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New Year Aspirations – Gina Walters – User Groups

Thanks for agreeing to do this Gina; from your emails things do sound quite frantic at the moment so I really do appreciate your time!

Thank you for the opportunity to present this information about myself and our Pittsburgh SQL Server User Group!


Before we start on the main part of the interview, tell us all a little about yourself.

Professionally, I work as a Systems Integration Advisor in the Global Infrastructure Consulting Services of Dell.  I have a solid network and systems background as well as strong SQL skills which are useful in the large Datacenter Migration projects that we are currently involved with.  These projects encompass SQL Assessments, Health Checks, Consolidations, Virtualizations, etc. 

I am a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer from way back (NT4 to current) and have worked in IT since keypunch cards!  I am a Microsoft Certified Trainer and Project Management Professional in addition to having numerous SQL certifications.

On a personal basis, I live in Pittsburgh PA and have two wonderful sons.   The weather here is sometimes tough, and I would love to move south.  However, since I can’t convince the six-time Super Bowl Champion Steelers to relocate with me, I will stay here! 


How did you start in SQL Server?

My career with SQL Server was (as for many of us) completely accidental.  I was happily advancing in Systems Administration and Networking when someone realized that I could spell SQL!  It was an interesting challenge and career change, but I believe it is good to live outside of that comfort zone.

Something that I discovered quickly is that SQL is a “community” of people.  I would like to thank the leaders – too numerous to mention here – for creating such a community where newcomers and seasoned SQL vets alike can feel comfortable and have support.  These folks are willing to freely share information and help individuals grow their SQL skillsets, while having a great time!   

I have found that putting energy back into the SQL Community is very exciting and rewarding.  My passion is training and helping others grow professionally and personally, so volunteering to be the Chairperson of the Pittsburgh SQL Server User Group is a perfect place for me!


Can you tell us a little about your group and what you think it adds to the local community?

The Pittsburgh SQL Server User Group is a community of local SQL DBA’s, developers and database professionals, who meet once a month for networking and a technical presentation. The first half hour of our meeting is a discussion about the group, issues, topics, ideas, networking etc.  Attendees are eager to learn and network with like-minded folks and discuss their day to day issues and find solutions for the same.  The presentation topics vary from Big Data to Query Plans and Performance Tuning.  

In addition, we recently conducted our first PASS SQL Saturday which is an entire day of free SQL training. This event was a huge success with attendance of 125 members, 5 tracks and over 30 presentations. The SQL Saturday event generated more interest and attendance to our regular monthly meetings and we have plans for an even larger event in 2013. We can provide these services to the SQL Community due to our dedicated volunteers and sponsors who support our group!


I’d be interested in your thoughts on Women in Technology in the U.S.  Have you seen any or experienced any problems working in I.T. during your career?

Having been in IT for 30 years (yes, I did say keypunch cards), I have seen and experienced my share of the “glass-ceiling” that women in technology experience.  When I first started, and long before my current position at Dell, I was the only woman on the Network and Systems teams for decades. Over the years, it has become better, but there is still clearly a shortage of women in the IT industry. We see very few women working as developers and DBA’s, and less in management positions and business owners.  We hope to change that through leadership and education.  

Last year at our SQL Saturday in Pittsburgh, we had only one woman speaker but this year we will strive to have several more.  We are also organizing a “Women in Technology” session this year as one of our monthly presentations and as part of our 2013 SQL Saturday as well.


In the U.K. I have seen more and women coming to SQL Server events over the last few years, have you seen a similar theme in terms of employment and attendance in the U.S. within the industry?

Definitely, there are a lot more women coming to the events and participating, which should reflect an increase in employment as well.  Within our group, we have almost an equal number of women volunteers as men, which shows that women are eager to participate in the SQL Community. We rely on these volunteers for the success of our events. 


Organising any kind of event can be a daunting task. These days SQL folk demand swag, feeding, to be entertained and educated all at the same time.  How do you cover the costs for these events, do you charge a membership fee?

Dell is the primary sponsor of our local SQL Group, and has been since its onset almost ten years ago.  They help us to provide pizza and appetizers for our monthly feedings, er, I mean meetings.  

The cost for a SQL Saturday event requires us to solicit additional sponsors, and we sincerely appreciate their contributions!  Confio was instrumental in getting our first SQL Saturday off the ground and our other sponsors’ contributions allowed us to provide cool swag and prizes to the attendees. 

