sqlrelayIn 2015 I attended a SQL Relay day in Birmingham, as a humble attendee with a colleague. I sat on the edge of my seat in every session soaking up all I could from the speakers. I remember being in awe of these technical rock stars that gave their knowledge to the community. A community that was strongly bonded and recognised by many sponsors.

In 2016 the humble attendee was long gone. I was now heavily involved supporting operational elements of the conference. I was now a speaker, giving back my knowledge in every city throughout the week talking about IoT using Raspberry Pi’s and Azure. I believe I completed my initiation into the community (the SQL Family). I accompanied friends and colleagues on the #FunBus each day as we travelled to new locations. I organised other speakers as they arrived at venues and helped with the event in a totally flexible capacity, dealing with whatever was needed. From attending a one day event last year I was now amongst a handful of people that would be at every SQL Relay day throughout the week. As a sponsor, speaker, helper, go to guy.

This blog post is my brief and informal account of SQL Relay 2016 from an insiders’ perspective.

Before Monday

photo-12-10-2016-13-13-20As Purple Frog Systems were a silver sponsor this year and heavily involved in the overall setup of the SQL Relay event, time before the first day with delegates was spent sorting everything out from graphics to sponsor swag, bags, leaflets, transport, hotels and everything in between. Organising a conference in five cities in five days with zero time and little budget takes a phenomenal amount of effort. The picture to the right was the scene in the Purple Frog conference room leading up to Relay.

This little lot had to be sorted, condensed, part sent to Nottingham for the second half of the Relay week and most importantly Tetris’d  into the back of a 17 seat minibus aka the #FunBus. Not just once, but five times in a repeatable way.

Monday 3rd Oct – Birmingham

I was up and out the house for 6:15am, yes, this time does exist! Much to the disgust of my other half who reluctantly gave me a lift to Stafford train station, I bound for Birmingham New Street. Upon arrival I filled up with coffee and met up with Microsoft’s Andrew Fryer, David Postlethwaite and Purple Frog’s Hollie Whittles. We then a short car journey to the Midlands Art Centre (MAC) this was the calm before the storm.

Upon arrival an army of helpers, speakers, sponsors and volunteers unloaded the mini bus and setup for the first day of the conference. Spirits were high and enthusiasm in abundance. The doors opened on time and delegates poured in.

At 12pm I delivered my first talk of the week on building an IoT solution end to end in the MAC’s Hexagon theatre, this went well and I received positive feedback. This was a great start to SQL Relay for me as I am a fairly new community speaker.

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Thanks Terry (@SQLShark) for the terrible picture of me 🙂

After the prize giving, a select few loaded up the #FunBus and we set off for Cardiff. Alex Yates from DLM Consultants had turned 30 the day before, so as a SQL Family it was necessary to have a party aboard the #FunBus between Birmingham and Cardiff. This included party hats, balloons, banners, singing and birthday cake! The atmosphere aboard the mini bus was brilliant and perfectly fitting of the SQL Family.

photo-03-10-2016-17-55-01The terrible picture was my fault this time!… But you get the idea.

We arrived in Cardiff, with the first leg of the journey complete. We checked into our respective hotels and met up with the Cardiff massive for a beer or three led my Steph Locke.

Tuesday 4th Oct – Cardiff

photo-05-10-2016-06-31-55A slightly more civilised start today, we met at 7am in the hotel for breakfast before taking a short walk across the road to the Cardiff Motorpoint Arena. The oiled machine of helpers sprung into action again, setting up the event with time to spare before delegates arrived.

The Cardiff peeps really spoilt us at lunch time. We were given lamb tagine, couscous and salad. It was lovely, especially the second time round 😉

The demo gods were once again kind and my IoT talk went without a hitch.

Later in the day we learned that Jean Michel Jarre had also come to the Motorpoint Arena for SQL Relay, providing a great backing track whilst we packed away.

The force was strong in Cardiff so rather than hitting the road straight away we stayed for another SQL Family gathering at Five Guys. It was a great end to the second day. Spirits and enthusiasm were still high.

Left to right the people I know, sorry if I missed you; David Postlethwaite, Alex Yates, Steph Locke, Ryan Yates, Rob Sewell, Alex Whittles, Richard Douglas, Stuart Moore, Me, John Martin and Andre Melancia. Photo by Andrew Fryer.

After burgers and chips most of us we were aboard the #FunBus again heading for Reading. After getting lost in the Reading traffic, we dropped people off at there hotels and had a relatively early night.

