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Allen White

The SQL Server Community

In case you weren't aware of it, I absolutely love the SQL Server community. The people I've gotten to know have amazing knowledge, and they love sharing that knowledge with anyone who wants to learn. How can you not love that? It's inspiring and humbling all at the same time.

There are a number of venues where the SQL Server community comes together. I'm including Twitter, the PASS Summit, the various SQL Saturday events, SQLBits, Tech Ed, and the local user groups.

Each of us takes part in these community events for our own reasons. Most people want to learn from the experts, the best of the best. That's wonderful, and that's what makes the events so great. You get to learn things that make you more productive, more efficient, and ultimately more valuable to your employer or your clients. It's a win. Many attend because we've gotten to know others in the community, and we get to spend valuable time with the people we've come to know as friends, people who have a shared passion for this technology that has come to define us. Many come because they have something they have to share, some special knowledge that they've come to value, and want to share that with others, to help them become better in their careers.

These events have a tough job. They have to evaluate what sessions have the greatest value to the people who attend the events. This is a really hard thing to do, to decide what their attendees are likely to get the most out of, to ensure that they have a successful event, one that they'll tell their boss, their coworkers, their clients that THIS event is the one to attend, THIS event will help you be more successful. Many of these events are going to a public vote to determine what sessions are most interesting to their attendees.

The problem (and you knew there had to be a problem, right? What good story has no conflict? I mean, really?) is that ultimately decisions have to be made, based on the event organizer's best judgement, what will most meet the needs of their attendees, their customers, if you will.

As someone who has presented at most of the events I noted above, I put myself on the line every time I submit sessions to an event. I do this because I love sharing what I've learned with people, and I've gotten enough feedback from people who've attended my sessions to know that I provide value in my sessions. (Yes, I sometimes have off days, we all do, but for the most part my sessions have been well received.) Putting my sessions out there puts me in a position to be rejected, and when that happens it hurts. I can't help it, I'm an emotional person, and rejection is painful, no matter how impartial the process is. I WANT to present at the event, and they've decided they don't need my content. Ouch.

The important thing is that, from the perspective of the event, it's NOT personal. Our community is incredible, and we have so many fantastic speakers who consistently want to contribute, that there are a tremendous number of sessions for any event to select from. There's sometimes just too much good stuff to pick from. It's a GREAT problem to have, but it's still a problem, because someone's feelings are going to be hurt.

I've recently been on both sides of this problem, as someone who submits sessions to PASS, SQL Saturday and SQLBits, and having had sessions "rejected" by the events, and as the leader of SQL Saturday #60, coming up in Cleveland on February 5. Being on both sides of the process gives me some perspective, and allows me to understand that the decisions made are NOT personal, nor are the decisions from one event to the next connected in any way. Even the same event each year has a different group of people making the decisions, and they're trying to make the best decisions they can for that individual event.

If we as speakers didn't care so much about the events, it wouldn't affect us like it does when we're accepted or rejected for each event. But then, we probably wouldn't give our presentations with the passion we do, and our audiences wouldn't come away feeling they really learned something valuable. Or, to remove the negative from that statement, we're passionate about our topics and about helping people learn, so we passionately want our sessions to be accepted, and we're severely disappointed when they're not.

The best advice I can offer is this: to the event organizers who have to make tough decisions on the sessions you offer, I applaud your efforts and ask you to remember that EVERY person who submits has value and any help you can give them to understand why you made the decisions you did is greatly appreciated. To the presenters who submit sessions to an event, thank you, we can't learn without your commitment and passion, and please don't take it personally if your session isn't accepted. Sometimes there're just too many good sessions to choose from, but it doesn't mean that your efforts aren't appreciated.

This community surrounding SQL Server is truly amazing, and I hope it continues, because it's been a heck of a lot of fun. I appreciate every one of you and am proud to call you my friends.

Thank you.

Allen

Published Saturday, January 15, 2011 5:39 PM by AllenMWhite

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Alexander Kuznetsov said:

Allen,

You have wrote up some excellent advice, thank you for putting all this together!

Let me add my two cents: if for some reason a presentation needs to be canceled after it has been accepted, this is a very good occasion to demonstrate good manners and personally apologize to the speaker that their presentation has been canceled.

Having the speaker to read changed agenda and learn that their presentation has been canceled is not very nice; it is no more polite than laying people off via e-mail.

January 15, 2011 7:06 PM
 

kendra little said:

Well said, Allen.

January 15, 2011 7:16 PM
 

Allen Kinsel said:

Well said Allen,

It's a tough balancing act for sure, and the explosion of our community is making these decisions even tougher.  I'm glad that it's starting to get some  attention.   It's not a fun proposition on either side but you've done a good job with this writeup, thanks again

Allen

January 16, 2011 3:44 PM
 

Mark Broadbent said:

Absolutely! Whilst at PASS this year I was talking to someone who had a more technical focus on other products and I said to him that the best thing about SQL is it's community and that it is probably the best community supported product in IT. Obviously my statement cannot be accurately gauged, but I am very proud to be part of it.

January 17, 2011 5:26 PM
 

John Sterrett said:

Great post Allen.

January 18, 2011 8:10 AM
 

Wayne Snyder said:

Excellent insights. It is truly a difficult job for selection committees for any event. Lately, I have read some complants about Black-lists for speaker positions - and none of that is true.  At least for the event that I am most familiar with, there has never been a black list. Members of the community on the program committee does all the work, research, evaluation and selects the best mix of available sessions possible. This is a difficult job, yet they continue to do it in a spirit of sharing and improving he community. My thanks to program committees everywhere, and to you for the great post!

January 18, 2011 8:46 AM
 

unclebiguns said:

Allen,

Definitely a good post.  Having selected sessions for SQLSaturday, been on the PASS Summit Program Committee, and now, working with SQLRally, I can say that each method of choosing sessions has it's own unique challenges.  

I know that I want everyone who submits a session to an event to know that the effort that they have put into preparing an abstract is appreciated.  Unfortunately we are limited by the rooms and time available to us.  The great thing about SQLSaturday is that you want to give the local, first-time speakers a chance.  

As a speaker, I hate getting rejected, but understand that there is a LOT of competition for spots in the SQL Server community, so you need to be at your best every chance you DO get so you can get others.

January 18, 2011 8:35 PM
 

Dave Schutz said:

Allen,

Thanks for putting this out there, picking speakers can be a tough task. At our SQL Saturday Columbus last year we tried to go with a mix of big names and local speakers, plus fill all the different tracks correctly. It is definitely a juggling act. Then we tried to have a few speakers on standby in case someone cancelled at the last minute.

It's always good to have too many speakers sign up, but someone is going to be disappointed if they don't get selected.

January 26, 2011 10:30 AM

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About AllenMWhite

Allen White is a consultant and mentor for Upsearch Technology Services in Northeast Ohio. He has worked as a Database Administrator, Architect and Developer for over 30 years, supporting both the Sybase and Microsoft SQL Server platforms over that period.

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