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Analysing UKOUG Presenter’s – I Know How You Performed. June 16, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in conference, Presenting, UKOUG, User Groups.
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This last few days I’ve been analysing how well received previous presentations (since 2006!) have been at the UKOUG tech conferences. It’s interesting to look at the information. I’ve learnt some interesting things about all those well-known-names :-)

Like many conferences and user group meetings, during the conference and shortly afterwards the UKOUG ask attendees to feed back on the presentations, keynotes and round tables that people go to. If you chair a session, one of your tasks is to request people do the feedback forms. Talks are judged for several aspect (concept, quality of slides, presentation skills, overall value and a couple more) from 1 (very poor) to 6 (excellent). You can also add a free-text comment. The reason for an even number of possible scores it to prevent a non-committal middle score. Why not 1-8 or 1-10? I don’t really know, but I did see a blog post recently about using a wider range and it seemed to not really add to the overall benefit of the feedback as the very top and very bottom scores were never used. This information is compiled and fed back to the individual speakers, along with the average scores across the event. Speakers are very keen to know how they did compared to everyone else {no egos involved here :-) } and also any specific comments on their efforts. It is important to us speakers, we need to know if you liked or disliked what we did so we can improve. Or sulk.

This is an example of the feedback we get (one of mine, of course).
Speaker Scores

Something that has annoyed me for many years is that the speaker scores are not formally analysed and fed into the speaker selection process for future UKOUG conferences. I used to get really quite vexed by this {ie bad tempered and, well, annoying & complaining to the UKOUG office}. I suspected they were going to do to me what you should always consider doing to some loud-mouthed complainer and say “well, if you are so passionate about this – you damn well do it!”. So I offered to take the data and process it.

The information I received was not the raw feedback forms, but the average scores per talk – the information actually passed back to the presenters. Which is perfect for my purposes. I analysed data from 2006 to 2014 {though 2008 was missing), so a pretty comprehensive data set. SIG talk feedback is also missing, I’ll work with the UKOUG office to incorporate that for version 2 of the analysis.

Compiling all the data into a single rating per speaker is more demanding than first seems. Isn’t any data analysis project? Rather than consider all areas speakers are judged on I decided to score people on only two dimensions (areas to you and I) – presentation skills and overall value of the session. When we judge papers those are the two main things we want to know – can the person present well and do they usually give a talk people value.

Some of the challenges were:
– What to score speakers on – I’ve just said what I chose.
– People’s names. I need to group talks on this but it’s a free-text field of course so I had to clean that. I stripped off title, edited variations and then reviewed. For women, their Surname can alter with marital status {I find it rather archaic that this is still very common and almost exclusively impacts women. But then, I offered to my wife we use her maiden name as our married one and she was fine to take mine.} But you also get variations on first name, spelling mistakes and alterations of title. I had to solve that to group scores.
– The number of feedback forms received for a given presentation. If a presentation only gets one feedback form, how reliable are the scores? If it gets 5 feedback forms, how reliable is that? 35 forms? I came up with a weighting based on the number of feedback forms where if only 1 feedback score was given, it held less weight than 5, that held less weight than 15… etc.
– Oddities of eg co-presenters or the “speaker” actually being a facilitator, as is often the case with Round Table sessions.
– The data, as held in Excel, being “damaged”. ie it caused my analysis issues as things had been done to the data to support other purposes – what was important to the UKOUG organising the conference that year. Sorting those issues out took up most of my efforts.
– The fact that I was using Excel as the analysis tool. I’m a SQL guy!!!! But the thing is, with a relatively small volume of data and a need to constantly visually check alterations, some things are just much easier in a tool like Excel than SQL. And some things are way harder.

In the end, I got a set of scores that helped us on the Agenda Planning Day (well, it did in the database stream) and hopefully will develop over the years. It would be wrong of me to discuss how specific Oracle Names did, especially any who did poorly, but the scores informed our deliberations this year and should do so for years to come. If you want to contact me directly and ask me how you did – I won’t tell you (or anyone else). But I can talk about more generic things I discovered.

Over all presentations from 2006 to 2014
the average number of feedbacks for a session is around 10
The average for Presentation Skills is 4.6
The average for Overall Value is 4.5

So almost 4.5 out of 6 as the average scores, which is “Good” to “Very Good”.

NB I do not calculate my averages in the same way as the UKOUG office.

Because I weight my scores and remove zero values (and probably a couple of other differences, such as I already have averages not the raw scores) my average scores do not compare and are higher to the ones they issue for events. I think I am a harsher judge :-)

So what were some of the interesting things I discovered?

