A new hope. Tale from SQL Saturday 454 #sqlsat454

This is one of the few non-technical posts of this blog. Just skip it if you want to quickly come back to 100% BI related topics.

Last Saturday we run the SQL Saturday 454 in Turin. I was part of the organization, and actually I was one of the promoters for this event, running on the same city just a few months after SQL Saturday 400. The reason for that was an idea we had a few months ago. Running a SQL Saturday very close to Milan, the city hosting Expo 2015 until October 31, 2015. In our plans, we should have been able to attract a large number of foreign attendees interesting in combining a week-end in Italy, one day in Turin for SQL Saturday, and one day in Milan for Expo 2015. The initial target was more than double the attendees of a “regular” SQL Saturday in Italy, reaching 250 people and maybe also 300. After all, everyone was looking forward to visit Expo 2015, right?

Unfortunately, I was wrong.

Part of my job is reading through the numbers. It took me just a few hours after opening a survey through our SQLBI newsletter and other social media to realize that Expo 2015 was not the worldwide attraction we assumed initially. Our ambitious goal was completely unreachable, and this was clear to me before anyone else accepted that. So we downsized the venue, but we wanted to run the best event we can. After all, it was still the SQL Saturday close to the Expo 2015. And we kept the event in English. We requested all the speakers to delivery their speeches in English, regardless of the fact 90% of attendees would have been Italian.

Now, if you never visited Italy, you might be not aware of the lack of English skills of the majority of the population. You might think that people working in IT should have English skills in their CV by default. While this is true for reading technical documents, it is not entirely true for listening and speaking. From this point of view, the situation in Europe is very different between different countries. Smallest countries have better English skills. My guess is that movies are not dubbed, many have just subtitles, whereas largest countries (Germany, France, Spain, and Italy) tend to distribute only the dubbed version of the movies, keeping the original version only for limited number of cinemas in large cities. This fact alone makes a big difference in listening and speaking capabilities. I don’t have any study to demonstrate this correlation, it’s just my experience as a frequent traveler.

I wanted to write this disclaimer to describe another challenge we had for SQL Saturday 454. We were at risk of not having enough foreign attendees (a certainty for me) and not having a good number of Italian attendees, frightened by the fact that all the sessions would have been in English. In the past, we had only a few sessions in English, but a complete conference in a foreign language without simultaneous translation was an unprecedented experiment. However, I was confident this would have stopped someone, but not many of the interested attendees.

At this point, you might be curious to know whether the event was a success or a failure. Well, in terms of numbers, we reached our predicted (downsized) target. It was an event slightly larger than the average in Italy and, ignoring our initial unreachable dreams of glory, it has been a success. But what impressed me was something unexpected.
There is a number of IT professionals in Italy that can attend an event, following all the sessions, engaging the speakers, making questions and keeping the conversation without the language barrier I was used to see a few years ago. I was wrong again, but this time in a pleasant way.

The economic turmoil of the recent years has been very though in this country. I have a privileged position and a particular point of view, clearly seeing the issues that limit the competitiveness of companies and professionals in the global market, especially in IT. Language barrier is one of the many issues I see. Lack of self-investment in education is another one. And the list does not end here. I am an optimist by nature, but I am also realistic in any forecast. People around me know I don’t predict anything good for Italy in the short and medium term. However, even if I still don’t have data supporting that, I feel something has been changing.

I have a new hope.

There is a number of people spending a sunny Saturday in Italy to attend a conference in English, and they are able to not only listen, but to interact in a foreign language. I am sure nobody (myself included) would have bet anything on that ten years ago. For one day, I felt at home in my city doing my job. If you attended SQL Saturday 454 in Turin, I would like to thank you. You made my day.

Grazie!