T-SQL Throwdown at SQL Saturday Oklahoma City

This was the third public running of T-SQL Throwdown, this time at SQL Saturday Oklahoma City.

Third time's the charm, the saying goes. Not to imply that the first two runnings of this event at the SQL community level weren't successful. They were, as evidenced by the feedback forms. However, this time it went even better. Just like a resume is a living document that is never finished, this event is a living work in progress, and has benefited from some updates that were made for this go-around.

The biggest change was how the questions and answers were sent and received. Until the last running, the questions were emailed out to the participants, one question at a time. When teams felt they had the answer, they emailed the answer back. This method was heavily dependent on WiFi connectivity at the conferences. Also, it hid teams' answers from other teams, so the opportunity to learn by exposure was limited. For this running, I distributed all the questions on USB sticks at the beginning of the session, and asked the teams to come up to the main display screen and type up their answers. This achieved some desired and expected positives:
- It increased the instructional value of the event by showing the audience what a team's answer was
- It eliminated dependence on Internet connectivity
- It reduced some anxiety because the teams weren't left wondering if their emailed answers were received
- It made the competition more fun, because if a team attempted an answer and got it wrong, the next team attempting that answer could build on the previous team's entry

There was also the unexpected benefit that this format allowed more questions to be asked and answered. At previous runnings of the same duration (1 hour), we generally managed to fit in 4-5 questions. This session had 10 questions, and all were used.

The feedback was very positive. The feedback forms (below) indicate mostly 5s and some 4s. Another thing happened at SQL Saturday Oklahoma City for the first time: after the session was done and the room vacated, participants kept finding me and telling me that they loved the event or had a lot of fun or learned something, and would love to see it again. Very grateful for this feedback, and humbled by the positive response from #SQLFamily.

One area that I need to improve is the expert rental. In past events, teams have been reluctant to rent an expert when they were stuck. Whether this is due to the cost of the rental, or because teams are not comfortable admitting they need help, or some other reason, I'm not sure. This time, the experts were almost not rented at all. I like the idea of expert rental because it helps participants learn new things, and also helps competitive teams attempt a question they may not know the answer to, rather than giving up.

I will work on making expert rental easier/cheaper for the teams, and continue thinking up ways to improve the event. If you participated/observed, and have any suggestions, please feel free to email me.


T-SQL Throwdown at NTSSUG

The second public running of T-SQL Throwdown happened at the North Texas SQL Server User Group in Dallas on 2014/01/16.

One of the lessons I learned from the first running at SQL Saturday was that almost nobody reads the rules ahead of time. At that running, I had listed three things as required: a laptop, SQL Server installed on the laptop, and a copy of the AdventureWorks database. I came somewhat prepared for people who had not read the requirements ahead of time. I brought several USB sticks with AdventureWorks loaded. However, it takes time to pass the USB sticks around and for people to load it and get up and running.

To reduce setup time for this running, I decided to ditch the requirement for the AdventureWorks database. All the questions were based on tables for which I provided the create and insert statements. It worked, and the event started a little bit more smoothly, despite there being more teams and participants. Still, there may be room for improvement, and I have feedback with some good ideas that I will play with for the next running.

There were no evaluation forms for the audience to fill this time. Thus, I do not have objective documentation of participants' experience. Anecdotal feedback based on hallway talk was generally positive: people had fun and networked, meeting at least two of my three objectives for the event. These were: learn some SQL, make a new friend, and have fun. I am hoping that the learning of SQL happened when team members discussed solutions to the questions presented.

Overall, more encouraging feedback leaves me with the desire to keep running this event and to improve its scalability. T-SQL Throwdown will be back...