This past weekend I was back in Tampa for the sixth annual SQLSaturday. It’s a trip I always look forward to – its only about a 2 hour drive, the event is in Ybor City with tons of dining options, and the event always attracts a great crowd.
There were almost 40 people there and we were packed in tight enough that wandering from table to table wasn’t practical. I spent most of the speaker dinner talking shop with my friend Leigh Freijo. I saw a lot of new faces! It’s good to see the group changing and growing. Dinner was good, talk was great, wrapped up about 8:30, earlier than usual for me but in time to spend some time with the family before calling it a day.
The event was moved to new location this year. It’s been at the KForce building almost forever, but a combination of attendee growth and some floor plan changes drove the event team to find a new location this year. Turned out to be a very short move to Hillsborough Community College, not even half a mile from Kforce. Great venue, but made a little more complicated by having the sessions split across two buildings separated by a road. Eventually everyone figured out where everything was and then things went smoothly.
For those planning their first/next SQLSaturday, I can tell you that the #1 complaint we see is insufficient signs. It’s close to impossible to have too many signs.
The other thing is that a map of the classrooms, either in the bag or on walls here and there is very, very useful. Don’t get caught up in getting the facility to give you the perfect map. Use it if you can get it,but if not a hand drawn diagram can do wonders.
Schedules were printed this year but not included in the bag. Attendees had the option of using the Guidebook application or picking up a schedule along with their bag – gradually we’re seeing the paper used reduced to that provided by the sponsors,not a bad trend.
Another interesting thing this year was the sponsors were in three separate areas; one set by the registration area, one set in the first floor area of the other building, and the final set on the second floor of the other building. That sounds confusing and I don’t think I would have recommended it, but it worked well. It reduced the noise and confusion in a way that I think benefitted attendees and sponsors, and it was a nice surprise to walk in and realize there were more sponsors to see.
I did my presentation on professional development for about 12 attendees. Small crowd, but that’s ok, we had fun and shared some ideas. That lead to more conversation about it over lunch and a couple new ideas I need to think on. I also caught up with a former colleague and then another former colleague who is thinking to shift to being a DBA. It was his first time at a SQLSaturday and he commented that he had already learned a lot and was having a great time.
Lunch was excellent as always. Yellow rice, chicken, pork, black beans, and plantains.
Maybe the most interesting thing I heard over the day was John Welch talking about it being a legitimate case to have CPU utilization at 100% when doing processing for Analysis Services. On the transactional side we start to worry when usage stays above 80%, but when you have x amount of time and work to get done, his point was you tune all the other parts of the system until the CPU is fully utilized – and then decide if that is good enough, or if you need more CPU’s (and maybe new hardware to go with it).
I also spent some time talking with Bradley Ball about marketing strategies for SQLSaturday Orlando this year. We’ve been steady about the 275-300 level for the past few years, how can we grow that number? Lots of ideas, which ones to try? We shall see!
I didn’t attend the Friday pre-con/seminars, but I heard attendance was low. That typically isn’t a reflection on the speaker or the topic, just a matter of getting the word out in time so people can make the purchasing decision. My suggestion is to develop a written marketing plan and then execute to it. That doesn’t guarantee success of course, but it makes you think up front about how and when and where to get that message out. It’s harder than it sounds.
I also heard that we had one presentation on Saturday that had zero attendees. I’ve seen a couple sessions over the years that had one lonely/lucky attendee (lucky because they get a 1 on 1 presentation), but I don’t recall hearing about no one showing up. That’s tough on a speaker that did the prep work and made the trip. I don’t know that there is good way to prevent it, sometimes the competition across a time slot is something (and that’s good). Room monitors are a good hedge though, if you’ve got someone in the room they can at least sit through the presentation, maybe also call out to get someone outside to drive a few people to the room.
It’s just about impossible to build a perfect schedule or to take into account all the variables. I’ve always built my schedule track by track and just went with it. The one thing I’d tell organizers is keep your attendee to track ratio at 25 to 1 or higher. If you’re projecting 100 attendees (not registrations) don’t do more than 4 tracks, and 3 wouldn’t be wrong. In Orlando we did 7 tracks last year for about 275 attendees and we didn’t have any session that I saw with less than 10 in the room.
All in all it was a great event. Kudos to Pam and her small band of volunteers for their efforts, and to all the speakers who travelled to Tampa to share some knowledge.