Monday, February 28, 2011
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
This started out as a simple review of the SQL Saturday 66 in Colorado Springs. Then it needed some back story. Then it simply became a novel. So, enjoy, or jump out now. Your choice.
Sometime last year, I decided that I would try to get to some regional SQL Saturday events. It didn't know exactly how I would accomplish this, for there were a couple obstacles standing in my way. The first was time.
The second was money. Those were the big ones.
Time was hard to come by, as it seemed that I didn't really have a lot of time to do professional development since it consistently seemed to be impacted by work. Ironic that I was unable to learn about skills that would help me in work, because I really needed to be at work instead...
Money was a difficult resource to acquire and use for this type of venture. Its benefit is obvious. Its a great education and networking opportunity to attend any SQL Saturday event. Yet it was always difficult to come up with the slush money to fly myself and get a hotel, car and anything else needed in order to go to somewhere else for a couple days.
Let's keep it simple, and keep it to those two obstacles. Time and money.
If I was one of the lucky ones, those that work at a company that has a vested interest in attending an event such as this, I'd be lucky to be sent, with expenses covered. This is an obvious win win for company and employee. I, however, am not one of those few lucky ones.
There are also those that are in the consulting gig that see their attendance at these events as a business expense to drum up potential business for their own company and skills. This is a noble gamble to bet on yourself, all the while giving back to the community as you do. This is a win win as well. I am not one of these either.
I'm just a working stiff, like many of the other DBAs and Database Developers out there that attend these events. However, something changed in my life a couple months ago. A job change changed everything. I now have more discretionary time that allows me to attend an event like our beloved SQL Saturdays. So, the time element was relaxed and I decided to simply throw the money part out the window. After discussing it with my CFO, she and I decided that we'd spend the money to fly me to a location and spend a couple nights. I can keep it cheap, and doing so would allow me to learn, grow and experience professional development on a budget.
So, I looked at the events coming up, and thru my hat into the Colorado Springs SQL Saturday event. It's close by, and I know some of the folks from the area. I am also the Regional Mentor, so it would be good for me to meet more of the local SQL people and get some face time with them as well as their leaders in the community. From my house to their home is about a 10 hour drive, and with the gas prices as they are, it would be 6's to fly or drive as far as cost went. However, there is a significant cost to spend 10 hours driving, instead of 2 hours flying. So a choice was made to fly to Colorado Springs. A couple nights in a hotel would be $50 or so, maybe $100 each. This isn't too bad of a cost. But its still a cost. I had a few opportunities to cheapen my hotel cost with a few options that presented themselves to me. One was to rent a cabin with Chris Shaw (twitter|blog) and split the cost. Another was to split a room with some local community people. Another was to stay with a good friend that lives in the area. Since this last option was going to give me some good time to catch up with a good friend, i chose it and made arrangements to spend the night at his place. In order to get there with enough time to hang out, I decided that I needed to fly out a bit earlier (1:50pm) instead of the later time (8:00pm).
This decision meant that I needed to ask for a bit of time off on Friday to leave early. This means I need to talk to my boss. In the past, when events of this nature occurred, this didn't always work out well. When work seems more important than anything else, a SQL event falls way short. I was worried to ask, but needed to, and did. As I informed my boss, he started asking me questions. The conversation went something like this.
Me: I need to take off a bit early on Friday to fly to a SQL Saturday event.
Boss: What is this event?
Me: Its put on by individuals for individuals, part of the SQL Community, all over the nation.
Boss: This sounds like a Professional Development event
Me: Yeah... (waiting for the hammer to fall, some excuse why it would be difficult to attend)
Boss: This sounds like something tht we should be paying for.
Me: (shocked) Yeah.
This is the simple version, but they decided to not only allow me to take off a bit early on Friday, but they were intending on paying for the flight and hotel. I was shocked and amazed. Time and money. Solved. Woohoo!!
Off we go to SQL Saturday in Colorado Springs.
Luckily, as the dates approached, my friend Randy Knight (twitter|blog) also decided to attend. This meant that we could travel together and split some of the costs. We headed up to the airport Friday afternoon, and after a moment of slowness as we passed an unfortunate accident, we were again on our way, albeit a bit late.
