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UKOUG_Tech15 – One Last Big Conference to Round Off 2015 and it’s a Cracking One December 2, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in conference, UKOUG, User Groups.
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It is December so it must be time for the UKOUG annual Tech conference. And it is! It is being held from Monday 7th December to Wednesday 9th December at the ICC in central Birmingham, UK. You can see full details here at their main website. It is taking place at the same time and location as the Apps15 and JDE15 conference. Of course, I am both blessed with inside knowledge and biased as I have helped with the organisation this year, specifically on creating the database stream content. But I am sure this year, on it’s return to the conference spiritual home of Birmingham, it’s going to be the best Tech15 conference in years.

You can still register for the event. If you or your organisation have UKOUG membership and you have not registered yet, you are really missing out. If you are not a member, you can still register and pay for the conference alone – or join the UKOUG membership at a level where conference passes are included which makes way more sense. Information can be found at this link

If technical content is your thing, you might still be able to register for Super Sunday {Update – Super Sunday is now fully subscribed, but you can ask to be on the waiting list}, which is free if you are registered for the main event. Details can be found here but in summary it is a 7-stream afternoon of deep dives into database, development, APEX, Business Analytics and Integration topics with speakers such as Connor Mcdonald (half of the new Ask Tom – how many slides will he cover?), Mark Rittmam of Rittman Mead fame, Luca Canali from CERN, Product manager of PL/SQL and EBR Bryn Llewellyn (with guest appearances by Jonathan Lewis and Stewart Ashton)… Basically, lots of good stuff.

Not just this bunch of ACE's and ACEDs...

Not just this bunch of ACE’s and ACEDs…

There is of course lots of technical content in the main Tech15 conference and a whole host of top presenters – and also new presenters, some of whom are sure to become the big names of future years. As a User Group, the whole aim is to grow the knowledge and expertise of every member of UKOUG.

I just can’t pick names from the list for the main conference so I’ve stolen an impressive tweet put out by Sten Vesterli about the number of Oracle ACEs and ACE Directors who are presenting at Tech15. I did a quick count and it looks like about 58 to me!

You might be more interested in the official word from Oracle as to the direction of the company and the technology. We have lots of presentations by Oracle themselves, the conference keynote by Neil Sholay on Re-imagining the role of IT for Digital, and technical keynotes for all of the specific streams. I’ll make a special call out for my “own” database keynote, which is something special this year. Dominic Giles, Penny Avril and Maria Colgan will give a review of What’s New and then take questions – any questions – from the floor. No questions placed by them, real questions. You can see details (and how to submit questions) at my blog post about it here.

There is also the Exhibition Hall where we have something like 60 exhibitor, all happy and willing to show you what services and solutions they can offer you. And a free pen :-). This is where we all gather for coffee and lunches and mingle with exhibitors and attendees alike.

I’ve been going to the UKOUG Tech conference for well over a decade now, I have only missed it once in that time (and that was for a Significant Milestone Holiday) and I go for 2 main reasons:

  1. The technical content I have mentioned already.
  2. The social side.
but all of this bunch too

but all of this bunch too

Tech15 is a huge conference for a user group with several hundred people there – ย and yet there will be a hundred plus people there I know. It is such an established and friendly group that though I meet some people only at the conference each year they have become good friends. For me personally, this is now the main point of the conference, but then I guess we all have different things we want to get out of the event.

The social side is very important. On Monday evening there is the ย Community drinks. This is where there will be people from each of the SIG (Special Interest Groups) run by UKOUG to talk to you about their party of the community and give you a beer, wine or soft drink. There are rumours that some whisky tasting will be on offer….

After the Community Drinks most people head out to one of the many bars or restaurants around the conference centre. You will find a crowd in All-Bar-One or one of the other places over the bridge from “the back” of the conference centre. Later on you may well find a bunch of people in the bars of the larger hotels.

On Tuesday we start with Exhibition Drinks in the exhibition hall for an hour or so and then there is the Big Birmingham Bash – from 18:45 until late with various entertainments, drinks and food. We join up with Apps15 and JDE15 for this. Again, if this is not enough for you then you and your friends can move on to the surrounding bars and restaurants after.

I’m really looking forward to the event and meeting lots of old friends there, as well as people I only know virtually who are managing to get to the conference this year. I’ll be there from Sunday, I know I will learn a lot over the four days, have a good time and probably stay out too late. I’ll be worn out by Wednesday – but it’s worth it.

