I’m sitting at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam contemplating my midsummer weekend. I was accepted to speak at SQL Grillen, a free one-day (plus one day of paid pre-cons) event in the metropolis of Lingen, Germany. Never heard of Lingen? Well, neither had I, before this event. When William Durkin, the main organizer of the event, gave me the news that I had been accepted, I took the opportunity to ask him where Lingen was, and he told me that it was fairly near “the ass end of nowhere”. Having been to Lingen, I would have to agree.
Actually getting there turned out to be a bit of a challenge – in the end, the amazing Andrew Pruski told me that he was driving there from Schiphol, that his flight landed five minutes after mine and that he’d love travel company. Said and done, we found each other and proceeded to pick up the car. Then we proceeded to repeatedly park our way to Germany as there was a lot of traffic. 2,5-3 hours later we arrived in the sleepy town of Lingen.
After the speaker dinner I found myself talking to the heavy hitters of the #SQLFamily, and they pointed out that with one track being newcomer only, there were 28 sessions in total. Then I was told that they had had over 200 session submissions. Take a second to consider that. It was almost a 1:10 ratio between the number of sessions submitted and the available slots. And here I was. I looked around and marvelled at the company I was in. I was chosen when so many people were not, and for the first time in a long, long time I felt a very real feeling of pressure. I was here, so many people were not, time to really, REALLY get my head in the game.
The event itself has been running for just a few years, growing from very few speakers and a small number of attendees, to a hard cap of 200 attendees and 35 sessions. New for this year was that one of the tracks was given over to newcomers – people that had never given a session at anything bigger than a usergroup or similar. This is simply a stroke of genius. The catch-22 of speaking is as simple to understand as it is depressing in practice – in order to be selected you must me a somewhat known entity. In order to get known as a good speaker, you need to – yeah, you guessed it – speak. The newcomers were, in a word, exceptional. With no exception, all of them performed absolutely great. I had the pleasure of attending a session on “soft skills” by Robert French, a gentleman from Scotland. I do a fair amount of speaker mentoring and presentation skill training, so I tend to keep track of small things that can be improved in pretty much every speaker I listen to, but Robert was … as close to absolutely brilliant as I’ve ever seen. I can’t remember the last time I left a session with such a feeling of disbelief due to having watched a master at work. I can’t wait to see him present again, and I sincerely hope the rest of the speaker circuit sit up and take notice, because this man can teach something to EVERYONE. Each of the speakers had one mentor assigned to them, and Robert was paired with the equally brilliant Cathrine Wilhelmsen, so he could not have been in better hands.
My session was the first one after lunch. At the same time as Grant Fritchey. Grant. Fritchey. Yes, THAT Grant Fritchey. The good thing with being on at the same time as Grant is that I wouldn’t be having him in the audience, but the other side of that coin is that I wouldn’t have anyone else either, as they’d all be at Grant (or any of the other three tracks). Now, Grant is an amazing guy – exceptionally skilled, always eager to help, kind, open, super-helpful, approachable and all the other good things, but he’s one of the very few people that genuinely scare me. The thought of having him in the audience would take some self-control to handle.
The session I presented this time was “The Force Awakens – Azure SQL Server for the on-prem DBA”, a new version of one of my original Azure sessions. All in all it went well, but I’ve got a list the length of my arm of things that I want to improve, and it is so interesting to see how easy it is to give advice to others and completely miss it yourself – I know I have a stoneface and a deadpan demeanor worthy of the highest echelons of the British royal family and that I need to loosen up. Did I? I’ll let you take a guess. It’s yet again on the list. At the top. In red. Underlined three times.
When the sessions were done for the day, the other two words of the SQLGrillen logo came into play – “beers” and “bratwurst”. The evening consisted of talking to all the amazing sponsors, attendees and speakers – all while eating excellent German sausages and grilled meat and drinking different kinds of German beers. In short – it was amazing. Social interaction ALWAYS lead to new friends, new insights and new ideas. At the surface “databases, beer and bratwurst” doesn’t sound like a very serious event, but this has been one of the best events I’ve ever had the pleasure to attend. During the evening I was asked if I would consider being a mentor for a new speaker at DataMinds in Belgium later this fall. I did not have to think about that for more than a second, as I would be absolutely honored to help out any way I can. And so it was that I became one of the newcomer mentors for DataMinds.
I would like to finish with a heartfelt “thank you” to William, Ben and all the other organizers, sponsors, speakers and attendees. This was one of the best run events I’ve ever had the pleasure to speak at, and definitely one of the most fun. I would like nothing more than to get to come back next year, even though the chances are slim. I’m so happy to have been given the opportunity, and I’m looking forward to the next opportunity to meet my #SQLFamily.