SQL Saturday 121 In Philadelphia – A recap

The weekend of June 9th was a double first for me. I attended my first SQL Saturday, and also spoke at it. Here is my review.

SQL Amtrak: Going Solo

When I learned my talk was accepted, I tried to organize a group Amtrak trip to SQL Saturday for anyone in the NYC area, or for anyone who I could convince to fly into EWR. I convinced no one, but I realize Amtrak is a hit or miss kind of thing. Regardless, its always fun to take the train. More leg room than a plane, and an electric outlet. My train ride was enjoyable uneventful.

Paoli, PA: navigating the suburbs without a car

I had to get 3.2 miles from my train stop in Paoli to the speaker dinner. I didn’t have a plan to do this beyond taking a bus or taxi. I got off the train and saw no cabs parked by the tracks or cabbies looking for passengers. I crossed to the other side where the station office was and saw no cabs. Google maps revealed that I’d have to wait an hour for a bus. I called a cab and waited over 30 minutes for it to arrive. In retrospect, I should have called for a cab ahead of time or just started walking when I saw no cabs were waiting at the station. As per the driver that finally showed up, traffic was really bad, and the cab company serves a very large area. Coming from NYC I’m used to cabs waiting at the train station when I need to take NJ Transit, Metro North or the Long Island Rail Road. One day I will learn this doesn’t apply to commuter rail stations of other metropolises.

Speaker dinner

I got to the bar a little early, and was told the table was not set up yet. I spotted Karen Lopez (blog|twitter), who I never met in person, and introduced myself. She led me to the other speakers, and there was much introduction, small talk and general nerdery. Then the table and buffet was ready and there was more introduction, small talk, and general nerdery. Oh and of course drinking.

People I met at the dinner besides Karen included, Joey D’Antoni (blog|twitter), Dominic Falso, Hope Foley (blog|twitter), Mike Hillwig (blog|twitter), Christina Leo (blog|twitter),  Vince Napoli, Erin Stellato (blog|twitter) and Allan White (blog|twitter) and many more.

The day of

My speaking slot was 8:30 AM. I was one of the opening bands. I had around 10 people show up for my talk. My room was one of the smaller rooms so between that and the early time I was ok with the attendance. I got rated higher then I would have rated myself, and I had some good interaction, possibly due to all the 10gen swag I gave out to people that asked questions.

After that I attended a wide variety of sessions. Erin gave a talk on statistics. There was a WIT talk. I ran a Powershell talk during lunch, which got combines with the high availability lunch discussion. After lunch there were two talks by sponsors. I attended the one by GridIron who offered a very interesting product that was basically a “tier 0” SSD cache for your SAN. Then I went to Christina’s talk on server side traces. I also attended a Data Modeling talk lead by Karen. Finally, I finished my day with a career management talk. That was perhaps a great talk because it caused my to question and alter my “never ever take a counter offer” stance. I’d go as far as saying that before that session it was one of my ore beliefs.

After the event

After the event Joey invited all the speakers and volunteers to his house for an after party. My time was cut short because I needed to catch the Amtrak back. However, I enjoyed my short time there.

All Aboard #SQLAmtrak

Update: I have settled on the train.

I have three announcements in this post. First of all, I’d like to announce that I will be speaking at SQL Saturday 121 in Malvern, PA, just outside of one of my favorite cities, Philadelphia. Secondly, I’d like to announce that I will be taking Amtrak there from Newark Penn Station in Newark, NJ. Finally, I’m inviting you all to join me in a little adventure I’d like to call #SQLAmtrak!

Why #SQLAmtrak?

Because I love traveling by rail, and I’m sure I’m not the only one! I enjoy flying, and long drives. However, Amtrak is my favorite way to travel. In fact, just this Tuesday and Thursday I took Amtrak from Newark to Philadelphia to speak at PhillyNJ.NET and PhillyDB respectively. Previously I’ve also taken Amtrak to DC for MongoDC, and in December I took the entire route of the California Zephyr as part of a convoluted journey to MongoSV and the first MongoDB Masters conference. (BTW, I’ve also taken Amtrak to non-nerdy things with my wife. I swear sometimes I pretend to be normal!)

When you love something this much you want to share it with the world! I want to share this experience with members of #SQLFamily, most of whom I only know through the internet, and many I’ve not ever met in virtually.  I know if we all spend an hour and a half on a train together, it will be a great social experience. BTW if you need a business justification, call it a networking experience.

Ok, but how many people from Newark will be attending SQL Saturday 121?

The answer might be zero, because I actually live in Jersey City. Seriously though, this Amtrak journey makes sense for several groups of people.

  • If you live or work in New York City, the train stops at New York Penn Station before Newark
  • The train will also stop in Metro Park and Trenton, which are easily accessible from Central Jersey
  • If you work in the city of Philadelphia, you can join us for the last part of the journey from Philadelphia 30th Street station to Paoli.
  • Finally, if you are flying in, you can fly to EWR, you can take the New Jersey Transit one stop from Newark Airport to Newark Penn Station. Its quite likely that you can get a cheaper/faster/more direct flight from wherever you are coming to EWR as opposed to a Philadelphia airport.

What train are we taking?

Originally I was proposing that we take Amtrak Keystone Train 655. Which gets to Paoli at 8:40pm. However, I have book tickets for Keystone Train 651, which arrives at 6:02. The complete schedule for both trains is as follows:

Station Train 651 Departs Train 655 Departs Ticket Price
NY Penn 4:03 6:35 $50
Newark 4:20 6:52 $49
EWR * 3:49 6:40 $63
Trenton 4:55 7:28 $32
Conrwells Heights N/A 7:40
North Philly N/A 7:52
30th Street Phil 5:35 8:00 $6.50
Ardmore 5:48 8:15
Paoli 6:02 8:40

* For those flying in, its $5.50 for an Air train ticket to the NJ transit station and $8.50 to take NJ Transit from EWR to Newark Penn. You can buy those tickets on arrival.

Note that you need to buy a ticket in advance if you will get on the train before 30th Street. Also, ticket prices go up the longer you wait. Finally, there is no business class available on this train. Even if there was, not everyone would want to spring for it, and the whole point of this is for the gathering to be social, so we will take coach.

What if I get to Newark Penn early?

People will want to fly in early, and will likely want to have a light meal and or drinks before departing. For those of us who will be departing from Newark, I am proposing we go to Iberia Restaurant a short walk from Newark Penn in the Portuguese Ironbound section of Newark, voted best Sangria in the Ironbound by my wife and I. Weather permitting there is outdoor seating, and the tapas are great.

What do I have to do to take part?

If you plan on going, email my at justin@ the domain of this blog. Everyone is responsible for buying their own train tickets. I’m going to hold off until Sunday May 6th (one week from today) before buying mine in case I get some feedback that other people would prefer a different time. Iberia doesn’t require reservations, so you don’t have to commit to going to the restaurant.

What about the return trip?

I’m open to the idea of a coordinated return trip. However, I don’t expect a good consensus to happen for that.

How should I promote this?

Blog/tweet/etc about this. Tell your friends! Use the hashtag #SQLAmtrak.