My SQL Saturday Experience

Devin Knight, Wes Brown, and yours truly.

It’s 8:30am on SQL Saturday, and I feel like I’ve taken a two by four to the head. I’m standing outside the front of the building leading the registration team at the front tables, squinting in the sun, sweating profusely, and wondering why I feel so good about it. What happened since only 4 hours previously, when I dragged my ass out of bed? Suddenly I receive an epiphany about my life, career, and the path it is going to take. I’d like to share it with you….

Grasshopper, Quickly as You Can, Snatch the Pebble From My Hand.

Almost three years ago, I moved to Dallas to give my career a kick in the pants and decided to focus on SQL Server. In my search for knowledge, I came across Brent Ozar’s excellent blog post about Perfmon. I e-mailed him a question and was rather surprised that he responded and that his response was very thorough. It was obvious that he really wanted to help me. This led to a very good friendship, and I’ve asked his advice on more items, technical and non-technical, than I can count. He encouraged me to seek out the community, get involved, and create a brand for myself.

The existence of this blog, as well as my involvement in the community can be attributed as much to him as to my own efforts.

Shall We Play a Game?

Let me preface what I’m about to say with the following. I have never been a selfish person. Throughout my adult life, I have volunteered in one way or another. For example, I taught Aikido twice a week for the better part of a decade without any compensation whatsoever. I have always been a teacher and mentor. However, since I made the decision to jump-start my career, my attitude changed. I was “involved” in the community, but something was always missing.

I’d watch Brent and others such as Paul Randal, Mike Hotek, Tim Mitchell, Sean McCown, and Brian Knight’s Team freely give their time and share their knowledge with others. I analyzed what they did, the motives behind their actions and tried to determine how to become successful like they were. However, I could not understand why all of them gave as much as they did. It was almost as if I had turned my career into a game of Risk.

It wasn’t that I didn’t see the value of giving; it was just that I was so strategic about it. In my view it was about exposure, getting credit, and focusing on the goal of building a brand. Brent and others tried to explain to me that I should be focusing on the community, the people who I was trying to reach. It may seem obvious to you, but I just didn’t get it. I asked several people that I trusted for advice about my career strategy and why they gave so much. They would talk about the joy of helping someone learn something, of helping them better themselves. I went to dinner one night with Trevor Barkhouse, and he became very animated about how great it felt when people would ask him questions at User Group meetings regarding the topics he previously taught. It was obvious how much he enjoyed it, but I kept looking for his “angle.” Why was he really doing this? On Saturday, my viewpoint radically shifted; it all came together.

You Must Unlearn What You Have Learned.

The process of putting on a SQL Saturday is arduous. Until you try to plan something like this, you have no idea how much time and effort it takes. I went three weeks without eating lunch (an amazing feat for someone of my size), because I was arguing with sign people about banner graphics every day. My girlfriend kept teasing me about visiting “the other woman” every Saturday because of all the planning meetings. Basically, I felt like I was working a part time job.

However, things changed when I got to the Thursday NTSSUG meeting and hung out with Sri and Tim outside discussing last minute details. Even at this early stage I felt like I belonged there, like I was part of the group rather than just a dude who showed up to the meetings. The team had all gone through this thing together, and we were comrades.

After the meeting, we had so many people volunteer to pack attendee bags that we were bumping into each other. Several weren’t even going to SQL Saturday; they simply wanted to help. In my “strategic” mindset, this made no sense. Many people showed up Friday including several people from the Houston User Group. It wasn’t even their User Group, and they were willing to do anything to help.

Saturday morning I woke up at the ungodly hour of 4am to get ready for the event. I was the first to the site, stood outside in the dark, took some deep breaths, and was wondering why I felt so good even though I was already exhausted.

Afterward, I ran around like a crazy man getting stuff ready. My team, most of whom I had not met before Saturday, rallied together. They were all looking at me for direction as if I knew what I was doing. Let me assure you, dear reader, that even though I had put in months of planning for this event, I had very little idea what I was doing. For one thing, the event didn’t start until 8:30, and we had attendees already there at 7am. What the heck? 7am? Everyone, attendees and my team, was totally patient while I got everything together for the group.

My team worked hard and made up for my nervousness and occasional constant lack of organization. They handled every problem, and there were no lines at all. Tons of people complimented me on my effort, and I know it’s a cliché where the leader gives all the credit to the team, but in this case it was true. Truth be told, there was a reason I was unfocussed. I was trying to figure out what I was feeling. It was exhilarating, my pulse was racing, and I wondered if something was wrong with me. This was the shift.

Just after 8am, Sri asked the core team to introduce ourselves during the opening session and state our contributions in planning the event. This was very classy and was the moment I would have focused on the most in my strategic mindset. This was my time to shine, to get credit for what I had done, the payback for all of the hard work.

However, truth be told I was distracted because I was worried about my team, that there may be last minute problems in which they would need me.

Sri continued informing the crowd how to get lunch, to wear their wristbands, etc and would occasionally tell people to see me if they were missing something from their bags. At least I think that’s what he said, because my mind was not there. When I heard my name, I raised my hand, but I wasn’t really listening. I turned and told another Core Team member that I was going outside to the team and I was out.

