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OGB Appreciation Day: It’s All About ME! October 10, 2019

Posted by mwidlake in ACED, Knowledge, Perceptions, Presenting, UKOUG, User Groups.
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The Oracle Groundbreakers program, and it’s previous incarnations going back to OTN and beyond, are all about me. Yes – Me!

What a great bunch of people

Well, having hopefully got you hooked in with the ego-laden title and first line, let me explain.

As OracleBase (Dr Tim Hall) describes in this post on Oracle Groundbreakers Appreciation day, today we are celebrating what OTN/ODC/Groundbreakers means to many of us. For me it is quite simple, Groundbreakers, as part of the larger Oracle community, gave me the career and roles I currently have. The knowledge, support, and community they promote made me into the President of the UK Oracle user group. Why do I say this?

Let’s go back in time a little, to the last millennium. When I was first navigating my Oracle career the user community sort-of existed back then. You had big, flappy, paper things called “books” that you could buy and put on your desk. They held loads of information and stuff you did not know. And those of us who were keen to learn would swap white papers and articles by email, which you would also print out and put on your desk, in an ever-growing couple of towers. Why all the paper? We had 14-16 inch screens with terrible resolution, you had no screen space back then, so you programmed on that and had your help on the desk. As for googling things – didn’t exist. At this time I was utterly on the receiving end of community. I was being taught. I did teach back then, but only face-to-face for whichever company was employing me at the time.

Step into the new millennium and I landed a job with the Sanger Institute and the Human Genome Project. The Sanger have a culture of sharing – data, techniques, information, discoveries. As a result I was not just allowed but encouraged to go and talk at conferences. So I did. My first presentations were at Oracle Open World, the Oracle Life Sciences User Group (OLSUG), and the UKOUG conference. Very soon I was helping run the OLSUG events and volunteering at UKOUG events. I just got sucked in. I was still of course on the receiving side of the community, learning from all those great people who present, write, chat etc. But now I was giving to the community too. And there was something about being part of the “giving” community that I had not expected. You learn even more. And you have more fun! I got to meet a lot of fellow presenters, event organisers, and product managers – especially when I was made an Oracle ACE and joined what is by far the largest part of the Oracle community.

The ACE/Groundbreaker program recognises not necessarily the smartest and best people in any given field. It recognises those who put time and effort into sharing, in helping others (which was lucky for me!). You have to know your stuff to teach others (so be technically or business good), but you also need to be willing to, well, teach! To interact with people. So the vast majority of people who are in the program are also friendly & supportive people. Being dropped into that group really helped me.

Not only did I meet all these people from around the globe, I’ve been able to go around several parts of the globe to conferences and meetings. Groundbreakers does a lot to support people going around the world to present and share knowledge. The great thing about travelling is you see other perspectives and cultures. I don’t think we realise how parochial our viewpoint can be until we meet people with different perspectives and experiences.

As a result of my being part of the community and being an ACE/ACED, I’ve continued to learn technically, I’ve got a lot better at interacting with people, my communication skills have developed, and I now know a lot of skilled people in the community. All of these things have of course helped my working career. But where it all comes together is in my role as UKOUG president. I would never have considered putting myself forward for this role if I had not had all this experience with the Oracle community. And I don’t think I’d be very good in the role if I had not learnt all the “soft skills” that I have, and made the contacts that I have.

So Groundbreakers, you made me President of the UKOUG.

I *think* I thank you 🙂

Pint with Oracle User Group – First International POUG (Polish) Conference October 14, 2016

Posted by mwidlake in ACED, conference, Friday Philosophy, Meeting notes, Presenting, User Groups.
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Kamil kicks it all off: Apparently water has bacteria in it - so drink beer! (stolen from Pieter v.Puymbrooeck)

Kamil kicks it all off: Apparently water has bacteria in it – so drink beer
(stolen from Pieter v.Puymbrooeck)

Last week I enjoyed being at the first international conference that the resurrected Polish Oracle user group has put on. I say enjoyed – I actually mean really enjoyed! Why did I like the conference so much? Three major components came together.

