Last fall, I asked my boss if I could attend a SQL Server conference. I didn't really care where or when it was, but I was keen to get an in-depth introduction to SQL Server 2005. With a busy job and a family at home, finding the time to do this on my own was proving difficult.
I was leaning towards the PASS conference in Dallas in September, but my boss suggested I find a conference in London, England, as our firm has an office there and he wanted me to drop in to the office for a few days as well. A quick search on the Internet brought up the 2nd annual SQL Server DevCon 2005 conference from February 21-25, which was taking place alongside the 8th annual DevWeek conference. This event, organized by Bearpark Publishing, is billed as the UK's leading technical conference for software developers.
I knew before attending that the SQL Server part of the conference would be a smaller scale than PASS (I had attended the Seattle PASS conference in 2003). However, I figured it would be a good idea to attend this type of joint conference as I do spend a good deal of my time developing anyway. With the new CLR component to SQL Server, I suspect most DBA's development skills will become even more important.
The conference was spread out over five days (i.e. Monday to Friday), the first and last of which were devoted to workshops. The main conference kicked off Tuesday morning with a keynote session by the energetic John Robbins, co-founder of WinTellect, titled 'What's new in Visual Studio 2005'.
The conference featured five .NET tracks and two SQL Server tracks, combining for 72 sessions in all. This meant at any given session slot, there were seven
sessions to choose from. As a SQL Server guy, I focused mainly on the SQL Server sessions; I think I only attended one .NET session.
I won't get into the material covered in the sessions. Suffice to say, all the bases seemed to be covered and quality of the speakers was generally high. Many of them bravely used SQL Server 2005 beta 2 in their demos but unfortunately, almost everybody had something crash at least once. I didn't think this detracted from the message, however.
Thursday morning's keynote address was titled 'What's new in SQL Server 2005 for Developers' and was delivered by the entertaining Fernando Guerrero of Solid Quality Learning. Several other Principal Mentors of Solid Quality Learning also hosted sessions (e.g. Itzik Ben-Gan, Michael Hotek and Ron Telmage).
About 20 vendors were exhibiting in the common area. A contest was held which required attendees to visit each booth to obtain the answer to a skill-testing question. I thought this was a good way to get people to check out the vendors. There was also an extensive assortment of IT related books for sale at a discounted price.
One area that I thought could have been improved was the evaluations. Rather than evaluate each session immediately after attending, there was an overall evaluation to fill out on the last day of the main conference. I found it hard to recall the details of each session at that point!
As for London itself, it is hard not to find something interesting to do. The city has plenty of theatrical productions, historical sites, shopping venues, and of course, pubs to visit. Apart from the first night when I had to catch up on my sleep, I was able to occupy myself every evening. A word of advice if you attend next year, I suggest investing in a week long pass on The Tube (i.e. subway). It is the best way to get around the city.
Overall, I would say the quality of the conference was good and I would recommend attending. However, if you are not in the UK or Europe, you may want to consider something closer to home. You may also want to look for one of these joint conferences so that you can get some further exposure to .NET.