Once at the airport we cruised thru security, leaving only a single bottle of Strawberry Jam behind that apparently is insidious enough in nature as to not be allowed into the airport proper for fear of use as a weapon of some sort. This bottle was an intended gift for the wife of my buddy, as a thank you for allowing me to spend the night at her house. It was also a bottle canned by my wife at the LDS Cannery, which made it something special from us to them. It was not meant to be though...
The plane ride was uneventful, dumping us into a different version of winter than we had at home, but similar enough to not be terribly different. As I left the airport, and watched as Randy grabbed his rental car and departed, I waited for my ride to appear. Even though it was clear and sunny, I was soon cold, having forgotten it was winter here too. I stand outside for a bit, until i start communicating with my buddy. The text messages and voice conversation soon took an odd turn as questions were posed but unable to be answered to anyones satisfaction. It turned out that my ride was in Denver at the airport as I was standing outside the airport in Colorado Springs. Funny. Even funny to us at the time. A bummer. But funny nonetheless. What a mix up. With all the communication tools that we have and at our disposal, neither one of us seemed able to clearly indicate which airport I was arriving at for this event. Funny. Sad kinda funny, but funny nonetheless.
I end up calling Randy back to retrieve me, as he had a head start to the speaker dinner from the airport already. Luckily he was able to return to get me, leaving the nearly empty freeway to return to the airport with plenty of time to allow the rest of Colorado Springs residents to embrace the Friday afternoon rush hour traffic, allowing us to gain a more full experience of the clogged freeway. This irony was repeatedly brought to my attention by my new chauffeur as we were stuck driving behind residents on their way home from work. We took off, driving north to the speaker dinner. We initially went to Randy's hotel to check in, and I even checked on a price for a room there that night, in case I wasn't able to hook up with my friend for the evening. I then checked on the hotel that I was going to stay at the next night, to see what the price would be for the first night, again, in case. After this, I went to Mr. Biggs to assist with the preparations for the event in any way that I could. It was great to meet some of the speakers and organizers. I already knew Marc Beacom (twitter|blog) from past SQL Community events, and it was great to catch up with him. He was the only person that I already knew IRL though. The others, some friends, others acquaintances, were mostly known to me via twitter already. I got to give Chris Shaw (twitter|blog) a big bear hug to great him as we had become friends over twitter, facebook, Im and email for the past couple years. I have always felt like he was a brother. Funny how our community becomes family. SQL Community -> #SQLFamily.
Soon it was the speaker dinner and time to shmooze, cavort, meet, discuss, talk, enjoy and share. It was also the first meal of the day for me, as I had barely eaten anything for breakfast and completely missed lunch because of the time suck that flying can be. Luckily I survived on some snacks from my bag while on the plane, as well as those incredible Biscotti cookies. Dinner was great and we had a great time talking to new people. One of which, Jeremy Lowell (twitter|blog), was nice enough to allow me, a stranger, to get into his vehicle and deliver to the house of my friend for the evening. Jeremy was headed home anyway, which turns out was about 5 minutes from my end location. So it turned out that it was a win win for us. We talked about SQL, but soon turned the conversation to other random topics that we found out we had in common. Its always amazing to meet people in these events that are just as human as you with the same concerns, ambitions, interests and whatnots. We had a great time talking for an hour. A friendship began.
Once at my buddies house, I was honored to meet the kids. Gifts were given, minus the Strawberry jam which now lives in a trash in SLC airport. Soon we were simply talking, telling stories, and having a great time. We both do woodworking and it was great to see his work space. Later in the evening I was even able to help feed the horses, which made me feel like I was channeling Mike Rowe as I attempted to perform a task I was unaware of how to perform. Standing in the cold Colorado night, helping feed the animals in the snow was invigorating. Fun to do once. Once back in the warmth of the home, it was time to get to bed, so that we could get up early the next morning and make the 1 hour commute down south to the SQL event. Off to bed we went. Me, grateful for the time spent, the stories told, the experiences had and the roof over my head and bed offered within their home. Thanks.
