[cross-posted from Andy Warren's blog at sqlandy.com]
SQLSaturday Site Changes
Earlier this week we deployed the first set of small changes to the SQLSaturday site. We fixed a long standing bug in the iCal, added a list on the front page of reserved dates (often events know the date they want but don’t have the facility nailed down), added sponsor logos to the front page of each event site (example below), updated the networking page to includes photos from gravatar (see example below), and made some minor changes to the admin tools.
We’re moving forward in micro sprints of around 7 days, the second sprint will end on next Tuesday and we’ve already planned number three. The prioritization of these changes is interesting. We’re deliberately going after tasks that are low risk/low cost initially to get our HQ developer comfortable and to make some immediate gains, as we get those out of the way we’ll move into harder stuff. Right now I’ve budgeted for 6 sprints, with an option to do an additional 6 if it makes sense.
We’re also working on engaging a designer to do an update on the look and feel. We had a lot of compliments on www.sqlrally.com, so we want to make a similar investment for SQLSaturday.
Go set up an image at gravatar.com!
Things are proceeding well and I’d almost say smoothly. If you’ve run a SQLSaturday you now what this phase is like – details! Getting volunteer assignments defined and filled, ordering speaker shirts (can’t order too early because speakers change), ribbons for badges, lanyards with sponsor name,etc,etc, etc. We blew through the rooms we had reserved at the site hotel, so we’ve set up contact information for a nearby hotel that has shuttle service. We’re still doing weekly calls and trying to stick to our timeline for logistics and marketing (and actually doing pretty well at that). Registrations are growing nicely and it looks like we may sell out the pre-con seminars.
Jack Corbett is working on some additions to the schedule, a set of informal panel type sessions that will run after the last presentation on Thursday. I won’t steal his thunder by listing what he’s working on, but I think it’s really good stuff, a nice change of pace from the stuff you see during the day.
A good portion of the PASS Board will be on site for the event, we’re meeting parts of Wednesday and Thursday, but we’ll be out and about to see how things are going and spend time talking with attendees.
We’re looking at three candidate cities for the 2012 SQLRally; Denver, Nashville, and Dallas. We laid out an estimated timeline and process back in January, it’s been a struggle to stick to it. Lots of places where we just didn’t know enough about how to accomplish what we wanted, a few places where we didn’t communicate our ideas well to the chapter leaders. Frustrating, for me and for the city teams. Some of it we should have – in hindsight – seen, some of it just the pain of trying something for the first time.
But my frustration aside, we’ve got three cities that have completed applications and are working with HQ to get to the point where we can move to the community selection/vote stage. The biggest holdup so far is identifying appropriate meeting space. Because SQLRally was designed from the start to be a low cost/low risk event, we did not budget for reserving rooms at the event site. That worked in Orlando (and we have it worked out in Dallas), but in particular for Nashville we’re struggling to find space without taking on the room commitment.
Room commitments are one of the hidden risks of running larger events. For example, at the PASS Summit we typically reserve (‘block’) more than 4000 rooms, with a potential exposure to PASS of more than $800,000. We’re not required to reserve the rooms, but from long experience we know that attendees get very, very frustrated if they can’t find a room in close proximity to the event site. For SQLRally we’re looking at a much smaller cost, but our estimate is still in the $35k range.
That’s $35k of risk. In the best case it’s just a guarantee, no cost to PASS, in the worst case we’d pay for $35k of rooms that weren’t booked by attendees (think a natural disaster scenario). We didn’t budget for it in the 2011 budget, and so far it’s not in the draft of the 2012 budget. Because of that I sent a motion to the Board asking for authorization to commit to up to $40k during the negotiation process. That motion was voted down. It’s a tough call, we are typically financially conservative, and there isn’t much profit built into our current pricing model to cover the risk. That means for 2012 we’re going to proceed with basically the same budget/plan as for 2011, but we’re going to talk a lot more about 2012 and beyond. If we want to seat 500+ attendees, our options get pretty narrow if we only want to rent meeting space, to the point that I’m not sure it’s a realistic goal. Lots more work to do in this area.
I had hoped to announce the 2012 location during the 2011 SQLRally, but at this point that is optimistic. We’re still working on locations for Denver and Nashville, and if we can find them we’ll need some time to review the proposals to make sure all the pieces work. Only then can we approve the final cities to go out for vote. There is the possibility – already communicated to the leaders – that we may not be able to find space that meets our requirements in each city, and that may remove them from the list for 2012.
It’s a work in progress for sure. It will be good to finish up the 2011 event so we can step back and decide if and where we want to tweak the formula, because we certainly will learn some lessons we want to apply to version 2.