It’s been over a week since Jason Strate (@StrateSQL) and I got back from the Atlanta SQL Saturday. Once again, Jason was speaking, and I was volunteering at the PASS table. This time, I got to watch the fabulous Karla Landrum, Community Evangelist for PASS (@karlakay22) do her thing! It was great volunteering side by side with Karla, picking her brain about SQL Saturdays, etc. Here is a brief recap of our Atlanta adventure:
We arrived at the Atlanta airport around noon on Friday. After sitting through some not-so-fun traffic, we finally made it to the hotel, where we met up with our friend, Denny (@mrdenny). The three of us were planning on meeting Kerry (@airbornegeek) and Tamera (@tameraclark) at the World of Coca-Cola. Jason’s grandpa had worked for Coca-Cola for many years, so it was a big deal to him to go. After a minor transportation mix-up, and some navigation errors, we finally made it there. We were slightly rushed for time, but ended up making it in time to explore most of what we wanted to see. We also tasted several different types of soda from all over the world. We tried “The Beverly”, a beverage we heard was nasty. At first sip, it wasn’t so bad. Then, all the sudden, there’s a horrible after-taste! My tongue went numb. BLECH! My favorite quote of the day, was when Denny said, “Where else can you go drink Coke with your friends all day, and have as much fun as if you were at the bar?”
After our tour, we hopped back on the MARTA (public transportation), and headed back for the Speaker dinner. The location was very nice, though it would have been nice to have a slightly larger gathering area. There were WAY more people than I had ever seen at a speaker dinner. AWESOME! We moved to a table towards the back, just to alleviate some crowding, and ended up kind of stuck in one spot. Sit down dinners don’t allow for much mingling. My only criticism of the speaker dinner, was that the appetizers came way after we expected dinner to start. Then, there was a long wait for salads, a long wait for dinner, and a long wait for dessert. People were ready to leave before dessert was served. I was told later that this was by design, but since we didn’t know, we weren’t prepared to go that long before we ate. I also felt a bit under-dressed (having just come from touring the World of Coca Cola, and not knowing what kind of place the dinner was at). The food was good. We got to choose from chicken, salmon, prime rib, or penne pasta. I heard the salmon was meh. The prime rib was good. I heard the chicken was a tad too salty, though cooked just right. It was a nice evening, hanging out with a lot of friends.
The SQL Saturday
As we drove to the event, they had signs all the the way out at the main road that guided us in like lights on a tarmac. I loved the signs!! They also had a huge sign in the back of someone’s truck that unfortunately kept blowing over in the wind. One of the smart things about the signs? No numbers or dates – they just had the SQL Saturday logo with an arrow, so they can be used year after year.
Registration was outside, that was something new. The name tags were in plastic holders, with the raffle tickets in them, set up in foam boards in rows (pink insulation). They were all ready to go! I’m not sure I described it well, but it seemed like a very efficient way to do this. Later, (about an hour after lunch), the registration volunteers went through all the name tags that were left, and entered them into the spreadsheet (downloaded from the SQL Sat Admin site) as no-shows.
During registration, there was one person designated to handling “waiting list” people. That line tended to back up. They maybe should have had 2 people there? In talking with Karla about it, while registration went fairly smooth, she still recommends all SQL Saturdays use the Speed Pass system! This is where people print their own nametags and raffle tickets. I’m curious to see how this works in Chicago in a couple weeks.
I loved the way they did their shirts. There were shirts galore! The organizers wore blue polos, the speakers got green polos, the volunteers had bright green t-shirts with their logo on the front, and the word “VOLUNTEER” across the back. There was no shortage of people available to answer questions, track down things like power chords, etc. They also had t-shirts that arrived mid-morning for attendees. After talking with the organizers, it was an accident that the shirts arrived part-way into the day. They had them all stacked on a table around lunch time, and just let whoever wanted them take one. Jason, Karla, and I came up with a good idea for future SQL Saturdays; “The first 100 people who come and have their speed pass in hand, get a t-shirt” I thought that was a good idea, since some people might not want a shirt, or have too many from other events they’ve attended. We’ve also heard that some speakers may not want shirts, because they have a closet full from all the events they’ve spoken at. We thought it might be a good idea to ask the speakers if they want a shirt. We’ve heard that some throw them away or donate them. Why waste the money if they don’t want one?
When I first looked at the schedule for the Atlanta event, I was surprised to see so many MVPs and/or well-known speakers in the same time slots – how were people supposed to choose who they wanted to see. I was talking to Karla and Aaron Nelson (@SQLVariant), one of the organizers, about why they did the schedule that way. They both pointed out that putting MVPs against newbies makes it harder for inexperienced speakers to get as many people in their rooms. Karla suggests putting all newbies in the same slot, all advanced in the same slot, etc. That makes a lot of sense! Aaron also said they wanted to anchor the first slots and last slots with MVPs, have a heavy MVP slot just after lunch (with a longer time slot), then have a couple of slots with other speakers, including some newer speakers.
There was some debate about the best way to handle speaker feedback. One thing I heard from many of the speakers in MN, was that they wanted to get their feedback right away. One idea is to have the room proctors fill out room counts, take a quick overview of the feedback from their rooms on their own forms, and give the speakers the feedback (without names – found on SQLSAT website). An idea that came out of the conversation, was to have a line on the event evals (separate from the speaker evals) with “best speaker of the day” and “needs more practice.” This way, the event organizers can get the feedback they are looking for in making decisions for who to bring back next year, and the speakers can get their feedback right away. Sounds like a win/win to me!
The after party was held at a restaurant/bar just down the street from where the SQL Saturday was held. It was well advertised, and had a great turn out. Like the Speaker Dinner, it was probably one of the best attended after parties I have been to (rivaled only by Kalamazoo). I wonder if it was because it was a “sponsored event.” Thank you Redgate! Appetizers were served, though they ran out of food at least once. Luckily, they were able to get more. As someone who has been on the planning side of the after party, it is hard to know how many people will attend, so planning is tricky. We had an entire patio area devoted to the after party; which made it easy to move around and mingle. It was a lot of fun (as was the after-after party unofficially held back at the hotel).
There were many things I really liked about how the Atlanta event was run. From an attendee standpoint, things ran quite smoothly. Everyone seemed to work together quite well. It was a lot of fun – before, during, and after!