Monday, October 22, 2007

October Travelogue #1: A week in Europe

Hello there from Chennai, India! I am halfway through my first ever visit to India, and I am simultaneously exhausted and exhilarated by the experience. What a country, and what an almost-overwhelming population of PL/SQL Developers! In the past three days, I have spoken directly to well over 1,000 programmers. It has been an absolute morning-to-night whirlwind of activity organized by my very capable friends at QSFT India: Krishnan, Selza, Berta and Christina. I will write more about my experiences in the coming week or so, but for now, I am going to post what I wrote about last week's trip through Europe:

Quest Software organized a series of seminars and Toad Conferences in Norway, the Netherlands and Germany. I volunteered to talk about my favorite topics: best practices and testing.

I started off with a visit to one of my favorite countries, Norway. I like it so much, because they are just so darned civilized. Norway, in case you didn't realize it, is a major oil exporter, extracting crude from the North Sea. As a result, the country has lots of money, but they use it wisely, compared to so many other nations.

What do I mean by "wise"? Rather than allow oil wealth to concentrate into the hands of a very few people, Norway invests in social services to provide a high quality of life for everyone. It also recognizes that oil revenue will not last forever. To address this issue, Norway has established a national pension fund that today tops $350B in value. More than that, the fund operates in a totally transparent manner, publicly listing all of its investments (which are widely and shallowly - no more than 1% investment in any one company - spread across the world) and also explaining its investment strategy to its citizens.

That's smart, that's democratic, that's a model for other countries to follow. Thanks, Norway, for leading the way!

Then on to another favorite nation and city - Netherlands and Amsterdam. I always greatly enjoy coming to the Netherlands for several reasons:

* Amsterdam was my first international destination, years ago, when I participated in a European Oracle User Group. Amsterdam was in the midst of a wonderful spring, the weather was great, everything was subtly and not-so-subtly (think: coffeeshops) different. I had a wonderful time!

* The PL/SQL community in the Netherlands is just about the most advanced I have ever encountered. Many developers are very interested in writing high quality code, in exploring different ways of creatively using PL/SQL, in engaging with PL/SQL as more than just a way of getting their jobs done.

* My good friend, Patrick Barel (PL/SQL developer, Delphi developer and about-to-be newly hired AMIS consultant), has welcomed me into his family and so whenever I can, I stay with him and renew my friendships with Quinty, Kayleigh, Mitchell and their mom, Dana. It is so nice to avoid the hotels and stay in a real home with friends!

Now, on this trip, I made a couple of too-short presentations at the Toad conference, which was held at Ajax Stadium. Ajax is the Amsterdam football team. The stadium is enormous, and while we of course presented in the conference center, we all got together for a group photo in the stadium itself. That was different. At the end of the conference, I participated for the first time in the SQL-PL/SQL quiz by Lucas Jellema and Alex Nuijten of AMIS Consulting. That was hilarious and very challenging, but I am proud to say that even though I had no idea about many of their quiz topics (centered as they were in SQL and DBA features), I was able to use logic to narrow down my choices. I ended up 1 out of 14 answers correct, and was quite happy with that.

I learned one very important lesson from this conference: never agree to speak for less than one hour in a session. I had just 45 minutes each for my talks, and it was simply not enough. From now on, I draw the line: give me at least one hour - preferably two - or leave me off the agenda!

But the Toad conference was only the first part of my day. In the evening, Ordina Consulting held its second public program featuring yours truly as its speaker. They did this the last time I was in the Netherlands (back in March) and we had a really fun time; over 200 enthusatic, easily amused people (they laughed at every one of my jokes) showed up to hear my thoughts about best practices. In October, we again had close to 200 people in the MediaPark, a futuristic, high-tech conference center in Utrecht. Once again, a very attentive and responsive audience and, once again, Ordina did a bang-up job organizing a really fine program. My warm thanks to Jenny and Frank!

What next? Ah, yes! Germany: Cologne, Berlin and finally Mannheim (near Frankfurt). I took a 6:30 AM high speed train from Amsterdam Central Station to Cologne. Very nice form of transportation. I then stepped out of the Cologne station to see the incredible Cathedral, a gothic wonder with a very tall tower (which I was to climb in a few hours). I headed over to the Hilton and a little while later performed for the "masses." Actually, the audience size was a bit on the small size, something that repeated over the next two days as well; it seems that the Toad events attracted many more DBAs than developers; I am not sure why. They were also much quieter and more serious than the Dutch, partly I believe due to a bit more of a language barrier. Yet some of the attendees gave me great ideas for new features to add to Quest Code Tester.

With the afternoon free, I went to the Cathedral and climbed the 500 steps up through a very confining circular stone stairwell. Good exercise, a great view, and a marvel of gothic architecture. Besides that, the highlight of my Cologne visit were the excellent pastries and numerous Snickers bars put out over the break. Photos to come later....

From there, to Berlin - my first time ever to this historic city. Unfortunately, time was very short and besides giving my presentations, I only had time for a short walk in the neighborhood of the Crowne Plaza hotel.
Photos to come later....

And then Mannheim. Following the pattern of this trip, we traveled into the evening, then rented a big Mercedes van to drive the hour to Mannheim and the Dorint hotel, which was a major disappointment. To my and others' utter amazement, this conference center hotel only offered dial-up Internet access in the rooms; I had to sit out by the elevator to find a wireless connection, thereby sharing my conversation with my wife via Skype with anyone going in and out of the elevators. To plug in my laptop at the desk, I had to unplug the lamp. No fitness center. And to top all that off, at 7 AM construction workers started their day right outside my window, making more than enough noise to ensure that I did not need an alarm to wake up in time. Very irritating.

All in all, though, a fine trip to Germany. Many thanks to Daniela for organizing the events so professionally. And it was great to see again my friends Johannes and Thomas, two fine Quest SCs.

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