Sunday, September 18, 2005

Oracle OpenWorld

Updated Tuesday, September 20

I am in San Francisco today, awaiting the start of Oracle OpenWorld, a major technology conference that is starting here later today. I have been to at least a dozen technology conferences before, including two here in San Francisco, but this one is different: I am one of the speakers.

For those of you who have never been to a technology conference, they tend to be very large and elaborate affairs - this OpenWorld conference is expecting over 35,000 attendees. The people who come to a big conference like this come from all over the world, spending just shy of $2000 in registration fees, plus $1000 for a week in a hotel in San Francisco, plus airfare from wherever in the world they are coming from. These people tend to be the best and brightest from each of the individual companies they represent (no company would spend this sort of money to send a junior person to a big conference).

At the conference, you have keynote speeches (which everyone is supposed to attend, and I find tend to be more marketing fluff than useful information) and breakout sessions (which tend to get much more detailed, and I find to be much more interesting). Throughout each day, you have several breakout sessions running at the same time, and people attend the sessions discussing areas they are interested in learning about. My presentation is one of the breakout sessions.

As a speaker, there is a lot of pressure to do well. The audience in each session is one of the most discerning you can get, made up of industry experts from around the world. And, when you do the math, and realize that each of these industry experts is spending over $200 for the pleasure of sitting in a chair and listening to you talk for an hour, you realize the expectations are high. Then, when you consider that the sponsor of the event (Oracle, in this case) is placing its trust in you by not only allowing you to talk at their industry conference, but by promoting your session on their website and in their conference brochures, and publishing your name in the conference catalog, it is easy to feel there is a lot of weight on your shoulders.

I have spoken at conferences before, but nothing this big. About a year and a half ago, I gave a similar presentation at a smaller regional conference in Philadelphia, that was very well received, and I was told was one of the top rated sessions there. A few months ago, I offered to do the same presentation here at OpenWorld in San Francisco, and was somewhat surprised when they said yes. As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for, you might actually get it.

Anyway, over the past three months, I spent at least 40 hours putting together what I think is a very good slide deck, and rehearsing my presentation to myself, and getting my timing just right. Despite all that, it never really sunk in that I was going to speak at such a major conference until yesterday, when I got on a plane for San Francisco, and today, when I went to the Moscone convention center to pick up my badge with the word "Speaker" emblazened below my name. I went straight from the registration desk to the room I will be speaking in later this week and stood at the podium. I looked back at the huge white screen behind me where my PowerPoint slides will be displayed, and out at the hundreds of empty chairs lined up in rows before me and thought to myself, "wow".

I was chatting with Hassan (my friend in Baghdad) earlier today, and he suggested something that made me laugh: what if someone in my session recognizes slide 21 (which I put up on Friday), comes up to me after, and asks, "are you Mad Canuck?" I doubt if it will happen, but I would really laugh if it did.

Update: Monday, September 19

When you're a blogger, Big Brother is really watching you. I couldn't believe it - about an hour after I put up my post about Oracle OpenWorld, I saw a couple of hits in my website stats from "Oracle Corporation", and sure enough today, my blog showed up in an Oracle's Openworld Blog Center and I was getting some visitors from there.

So, for anyone visiting my blog for the first time through this link, welcome! This is usually not a blog about my personal experiences (I usually write about politics, foreign affairs, and the like) but this last week is a bit different. For those of you who are interested, you can read through some of my old posts to get a flavor.

It's been an interesting 24 hours for me. Last night, we had a welcome jazz reception at Yerba Buena gardens. Of course, the conference calendar did not mention the event was OUTDOOR, so I showed up wearing the same short-sleeved shirt I was wearing to the speakers' meeting and keynote session earlier in the day, and I was FREEZING!!! It's funny, most people think of California as being a hot place, but they don't realize that northern California (San Francisco, etc.) has a very different climate than southern California (Los Angeles, etc.) and the temperature last night was in the low 50s, so I was walking around just trying to keep warm. One thing I was surprised about last night was that in addition to the food, beer, and wine, they were serving ice cream - I mean, who would want to have ice cream when it's that cold out?!

Earlier today, they served lunch at the Yerba Buena gardens (again outdoor, but warmer at noon than it was last night). I got there early, ate a quick lunch, and was about to go back to the convention center to walk around the exhibit hall for an hour when I heard some live music that was so intriguing it just fixated me and made me want to go back and listen. A very good local San Francisco band called Dr. Loco's Rockin Jalapeño Band were playing a fascinating mix of jazz, blues, salsa, merengue, and a few other styles of music, but all of which they adapted and made their own. Their sound was so good, I couldn't help but just stop and listen to them play for an hour until they left the stage. I only wish they were playing last night at that party - they'd really have gotten the crowd dancing last night.

Later today was a bit of a juggling act, there was a conference event called "OTN Underground", and also I was invited to dinner at a nice restaurant by our Oracle account executive along with a few other people in my industry, and one other party. I spent an hour at OTN Underground (just long enough to have one beer) then took a taxi to the restaurant for the dinner, and by the time I made it back, the other party was done.

Tomorrow (Tuesday) will be another day full of presentations and walking the exhibit floor, with two different parties to go to in the evening. Of course, the big day for me will be later in the week when I give my own presentation - I'm now back in a state of denial that it's coming up, but I'm sure it will hit me square in the face when I wake up that morning and realize it's the day I have to go stand behind that podium and talk. Hopefully, the people attending my session leave the rotten eggs, overripe tomatoes, and nasty questions at home... :)

Update: Tuesday, September 20

One thing I have been noticing over the past few days is the social dichotomy that exists here in San Francisco. Downtown San Francisco is made up of a number of one-way streets, so the shuttle bus that takes me from my hotel to the convention center drives down one street, and comes back along a different street.

Looking out the window of the bus, it is hard to believe those two streets are in the same city, let alone just a block apart from each other. On the way to the convention center, driving down 4th street, we see upscale shops like Saks Fifth Avenue, and FAO Schwarz, and well-dressed people walking down the street. On the way back, we drive up 6th street, a street lined with boarded-up buildings, vagrants sleeping along the side of the street and urinating in doorways, X-rated video shops, and prostitutes and drug dealers plying their wares on the street corner - the type of neighborhood that makes me glad to be inside the bus.

It is hard to believe these two areas are so close to each other.

Tonight, I am going to two different private parties that I was invited to: a reception by a user group that I am a member of, and a party hosted by a company called Crestone (which I've heard from people who were at their party in past years is supposed to be a lot of fun). The user-group reception sounded fairly formal, so I'm wearing a jacket and tie for it, but will be coming back to my hotel to change into jeans for the next party.