One thing I really enjoy about the SQL Server community is its vibrancy. I'll give you details on the SQL Server community's explosive growth in a moment, but let's start by comparing Microsoft SQL Server's user community with those of other significant database platforms.
I'll use the term "staid" to describe the demeanor of user communities of such major enterprise database platforms as IOUG for Oracle, and IDUG for IBM's DB2. These groups offer strong annual conferences and solid local chapters, both nationally and around the globe. Their online forums are effective, if not brisk, and augmented by great resources from their sponsoring database platforms. You'll notice, however, that these communities, while definitely not lethargic, aren't exactly fast-paced, either. There's plenty of meat and potatoes, but no Jolt cola.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, there's excitement and activity aplenty, with the NOSQL ("Not Only SQL") movement, and open source database platforms like PostgreSQL and MySQL. These platforms have a boisterous online presence with tons of forum discussions and an active virtual community. On the other hand, these vibrant virtual communities are a lot weaker on the physical side of the equation. Since they're not corporately owned, the best conferences you'll get in this space are sponsored by the publishing house O'Reilly & Associates. (Full disclosure here: I am an author for O'Reilly, but have never spoken at any of their conferences). And, the local user group communities are entirely dependent on volunteers.
Between these two extremes, we have the SQL Server community, which I consider the perfect mix of vibrant online activity, an effective central authority, and explosive grassroots growth. The SQL Server online community is growing by leaps and bounds. Of course, there are Microsoft's strong technical offerings on MSDN and TechNet. There also are a variety of large, popular websites such as SQLServerCentral, SQLTeam, SQLServerPedia, and SQLMag, and some good specialty sites, too. Another good indication of vibrancy is the rapid growth in high quality blogging, represented by sites like SQLBlog.com, and the strong Twitter streams that have developed around #sql, #sqlpass, and other hashtags.
SQL Server has the strong guiding presence of the Professional Association for SQL Server (www.sqlpass.org). This community of more than 50,000 members and 200 chapters around the world, provides a major clearinghouse for SQL Server speakers, authors and luminaries at its annual international summit, which attracts over 3,000 attendees each year. While the summit is the keystone event for many top-end industry professionals, the local PASS chapters also help drive enthusiasm in the community, elevating the skills of the wider SQL Server marketplace. I wouldn't be surprised to see PASS grow to 300 chapters, and 75,000 or more members, by the end of 2010.
Finally, the grassroots growth of the SQL Server community doesn't end with its chapters. A new initiative called SQL Saturday is stirring the pot further. Here are the ingredients in the secret sauce for SQL Saturday (www.sqlsaturday.com). One, add a free or inexpensive all-day seminar with 30 or more sessions delivered by top experts in the field. Two, host the event at a local college on a Saturday, with organization by local user group leaders. Three, generously sprinkle with 400-level sessions by the experts, plus 100- and 200-level introductory sessions for more modestly skilled IT staffers. This combination has consistently resulted in local events of 200-400 attendees whose companies generally would never pay to send them to formal training or a big conference.
There probably are going to be 40 or more SQL Saturdays this year. That means PASS and the local PASS chapters will reach around 8,000 new contacts, plus follow-on contacts. This is good for the community and good for attendees. So, if you're struggling to find a way to get training for your team during these tight economic times, check out SQLSaturday.com. There's going to be one near you. It'll be worth your time!