RMOUG 2013, The Conference Director Perspective

There have been some great blog posts from folks on the RMOUG Training Days 2013 Conference, (I’ll add some links to my favorites I’ve come across at the end of this post!)  Due to this, I thought I would leave mine in my drafts folder and focus for now on the Conference from my viewpoint as the Conference Director.  John Juenette was gracious enough to send me a beginning blog post he’d started last year and I need to review it and add my own data for future “victims”, but until then, here were my experiences during this year’s run as Training Days Conference Director.

The conference, of course, started for me back in May when I said that I would be the director of the conference.  I started looking through information back then, taking notes at conferences as I attended on what I liked, what I didn’t like and what might be feasible for a conference our size.

The end of July everything ramped up and we started preparing for the conference.  I gathered my wonderful conference committee members, John Juenette, Peggy King, Tim Gorman and Pat Van Buskirk.  Team YCC, the crucial part of our conference planning team, readied the website to open for abstract submissions once we configured tracks, schedules and design.

Once abstracts were submitted, we chose the abstract committee, which did a phenomenal job scoring out the abstracts, which then made it easy for us, come November, did choose the best of the best, then pepper in new speakers, filling 142 sessions out of over 300 abstract submissions.  There were so many fantastic submissions and it was difficult to choose!

I had a very defined list of wants and enhancements that I desired for this year.  I had presented at SQLPass #169 in September and was impressed with their mobile app, Guidebook.  This app did a really fantastic job and upon research, I found that they had just used the free version and that if you looked into some of the enhanced versions, it really put every mobile event app I’d seen in the past to shame.  I had a bit of concern, especially considering how poorly many of the mobile event apps had perfomed for folks in the past, but then Team YCC returned from attending a conference about conferences.  Guidebook had been all the buzz there and they had seen it demonstrated, which had impressed them greatly.  Arisant graciously came on board, thanks to Kathy Robb, to sponsor the app and the mobile app enhancement to RMOUG was made.

My second goal was to upscale our Speaker and Volunteer Reception.  In previous years, it had been at Wynkoop and although I loved the “local brewery” hangout, we’d done it year after year and wanted to do a bit more with the opportunity, but not too much of a change that we shocked everyone.  This year we moved to the Rock Bottom Brewery and rented out the back bar.  This room has multiple TV, pool tables, a much nicer bar and with the joint effort of the Oracle ACE program, we combined what is commonly the ACE dinner with the RMOUG Volunteer/Speaker Reception to form the VIP Reception.  The buffet was fantastic, noting the consumption of not just the food, but the wonderful dessert offerings, but the beer and wine was well received by the group.  We had the largest turnout we’ve ever had for one of these events and we appreciate Vikki Lira’s contribution to this RMOUG/ACE event!

My third goal also sourced partly from the SQLPass event, but had been a source of great frustration for me for some time.  I was quite aware of the ratio of men vs. women in the database field.  In my experience, I had noted it around 30% women, yet when I attended Training Days conferences, the percentage of women in attendance was always less than 10%.  I was amazed when I presented at SQLPass, where in my experience on the Microsoft side, the ratio of women had always been lower, yet here, at the conference, the ratio of attendance was almost 40%!!  I had the great fortune of presenting at the same conference as Jen and Sean McCown, (@MidnightDBA) who, as a married MSSQL DBA couple, Jen does a lot with the WIT, (Women in Technology) program with the MSSQL group.  I appreciated Jen’s attitude and took a number of notes on what she said was required to create a successful WIT program and went forward with these ideas for RMOUG.

The WIT session was held at the time of the vendor sessions so as not to take away from the technical sessions that many might see as clear competitors, (next year, I plan on putting in an hour of professional development, if we can handle it… :))  I then followed these rules:

