Community Interview: What’s it like to speak at a SQL Saturday?

SQL Saturday Exeter Community Interviews
Community Interviews are a series of interviews with real world attendees to SQL Saturday Exeter events.

This time, we speak to William Durkin, a first time visitor to SQL Saturday Exeter 2013, about his experiences.

William, You have been to several SQL Community conferences over the years but in 2013 you took your first step into attending as a speaker. Please can you tell us a little about yourself and then we’d love to ask you a few questions?

I am originally from the UK but moved to Germany in 2002 and have been involved with SQL Server since 2004/2005. I have worked on multi TB data warehouses and high volume OLTP systems and am currently the Principal DBA and DBA Team manager for a multi-national company based in Germany. I have mostly been involved in managing the databases for our in-house software, offering design and tuning advice to the software development teams. The most recent projects have involved consolidation of SQL Server instances and high availability solutions for a wide range of databases inside the company.

What was the reason for taking the decision to submit a session to a SQL Saturday?

After having attended so many conferences over the last few years, I got more interested with the idea of speaking. However, I was terrified of the prospect of standing up in front of a group of people and speaking. This, and the fact I believed I had nothing interesting to talk about, held me back from ever actually submitting a session to a conference. I actually bit the bullet and submitted to speak after the PASS Summit in 2012; Mladen Prajdic, Andre Kamman and Marco Blasio spent most of the 2012 Summit trying to convince me that speaking would be a good thing to do. So when SQL Saturday Exeter was announced I thought “why not”, thinking that I would never get picked……. then I was!

How did it go and have you done any more speaking since?

I was nervous in the weeks coming up to the event, but had no problems on the day. Once the session was going there was no time to be nervous. The words flowed, the people stayed in their seats and even chuckled at my attempted jokes. Then all of a sudden, the hour was over and people were clapping. The speaking bug has well and truly bitten and I have now spoken at several other events around Europe and hope to be speaking at the SQL Saturday in Exeter in 2014.

Can you give any examples of the down sides of speaking and how you handle them please?

There are few downsides in my opinion. The main one for me so far has been trying to find topics to talk about. The main suggestion you would hear is to talk about something you do every day at work. This always sounds boring to me; who wants to hear about my mundane day-to-day DBA stuff? That is until you realise that a lot of the attendees of SQL Saturdays are probably accidental DBAs who have little experience with running a database system. What sounds boring and mundane to me may well be a revelation for someone starting out on the path to becoming a DBA. That is why some of the best sessions are the “DBA 101” style sessions – giving a sound, clear explanation of a fundamental part of SQL Server is exactly what is needed at a SQL Saturday.

With that in mind, what makes it all worthwhile then?

Speaking at technical conferences has pushed me to learn my craft in much more detail than before. If you want to present on something and be able to answer questions, you need to know your stuff. That alone has been a driving factor in how I tackle new topics with SQL Server. The preparation for a session is also completely transferable to my normal work, be that the technical knowledge or the soft-skills required when presenting. I also get a massive kick out of explaining a topic that I understand well, to someone who has little/no knowledge about. Seeing someone walk away having learned something from me is excellent. I find myself saying what everyone told me before I started speaking “I wish I had started speaking earlier”.

Thank you William for your time.

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About d_a_green

My background includes working as a Data Architect, Database Developer, systems integrator, ETL specialist and DBA, as well as tutoring and actively promoting professional development and mentoring. I am an active member of SQL South West User Group, and occasionally present or blog about topics which interest me. I'm a Friend of RedGate. When not facing a computer screen I can be found walking, usually on the moors.