SQL Server in the UK

To me SQL Server is American; it’s written by Americans who work for a company based in America.  I’ve never been to Microsoft’s offices in Redmond but I imagine they’d look very American.  It’s no surprise therefore that I think of SQL Server as a native of America.  This could lead me to think that being an ocean away from its homeland I’d struggle to meet other people with an interest in SQL Server, let alone those who go out of their way to promote education and discussion about it.

Over two days in April I attended three events in London which positively changed my impression of the UK SQL Server community, having previously been a relative newcomer to it.  At those events I met people from Microsoft, other SQL Server users and more importantly people who have a passion for making the SQL Server community in the UK successful.  I have perhaps a different interest in these events as in my career I discuss, scope and propose solutions which involve SQL Server whereas I imagine most at these events have regular hands-on interaction with the database product.  That difference probably means I get more out of events that an end-user as I’m equally as interested in who uses the product and what for as I am in the actual product itself.

The first event was a Microsoft Tech Day launching the latest release of SQL Server.  While very much a typical vendor presentation day the key observation for me was that the speakers were from Reading not Redmond.  Rather than Redmond sending over a set of presentation files and demos which were re-presented by local staff I saw names and faces that have become familiar to me presenting their personal experiences of the new product.  The insights and personalities they added to the information they delivered was worth ten times what downloading a PDF from Microsoft.com gives me.  Overall, the day introduced what was happening in the SQL Server world with the upcoming R2 release and what Microsoft felt we needed to know the most about it.

My second event was that evening, a social meeting of the SQL Server user group.  Held in the quiet corner of a modern thriving pub the event gave us a chance to replay the Microsoft tech day between each other over some provided dinner.  The highlight of the evening for me however was a quiz which user group host Neil Hambly(http://bit.ly/9MkkYC) ran.  The quiz however was far more than a chance to show what you knew and win a prize.  It was the framework for a much wider conversation about what people thought was relevant in the SQL Server world today.  Subjects which are 15 years old were emotionally debated while the relevance of modern features was often contested.  The user group event had a wide range of users present, developers, DBAs, BI designers and probably me as the single solution architect as always, but what I saw was a group of people who were happy to share their knowledge of SQL Server no matter how different it was to the person next to them.

The third event surprised me: SQLBits.  A UK SQL Server community run daylong conference which aims to deliver multiple sessions, each giving its audience an expert led insight into a specific area of the SQL Server world.  The group receive no funding other than from sponsors however it felt far better than similar vendor led days I’ve attended in the past, in terms of both content and event production.

The sessions sent me home with a notebook full of notes, quotations and tips which will benefit me directly as I work with SQL Server in the future.  They were delivered by speakers with a global reputation in their subject area; there was no professional ego or vendor reputation for them to protect, if they said something was good they meant it, and more importantly they were happy to say what features or functionality are bad and should be avoided.  I learnt amongst other things about the size of system SQL Server can now scale to (http://bit.ly/bm0Bsf), the future of SQL Server with Azure (http://bit.ly/aV2EsS) along with the internals of the transaction log (http://bit.ly/dsHOE5).

However, for me the sessions were only half of the day, as well as these I got to meet with relevant vendors/sponsors who were genuinely contributing to the SQL Server world but also casually meet people I’d come to know through Twitter and the online world.  There was a sea of MVPs at the event, all eager to share their enthusiasm for both the event and SQL Server in general.  Equally as important, they were keen to know what I thought of the day, SQL Server and the sessions I’d attended.  This wasn’t just another vendor day with a feedback form and sessions polished by marketing before delivery.  This was SQL Server shared with its community by people from within its community.  Learning and enjoying the day were far more important to the organisers than earning a bit more brand loyalty.

This article focused on the SQL Server user group event and SQLBits more than the Microsoft event as to me they demonstrated that the UK SQL Server community is as deep as it is wide.  People for this technology are keen to meet, talk, share and interact, and those who put substantial personal efforts into making that happen deserve substantial recognition in return.  I look forward to more SQL Server user group events, as well as SQLBits VII.

Many thanks to all involved.

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