For a change, this isn’t a Monday morning rant. Instead, it is the opposite. It’s a summary of my late July trip to India to OC YATRA Tour 2022 – It was a blast. Or: Why conferences are so important.
How did it start?
Months ago, Sai Penumuru and the AIOUG organizers asked whether I’d be willing to come to India for the 2022 Oracle Community YATRA tour. The last time it happened – before the world knew about Covid – Roy was traveling and doing part of the tour. And I remember that Roy didn’t return healthy. Reasons where unknown but I learned to stay away from ice cubes in drinks. I’ve heard other stories but I’d been several times to India already. And except for completely burning my mouth with a very spicy chick peas curry in Delhi many years ago I’ve rarely had any bad experience with food (Roy reminded me on the experience after visiting the Oracle cafeteria in the old office in Bengaluru – I had forgotten about this).
The only thing which really scared me was the 2022 heat waves hitting India so badly. Not only the German press had lots of long reports about how it affected people’s lives, picturing also the temperature limits humans can deal with. Temperatures higher than 50°C were reached in some areas. And not only for a single unique day. I just realized that there is even a Wikipedia article about this heat wave available. But I quickly learned that we will be out there during monsoon season. Hence, no worries, it will be only 30°C and 95% humidity.
On the other side, I was really thrilled. You know that I love meeting customers, partners, community members. Speaking publicly is the best way to transfer knowledge. Of course, we all learned and adopted zoom/teams/webex/whatever over the past 3 years. And to be frank, some things can be handled over web conferencing. Still, it is no secret: It makes a HUGE difference when you have people in the room, when you can discuss topics, when you can react to the attendees. No web conference in the world can replace the energy gifted speakers such as Sandesh Rao or Connor McDonald transpire on stage.
In addition, I realized that the hard process for us Germans getting a visa to India for a business trip has been eased a lot. There is an eVisa available now. And let me tell you that the “e” in eVisa does not stand for “easy”. It still took me 2 hours to fill out all the required fields and information. Especially since free text fields required to add telephone numbers. And from field to field there was a different treatment. Sometimes the text field expected an address and a telephone number with trailing +91 for India, in other cases the phone number was required to be trailed by 0091, once it was only 91 – and the next field didn’t like any trailing country code.
I was then very happy and surprised when I received the “approved” email from our Database Product Management VP, Jenny Tsai-Smith, and my EVP, Andy Mendelsohn. I was good to go, and could book my trip.
When you didn’t travel much for such a long time, it feels really strange when you enter the booking system. But nothing compared to all the work Sai had with the preparation. Since we wanted to travel as a group, he had to plan hotels, flights and buses upfront. And believe me, this was a lot of work. Especially when we foreigners found out that we weren’t able to book certain connections without an Indian credit card. I really can’t tell often enough how thankful we were for Sai‘s travel agent skills.
Anyhow, to make travel more fun, you all know what has happened this year at airports globally, but especially here in mid-Europe. The entire travel industry including airports had laid off tons of people during the pandemic in order to lower their costs. While this is understandable from a financial aspect, it makes not much sense from a social aspect. Lufthansa according to public sources has used the state loans given to start huge layoff-handshake programs. And they kept this going on even in 2022 when it was clear that people will travel again instead of keeping and hiring people. Well, their reaction was raising the ticket prices to absurd levels. Bad timing at its worst. So my travel plans were accompanied by strikes of the Lufthansa ground staff, missing baggage handlers, and way more surprises. Isn’t it strange? You finally can travel again, and then you see the pictures of thousands of suitcases filling entire terminals at Heathrow, Schiphol and Frankfurt Airport.
I decided I will travel with carry-on only to India. I didn’t want to risk to have my suitcase being stuck in Frankfurt, and then being in India with just my emergency toothbrush and underwear. Luckily we received great speaker-shirts – and I knew I won’t need a suit, business shirts and ties (nobody wears ties these days anyway anymore).
Still, it feels a bit strange when you sit there with your gear at home. And while I could pack for a week of travel 3 years ago before at 3am in the night within 10 minutes even without turning the lights on, this time there was this strange vague feeling I’d have forgotten something important. Do I have my passport? The print-outs of my vaccination status? Well, traveling hasn’t become easier in 2022 I fear.