  1. Don’t make it a “cake social” or a “book club”, this is for technical professionals.  If you wouldn’t have it for a session with an audience filled with male attendees, don’t do it here.  You will lose the truly serious women in technology.
  2. Do not be afraid to discuss all topics that are holding women back or holding women out of the STEM career area.  This is NOT, however, a male-bashing session.  If anyone starts on this line, please intervene, thank them for their opinion, but also remind them that this is not the correct platform for this type of conversation.
  3. Recognize how we hold ourselves back culturally, without even realizing it.  Jen told me how folks would come up to her at conferences and say, “Wow, you are here presenting and your husband is home babysitting the kids?”  She says it was frustrating as she’s explaining to them, “They’re his kids, no one is *babysitting*” and how they would never have had this conversations with her husband at the conference, (her husband was in the room agreeing furiously…)  We often build boxes around ourselves without even realizing it and I’m very aware that I do this to myself- still.
  4. Understanding that although analytical skills are important to a career in a database field, there are a number of other areas that are just as important.  Knowing that without this “balance”, a team can become askew in skills and not perform as well as it would if it were to have a more diversified set of individuals.  When I’m interviewing a new DBA, along with the correct answer to a question, I’m also gauging how they communicate and if they will work well with their team members.  Do their skills help balance out the skills already present in the team?  Women bring a strong component of problem solving and “ability to see the big picture” where men often are highly focused and analytical.  The balance of these strengths are crucial to building a great database team.

Needless to say, the WIT session was hands down, a roaring success.  I thank my fellow panel members, Dominic Delmolino, Maria Colgan, Debra Lilley and Karen Morton.  The outreach of the RMOUG community to me after we completed the very successful session asking what would we do next for WIT was a clear indicator we did something very right in this session!

With my three enhancement goals attained-  Guidebook Mobile App, VIP Reception and WIT Session to launch a WIT Program, I continued with the final changes to the schedule as speakers schedules required and not panicking when things didn’t go exactly as planned… 🙂

The pre-conference on Monday went surprisingly well.  I’m not sure what I would have done without Peggy King ensuring that we had all our volunteers and Tim Gorman setting up the rides from and to the airport.  This is a nice little perk we do here, but we have so few *bodies* to help and so much to do, it can be over-whelming at times.  We arrived on Monday morning, my middle-child, Caitlyn along for the day to assist and all the volunteers started to put bags together for attendees, prepare speaker gifts and registration preparation was all worked to completion.  Speakers started to arrive and register and the OTN and University Sessions were underway.  Cary Millsap held his “Mastering Trace Data” and as usual, the students were thrilled with his class.  Maria Colgan’s session was packed her OTN workshop, (the other session with Kris Rice and Jeff Smith was nothing to sneeze at either!) but we feared for the fire marshall and ensured that no more than the room would hold was allowed.

We had a few cancellations for speakers due to the winter storms out east and one due to illness, so we had to do a bit of scrambling.  I’d like to thank Carlos Sierra and Frits Hoogland for stepping in at the last minute with sessions.  I also would like to thank all the others that offered to throw in a session at the last minute.  I’m always amazed at the support that RMOUG is given by the Oracle community.  You folks really come through over and over again.  I’d like to thank Mogens Norgaard, even with the bad sound quality, he was a warrior, in his infamous keynote bathrobe and stuck through till the end!  The folks at the first three rows of tables in the ballroom thank you, as we got a fantastic keynote!  I apologize to all those in the back of the room who I know had a difficult time hearing anything.  We will work to ensure that the sound quality is better next year.

Upon speaking with different exhibitors, the set up this year really seemed to work well, too.  All seemed exceptionally happy with their spots and the traffic.  Folks seemed to really take time to talk with them and were interested in their products.  We had incredible support this year from exhibitors and sponsors.  DatAvail and DBAK did joint platinum sponsorship this year, which was a first for RMOUG.  We had a number of new exhibitors this year, like Delphix and Firebox Training.

Lastly, I’d like to thank my employer, Enkitec.  I could not do all that I do without the support of a fantastic employer.  I so appreciate the support to me professionally as an employee, as well as they as an exhibitor at RMOUG and my coworkers that submitted abstracts, to those that were accepted and presented.  Kerry Osborne, Wade Nicolas and Veronica Stigers are just the best in all that they do.  They always have their eye on the ball, never falling for the false alarms or latest trends, but strong and steady with the right direction for the company.  I appreciate my boss, (he so hates when I call him that… :))  Andy Colvin.  Nothing much fazes him and he just lets me be the best I can be with the time I have to do everything I can possibly do.

As promised, here’s the links to other blogs posts on this year’s RMOUG.  Thanks for sticking through this, I think it was a long one… 🙂

Carlos Sierra

Maria Colgan

Arup Nanda

Maxym Kharchenko

Kent Graziano  (Kent has a couple others out on his blog, too!)

Mike Dean

Karl Arao

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February 27, 2013

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