What I gained from volunteering at SQLSat35

Wow! What an incredible weekend I (we) just had. I think I am still in a daze from meeting people, attending sessions and just hanging out with others from the SQL Server community.

This past weekend, for me, really started a few months ago when Northern Texas SQL Server User Group ( NTSSUG ) first posted they were holding a SQL Saturday ( #SQLSat35). I signed up almost immediately for the FREE all day training event. Then not long after I registered for SQLSat35 I heard Brad McGeHee ( twitter | blog ) was going to be speaking at NTSSUG May meeting. This just happened to be the Thursday before SQLSat35. Not wanting to miss this opportunity to hear Brad speak, I decided to leave work early (after getting Manager approval of course) on Thursday and stay for the event on Saturday.

The week before SQLSat35, Ryan Adams ( twitter ) posted a tweet about needing volunteers for the event. Naturally, I jumped at the request and said I would be in town for the NTSSUG meeting on Thursday and would be more than happy to help in any way I could. I wound up being a room monitor covering three different sessions.

I attended the NTSSUG meeting on Thursday and recognized several people I only knew through interacting with them on twitter, reading their blogs or watching some of their videos. I did not introduce myself to anyone except Ryan Adams and later Brad McGeeHee. Brad’s talk was on “Performance Analysis of Logs”, ( PAL ) and the free tool from Microsoft. After the meeting a request was made. There was a need for as many people as possible to help stuff the 500 bags with SWAG (stuff we all get) for the SQLSat35 event. Since I was in town on my own and planning on sleeping late anyway, I decided to help. Besides, it was only going to take an hour. (wink wink, nudge nudge).

As a volunteer for SQLSat35, we needed to arrive by 7:00 AM for a briefing on various administrative things that needed to happen. After arriving I saw Ryan running around giving instructions to people and talking with Sean McCown ( twitter | blog ) one of the dynamic duo that make up @MidnightDBA, so I introduced myself. He was mentioning to Ryan he needed help with bringing in the books and printers he brought for SWAG. Ryan and I assisted (more Ryan he had the dolly, I only had one box). After that, all the volunteers were briefed on the rooms A/V setup and giving a brief demo of how to setup and use the recording software the Speakers would use to record their sessions, if they chose too.

I had signed up to assist with three sessions the first started at 8:30. The session was titled, “A Lap Around SQL Azure”, and the speaker was Larry Clark ( twitter ). I went to the speaker room looking for Larry to see if he was going to record his session, and if he was he had the software needed. Larry and I then went to the room and setup the microphone and did a test recording to confirm everything was working correctly. After that, the only other thing I had to do was dim the lights and hand out session evaluation forms and sit back and take a lap with everyone else. I had heard and seen people talking about SQL Azure but did not go the extra mile to research it on my own. This session did all that for me. I now know the pros and cons of using SQL Azure and some things it offers and other things (currently) it does not. One thing I did not realize until later when I saw a tweet, was I was already following Larry. I think in the future, all PASS events should have name tags where you can write your real name but should write your twitter handle, that way we would recognize each other more.

The second session I was scheduled to help with as at 9:45. The session title, “An Introduction to Master Data Services” and the speaker was Bryan Smith. I was chatting with Bryan waiting on Larry Clark’s session to start because he was at the NTSSUG meeting on Thursday, so I was talking to him about the meeting.  Again I went into the room early to make sure Bryan had the software need to record his session if that was his desire. Luckily he was using the same software Larry used in the previous session and I was somewhat familiar but not 100%. I was even luckier when I went in search of additional technical I ran into Larry Clark coming into Bryan’s session. He helped me figure out how to get things setup the rest of the way. Thanks again Larry! After getting Larry’s help with the setup Bryan kicked off his session. It was another excellent session. Especially, since I knew even less about MDS than I did about SQL Azure. But listening and learning I came away with a great understanding of MDS and the potential uses.

I did not have to cover any more sessions until 3:30. So I attended “Deadlock detection, troubleshooting and Prevention, by Trevor Barkhouse ( twitter | blog ). Wow! What an great session! Trevor was able to show examples and talk about deadlock issues in an easy to understand, no nonsense way. Even though I knew about them, Trevor was able to spark some of the brain cells in the back not being used. I was not able to talk with Trevor but would have liked to pick his brain on a few items. I was not following him before but I am now.