  • Well, for starters, scores for a given presentation rarely hit as low as 3. In fact, except for a small number of stand-out-bad talks, most scores of 3 were where only 1 feedback score was received, some with 2. We don’t seem to like giving low feedback scores. The same goes for 6. I only saw 6 if the number of feedback forms was 1 or 2. So reliable scores are between 3.01 and 5.99 really.
  • As I was stripping off people’s title by manual replacement runs, I know how many Mrs, Ms, Miss, Dr etc we get. Miss and Ms go up – and down – over the years. It varies a lot, but Ms is becoming more common. What is disappointing is the consistently low number of presentations by women. But I know that in the years I have been involved, the proportion of presentations by women is in proportion to the number of submissions, or even a tad higher. Come on ladies, represent your constituents! Some of the highest speaking scores are by women.
  • Another thing I get from the person title, we get no papers submitted by Professors, Colonels (or any military bigwigs), members of the clergy or peers of the realm. Or members of royal families. They are simply not trying are they?
  • On a personal note – I am Utterly Average. Over 8 years I fall number 296 and 298 out of 623 speakers for Presentation Skills and Overall Value respectively. Have you any idea how much that damaged my ego?!? I was gutted! Where I am a little more unusual is my average number of feedback scores, which is 21.6, in the top 15%. I’m massaging my ego with that (it’s all I’ve got!).
    {what is really vexing is I dug out my scores from earlier years and they were better than my running average – and my scores are pulled down by one talk in 2010 where I really bombed. Have you any idea how tempting it was for me to delete that one talk out of the data set?}
  • Some speakers, a small number, always-always-always get high votes, mostly as they are excellent but with an added slice I suspect of of, well, they are deeply respected. But interestingly, even well known people (what I think of as the ‘B’ list and even a couple of ‘A’ listers in my opinion) can bomb. Some regularly. I mean, if you saw the scores for….no, I won’t say :-).
    But the scores for individual speakers can and do vary. I saw one speaker, who in my opinion is a brilliant technician and a fantastic speaker, be up in the high 5.8’s for one talk and then down in the low 3’s for another. That made me dig in further and there are several people I know and hold a similar opinion on who have high and low talks. So that makes me feel that the user feedback scores are generally reliable and even respected speakers will get a poor score if the talk misses it’s mark. The best just simply never miss the mark, or not by much.
  • Not to be too harsh, but if you score 4 or below for either presentation skills or overall value and got 3 or more feedback forms – you bombed.

But bombing occasionally is OK. I’ve bombed (well, this close to bombed) and I’ve learned. Many excellent presenters have bombed. We all alter in our presenting skills over time. Most of you get better over time – I’ve got a tiny bit worse! But if you bomb all the time? Then maybe presenting is not your thing. It is not the only route to spreading the word, maybe try writing. But, again to be harsh, if you can’t present we owe it to the delegates of the conference not to select you to present.

Those of us organising the content know, as a group, who the best speakers are. We ensure that they get slots. And we have a good feel for who the better speakers are and they get looked on “favorably”. We do this as we want the best content and experience for the audience. Eric Postlethwaite may be a genius at VPD and know it inside out, but if they present like a cardboard cut-out with bad breath then the session will be a failure. Judging scores are the top filter but we on the planning committee keep in mind how good a speaker is. What worried me was that this was not scientific, it was word-of-mouth and gut-feel, which is why I spent many days in Excel World to take the raw feedback and convert it into scores. I want the audience feedback to influence the content.

If you speak (or have spoken) for the first time and your scores are below average, don’t worry too much. As you can see from the above, you are up against a pre-selected set of known, excellent speakers. Hitting average is actually something of an achievement (and I would say that as I am Mr Average!).

One thing jumped out at me. I looked at all the comments (and I do mean all) for a couple of years and I noticed that you get the odd person who tries to “make a point” by adding the same comment to all the speakers’ feedback forms they fill in. Don’t do that. The speakers do not deserve your ire at the conference. It’s childish of you. If you want to raise an issue with the conference as a whole, don’t spam it on the speaker feedback forms, you dilbert, be an adult and contact someone involved in the conference organisation direct. Oddly enough, we DO like to have people come and say what you felt did not work, but spamming it on all the speaker feedback forms is just non-directed trolling.

I said I would not name names, it is not fair. But I’m going to name one though, and this is based on MY opinion of what I have seen looking at the stats. This is not official UKOUG opinion. Connor McDonald? Your presentation skills are awesome. I wanted to edit your scores down through pure envy. You are a good presenter, sir.

Friday Philosophy – Why I Volunteer for User Groups May 22, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, Presenting, Private Life, UKOUG.
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I’ve just noticed a new page about me popping up on the UKOUG web site – It’s in the section about volunteer case studies, alongside people like Joel Goodman, Simon Haslam, Carl Dudley, Jason Arneil, Brendan Tierney and others who have been stupid good enough to give time and effort to the UKOUG.
{You can get to the page by going to the UKOUG home page (www.ukoug.org) and clicking the Membership or Member Activities tab and Case Studies & Testimonials under that and finally Volunteer Case Studies. Phew. Or follow the link I gave at the start and click on the other names.}

I’m not sure how long I’ve been up on there but only a couple of days I think.