A Different Type of Keynote & Jonathan Lewis Panel Session at UKOUG Tech15 November 27, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in Presenting, UKOUG, User Groups.
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Technical people tend not to enjoy Keynotes at conferences. We are allergic to content-light “there has never been a better time to invest in our products” fluffy, frou-frou, big picture talks. We want how-it-works meat on the bones of what is served up to us.

OK, it's a very poor photo but the best I have of Dom presenting. Sorry Dom.

OK, it’s a very poor photo but the best I have of Dom presenting. Sorry Dom.

Well, at the UKOUG Tech15 conference this year (Birmingham ICC 7th-9th December) we have a treat for you – The Database stream keynote is technical AND you get to ask whatever questions you want – questions about Oracle RDBMS technology that is.

Dominic Giles, Maria Colgan and Penny Avril have agreed to be up on stage and, after the first half telling us about some of the things introduced at Oracle OpenWorld 2015, they will take questions. Questions they do not know are coming. Real questions. From people at the conference. Your questions. These are not questions that have been placed by them or checked with them before hand.

Dom does this at smaller user groups; he stands up and asks for any questions from the audience and he just tells it the way he sees it. His incredible knowledge of the product is matched only by his humour (so no huge expectation for you to live up to there, Dom!). Maria and Penny are similarly endowed with knowledge and great presentation skills and are willing to give this a go for us. Brave people.

{I think in the photo Dominic has just been asked about why something in Oracle does not work – and he’s trying to decide whether or not to kill the person who asked…}

You will be able to ask questions on the day, at the session, but you will also be able to post questions at the UKOUG information desk on Monday and I am happy for you to send me any questions you have (mwidlake@btinternet.com or leave a comment on this blog – I don’t think Maria, Dom or Penny drop by here very often so they won’t see them…:-) ). Of course, there is no point asking a question if you do not intend to be at the conference and at that session!

Having run similar sessions to this at smaller events, I know that you need some questions to get the ball rolling and then, with a little luck, the audience warms up and asks questions. The key thing is, no matter the source, the panel do not know the questions before-hand. I’ve seen sessions like that, with placed questions, and it just comes over as fake.

Why did I mention Jonathan Lewis? Well, on Monday at 11:20 he is doing another panel session taking questions, with Nigel Bayliss, Christian Antognini and Maria Colgan (again – we work them hard). This session is focused on the Cost Based Optimizer. We already have enough initial questions but if you are curious about the optimizer and performance, maybe ask your own question from the floor, it’s a must-see session. Jonathan talks about this session in this blog post.

So at UKOUG Tech15 you have two panel sessions in the database stream where you can ask questions. We also have several “Roundtable” sessions across the whole agenda which are perfect for asking questions too. If you have never been to one, a Roundtable session is more a discussion in a smaller group, with one or two experts “officially” there as well as usually some unofficial experts in the crowd. Panel session are “pose your question, get expert answers”, roundtables are more interactive, more like a conversation in the bar. They can get quite lively (but fights are rare) :-).

All in all, we are aiming for a good dose of interaction between presenters and delegates. And never forget, most of us presenters are more than happy to chat and answer questions throughout the conference. Just don’t ask hard questions if you meet us in the evenings, when we are half-drunk…

OOW Report – No List of Talks, No Cloud, Just Thoughts on Community October 30, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in conference, Perceptions, User Groups.
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As I type I am in my hotel, sipping a final beer (it was a gift that has been to a few talks with me in my backpack) and looking back at Oracle Open World 2015. I must confess I am a little drunk so we will see if this post lasts…
{Update – it passed the next-morning-sobriety test. I was only a little drunk}

OOW15 beers

I am on record as saying I don’t like Open World. I came to previous events in 2003 and 2004 I think (yes, over a decade back), both times at short notice on the behest of the Mother Corporation. And at those times I only knew people at the event from Corporation Oracle – not people in the Oracle User Community. It is miserable being 1 of xx thousand people who you *should* share interests with but simply don’t know. Oracle employees are generally excluded from the event so that removed nearly all of my contacts. It is such a large event that if you meet someone on Sunday and chatted to them – you may well never see them again! After all, it is 1 in x thousand people even for your specific area of interest. I’m not good at chatting to people “cold” and the whole “entering the US” is such a bloody awful experience (Immigration just shout at you and growl and are, frankly, as welcoming as a Rottweiler at a kitten party) that the total experience from beginning to end was just, well, less pleasant than a bad week in the office.