But I was thrilled to take off.
And I created a video as other speakers did explaining why it is important that you will show up in-person. I think it helped 🙂
If you’d like to learn more about OC YATRA 2022, please read on here.
Finally there – now let’s go on stage
We’ve had two photo addicts with us. This is great since I had less work sorting out bad shots but instead could fully rely on the 23,972 pictures Sandesh took. And Jim Grisanzio brought his semi-pro Sony Alpha camera for advanced photography. So if you’d like to see more pictures, please connect with both of them on so called “social” networks.
Chennai was the first stop. And I’ve had no idea what to expect. Thanks to Google Maps and my cell phone guiding the taxi driver was able to find the first location. You enter a side street, and there is a tech building. And magically it fills up with people. On an ordinary Saturday. I was amazed. It was warm and humid. But we’ve had a great room, decent audio, huge screen projections – and what a skilled and motivated audience. When did you visit the last time a tech event on a Saturday?
Thankfully, I’ve had such experiences a few times, for instance when I luckily attended the AzerOUG in 2016 where far over 100 people flooded the room on a Saturday as well to see top speakers from all over the world. Did I mention how important these conferences are with real speakers on stage and real attendees in the room?
And how amazing is it when you arrive in Bengaluru at the location on a Sunday, and there are so many people showing up instead of hanging around on the sofa at home or spending precious time with their families. I’m really grateful for such a great community. Seriously. It means a lot to us to see how motivated you all are.
We started every event with a gathering of all speakers on stage to welcome the audience. It is not normal to expect so many people coming to public events these days. Many thanks to all of you who took the time, put all fear of Covid aside – and came to our talks.
One thing I have to confess: Before my first stage appearance I felt a little bit stage freight. Just a little bit – but it felt soooo good. Then, this feeling of receiving the first question during the presentation. Good, very skilled questions. What a feeling. This is so different from doing anything over web.
And one thing I recognized: In all cities the audience in average was significantly younger than I. This was very important to see. With Oracle colleagues and customers recently we’ve had a discussion whether “Oracle” is the “mainframe/COBOL” of the twenty-twenties. There are these wonderful situations when somebody comes by in a break between talks and asks you for career advice to dive into the Oracle world.
I also saw a great interest in cloud solution talks, especially hybrid approaches. Of course I attended other speaker’s talks as well. And it was amazing to follow the intense discussions for instance in Sai Penumuru‘s hybrid cloud talk. Learning from our customers and partners is just fantastic. So next time, if I’ll have the chance again, you’ll see me presenting topics in this area as well for sure.
Upgrade, Performance and Patching
Sai always introduced me to the audience as the guy who magically can let your database upgrade if you just speak to me or touch me 🙂
But honestly, it was pure fun to talk about not only upgrade but more about how to ensure performance stability – and especially about Patching and giving insights in the Oracle Database Development process. So in case you haven’t downloaded the slides yet, please find them here:
But, as I mentioned before – and we gave this recommendation to everybody during our morning-welcome: You should always also visit the talks about topics which aren’t your core interest simply for the fact that it allows you have a look further than your own area. I do this all the time at conferences. And if you ask me, this is another important aspect of such events. Just as an example, I attended an excellent Graph talk by Oracle ACE Director Gianni Ceresa at POUG a few years ago – I was absolutely thrilled how super-smart this technology is. And I’ve had no real idea about it before. This is one of the main reasons why we need such conferences – and we need you attending them.
Just a tiny hint: DOAG conference is in September this year. If you haven’t signed up …
Finally … some travel impressions and a big THANK YOU
I garnished the blog post with some pictures already. India is different. And fun. And just amazing. Some things in life are so huge, they just don’t fit at least in my brain. As a well-organized, punctual German who is used to have a more or less reliable time table at a bus stop, and cars not using more than the two lanes marked on the road, India often challenges my senses in so many ways. In very good ways to be frank.
When we took off from Mumbai going to Pune by bus (again, thanks to our AIOUG travel agents who setup all of this), you quickly look at Google maps. It tells you: 150km, 2 hrs 35 minutes. Well, that does not sound so bad. Please remember that we took off directly after the event which usually ended at about 18:30h.
You leave the parking spot in front of the conference hotel at 19:00h. And then it takes 2 hours for the first 15 kilometers.
