The Cam river flows through Cambridge, England. At the center of the river you can see a punt (a type of boat) used to navigate the Cam.
I must have attended at least 25 different SQL Server and .NET user groups over the past couple of years, and most of them have a familiar format: food and drinks combined with some socializing, a formal presentation, and a prize drawing. I have seen a few other minor variations, but it is hard to tell one user group meeting from another. That is, until I recently spoke at the SQL Server Social Group in Cambridge, England this past month.
Right away, the name of the group stands out from the names of most user groups, and implies more of a social event than an educational event, although that was not the case. This group focuses more on SQL Server content that most user groups I have attended.
The event starts out with a brief introduction of the evenings events (which start at 6:00PM), and then jumps into what is called a “SQL Nugget”. This is a brief (about 20-30 minute) presentation on a very specific topic. At this meeting, SQL Server MVP Simon Sabin (who also hosted the event) demonstrated why he disliked the use of SQL Server functions, and offered better alternatives. The presentation was brief and to the point.
Next up was a vendor presentation. The sponsor of this particular event was Red Gate Software, and so two of Red Gate’s developers did a short (about 15 minute) demo of Red Gate’s SQL Server Source Control software (which is currently in beta).
At about 7:00PM, there was a 30 minute break where pizza and drinks were served, and attendees had the opportunity to socialize and get to know each other better. Unlike most user group meetings I attended, having the social time in the middle of the meeting helped to keep the meeting from getting dull.
At 7:30PM, I gave a 45 minute presentation on the SQL Server 2008 Data Collector. At most of the user group meetings I speak at, I usually have about 1-2 hours to speak, so keeping my presentation down to 45 minutes was a challenge. On the other hand, by keeping my presentation short, it helped to keep the pace of the meeting going along quickly.
The last part of the meeting surprised me the most. During the 30 social break, interested participants were asked to write down on a post-it a topic that they would like to discuss at the end of the meeting. My first though that this would end up being a boring discussion, especially at it was to consume the last 45 minutes of the meeting. But was I ever wrong. Simon, as the leader of the evening’s event, selected some of the many available topics, and then the person who suggested the topic had to get in front of the room as part of panel (that included several volunteers, including myself), and lead the discussion of their selected topic. At this point, I figured that nobody would want to discuss the topics, but I was wrong, as everybody, from the volunteer panelists and attendees, had a lively discussion. In fact, Simon eventually had to end the discussion at 9:10PM (10 minutes over the planned 9:00PM end time), even though the discussion was still going strong.
Almost everyone who attended the session participated, making it one of the most lively user group meetings I have every attended. I think a lot of he success of the meeting was because it was arranged in short chunks (so that no part become boring), and because Simon did a great job of keeping the meeting moving.
The SQL Server Social Group has regular meetings in Cambridge and London, changing its location periodically so that it can reach out to more DBAs over a geographically diverse area. If you are interested in attending the next SQL Server Social Group, check out their website.