My thoughts on conferences

Wait a moment, I should not be blogging. I’m on holiday.

The bay near Käsmu in Lahemaa National Park.

The bay and “Devils Island” near Käsmu in Lahemaa National Park.

True, but while I was walking at the coast near Käsmu in the rain, I thought I’d write a word on conferences, like Harmony 2015. Because there is a reason I leave these conferences with an increasing energy and with lots of ideas. Also, my clothing is currently drying, so I just made some tea and wrote this blog.


The sessions

After you’ve worked for many years with Oracle products the only way you can deepen your knowledge, is by reading documents, blogs and books. It would be excellent news if there were courses for that, but there hardly are any on that level.

Unless you go to a conference, where there are always sessions that can help you to the next level. Also speakers are always talking from experience and often about the same problems and challenges you’re having. You’d be surprised how often your problems are (almost) solved after a conference.

Some sessions are workshops and often the organizers of the workshop present you with a virtual machine with everything installed, so you can do the excercises at the conference or later at home. Been to any trainings lately that gave you their training environment?

Mother grebe (I think) goes shopping with ten of her children. (Father is patrolling the area just outside view)

Mother grebe (I think) goes shopping with ten of her children. (Father is patrolling the area just outside view)


Q: Aren’t those sessions incredibly technical?

A: Some certainly are. But not all of them are scientific approaches to Oracle problems.

But if you can’t follow the whole approach of the speaker, you can often learn a lot of their approach. For example: it could well be you would not understand Luis Marques’ session on Resource Manager, but you might have learned how he reads vmstat to understand certain issues and how he used oradebug to suspend processes. And you might have thought “what else can I do with oradebug?”, and went reading more on that topic. See? It brought you on a new path.

Or you’ve been to Nikolay Savvinov’s session on the LGWR process (and I now realize I forgot to tell about his session in my report of Harmony 2015) and was completely lost somewhere halfway. But you would still learned something about how he investigated the LGWR behavior and that when there are log file sync waits, that this is not always due to I/O problems.


Networking, aka helping each other

I think one of the most addictive things of conferences is what we in the profession call “networking”, also known as helping each other. When you are discussing a problem you are having, or sharing an experience you’ve had, you can just count on others to come up with viewpoints and ideas you did not think of.

In my experience nobody will tell you you should already have known that or read that, which can incredibly refreshing. You had problems with getting consistent performance of parallel queries? Or log writer wait times? Or high CPU on LMS processes? Someone else is bound to have had the same issues as you did and had a brilliant idea to attack it. Everyone is happy to share.


Is it a business trip?

According to my employer going to conferences counts as a business trip. And we weren’t supposed to do those any more. Yes, it’s a trip abroad, but is the price of a plane ticket to Birmingham or Tallinn really so expensive?

You don’t have to stay in the most expensive hotel. Having a hotel in the neighbourhood of the conference would be a boon, but they don’t all cost 150 euros a night.

If you go as a speaker, conferences are actually a dirt-cheap source of high grade knowledge. And I thought that knowledge important enough to pay for the trip myself.


Speaking on conferences

Becoming a speaker on conferences has several benefits. Not in the least that your access to these conferences is usually free. Also you get to meet the other speakers, and often you get to socialize with them during, for example, a speakers diner.

Now you can also come up with many excuses why not to speak: “I’m not capable of investigating the intricacies of Oracle background processes” or “I have nothing to speak about”. You don’t have to be the next Frits Hoogland or Tanel Poder, to be able to speak at conferences.

Chances are you have investigated an interesting problem and many people wait for you to share that solution. Didn’t you just talk for half an hour about your brilliant hack to another collegue at the coffee machine? All you have to do is speak 45 minutes to an hour (minus time for questions).

And did you know my presentation this year wasn’t technical at all?


Spin-off: my crazy ideas

I’ve noticed that I always leave conferences with new, crazy ideas. After UKOUG Tech 2014 I came up with my presentation on how to sell security.

After Harmony 2015 I left with the idea of an app or website that could help people to solve performance issues. Some kind of thing that helps you through a problem by answering a couple of questions and that includes the non-technical part of the investigation.

And I certainly have to do this hacking workshop at a conference some time. I think a lot of people would like that.

Giant boulders beside the track near Käsmu.

Giant boulders beside the track near Käsmu. My clothing is almost dry from that walk now.

And with that, I go back being on holiday.


About Marcel-Jan Krijgsman

Ever since I started working with Oracle, I had an interest in Oracle database performance tuning. This led, eventually, to a four day training I made and gave for customers of Transfer Solutions. Since 2012 I work for Rabobank Nederland. A few years ago I also became interested in Oracle database security. All technology aside, it is my experience that security usually plays out on a political level. I'm a Oracle certified professional for the 8i, 9i, 10g and 11g databases and Oracle Database 11g Performance Tuning Certified Expert.
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