Anyway, Why DO I volunteer for user groups?

The little bio covers most of it but I thought I would put some words here on my blog too. I volunteer because, fundamentally, I am a socialist (with a small ‘S’) – I feel that we are all better off if we all help each other. I’ve been helped by people in my career (presenting stuff I don’t know, giving advice), I guess I feel that I should return that favor. Many of the people who have (and continue) to help me stand nothing to gain personally by helping me. In fact, one or two have helped me when, strictly speaking, they are helping create a rival for work opportunities. I try to do the same to those around me. I know, it sounds a bit “Disney film teaching the kids to do right” goody-two-shoes, but that is the core of it. And there are some other aspects to it too…

Why do I volunteer for the UKOUG specifically? Because they are THE main user group in my geographic area and provide the most support to the Oracle user community here in the UK. Most of the people involved in the UKOUG are just nice people too. But I also support and volunteer for smaller user groups, mostly by either promoting their meetings, going to them or presenting. I started presenting at the main UKOUG conference back when Dido, Eminem and Christina Aguilera where in their hey-days. I also went to the RDBMS and similar SIGs and before long I was presenting at them and then got sucked into chairing one of them – the Management and Infrastructure SIG. I’ve been slowly sucked in more & more as the years role by.

That has led on to me presenting at other user groups in different countries. Actually, I used to do quite a bit of presenting abroad (mostly the US) around 10 years ago, but that was part of the role I had at the time and my employer paid the bills. No employer to pay the bills now, but then as it is my time I try to make presenting abroad also a chance to have a short holiday, I try to take a day or two one side or the other of the event to look around. And actually, it is nice spending time with other people who present at or attend user group meetings.

Another part of it is I just like presenting. This is not quite so Disney Nice Guy, there is an aspect that is more selfish, that standing up, being listened to and telling people stuff that maybe they don’t know makes me feel better about myself. Better about myself? OK, I’ll let that stand for now but it is more that it makes me feel I am achieving something and having an impact. That I am useful. Fundamentally it is still a desire to help and presenting does not scare me (I know it is scary for a lot of people, but then a lot of people are not scared of heights and I am – it all balances out). But with a slice of “look at me!!!” thrown in.

There are also rewards for the effort. I’ve got to know a lot more people as a result of presenting, blogging (and now tweeting) than I would have had I stayed just one of the audience. For me it has helped me make more friends. As I said above, part of what is now nice about user group meetings for me is meeting friends I’ve made who are also on the speaker circuit and there is inevitable a few drinks in the evening whenever there is a user group. It also gives you more exposure in the community and helps lead to job opportunities – or at least that is the theory. No one has yet offered me a job because they liked my blog post or presentation!

That leads me to the last aspect of volunteering. Some people volunteer primarily for selfish reasons. To get bragging rights, get it on their CV’s, to help them get sales contacts or better jobs. The odd thing is, people who do it for those reasons tend not to last – as volunteering for user groups is a lot of hard work to get those rewards. You can usually spot them as they are the ones who don’t actually do a lot or complain all the time about the coffee being bad (actually, usually the coffee IS bloody terrible) and other things. Don’t get me wrong, some of those rewards do come with the volunteering, but if someone is volunteering primarily to get them, it does not seem to work out for them. Or maybe that is my socialism coming out again :-). Fundamentally, I think volunteering only works if, at the core of it, you want to help other people. Maybe that is why other volunteers are such nice people to hang around with.

Why do you do it? (or not).

No Local Oracle User Group? Oh Well, Go to a Bar… April 28, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in Presenting, User Groups.
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Is there no local Oracle user group in your area? Do you wish you could share experiences with like-minded people? Is there no opportunity to talk about the technology you work with? Do you feel you would benefit from expanding your network of friends and contacts? But without a local user group it’s really hard to do any of that! – At least face-to-face. And, let’s face it, meeting for real really does beat meeting on-line. I know, you are sad about it.

Well, go to a bar. Have a drink, it might make you feel better. Especially if you go with Dave in your team. Ask your friend across town along who also works with Oracle Tech. And maybe she could bring her friend who is an Oracle DBA too.

Well done! You now have an Oracle User Group!

It really is that simple to start a user group. You do not need an organisation, you do not need membership and you do not need presenters. You just need three of you and a place to meet. I might be saying a bar above (or, in England, it would be a local Pub, my good chap) but it can be a coffee house, a cafe, a wine bar, the local library maybe or anywhere you can meet easily and relax. Obviously increasing from 3 to 4 to 5 etc makes it all more interesting with more stories, tips and experiences to share.

