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May 16th, 2011:

SQL Rally Orlando 2011

Or, how I got my brain to full tank.

I’m still pretty new to the Professional Association for SQL Server(PASS) and the SQL Server community. It’s been great, attending my local user groups along with a SQL Saturday, but I kept hearing about how great Summit was. When I heard about SQL Rally in Orlando, advertised as a “mini-Summit” that is only 3 days long (with the pre-convention talks) and at a much lower cost, I figured I had a great opportunity to get in on the next level. What followed was one of the best 4 days of my career, where I was able to learn and connect with my SQL Server peers across the country.

What it is!

So SQL Rally was created to fill the gap of training and networking you have between SQL Saturday events and the 5 day PASS Summit. With SQL Saturday, you’d get a dozen or so sessions and a chance to connect with your local peers, something of a shotglass taste of the SQL community. The summit, on the other hand, is where you have over a hundred sessions to chose from and thousands of people to meet from around the world. It’s like getting the firehose turned on and you just hope to get what you can.

This SQL Rally struck a great balance in between the two events. There were close to 50 sessions over two days, along with 4 pre-convention sessions that gave you 7 hour deep dives into a couple different topics. I think the final attendee number came in around 450, which meant that there were plenty of new people to meet, but you knew you’d see them again throughout the week. In fact, by the end of Friday, I would be checking in with one of my new friends every couple of minutes in the halls. Lunch was particularly dangerous, as I would get wrapped up in conversation on my way to getting food or a drink, or talking shop with someone while my sandwich sat untouched in front of me.

In general, it was awesome! :D

It’s time for your session, Mr. Fal

The main function of SQL Rally was to provide training with a myriad of sessions across the Business Intelligence, Database Development, Database Administration, and Professional Development tracks. Won’t get to deep into it, but here were the high points for me:
Gold medal winners:

  • Grant Fritchey’s(b|t) session on Query Tuning was solid gold. I learned an incredible amount about reading and fixing query plans. I also learned that he hates query hints as much as I do! But beyond that, I loved Grant’s enthusiasm (seriously, the man was jumping around about query plans) and his technical knowledge runs deep. To boot, I learned at least 4 things that I can take back to work on Monday and apply.
  • Wes Brown(b|t) is a gem of a man and his session on storage was fan-bloody-tastic. I don’t think I’ve ever learned and laughed so much within the space of an hour and a half. He really dug in to the internals of storage hardware and, while I’ve always had cursory knowledge of some of the info, he really filled in the gaps. Best of all, though, he did it in a way where you weren’t overwhelmed or intimidated. I can’t stress enough that if you get the chance to hear Wes speak, grab hold with both hands and don’t let go.

Silver medal recipients:

  • John Sterrett(b|t) had a great session on Policy Based Management and Central Management Server. While it was fairly technical and had a lot of good information, it did jump around a bit. Everything was worthwhile, but you did have to keep your head on a swivel and John drilled through all the different aspects of PBM/CSM with live demos. Which, by the way, makes him a far braver man than I, since many of the demos were ad hoc responses to questions instead of fully prepared examples. To his credit, they didn’t fail.
  • Jen McCown(b|t) had a great presentation on T-SQL Sins. Most of the material is stuff we all know, like documenting your code, enforcing constraints, and the like. However, half the session was a wonderfully cathartic period where members of the audience shared coding horror stories. We all have the same struggles, but as a community we can work to share the burden of promoting good practices while commiserating against the hurdles or ignorance we face.

Connection=SQL Community; Provider=SQLRALLY

For me, the biggest benefit of this event was the networking. I mean, I know local guys, but I’m a firm believer in that you’re only as strong as your network. We can’t know everything in this business, so if I have friends I can call on for help then I’m that much stronger as a professional.

Plus, ya’ gotta have friends to drink with at SQL Karaoke!

The social events were all pretty good, but essentially boiled down to a SQL happy hour each night. Now, me being a weird style of social butterfly, I would always make sure I wandered around the room to chat with people I had never met before. The result was amazing. I love how the people of the SQL Server community are so open and friendly. I’ve seen it online, with the number of people willing to share scripts and information to help each other out, but in person it’s even more evident as people are just willing to have a good time. It goes back to the commiseration element, where we all know that we share the same struggles and problems day to day.

Some shout outs to my some of my new community friends:

  • Stacia Misner(b|t) tried her best to convert me to a BI Developer during the Rally. Sorry to say to her, but I just don’t get passionate about cubes and MDX queries. Still, Stacia was open and friendly when I walked up at one of the events on Tuesday night and introduced myself. This lead to a lot of fun over the next few days, even though I missed her session (I beg forgiveness!!!).
  • Eric Wisdahl(b|t) ended up being my room mate in one of those “Well, I’ve never met you before, but I don’t think you’ll stab me to death in my sleep” situations. He’s whip-smart and very relaxed (a hoopy frood, you might say), and thanks to him I now know the glory of Chik-fil-a.
  • Jen McCown gifted me with awesome conversation about Wil Wheaton, Battlestar Galactica, and a new hat. I regret that I’ve never caught her DBAs at Midnight podcast, but I will definitely add that to my weekly To-Do list.
  • Garreth Swanepoel(b|t) was just plain awesome. He was volunteering as well as attending, and was always around with a smile and a laugh. I mean, you can’t but help enjoying yourself when Garreth’s in the room. To bad he’s moving in to BI development. (I keed! I keed!)

There were so many more folks I met, so this is by no means an exhaustive list. Everyone I talked with at SQL Rally made me a better professional, in one way or another. The best part of the socialization was that I never felt like there was a “clique” or any sort of elitism. Everyone, from the big names to the folks who were at their first national event (like me!) was open, friendly, and helpful.

That’s a wrap!

SQL Rally was awesome. There’s really no way to put it. I had a great time learning and meeting folks, realizing that there are so many more people like me in this business. The SQL Community is amazingly giving and nothing showed it to me more than this event. If you haven’t gone to anything before, start making your plans for this. The next SQL Rally is in Sweden in November, so that might be a little tough, but I know that PASS is working on hammering out the next US Rally location as we speak. Keep your eyes peeled.

To wrap up, I want to thank Kendal van Dyke(b|t), Andy Warren(b|t), Jack Corbett(b|t), and all the other SQL Rally Organizers. Thanks to the blood, sweat, and tears of these fine people, SQL Rally was a smashing success and got at least one person fired up to do more with and for the SQL Community. Thanks guys and see you all soon!