The subject line of the e-mail message from Brent Ozar read: “Another one of my bad ideas.”
Ozar, one of only five Microsoft Certified Masters of SQL Server in the U.S. who doesn’t work for Redmond, was pitching a combination ocean cruise/SQL training camp out of Miami. It was such a bad idea that, by the end of the day, he and fellow SQL trainer Tim Ford had created a company and booked a date for the cruise with Carnival Corp. & PLC. Within a couple days, a Web site and social media campaign followed. The 15 slots for the Aug. 2 SQL Cruise were sold out by July.
“The wonders of social media and driven individuals,” muses Ford, a senior SQL Server developer with Next Wave Logistics, based in Warrenville, Ill.
It’s a novel idea, but it makes sense. While Ford’s never been on one, Ozar’s a cruise ship veteran who’s noticed the conference rooms on liners are almost never in use. And after some initial hesitation — “At first, people didn’t think we were serious,” Ford says — sponsors came through big, keeping the cost of the five-day cruise and course down to $295.
Consecutive training days are sponsored by SQL Sentry Inc., Red Gate Software Ltd., MSSQLtips.com and Quest Software Inc. Each day, there will be a draw for a SQL Cruise-branded netbook. SQL Sentry offered four free cruises as prizes. And, advises the cruise Web site: “Better pack light. We’re bringing more swag!”
The swag bags caught the eye of Karen Lopez, owner of and information architect for InfoAdvisors in Toronto. That told her sponsors were very much on board, pardon the pun.
She also noticed that half the attendees were women, still a rarity for industry events, she said. “I noticed that right off the bat,” she said. She’d just returned from a conference where the female presence was about one in 100. Perhaps, she theorized, the combination of vacation and training is more appealing to women.
The cruise suited her career plan, too. As a business owner, she’s used to combining business and vacation, and she’d been planning to sharpen her technical skills, particularly in SQL. Still, she said, “I’m not sure I want to sit in a session for eight hours at a time.”
The group is small enough that the trainers have the flexibility to customize to their needs, said Ford. Some, for example, want to lead sessions themselves to “break in” to the training circuit, he said.
The small group means a stronger sense of community, too. Lopez said she’s exchanged conversations with almost all her fellow cruisers. “The community that has been built has been really great,” Ford said.
And if a cruise seems a decadent training option, it’s actually cheaper than a comparable dry-land conference. “I just got back from a conference in a U.S. city where the parking was $60 a day,” said. Lopez.
The cruise was timed to leave after a SQL Saturday event in Miami that Ozar was scheduled to speak at. Ford said the company is looking to do three similar sessions leveraged off SQL Saturdays in 2011 — one from Southern California to the Mayan Riviera and from Seattle to Alaska along with the Carribean cruise.