I had the privilege of attending Oracle Open World this year. Though I have been with Oracle for almost 13 years, it was my first opportunity to attend the big annual customer conference, which is typically tightly restricted from employees due to space limitations. It was only for a day, with an unexpected follow up invitation later in the week to the customer appreciation event.
Now, I have been to work-related conferences/conventions before. I knew what to expect before arriving… crowds of people, all generally there for a combination of reasons: those attending to 1) learn something or see cool stuff, 2) meet old acquaintances or meet new ones, and/or 3) enjoy time away from work, party, and get free swag.
Notice I did not mention anything about the conference itself. Nothing about the elaborate venues, the eye-catching props, the often lavish availability of food and drink. And nothing about the sessions either. (I do admit, however, that the conference location does matter. Why else do conferences always get held in ‘fun’ places — eg. Vegas, New Orleans, Orlando, etc?)
The point is the thing I remember most about the conferences I have been to is the connection I made with people. It was not about the pomp and circumstance of the occasions (though admittedly, some of my fondest memories are of the parties throughout the events), but about getting in touch with the people we work with and the people we build products for. This was in the form of enjoying food and drink together, exploring the venue/location in which the conference was held, or even sharing hotel rooms to save company costs (when the conference was remote).
In my case this year, I was fortunate enough to get to meet some folks from Boston that I had been working with virtually for almost two years. Not only did my team in the Bay Area, California get to co-present a session with these folks, we had the benefit of spending a lot of face time with them as well — over lunch, attending other sessions together, even happy hour. What a great way to strengthen our relationship and get to know the people we worked with in a more personal setting.
Later that week, my wife (who works for a customer of Oracle) scored some hard-to-get tickets to the OOW customer appreciation event. (The event was not open to the public — only to customers of Oracle, or people with connections to get tickets.) What a party that was — I enjoyed live performances from The English Beat, Berlin, Don Henley, and The Black Eyed Peas. Fortunately, the folks from Boston were also able to get tickets for the event, and we got to enjoy the event together.
Since the conference over a month ago, I have been in touch with the folks from Boston on several occasions. I cannot say I would not have been in touch with them anyways due to our close dependency on each other for what we work on, but I will claim that the dynamics feel more personal than before we met, well, in person.
With all the social network hype pervading our lives today (heck, we even have a Hollywood movie about a particular social network), let us not undermine one of the original social networks — the work conference. One might argue that work conferences are expensive, not green, etc. However, we still work in a real world, where relationships are important. Social networking and more traditional telecommunication mediums keep people in touch. But, conferences make connections real. Thank goodness we still have them.