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Away Mission: David vs. Goliath Technical Conferences

By Howard Dyckoff

A Review of Recent 2007 Events

Small can be beautiful, as the adage goes. This can be especially true at a small conference with a few focused tracks that are smack on for your interests. On the other hand, a big conference increases the networking opportunities and also usually offers a large vendor expo. More vendors often means more literature and swag, but also more noise -- both literally on the show floor and figuratively with 'Me-Too' keynotes and marketing slideware. Those vendors are prospecting and the target is on your back.

2007 brought us some tightly focused conferences, some brand new, that were very satisfying to attend. One of the most interesting of this crop was the first Q-Con, a new offering from InfoQ and the JAOO conference. This is reviewed below.

On the Goliath side are some pretty big events: RSA World, VM World, BEA World, Software Development, JavaOne, and, most recently, Oracle OpenWorld.

Oracle OpenWorld / November 2007

The annual Oracle/Seibel/PeopleSoft/JDEdwards confab is by far the biggest event I attended last year with over 40,000 attendees and multiple venues to keep the user realms separate. They succeeded to a large measure in holding the business and executive tracks at different locations from the technical and developer tracks, but the armies of working tech people had to circumambulate between at least 3 different locations, one almost requiring a short bus ride.

There were lots of sessions, but sorting out the good ones from the chaff was a significant problem, all the more difficult due to seating limits and fire marshal rules. Since we had to sign up days in advance, there were few seats available for those who hadn't registered or who left their assigned sessions. Even more irritating, Oracle seemed to reassign a lot of us to under-attended business and product sessions -- this may have been a glitch since it occurred on the second day only, but I couldn't find some of the sessions I had applied for. Now 2 or 3 of these were wait-listed for me, so that may explain a few of the interventions, but the conference catalog was so huge it was almost impossible to figure out where I had originally applied. And since all the good sessions were full, I was being turned away from many alternate sessions I desired.

Oracle OpenWorld content is available here: http://www28.cplan.com/cc176/catalog.jsp

QCon / November 2007

At the QCon website, they explain: "The QCon Conferences are organized by the community, for the community. As software developers and architects ourselves, we wanted to craft the ultimate conference that we would find outstanding, as attendees. " This conference was a good first effort.

Running up to 5 tracks that differed each day, there was less conflict and craziness here than most conferences. Session slides are publicly posted. Also, all sessions were audio taped and will be posted during the year.

QCon gets extra points for the best real-time session evaluations. No prep required, and no time during the session. At the door there are 3 stacks of cards, These are green, yellow. and red, standing for good, indifferent, or bad. Pick a card, drop it in the box. Done.

Attendees got a free mini InfoQ book. This was in lieu of conference bags which were held up in customs, and this seemed to be more appreciated by most attendees.

The evening keynote was especially entertaining. Called "50 in 50" it was an exercise in geek aesthetics and humor. Dick Gabriel and Guy Steele presented 50 years of computer languages in 50 minutes, and shared 50 remarks of exactly 50 words each. The Lisp section was accompanied by a parody song, "God programmed in Lisp code", truly a hoot.

Find conference info and slides at http://qcon.infoq.com/sanfrancisco

EclipseCon / March 2007:

The Eclipse Foundation leads one of most vibrant open-standards eco-systems around and that work is most accessible at its annual March conference in Silicon Valley, EclipseCon. This was a small conference that has grown into a major event, with major sponsors, but its community roots and open source focus save it from the Goliath conference bloat -- so far. The pricing used to be under $1000, but it's now about $1500 at the door, so get those early-bird discounts if you want to attend.

With its new emphasis on web tools and rich client applications, the conference has gained new breadth. Technical detail remains good and the table topic format for the luncheons is one of the best ways to really network with people sharing common interests. And where else can you get keynotes from Cory Doctorow and 'Fake' Steve Jobs???

Several large vendors with primarily proprietary platforms are working with Eclipse to attract the developer community. This included BEA, which is now an Oracle property, as a major participator that offered free EclipseCon tutorials. Since IBM seeded a lot of the Eclipse code base, they also have a major presence.

EclipseCon 2008 has more than 350 tutorials and talks covering all aspects of Eclipse technology and commercial interests. Topics range from mobile computing to embedded devices and Java to C/C++. There are also special talks on business issues and open source. EclipseCon will be hosting the OSGi DevCon as well.