Next was lunch. The lunch as I tweeted on Saturday was very, very good. I had the chicken salad on croissant, very yummy. What made the lunch and was an excellent surprise was well as choice by the powers that be was a ranch dressing with bacon. That’s right. Makes you hungry don’t it? What was really cool about lunch was the  MidnightDBA’s ( twitter | blog ) did a live recording of their always entertaining videos while we were all watching. It was like going to Hollywood and watching them make “The Tonight Show”. Well, O.K. maybe it wasn’t  quite like that but it was close.

The 1:00 PM session I attended was “Beginning Powershell”, with Sean McCown ( twitter | blog ). I have watched almost (or maybe all) the videos Sean has done on Powershell and (I did not tell him this when we talked) is really how I started to use Powershell. I had seen/read articles and blogs about its use but just did not take the dive until I watched one to two the Sean’s videos and BAM! All things were instantly clear. Well, not all things, but he is very entertaining and has a great way of teaching and passing along information. In his session, Sean was his usual entertaining and funny, giving away SWAG to anyone that laughed at his “stupid jokes” (his quote, not mine) or for the best “That’s what she said” saying. If you ever get a chance to attend a session by Sean, I highly recommend attending, even if you already know the material. You may just get some good SWAG by heckling.

The next session I attended was at 2:15 PM and titled “Understanding Storage Systems and SQL Server” the speaker was Wes Brown ( twitter | blog ). Wes is the head of the Capital Area Central Texas Users of SQL Server ( CACTUSS ). Storage is one area I am concentrating more time and effort on. Anyway, I learned a great deal and looking forward to seeing the slide deck. I was able to briefly talk with Wes (basically introduced myself and asked if he was going to be around later to talk). I had planned on talking with Wes at length about being more active in CACTUSS and asking what I could help do within the group.

The last session of the day was scheduled for 3:30. This was also my last session I was to assist with and it just happened to be “Managing SSIS with Powershell”, by Sean McCown ( twitter | blog ). Just like I mentioned earlier, Sean has a way of making learning entertaining. It is rarely boring, it may be flat at times as this session started but that could easily be attributed to the ice cream everyone had or was currently eating. About 30 minutes into the session he got back on his game and finished strong.

After the vendor’s gave away all their prizes SQLSat35 was officially in the record books and as a volunteer my duties were complete. The only thing left to do was attend the after event P-A-R-T-Y!

It wasn’t really a party as much as it was an after event mixer. We mostly sat at tables and talked and visited with others. I met a few more people, one guy, from San Antonio, sorry I completely forgot your name was very informative and nice to talk with. I also met Kristen Ferrier. She had two sessions (I did not attend either one) but seemed pleased with the overall reaction of the crowd and very much liked the event. I also met Drew Minkin, very nice guy, he had a few sessions one in particular was Intro to Data Mining, he also picked a second session for someone else that did not make it to SQLSat35. Way to go Drew, taking one for the team!

All in all, the weekend (starting on Thursday evening) was one of the best weekends I have had in a long time. I met a bunch of people I knew or interacted with on twitter or through their training videos or blogs. I also have to add that if I had attended the event just as an attendee I might not have met all those that I did. Even though in the SQL server community is welcoming in nature it is still somewhat intimidating trying to talk with people you look up to for one reason or another.

It is hard to summarize what I gained from volunteering and attending SQLSat35 but I’ll do my best. I gained a new appreciation for the people that plan these events. I gained an appreciation for those that speak at these events and realized some of them get nervous just like I do. I learned that others in the community have as much passion and conviction as I do at bettering themselves and others. I learned that giving a little bit of your time can reap benefits far beyond any SWAG given away. And I learned that just attending one of these events only starts a fire that must be feed and feed often to keep the fire burning. Oh, yeah I got a really cool shirt too!

Congratulations to NTSSUG on the success of the first of many (hopefully) SQL Saturday events.




  1. Hey A.J., glad you could make it to the first (of hopefully many!) SQLSaturday Dallas events. A big thanks for volunteering – we couldn’t have pulled this thing off without so many awesome volunteers!

  2. AJ-

    What a great post to share with everyone. MATRIX was proud to sponsor and our team had a great time being there. Think of us for any future events.

    The MATRIX Team.

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