audience interested, appreciative and many stayed until the very end.

3 Our loyal speakers – over time we have grown a crowd of  speakers who attend our every event unfailingly – these include Kevin Edward Kline, Louis Davidson, Allen White, Tim Chapman, Dave Fackler and Craig Utley. Our thanks are due to these speakers (and  everyone else) whose knowledge and willingness to share it made the event a grand success. It may also be worthy of mention that Kevin unfailingly gets voted as the best speaker, and Tim has been the first guy  who made it upto the MCM from this town.

4 Sponsors – We put the sponsors in a separate room along with snacks and sodas. Almost all of them were very appreciative of the audience they got and promised to return again.  It may also be noteworthy that other than Quest/Dell Software and Confio and our local VSoft Consulting, all the other sponsors were first timers for us. Some like Embarcadero, Imperva  and BI Tracks did their first ever SQL Saturday sponsorship with us and wanted to return again. We consider this a huge victory not just for us but for the bigger SQL Saturday  community as well.

5 Post Event party – We did not have  post event parties at older events. The main reason for this is because we are a small volunteer crowd and all of us were very tired at the end of the day. Coordinating  another party was too much of an effort to pull off. This time VSoft Consulting stepped in as sponsors and coordinators, and we were able to host the first ever post event party. While it was not hugely attended, it was a good start and we will surely consider doing this again.

What did not work:

1 Pre Cons – We started with announcing 4 pre cons and ended up cancelling all of them. Three pre cons were cancelled at the behest of the speakers, who  were busy  with other work and did not find attendance big enough to book their time in advance. The last one had to be cancelled because the count of students was too small  for us to coordinate it. This made a few attendees unhappy and we were sorry that we had to do that. But some self examination helped us understand that pre cons were too much effort in addition to the sql Saturday – we are probably not going to have them again.

2 Speaker Shirts – We ended up with some shirts that were not of desired quality. The main reason  was that our order was placed in the last minute with a vendor who did a mix and match of suppliers. Our decision was to go with the Florida based SQL Saturday supplier that was used by many events , from next time.

3 Speaker Room – We had insufficient tables and chairs in the room that resulted in many speakers relocating to the lunch/registration room for chats and discussions . More attention to be paid to this later.

4 Speed Pass – We had a printer with us  for those attendees who did not show up with their speed pass printouts. Surprisingly this time it was quite a large crowd (roughly around 30-40 %). That resulted in the printer chugging along as fast as it could and two volunteers working the registration table non stop from morning until the last attendee strolled in after lunch. We also learnt by show of hands during the raffle that most attendees were first timers. This might be one of the reasons. From the next time we plan to work around this by having something different – like perhaps a $1 fee for those who forget their printouts.

5 Lower attendance than normal – We had about 20% less people than usual. We attributed the main reason for this to be our choice of date for the event – one week away from July 4th and a time when most people take time off for summer vacations. We will work better at finding a better date.

SQL Saturdays are team organized events, they are not one person effort no matter how motivated the organizer is. The success of this event is due to the hard work of our volunteers – Brian Carter, Dave Ingram, Dave Mattingly, Karen Schuler, Deana Ritter, Kenney Snell and newbies Scott Drake and James King. We hope to remain a team going forward and bring more events to the community. Our thanks again to speakers ,sponsors,volunteers and attendees who made it a grand success.

SQL Saturday Richmond – 2013

My friend Karen and me decided to drive out to Richmond and attend their SQL Saturday this past week. We have had several people from Richmond and the Washington DC area attend our events – we wanted to go there too. The other reasons were that the speaker line up was very attractive and there were several friends I had known via SQLCruise and PASS Community in general who were going to be attending. We left Louisville the morning of Friday the 8th and reached Richmond by around 6 pm in the evening. It was a pleasant, scenic drive through the mountains and weather was cooperative to the extent it could be for winter.

After a good night’s rest and dinner we arrived at the event location by 8.00 am the next day. There were several signs posted that made it very easy to locate the building in the campus of University of Richmond. Check in was very quick and easy with speed pass printouts – we were handed our swag bags with event schedule. There was coffee and bagels available for a breakfast.

My first class of the day was ‘Building a virtual lab’ by Matt Velic. I have been struggling with labs for many days and I found the session useful – although Matt had lots of material to cover and time did not seem to suffice. I was encouraged to know that he had made a book out of the process – it is on my list of things to download and work further with.

The next two classes I attended were ‘Windowing Functions in 2012′ by Kevin Boles and ‘Branding yourself for a dream job’ by Steve Jones. I have been wanting to attend Steve’s session for a very long time and go to do it finally. He gave some great tips on prudent use of social media and its importance in networking – also on using networking to find the next job. I greatly enjoyed it.

Lunch included many selections including two for vegetarians – and came as a neatly wrapped box of pasta salad, sandwich,fruit salad and cookies. For $5 it is about the best bargain I have seen so far and was very tastefully done. I ate lunch at the Women in Technology session on ‘Breaking the glass ceiling’ – moderated by Kevin Kline. The panel included Karen Lopez, Melissa Coates and Stacia Misner. I have attended many WIT sessions before but this one was definitely memorable and greatly useful for the many insights provided by the panelists – particularly Karen Lopez, on salary negotiation and behavior models of women in the male dominated techie world. Kevin also raised the question of numbers of women in technology across the world – and it was one I could provide some insight on.

I spent an extra hour on networking in the afternoon – something I have felt very necessary to do, especially at an event where I knew so many people. It was a valuable experience and made me understand the need to rethink the habitual pattern of running from class to class. I attended two sessions – one by Michael Corey of Ntirety on Virtualizing SQL Server, and the other by John Welch on Big Data. Both were packed with information and made for worthy use of my time.

The day ended with raffles and closing remarks. A mini slide show highlighted the volunteers and sponsors. Many prizes were raffled off including one for those who provided event feedback. We said goodbye to many friends including organizers,speakers and attendees and left for home, greatly satisfied.

As an organizer of many sql saturdays – am well aware of and always appreciative of the efforts that go into  making an event successful. I wish to communicate my hearty congratulations to the Richmond team for providing a memorable event for 2013 – hope you get some much needed rest until another event comes along!

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