I must admit, I was a little doubtful when I first started seeing announcements for free SQL Server mini-conferences to be held around the country on Saturdays.  I didn’t doubt that there would be an audience, but I wasn’t expecting so many experienced, technically-knowledgeable speakers to decide to participate.  PASS tried offering some one-day seminars several years ago, and my understanding was that the registration numbers were much lower than anticipated. They weren’t free, but they were very reasonably priced for a day of in-depth SQL Server information. So why would SQLSaturday events be all that different? Not only have they been enormously successful, with the 53rd event already scheduled, but also speakers are travelling long distances for the privilege of being able to speak for free. Sponsors are donating money to pay for food, as well as providing swag and raffle prizes.  On sqlblog.com alone there are almost 100 posts dealing with SQLSaturday events in various cities, and they have nothing but good things to say.

So why are so many people attending SQLSaturday events? What makes the difference between the SQLSaturday events and the one-day PASS seminars? Is completely free really that much more attractive than $99? Is a Saturday event, in which you have to give up family or personal time, easier to manage than a weekday event? Is having a choice of two dozen or more short sessions, spread over several tracks, more appealing that one day focused on a single topic?

I think, for the people attending SQLSaturday events, the answer is “all of the above.” Plus, with no fee involved, you can change your mind if the day dawns more glorious than expected, as happened last Saturday at SQLSaturday #43 in Redmond. I think it was the most beautiful day all year in the Pacific Northwest, and I would bet that the fact that more than 100 registered people didn’t make it to the event had something to do with how rare those gorgeous days can be. But still, hundreds of people did show up to listen to exciting details and watch brilliant demos about SQL Server for most of the day.  In addition, the fact that there are a couple of dozen sessions means that there are a couple dozen speakers, many of whom hang out for part of the day and make themselves available to chat.

A bigger question than why do people sign up to attend a SQLSaturday event is why do presenters volunteer their time to prepare and present at these events? Some of the speakers might look at these events as a marketing opportunity, but really, you can get plenty of exposure with a good blog or frequent answers in the help forums. Others might look at a SQLSaturday appearance as a way to get a tax deduction for going somewhere they’ve wanted to go (but for me, a bigger hurdle is finding time to go someplace, not looking for the tax angle). I personally went and spoke at SQLSaturday #43 because I love speaking about SQL Server, and I love hanging out with other people who love SQL Server.

I think it’s so terrific to get people together to share their excitement about SQL Server, and that’s why I volunteered to be on the SQLSaturday Advisory Board, which you can read about at sqlsaturday.com/advisorycouncil.aspx. Being in a big group of people who are there because of their passion for this one area of technology is a real exciting thing for me. (It’s very different from a conference like TechEd, where many attendees might never have written a SQL query in their lives.) Where else would I want to spend a free Saturday?

You can check out the complete schedule of upcoming SQLSaturday events at sqlsaturday.com/default.aspx.