I’m in a user group just like that, it’s called the LOB – London Oracle Beers. We started in around 2009, 2010. Initially it was myself, Neil Chandler and Doug Burns occasionally meeting for a pint or three (and later arguing about who started LOB). Soon Pete Scott was joining us, then Dawn, then Graham {what happened to Graham?} then Martin Bach… It got serious when I put together a mail list. We’ve been going ever since and although the regularity of the meetings fluctuates, as does the size of the group, it seems to keep going at between once a month to once every 3 months. Thinking about it, we are due a get-together.

How to Start a Small, Social User Group

There is one thing that IS needed for a user group like the above, and in fact for the others I am going to mention.

You need someone to regularly say “let’s meet”.

It does not need to be one person, it can be shared between several people. In the current LOB it is mostly myself that sends out a call but Neil does too. Anyone in the group can make the call and occasionally others do (Dawn, Pete) and some ask me to make the call on their behalf, which I do even if I can’t attend. But that’s really all you need, someone to make the call.

The other thing you need to do is, as a group, invite some others along. Not everyone you can think of, for a social user group let it grow at a steady, organic rate. People drop in and out of user groups so you need to constantly keep an eye on things and if the numbers drop, ask a few others. People’s lives and circumstances alter so they can’t come or they just decide they’ve had enough and that’s fine. For this sort of social-centric user group I would suggest you stick to inviting friends and friendly contacts and try not to let it get too large (A nice problem for a user group to have!)

So Just Do it! If you do not have a local user group and you want one, be the person to ask a couple of friends and if there are 3 or more of you, make that call. And a month or two later, make the call again. The worst that will happen is that it won’t take off and, if it does not, you know you tried (and not many people will know you failed :-) ). I’d honestly be surprised if it does not at least take off for a while.

The Presenting User Group

Another sort of user group is where you start off by wanting it to be a bit more structured, to have presentations involved. This does take more organisation: a location where you can present (it does not have to be the same place each time), someone to present and it helps if you have a sponsor. As having somewhere to speak may well involve renting a room and it’s nice if you can offer some drinks and snacks. You don’t need a lot of sponsorship (if any). Ask some local Oracle-centric firms, the worst they will say is “no” and the best they will say is “sure, here is enough money for some pizza and Rohan in the Dev team is happy to talk about Blargh at the first meeting”. But work out what you need (say rental on the room and enough for a couple of Samosas for everyone) and only ask for what you need. Your sponsor may well want to put up a banner or have someone say something but that is part of the deal.

I’m involved in two such user groups in the UK at the moment:

Oracle Midlands run by Mike Mckay-Dirden. They are about to have their 8th meeting (Follow the link <- over there), on the 19th May in their usual location in Aston, Birmingham. I managed to get to most of their first meetings, spoke at one and sadly missed the last couple due to timing clashes. Might be true for this next one too :-(. Mike does brilliantly on this, he got a local firm (or part of the firm) Red Stack Technology to sponsor him and he has the gall to ask Oracle Ace Directors and other known people to speak :-)

Club Oracle London was started by Jonathan Lewis (I think prompted by the LOB and also what Mike was doing – but don’t blame Jonathan if I have my facts wrong) and is sponsored and run by e-DBA but with a very light touch. This will be their 4th or 5th meeting. I’m speaking at this one and I’ve been to all of them. Again, follow the link for more details and to register for the event on Thursday.

If you visit my blog often or follow me on Twitter you will have seen me promote these events. I’m very keen to support smaller, local user groups.

Again, it needs someone to Make The Call and also get at least the first speaker(s), but you can share the load for that. The other difference is that you probably want to spread the call a little wider. Tweet about it, use Facebook and all those other social media things.  Tell all the people you know who might be interested and ask them to spread the word as you want a reasonable crowd for the speaker.

There is more to organising these more formal user groups but nothing that one determined person or a small group of fairly determined people cannot make happen.

Larger User Groups

The next step up are the large user groups where you have membership and paid-for events, like national, regional (or state in the US) user groups. You need a run up to create one of those! However, they are still user groups, they are all part of the “environment” of the total user community.

These user groups can still be created by a small number of people but doing so is a bigger task and I suggest you contact other people who are involved in such things and really plan what you want to achieve – it’s a topic beyond a single blog post like this. But it can be done and it can grow out of the two sorts of user group above.

I would like to highlight that starting your own local, small user group should be no barrier to being part of the large user groups. I attend, promote and present at the small user groups. Heck, you could say I run one with the LOB (along with other people). However, I am an active member of the UKOUG, deputy-chairing a Special Interest Group that meets 3 times a year and I’m involved in organising the content of UKOUG Tech15 (See the banner -> over there -> – at the time of writing the Call for Papers is open ). We can all live together.

