Thursday, February 12, 2009

Thankful for User Groups

As the Rocky Mountain Oracle Users Group (RMOUG) Training Days 2009 was wrapping up, I couldn’t help but think about this event that the RMOUG volunteers pull off each year. That thought naturally led to thoughts of other users groups that I have benefited from and to a renewed appreciation for the volunteers that make these user groups successful. As I blogged about previously, I believe that Java-related users groups are one of the Java resources that were missed in this article on resources for newer Java developers. These user groups can provide significant benefit to more experienced developers as well.

RMOUG’s annual Training Days conference provides an example of what many user groups could become, but only at the cost of countless volunteer hours. This year’s edition of Training Days was the 18th version (my tenth time attending and eighth time presenting). While all the editions that I have attended have been full of insightful speakers and informed colleagues and fellow attendees, there has been a definite increase in recent years in the number of “big names” presenting at RMOUG Training Days. Dan Norris, a well-known Oracle DBA himself, commented on this in his blog.

When I look at RMOUG’s success in turning this local/metro conference into a regional success and then into a national success and now into an international success, I believe there are some lessons learned regarding what it would take other user groups to get to this point. RMOUG Training Days attracts some of the biggest names in the World of Oracle.

Consistency over Time

One explanation for RMOUG’s success in attracting the heavy hitters of the Oracle world is the long tradition of its successful conferences. The consistency of the conference to provide quality training related to Oracle at a very low cost has led to a well-deserved reputation that seems to grow each year.

Hours and Hours of Volunteer Activity

Another reason that RMOUG has been so successful is the dedicated volunteers that make the organization run. I see this too in the people who run other local users groups, but RMOUG seems to enjoy the benefits of more of these people being actively involved. I put much effort and significant hours into preparing for my RMOUG Training Days presentations. However, I realize that even the volunteers who do not present may spend that many hours on the organization. Furthermore, many of the board members and other most active volunteers also present.

Speakers who are consultants and/or authors do often have at least an outside chance of some monetary gain from speaking; they may be able to indirectly advertise their consulting services or books to the audience that is interested in that topic. However, many volunteers have no expectations of this type of compensation either because they don’t provide consulting services or because they don't have a book or because they are not in a position to advertise that if they did. That being said, it is also worth noting that most consultants and authors would likely not present if the sole purpose of presenting was financial gain. There are usually easier ways to achieve that. Typically, they also want to present to share their knowledge.

Don’t Forget the Locals

While it is a huge benefit to have the prominent Oracle experts present and share ideas, I believe that the strongest user groups rely heavily on the local practitioners as well. For one thing, it is often the local practitioners who provide consistent quality over time to get the attention of non-local experts. It is also the local practitioners who can attend regular meetings that are not as large or well-attended as Training Days. Of course, no user group can succeed without the countless hours provided by the local volunteers. Finally, there is a really nice personal touch to knowing people in the field who live and work in the same general area. It is also worth noting that user groups in metropolitan areas with strong technology sectors enjoy locals who are well-known experts.

Don’t Forget the Little People

As mentioned before, it is a particular benefit of Training Days to meet and hear presentations from some of the most well-known people in the Oracle community. However, I have heard some remarkably thought-provoking presentations from people who are not well-known. In fact, even with a large number of well-known experts attending, a conference as large as RMOUG Training Days requires interesting local practitioners to provide the wide breadth and depth of topics.

The Significance of Sponsors

Sponsors can also make a user group meeting or conference more successful. Sponsors typically pay for the right to advertise and that offsets some of the cost to the participants. The usual trade-off model applies here: more advertising means lower costs to the end user.

Nothing Is Free

I have attended many great presentations in conjunction with several local users groups, but RMOUG definitely seems to be the most successful in terms of participants and clout. I believe that RMOUG’s success has not come easily or without significant sacrifice. The sacrifice of time, resources, and sharing of talents and knowledge by many dedicated individuals has helped RMOUG and its annual training extravaganza to become what it is today.

1 comment:

Dan Norris said...

Thanks for the reference. I think your article is dead on and RMOUG is definitely setting an example that I hope and wish other user groups could follow more closely. Nicely put!