The next morning had us up early to make the commute. After stopping at a gas station along the way, and after purchasing the first cup of joe ever, I was able to make a small effort at paying back my gracious host for the previous nights lodging. We had a great time talking about many many things and I truly enjoyed the time we had to spend together as the sun chased us. Soon we arrived at our destination and got on our game faces. It may seem otherwise on occasion, but we are all geeks at heart and want to simply sit in front of a computer, shunning human contact in all its forms. Attending an event such as a SQL Saturday seems against our nature, but it is such an important part of our Professional Development that we suck it up and go and put on our game faces, getting ready to talk and interact with each other.
Luckily Chris Shaw and the other organizers thought of this and planned to have many networking events that forced and allowed us to interact with each other, getting to know each other. The first event gathered us together in disciplines, into two circles. One inner circle faced an outer circle, one to one. We were to take 2 minutes with each person in the circle and perform some SQL Speed Dating, answering 2 questions. It was a simple exercise and allowed me to introduce myself to 13 people as well as get to know them. It was fun. Soon the sessions were underway. SQL Lurn was ON! Between each session, a networking event occurred. The first I chose to participate in was Lazer Tag. What a rush. This is always such a fun activity and we all seemed to have a blast shooting each other. There was lunch, which allowed us a chance to eat and talk with each other, performing our own networking discussions while cramming pizza into our gullets. More sessions and more networking occured. Lurnin and Networkin. Over and over. It was great, well organized, and well participated in by all.
I ended the day with my session in the last slot. I had participated in Lazer Tag just prior to my session in one of the networking events, which got my blood pumping and ready to stand in front of a group of SQL peeps and discuss Documentation. I believe that the session went well, and we had good discussions. Many speakers attending my session, which was always a bit nerve wracking initially, but enables me as a speaker to engage the audience even better than typically, as these are now friends and family that can be pulled into the discussions easily.
After the sessions, we had one more networking event. We all had to make a trek across the family fun center to the sand box, and retrieve an easter egg. Inside each egg, for each member of the event, a prize awaited them. The organizers had gotten many items to give away and each person received something. It was well received and I believe everyone went away feeling a bit more special at having received a thoughtful gift for simply attending. It was a nice touch.
And just like that, as quickly as it started, it was over. It was such a full day, with so many interesting topics, great knowledge, great networking, that it blew by so quickly. I for one barely noticed that I had been on my feet for many hours, had done a great many different things as well as learned and gotten excited about SQL stuff. It was exactly what was needed. Many thanks go out to the organizers. Great job!!
After the event folks retired to the bar to continue networking. I don't drink, so tend to not spend a ton of time at the bar, but did take the chance to relax a bit, talk a bit, and continue to network and build those relationships started previously. Discussions about the event ensued, Regional Mentor duties were performed with various members of the community, help given to those folks looking to setup new chapters and needing some ideas to get them going, and friendships were continued. It was a great time.
Randy and myself departed, after many handshakes, fist bumps and a few hugs. We took off to go get some dinner and relax before our 4:30 am start time the next day for the 6:00 am flight. Dinner was quick, once we finally found a place, got a seat and got our food. Having forgotten that this was a Saturday night and that many other people also wanted to eat dinner, we were slightly delayed in our own goals. Dinner did occur, bellies were filled and more discussions were had about SQL and other topics. Finally, bed awaited, its siren song calling me to slumber at 8pm, finally falling asleep sometime around 9pm. Rare for me to retire so early, yet needed to make the flight the next morning.
The next morning came quite a bit earlier than I could have expected. Its always funny to drive around in the dark, knowing its morning, yet being deceived into still believing its night. An odd juxtaposition. We arrived at the airport without a problem, albeit at the ungodly hour of nearly 5am. We got thru security easily, except for the TSA groping that occurred. Ironically I tend to travel in a tshirt and sweats, releaving myself of a belt, buttons or anything that would pose a threat to the metal detectors. However, this was the reason the TSA groper choose to use to get close and personal with my persona, the baggy sweats. Funny.
After arriving home a couple hours earlier than I would normally wake up on a Sunday, it was all over. I was home. Early and tired and spent. I laid down and rested for most of the day, getting ready to start my normal work week. Good times, good friends, good knowledge. Forging existing relationships and building new ones. Making the SQL Community into my SQL Family. Thats what I see occurs in these events.
Long live SQL Saturday!!!