Selecting Speakers for SQL Saturday #70


The Call for Speakers for SQL Saturday #70 - Columbia, SC, ended on February 17, 2011. We wanted to put the schedule up two days later, on February 19, 2011. Last year we had a good number of submissions, but it wasn't a number that was overwhelming. So we figured this was very doable. We certainly were not expecting the number of presenters, nor the number of sessions submitted, that we received. However, we were still able to put the schedule together and get it out on time. Here's how we did it.

First our goals:

  • Give as many speakers a chance as possible - We've communicated this right up front and it's the same goal as from SQL Saturday #48. We only turned down one speaker for #48, and that's because the submissions was for Windows Mobile and the abstract gave no indication of a tie-in to SQL Server. This time around, all of the session abstracts had something to do with SQL Server.
  • Fill in 7 tracks, or 42 sessions, with 3 being BI - Business Intelligence was heavy last year and it is again this year at SQL Saturday Columbia. The BI speakers list include SQL Server MVPs Andy Leonard, Jessica Moss, Wayne Snyder, William Pearson, Rafael Salas, Adam Jorgensen and John Welch. The non-MVPs list is a heavy hitter set, too, led by SQL Saturday Columbia alumnus, Mark Tabladillo.
  • Try to schedule speakers we knew would be traveling day of to the late morning/afternoon - We have speakers from Charlotte and we knew ahead of time that Ed Wilson would be headed up from a vacation in Hilton Head.
  • Try to schedule the women speakers so they didn't overlap - When we did the schedule for #48, we didn't do this, because when we saw what was submitted, there was no reason to bring focus to anyone. However, last year also saw some students from a local technical college. If there are women among the student attendees this year, we want to make sure they see that in the SQL Server field, you're a SQL Server pro. Gender is irrelevant. However, to do this they need to see women being extremely successful in the field. And so we wanted to ensure they had as many chances as possible to see some really brilliant SQL Server folks who happen to be female. So this year we made it a point to try and avoid overlap.

Here's what we ended up with when Call for Speakers closed:

  • 91 sessions received
  • 45 speakers submitted
  • 5 women speakers
  • 0 sessions which could automatically be tossed

Increasing to 8 Tracks:

It's not too hard to figure out 45 > 42. Last year we had 48, but 6 of those sessions were in the auditorium which seats 400. So even if you had 40 people, it looks empty. This year we cut the auditorium immediately. It's just not viable for a session space. So when we did that, we cut back to 7 tracks. There is additional classroom space we can reserve, so we made the call immediately to kick back up to 48 sessions over 8 tracks. One other reason we wanted to condense down to 7 tracks was we saw some sessions sparsely attended because though we had a good number of attendees (about 160), if you divide that among 8 tracks, that averages 20. All it takes is for 15 of those from one track to spread out among the other 7 and you have a track that isn't well attended. However, we are well ahead numbers wise for attendee registrations this year, so going to 8 tracks wasn't a hard call.

Deciding the Tracks:

Last year 23 had two DB admin, two DB development, two BI, one miscellaneous, and one "large session" tracks. This year, we knew we would need 3 BI tracks. However, upon looking at the tracks, I noted right away that we were light on DB development. So we moved one of the DB dev tracks to DB admin, giving 3 of them. The large session track became the third BI track. And instead of calling it a miscellaneous track this year, we've gone ahead and planned it for being a dedicated professional development track.

Scheduling the Sessions:

Every speaker got at least one session. So what we did initially is schedule the sessions for those who only submitted one session. That gave us a starting point. Since only 3 speakers would get a second session, and because we wanted a solid professional development track, we looked for speakers who had submitted a moret echnical talk in addition to a professional development one. William Pearson, III, had one on consulting and Stuart Ainsworth had another on changing job roles within the SQL Server professional spectrum. Easily done and we had a full professional development track.

Then we looked at the variety of submissions and tried to schedule coverage of every topic. In cases where we had two session submissions covering the same topic, We scheduled one for the morning and one for the afternoon, to cover folks who would make just half a day. By doing it this way, there was only a handful of hard choices. SQL Server MVP Geoff Hiten was one such case. He has great sessions. And people last year really got a lot out of his Bad SQL session. But Geoff is also a high-availability expert. In the end, Bad SQL was chosen because even if you're a small organization, bad SQL code can kill you. You may not be worried about HA solutions. While we do have sessions about HA, we absolutely want that Bad SQL session to be available for our attendees. As we selected the sessions, we thought about the travel factor and it looks like except for one case, we did fine. We need to reschedule an early morning BI session, and we had some ribbing from a particular speaker (*cough* Sandra *cough*) who loves to good naturedly give us a hard time, but really only one issue.

So if you're doing the math at home, we have 3 speakers who will have 2 sessions, but only 2 speakers selected. So who got the second slot of the speakers that were left? Again, this came down to a question of coverage. If you plan on working on Microsoft technologies over the next five years, especially SQL Server, you need to be coming up to speed on Powershell. We had 3 Powershell presentations scheduled. One from Allen White, another from Aaron Nelson, and the last from Ed Wilson. Allen had another Powershell submission and that's what made us pull the trigger.

Now, for our last goal, we had Audrey Hammonds and Jessica Moss going head-to-head. With our scheduling goal of ensuring this didn't happen, we had to shufle around 3 sessions and as a result, each of the five women speakers have their own time slot. Having met all our goals, we posted the schedule.