Tuesday, May 17, 2011

PASS SQLRally Orlando–We took the Checkered Flag

We did it!  SQLRally happened and, from everything I heard, it was a success!  That’s not to say that there weren’t some glitches and lessons learned, but we accomplished our goals:

  1. Provide a low-cost, high-quality regional training event
  2. Fill the space between SQLSaturday and the PASS Summit
  3. Provide a taste of the Summit

It was interesting because I had some people tell me that the event had a SQLSaturday feel, and others say that it had Summit feel, so I definitely think that we filled in a gap nicely.

Practice Laps (Day 1)

The first day was pre-con day.  We had 260+ attend one of the 4 pre-cons.  I arrived at the event at 7am so I could do my job at the check-in desk.  Check-in went very smoothly and we only had 1 complaint repeated several times, “Where’s breakfast and coffee?”  We did not do a good enough job letting people know that there would not be coffee or breakfast served at the event.  This was a actually a pretty big oversight as anyone who has attended a SQLSaturday is accustomed to seeing something for breakfast.

I heard no complaints about any of the sessions and the volunteers at registration, in the rooms, and during lunch were fantastic!

For the evening we announced a meet-up at Buffalo Wild Wings and also the opportunity to continue networking at a local mini-golf place.  We had a great turnout of over 100 at Buffalo Wild Wings, and you could see people moving from table to table connecting and having a good time.  I actually felt bad for the wait staff as it had to be nerve-wracking to deliver drinks or a meal to a table and the next time you returned to the table, either no one was there or it was someone new.  From what I heard only a handful of people made their way to play mini-golf, mainly because everyone was enjoying the interaction at Buffalo Wild Wings too much.  Around 10pm a group of about 25 made their way to the Celebration Town Tavern to continue the social time until about 2am.  Needless to say it made for an short night.

Qualifying (Day 2)

After having been out until 2am, I arrived shortly after 7am to help with check-in.  Once again, check-in ran smoothly due to the hard work of the event staff and volunteers.  Since over half the attendees had checked in on Day 1 for the pre-con’s, we only had about 180 people to get through the line.  It was great to be part of check-in as I was able to greet most people at the start of the day.

We did have a couple of minor glitches during day 2.  The first occurred just before the second session of the day (9:40) when I was informed that there was a missing speaker.  As the person in charge of the program, I was a little peeved by this as I had NOT been notified.  I called the expected speaker, who had not checked-in, and got no answer, so I left a message and then moved on to plan B.  Plan B was to find a speaker from later in the day and ask them to move their session in to this slot, then I’d try to fill the slot later in the day.  The first speaker I found was Patrick Leblanc, who not only agreed to speak at that time, but chose to do a different session, so he could still do his session later in the day.  This is one of the things I love about the community, someone is always ready to jump in and help.  So I went into a full (100+) session room, announced that that scheduled speaker had not arrived, and that Patrick would be filling in.  I heard nothing but good things about Patrick’s emergency session, and had one person tell me it was the best session they attended in the conference!  Way to go Patrick!

The second glitch happened in the same room and track!  The speaker for the 90 minute deep-dive session got lost on the way to the location.  Fortunately Kendal Van Dyke and Karla Landrum were able to talk him in and he made it just in time for his session.  Needless to say I was also working to find a fill-in, just in case.  Fortunately the speaker made it, and from what I heard, the session went very well!

Thursday evening we had our SQLRally Overdrive panels sponsored by OPASS and MagicPASS, which were another of my responsibilities for the event.  I have to say I was concerned about the type of attendance we’d have for informal panels after people had spent a full-day in training.  Due to cost we could not provide food, but we did have 2 cash bars setup, to encourage people to hang around and network.  The three panels were, Speed Networking hosted by Kendal Van Dyke and Chris Shaw, Birds of a Feather tables organized by Jorge Segarra, and Conducting an Interview moderated by Kevin Kline.  The panels were scheduled to run from 5:45 to 7 and when the last session of the day let out, I have to admit some concern as only 3 or 4 people made there way to each panel.  My concern was unneeded as each session had over 20 attendees.  I did not get an exact count but we had between 70 and 100 attendees stay around and delay dinner for another hour of training.  In each of the panels we had to close them out at 7 because people wanted to continue the discussions!  Who says that SQL Server geeks don’t like to be social?

After the Overdrive panels we headed to Old Town for dinner and then SQLKaraoke.  75-100 people went for dinner and 50+ made it to the Blue Wave for SQLKaraoke.  I hung around and watched people sing, and, honestly, I was a bit disappointed because most of the singers were good!  I like to go to Karaoke to see people who can’t sing, but think that they can!  Sort of like the auditions for American Idol.

The Race (Day 3)

I actually arrived at around 8am on Friday because all but about 10 people had checked-in so I wasn’t needed to help with check-in and I knew all the 8:30 speakers were at the event and ready to go.  I was pretty exhausted at this point, so I spent the day just talking with people and also had a couple of meetings about SQLRally 2012 with the groups that are in the race (Dallas, Nashville, and Denver).

We had the sponsor raffle during the 4pm break, with one session following it.  Because we didn’t have one large room in the facility we had the raffle outside on the Solaris deck.  Andy Warren made some announcements, Mark Ginnebaugh talked a bit about chapters, SQLSaturday, SQLRally, and the Summit, and Kendal Van Dyke made some announcements and announced SQLRally Nordic coming up in Sweden this November.  Then I got to emcee the raffle.  Our sponsors came through with some great stuff (IPad, IPod, software, gift cards, and more).  I was pleased with how quickly we got through the raffle and announcements in about 20 minutes as that gave the attendees some time to make it back to the last session and grab a drink.

Final Thoughts

Other than having one speaker not show up, without any notification, the event went very smoothly.  This was due to the great job done by the event staff from PASS HQ, the volunteers, and the speakers.  I received a few “pats on the back”, but, honestly, it was an easy event to organizer because of the people listed above, without them the event would not have been successful.

Thanks to all who attended and were involved in making the inaugural PASS SQLRally a great event.  I hope to see you all at the Summit and the next US SQLRally!

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