Finally you leave the city behind. And then you crawl up the mountains with 30 km/h overtaking trucks with no back lights climbing up the mountains at 15 km/h. 5.5 hours later you arrive in Pune at the hotel understanding finally that Google is not a reliable source when it comes to traffic predictions in India.
Well, and a big big THANK YOU to all the organizers of AIOUG. It has to be said, nobody does this for a living. Everybody involved does this on a purely voluntary basis. People donate their yearly vacation to setup and run such an event. It sounds so unreal from my comfortable sofa view at home planning my fall vacation when I see then how hard those people work for the Oracle community.
The Worst Case Event
Let me give you one final example which demonstrates what all these people such as Aishwarya, Vinay and Sai do on a purely voluntary basis. The night we arrived with a very late flight from Bengaluru in Mumbai (I think I finally was in my hotel room at 2:00am in the morning) the plan for the next day was to have some time to relax and learn and see something of Mumbai. At the breakfast table a message from Sai arrived: The team went to the designated location for the event in Mumbai tomorrow – and the building next door gets deconstructed. Pneumatic machines hammering not only through walls and floors but also in your heads. So it will be impossible to hold an event at this place.
This is the worst possible thing. You realize 24 hours before the actual event that you need a new location. And you also need to inform the attendees.
I can just image what the team around Super-Sai had done. Within hours a new location was found, the contract had to be agreed on, materials had to be carried from A to B – and all the attendees had to be called one-by-one to make sure they arrive at the right spot the following day. Over the years I have a track record of bad experiences with marketing teams and external agencies. I was sent to the wrong location in Hamburg, I was left with 50 attendees and zero food in Berlin, I was sitting in a room for 15 people with no desks and power outlets but 50 participants wanting to do a hands-on lab in Johannesburg. I’ve seen a lot, and I learned more or less to deal with such situations. But never could I imagine how you change the location 24 hours before your attendees show up. We don’t speak about organizing another room in an Oracle office building. Or having the wrong desk setup.
So let me thank the organizers for making the impossible possible. While we speakers had an awesome history lecture and sightseeing tour with born Mubai’an Sandesh Rao (yes man, I still remember Shivaji) the AIOUG Team found a new location and moved the entire setup to the new place. No idea how they did it, and looking into everybody’s eyes the next day made me realize that none of them had found more than 3 hours of sleep.
You are incredible – thanks so much. Without you, such an event would not have happened.
Wooh … this is a long blog post. When I started writing, I had no intention to write so many words. But you may have realized already how emotional I am about this trip. Not only have I met excellent speakers and sharp minds, not only have I attended great talks, not only have I met truly motivated people in every place but I made friends. The amount of friendliness, warmth, the smile in people’s faces – this is just incredible and very hard to describe. I confess, I was a bit anxious before because of the travel challenge, the weather, the uncertainty for going from place A to B.
But looking back now, this was one of the best trips I’ve done.
Thanks to everybody!
I’m grateful that I could be part of OC YATRA 2022 and meet so many great people.
And let me make a final comment why such conferences and events are so important.
In Mumbai, a customer came by after my talk. He spotted me in the hallway on my way to drop my stuff at the speaker’s room. We had a discussion about their upgrade challenges. AutoUpgrade. Minimal downtime options. And it quickly turned out that he really needs Transient Logical Standby rolling upgrades as the solution. So I took my laptop. I quickly jumped into our 1500 slide deck to the Transient part – and we stood there in the hallway of the hotel between the presentation rooms for 30 minutes and discussed how this technology could solve the challenges they face. We are still exchanging emails.
This is something you can’t do over Zoom.
This is why we need you to come to conferences.
Spread the word – and let’s meet soon at DOAG, Oracle Cloud World, POUG, UKOUG and other top conferences. Become a member of the communities – you’ll benefit from them, and everybody benefits from your knowledge, experience and motivation. The ACE program has just been relaunched. The communities are alive (again).
P.S.: I managed to stay healthy with absolutely zero issues. But I avoided ice cubes, even in the occasional G&T with Connor and Anil at the bar after a long hard day. I stayed purely vegetarian the whole week with one fish exception. And I’ve had the best Indian food in my life so far.
And trust me, I love Indian food and had lots of it already 🙂