This is the first year since 2006 that I don’t present or attend the UKOUG Technology annual conference. Sad, but I had to withdraw because I didn’t believe UKOUG had been making the right choices in the past little while. The trigger was the introduction of the limit of six presentations per company to present at the conference. I believe this doesn’t really serve the conference, attendees or my company well (which I’m so passionate about,) nor my colleagues that I’m so proud to work with.
Pythian’s vision has always been to grow, as the place where the top experts in the database industry want to work. Naturally, many of the folks working at Pythian are also industry leaders and active community contributors. As Pythian has been steadily growing, more and more Pythianites are submitting abstracts to conferences such as UKOUG, which do get accepted being good abstracts by known speakers. UKOUG Tech13 wasn’t an exception — while there was not nearly dominating number of abstracts from Pythian accepted, it was still more than six.
It’s even more disappointing this year because this rule wasn’t communicated (or didn’t exist) earlier in abstract selection process when abstract reviewers were selecting the sessions. Seems like it was sort of added as an afterthought. This isn’t as much of my concern but more of those who actually did the reviews and now will be overridden by a rule that has nothing to do with the merits of abstracts and speakers they evaluated. Long story short, I got a request from UKOUG to moderate the sessions from Pythian to comply with this new limit of six session per company. While it sounds nice to give the company such choice, it goes against our culture of conference participation — it’s individuals’ choice and not corporate moderation. From Pythian perspective, there is no moderation for central abstract submissions and approvals for UKOUG — folks have their own individual budgets and conference allotments every year that they are free to control as long as it works with their teams and budgets. Thus, I couldn’t possibly decide who should be going and who should withdraw — it would break our culture.
This wouldn’t even matter because we would naturally had few speakers refuse sessions and in the end have less than six session anyway without any moderation. What’s important is that (1) the approach itself harms Pythian and it’s employees because people who join the company, have less chances to present at UKOUG that so many of us have been keeping in high regards; and (2) the conference agenda doesn’t get the best presentations independently submitted by speakers and then independently selected by abstract reviewers and selection committee.
While I appreciate the prompt response from UKOUG to my protest on this limit and readiness to explain the reasoning behind the decision, there was no interest in changing that late-added rule — my arguments were not strong enough it seems. I thought that the best course of action for me personally would be to withdraw my sessions this year, which is what I did. Needless to say it wasn’t an easy call to make because UKOUG conference is the first conference I attended and the first conference I presented on. It’s been a special kind of gathering for me and I haven’t missed a single one since 2006 no matter where I lived at a time of the conference. I wanted to share my decision on the blog but didn’t want to make it look too anti-UKOUG and potentially reduce conference attendance — while I’m unhappy with some of the decisions, I respect many people involved in UKOUG. This is why I’m writing this at 3am on Monday, just before the 2nd day of the conference.
I must say, that large part of my exciting UKOUG conference experience is meeting my good friends I’ve made over that many years, and also make new ones. The good news is that this part (at least partially) will still happen this year. While I don’t present at or attend UKOUG Tech13, I’ll be at OakTable Work UK 2013 on Monday and Tuesday, which is right across the road from UKOUG Tech13 conference and is open to all to come by. See the presentation from awesome speakers and network with the group of people they like (well, supposedly like).
So, this is sort of my personal protest to this absurd rule. I hope UKOUG will change their mind next year. By the way, Pythian is not the only company in such a position — there are other companies (not many, but you know who you are!) that are successfully growing and attracting top talent and are in the same boat with Pythian when it comes to this limit of six presentations per company. I don’t want to talk on their behalf, but I know some folks had to make their choices too.
Now you know where you can find me and some of the folks your won’t be seeing at UKOUG Tech13 this year – Premier Inn, 7-11 Lower Mosley Street, Manchester. Monday and Tuesday. In the evenings… Well, you know where you can find me too.