 

Getting Speakers

If you want a speaker at your event (which you can have at the social sort of user group but you need to make sure the speaker is not expecting a projector and can’t user powerpoint!) then you can ask someone in your group to do it, you can do it yourself (we all have knowledge and experience to contribute) or you could try to get a speaker outside your group.

If you are trying to start up the more formal Presenting User Group then a known name will help draw people to your event. But there is the danger that not enough people will turn up for the speaker! You will worry about that. Well, don’t. Just be honest with the speaker about the numbers you expect and be realistic. In many ways I personally like smaller crowds and I know other speakers who do. I’d rather have 5 enthusiastic people than 50 indifferent ones.

Obviously, the more geographically local the speaker is the more likely they will say yes  and asking the stellar stars is likely to get a “no” as they are simply too busy – but if they are Local-local, they may say yes! Remember, potential speakers have to earn a living so are not available at the drop of a hat and some only do conferences. Again, the worst you will get is a “no”.

I’ll make an offer – If you decide to start such a group in the UK and you need a presenter, let me know. I can’t promise but I’ll try to oblige. If you are further afield I’m afraid it is less likely I can help as I have to pay my own travel and expenses. But you never know, the odd jaunt over to Europe does happen.

Also, try looking up local Oracle ACEs and OakTable members. Again,they might say no, they might say yes but Oracle ACEs and OakTable members are generally inclined to help, it’s a large part of why we have those labels.

 

As the annoying advert says “Just Do It”

So in summary: If you want a user group and there is not one, maybe you can start one. If you want it to be a little more formal with presentations, look for a sponsor and ask some local Oracle Names if they would present.

Good Luck!

Tips on Submitting an Abstract to Conference April 17, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in conference, Tech15, UKOUG.
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<.. The tech15 committee and my role
<…. Who plans the Tech15 content

The call for Papers for UKOUG Tech15 has gone out. This is how most of the content for a large conference is sourced, by asking the community to submit abstracts for consideration. With smaller conferences and user group meetings the organisers can often get enough talks by hassling asking people they know.

mail_image_preview_big

Firstly, I would encourage anyone who has considered talking at conference but never has, to submit an abstract. We could easily fill the whole event with known speakers but we don’t. We have a policy of having some New Blood at every conference. {If you are in the UK and want to try out presenting then a great way to do so is by presenting at a smaller user group meeting, like for example the next RAC/Database UKOUG SIG meeting on July 1st :-) – It’s a friendly, relaxed way to get into presenting. Get in touch with me if it appeals to you}.

You can click on this link to go to the submission page, but before you do…

When you submit an abstract for a conference, you are not actually at that point communicating with your potential audience. You are communicating with the handful of people who are tasked with going through all the submissions and selecting the papers. With the UKOUG conference you are also communicating with the volunteers who will judge abstracts. And we, the agenda planning committee, take those judging scores very seriously. It is a large part of how we attempt to ensure we select the talks on topics that people want to hear about, as well as the people who you want to hear talk.

So when you get to the field where you describe your proposed presentation (the abstract) I would suggest you don’t want to be “teasing the audience” at this point. The people who are judging and selecting the papers are seasoned conference attenders. A catchy title might get you noticed but if the abstract does not clearly state what your talk is about, what you intend to cover and who you expect your audience to be, it makes it less likely that your abstract will get selected.
Also, if you have looked at the call-for-papers page and associated notes and have seen that we are particularly interested in some area (eg “what you need to know about ….” for the database stream) and your paper is addressing it, it is worth making that a little bit obvious. The agenda planning day is hectic, we get tired and tetchy and our brains start to leak out of our ears. If your abstract is clear about what you are talking about, you are increasing your chances of selection.

In years gone by we have given the people the option to give two versions of your abstract – the one for judging and the one for promoting your talk (that is the one that gets put in the conference notes and your potential audience will read and decided if your talk is worth their attention). However, many people felt this was asking for the same information twice so we have reverted back to a single abstract this your. However, you can change your abstract text after your talk has been accepted {but note, we are wise to people trying to change the actual content of the talk later on – we LOOK at the changes!}. So sell your talk to the committee and judges now and worry about the catchy reference to your favorite movie afterwards.

I used to make my submission abstract humorous (well, in my eyes) but I don’t anymore, or at least I tone it down. If anything, I make the abstract factual and simple. As an example:


How Oracle Works in 50 Minutes
—————————————–
This is a high level but technical talk about the key processes that underlie the Oracle database. I describe what an instance is and how the server process is the gateway to the instance. I cover how the redo mechanism works and why it is critical, how data is moved into and out of memory, delayed block cleanout, what a commit IS, the importance of the undo tablespace and how a read consistent image is maintained for the user. The intended audience is new DBAs or developers who have never been taught how the database works and at the end of the talk they will understand how these key processes work.