(Before anyone rushes to mention the Polish custom of entertaining you with alcohol, that was not one of the three parts. It was the fourth instalment of the trilogy…)

Let’s start with a little history. I first came across Kamil Stawiarski just a year or so back. I had blogged about Pragma UDF and how it improves the performance of PL/SQL functions called from SQL – and then came across his blog post on it. About the same time he came across mine and we got in touch. He’s an “Oracle DBA type” and his company is called ORA600! {if you had not noticed, so is mine}. The similarities do not stop there. He loves beer+presenting (for some reason I have this reputation…) and using an axe. I am a little more technical – as I use a chainsaw as well as an axe. In respect of Oracle Technical, I’ll give Kamil the prize in that. The biggest difference is I am old enough to be his dad. I might adopt him. Anyway, Kamil came to the UKOUG Tech15 conference, we met up and he asked me (as well as several others) if we as international speakers would support him running a conference in Poland? Of course! I had so much in common with Kamil, he and his travelling companion Adam were so friendly, positive and knowledgeable that it was an easy decision.

A date was chosen, Kamil let us all know and those of us who could went along. The conference took place in Warsaw on Friday 7th to Saturday 8th October, with a speaker’s meal on the Thursday. There were two streams during the conference, one mostly on database topics and the other mostly on development & BI. We had a lot of well-respected and talented speakers including Jim Czuprnski (who has Polish roots), Joze Senegacnik, Piet de Visser, Heli Helskyaho,Phillipe Fierens, Neil Chandler, Sabine Heimsath… Apologies to the others I have not mentioned. Why did we all turn up? Because we were asked to. Most of us presenters just enjoy presenting (as we crave attention and being asked to present appeals to our egos 🙂 ). Being serious, if you want to organise an Oracle conference or user group meeting, don’t be afraid to ask people to consider coming along. The worst we will do is say “no” (and please be cool if we do; we all have other calls on our time).

What a set of Mug Shots :-)

What a set of Mug Shots 🙂

With this cunning trick of simply asking people he thought could speak well to come speak at his conference, Kamil had got himself a bunch of good speakers, one of the three things you need for a good conference.

Speaker gifts

The speaker gifts were just so apt!

The next part that is key is the organising of the conference. So Kamil set too organising it. Well, I say Kamil orgainised it, he actually got Luiza Koziel to organise most of it, which he says was one his best moves! So he, Luiza and probably half a dozen people I should thank but have not (I really should get a list of the volunteers), spent a lot of time and effort planning the event. Update – Kamil let me know the names. In his words:

Rafal Rebecki- he found all sponsors.
Pawel Chyliński, Adam Jagielski and Radosław Kut – always ready to help with every issue we had challenging us
Kamil Kozieł – directly responsible for all marketing stuff like website and social media
Adam Boliński- help with organising speakers and preparing agenda he was also one of the sponsor
Of course Luiza Kozieł – she was responsible for everything 🙂 finding venue, organising hotel and gadgets. she did most of the work

I’ve helped out with many conferences & meetings, from the huge behemoth that is the UKOUG Tech conference to small SIGs and special interest groups. It takes a lot of work – much, much, much more work than you can appreciate until you do it yourself. They sorted out a suitable venue, they compiled the abstracts for the talks and speaker profiles (often not an easy task, some of us are such prima donnas), put together the web pages for it and advertised the event well. During the event they smoothed out the issues that invariably crop up and they looked after all the delegates and speakers. The food at the venue was excellent, both the speaker’s meal and the conference party were fantastic, signage at the venue was good, crowds were managed and encouraged back into sessions at the appropriate time. There are a dozen other things that go to making the mechanics of an event work and, from what I could see, it was all done well or quickly resolved such that I did not notice.

Heli Helskyaho's crowd is a nice example of how busy the sessions were

Heli Helskyaho’s crowd is a nice example of how busy the sessions were

The organisation was great, the speakers were fantastic, what is the third thing you need?

