Blogging from Barcelona
I'm in Barcelona for the PASS Europe Conference. It's been a good conference once again, and we've had a great week. My MS colleagues and I put on our SQL Server Boot Camp again and came away thinking that it was our best one yet. We had sessions in the boot camp on SQL Server I/O Internals, Data and Server Recovery, and Query Performance Troubleshooting. We finished up with an "Ask Microsoft" panel discussion that included all MS speakers at the event. I don't know yet what the attendees thought, but those of us who put on the workshop thought it was our best ever.
For me personally, the boot camp was exactly what I'd hoped for when I first came up with the idea of involving MS PSS in the PASS conferences three years ago. I couldn't have been happier with my guys and the way their lectures went. PASS is always superb to work with, and I’ve always thought of the fine folk at PASS HQ as both colleagues and friends.
It occurred to me after the seminar that many non-US folks might not know what a "boot camp" is – it is a bit US-centric and jargonish. In fact, there are probably more than a few who live *in* the US who don't know what a boot camp is. So, the name may change at some point -- we'll have to see. Those of you outside the US: let me know whether you think we should change the name. Feel free to suggest a new name if you like.
I've been speaking at conferences since the 80s and have wavered back and forth over the years as to whether I want to keep doing it. On the one hand, I like meeting my readers and the users of the software I write. On the other, these things are a lot of work to prepare for, and you usually end up being out of pocket for several days while they go on. If you're really busy, it can be challenging just to fit them in.
For me, whether I want to speak at these types of things comes down to a couple of factors: one, can I find a topic that interests me that is not already widely covered, and, two, am I knowledgeable enough about it and passionate enough about it that I want to speak publicly on it. I don't pick well-trod topics just because they're popular and people will flock to sessions on them. For me, that would feel too much like cutting corners and going for the easy money. I generally pick more out-of-the-way topics that I think could use someone going through them and describing how they work. So, as a rule, you won't see me talk on query performance, new features, or general application development with SQL Server. Those are sexy topics that everyone likes to talk about because they're inherently popular and have immediate practical application, but I like to pick topics that are actually challenging to present in a lucid and engaging manner and that I think people need to know about. I like covering subjects that are difficult to make interesting, but that I think people need to be interested in.
Understand that I don't pick topics just because they're esoteric. Esoteric is okay, but uncommon yet practically applicable is even better.
So, if a topic meets these criteria, then I'll usually take on the challenge of presenting it at a conference. If not, I probably won't. There are just too many other things going on in my life to take on topics that everyone else does or that aren’t practically applicable or that don’t challenge me enough to be interesting.
What usually happens to me regardless is that I'm so busy with my day job and other projects that I don't have time to prepare appropriately. Most of my preparation for PASS Europe occurred over the last weekend before the conference. That's not enough time to prepare well, and this always frustrates me, but it's something I just try to live with. I know I would do better at these things if I could just squeeze in some time to half way prepare, but such is life when you have a day job that fully engages you, half a dozen side projects, and a family that likes to see you occasionally. I'm afraid it's the best I can do at this point.
I’m sometimes envious of people who are fulltime trainers because preparing for these things is part of their jobs – it isn’t the unloved stepchild that it often is for people who do other things for a living. But I know that I’m first and foremost an engineer, and I’ve tried to learn to accept the fact that I simply can’t get to everything I’d like to do as often as I’d like. Hopefully, my work as a developer informs my presentations sufficiently to make up for some of my deficiencies as a lecturer. Regardless, it’s the best I can do so long as I want to be able to call myself a developer.