I’ve been pretty quiet recently, I haven’t presented much, I haven’t blogged much, I haven’t worked on my open source projects much. All my energy left over from my major work project has been going into SQL Relay. SQL Relay is an ambitious project every year. We organise a conference that goes on tour. In previous years, I’ve gone to 8 cities over two weeks. Over the past 4 years, I’ve been part of organising 30 conferences. It’s kind of hellish!
I was talking to Gabor Csardi at the first satRdays and he said you’d have to be a masochist to organise a conference. He’s not entirely wrong. Organising a conference is hard, often thankless, work and you have to have a strong reason to do it. One that will keep you going when you’re buried in emails, tasks, and twitter deluges.
The reason I’ve done SQL Relay all these years is to give my user group and others in South Wales, a conference. I’m now joined by the likes of Viv Richards, who has kicked off SwanseaCon, but 4 years ago there was nothing, especially from a data perspective. I’ve been lucky/brave/supported/rich enough to go attend and present at lots of fantastic locations and I know that I’m incredibly privileged to be active in my favourite tech communities.
Most people have at least one of limited budgets, unsupportive employers, home situations that prevent travel, unhappiness about their jobs. No conference is held on the right day to suit everyone but I love that SQL Relay is free, 9 to 5, on a weekday in a city centre. Yes, you have to take convince the boss to give you a day off (for a completely free day of training though), or worst, take a day of holiday. It’s well worth it, however, as it doesn’t impinge on a schedule more than a standard working day would and you get awesome people sharing their knowledge with you. You don’t have to secure budget for your hotel, you don’t have to arrange extra childcare. If something goes wrong, you can always pop back to the office.
Weekend conferences are accessible to some and, similarly, weekday conferences accessible to some. We’ll never fit for everyone but I find Relay, at a local level, incredibly compelling. It’s been my pleasure to over-deliver locally. To always put on that extra track, to get another fifty people through the door, to deliver more broadly applicable content. I organise the sponsorship for the whole shebang but I do it all for the Cardiff event.
This year, I’m incredibly proud of a few aspects of the upcoming Cardiff event:
- Our showcase track is about moving to the cloud. A lot of my user group are public sector, finance, and law firms. Until the recent availability of UK data centres, the cloud was a pipedream. Now they have an opportunity to learn and change.
- A high level of beginner to intermediate talks. Everyone is a beginner at something, and I believe people need to increase their breadth. We can’t always deliver that in a user group, but a conference provides an excellent opportunity for that.
- A coach to get people from Bristol. I’m not the only one to organise SQL Relay. The number of people varies year on year but this year was especially low. We decided to stick to just a week’s worth of events and that meant we could only do Bristol or Cardiff, not both. Cardiff was chosen but the Severn Tunnel closure makes it horrendous to travel between the two cities on public transport. We couldn’t secure sponsorship for it, but we have arranged a coach to take people directly from Bristol Parkway to the venue and back again.
- Nine local speakers. I didn’t quite beg, borrow, and steal but this year we have a huge amount of user groups members presenting sessions. These are people who have passion for their jobs, invest in their own learning, and are now helping others learn and build on their own passion.
I’ve always been proud of what SQL Relay has achieved in Cardiff, and this year has been no exception. I look forward to sharing the day with anyone who comes along, and I look forward to the big dose of free time, I’ll have after we’ve wrapped everything up!