Sanil Mhatre (Twitter: @SQLSuperGuru, Blog: sqlwithsanil.com) organized the first SQL Saturday in St. Louis in September, 2012. I spent some time with Sanil to learn about his experience.
Kathi: Sanil, you spearheaded the first ever St. Louis SQL Saturday. What inspired you to take on this big job?
Sanil: The SQL Server community (#sqlfamily) was a big source of inspiration and motivation for me, Kathi. My very first SQL Saturday as an attendee was in Chicago in spring of 2011. The very idea of a full day of free training was what got my attention, but I was somewhat skeptical about the quality of sessions and the overall quality of the events, until I got there.
It was amazing to see what a group of motivated and passionate volunteers could do with the support of the SQL Server community! Not only was the quality of technical session exceptionally great, but the whole event was run very well – SQL Server learning, the WIT Panel discussions, vendor booths, Raffle prizes and the opportunity to meet and network with SQL Server professionals was worth the 5 hour drive to Chicago. I am a regular at the local PASS Chapter meetings and I see plenty of energy and community involvement there, but the SQL Saturday showcased the community at a whole new level.
Since then, I had been wondering if we could organize a SQL Saturday in St.Louis and I found my answer at the PASS Summit 2011 in Seattle. I met several PASS volunteers, speakers, local chapter leaders and SQL Saturday Organizers and discovered that all it takes is group of motivated volunteers to arrange such an event. The community offers a large knowledge base, mentoring and most of the resources one might need to host a great SQL Saturday event. The deal for St. Louis SQL Saturday was sealed at Seattle Airport while waiting for the return flight to St.Louis, we (Julie Bloomquist, Kim Tessereau, Kathi Kellenberger, Mike Lynn & John Dempsey) started talking about the upcoming SQL Saturday in Kansas city and the conversation drifted towards planning a SQL Saturday in St. Louis, where I found myself volunteering for the job!
Kathi: There are a lot of resources that must all come together for a successful SQL Saturday. What was the most challenging?
Sanil: I must say that securing a venue and locking down the date for the event were the biggest challenges to overcome. Most venues (community colleges and local universities) are not too open to idea of letting a group of volunteers use their facility to host an event of this size, at no cost. Furthermore, the SQL Saturday calendar fills up pretty quick and locking down an event date that works for a majority of the stakeholders (the sponsors, venue owners, speakers, other local/regional/national events or holiday weekends) is a huge challenge. Once we got the venue secured and the event date locked down, we had a good plan of action and most of the work from that point forward simply involved following the plan.
Kathi: Did you have any trouble finding speakers or vendors?
Sanil: We had absolutely no trouble finding speakers. Within a month of opening our call for speakers, we had over 55 sessions submitted for this event. They were a great mix of new and experienced speakers, both local and out of town, on topics ranging across Database Administration, Application Development, Business Intelligence and Professional Development. The real challenge was selecting only 25 from this great mix of submitted sessions and the selection committee put a lot of thought into coming up with the session schedule for the event. We were very glad to have a substantial local representation in the speaker line up. In spite of a couple of last minute speaker cancellations, our team kept the event on track as we had planned for several backup sessions and speakers.
Our experience with finding vendors for the event was great as well. We had an overwhelming response from both national as well as local vendors, all of whom were very excited to sponsor our event. Our team reached out to their local contacts and was able to secure a good number of local vendors, with whom we hope to build a long team relationship for future events. About 6 weeks before the event date, we had 16 sponsors and there was no room left at the venue for any more sponsors!
Kathi: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Sanil: Thanks Kathi, I would surely like to say that SQL Saturdays have shaped up to become one of the best things of being a part of the SQL Server Community. It provides an unparalleled channel for a full day of free training and networking, for local SQL Server communities all over the world. The fact that it’s run by volunteers makes it all the more commendable. The PASS organization, no doubt plays a huge role in getting a SQL Saturday event off the ground by providing the IT infrastructure, mentoring, resourceful knowledge base & guidance. For each event, the core organizing committee is critical and spends months to meticulously plan the event, and as the event day gets closer, more and more volunteers start signing up to help run the show. No one can deny how important the speaker and vendors/sponsor are – there would be no conference without them. It’s amazing to think how many people and resources have to come together and work just right to make a successful SQL Saturday event! There is no “I” when it comes to organizing a SQL Saturday, its team work at its best, in action. On that note, I would like to thank everyone involved; the core teams, all the volunteers, PASS & community mentors, sponsors, speakers and friends & family for a successful first SQL Saturday in St. Louis.
I would encourage SQL People in every city to make a SQL Saturday happen in their community and even more volunteers to participate in this fantastic series of events!
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