In November 2010, before the annual PASS Summit, Brent Ozar held the first Free-Con, in Seattle WA. He invited a pretty impressive list of SQL community speakers and bloggers to talk about, well, speaking and blogging, and careers. You can read his wrap-up of it here: Grant Fritchey, Kendra Little, Jeremiah Peschka, Tom LaRock, Karen Lopez, and more were there.

I remember quickly reading the post and thinking, “OK, Brent got a bunch of Those People in a room to talk about cool stuff. Must be nice.” Then I went back to working.

Imagine my surprise when I got an email from Brent in early February saying, “I noticed you submitted to speak at SQL Saturday 67. I’m holding a Free-Con the day before. Want to come?”


Does this mean I’m one of Those People?

Oh, that’s right: I blog. I speak. I tweet. I run a user group. I am One Of Those People. But you know what? I’m just a DBA who likes to talk and thinks helping other people learn is one of the best things in life.

So I told Brent I’d love to come!

The Catalyst Ranch

We met here on Friday, March 25, the day before SQL Saturday 67. The meeting space was unbelievable. We had The Jitterbug. I was surrounded by free coffee, art supplies, toys, dress-up hats and comfy couches. I think the plan was to distract me from saying things like “SQUEEEEEEEEEE! It’s GRANT F-ING FRITCHEY!” every time someone I admired walked in the room. Which happened approximately 10,000 times that day.

SQL Barbies Yanni Robel and me

The Topics of Discussion

Brent said he had a few slide decks prepared for us to talk about. I really only remember two of them. I do remember our main topics of conversation were: what makes a presentation good and bad, what makes a blog post good and bad, what job and career trends are going to look like in the next couple of years, and our personal branding.

I took a lot of notes. It’s going to take me a while to go through them.

One of the best exercises we did all day related to branding. Brent made a circle with his name in the middle and three words that describe his brand around it. He then asked us to name each person in the room, their Twitter handle, their blog, and 1-3 words that we felt described each of them. While taking notes and scribbling furiously and trying to be in the middle of EVERY conversation that was going on the room, I made some notes about what my words might be. Later, Brent sent all of us our feedback from other attendees. It was interesting to see how other people’s perception of me lined up with my own.

When I got home, I made my own. This is my circle, my brand, the words I feel describe me, and how I want to portray myself to the community. (Note: I’m a DBA, not a graphic artist. I thought adding color was cool.)

The Best Part

I got to pick the brains of some really smart, really talented, really motivated, really funny, really smart people. For someone who is relatively new to the database world, and really new to speaking and blogging, this was like a year’s worth of lessons crammed into a day. I got to sit next to people that I never thought I could and ask them anything about their career, their experiences, for advice, and listen to their stories. I cannot tell you how cool that was.

But remember: these are just people, like you and me. They have jobs, families, hobbies outside of SQL (well, most of them do, I think…ha!), and struggles too. And I learned that they really like helping others, just like I do. If you see or meet a speaker or writer you admire, tell them that! Tell them how they helped you. Ask them questions. We WANT to help!

Thank you, Brent, for inviting me. Thank you, everyone who was there, for letting me jump up and just start talking in the middle of a sentence because I was so excited about something. Thank you, everyone who answered my endless questions. (I have more, don’t worry.) Thank you for the advice, the criticism and the praise.

I wish every person in the SQL community could attend a Free-Con. I hope everyone gets the chance.

I have a checklist of things to do to make my brand, my blogs, my presentations and my career better. I also have gained a whole new motivation to help people. Now, my turn to pay it forward!