SQLSaturday #119 Chicago Giving Back

The third SQLSaturday Chicago is officially in the books!  Myself (@Vendoran), Ted (@onpnt), Wendy (@wendy_dance), Bob (@SQLBob), Bill (@blescher) and Rich (@zigzag219) really want to thank everyone for attending, speaking, and sponsoring.  Sincerely Thank you for your support and hard work.

This year it was really cool to see both the speakers and attendees wearing their shirts from last year (this year we did bags).   Here’s the numbers:

SQLSat Date Sessions Speakers
31 4/17/2010 28 21
67 3/26/2011 38 38
119 5/19/2012 40* 37

Apologies as I don’t have the exact registration/attendee numbers, but every year has between 350-400 attendees out of 450-500 registrations.  This year was 490 registrations and 374 attendees.

If you were watching the twitter stream or read some upcoming blogs, you’ll see how much people enjoyed it. For example Allan Hirt (@SQLHA) said this

I have to say – the organizers of ‪#sqlsat119‬ did a helluva job today. Great one all around! Hope to be back next year.

So the event was just a blast all around, but I’ll let others tell that story.  I want to focus on something else.

Trying new things

One of the things that we try to do is push the envelope a bit and try new things. Last year we focused on ensuring no speaker would have more than one session, which enabled us to schedule and support many first time speakers.

This year as we were talking with DeVry about the event, the Director of Community Outreach Matt Johnson really wanted to involve the students more.  We brainstormed and we took a page from the SQLPASS CAT Labs and decided that we’d like to put on some labs for DeVry students.  Yup that’s what we said – Free hands on labs for students of technical college run by industry experts.

They have a computer lab and we discussed having 3 introductory sessions:

  1. Installing SQL Server
  2. Overview of SQL Server and all its parts/components (IS, AS, RS, etc.)
  3. Creating your first Database

Each one of those would run about an 45 minutes or so and be a hands on lab scenario and the attendees will be primarily DeVry Students.

As we continued to discuss this idea, we determined that we would not advertise this to attendees, in fact DeVry handled the registration of their students.  The computer lab they have held 48 students however within a month of announcement 55 students had signed up.  Awesome!

Now just to get teachers and the lab setup.  This is where Ted and Frank (@skreebydba) really stepped up.  Ted agreed to create the VM and run the first 2 sessions while Frank signed up for the third!  Content was different than “normal” sessions as we constantly had to ensure we weren’t going too deep too fast, these were strictly overview sessions geared toward students with little or no exposure to SQL Server. Ted and I met up on Monday so he could get me the VM and I went to drop it off at DeVry so they could copy it to all the lab computers in time.  As with everything, nothing goes perfectly – I got the email on Friday that the machines only had 2 GB of RAM on them so they’d only be able to have 1 GB assigned to the VM.  Obviously this would cause performance issues.  However, thankfully Ted had already configured the VM with a full installation of the SQL Server and was just planning on walking through the installation of a named instance.  This allowed Ted to actually cancel the installation and save the cycles which would be the slowest.

Labs

During the first two sessions, Michael McGettigan, a fellow employee at Magenic, and I both walked around answering questions while Ted led the class. Ted had the awesome idea of bringing in Jes (@grrl_geek) to speak about SSRS which she jumped at. Since I had a session, I wasn’t able to stay for the last one but Jes and Bill stayed to help out during Frank’s session.

Talking with the students, they were mostly from the College of Engineering & Information Sciences, some had experience with web development or networking.  Attendance was around 20 students, but all were there for the purpose of learning on a very nice Saturday afternoon by their own desire (i.e., they didn’t get credit for this).  The students were engaged and asking questions and this honestly was the highlight of the event for me, to actually work with the students and help them walk though the demo’s and answer questions was just plain awesome!

Of course I couldn’t help but start tweeting and telling people about this and once word got out that we were doing this, I was really encouraged by the number of presenters who indicated that they would have loved the opportunity to be involved.

So not that any of you asked me, but I recommend and challenge every SQLSaturday to find ways to give back and push the envelope. Don’t just have a great event, have a great purpose. So c’mon SQLSaturday organizers, step up and give back!