Disclosures: I am an occasional SQL Saturday Speaker. I’ve spoken as far north as Nova Scotia, as far South as Georgia, and as far West as Pittsburgh. Fatherhood and budget have made me a strictly regional SQL Saturday speaker for now. Despite over decade of experience on the platform, I work for a PHP and Postgres shop at the moment. However, we embrace micro-services an SQL Server for Linux will be GA very shortly. So, I’ll fix that as soon as I can.
Recently, I’ve noticed a trend away from speaker shirts, often for budgetary reasons. Many regular speakers don’t like them. Some don’t even wear them to the event. I’m very proud of my collection. I wear them to poker night and have received the nickname SQuirreL for this behavior. I’ve also heard talk of cutting out the speaker dinner.
I understand sponsorship is hard. I don’t fault an organizer for skipping speaker shirts for budgetary reasons. I don’t fault them for skipping the speaker dinner if they lack sponsors. However, don’t let this become the norm. Please offer lanyards or name badges at a minimum, and please suggest a venue for the speakers to meet the night before for networking, even if its pay our own way.
SQL Saturday is all about networking. However, it attracts a very anti-social crowd. Many of us in IT, but not all, are introverts. Some of us are also socially awkward. It’s much easier for me to get in front of a crowd and talk about something than for me to approach a stranger out of fear of my interaction being unwanted. However, there are two exceptions. The first is a strong social or physical indication that interaction is acceptable I will engage. The second is if the other party initializes interaction.
If I go to a conference there are two types of strangers I will talk to, speakers and booth people. If you wear a speaker shirt I expect you want to talk to me. Conversely, when I wear a speaker shirt I feel not only comfortable but obligated to respond to social contact. I assume it’s initiated because I’m wearing a speaker shirt. It gives me a (small) degree of agency and that agency comes with responsibility. So, giving me a speaker shirts increases my level of networking at the event.
Also consider the speaker dinner. Humans eat socially. If you are at a cocktail party and don’t know anyone, introducing yourself to a stranger is less awkward than sitting alone. It’s the one time a socially passive introvert will go out of their way to meet new people. Some of us need our hands forced. A speaker dinner is the best way to goad introverts into socializing.
Now I do realize we as a community have done a terrible job with providing properly fitting shirts for female speakers. I also know some people of all genders just don’t have a body type that bulk ordered polo shirts flatter or even fit. I also know may speakers have strong feelings in the opposite direction. about speaker shirts. So, requiring speaker shirts is not practical, compassionate, or an argument I’m going to win. I also realize some sponsors whose employees are also speakers have their own shirts for events. That being said, I think a desire to wear a speaker shirt is the norm, and we can provide properly fitting female shirts.
So, as an introvert of questionable fashion taste, I implore SQL Saturday organizers to try to provide a shirt and speaker dinner. Let the speaker opt out if a shirt won’t fit them or they aren’t going to wear one.
I mentioned I was going to write this article on twitter, and it started a lengthy conversation. I know many in the community have strong opinion on this matter that differ significantly from mine. I invite you to share them in the comments below.