The final thing is sort-of beyond the control of the organisers. For a conference or meeting to work you need an engaged audience. The audience does not have to be huge (though full rooms really help) but they have to be there mentally as well as physically. POUG got an excellent, large crowd of delegates. As a presenter I like it when I feel looked after. A speaker’s meal is great, havng registration and any admin done for you by the “office” is a help. There are lots of “nice” things you can do for the speakers but, for me at least, there is only one absolute. What makes a conference great for a speaker is actually having delegates who want to be there and want to hear presenters speak – and who then are chatting between themselves, challenging the speaker “experts”, asking questions in sessions, continuing discussions outside the presentations and generally making that “buzz”. Lots of things can be done by both the organisers and, to some extent, the speakers to help this. But in the end it comes down to having an involved audience. And in Poland we had that in spades. It was very, very “buzzy”.

Don't water the speakers after midnight!

Don’t water the speakers after midnight!

Obviously the organisers can prime the pump by getting the speakers and organisation right and I think it helped that the people leading the conference were relaxed and yet determined that everyone had a good time. But in the end, I think the delegates take some of the credit for making the conference so good.

All in all it all came together wonderfully in Poland last week. It’s in my top three conference experiences. (I won’t confirm where or which the other three are – It changes depending on what aspects I am thinking about).

The end of the conference summed it up. Just as in Ireland earlier this year, the last session was an open, “panel” affair with some speakers at the front and an intention to get the audience involved. At POUG we had a discussion about why DBAs are so arrogant and Developers so useless. Of course, neither statement is true all the time and it led to a lively, good-natured and often very funny discussion. The organisers had ensured that this could roll on if there was the desire to do so and the audience demonstrated that there was. I am sure we went on for twice the allotted time! Finally POUG stepped in and closed the conference (in a very nice way).

The DBA-Dev "love" - thanks to Kiran Tailor

The DBA-Dev “love” – thanks to Kiran Tailor

I’ve got lots of stories to tell about the POUG conference but that can be in another post – or simply when chatting at other conferences or in a a bar. Some of them involve the use of alcohol as an enabler in IT.

I hope there is another POUG next year. I hope it is even half as good. I especially hope they let me come back!

OTN Appreciation Day – Instrument Your Damned Code. Please! October 11, 2016

Posted by mwidlake in ACED, performance, PL/SQL.
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Today is OTN Appreciation Day.

This day is the idea of Tim Hall, Mr OracleBase, and you can See his post here. The idea is that as a sign of appreciation to OTN we do a technical (or not so technical) post on a feature of Oracle we like. I’m going to visit an area I have mentioned before…

DBMS_APPLICATION_INFO.

In my opinion, one of the key differences between good code and poor code is that it is instrumented in someway. I certainly believe that an application that is instrumented is much easier to live with and, over the lifetime of that application, runs much more smoothly and significantly more efficiently as (a) problems can be resoled easier and (b) any change in code performance is easy (and thus more likely) to be identified. It is because of this second point that I feel the overhead of instrumentation is not 10% or 20% but rather -15% – it improves overall performance.

The easiest way to instrument PL/SQL code is to use DBMS_APPLICATION_INFO. You use simple calls to set the values for the columns MODULE and ACTION in V$SESSSION and you can also populate a third column CLIENT_INFO.

ora122> desc v$session
 Name                                      Null?    Type
 ----------------------------------------- -------- ------------------------
 SADDR                                              RAW(8)
 SID                                                NUMBER
 USERNAME                                           VARCHAR2(30)
...
 MODULE                                             VARCHAR2(64)
 MODULE_HASH                                        NUMBER
 ACTION                                             VARCHAR2(64)
 ACTION_HASH                                        NUMBER
 CLIENT_INFO                                        VARCHAR2(64)

It is incredibly easy to use the DBMS_APPLICATION_INFO built-in package to set these columns via the procedures set_module(module_name,action_name), set_action(action_name), and set_client_info(client_info). The values set are held in memory, and there is no inserting or updating of any table rows – so it is incredibly quick and light-weight. V$SESSION is a view on top of memory structures.

