SQLSaturday Boston 2017 Roundup

SQL Saturday Night Fever

SQLSaturday Boston was February 25. I was invited into the organizing team in 2015, and this was my third time helping to put together the event. But this time was different. This time, I was running the show. I wanted to do a quick round-up of some of the things we did differently this time–I’ll dive right in with the most important thing first…

Always Test Your DR

If you’re a DBA, you test your database DR, but do you test DR for your people and their tribal knowledge? SQLSaturday Boston is Mike Hillwig’s (blog|twitter) baby. This was Mike’s seventh SQL Saturday, and he’s done a great job at figuring out how to run a successful event. When I joined the team, Mike was pretty up-front with me: “Andy,” he said, “If I get hit by a bus, I need you to run SQLSaturday without me.”

First, some advice for Mike: Look both ways before stepping into the street. In all honesty, Mike lives just one block from a subway station, so there are a lot of buses in his neighborhood. It’s a legitimate concern, not just a metaphor.

This time around, Mike handed over the keys to me, and let me run the show. I made the decisions. I got to do things differently. I got to tell Mike what to do. This was a challenge for me to take on all the work, and it was a challenge for Mike to sit back and listen. In the end, our DR test was a success. We had no downtime during the failover, production stayed up, and nobody would have noticed if we didn’t tell them.

For the next event, we’re failing back to Primary, and Mike will take the reigns back. But we’ll both sleep better knowing that if Mike accidentally steps out in front of the 119 Bus, his DR plan works.

Slimming things down

We cut our budget in half. I was inspired by a post written by Steve Jones (blog|twitter) last year. We didn’t need a big-budget production. We need an awesome day of training and happy attendees. So, where did I save money?

  • We skipped the soda. We had coffee, we had water. If people were thirsty, there was something to drink. You might be asking, “No soda at a tech conference? Did they come after you with pitchforks?” No, my friends, they did not. If our attendeeds noticed, they didn’t complain. Bottled water is cheaper than soda, and by not having to buy a variety of drinks, the whole process is easier.
  • Restaurant Depot. I’m lucky enough to have a friend with a Restaurant Depot membership, so we get a great deal on our bottled water, fresh fruit, and individually-wrapped muffins. Ultimately, it’s about smart shopping. A bottle of water is $0.14.  A muffin is $0.71. Apples, bananas, and oranges for about $0.22 each.
  • Local restaurant/caterer. We use Flour Bakery + Cafe in Boston to cater our lunch. Switching to Flour for catering was the first decision Mike let me make 3 years ago, and one that neither of us regrets. I explained to Flour what SQLSaturday was, that we had a limited budget, and that we wanted a delicious, healthy bag lunch. The catering manager, Jake, worked with me to build a lunch we could afford. Local companies are much more flexible in helping to custom-build and custom price your food.
  • Fewer give-aways. In the past, we’ve had a big pile of books, and a few other give-away items in addition to the big raffle at the end of the day. This year we completely cut the smaller ticket items, and got a solid (but not overly expensive) laptop to give away at the raffle. That’s it. People love free stuff, but that’s not why they come to SQLSaturday.

We had a great event, for half the money. I’m incredibly happy with the way it went, and I look forward to continuing to trim the fat at our next event.

Mixing things up

If you thought a soda-free tech conference was a risk, take a look at the schedule.

  • I cut back to only four tracks (we previously had seven), even though we had the same number of attendees. The wideness or narrowness of a schedule isn’t a measure of it’s quality. You can have a great conference with four tracks, and you can also have a great conference with ten tracks–but it’s a big change from what we’ve done in the past.
  • I focused on local speakers. The majority of the speakers were from New England or New York. Our attendees are mostly locals–I wanted to try to do the same with our speakers. Warren Estes (twitter) was a first-time local speaker, who really made me proud of this decision. Not only did Warren fill the room, but he got rave reviews. I hope we get more first-timers next time.
  • I focused on diversity. Three of our non-local speakers were talented women who have great sessions to share–Rie Irish (blog|twitter), Monica Rathbun (blog|twitter), and Wendy Pastrick (blog|twitter). They all agreed to do double-duty and did a lunchtime panel discussion in addition to their regular sessions. However, I’ll be the first to admit that the schedule was still not diverse enough to fully represent the community. Perhaps next year, we’ll have enough women on the schedule.

I’m not trying to say that my way is the only way, or that my way is better than others. I’m just proud that we put on a great event, and proved to ourselves that we can be a little bit different. It’s not about being the biggest or the best. It really is just about delivering a great day of training.

This post has also been published on BostonSQL.org



  1. You say you cut the budget in half, did you just turn away sponsors or how did you handle that? Great job on the DR test, this year I actually said out loud more than once that I could have not shown up and it would have been just fine. Does the Restaurant Depot deliver? This has been a limiting factor in so many decisions. I am surprised at your lack of complaints on soda, I get it every year and we provide soda for the afternoon break. Great job, and again sorry I missed it this year. Can I send a submission for next year now? I get hung up on my event and can’t focus. 😉

    • We reduced the cost of each sponsorship level, and we closed sponsorship once we had X sponsors (We have limited space for sponsors to exhibit, so we have to limit the number of sponsors anyway).
      Restaurant Depot does NOT deliver, but Mike & I each have SUVs, and everything we got from Restaurant Depot fit into our two cars.
      And with soda–we would get complaints we ran out of Diet, or Sprite, or…whatever. But with there being zero soda, I think people just didn’t notice it. Besides, some people will find something to complain about, no matter how awesome your event is. You just gotta let those complaints roll off–like water off a duck’s back.

  2. I’m curious how many women is enough. How did you ratio of sessions led by men versus women compare to your ratio of men versus women attendees?

    • Ruth Bader Ginsburg was asked how many women Justices on the Supreme Court would be enough–she answered “9” (ie, everyone).
      I’d love to have a SQLSaturday speaker lineup that was all women. Nobody seems to think it is unusual to have only men speaking at a conference, but it is perceived as a radical idea to have all women speak at the same conference.

      I’d love to see our speaker pool be more diverse with regards to not only sex & gender, but also race, age, and all the other identities that our conference attendees have. Diverse backgrounds bring diverse stories and diverse expertise–and that is the goal of my conference schedule. I want our attendees to get a diverse view of topics so they can grow personally and professionally.

      Women (and other minority groups) are far under-represented in technology jobs. My goal is to have the speaker pool be influencers who make under-represented groups feel welcome, thus helping to drive the change in the community, rather than simply trying to keep up with our attendee diversity.

  3. Thanks for the notes, Andy, and glad the event ran well. I’m glad you reduced costs and things went well. We didn’t have soda at our event, no complaints, no issues. In fact, we didn’t even provide lunch 😉

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  1. SQL Saturday Ideas – Andrew Notarian
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