This is the second part in my recap of SQLBits V. You can read Part 1 here.
I was assigned as a room monitor on the Saturday, and as 3 of the sessions I was planning on attending were in the BI track, this is where I ended up. The day for Room 1 went as follows:
Chris took us through the basics of building a cube, highlighting the use of data sources and data source views, the importance of dimensions and hierarchies, and of course the measures that will hold the business metrics. This was a good talk on getting started with building your first cubes.
Jamie introduced us to a number of free/paid for SSIS add-ins. He described each add-in, how it was configured and demoed a practical use for each. I have already written about this session in Part 1 of the Conference Recap. Jamie put a lot of work into his demos, so a big thanks to him.
Bob took us once again through building a business intelligence solution with Office 2010 and Gemini. It seems that no matter how many times I see presentations on this stuff I don’t get tired of it. Looking forward to the moment I can use these tools in a commercial setting. Whenever that might be….
SSIS in SQL Server 2008 – Allan Mitchell (SQLIS.com | SQLDTS.com| Slides)
Allan did a great job (even though he overran his session by ‘a few minutes’) of informing us of a couple of differences in Threading between SSIS in SQL Server 2005 & 2008, why you need to be using the Cache & the Lookup Transform, the Data Profiling Task and Change Data Capture. Another enjoyable and informative session.
Andrew wowed us all. Again. Even with some demo trouble (he was plagued with ‘technical issues’) it was a fabulous session. He took us through all the features of Report Builder 3 as a Managed Self-Service BI tool. Items to note:
- The Tablix Object
- Improved Visualizations (Better Charts & Gauges, Maps, Sparklines, Data Bars, Indicators)
- Interesting layouts (see slides)
- Support for Spatial Data
- Integration with Virtual Earth tiles.
- Multiple Map Layers
- A number of Layout enhancements (new functions, new data sources, Expression-based page breaks & chart headers, Excel tab naming, Bottom-to-top text rotation)
- Aggregating aggregates
This was the last presentation of the day and of the conference and it ended on an high note.
Everyone then piled out into the foyer for drinks & games. About an hour after the social started Simon gathered everyone for prize giving – There were several prizes and winners were chosen by selecting completed feedback forms from a box (that contained all of them). I couldn’t believe it (cue Victor Meldrew). On the fourth attempt a feedback form of mine was pulled out and my name was called. Score! I still wonder at how the Redgate SQLComapre license was still there for the taking. This is after 3 other winners had taken mice, & webcams from the pile. I think I did pretty well. Thanks Redgate!
As I have mentioned before, SQLBits is a not commercial conference. It is organised and run by a handful of professionals that do it in their own time. I offered to be one of the helpers at this November’s conference and was glad I did so, as I got to meet and interact with a number of great people. It can sometimes be difficult to start a conversation with someone you don’t know (as I mentioned here) unless you have something in common, or an icebreaker. Volunteering can be the icebreaker. It forces you to meet a bunch of new people and gets the ball rolling.
So what did volunteering at SQLBits involve? About an hour of my time on the Friday evening, and playing room monitor in one of the rooms (BI Track) for the day – which meant that I couldn’t attend all of the sessions that I was aiming to, but as most of them were in the same room this wasn’t too much of an issue for me. To be honest, it was a lot less work than I had expected – note to self: must get involved earlier next time.
And what did I gain out it? A better understanding for what is involved in organising a SQLBits conference, meeting and conversing with the organisers, speakers and other volunteers, making new contacts and friends, being part of the community, a wonderful dinner late on Saturday night, and a great bonus from the organisers which was totally unexpected. So a HUGE thanks to Simon, Chris, James, Darren, Martin & Allan. You have pulled off (another) great conference and I am sure that I am not alone in saying that I can’t wait for the next one.
The People I met
Meeting more sql folks was one of my goals for the conference and I think I did pretty well. What remains to be seen is if I managed to leave a good enough impression. Over the two days I was at SQLBits I had the privilege of meeting and chatting to a number of people, some for just a brief few minutes, others for good enough chunk of time to get to know them a little better. Here’s a few of those awesome folks:
- Allan Mitchell (Site)
- Andre Kamman (Blog | Twitter)
- Andrew Fryer (Blog | Twitter)
- Ashwani Roy(Blog)
- Bob Duffy (Blog)
- Brent Ozar – finally! (Blog | Twitter)
- Chris Alcock (Blog | Twitter)
- Chris Testa-O’Neill (Blog)
- Chris Webb (Blog)
- Darren Green (Site)
- David Baker (Site)
- Derek Neighbour
- James Rowland Jones (Blog | Twitter)
- Jamie Thomson (Blog | Twitter)
- Jenifer Stirrup (Blog | Twitter)
- Marcus Ford (Twitter)
- Martin Bell (Blog)
- Phil Carter (Site | Twitter)
- Rachel Clements (Site | Twitter)
- Rob Farley (Blog | Twitter)
- Simon Sabin (Blog | Twitter)
- Vivek Sekrou (Blog | Twitter)
A fantastic group of people, all knowledgeable in their own sphere of SQL Server, and great personalities. I found I had the best conversations later in the evening once things had quietened down a bit. I think it would be great if there were more opportunities for quiet times like these, as sometimes they are of the most benefit. I believe that some others actually forego sessions when they’re having a great conversation with a new (or indeed old) acquaintance.
