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Presentations & People, Friends & Fun, Whisky & Wet Laptops – UKOUG Tech15

Whisky?
Wet laptops?
I’ll get to them…

The UKOUG Tech15 conference ran earlier this week, from Super Sunday on the 6th through to the final sessions finishing at 16:20 on Wednesday 9th. In fact, I see on twitter that some people kept the fun going into Wednesday evening. I have to admit up-front my personal Bias – I was the database lead for the volunteers doing content and agenda planning. If you did not like anything about the Database stream content or how it was organised, please blame me and PLEASE either let me know direct or the UKOUG office. We can only try improve to things if we know they need improving.

UKOUG conferences suit everyone - at all levels

UKOUG conferences suit everyone – at all levels

So, having stated my bias, I actually thought tech15 was the best UKOUG Tech conference we have had in a few years. I feel this was helped by our return to the ICC in Birmingham as, for us old hands, it just felt like coming home. Also, the venue just works for us. Admittedly the spread of rooms over several levels can be a bit confusing for the new delegates & presenters, but you soon get used to it and the signage is pretty good (but I know we need to do better for some of the smaller Executive rooms hidden in what feels like the janitorial basement of a “Die Hard” movie – I love the irony that the “executive” rooms are in the least plush part of the place). Over the years we have worked out {mostly} how to make the space work best for us.

Just like the rooms, I feel the main conference works for people at all levels, just like my friend Svetoslav and I :-). {for some reason people often want to take a picture of us two together…}. For the last two years we have specifically included introductory-level talks and aimed to suggest an introductory thread running through the conference. This year there was a thread for each and every stream. The idea is that if you already know your technical area, the topics of interest to you, and those speakers you feel talk to you then you are able to pick you talks quite easily (apart from the inevitable clash of 3 talks at the same time that are great – sorry!). The intro pathways are intended to help those who are new to the tech (or just that area), who cannot easily work out what is suitable or accessible. Plus, there is some importance to helping guide beginners to presenters who are easier to digest. Some presenters are technically very, very strong – but you need to actively listen rather than expect to be entertained.

Where are the bad guys,  Bruce?

Where are the bad guys, Bruce?

We kicked off with Super Sunday which was focused on more technically deep-down material. It was bigger than ever before and we had 7 streams, two on Database. I have to take my hat off to Brendan Tierney who was unable to get to Super Sunday on time – due to storms between Ireland & England on Saturday – but still managed to present! Mike Vickers on the Business Analytics committee swept into action, found a video of Brendan doing a similar talk elsewhere and made it happen. The session went well, I heard it was great to hear Brendan but not have to put up with him actually in the room :-) {JOKE! He’s a good friend}. Super Sunday was fully booked well before the day, we had a great crowd and everyone seemed to really enjoy the event. I only heard good feedback – apart from one thing. How did we make the mistake of putting Connor McDonald in such a small room? Our bad, so sorry about that :-(.

Getting back to the main conference, we had a Standard Edition stream this year, on Monday. We gave a full stream to this, 7 sessions, a big chunk of the Database content that day. It was a bit of a risk but when Joel Goodman suggested it at the planning kick-off meeting we agreed it was an area we ignored and felt there was a need for. Joel had been inspired by Jan Karremans, Philippe Fierens & Ann Sjökvist (of “SE Just Love It” fame) who had all started evangelising about it. Again, I heard great things about the sessions I did not get to, really enjoyed what I did and it seems we were serving a need in the community. So, doing what we should be doing as a user group, which is heartening. I actually think Oracle Corp is listening to the user community on this one and modifying its position, which is of course great for everyone.

Database Keynote

Database Keynote

I missed out on the conference keynote by Neil Sholay. I am allergic to conference-wide, oracle-business-direction talks. It would seem I should get over myself as I missed a cracking and insightful presentation. People I talked to said it was the best conference Keynote that had heard in a long while.

I feel I do have to mention two other sessions and those are the panel Q&A ones on the DB stream – I advertised them before the event and they were an Optimizer panel (by Jonathan Lewis, Maria Colgan, Chris Antognini and Nigel Bayliss – who is the new SQL Maria :-) ) and the Database Keynote which was part presentation and then an open Q&A. Dom Giles & Maria Colgan took questions with their boss, Penny Avril, and these questions were totally unsighted. Some came from people before the session (and a big thankyou to the people at the curry the night before for adding *significantly* to that) and then the audience came alive and asked what they wanted. In both sessions Neil Chandler & I played “Dick and Dom” or “The chuckle brothers” maybe, putting forward the questions and trying to get to the audience members brave enough to ask at the time. I think by the end of the second session we almost knew what we were doing.