Part of the reason that DBMS_APPLICATION_INFO is so powerful is that nearly all performance and development tools that are used for Oracle will show you this information. Of course this is especially true of Oracle tools such as OEM/Grid Control and SQL*Developer. Thus when you are looking at what code is taking up time or running slowly, you can use MODULE and ACTION to identify the exact code and area where the issue is – you are not having to guess. One of the reasons that performance tuning and problem resolution can be so hard is that you are guessing as to the source of the problem. Instrumentation means you know, you are not guessing. DBMS_APPLICATION_INFO is simple and thus, almost as a direct result of this, efficient at identifying where the problems are without blinding you with too much information.

The below is from OEM Express, showing which modules and actions are taking up the most time.

OEM Express showing what modules take up time

OEM Express showing what modules take up time

I go into more details about DBMS_APPLICATION_INFO at this post about it and I go into a lot of detail about this and other types of PL/SQL instrumentation in the book I contributed to – click on the link on the right of this web page for details on that 🙂

The OTN Program
Like many people I am doing a technical blog today in order to publicly thank the Oracle Technology Network for what they do. Why do I want to do this? Well, because they have helped me for years and they support me helping others.

As I write this blog I am rudely ignoring Ludovico Caldara explaining 12c dynamic optimizer features to a carefully listening crowd in Denmark, as part of the OTN Nordic tour. They help fund some of us on the ACE program to go on these tours and spread knowledge with people. I would struggle to do all the talks I do if, as an ACE Director, the OTN ACE program did not help cover some of my expenses. They do not pay everything but, heck, I can’t go complaining about them *only* paying for some of it!

OTN provide huge amounts of information on their web site(s), the place you go to download the software and documentation for free.

The final thing for me personally is that they help me contact people in Oracle who can help me better understand parts of the tech or even report back issues and help get them resolved.

Thank You OTN

This Autumn, I am mostly being a Conference Tart. August 12, 2016

Posted by mwidlake in ACED, conference, Meeting notes, Presenting, User Groups.
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The first half of this year was a little quiet for me on the presenting front. I was concentrating on writing and also on organising events, as opposed to going to them, so most of my trips were for personal reasons (that means “holidays”…). I presented at the Ireland conference and a few UK user group events but that was it – quite a few European events this spring fell on dates I was not available (including the Israeli and Finnish conferences where I was asked to attend and would have loved to). Or, oh the shock of it, my submissions were not accepted! {How dare they 🙂 )

However, the final third of this year is the total opposite. I’m at a conference at least once each month from September to the end of the year. In the spring this year I decided to make up for my poor showing speaker-wise by offering talks to a few more events. I knew I would probably do Oracle OpenWorld as, being an Ace Director, the Oracle OTN program is incredibly kind to us and help us attend the conference itself and the ACED briefings just beforehand. Despite my best efforts to scupper my own chances of attending OOW16 (I did not respond to an email I should have for ACED and I only submitted technical talks and not fluffy cloud ones) the ACE program have sorted me out and I’ll be there. I’m not presenting (unless my status as standby for the EOUG lightning talks and OakTable World morph into actual slots) but it’s nice to do a conference with no duties.

In December it is the total opposite for UKOUG Tech16. This is “My” conference, as in not just my home conference and the one I nearly always present at, it is the one I help organise. This year I am the project lead for Tech16, rather than the Database community lead role that I filled for the last two years. It sounds like a promotion and it sort-of is, but in reality there is less work than being a community lead, as I have a lot less to do with organising the content and agenda. But I will have duties to do at the event as well as the one presentation I am doing (I keep it down to one presentation when I have other responsibilities) so for me it is quite a demanding conference.

Between these two book-ends I decided to offer talks to DOAG in Germany and I was asked to speak at the Slovenian and Croatian user groups, which I was delighted to do. DOAG accepted two of my submissions so that was 5 conferences, which is a nice number.

Then the Polish user group announced their next conference and I had promised “the other ORA600” to submit for that one. Then last week I was asked to consider doing the Nordic OTN tour. I said yes to both. The Nordic OTN tour is not finalised yet but it looks like it could be 3 or 4 meetings in different countries on consecutive days.

On top of this, my wife is relocating to Switzerland in October for work and I’ll be trying to assist with that. So I’ve had to put together a spreadsheet of where and when I’ll be. It’s all rather busy. It would be foolish to add to all of this.

