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T-SQL Tuesday #102–Getting Started

It’s time for another blog party, on the second Tuesday of the month. For this month’s T-SQL Tuesday, Riley Major has a couple of invites. One is on giving back, which is good, but doesn’t fit me. 

The second option is to explain how and why we got started, so here goes.

Giving Talks

I started SQLServerCentral with Andy Warren, Brian Knight, and a few others. The site had unexpected success, and running this in addition to all of working full time jobs was tough. However, we built the site as a place where we could share knowledge and help others. In the first year, I’m not sure if I enjoyed writing articles or answering questions more, but both kept me busy.

At some point, the Boulder SQL Server User Group invited me to give a talk. I’d been to the Denver group a few times, but hadn’t really thought about speaking. Bill Wunder was the person that convinced me to share some knowledge live and I went. I’m not sure I did a great job prepping and delivering information, but it must have been fine because I got invited back.

At first I didn’t love the experience. It’s a lot of work and in this case a few people were critically listening to and questioning me on whatever topics I chose.

A couple years later, we talked about doing a session at the PASS Summit. I hadn’t spoken there, but Brian convinced me we should do a debate on a topic and try out a new type of presentation. Looking back, this was really basic, but it was helpful and useful to do a few things.

  1. Have someone on stage with me to carry the load and divert some attention away from me.
  2. Pick a topic that I felt I knew something about
  3. Use the format of a debate, since we argued regularly, I knew we could pull this off.

It went OK, though looking back, this was a rudimentary and unpolished session. Still, people seemed to enjoy it.

Fast forward a few more years. Andy and I had been talking about SQL Saturday and kicked it off. At first I wasn’t sure this would work, and I missed SQL Saturday #1 in Orlando. However, with a few events in other locations, I decided to fly down for SQL Saturday #8.

I can still remember sitting on an airplane, looking out the window as we descended to Orlando being amazed that I was traveling outside my local area to speak. I hadn’t delivered a talk at any conference at this point, so I was a little in awe of the experience.

I had an afternoon talk, so I had the chance to watch others, but was a bit nervous. My room filled up, with all 20-30 seats taken and almost an equal number of people on the floor. Fortunately no fire marshal or administrative people were around to thin the crowd. The talk went well, and I felt confident walking away that I could share things.

More importantly, I couldn’t answer every question, and had some “I don’t know”s or “I’ll check and get back to you” moments. In spite of those, I got great reviews and comments, so I continued on.

From there, I submitted to more events, and different events over time. I’ve been accepted at most, rejected a few, and cancelled rarely. Life does get in the way, and I’ve learned to try and not over-extend myself. I’ve also learned I can say no. I do that more than I’d like, but I’m at peace with my decisions.

I’ve even gotten over rejections. Plenty of large conferences have declined my submissions and even small ones do at times. SQL Saturday #735 – Finland just declined to choose me, and that’s fine. It’s their event, and they should pick the speakers they want, especially if they are local to the area.

The one thing I’ll leave here is that I was terrified to present to groups in high school. I’d be nervous, avoid making eye contact, and try to say as little as I could. Over time I learned I needed to talk to other people in various jobs. Often 1 or 2, but sometimes a group of 5, 6, 10 or so. That’s really a presentation, albeit an off-the-cuff one. I learned that explaining a technique to another sysadmin isn’t far off from talking to an audience. It’s different, but not a lot.

I still worry about new presentations, and I do try to practice them not only walking in circles around the office, but often with a smaller group. I would encourage you to try presenting, usually at work, because these are skills that are useful. If you’ve solved a problem, or fixed something, you can share. Give a 15 minute talk at your user group. You might not like it, and that’s fine.

If you do, however, I’d love to see you start speaking at a SQL Saturday or other conference. I’m more than happy to give up a speaking opportunity if it gets more people to share their knowledge.

Heck, I’ll even co-present with you if I’m at the event. Just ask and I’ll stand in front of an audience with you.

The Voice of the DBA

Steve Jones is the editor of SQLServerCentral.com and visits a wide variety of data related topics in his daily editorial. Steve has spent years working as a DBA and general purpose Windows administrator, primarily working with SQL Server since it was ported from Sybase in 1990. You can follow Steve on Twitter at twitter.com/way0utwest

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