Tag Archives: Speaking

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.

SQL Saturday – session selection process

SQL Saturday session selection process

We want to be totally clear with everyone interested in speaking and those kind enough to submit a session to us for SQL Saturday Exeter on how we consider the submissions and the process that we apply to select the sessions that we want for our conference.

SQL Saturday Exeter has, at the heart of its existence, some simple but important goals and we try to select the sessions that we think will best help us reach those goals.

Goals of SQL Saturday Exeter

Goal 1 – We want SQL Saturday Exeter to be the best SQL Server conference running in the South West. To meet this goal we want variety of sessions that cater for attendees of all levels of skill and experience and to provide them with advice and guidance that they can implement easily to make their jobs easier and increase their skill levels.

Goal 2 – We want to enrich the SQL Community in the UK by encouraging new speakers into our conference schedule. We have a history of picking sessions that are from a mixture of new and experienced speakers. We will try to continue this theme each year.

Goal 3 – There is no escaping the fact that SQL Saturday Exeter costs a lot to run and the South West user group needs funds to keep going throughout the year. The Training Day sessions are not free to attend and the funds we receive are used to contribute to the costs we incur.

Selection criteria

All submissions should be sent in via the SQL Saturday website by the deadline clearly explaining what your session is about and covering the details requested on the website.

All submissions received on or before the closing date will be considered.

We have limited space so it is sadly likely that some submissions will be rejected.

We want to provide a range of subjects for attendees to choose from so it is likely that submissions on a similar topic will not all be chosen unless they are likely to attract delegates of different skill levels.

If we can’t clearly see what the delegates will gain from attending your session it will make it hard for us to pick your session.

No one person makes the decision – SQL Saturday Exeter committee is made up of SQL South West user group members and there is much discussion and consideration put into the session selection.

Before session information is reviewed by the committee, speaker names are removed and replaced by an ID together with a few relevant details (such as if the speaker is a new speaker, if they are an international traveller, if they are a Training Day speaker). This means we can approach the selection process knowing that we will only pick one session from each speaker but also remove any bias there might be if the speaker name is known. We also have useful information to try to balance up veteran vs new speakers and meet the goals of our event.

A vote will decide the outcome where there is not clear consensus of opinion. Truly, this process takes hours and decisions are not made lightly – we take this part very seriously as we value your time creating and presenting the sessions highly as well as the delegates time when they visit us.

Some sessions will be marked as ones that we would like to have as standby sessions in-case, on the day we have a speaker unable to give their session for some reason.

The process

Once the decisions have been made all submissions will get a response.

Those that are successful will hear from us first, by the date stated on the website. If those speakers are still interested in running their session then we can start work to build our schedule and make the necessary arrangements for this.

It is possible that we will respond to a submission with a suggestion that we try something different – a half-day session or a double session perhaps. If the speaker is interested in this then that is great, we are building variety and meeting our goals.

Speakers who submitted sessions that we have chosen as stand-by sessions will be advised of our selection and if they are willing to bring their session with them to the event, just in case we need them. The confidence that having these sessions available gives to event organisers should not be underestimated. Knowing there is a good backup you can rely on should be familiar state to a lot of data professionals!

Finally, we respond to all other submissions to confirm that whilst we really appreciated the offer we would not be running that session this time. It’s the toughest set of emails to send, all we can offer is our gratitude at the effort spent and encourage people to keep submitting sessions. There are user groups and other conferences taking place all over the world and they need new speakers with new content all the time. Please keep submitting and you’ll be included sooner or later.

If you have any questions or comments about this process then we’d love to hear from you, please contact us via jonathan@sqlsouthwest.co.uk.