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Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Speaker's Nightmare

"I am not left handed either!" - Westley, "The Princess Bride"
As noted in the profile section, I am a DBA who works with both Oracle and SQL Server. I had never really considered trying to speak at a technical conference. After I started paying more attention to the SQL Server online community, and attended the SQL PASS Summit in 2011, I thought I'd give it a shot.

I know more about Oracle than I do SQL Server and usually attend the Rocky Mountain Oracle User Group Training Days event in Denver each February, so I submitted an abstract during the call for papers.

I have been attending the RMOUG Training Days event an average of about 2 years out of 3 for the last 10 years or so. In all that time, I never remember having seen a session on Oracle Heterogeneous Services. OHS is a feature of Oracle that let's you seamlessly connect to a non-Oracle database via either a fully functional (and separately licensed) target specific gateway or via the more restricted functionality of the (free!) Generic Gateway Agent.

Having needed to put together a real time query link to a SQL Server database in the not so distant past, I thought it would be a good topic to talk about and hoped it served up enough interest to get some backsides in seats.

I was pleasantly surprised, a couple of months later to get an acceptance letter and started preparing my paper and slides.

During the course of the several weeks I worked on the presentation, I researched more into the topic. What I had done to meet my business requirement was only touching the tip of the iceberg. I explored, read, learned and tested. I installed MySQL, SQL Server and Oracle on my laptop and went through demo scenarios and making sure it all hung together.

On conference day, there was a 15 minute break between sessions and I turned up into my allotted room right after the end of the previous session to set up my laptop, make sure the projector was working and my remote was working.

The room monitor came in and we started talking and I joked that I'd had this nightmare that no one would show up.

At the top of the hour, as I'm supposed to start talking, I have 2 people in the room: One person who had walked in, and the room monitor.

Not to be discouraged, I ran through my presentation, took good questions from my small audience and provided answers.

Of course, post presentation, I was somewhat crushed. All that effort into putting the white paper and the slides together. The hours spent practicing the delivery, setting up the demo.

I'm sure that there were several contributing factors to the almost non-existant turn out. There were some big names in the Oracle world speaking at the same time on more main stream topics than mine. If I was Joe Q. DBA and could see a big known name talk about something more mainstream (like the optimizer, performance tuning etc) or go see some unknown talk about a rarely used part of the technology, I probably would have gone and seen big name too.

Also, the reason that I'd never seen a presentation on OHS before is probably because not a lot of people use it or need to know about it. If you see a session on the track about a piece of technology that you never use, the likelihood of attending that session, instead of a session on something that you need to know about and use on a day to day basis is low.

So, why am I writing this post and telling my sob story ?

The real value out of this whole process was the preparation. Even though the time spent researching, writing, building a slide deck seemed to have been wasted (because of the extremely small turnout), the reward wasn't in hearing the applause from a full room. The reward came from what I learned during the process. I now know a whole lot more about distributed transaction processing in Oracle, how it works over a Generic Gateway Agent as opposed to a target specific Gateway Agent and this whole piece of the technology in general.

The real reward was, pure and simply, the knowledge gained.

Does this mean that I'll never put forth another abstract in the future? No. If I can think of a topic with a more general scope that I am somewhat knowledgeable and passionate about then I'll probably submit again.

The real lesson learned here is not to be afraid to put yourself out there and speak about a topic that you feel others could learn something from. Even if your session is poorly attended, you'll accomplish two pretty important things. You'll learn something along the way, and you'll get your name out there.

Who knows, in the years to come, someone's online presence and visibility in the technical conference circuit could play a huge impact in finding you your dream job. (Brent Ozar PLF recently hired their first employee and a large part of their decision making process was just that: see their blog entry about their hiring decision).

So, when it comes to deciding about trying to speak at a technical conference, as those Nike people used to say: "Just Do It!"

By the way, if you're someone who deals with Oracle and want to read the slides / paper, drop me an email (address in the About Me section of the blog) and I'll send the documents your way :)

1 comment:

  1. I feel for you. I've presented several times over the years at the same conference. Sometimes I've had standing room only and other times I've had < 10 people in the room and only 2 or 3 acting like they weren't lost.

    I think your post is right on. There is value in all of the presentations. At this point, I no longer fear "the worst that could happen." It's already happened. But I (and the other speakers I've talked to) also gained benefits that we *never* could have predicted. Good luck with your future presentations.