Mar 17 2014

SQL Saturday: You can’t have it all.

SQL Saturday’s are awesome! Let’s get that clear up front. The organizers of SQL Saturday events are glorious individuals. Let’s get that clear too.

I want to be up front about those things because, well, I’m going to be critical.

First though, I want to establish my bona fides for what I’m about to say. I helped organize two SQL Saturday events and two other local events before those. I also help Red Gate Software run half-day seminars all over the country. So, I have some idea what goes into the organizational side of these things. I’ve presented at eleven SQL Saturday events in just the last year. I’m on the schedule for, I think, 6 more between now and August. So, I think I have some idea what it’s like to be a speaker at the events. And, I work for a vendor who puts money and swag up at the events in order to get some advertising. Which gives me some ideas behind what makes the vendors happy too. Further, I’m one of the community. I attend the sessions, talk to the sponsors, take part in the after events, the whole magilla. I don’t think any of this makes me an expert or makes my voice more important than anyone else, but it all comes together to show that I’m not utterly clueless in my opinions (which, I know the adage, opinions are like certain body parts, everyone has one, and they all stink).

Organizers, I’ve seen this issue a lot and it’s just getting worse. This issue is going to hurt you with, in no particular order; speakers, sponsors and the community. What are you doing? You’re trying to have it all.

You want sponsors, right? The sponsors frequently ask for one thing… please, please, please, let us do a presentation so we can show off how wicked awesome our products are to the most motivated people in the region (yeah, the people who are giving up a Saturday to learn technology for their jobs are the best people in the area where that SQL Saturday is taking place). So, you agree to letting the sponsors have a talk… ooh, but when to schedule it?

You want BIG NAME speakers, right? Although I’m absolutely convinced that big name speakers don’t really draw people to your event. Good sessions, usually defined by good session titles, draw people to your event (and good communication on your part through various venues and… well, that’s a different discussion I’ll leave for Karla). But, the belief is there, so people try to get Brent Kline and Kendal Ford and Jes Misner to come speak at their event. BUT, you also want to meet the needs of the local community so you can grow new speakers, so you’re going to take in a bunch of new people too… ah, but how do you schedule that?

And you’re committed to your community too, right? And one of the best ways to show your commitment to your community is to host a panel at lunch. The most common panel is Women in Technology, but I’ve also seen or heard about panels on educating young people, charities, user groups, and all sorts of things. Great stuff really and a big part of why the SQL Family is so wonderful. We really do try to help each other out. We really do care, and those panels give people a chance to communicate what they’ve done to others who may want to contribute in the same way. Ah… but when can we schedule this panel?

By now, I’ll bet many of you know what I’m about to say. But, before I say it, let me point out one more thing. SQL Saturday’s are all day affairs. And if anyone goes to the entire thing, they’re in the building from 8AM to 4PM (or so), so, we’re going to feed them something at mid-day. That really bites into our schedule too.

When can we put all this together? A WIT panel, sponsor talks, new speakers, experienced speakers and lunch…. Hey, hold on. Let’s put it all at lunch. That’s just a gaping hole in the schedule begging to be filled.

And there lies the problem. Putting all this together, all at the same time, hurts something. And, putting it all at lunch, pretty much hurts all of it. It’s hard to get your food and then find your way to a room to eat it in, or, conversely attend the session you want and get your food later, or, try to eat and then go into a session half way through. You can’t do it all. And then, when you think about the audience mix you just created, you’re hurting new speakers because people may skip their session to attend the sponsor session or the WIT panel. The WIT panel is going to suffer because you scheduled an experienced, known, speaker at lunch because you just ran out of room to put them anywhere else. And the sponsors… I’ll be blunt. We want eyeballs. And you just gave them alternatives, and we know they already have alternatives with our competitors doing a session at the same time, but did you have to clean out everyone for the WIT panel too?

In short, organizers, you need to start to pare it down. Don’t try to do it all. You want to support sponsors at lunch? Cool, do that. Schedule the WIT panel to 1/2 hour before the prize drawing (I’ve seen that done, it worked well). You want to have sessions at lunch? Fine. Don’t schedule the sponsors for then. Extend the day and have sponsor sessions before or after lunch. Want to get eyeballs to the local speaker or the big name speaker? Cool, but leave the sponsors out of it. Can’t work out how to fit ALL this in? Then don’t. Don’t even try. Give up on some of it. Pick and choose to make your event yours. But don’t try to cram so much stuff in that you basically make it difficult for the speakers and the community and the sponsors and the attendees.

Jan 16 2013

You Can Say “No”

I heard about this new law that was passed to prevent employers from asking for your social media passwords. After the laughter stopped, I realized that, maybe, this would be needed. Not because I need the government to help me manage my interactions with my employers and potential employers. And not because I think the government needs to be involved in other peoples interactions, not at this level. But because I don’t think people realize they have a word that they can use with employers. That word is ‘No.’

“We want you to sign this non-compete agreement that says you’ll never be a DBA for any other company after leaving ours.” Ha! No. And yes, I really had one of these. And yes, there actually are laws against it (I looked it up), but I didn’t need them. I figured out all on my own that I might not stay at that company forever and that, after leaving the company, I might actually want to ply my trade. By the way, this particular dot com is long dead.

“We require you to take a psychological test as a requirement for employment.” OK, I did this, because I was very interested in the output of the test, but I asked them, what if I said no. They said they’d hire me anyway. Why? Because they can’t make you do stuff you don’t want to. Oh, and the output said was I a psycho killer, but they hired me anyway for some reason.

And I’ve heard that some employers want your private email address password. Again, no.

Here’s the deal, what I do in public, out loud, at large, that is my employer’s concern. If I’m posting compromising photo’s of myself and I’m a company spokesman, of course my employer can, and probably will, get upset. But if I’m communicating with my significant other or children, friends, family, etc., in a private space, even one that is digital, that’s what we used to call nunya, as in Nun Ya Business. You just don’t get to go there. Sorry.

Look, I get it. It’s a cold, awful, horrible world out there, especially if you are not employed. I’ll never forget the 3 months (and thank the gods it was only 3 months) that I spent looking for work in the fall of 2001. And when I finally got a job, I took a massive pay cut. Why? Because making X was more than making ZERO, which is what I was making at the time. So yes, you may compromise yourself at times. But, understand, it’s you making the compromise. You get to make the choices. No one is holding a gun to your head. If someone asks you to do something ridiculous or insane, say ‘No.’