My response to Covid-19: #DataWeekender

T-SQL Tuesday
T-SQL Tuesday

This post is a contribution to this month’s T-SQL Tuesday (hashtag #tsql2sday on Twitter). Glenn Berry is this month’s host, and the topic is: “What you have been doing as a response to COVID-19”, as described in Glenn’s blog post T-SQL Tuesday #126 – Folding@Home.

I’m thinking of two contributions I’ve been working on for the community we know as SQL Family. One being planned, TGI SQL Friday, a friday lunch talk about Microsoft Data Platform, with one other member of the SQL Family as a guest. But this post is going to be about Data Community Weekender Europe, better known #DataWeekender.

I had been looking forward to 2020 as my most active year as a speaker. I have been in contact with local user groups in Europe, to whom I was going to pay a visit. I have submitted way more session abstracts to SQL Saturdays and other conferences than any previous year. Then came Covid-19. SQL Saturday Croatia was postponed. SQL Saturday Stockholm was cancelled. Trips to user groups were obviously cancelled. You get the pattern.

When looking at Twitter, I saw Kevin Chant (B | T) gathering interested parties to a virtual conference. Two tweets later, I was one of the six organisers of Data Community Weekender Europe, better known as #DataWeekender or Data Weekender. This was April 9th. The other organisers had already come up with the name of the conference and setup Call for Speakers in Sessionize. After that, it’s been hard work.

We had a number of challenges to overcome, many of them technical.

But before getting any of that up, we needed speakers. Without speakers, there wouldn’t be much of a conference. A discussion we had on an early stage was: “Should we as organisers submit sessions to the conference?” We decided we could, but wanted to wait to see how many abstracts were submitted before deciding. We had a record short Call for Speakers period, from April 8th to April 17th. That’s ten days. We felt it was a bit short, but to realistically have the conference on May 2nd, we couldn’t extend CfS-period further. Thus the decision we would all submit a session each if needed, to make it at least two tracks on the conference.

Wow. Were we wrong. There was absolutely no need to submit sessions ourselves. It turns out we had excellent channels to reach potential speakers, and our tweets and LinkedIn-posts about the conference reached out amazingly well (thank you everyone who tweeted and retweeted on an early stage!). By the end of CfS-period, we had almost 200 excellent sessions to choose from.

Next dilemma: With so many fantastic session abstracts submitted, from 76 speakers, how on earth were we to select sessions? We had discussed running two, maybe three tracks. We ended up with six parallel tracks, a total of 42 really good sessions, many of them from the most well-known speakers in the industry.

April 22nd, we made the schedule public. By then, we had roughly 150 registered attendees. We are all experienced community organisers and we know the no show-rate on any free event is 40-60%. That would leave is with roughly 75 attendees, for a six-track conference. Not impressive. The day we published the schedule, we got another 80 or so attendees registered. But we still had a long way to go and the days following April 22nd were pretty slow on registrations (50 or less per day).

Then something happened on April 27th, less than a week before the conference. We got 155 registrations on the same day. And an average of 100 registered attendees per day the following days.

This didn’t just happen. Between the six of us on the organising team, we probably tweeted 500 times with the hashtag #DataWeekender. We Posted around 100 LinkedIn-posts. We got in touch with all user groups we could find and told them about the event. We told people on the largest Facebook-groups about the event. Our Twitter account @DataWeekender started sending out tweets with dance-gifs every time we hit an even 50 or 100 registered attendees. And those tweets reached out.

I have to mention the help we got from volunteers as well. Both with promotion before the conference, but perhaps most importantly, all the help we received on the day of the event. If it’d just been the six of us, we would have been moderating one track each all day, without any way to answer support speakers during the day. We had setup WhatsApp-groups for the speakers of all the six tracks, to quickly reach speakers and give them a direct contact with one of the organisers. But without help with session moderation, it would have been useless, nobody can multitask that much in the middle of an ongoing session. So a yuuuuuuuuuuuuge Thank You to all the volunteers! ❤❤❤❤❤❤❤

Now the event day seems long gone, though it’s just ten days ago. We have been distributing speaker feedback to all the speakers and we evaluated the event feedback we got. And we are already talking about next iteration. Should we run it in another timezone? What else do we need to change (not much tbh, we feel really comfortable with the format). When will it happen? Does that make you curious? Sign up on the MeetUp-group Data Community Weekender and you’ll be the first to know!

Until next time: Thank You everyone who participated in any way to make the inaugural a complete success!

Organising team for Data Weekender:

Magnus Ahlkvist (B | T)
Kevin Chant (B | T)
Gethyn Ellis (B | T)
Mark Hayes (B | T)
Asgeir Gunnarsson (B | T)
Damir Matesic (B | T)

No SQL Saturdays, but #dataweekender is online

The forced upon social distancing is new and – to say the least – different! For me, this means I’m exploring my local surroundings (we have really beautiful walking and running paths close to my house) a LOT more than usual. I’m spending my lunches running instead of looking for the best indian restaurants around the office.

Data Community Weekender Europe conference May 2nd, Call for speakers end on April 17th

A big part of my – and thousands of other SQL Server professionals – life is the Microsoft Data Platform Community – the SQL Family. That has obviously also seen some recent changes. I was gonna spek on SQL Saturday in Zagreb and Stockholm, I planned to go to London for SQL Bits and I had ideas for the SQL Server Usergroup which I’m co-leading. None of that happened. Speakers around the world tell the same story.

But instead of letting Nothing replace all of that, new things are happening. I’m speaking in Ohio next week. Or at least I’m speaking to user groups whose members live in Ohio. Online obviously, I’m not travelling to Ohio for a tuesday and a wednesday session. For the swedish SQL Server Usergroup (SQLUG Sweden), we were delighted to have Mark Hayes (T) speak about Power Platform the other day (Thanks Mark!).

Another thing which is happening is that online conferences are popping up. Me and a group of SQL Community organisers decided it’s too booring to just wait for social distancing rules to pass. That’s how Data Community Weekender Europe started. It’s really a crazy idea. From when Call For Speakers page came up, to when the conference happens (May 2nd), it’s roughly three weeks. In that time, we in the organising committee need to market the event to potential speakers, get session submissions in in a timeframe which is one tenth of a normal conference, do session selection, market the event to attendees and get the technical platform in place. Plus potentially recruiting volounteers for event day. But guess what? We WILL do it. We already have some great session submissions in and we’re working out the technical platform. We in the organising committee are all seasoned SQL Community organisers. We have pulled off crazy schedules before, though perhaps not at this scale. But we WILL pull it off. Stay tuned for the attendee registration. It will be announced here and on social platforms.

If you’re a Microsoft Data Platform speaker, send in your submission! It won’t be like attending a physical conference. The speakers’ dinner will be much less crowded, you’ll have to have your post session beer on your own. But you’ll be able to provide your amazing content. So thank you in advance, for submitting to this crazy idea of a conference!!