OK, the description is a bit boring but you know exactly what my talk is going to be about and if it will fit in your conference.

So what happens when you click on the above link to submit an abstract? You will see the below front screen:

Submission Screen

Submission Screen

I would suggest you not only read this screen but also check out the menu on the left of the screen. Look at the “Hints & Tips” and also the stream you are intending to submit to (eg “Systems” if you want to present on Exadata). If you are unsure which area your talk fits in, check them all out.

the big red Submit an Abstract will actually take you to the same place that the left menu “Speaker Application” takes you too. The first step of submitting an abstract is actually saying who you are and registering on the system. If you are willing to judge abstracts (ie you ticked that box) you will then get to indicate what topics in what streams you are willing to judge. THEN you will be put into the “Speaker Lounge” and you can enter your abstract by clicking the “Submit” button.

When you come back to the system, you can go straight to the Speaker Lounge, the system will show you your details again so you can correct anything. You will see what abstract(s) you have submitted and click on them to check or change anything, or click on “Submit” to add another abstract.

Think carefully before you submit 15 abstracts. As a general rule, more than 3 and you start to reduce your chances of having a paper selected. People judge your papers will score you down if you submit too many, it’s like you dilute your judging scores over all the abstracts.

Enjoy.

My Oracle Life of Clubbing & Harmony March 31, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in conference, Presenting.
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Last year I promised myself I would do more conferences & presenting and that it would include more events further afield, such as in Europe. I can’t say I managed it in 2014 (Liverpool for the UKOUG Tech14 did not count as a foreign country for me, even if I found a couple of the locals hard to understand) but 2015 is proving more successful. I attended the OUG Ireland conference 2 weeks ago, for my first trip to that country, and I learnt recently that I have papers accepted for Harmony 2015. This conference is a joint event between the Oracle user group of Finland, the Oracle user group of Estonia and the Latvian Oracle user group.

The conference is on the 11th and 12th of June in Tallinn, Estonia. I know that a few of my friends I’ve met in the flesh will also be there but also some people I only know online and who I’m looking forward to meeting for real {and one who I am not sure if I have met in the flesh or not!!!}. That’s part of why I like going to conferences; It is nice to get to know people via electronic means but there is nothing like actually being in the same room and chatting, especially if it is relaxing over a coffee, beer or a meal.

However, I am particularly happy to be going to Tallinn as my wife has been there and loves it. We are trying to organise it so that she can come over as well, but she has her own travel commitments that vary from week to week. Sue knows how to say “can you punch my ticket” in Estonian – and she assures me this is not a euphemism for anything.

In case Sue cannot make it, she has given me the book she learnt from, so I can learn Estonian myself:

Learn Estonian - in Russian!

Learn Estonian – in Russian!

First I have to learn Russian though… Yes, it’s a Russian “How to learn Estonian” book.

Have you any idea how much pleasure she took in doing that to me?

So that is the Harmony. What about the Clubbing? That would be Club Oracle London, which is a user group I mention each time there is a meeting. It is in London in the evening and there are 3 talks, beer, pizza and lots of chat between the crowd & the presenters. I’m doing my Disasters talk at the next meeting on the 30th April. Click that link to register and secure your place, it’s free. The other presenters are Svetoslav Gyurov and Dominic Giles. Dom is being particularly brave and is offering to answer any questions people have about the database {“as honestly as I can”}. I’ve known Dom for years, he used to come over to the place I worked when we were doing a lot of beta testing of Oracle. He secured his place in my admiration by not only thoroughly knowing his stuff but also when he told me off for being pathetic and not pushing the new tech and that I was being a wimp. Utter honesty from the vendor works for me.

I’ve currently got nothing else organised for 2015 conference-wise (apart from the small issue of helping define the technical content for UKOUG Tech15! So I guess I will be there. Oh, and probably a couple of SIGs). I keep saying I’ll try to do Bulgaria but again I’d like to get that to work with going with Sue. And of course, I could put in for Oracle Open World 15, but it’s a loooong way to go and costs me a lot. And Larry does not seem to want to talk to me anymore.

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

Posted by mwidlake in conference, Tech15, UKOUG.
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<..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.

Extra session at OUG Ireland – Oracle Lego. March 12, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in database design, development, Presenting.
Tags: , , ,
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I’m now doing a second session at OUG Ireland 2015. {This is because one of the accepted speakers had to drop out – it sometimes happens that, despite your best intentions, you can’t make the conference and it is better to let them know as soon as you can, as they did}. This will be a talk called “Oracle Lego” and it is one I put together a couple of years ago when I decided to try and do more introductory talks – talks aimed at those who are not {yet} experts and who I think tend to get ignored by most conference and user group agenda. So it is aimed at those new to oracle or experts in other areas who have never really touched on the subject.