It would be nice to see a little more time (and possibly structure) attributed to mealtimes during the conference. These are times that could be used to great benefit for that all important networking. I have a few ideas that I’d like to pass around and will possibly write another post about it later. At the very least I’ll pass them along to the organisers (or possibly something that I could organise???). For those that were lucky enough to go to the PASS Summit, what opportunities did you have for catching up with old friends & getting to know some new folks?
So, what did I learn at SQLBits?
I have mentioned previously the sessions that were my highlights and have gone into some details there. This is a list of other things
- Arrive early – to the conference and to each session. You’ll get the lay-of-the-land and you get to meet a few people before it begins to get crazy. At the very least, get to your sessions on time. Speakers have a set time to give their presentations and need to have some time for questions. Your questions. If they have to start late due to interruptions, there’s less or no time for questions.
- Leave late – Stay over on the last evening. I found this to be the best time for conversations with speakers, MVPS, organisers and attendees (that also stayed over). The stress of the sessions and the conference has abated and people are much easier to talk to and get to know.
- A book/laptop/netbook/napkin/whatever – Bring something to take notes. Anything. Just ensure that you take notes for things that spark your interest. The sessions can be fairly intense (speakers try and pack in as much as they can) and your brain will be overflowing pretty quick (well, maybe I only speak for myself here), so taking notes enables you to revisit the key points at a later date when you have the time.
- Business/Contact cards – get some made and hand them out. I met many more people than those on my list but due to my overflowing brain, just couldn’t keep track. Go get some cards people! If you weren’t on the receiving end of one of mine (care of moo.com), here’s an electronic copy:
- Ask questions – if you don’t you’re missing out on some valuable first-hand information from some of the brightest sql folks around. It also helps to prepare some ahead of time. The sessions and speakers are listed well ahead of time, so take a note of those sessions you would like to attend and write down the questions you may have.
- Time to digest – set aside some time, even just an hour, during the day to digest what you’ve learned and who you may have met. You’ll be surprised how easily this information will escape you if you if don’t. So, got get your favourite beverage, find a quiet spot and go through your notes, you may find that you have a few questions, which you can now go pose to the speaker of the session, or indeed any others.
- Attend a Donald Farmer presentation. ‘nuff said.
- PowerPivot, Excel 2010, Reporting Services in 2008 R2 – are all pretty awesome. I can’t wait to get my hands on these and building some mind blowing data analysis and reporting solutions.
Some Suggestions & Ideas
- Better information about sessions – I found that while most of the sessions were well described (in the schedule), there were some that held little or not information about the session, and one or two that had misleading titles. This makes it pretty difficult to know what to expect when you are attending. Given that feedback is so valuable to speakers (and organisers), I would have though that if someone’s expectations were not met then the speaker might receive poor feedback. Ambiguity about the session also leads to more disruptions – people will leave during the session if they feel that it’s not quite what they expected. Personally, I would like to know exactly what the session is about before I make a decision to attend. Most of the speakers I saw had an agenda slide. This is perfect for the session description.
- Several screens in the foyer (TVs/projectors/etc) with any important announcements (room updates, next sessions, etc)
- Live Twitter stream in each session room – which could be managed by a room monitor perhaps.
- More time to mingle – I know that the sessions are the core of the conference, but wouldn’t having more time to get to know people and ask the MVPs/Speakers/other attendees questions help too? There was barely enough time between the sessions to get a cup of coffee & a biscuit (or cookie for our US readers) let alone meeting and having a meaningful conversation. I am not sure how much of a nightmare it would be to start sessions earlier and finish later in the day, but it might make the day easier to handle – from an attendee point of view.
Did you attend SQLBits? Do you have any comments on any of the above Suggestions & Ideas (or indeed anything else I’ve mentioned)? Let’s hear from you!
You’re still reading this??
This has been a fairly epic post, so if you have made it all the way down here I applaud you. Thanks for sticking it out!
This has been my experience. I hope it provides a good summary of what SQLBits is about and if you weren’t already thinking about going to the next one you should definitely make plans to do so. It’s worth it.
See you at SQLBits VI!