If you are interested in seeing a full list of sessions and tutorials, visit http://www.eclipsecon.org.

Zend PHPCon / Oct 2007

This is a vest pocket conference with a very small expo and only 4 tracks. That's really 4 session rooms and the tracks aren't that distinct. Technical content can be very good, but a few more sessions in 2007 were vague or overview sessions. There were some killer sessions, especially the MySQL and PHP performance tuning session on the last day. (That would be the Jay Pipes session, MySQL Performance Coding From Soup to Nuts, good enough to justify the whole day spent at the conference.) I would also recommend Ramsey's presentation on 'memcached', if it finally gets posted to the Zend DevZone. Most of the Con's presentations are available from: http://devzone.zend.com/article/2637-ZendCon-07-Slides

This conference has been small and focused and brings in a lot of international users. However, Sun's recent purchase of MySQL may increase the presence of Sun and its partners in the future.

This year's major announcements included the Zend Studio 3 beta, the release of Zend Core 2.5, and Micr0s0ft's improved support for PHP including PHP scripts in IIS and a new SQL Server 2005 Driver for PHP.

There were ample opportunities for networking at the beverage and snack receptions each evening and at the sit-down luncheons, but the Wednesday evening Yahoo! sponsored 'PHP Nightclub' was not well attended early on -- it was too noisy to stay so I don't know how it developed. I think a lot of the attendees were a bit older than the Yahooligans who put it on. Also it seemed that pretzels and licorice sticks were the only food items present.

This one has been a good value for 3 years running so consider it in 2008.

DreamForce / October 2007; Tour de Force / January 2008

The annual user conference of SalesForce.com, the archetypal firm for SAAS paradigms, was an event for partners, prospects, and business users. There were tech sessions amidst the 20,000 foot view slide decks, but they were hard to find and of uneven depth. The expo was big, the vendors numerous and lots were giving away iPhones and 'touch iPods.

Better to attend the more technical "tour de Force" one day events for developers and IT managers. There was only one deep dive technical session, but a lot of good intro material if you are just starting with the SalesForce platform and the varied AppExchange for SalesForce ISVs. Build an app for the multitudes and SalesForce will host it and bill for usage while you get fat and famous, unless the competition does it better. The traveling road show has a lot to recommend it -- its FREE, its a single day, and attendees get two books published by SalesForce to help new developers get used to the platforms and the tools. Those are free, too, and and there is a lab area for a hands-on tutorial. Did I mention this was free? A box lunch is included as well as a developer-level login to the SalesForce platform.

At the kickoff event in San Francisco there were over a thousand attendees. There were about 5 times that many folks at the annual conference, so this was the better way to meet other local users and ISVs. So with SalesForce.com, you can choose either the David or the Goliath event.

A schedule of future Tour de Force events are here: http://www.salesforce.com/events/tourdeforce/index.jsp

The keynote broadcast featuring CEO Marc Benioff and visionary Marc Andreessen is available here: http://www-waa-akam.thomson-webcast.net/us/dispatching/?event_id=6cc870d8e0911424fe57fb4edc357451&portal_id=490b5b11bea71c00458d586691c5b5f5

Here are many of the Developer sessions from the DreamForce07 user conference: http://wiki.apexdevnet.com/index.php/Dreamforce07_Dev_Sessions

Talkback: Discuss this article with The Answer Gang

Bio picture

Howard Dyckoff is a long term IT professional with primary experience at Fortune 100 and 200 firms. Before his IT career, he worked for Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine and before that used to edit SkyCom, a newsletter for astronomers and rocketeers. He hails from the Republic of Brooklyn [and Polytechnic Institute] and now, after several trips to Himalayan mountain tops, resides in the SF Bay Area with a large book collection and several pet rocks.

Howard maintains the Technology-Events blog at blogspot.com from which he contributes the Events listing for Linux Gazette. Visit the blog to preview some of the next month's NewsBytes Events.

Copyright © 2008, Howard Dyckoff. Released under the Open Publication License unless otherwise noted in the body of the article. Linux Gazette is not produced, sponsored, or endorsed by its prior host, SSC, Inc.

Published in Issue 147 of Linux Gazette, February 2008