Last year, I wrote a blog about speaking, helping and attending at SQL Bits. Of course, I wanted to repeat that experience but my sessions weren’t selected. So this time I was helping and attending. In a few blogs I saw names of people that stood out. I won’t name many for the simple reason I’d run out of space in my blog. Every single one of you I met, spoke to or had the privilege to have dinner with, stood out for me.
Before the conference
After the last conference at The Excel (still a very appropriate name if you’re working with data ;)) in London, I provided some feedback on the Helper App. And offered to help if needed. It didn’t take long for the committee to take me, and two others, up on that offer. And so we discussed the app, what we should do with it and what the prerequisites were. The people I had the honour of working with are all amazing in their own right. Not only for dedicating free time to this event, but also because they are smart!
Then the call for speakers opened and the location was revealed. I booked my hotel and flight and had to find out how to get from Bristol Airport to the Coldra Court hotel in Newport, close to the ICC Wales. I left that part simmering for some time and about three weeks or so before the big event decided on the National Express from Bristol to Newport. Only to realise that there was some distance between the bus station and my hotel.
After an uneventful drive to the airport and ditto flight I arrived at Bristol on time. Only to be faced with a very stern officer who wanted to know what my business was in the UK. As I look quite harmless, I was allowed through and had some time before the bus went. Again, quite uneventful and then I had to find the last bus from the bus station to the hotel. Now, the Newport Bus website is, let’s say different. It likes to reload often and show you different outcomes. I chose a bus that seemed to get near where I wanted to be. Only to find out that the buses in Newport don’t show where they exactly are. So looking out the window to get a feeling on the surroundings and Google Maps on my phone to see where I was. Until I pushed a wrong button that turned the thing off. And it wouldn’t start. I’m not easily scared but with to bags I’m an easy target and the neighbourhood didn’t seem really welcoming of tourists, so jumping off felt like a lesser idea. By the time my phone was back to life, I was back at the bus station where I had started. Job well done.
The second bus got me relatively close to my destination. But Wales is like Edinburgh, no matter what direction you or come from, you always go up a f’ing hill. The exercise was welcomed and with sunny weather no problem.
After relaxing a bit at the hotel, it was a short walk to the venue where you can meet the speaker(s). A really fun two hours chatting with a lot of friendly people, having a drink and generally have a lovely time. The dinner with Hylke Peek at the hotel was very good.
Full training day
My first day helping meant getting up at 6:30 (like very day), get ready and go to the venue, the ICC Wales. SQL Bits had the entire venue, so if you were in, you were part of the #sqlfamily or the data community. Or whatever hashtag you prefer to identify with. The amount of friendly faces only rose. After my badge check duty (if a badge was missing, two helpers needed to check why it was and refer to the committee if needed) I got into a nice day of Azure Architecture, lead by Heini Ilmarinen and with amazing helper Cathrine Wilhelmsen. If you want to know more about the training day, contact Heini. Even though she mentioned DNS, it was a lovely day. Working together with Cathrine is just a blast and all in all the day flew by. The games night that followed this day was spent talking to many different people.
After the full training days (there were two, because of work I could only make it to one), the regular days started with session of 20 and 50 minutes. This meant more walking through the venue, listening to more, different topics and, again, running into people. One thing really stood out for me; Karim Ourtani asked me specifically for feedback after his session ended. It feels a bit special that someone places that level of trust on me. I really hope my feedback is going to help him grow further and reach new heights.
The first day ended with the pub quiz. This is in itself already fun, but as it works best with a team, tables are set out for 9-10 people. You have no idea who you end up with and that’s fun. I met people in real life I hadn’t seen before. We had a lot of fun, didn’t come last in the quiz and got to know each other a bit better.
The SQL Bits party is legendary and rightfully so. The committee tries to improve every year (I heard, I’ve only been twice) and this year the conference theme was Dungeons and Dragons. The party was themed as such with a march up to the party hall led by a bagpiper. Halfway a man was twirling with fire and once inside we went back in time with knights, witches and all kinds of other creatures you might find in that game. I’ve never played it but seems to be real fun.In the end, I went up in the main hotel with some data friends for a beer and a lot of laughs.
Saturday for me was a hard one. The conference fatigue started to kick in and I had to actively remind myself to get to room x at time y. I had very fun sessions selected with the live recording of Knee deep in tech as the highlight of the day.
If you’re walking at a conference this large, the fatigue is real and it showed on everyone who had been there for multiple days. I can’t imagine how it feels for the committee who’ve had to deal with all the last second stress, things to do etc. They bravely go on, leading by example and as helpers, we follow and try our utmost to help them. But I had to get out for a few minutes to some quiet place. The helper room was my rescue to block the sounds and get my mind together.
After saying goodbye way to soon to a lot of people, I was happy to be on my own, get my dinner and go to sleep. Even though the bed was designed for people of less height, I slept very well. After a nice walk, the trip back home started.
Travelling, part two
As mentioned, the buses in Newport are special, so I took a lot of time checking the timetables to make sure there was a bus to take me back to the bus station. There was one, running once every two hours. Coming from a city just a bit bigger but with way more buses, that was a bit of a surprise. Alexander Arvidsson had asked if anyone was willing to share his taxi to Bristol, but arriving there about four hours before my flight felt a bit soon, so I let it go.
After waiting for an hour after checkout in the hotel, the bus came and drove me to the bus station. After another hour the National Express got me at the Bristol airport. Initially I had planned to write this blog there as I had to wait about 2 hours before boarding but it was the ICC all over again. Familiar faces, fun chats and before I knew it, I ran into Alexander. He had the same flight to Amsterdam.
When you travel to a city with less than optimal bus services, opt for taxi, uber or share another form of transport. When someone offers an early ride to the airport, take it. In both cases, it would have saved a lot of frustration, waiting and energy.
After last year, I learned not to try and get to every session I can. It’s just way too much. But even slowing down, I needed a few minutes of quiet on saturday. The committee had thought of a quiet room but had hidden it so well I didn’t know about it, so retreated to a helper room. There was a bench amidst a lot of stuff, but good enough to recharge and make sure I could make it to the end. And this is important. Conference fatigue is real, even though you might experience it in a different way. Don’t fight it. Accept it and find your way of dealing with it. There is no good or bad way, only your way.
What did I get out of it, and why you should go!
It’s quite hard to quantify what I got out of this years conference. Yes, there was some cool swag but that’s not why I’m there. I am there for the people. Meeting old friends, making new ones. All with the single goal of making each other grow. Get better at what you do, get better at life. The non-technical sessions are there for a reason. And yes, I failed to go to any of them as my techy mind won and I went to sessions with shiny new toys. Luckily, a lot of sessions are recorded and I can (re)watch them. People and knowledge are hard to quantify but are a major lubrication of your working life. Again, it doesn’t need to be SQL Bits in person. It is the biggest one out there, but you can achieve a similar effect when you’re at a much smaller event like a data saturday or user group meeting.
I would urge you, if you haven’t been, to take a look at the SQL Bits schedule and check out the subjects you’re interested in, the things you’re working with, the things you might want to know more about and the things your bosses keep talking about. See how many sessions there are on those subjects. See if you could fill one or maybe more days with them. If it all works out, hopefully you’ll come with us next year.
Somewhere in England, to the greatest data party*.
Thanks for reading!
* And I dont even really like parties 😉
2 thoughts on “Attending and helping at SQL Bits 2023”
This sounds fun. Really enjoyed reading your blog post!
Thanks Charlie! It is fun and if you’d like to be a part of it, keep your eyes open for the helpers call.