Why I am taking another SQL Cruise

I’ve mentioned on this site that part of the reason I’m even writing my SQL Server notes here is because of my experience on Tech Outbound’s SQL Cruise Alaska last year. It was a more significant event for my career than I could have possibly imagined, and not just because of all the cool stuff I learned. I even found out I had something in common with Bob Ward.

But before I get to that, let me explain to you why I am investing in a second round for the 2018 Tech Outbound Alaska event next month.

Early last year I had the good fortune of being hired by a major waste management company based in the Phoenix area. Shortly after my hiring my supervisor informed me that the company would pay to send members of the DBA team for training. I’ve attended conferences in the past but none that really compelled me to return, so I asked him if he had any suggestions.

He said “How about SQL Cruise?”

I thought he was joking because, as far as I knew, that was a just bunch of SQL types getting together and boozing it up on a ship. That didn’t seem like training. I’ve never been on a cruise ship, and wasn’t really interested, but I went ahead and checked into it. I pulled up the web site and I soon figured out that even though it was on a ship this was a real conference with actual instructional sessions, and there would be about five attendees for each presenter.

Let me say that again: five students to every instructor. And there were six instructors. I’m sure your math skills are sharp enough to figure out this was going to be a close group.

In addition to Tim Ford who hosts the event the presenters were Grant Fritchey, Argenis Fernandez, Andy Kelly, Allen White, and Bob Ward – all of whom are brilliant and well-known SQL Server minds whose sessions I have seen. And again, my math calculations were indicating no more than 30 total attendees with these guys. . .and then I started getting really excited.

I let my supervisor know that I would take the SQL Cruise opportunity, and several months later my lovely wife (we paid her way) and I boarded an enormous ship in Seattle.

Now, I can go on and on and tell you how everything the good folks at Tech Outbound say about the their event is totally true, because it is. But I’m already several paragraphs into this post and you’ll probably be getting hungry soon, so let me tell you what they DON’T tell you about SQL Cruise.

  • If you’re trying to convince your employer to help fund your ticket to a SQL Cruise, the number one selling point of this event is the “Office Hours”. These were daily 30 minute sessions nearly every day where you could just discuss whatever technical issues you might have been encountering back at the office with any of the presenters. It’s basically free answers to your questions. And if you have no pressing issues back at work, then have you ever sat through a 90 minute presentation and then wished you had more time to discuss the topic with the presenter? Office Hours = Wish Granted. And even though there’s that 5-to-1 attendee to presenter ratio, that doesn’t really come into play since other attendees will gladly participate in the same discussion. And that’s important because. . .
  • Many of the attendees are really, really smart SQL Server people. I recognized all of the presenters, but I had no idea that several of the other attendees were folks who are already polished presenters from PASS Summit themselves, many of whom are Microsoft MVPs. On last year’s Alaska cruise I had Mike Fal, Andy Yun, Jason Horner, Neil Hambly, and Catherine Wilhelmsen around me every day. And by that I mean. . .
  • It’s a boat, people – there aren’t many places to go! Which means from the moment I left my stateroom in the morning until it was time to fall into bed I was always crossing paths with someone from the event. Office Hours are amazing for discussing technical stuff, but even beyond that there were innumerable interactions over meals, games, and pretty much everywhere. We chatted about everything from traveling to baseball to cooking to high school marching band, although most conversations were SQL Server related and all the while I kept thinking “I can’t believe I’m having this conversation with this person”. Oh yeah, the biggest surprise was. . .
  • It’s just as much, if not more fun, for the “plus ones”. My wife and I didn’t really know anyone, so she figured she’d get a lot of reading done while we were on the ship. False. While I was getting my learn on, she and many of the other significant others were always doing something together. They called themselves “Friends of Amy” (Amy Ford, Tim Ford’s wife), and they were wine tasting or playing games or dining together or watching a show or just sitting and talking. I guess that’s the stuff people normally do on a cruise ship.
  • Finally: Neil Hambly is an incredible dancer. I am totally serious. Like “Solid Gold” level.

Now, if I wrote all of that well enough then you can probably read something between the lines here. I not only learned a lot about SQL on Linux and SQL Azure and Powershell and more on last year’s cruise, but I also found myself with a whole team of mentors on these subjects. And maybe not just mentors but also friends, since I still converse with several of them nearly a year later.

It doesn’t matter what you think your skill level is, we all need mentors.

Without exception everyone on the cruise was friendly towards my wife and me, but I am especially grateful to Tim & Amy Ford for coordinating these incredible events. Morevoer, I’m truly thankful to Chris Wood, Andi Letourneau, Andy Yun, Grant Fritchey, and Mike Fal, who through many, many conversations all made me feel like a long lost relative. I wouldn’t be writing these words and posting them on the intewebs if it weren’t for them, because they all repeatedly encouraged me blog, present, and basically help other SQL Server professionals learn whatever knowledge I have had the good fortune to acquire.

Which is why I’m going back again, even though this time I’m footing the bill. Maybe it’s because I’ve already been on one of these before, but as a database professional I’ve determined there’s no better investment for my time and money that I can make for my career. In a few weeks I’ll have the opportunity to chat for a week with the likes of Itzik Ben-Gan, Jes Borland, Kevin Kline, Jason Hall, and Buck Woody, plus a number of other really smart SQL Server types that will be my fellow attendees. And man, am I excited!

Heck, we’re already getting emails from Buck Woody to help prepare for his “micro-mentoring” sessions.

Oh, yeah, that thing in common with Bob Ward? During a conversation, when asked why he hadn’t gone on one of these boat rides before he casually mentioned “I thought SQL Cruise was a joke!” Me too, Bob. And I’m so glad we were we both wrong.

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