There is no membership fee for our local group meetings, although we offer interesting swag, free training classes and lots of fun networking events!  SQL Saturday is a free training event, however we ask the attendees to cover their lunch.

A lot of people don’t realize this, but speakers for our local group, as well as for SQL Saturday, cover the cost of their own transportation and lodging.  They should be commended for their contribution to the SQL Community!


What kind of things do you give away at your meetings and how do you handle this? I’ve seen them given away as spot prizes for questions and also the method I use is a raffle using the feedback forms.

We offer plenty of swag for our regular meetings, from T-shirts to book bags and free software. Currently for those attending our next meeting, we offer a chance to attend a free 2 day SSIS class.

For SQL Saturday 2012, we raffled a Kindle Fire for the overall event feedback and maintained close to 90% attendance for the closing event.

For each training session we had a raffle for those turning in evaluation forms.  The prize was a free book (we had close to 35 books from different sponsors) for each session.

Each event sponsor was provided a raffle box.  If attendees entered the sponsor raffles, they could be selected for the swag that the sponsor offered such as free training, free software, Kindle, Nook, SQL magazine subscription, USBs, etc!  Really fabulous prizes!


Content must be king at an event, how do you go about finding speakers who are willing to come and present?

We encourage speakers from inside our group and the Pittsburgh area, since this is a great opportunity for the local speakers to show their talent and skills.  In addition, we communicate with other SQL Groups in Ohio, DC, Philadelphia, etc. as well as solicit nationally known speakers from PASS and the SQL Community.   We do our best to provide a good mix of topics and skill levels.  Once the speaker submits their sessions, the organizing committee selects the speakers, based on topic, the speaker’s popularity, etc.


Do you have a lot of people wanting to try their hand at presenting?

We have been fortunate to have a good turnout of excellent speakers, but we always need more!!  To present at the local level or for more information about the SQL Saturday2013 Call for Speakers, candidates can contact me directly or at PittsburghSQLSaturday@yahoo.com.


One of the things I am keen to start up is a series of study groups, are these big in the US?

Our meetings start out each month with ideas and suggestions for future meetings and this is certainly a good one to add to the list!  One suggested topic that just came up recently is to have a session on Database Design as a group activity.  Once a specific database is described, the attendees work first individually then as a group to design the database.  The different backgrounds and experience levels should provide a learning experience for all!


Where should people go to find out more information about joining a SQL Server user group?

For more info about our local Pittsburgh group visit http://pitssug.sqlpass.org/  or contact me.

For info about all PASS SQL Server Chapters, visit http://www.sqlpass.org/ 


What tips would you have for somebody who would like to start up a group in their area if they don’t have one locally?

PASS greatly helped us to form a group, but one can also form a group without affiliation.   Regardless, start with a group of 3 to 4 people who are true believers in giving back to the community and are willing to contribute their time and effort.  At regular intervals, poll the audience as to what they want and how the group can help them.  Be ready to change and adapt to the requirements and recommendations of the group. Create a Linked-in or Meetup group and introduce yourself via other groups. Use technology such as Twitter accounts.  Ask a couple of big companies in your locality to sponsor or provide a space for a meeting every month.  And always ask for volunteers and community involvement! 


What has been your most memorable moment at your user group so far?

Our user group meetings are always fun!!  One moment that comes to mind was the infamous “Swag Toss” at our SQL Saturday.  T-shirts, socks, pens, etc. were offered to those ready and willing to catch them.  This provided a lot of attention to the companies that donated swag and kept our attendees on their toes! We had many good comments about it and no injuries were reported!


Finally, what are your ambitions for 2013 both for yourself and your group?

My ambition is to grow and expand our group in membership and depth of content.  We currently deliver excellent technical presentations but strive to offer forums and discussions that will provide more advanced technical skills and professional development for our members.  I would also like to expand our current website to include help with recruitment, training and networking.  Our group looks forward to growing our SQL Saturday event and offering more free training events to the local SQL community.


Thanks for your time Gina all the best for 2013!

Following this post from a syndicated source and want to read other interviews in the series? The anchor post for this series can be found here.

Richard Douglas

Richard Douglas is a SQL Server Professional working in the UK where he recently worked as a DBA in women's clothing, not literally he hastens to add! He is certified in SQL Server 2008, runs the Maidenhead SQL Server User Group Pass Chapter and is on the organising committee for SQL Relay. In his spare time plays the trumpet in local symphony orchestras.

His online presence includes:


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