So I plan to submit to the Autumn Bulgarian conference too because, well, it’s a cracking conference.

The saving grace? Most of the conferences I am going to have asked me to do the same presentations. So I only need to prepare 3 (or is it 4… I’ll check my spreadsheet).

Why do I do all these conferences? Because (a) I actually like presenting and sharing what I know and (b) I meet people and make new friends. So, if you are at any of the above events, come over and say “hi”.

I suppose I should update my “Appearances and Meetings” page.

Friday Philosophy – 3 months, 3 conferences October 16, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in ACED, conference, Friday Philosophy, Presenting, Tech15.
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Flights are booked, hotels reserved, plans made. Don’t ask about talks prepared, just don’t 🙂

This is not the usual list of “I’m going to this talk and I’m seeing that speaker” blog that people write before an event – well it is a little – it’s more about the different flavors of conference we have available to us.

I have an Oracle conference a month until the end of the year and I’m really looking forward to all of them. Each is very different. I know I am lucky to be able to do this sort of thing, that is go to so many conferences, and partly it is because of being an ACED. But fundamentally it’s come about as a result of the decision I made back in 2003 to give something back to the community that I’d learnt so much from, and even more so when a couple of years back my wife gave me permission to do less stuff that pays and more stuff that I enjoy. Oracle Community stuff.

First up of course is Oracle Open World 15. This includes a couple of days before hand with the ACED briefings. We get a heads-up on what is happening with the direction of Oracle Tech and Oracle expect us to feed back what we think. After 25 years in the business and dozens of conferences, this will be a first for me so I will be a newbie again (hmm, maybe not so new thinking about it, I’ve been on Customer Advisory Boards and Beta tested in the past so it will be interesting to see the difference). I’ve said in the past how I was not so fond of my prior Oracle Open World experiences. Too big and too razzmatazz for my repressed British personality. But the huge difference between this time and 10 years ago is not my being ACED, it is being a member of the community and looking forward to seeing so many people, catching up and talking about all things tech.
Elton John is apparently doing the appreciation event. I’m hoping for “Yellow Brick Road” era stuff and none of that modern post Y2K stuff…
Oh, and don’t forget, there is also the Oaktable presence at OOW, OakTable World. It’s free to all at OOW15 and if you want technical meat on your presentation bones, that is where you will find it.

In November, Friday 20th to Sunday 22nd, it is a totally different experience, the Bulgarian Oracle User Group Autumn conference. This is purely a tech conference, no dancing girls, no laser-show keynotes and not a hint of Elton John. Just a shed load of top presenters (so many ACE badges next to names) with a good showing of local talent too. Several of the speakers are coming to it from DOAG, a conference I was seriously considering putting papers forward for but decided not to, as I felt I was too busy at the end of the year – and then I got sweet-talked into putting forward abstracts for Bulgaria. Next year I’ll try for DOAG. This will be my first time at a BGOUG conference but I know from my friends that it is like many of the smaller European conferences. It has a more inclusive, friendly feel as you see the same people over and over again for the couple of days and spend time getting to know people pretty well and often having longer, more involved discussions about whatever tech you are working with. I’ve been really well looked after by the organisers already, helping me sort things out and advising me on what to do outside the event.

I’m combining this one with a short holiday with my wife. (She speaks Bulgarian so she will be very helpful in ordering beer in local bars). One down side to going to more conferences is that, as she travels a lot herself for work, some months we don’t see a lot of each other. It will be really nice to wander around Sofia together for a few days. The ironic thing is that her employer, actually her department, is doing some work out there that week – and they did not schedule in the only person in the team who speaks the language!