Wednesday 5th Oct – Reading

Sadly there was no breakfast provided in the minimal Reading digs, but I didn’t mind as todays SQL Relay was being hosted at Microsoft’s shiny UK offices at Thames Valley Park, complete with in-house Costa Coffee and Starbucks! SQL Sentry’s John Martin welcomed us into the building and provided the caffeine while we waited in the lobby… It was massive and luxuriously furnished. The Microsoft buildings were superb, even though the SQL Relay conference only occupied a small corner in building 3.


12pm came around again and I presented my talk in a state of the art theatre. The venue made the buzz of speaking even more exhilarating.

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In the afternoon we were greeted by Claire Smyth, Microsoft’s MVP Programme Organiser. Claire spent a lot of time learning about the wider community and brought us another round of coffee, while we discussed how else Microsoft could help support local user groups.

Sadly, the day came to a close and we were kicked out of the pretty office. But we were over the hump of the week.

We boarded the #FunBus bound for Nottingham this time. This was the longest leg of our journey and travelling up the motorway, limited to 62mph drained a lot of my positivity. The new co-pilot/DJ didn’t help either :-). Fortunately, we had more cake on-board and conversation flowed freely which helped pass the time. Also a new game was created to get me more twitter followers, this offered much amusement discovering how many twitter accounts one person can have!

Upon arrival in Nottingham we made our usual rounds of local hotel drop offs and arranged to meet up at The Round House Pub at 9:30pm. This later resulted in 10 of us all going for curry at The Cumin. The restaurant owner was surprised and happy to accommodate our party on this Wednesday evening. With full stomachs SQL Relay paid the bill (thank you!) and we headed off to count sheep.

SELECT COUNT(0) FROM [Brain] WHERE [Thoughts] = 'Sheep'

Thursday 6th Oct – Nottingham

Another early start, the SQL Family met for breakfast at 7am. The St James Hotel was great, but the coffee machine was broken! Let’s just take a moment to reflect of the gravity of this issue. Two third party coffee vendors in house at the Microsoft offices to instant coffee today! Trip advisor shall hear about this! 🙂

Reflection over. Today we were at the Albert Hall! Not Thee Albert Hall, but good enough if anyone asks. An aged building with a beautiful main hall, complete with a massive pipe organ. Sadly, our conference suite was downstairs.

By day four, things were pretty automatic with Relay setup and the day flew by. My IoT talk went well and I even went the extra mile to setup the demo again in the venue lobby for delegates who missed my session.

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Purple Frog’s Alex Whittles presenting on the right, as nobody took my picture today, well not that I’m aware of.

photo-06-10-2016-22-49-16We packed up and loaded the #FunBus heading for Leeds. We arrived to be greeted by a city light show with music and stunning visuals projected onto the side of our hotel. In addition, Microsoft’s Mike Boswell had booked us a private room at the local Fazenda – a Brazilian restaurant where huge amounts of meat get delivered to your table by gentlemen holding swords and very sharp knives. Yum yum! Wine flowed and the variety of meat were gorgeous.

By 10:30pm I was struggling to keep my eyes open so admitted defeat and headed back to the hotel. I was gone as soon as my head hit the pillow.

Friday 7th Oct – Leeds

The 7am breakfast routine continued, but none of us really had an appetite after the meat feast from the night before.

thankrayToday we were at the Thackray Medical Museum for the last day of SQL Relay. The venue was in a lovely old hospital building complete with exhibitions on how leg amputation used to be performed!

The local SQL community helpers sprang into action once more providing fresh hands to make light work of the conference setup. I confess by day 5 I wasn’t feeling very fresh or enthusiastic. Despite this I was honoured with a midway clap from the audience in my IoT session after the first Raspberry Pi demo worked like a dream, feeding its sensor values into Azure in real-time. It was a proud moment. I may have even cracked a smile myself, which a member of the audience caught on camera 🙂 … because I’m not a grumpy person *cough*


The last prize giving was done and SQL Relay was closed to delegates for another year.

After Friday

Now it’s back to normality for most people however the SQL Relay drum beats on.

This morning was spent sorting out the Purple Frog conference room again after all the SQL Relay stuff was unloaded on Saturday. Then it’s a case of finishing this blog post and sorting out sponsor attendee slips before we can get things closed off.

It’s been brilliant being part of SQL Relay this year. The people that give their time to make the event run are gods amongst men. In each city, having that fresh wave of helpers really made the difference. Thank you all.

In short; it was an incredible, but exhausting week. One which I hope I’ll be lucky enough to repeat next year.

Many thanks for reading.

Edited by the future Mrs Andrew.

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