Category Archives: Tech Community

That Community

Riley Major – 2017-08-09

Buckets of bacon, piles of marshmallows, and fire (yes, real fire this year) await those in the queue snaking out the door into the hallway. Kids tired from days of water play wait to finally get mom or dad back. They dig into a giant bowl of Starbursts and bury their head in screens. “Can I have another one mom?” “I don’t care.”

Beer bottles clink in the background as the sponsors pack up their signs and tchotchkes. (How do they fit everything back into those cartons?) A girl bounces a balloon between her hands using her teeth before losing it and flailing over the couch to retrieve it.

It’s been three days of community building. Three days of learning. Three days of motivating keynotes. A water park party. Hours of board gaming. And 7 meals with plates piled high. All topped off with freshly roasted marshmallows (over real fire!).

I want to add my thanks to the chorus of gratitude for the sponsors for supporting this community and for the organizers for pouring their time and energy into making That Conference a success year after year. You can learn technology online but you can only connect with other humans face to face. The interactions at open spaces and over meals only happen at a conference. Ideas are sparked, plans are hatched, and friendships are formed. There are businesses and technologies that owe their existence to these events.

I’ve had the pleasure and honor of presenting twice so far at That Conference. In 2015 I tried to raise awareness of the challenges facing women in tech. That session ended with a conversation among the participants on how they could change their environments to be more welcoming. The next year an attendee tracked me down to explain how he’d taken the information to heart and reconsidered how his actions affected women in his workplace. I consider that a small step in the right direction, but I was thrilled to see That Conference bring even more attention to the issue.

This year Hilary Stohs-Krause gave her keynote on the third day of the conference. She told the depressing story of how women, who began and dominated computer programming in its infancy, have been driven out by the patriarchy over the past decades. She recounted poignant snubs such as celebrating men’s hardware achievements with a banquet while sending the women programmers home in a snow storm. She reminded us how once men invade a field, its salaries and prestige rise as women are pushed out.

Cognizant of how important it is for girls to see successful women in technology to visualize their opportunities, Hilary Stohs-Krause took the time to recount legendary women of computing past such as Ada Lovelace (the enchantress of numbers), Grace (that moth was a bug) Hopper, and Dorothy (the boss) Vaughn. She continued to list change makers past through to present day women who are both technology luminaries and fighting for social justice.

The keynote ended with a call to action. Listen to and amplify the voices of women in technology. Provide them megaphones by selecting them to speak in meetings, at user groups, and at conferences. Attend their talks. Echo and support their words and ideas– with credit. Use your power and privilege. (Perversely, it actually helps you as much as it does them.) And remember, silence is tacit approval of systems of oppression. Speak out. Act.

It was refreshing and energizing to see these messages on the main stage of a big conference. It needs to continue. I implore and expect That Conference to continue showcasing the struggle of marginalized groups in future years. I look forward to another keynote on diversity and inclusion in 2018. After all, the conference is explicitly for the community, and combating the harm of underrepresentation is a service to that community.

It seems almost base to talk about my contributions at this point, but I wanted to highlight some of the positive energy I’ve experienced this year. I had a blast giving my talk this year on refactoring monolith database stored procedures, and it seems to have hit a chord. A handful of people tracked me down to thank me and describe how it has inspired them to make changes to their database environments. It’s a great feeling to have helped someone.

And finally, I convened an open space this year on Local User Groups. We discussed a variety of ideas on sponsorship, speakers, location, timing, theme, and even umbrella insurance. But more importantly, two people have plans to start groups in their communities, and I’d like to think we moved the needle on growing the technical community again here at That Conference.

So thanks again to everyone who makes this happen, including the attendees who come with an open mind and get engaged in learning, growing, and building connections.


Sowing SQL Speaker Seeds

(To all experienced technology speakers, especially those in the PASS community, and especially those in the Twin Cities, MN regional area…)

You have the power to help transform someone’s career.

Do you remember the first time you spoke at a user group meeting? Do you remember your first Speaker badge at a conference? How nervous were you? How close were you to abandoning the whole affair? Did you need a little encouragement to take the plunge?

There are hundreds of data professionals in Minnesota who have toyed with the idea of presenting but assume that no one would want to hear from them. They presume their voice adds nothing to the chorus. But you know better. You know how everyone brings a unique perspective which might be just the approach an attendee needed to make things click.

Our PASSMN user group‘s mission is to strengthen our community and inspire our members to share their stories. But we can’t do it alone. We can set the stage, bring the audience, and fill their bellies, but you speakers make it all happen.

As a veteran, you’ve made the rounds at SQL Saturdays. And you’ve helped out with your local user groups. But have you taken the next step? Have you become a force multiplier by helping others join your ranks?

With this year’s SQL Saturday in Minnesota, we’re providing a unique opportunity for new speakers to take their first steps. We will help those curious find a mentor to guide them through creating their first presentation and actually walking out in front of a crowd to deliver it. We’re reserving space at SQL Saturday for new speaker lightning talks. Mentors will work with their mentees to come up with a talk idea, coach them through creating their presentation, and be there for support when they take the stage.

There’s about one week left in our call for speakers, which ends July 23rd. Take this weekend to think about who in your network would be open to taking the next step. On Monday, open the door for them and help them submit a lightning talk. You’ll have plenty of time to work on it between early August and their world debut on October 7th, 2017. We and they will thank you for it.

SQL Saturday 682 - Minnesota - October 7th, 2017

PASSMN SQL Saturday 2017 – Call for Speakers

PASSMN’s SQLSaturday #682 on October 7th, 2017 has been published!

There are a relatively short 5 weeks for speaker submissions, which will close on July 23rd. So don’t delay! We plan on announcing selected speakers August 4th. As a reminder, the event is on October 7th.

We are looking for some unique contributions from the speaker community. In addition to 60-minute standard sessions, we’re hoping to offer one or more panel discussions, lightning talks for new speakers, and guided conversation over lunch. We also hope to host pre-cons on Friday, October 6th. Continue reading

Curds, Code, and Config

Pyle Center

The Pyle Center on the UW Madison Campus at the end of SQL Saturday #604.

Salty and squeaky make a good curd. Informative sessions and engaging conversations make a good conference. SQL Saturday #604 in Madison, Wisconsin this past weekend had plenty of both. I’m happy to have contributed with my session, “XML vs JSON – Battle Royale”. Continue reading


by Riley Major on 2017-03-28

Jenessa White at Minnebar 12

Jenessa White leads a conversation on junior developers at Minnebar 12, 2017-03-25.

Technology has a problem, and we need to do something about it. To be fair, it’s a problem with society, but it’s worse in tech.

Despite our lip service, we do not celebrate and encourage diversity with our actions. Worse, we actively drive women and people of color out of our communities. Continue reading

“That sounds way too complex!” – Challenge Accepted!

Yesterday Adam Machanic called for new #tsql2sday hosts. I applaud his continued efforts organizing this monthly blog party. It inspires new bloggers, gently guilts those who have lapsed, and provides a topic and schedule for the uncertain. But it routinely surprised me that there was no canonical list of past events with a link to the current topic. Continue reading