This post was originally published on am2.co
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 trival 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’m hope we get more first-timers next time.
- I focused on diversity. Three of our non-local speakers were talented women who had great sessions to share. 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.