This time was very, very different (though not the growling Rottweiler bit, sadly). Because I am now an active member of a couple of oracle “clubs” (Oracle ACE and OakTable) I knew more people. Because I blog and tweet I knew a lot of USA {and other} people, if only via social media. As a result of going to a good few different user groups (and often presenting) I have become friends with people from several communities. And I have also got better at “Cold chatting”. So for several days I have been meeting people like Danny Bryant (still my hero as he got my conference pass back to me after I dropped it on a bus!), Bobby Curtis, That Jeff Smith, Sarah CraynonZumbrum, Zahid Anwar… and about 37 other people I had never met or only met once. I have re-connected with a couple of dozen old friends too and hung around with closer friends from the UK & Europe. And it has been great. This is one of the great aspects of being an active member of the Oracle Community, there is a pool of people I can now talk to and relax with.

I’ve loved my OOW15 experience and that is fundamentally because I felt I was inside rather than outside. At this point I was planning to say that not everyone you meet in the flesh will turn out to be people you actually get on with – but I can honestly say that everyone I have met this week has been at least polite to me, most have been welcoming. I’m not saying all will be life-long friends and I am at long last wise enough to recognise that someone being polite to me does not mean they did not find me annoying. But one of the great things about a user group community is that almost everyone in it is actually on the “friendly” side of normal. If you are not, user groups are not going to be your thing!

It makes a huge difference. Being able to find someone (and modern social media makes that so much easier than a decade back when I hated this experience) to have a coffee with and a nice conversation can make a potentially lonely gap between presentations into an enjoyable afternoon. I missed half a dozen presentations this week as the conversations went on much longer and were more illuminating than you planned. I could just position myself at a central location and pretty soon a friend would wander by. Or, at least, someone who would not run away ๐Ÿ™‚

Being mindful of the above, if anyone came up to me to talk, I talked to them. There is a phrase that seems current in the US of “paying it forward” which means if you have had a nice experience, try to make someone else’s experience nice. Or is it “paying it backward”? I don’t know for sure but I like both. If you have been helped, help someone. If you think people should help each other, start it by being helpful first. I was able to do this a little bit myself by making sure I was around if a friend called Stew needed some company, as he is not as tied into the user community as others as he is new to this. However, I don’t think this will last as he is making such a name for himself that next year he’ll be introducing me to people! In turn, another friend, Brendan, made time to make sure I had company as he knew I’d not liked my prior experiences.

So all in all I now don’t dislike OOW. I like OOW. And the reason is the user community is there for me. It’s there for everyone who wishes to be a part of it. You won’t like everyone, everyone won’t like you – but that is fine, we all have our different characters – but you will gel with a good few people.

Note I have not mentioned presentation slots. Some were good, some were bad, a small number were great and a similar number were awful. But I did learn a lot and I appreciate the fact. I will say no more as, frankly, if you were not at the conference then a discussion of the presentations is pretty pointless!

I just want to end on a final consideration. I know I am now a member of a couple of “clubs” and that helps me in knowing people. But a lot of people I now know are not members of either of those clubs and I know them due to my simply being social-media active, a user group attender and I make myself cold-chat more. It almost hurts me to say it, but social media can be a good thing. Nothing beats face-to-face socialising, but knowing people virtually first is a great help in getting started with meeting them for real.

I really love the user group community. Or is that just the beer talking (which I finished over an hour back!)

{update – OK, it was the beer, I don’t love any of you. But I like you a lot…}

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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.

Being part of the Oracle Scene… Quite Literally October 2, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in Oracle Scene, publications, User Groups.
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I have some advice for you all.

Do not get drunk with people from Ireland who claim to be your friend and, if you do, agree to no suggestions they might make whilst you are drunk….

I am now deputy editor of “Oracle Scene”.


This is the magazine the UKOUG produce 3 times a year and you can click this link to see the latest issue. There are some very nice articles in there by the likes of That Jeff Smith (product manager of SQL Developer), Fanck Pachot, Philip Brown and prior (and up-coming) issues have contributions from the likes of Jonathan Lewis, Michael Abbey, Grant Ronald, Debra Lilley…

He sucked me into it by stages, a bit like anyone running an illegal street gang might. “Just keep a look out for us…. Just go in and nod when no-one is looking…. just hold this baseball bat for a bit…”. He got me drunk the first time and I agreed to attempt to write an article. He then got me drunk again and got me to agree to write a series of articles. I think I was actually sober when I agreed to review a few submissions. But I must have been very “happy” indeed when I said “Yes” to the being deputy editor…

Being serious, I’m actually very happy to help out though it’s one of those roles that is never going to garner me much notice in the community – but it is the sort of thing the community really needs. Just like people who volunteer to help organise user group meetings or chair sessions at a conference (more on that in a day or two) or help out with the administration of something behind the scenes. Those of us who present and blog and write get some reward in being noticed and recognized. But a lot of people do stuff with little or no recognition, doing it just to help the user community be a success. Maybe we should all keep an eye out for them and say thanks when we come across them.