“Oracle Lego” is about the basics of database design. I have a personal soap box I occasionally get on that very little real database design seems to occur these days. There are exceptions, but often the database design seems to be a quick brain-dump of what the developers or business analysts know they need to store information about and the first-cut set of tables gets created – and then endlessly modified as the development rolls on.

Guess what, we don’t build houses, cars, ships, bridges or garden sheds like that – and there is a reason. If you build things piecemeal as you go along and with bits you either have to hand or have to quickly get, you end up with a pretty poor shed. In fact you don’t end up with a shed, you end up with a shack. With a leaking roof and a door that hits the potting table when you open it. I don’t want a shack and I never, ever want to go over a bridge or sail in a ship built “on the hoof” like that!

Further, just as with a proper architectural or engineering design, a database design does not fix the solution in stone, there is still scope for modification. A bespoke house plan gets tweaked and modified as you do the build and you realise what can be improved when you see it – but you do not suddenly decide to dig out a basement and change from wood walls to stone when you have already constructed the ground floor! I’ve seen database “designs” like this.

There is also more to doing a database design than coming up with tables that hold the records we want to store: We might want to consider if storing similar things in the same table could be better than a table for each “type” of something; How we index those tables and relate them together can have a huge impact on how easy it is to get the data out and store it in the first place; The expected volume and life cycle of the data may require us to consider eg archiving; The very-much-ignored aspect of physical placement of data and clustering of data.

You can spend weeks dedicated to learning about database design – but you can also learn a lot in 60 minutes, ie the basics. And it really is like Lego – once you know the basics you can build up a really complex design. And you learn stuff doing it (and turning it into a real system), just like you do the first time you build a Lego robot (or dog or house or car or bridge or spaceship or whatever). So the second time you build your Lego robot you use the same design basics and layer on top what you learnt last time.

So that is the aim of this talk, the basics of database design.

The strange thing is, last time I did this talk I asked the audience how much database design they did. Every single one of them was already an experienced and capable database designer! So why had they come to this intro talk? They had three reasons:

  1. It was the only talk on database design at the conference, and one more than they were used to getting.
  2. They had picked up their database design skills on-the-job and thought a “reminder” of the basics would be good.
  3. It was cold outside and all the other talks appealed less.

So, this time I am hoping some of the audience is new to database design and I get to teach them great stuff they did not know. If it is all experts again, I think I’ll have to retire this particular intro talk, at least for conferences.

As you can see from the agenda grid here, I’ll be talking at 10:15. You can’t link to an abstract of the talk yet, that just needs to be twiddled into place.

Update – Peter Scott stopped by this blog and it prompted a thought. He felt it was too much at a tangent to add as a comment but I felt it was a very valid and valuable point – so check it out over here on his blog.

BTW Pete has started blogging more, on his thoughts and opinions on Data Warehousing. Personally I think it is worth catching them.

{Oh, and in case any lawyers stop by, “Lego” is of course the copyright name of a popular plastic construction toy, made by the Danish company The Lego Group, that children love playing with and adults hate walking on in bare feet. Did anyone not know that?!?! I have no link to The Lego Group and no plastic bricks will form part of my talk.}

Useful list of Oracle Conferences and Call For Papers March 9, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in conference, Tech15.
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Do you want to know what Oracle conferences are run, where they are and when? Do you present (or are thinking of presenting) and want to know when the call for papers is open?

Then go and look at Jan Karremans’ excellent page on oracle conferences.

It lists most (all?) of the European and US conferences and is a really useful reference – I’ve not come across a similar, maintained list. The below is a static screen shot of part of the list, current of today – but visit the page to see the full, maintained list.

Jan's conference list

If you spot that a conference you know about (or are helping organise!) is missing, then Jan is happy to be contacted via the page and he will add the details.

Creating UKOUG Tech15 – The View from the Inside March 3, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in conference, Tech15, UKOUG.
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3 comments

….Who plans the content of Tech15>
……Tips on submitting and abstract>

At the end of last week I was contacted by the UKOUG who asked me if I would agree to be on the planning committee for the annual technical conference this year – Tech15. Not only that but I was privileged to be asked to repeat my role from Tech14 and be the Lead for the Database area. I am of course happy to do so.

UKOUG_Tech15 Banner
Why do I mention this? Well, this year I intend to share what is involved in helping to organise the content for an event like this, to give a view from the inside. This will mostly be by postings to my blog but also on twitter (@mdwidlake – see the little “twittering” section on the right margin of this page).

