Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Review - SQL Saturday #57 Houston

I attended my first SQL Saturday this past weekend in Houston. SQL Saturday is a free event sponsored by PASS, the local SQL Server user group (HASSUG), and some vendors. Well, it was almost free. I did have to pay ten dollars for lunch. It was a delicious selection of eats from Hinze's BBQ.
Schwag:The real reason we come...

In some ways, I found SQL Saturday to be more accessible than a full SQLPASS conference. SQLPASS can be a bit overwhelming; after the first couple of days, your brain starts to get mushy from all the content that has been thrown at you.

Since this was only one day, I was able to absorb all of the sessions I attended. You come away with tons of great ideas, tips, and tricks that you are ready to apply in your shop once you get back home. By keeping the total number of sessions small, I feel you increase the chances of actually following-up with the knowledge you have gained.

Sessions

There were five tracks with a total of forty-two different technical sessions from which to choose. The tracks were divided among Application Development, Business Intelligence, Database Administration, General, and PowerShell.

Each session I attended was full of great information that I can take back and use at work. The speakers were all enlightening and entertaining. I was able to ask questions, trade emails, and get copies of their presentations.

Presenters

The speakers were very engaging, and in some cases, downright entertaining. Several of the presenters were names I recognized from SQLPASS 2010 in Seattle. Either as presenters there, or as people I met during the various social events. So I knew I was in for a treat.

The day began with with Dean Richards (website) teaching us about VMWare and SQL Server. With more and more systems becoming virtualized every day, this is a good foundation for the future.

I followed-up with hometown hero Wesley Brown (blog | twitter) who got so down on storage systems, I started seeing things in terms of sectors, cylinders, and tracks. I loved his joke about RAID0 not being RAID at all, but rather just 'AID'... In other words, your resume may need some aid if you use this in production.

Thomas LeBlanc (blog | twitter) was especially hysterical, and I took in a double dose of his stuff, with no fluff. He covered Execution Plans and Business Intelligence. Many times during his presentations, he had the whole room in laughter. I had to ask if he ever did stand-up.

Another stand-out was Jason Wong (website). He took a normally serious topic, performance tuning, and turned it into a rollicking good time with his dry wit and dead-pan delivery.

One of my favorite sessions was presented by Trevor Barkhouse (blog | twitter) on Deadlock Detection. His was a session I recognized from SQLPASS 2010.

Some of the presenters would give mini-quizzes during their presentations and awards prizes to people who got them right. Others had books to give away from some of the sponsors.

Vendors and Employers

Just like any good technical conference, there were plenty of vendors on hand to show you samples of their products, or offer you trial licenses. In some cases, you had the possibility of winning a full license for their software.

Again, since the scale was more manageable, it is more likely that you will actually go back and download the trial software and try them out.

An added bonus was the presence of a few area employers who are in a hiring phase: sparkhound and intellinet. They each had recruiters and technical staff on hand to answer questions about the company, their projects, and what sort of people they are looking for.

Location

This SQL Saturday was held at the Bammel Church of Christ, who was kind enough to provide the facilities for the conference. I have to say, this was the coolest, most modern church I have been in. Amongst the various rooms was the ever-popular Xbox room, complete with a flat screen TV and fluffy couches.

Networking

I got to meet an interesting cross section of SQL professionals from a wide variety of industries. I was surprised at the number of people I met who came from out of state. After the conference, there was an informal dinner held at Outback Steakhouse. This was a great opportunity to socialize and mix with your fellow SQL peeps.

One thing I wish I had done, was attend the Speaker Mixer dinner the night before. Since I was new, and didn't know anyone, I decided not to attend. However, after meeting everyone on Saturday, and seeing how friendly the group was, I will definitely do this the next time.

At the end of the conference, there was a general meeting for the local user group, HASSUG, where some user group business was discussed, awards given for the volunteers, and a raffle for prizes from the sponsors. Too bad, I didn't win the Xbox or the iPad. There's always next time...

Conclusion

When I consider the quality of the education, and more importantly the food, this event was beyond free. It was more like they gave me money. I received quality technical training, networked with some great professionals, and ate some great BBQ all in one day.

My only disappointment was not being able to snag one of those cool shirts that all the speakers and volunteers were sporting. At the end of the conference, they had a few extras to give away, but alas, I was not able to beat the crowds. You would have thought Metallica was giving away free tickets to their next show.

Another opportunity is to volunteer to help with the next SQL Saturday. This entails arriving early, perhaps the day before, and helping to setup the facility, answering questions, or perhaps a more long-term commitment to help organize the whole affair.

If you decide to go to a SQL Saturday, I recommend traveling there the night before. They start at 8:30am and this way you will be fresh and rested; ready to absorb every last drop of SQL awesomeness. Buy using Hotels.com, you can find a wide range of hotels to fit your price range.

Executive Summary

It was like a mini-PASS conference for a fraction of the price; free!

~sa

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