What To Do at OOW15 (Social & Serious)? September 30, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes, Presenting, User Groups.
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I’m going to OOW15 this year, my first Oracle Open World in 11 years I think. And despite the Prom Queen rejecting all my offerings, I will actually be sneaking in a presentation – which I am very happy about.

The European Oracle User Group (EOUG) get a few slots and two are being used on Sunday 25th, 13:30 – 15:15 for “More Than Another 12 on Oracle Database 12c” – 12 European experts all doing six minutes each on a couple of tid-bits on 12C, including Christian Antognini, Bjoern Rost, Brendan Tierney, Julain Dontcheff, Jonathan Lewis… plus Tim Hall and Maria Colgan if we can squeeze them in (thus “more then 12…”). It was a great success last year, so if you are going to OOW15 sign up to the session at this link to avoid disappointment. You can see more details by our organiser, Debra Lilley (thanks Debra), in her blog post about it.

So I know what I am doing for 6 minutes. What do I do for the rest of the time?

A main aim I’ll have is to try and meet up with loads of people I either only know via antisocial media or have not seen in years.

I am sure things have changed in over a decade and, I have to confess, I did not make the most of my last OOW experience. It was all rushed, I was pulled out there very last-minute (as part of being named Oracle Beta Tester of the Year by Oracle Magazine – get me ๐Ÿ™‚ ) and they wanted me to be able to do some press stuff (it sounds grand – but there was not a lot of interest in me as I was utterly unknown, but I spent what seems like hours being available in case someone wanted to talk to me). To make it worse, I did not know many people out there who were not actually Oracle employees, and oracle employees found it hard to get into things as priority was given to attendees. I felt pretty alone amongst 45,000 people interested in the same Tech as me. I did not even realise I had to sign up for the top talks and by the time I knew, they were all full. I did stumble into some very good Other Talks by accident though.

So, what should I be doing? What great talks should I be signing up for and which fantastic social events should I be trying to get invited to/slotted into my agenda? I don’t even know if many events are by-invite-only…

After over a decade of doing other conferences (and helping organise a few!), I feel a bit like a conference newbie again…

All help for a lonely out-of-towner gratefully received!

A couple of up-coming user group meetings August 18, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in Meeting notes, Presenting, User Groups.
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There are a couple of user group meetings in the UK that I’ll be attending (and talking at) in September.

On the 15th September I’ll be presenting at the UKOUG Database Server SIG in the Oracle London City office, talking about PL/SQL & SQL performance. I’m not exactly sure what I’ll be covering yet, I have a few areas I’d like to talk about so I’ll have to pick one to do it justice. The meeting starts at 09:30 and is of course free to anyone with UKOUG membership (excepting the Bronze membership which only a few people have) – anyone can pay a small fee to come along. Contact the UKOUG or ask me if you want details. I’m pretty sure there will be some of us in a nearby public house after the event too.

The next meeting is the Yorkshire Database meeting on Tuesday 22nd September, from 18:30. This is the third YoDB event and I know they have been very good. I’ll be doing my talk on the fundamentals of Oracle’s architecture. I’m really quite excited about this meeting {and I know it is often a false “sell” thing to say about any IT event} because (a) it is a small, local grass-roots user group that I’ve helped promote and yet will be the first I’ll manage to get to and(b) I was at college in Leeds and so have a soft spot for the place. I still have some friends up there. This event is free to all but you DO have to register using the link above.

As ever, it’s great to meet people so please come over and say “hi” if you are at either event.

I’m hoping the postponed cluboracle meeting will happen in September too but either a new date has not been announced or it went by me.

If you want to see what events I’ll be at in the later quarter of the year, you can check out the “appearances and meetings” tab. It’s mostly smaller things like OOW and UKOUG Tech15 ๐Ÿ™‚

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.