Most of the logistical work required to run the conference is done by the team at UKOUG. The UK Oracle user group is large enough that it has a small, dedicated team of paid staff – it needs to, pure voluntary efforts by people with day jobs simply could not run something that is the size of a small company. The office team, helped by the board-level volunteers like Debra Lilley and Fiona Martin, decide on and book the venue (I’m pleased to say that 2015 we are returning to the ICC in Birmingham after 2 years “holiday” in Manchester and Liverpool, and will be on the 7th-9th December – see the Tech15 announcement here) and deal with the hundreds of issues there, including catering. They of course run the registration system, the negotiations with sponsors and vendors wishing to participate, promotion of the event and all the other tasks that go with running any conference, be it I.T., politics, businesses or science fiction. We volunteers do not get involved with any of that, the office staff are highly proficient at such things. Also, that side of it is probably not of much interest to you lot so I won’t say much about it. I’ve helped with the logistical side for smaller events (Tech & Life Science conferences and, yes, a science fiction convention) and most of it is dull and very job-like.

We volunteers do the part that the office staff would struggle with, which is decide on the content. I’ll describe the process in a later blog or blogs but as we volunteers work with the technology we know the subject matter, what is current and coming and, between us what the audience is likely to be interested in. We also have input into decisions about how content is delivered and the things that surround it – the social events, the timing of the talks, any pre-event activities. Basically, aspects that will impact the attendee enjoyment are generally passed by us.

That is the part I’ll mostly try and share with you as we go through the process. For now, I’ll just mention that my friend Anthony Macey did this nice piece about being a volunteer for Tech 2014

Usually when I blog it is very obviously my opinion and no one else’s. I don’t feel the need to have that usual weaselly disclaimer to absolve others of any association with what I say. However, for postings about preparing UKOUG Tech15 I will be in some ways talking about the efforts and actions of others and could be seen as representing the UKOUG. I am not – all opinions and errors should be heaped on my shoulders alone. I did take the step of asking the UKOUG if they were happy for me to run this series of blogs and if they wanted oversight of the postings – they were good enough to say that they were happy for me to do it and that they would not require oversight. So I have their blessing but am a free agent.

If anyone has any questions about the conference and how it is organised, please feel free to get in touch. I can’t answer questions on everything, but if there is some aspect of how it is organised that your are curious about then please ask (so long as it is notwhy did my talk on blargh get turned down“).

Return of the Disasters – OUG Ireland 2015 February 23, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in conference, Presenting.
Tags: , ,
3 comments

In just under a month I’ll be off to Dublin for the 2015 OUG Ireland conference. It takes place on Thursday the 19th of March. I’m doing my favorite presentation to present, on I.T. disasters I have witnessed and what you can learn from them (so now the title of this blog makes sense and maybe is not as exciting as it suggested). It is also the talk I get most nervous about doing. I tend to put a bit of humour into any presentation I do but if it is predominantly a technical talk, it’s fine if the humour falls flat. When I am intending to be entertaining, as I do with this one, there is more at stake!

not_the_best_thing_to_drop

Back in the mid-2000’s I used to do this talk once or twice a year but these days it tends not to get accepted for conferences. I suspect it is partly as I had done it a good few times and partly as it is hard to place it under the categories Oracle Technical conferences have. Is it technical? Is it project management? Is it entertainment? It is actually a bit of all of them. They are all true stories and each one highlights how we should not do things, be it some of the pitfalls of project management or where disaster tolerant hardware turned out not to be.

I’ve mentioned this presentation a couple of times in my blog. Once early on in 2009 when no one came by here very often, where I go into why I toned down the talk {concern over impact on my career/perceived professionalism} for a while and the impact of that decision {a bland and rather poor talk}. It crops up again in a post in 2013, which I think is the last time I gave this talk. I am not sure I did a very good job of it then either, as I was not well during that trip (not helped by rough seas but I was ill for other reasons). Thus I am looking forward to giving it another airing and, as I no longer worry too much about the career, I might just let rip a little more. I have a few more disasters under my belt since I originally wrote the talk, so I might include one or two of them…

The OUG Ireland conference itself is a fair-sized event, running from 09:00 to 17:30 or so, with 7 concurrent tracks covering Applications, Cloud, BI, Database and Development. I’m astounded by the number of Oracle Aces, Oaktable members and other top knowledge sharers who will be presenting {Update – Brendan Tierney has put together a list of all ACEs presenting}. I’ll have several hard decisions about which talk I go to at any given time. I’ll certainly be at Maria Colgan’s Tech keynote at the end of the day though, I’m hoping for another offer of a date* ;-).

To my shame, I have never been to Ireland before and it’s only just over there {points West}, about 90 minutes by plane. So I am turning up Wednesday lunch time and staying to late Friday afternoon so that I can look around and spend some time with fellow presenting friends (and anyone else who I bump into).

All in all, it is a trip I am greatly looking forward to for various reasons. If you can get along I encourage you to do so. And, if you are there and see me around, come and say “hi”.

{* Note to lawyers, this is an in-joke}.

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