I won’t go into other sessions as I saw so many good ones and heard about many, many more. I asked around a lot and the general consensus is we had content people wanted across all sessions, streams and days. But please provide us with session feedback, it is very important to the speakers and the organisers.

quite a crowd wishing to try a dram

quite a crowd wishing to try a dram

The other side of conference is, of course, the social side. I spend as much time now out of sessions as in them, catching up with friend and meeting people I have never come across before or, the special joy of a conference, meeting someone in the flesh you previously knew only via social media, email or reputation. The best place to catch up with a lot of people is at the evening socials organised by UKOUG. This year a few of us added a “secret” element to the Community Drinks, which is that several of us brought along whisky to try. We know whisky (or even alcohol) is not everyone’s taste but it was just a bit of fun, an extra dimension to everything else on offer. And boy it worked. It got crowds around the tables and then others with no interest in the whisky came to chat to the crowds and it was all very amiable. The only “problem” was, so many of use brought along a bottle (or even two) that we had something like 18 whiskys {from all over Scotland as well as Irish and Welsh). The idea came from and was done by the community, to benefit the community, which is just perfect “User Group”. I’m going to acknowledge Thomas Presslie & Neil Chandler for that.

The Irish was popular, but not the JW Red Label?

The Irish was popular, but not the JW Red Label?

As well as the organised UKOUG social events there are plenty of people going of in smaller or larger groups to have a meal or sit around a table in a quieter pub, which is where you get to really know people. I wish I could do more of that, but with only 3 days I inevitably get to the end of the conference and think “I never had a nice pint with X… or Y… or….” well, enough for a couple of goes through the alphabet. I try and do more by hanging about in the hotel bar but that can be a dangerous thing to do! Even though I established a reputation for having a Nice Cup Of Tea at around 11pm.

Then there is the final part of conference for me. I’m there to help. All of us on the committees, the UKOUG volunteers and of course the UKOUG staff are there to try and make sure presenters and delegates alike have a good experience. Some presenters, like Zahid Anwar, Mike Dietrich, Chris Lawless and Chris Saxon step in with only a couple of weeks or less to fill a hole in the agenda that opens up. Some people will even step in to provide a talk at the drop of a hat. And we nearly had that this year in three incidents I know of directly. The first I already mentioned, with Brendan being replace with a video of himself. But we had someone we could have asked if the video did not work out. Zahid lost his laptop en-route and had to chase it across the train lines of the Midlands. He contacted me and I pre-warned people we might need to do a quick swap, but got in just in time. As for Chris…

Chris Saxon came over to me about 16:00 on Tuesday. “Hmm, I have a bit of an issue. My laptop got wet and has stopped working”. Chris was not doing a normal presentation, he was doing demonstrations. We fired up his damp laptop and it could not see his disk. So I looked up the local Maplins and sent him that way and I went to my hotel and got my own laptop. We managed to take his disk out the laptop and put it in an external caddy, via which I could see the contents when we plugged it into my machine. After messing with permissions we got the bare necessities over to my machine and then Chris worked his magic to make his “SQL Magic” session work on this foreign machine. He was very grateful, which is nice, but it’s sort-of what we are there for. I want him to be able to present and you guys & gals to see it. So I was more than happy to help it happen.

The one downer was that I now had to be there early Wednesday morning before his session, to get my laptop to him and allow him a final test. That would have been fine if I had not been naughty and stayed out way too late Tuesday night. I did not get anything like enough sleep before I got up a bit too late and rushed over to the room he was presenting in. But it happened and, I have to say, Chris was remarkably calm and organised throughout the whole experience.

BTW for anyone who was in the actual session and saw me “storm out” when he slagged off my machine – he knew I was going to pop out. I was “a bit tired” from the night before and had not even sipped a cup of tea, so I had to get something to eat/drink or fall over. I did come back and take my seat again but I know a couple of people thought I had thrown my toys out my pram :-)

It was a great conference. I can’t wait for UKOUG TECH16. Next December. In the Birmingham ICC.