My thoughts on being a volunteer with UKOUG for Tech14.
Firstly the UKOUG staff who run all of the events are certainly some of the nicest and most hardworking people you would ever be likely to meet. This makes volunteering a little easier as essentially the volunteer committee members are just adding their expertise and not being asked to do marketing, heavy lifting of venue hire, ticketing and other activities related to organising an event.
I first got involved with the UKOUG as an ordinary member, then as a speaker and eventually I joined the committee for Tech14. The planning for Tech14 had already started in terms of venue selection well before the kick off meeting in March last year. We all gathered at the UKOUG offices in London, where we decided some quite fundamental things, for example we debated the topics, agenda grids, previous year’s performance and how we could make it better this year, we took the best part of an afternoon and early evening to churn though the action points for the meeting.
The meeting came to an end and we all signed up to an online tool called Basecamp and continued much of the debate for the entire year. Some members were very active and had lots of to offer from previous years’ experience. Personally I didn’t have a great deal of previous experience so did my best to add my opinion and help out the team where I could. After call for papers closed, the submitted abstracts were reviewed and scored by even more volunteers and some of the committee.
Essentially the committee’s main purpose is to make sure that the right content is available for the paying customer, the right people from Oracle are speaking and that there is a strong coverage of speakers throughout the duration of the conference. Most of this activity is condensed into agenda planning day which is a long and hard process. It really is quite a difficult nut to crack; trying to line up speakers so that there is good coverage for the entire day for three consecutive days and understanding what people are using or are interested in is quite tricky. There are hundreds of papers and they have all been scored - some of them won’t meet the eligibility criteria, for example some papers are blatant product advertising, which can leave some people feeling a little out of pocket. The more tricky papers to select will be very similar to one another so it will be a case of; do you gamble on a new speaker because the content of the talk looks better? Or stick with someone who you know can give a good talk? Trying to strike a balance there is quite hard, and it certainly made me feel privileged to have been selected in 2014. The planning was done by Tech Area Database, Operating Systems, Middleware, Analytics and other, so there were some papers that were swapped between topic areas to fill gaps. Eventually late in the evening we had a full agenda grid with gaps for Oracle speakers and reserves for each selected speaker so that we had cover in case of speaker cancellations.
That’s it? Not really - the planning, finalising of the grids, a few tweaks here and there were debated again online between committee members right up until the agenda hit the press. Then we have the day of the event, some of the more experienced members were chairing first time speakers so that we could take as much pressure from them as possible to hopefully give them every chance of success.
Overall a great deal of fun and some exceptionally nice people to share my spare time with, socially and some professionally.
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