Now we’ve come full circle. I’m standing outside and my team is handling everything perfectly. Three women on my team impress me in particular (though every volunteer is valued). They are Hema Sridharan, Rachel Mitchell, and Aditi Tendulkar. They aren’t SQL Admins, they are wives of volunteers. These ladies gave their entire Saturday to be there, had the most boring jobs sitting the welcome desk, and never complained. They didn’t want to meet Joe Celko, Devin Knight, etc; they weren’t attending sessions, weren’t trying to be noticed. They simply gave their time and effort because it was the right thing to do. So, I’m watching them and there’s a lull in the activity and I stop to think while sweating in the sun. They were having as much fun as I was.

The infamous Joe Celko and myself.

We’re On a Mission From God.

BAM! In that moment, I got it – everything Brent, Trevor, Tim and other people had told me more times than I can count. Volunteering with the community is fun! There’s a reason they all work so hard at it, they enjoy it. It feels good to do it.

In my previous article, I listed the benefits of volunteering; however I got them in the wrong order. What I realized on Saturday is that volunteering with your user group makes you feel good about yourself and is fun to do. The rest of it- networking and branding- are much less important.

Of course, I took the opportunity and networked. I had in depth conversations with amazing guys like Devin Knight, Wes Brown, and Allen Kinsel. In fact, at the speaker’s party, I told a story to the great Joe Celko, which left even he at a loss for words. However, that stuff was just icing on the cake.

I went to the after party at Humperdinks and mingled with the people at the after party. It felt great, and I didn’t want it to end. I was there, nearly to the end, talking with Allen Kinsel, a long time PASS volunteer. I was talking about changing this blog and I was surprised when he and Ryan, another core team member, told me that they already read it and that I shouldn’t change it. I explained to Allen how I felt about the volunteer experience at SQL Saturday, and he looked at me as if to say “well, duh. It took you this long to figure that out?” Like I said before, I can be dense at times.

You Had Me at Hello.

What does this have to do with my career? I know where I am going and how I’m going to get there. I’m going to get more involved, participate in these kinds of events as much as possible, and give as much as I can to the community. I’ve already volunteered my help at SQL Saturday Houston and am working on two different presentations to give at future events.

It took me a long time, but yeah I finally get it.

11 comments to My SQL Saturday Experience

  • This is great, happy for you and must say you are not alone in this. Helping is contagious, catch it!

  • Fantastic post!
    I would like to express my gratitude for your work, and all the other people out there that do the organizing like you do. As a user group/SQL Sat attendee, it’s unbelievable how well you guys manage these things and make everything run so well.
    I’ve heard time and time again from people “how hard it must be” to stand up in front of a group of people and present something – but in my mind, that doesn’t hold a candle to the level of effort and risk organizers put forward to hold these events.
    So even though I’ve never met you – thanks for taking the time to organize an event like this, and I really hope you inspire others to do the same. We need you and people like you!

  • Awesome Post! I spent 8 years not even knowing that there was a community, and the last 2 trying to catch up! Glad to have you on board and if anyone reading this post isn’t inspired to get involved they need to have someone check their pulse.

  • Okay, +100 for the Blues Brothers quote!!

    Great post. I think we all felt some version of that, the WE MADE IT warm fuzzies. I’m trying to finish my post-sqlsat35 blog, to try to capture that. I think you’ve done a far better job than I have, putting that revelation across in type.

    Well done, by the way, on all counts.

  • Dude this is one of the best blog articles I’ve read. The SQL community is what made me decide to make the DBA switch in my career as well. There is nothing like it!

  • Wes Brown

    You got it! I do what I do because it brings me great joy. There is nothing better for me than seeing someone’s face light up when I help them with an issue, or put them on the right path to figuring something out. Even if I’ve answered that same question a dozen times I’ll answer it again.

    I’ve helped organize big events like this, it isn’t easy. You guys did a fantastic job!

    Good God I’m short!


  • Congratrulations on seeing the forest for the trees. May you always know the joy of giving. Lastly Thank you for your time, support and making me feel you live just down the block.

  • awesome post, and I think you really summed up volunteering well.

    I enjoyed our conversation, and look forward to seeing you in Houston.

  • Great Post! Look forward to following you and it was great meeting you last week.

  • Dave Schutz

    Great post David and very timely to me. I’m chairman of SQL Saturday #42, June 26 2010 in Columbus, OH and hope to make it through the next few weeks.
    I’ve been a board member of CBusPASS since we formed in Nov 2008 and have hid under Jeremiah Peschka’s shadow until SQL Saturday came along. Meeting and dealing with the speakers, sponsors, and attendees is challenging yet lots of fun and I’m hoping my event will go as well as you did.
    It’s the connections you make with other people that make the work worth doing.

  • […] SQL Saturday #56 BI Edition went off without a hitch last Saturday. Those who read this blog, probably remember the awesome experience I had at my first SQL Saturday. […]

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