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Who Plans The Content of UKOUG Tech15? March 26, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in conference, Tech15, UKOUG.
Tags: , ,
4 comments

<..Who are the Tech15 committee and my role
….submitting an abstract..>

When you go to a conference like UKOUG Tech15 there are hundreds of talks given over several days and a dozen or so streams. Who decides what is presented and how do they decide?

You do. Well, I’d say you have about 60-70% of the input, if you are a member of the UKOUG (and I know many reading this are not – but you are probably members {via your employer, if not personally} of other user groups. And, if you are not, you can probably benefit from joining one.) The point is, the members of the UK Oracle User Group have a fair say in what gets talked about at the UKOUG conferences. And, though not all are run in the same way, I know several of the large oracle conferences run on similar principles. You also provide the raw material, the proposed talks. That is open to each and every one of you, member or not. Anyone can offer a talk.

What about the other 30-40% of the input? Well, that would be me :-). {Note, British ironic humour}. As I mentioned in my first post about organising Tech15 I am the Lead for the database area this year, and some people did blame me last year for the content – but being the Lead does not put me in charge. There is a technical committee that decides what they feel should be the overall structure of the conference and have the final 30-40% say in what talks are given.

I’ll go into more details about aspect of the paper selection process in future posts, but the general structure is thus:

  • The steering committee meet for a kick-off meeting and decide on:
    • Who is in which committee (though this is pretty much sorted out before the meeting).
    • the general structure of the event – The major areas (Database, Middleware, Development, Business Analytics and Hardware/OS/Engineered), the number of streams each major area gets each day, the length of sessions and if anything is happening outside the main 3 days of the conference.
    • How we handle the labeling of topics in our streams (endless discussions there!).
    • Topics and considerations that we feel are important to our streams that should be mentioned in the call for papers.
    • How we will run the sub-committees and overall committee – again, this is generally known but we look at what we learnt the prior year and change accordingly.
  • The call for papers goes out (it will be the 13th April to 10th May this year). This is advertised by the UKOUG, being sent to previous paper submitters, the User Group members and is announced in the UKOUG mailings, tweeted and several other avenues. The committee will have suggested areas to submit for, but what is submitted is up to the presenting community – and this can alter our thoughts on content.
  • Judging – From 20th April to close to the Agenda Planning Day, volunteers and members of UKOUG are asked to judge the paper abstracts. These scores are important for the next step…
  • Agenda Planning Day – the steering committee members get together and spend pretty much a whole day reviewing the abstracts, the judging scores, the slots available, what we know of the speakers and presentations, the spread of topics, percentage of established and new speakers and half a dozen other things to come up with the rough agenda. It’s a bit of a bun fight, but we get there in the end. Every abstract is looked at along with it’s judging score.
  • Speakers are informed if their papers are accepted, rejected or we would like them as reserves – and the speakers confirm or decline acceptance or reserves (and occasionally question rejections). Sometimes a speaker will be asked if they would modify a submission.
  • The technical committees may well try and source some papers where we feel a topic is under-represented or to fit with some other aim (like a stream at a given level).
  • Reserves are slotted in to replace any speakers who decline and any clashes, alterations and agenda tweaks are dealt with as they arise.
  • The agenda is launched (ie we say what is on it) mid July.
  • From the agenda launch to the start of the conference, any paper changes are handled as they come up – usually a speaker pulling out or needing to change dates but occasionally other issues.

Why is it called “Paper Selection” when people are talking? Why do we talk about abstracts? Well, conferences pretty much started off as scientific conferences and you would submit you scientific paper – and then read it out to the conference. The abstract is a brief “why you should read my 35 page argument with long, impressive words for why I think hyaenas are more closely related to cats than dogs” {they are}. We inherit those terms.

So you can see that the steering committee has a fair input, so how do WE get chosen? Fundamentally, it is via a call for volunteers from the UKOUG community. The UKOUG ask people to volunteer in their regular emails to members/volunteers. (Volunteers have to be members of the UKOUG but the membership may well belong to a company. The UKOUG keeps track of the nominated contacts for an organisation, who are responsible for the membership management, but also the individuals who have helped out at any time under that membership. As an example, someone in purchasing or HR may be the nominated contact for the memberships a company has with UKOUG, but it is members of the technical IT staff who come to the events and may start helping out).
The office UKOUG staff/board members may well ask one or two of the experienced volunteers known to them to take a lead and help chose which volunteers to accept. Or, more commonly, to go and pester people they know to step up and volunteer! New volunteers are always part of the mix, we recognise that without new people and perspectives we will stagnate, and they challenge us when we say “we always do it this way”.

I have not mentioned Oracle Corporation involvement. Strictly speaking, people from Oracle are not volunteers and are certainly not members. They are Oracle Liaisons. The UKOUG gets good support from Oracle, we have talks from them, we have some SIG meetings in their offices. Oracle Corporation of course is happy to talk about the latest/greatest aspects of Oracle and if they can get us all fired up for an extra cost option, so much the better for them. But the relationship is generally balanced and varies over the years – and is influenced by individuals. Some people who work for Oracle will push to be allowed to help out the UKOUG, some product managers are more than happy to come and give talks about free, standard or old features as well as the shiny new stuff. Others I am sure see us as an annoyance. The input we get from the Oracle Liaisons is very helpful and appreciated – but don’t think it buys acceptance of whatever Oracle Corp want. I had to help deal with an Oracle product manager last year who was upset that their area had very few talks. It got as far as them almost demanding some slots. However, the number of talks submitted and the poor judging scores for those few that were told us on the committee that the user community were not currently interested in that topic. So no talks. Faye and I talked it over, I gave the logic and reason and she was good enough to then deal with Upset Product Manager.

I have helped with the agenda planning day a couple of time – I think I got pestered to help way back in 2007 or 8! – and I have been a SIG chair and deputy chair as well as a regular presenter, so I am a known soft-touch for helping the UKOUG. A key aspect to my being the Lead is simply that I have more free time than most other volunteers, so I can be got hold of and can spend a bit of time thinking about things and making decisions. This can be important on the run-up to the actual event as you sometimes need to make decisions quickly and a group discussion may not be the best way to do it. I might check with a couple of others (and I usually do) but the key thing is to make a decision in the timeframe allowed.

So that is who the Agenda Planning committee are and where we fit in. We are volunteers, filtered and guided by some old hands but with new blood each year. We aim to guide and give structure but the talks submitted are what anyone wants to submit. Judging scores by the community are key to paper selection and though Oracle Corp supports they don’t get to dictate.

And if all else fails, blame the committee Leads.

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