Finally there is “my” conference. Mine as in I feel it is my home conference, being in the UK and one I have presented at or helped organise for 12 years now. The UKOUG Tech15 conference. This is from Monday 7th December to Wednesday the 9th, and if you get registered in time you can also be at Super Sunday on the 6th (half a day focused on deeper tech talks). Again, a conference that puts technical content at the top and the sales sides comes along for the ride. It is a very large conference, vying with DOAG to be the biggest after Oracle Open World. We are less show and more tell than OOW but it lacks the personal feel of smaller conferences. We are back in Birmingham for this one and I have to say it’s all looking set for a great event. Registrations are significantly up on the last couple of years at this stage, the exhibition is selling well and we have great content lined up. I need to tweet more about Tech15, both about how such an event is organised (I know some of you liked hearing about that) but also about some of the things that will be happening. I’m quietly excited about a couple of things. The only problem is that, by the time I get to the actual Tech15 conference I am usually a bit spaced out and knackered from all the prep work and by the end of Wednesday (the last day) I’m physically drained – but with a head full of new information.

As I said, all three conferences have a different vibe and which one you prefer is down to what you want from your conference.

After all that I’ll be done with conferences. I refuse to go to any more until the following year…

Which reminds me, I better start putting in some abstracts and seeing if I’ve got stuff people want in their conferences next Spring.

I’ve Been Made an Oracle Ace Director July 16, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in ACED, Presenting, User Groups.
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Well, I guess the title of this post says it all. As I tweeted yesterday:

I’m grateful, proud, honoured and overall just Jolly Chuffed to have been made an Oracle Ace Director! #ACED

I can now put this label on my belongings

I can now put this label on my belongings

I’ve been an Oracle ACE since 2011 and I’m really happy to be making the step up to being an Ace Director. What does being an ACE Director mean? Well, it certainly does not mean that I am technically brilliant. As my community role is as a technical person then I do have to be competent and experienced to be an ACE (or Associate or Director) – but there are many, many people out there who are technically superior to me and are not {and may well not want to be} ACEs of any kind.

To be an ACE of any flavour you have to be committed to supporting the Oracle User Community. The whole ACE program is, I believe, more about recognising and supporting that user community than anything else. Actually, the ACE program web site states this (ACE Program FAQ). To become an ACE Director you have to demonstrate that you have been actively supporting the community for a while (please do not ask me to quantify “a while”) and that you are committed to continuing that activity for at least 12 months. There are some specific activities and commitments that come with the badge but that is balanced by a commitment by the Ace Program to give you some support in doing so (this does not include being paid, it is still voluntary). As I understand it, all ACEs and ACE Directors are reviewed every 12 months and can be re-designated if your community activity has changed.

As I said above, there are a lot of technically strong people who are not and never will be ACEs. This is often because user community activity is not their thing – they have little interest in blogging, presenting, writing or volunteering for user groups. I also know some people who do all those things but they would rather do that with no specific acknowledgement by Oracle Corporation. I guess I am saying that though I am proud to now be an Oracle ACE Director, the main thing it tells you about me is that I am passionate about the user community and I am happy {heck, Jolly Chuffed} to be recognised by Oracle for that. And I am happy for that dialogue to be two-way also. One of the conditions of being an ACE Director is you play a part in representing the user community to Oracle.

Does this mean I have “drunk the Oracle Kool-Aid” as I think some of my American friends would call it? No. Before I became an Oracle ACE I chatted to several friends already on the program and no one I know has been told to not say anything or sanctioned by the ACE Program for criticising some aspect of Oracle Tech. We are still free to be Bitter Old Men & Women (apart from the Bitter Young ones of course). Anyone who has followed my blog for a while, seen me present a few times or spent a couple of evenings in the pub with me will known that I can, at times, be quite critical of aspects of the corporation or it’s software. There is no gagging of us ACEs that I am aware of.

Will being an Oracle ACE Director alter my user community activity? Well, it might. I was doing a lot for the community before now, I made a decision 2 or 3 years ago to become more active in the User Community {for the simple and selfish reason that I like doing it a lot more than I like commuting in and out of London every day}. You don’t do all of this for the ACE recognition, you do it for others reasons and maybe get the ACE badges on the way. But the program helps the Directors a little more, opens a few more doors. So I think I’ll be able to step it up a little more. I’m really looking forward to that.

I’ll stop there. If you are interested in another Oracle ACE Director’s take on the role, check out this video by my friend Tim Hall.