Friday Philosophy – Being Rejected by the Prom Queen July 13, 2015

Posted by mwidlake in conference, Friday Philosophy, Presenting, Tech15.
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If you follow me on twitter (and if you are on twitter, why would you *not* follow me ๐Ÿ™‚ See Twitter tag on right of page -> ) you will know what the title is all about. I posted the below on my twitter feed a few weeks ago:

Submitting to speak at #OOW15 is like asking out prom queens. You live in hope – but expect rejection ๐Ÿ™‚

{BTW if prom queens are not your thing and you would rather be asking out the captain of the football/ice hockey/chess team, the vampire slayer or whatever, just substitute as you see fit.}

I’ve not submitted to Oracle Open World for years – in fact, I’ve never submitted papers to OOW. Of the two times I have spoken at the conference, once was at the request of an Oracle product manager as the “friendly customer” in his talk {I did 75% of the talking and was not even mentioned on the agenda!} and the other I was actually presenting back at Redwood Shores at an Oracle Life Science conference running parallel to OOW. Both were a decade ago. But this year I decided to give it a shot and put forward 3 talks – all technical but intro talks, which I thought they would like as it would be a nice balance to much of the content, which is either deep technical stuff or, more often, “how great is Oracle” presentations on the latest stuff. And for 2015, endless fluffy Clouds.

I know it is hard to get accepted at OOW and, despite my personal, utter conviction that my talks would be brilliant and wow the audience, I had no great hopes. I was up against the Oracle-Presenting-Equivalent of the Sports Jocks and children-of-the-fabulously-wealthy at college. But for a short & wonderful period, I actually thought she was going to say “yes”!!! You see, lots of my friends who had also “asked out the prom queen” were tweeting that they had been rejected. But I had not, no email in my inbox saying that whilst I was cute, we were not right for each other. In fact, when the odd tweet went out from people saying that one or two of their talks had been rejected but not all, I started to think I was going to slam-dunk the whole affair and get all 3 talks in! What would be the equivalent of that with the Prom Queen? Probably stuff her dad would not be happy about.

But no, I’d forgotten I’d submitted under my ORA600 email address and when I remembered, I found the email waiting there. All three rejected. No dancing with the Prom Queen for me. *sigh*. It was like she’d not only turned me down but rung up my mum to refuse my offer of a date, rather than tell me direct. I would not have found it so hard to take if only, for that short while, I thought I was going to get a “yes”.

I suppose it is only fair. I’ve been on the panel of people choosing the content for the database part of the UK Oracle User Group Tech15 conference in Birmingham. Notification for acceptance or rejection of submitted papers to that event went out just a day or two before the OOW notifications and I knew some of my friends were going to be disappointed. I worried about that a little, they knew I had been involved in the choice and so was partly responsible for them not being selected. {I really hope that the person who told me to stay on holiday in Montenegro as they knew where I lived was kidding….}.

OOW15 and UKOUG Tech15 actually had a common issue I believe – less physical space for talks. I’ve been told that the Moscone centre has been overhauled and some space is still not ready. For Tech15 we are sharing space with Apps again so do not have as much room as we would ideally like. However, the main issue (again for both events) is just the number of good presentations by good speakers that we get. If we had space for 6 concurrent database streams at the same time (we do have space for 4 or 3, depending on the day) we would still have more than enough good talks – and the delegates would have to be picking between maybe 3 or 4 talks out of the 6 that they personally would like to see – and feeling they were missing out no matter what.

I’ll say more at a later date about how we actually pick the talks (the post is half written) but the take home message for anyone rejected from UKOUG Tech15 this year is:
(a) The competition was strong.
(b) You have a known target for your anger (Look, it really is 90% decided by the judging scores!!!)
(b) You can take comfort schadenfreude in the knowledge that I (and several other committee members) have suffered exactly the same disappointment as you. Maybe worse for me – for a while I was convinced the haughty little minx was going to say yes….

If you got rejected by OOW15 then I think the important things to keep in mind are:
(a) It’s all just Sales Pitch & Company flag waving & cloud-cloud-cloud and you never really liked that prom queen anyway. {Me? Bitter?}
(b) There is a stellar line up of people who have also been rejected. Try checking out the twitter tag #TeamRejectedByOracleOpenWorld {quick nod to Tim Hall for coming up with a such a funny idea}.
(c) At least you put in for it. The one way to be sure you won’t get something is to not try.

Oh well, there is always next year. If my ego has recovered by then. I quite fancy the new captain of the chess team…

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

Posted by mwidlake in conference, Presenting, UKOUG, User Groups.
Tags: , , ,

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ™‚ } 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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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.