This past Saturday marked Charlotte’s 5th consecutive SQL Saturday event, and my 4th in Charlotte (I missed last year’s due to a scheduling conflict) — SQL Saturday # 560. Also fun, this happened to mark the 20th SQL Saturday that I attended over the past few years — a pretty cool achievement!
As a change to this year over previous years, this year SQL Saturday Charlotte offered 2 all-day precons on Friday, both of which would sell out. With a “go big or go home” type attitude, they made life very difficult and forced me to choose between two incredible spears and presentations: Adam Machanic’s (B | T) “Tuning Your Biggest Queries” and Jen Underwood’s (B | T) “Advanced Analytics” With two fantastic speakers to choose from, each with a great, and relevant, session, I had some decisions to make.
After an easy drive from north Atlanta to Charlotte after work on Thursday, I headed out bright and early Friday morning to attend Jen Underwood’s (B | T) “Advanced Analytics” The precons were held in an off-campus location, the Ballantyne Center, which worked out to be a pretty decent venue. Adam’s precon was held in a standard classroom and Jen’s precon was held in a computer lab, which provided each person a computer with a solid network connection and the ability to follow along with the presentation slides and run the lab exercises locally.
Jen’s Analytics precon was an excellent session and a great introduction to the topic. The topic is far too deep to cover in a single day session, but Jen did a good job of hitting the highlights and getting people introduced to the material and inspired by the possibilities of the subject with plenty of resources for further learning. This was certainly time well spent!
Saturday morning rolled around bright and early and it was time for the main event. The event was held at the same campus as previous years, though a slightly different building than I was used to from previous years. Parking was ample and check-in was a breeze, as per usual (always pre-print and pre-cut your SpeedPass!) with no lines or anything to contend with.
A nice breakfast spread was laid on on the first floor of the building with the sponsor tables circling the outside of the room. The morning announcements and closing raffle were both held in this space and sessions were conducted in the neighboring classrooms on the 1st and 2nd floors. The multi-use first floor space worked great with decent flow through the area throughout the day.
Following the morning announcements and a little breakfast and meeting with sponsors, it was time for sessions to begin! I started off the day similarly to how I spent the previous day, with Jen Underwood’s (B | T) “Analytics Industry Trends and Your Career” I had a feeling this session was going to be crowded, so I arrived about 15 minutes early and it was a good thing I did. Once it was time to start, not only was every seat filled, but chairs were dragged in, and the walls were all lined with people sitting and standing. Popular session! I was happy Jen provided new and different content than the precon she gave on Friday, it made for a very fun and interesting presentation. I particularly enjoyed her take on current industry trends in terms of what seems to be growing in popularity and what is declining. Very interesting stuff!
Since Adam’s Friday precon conflicted with Jen’s Friday precon, I had his Saturday session, Adam Machanic’s (B | T) “SQL Server 2016 Hidden Gems” on my must-see list. A good tip for anyone choosing sessions. If a precon speaker is presenting a session the following day, it’s a good bet that it’ll be a session worth seeing. This was another one that I made sure to arrive at as early as possible (this is always a good practice at these events!) and once again, it ended up being a full room. Adam presented on a number of new features in SQL Server 2016 that you don’t necessarily hear about and gave examples of everything. I walked away learning a number of new things and am looking forward to when I have the opportunity to take advantage of some of these new and awesome features.
Session three of the day for me was Andy Leonard’s (B | T) “Biml and SSIS Frameworks” I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this presentation walking into it — if it would be just another overview of Biml or what. I was pleasantly surprised that Andy actually spent most of his time talking about his SSIS Frameworks and while Biml was part of the discussion, it didn’t dominate it, so lots of new material for me here! This session was also interesting in that it was a 90 minute session rather than the usual 60 minutes. With the extended session, the presentation wasn’t rushed at all and when it was over, there were no lunch lines as the staggered session end times helped to alleviate that greatly.
Speaking of lunch, unlike the boxed sandwich lunches which are typical at SQL Saturdays, the Charlotte crew provided plates from catering lines which were chicken, rice, beans, salad, and dessert. The hot food was a nice touch and change from sandwiches.
With lunch concluded, it was time for the last two sessions of the day. The first of which, for me, was Anders Pedersen’s (B | T) “IO Tuning 101” A great presentation, from someone whom I believe was a first time speaker. I always enjoy a chance to learn from a speaker I haven’t seen before. Anders’s advice can pretty much be summed up with “Index, indexes, indexes!!!”
Ending the day the way it began, I attended Paco Gonzalez’s (B | T) “Enterprise Machine Learning with R and SQL Server” Another analytics focused presentation, this one also drew a major standing-room-only crowd. This was a common theme at the event — the analytics presentations were very very popular, as were the dashboarding and visualization sessions which I walked by. Paco’s presentation was great, with plenty of humor injected, and had a lot of synergy with the two presentations that Jen presented on analytics, which helped present a cohesive overall picture.
With the sessions concluded, everyone assembled for the end of day announcements and raffle in the sponsor/breakfast area. The area provided enough space that everyone was able to gather and see (and even in many cases sit) without the room feeling overcrowded, so the space worked out very well. It seemed like everyone had a great time at this well-run event and I look forward to trying to attend again next year. With four hours of driving in my future, I opted not to stop by the after party, but instead start the journey home. Thanks for a great time, Charlotte!