This year UKOUG has selected Birmingham as the destination for the Apps15, JDE15 and Tech15 Conference & Exhibitions, an old favourite for some and brand new for others. But what's changed since we last visited?
Those who have been with the UKOUG a while will know that's it's been a couple of year's since we've held events of this size in the city, so we wanted to get the lowdown on what's changed since we've been away. Who best to ask? - A local of course and so Tech15 committee members Jeremy Duggan and Martin Widlake obliged.
1. You’ve both been regular attendees of the conferences over the years, how do you feel about the event returning to Birmingham?
MW - It feels like the conference is "coming home". I think it's great that we tried other venues in other cities - personally I liked Liverpool for the facilities around it and Birmingham also has that now in spades - but this will be my 12th or 13th UKOUG annual conference and most of them have been in the ICC. The venue just suits our requirements.
JD - Like Martin says it’s great to have the UKOUG Conference(s) return to their natural home – the ICC in Broad Street, Birmingham. It takes a little while to get familiar with the rabbit warren of rooms, floors and walkways such that, every time it takes me until the third day to get my bearings, but the venue is great, and the location is great, being close to all transport, hotel and retail / leisure facilities, so this IS a much welcomed return.
2. The city has been going through lots of redevelopment since we last came to the ICC in 2012 – what’s changed?
JD - As a weekday Brummie [I work here], I can advise you all that Birmingham is changing very much for the better every day. Through 2015 barely a day has gone by without a new pub, bar, restaurant or shop opening in the city centre. In fact, that’s the difference: gone is the concentration of leisure in Broad Street. All the new bars and restaurants have opened either in the revamped Mailbox (by the canal, just five minutes walk from the ICC), or in and around New Street/Colmore Row, between New Street station and the business district. Also the new library next door to the ICC is well worth a visit. Broad Street is still improving as well, e.g. Bar Risa has just reopened as six themed bars after a £1m refit. Meanwhile, The Mailbox has upped its game with an Emporio Armani an all new Harvey Nichols, including a Michelin-chef’d restaurant and a cocktail bar. If you include the Malmaison Hotel, there are now four good cocktail bars in the Mailbox. The Bullring is much the same as three years ago, but now with a revamped Selfridges, a much larger Top Shop, River Island and Mango, and a Victoria’s Secret – to name but a few. Birmingham is definitely the place to Christmas shop till you drop! Then head for my personal favourite new pub: The Botanist in Temple Street.
MW - The whole canal basin that the ICC is on has been extensively redeveloped over the years that the UKOUG conferences have been returning here, with plenty of restaurants and pubs within a couple of minutes. New Street station, with the Pallasades shopping centre, has been utterly transformed from a dingy, nasty, dark concrete bunker into a shiny, open and impressive piece of architecture - it only opened in September and the John-Lewis shopping centre is now called Grand Central. But perhaps the largest change for many of the regular conference attendees is that the Tap and Spile has been completely refurbished. This traditional and somewhat "characterful" pub has been a place to continue the conference well into the night for years, but it was getting pretty rundown. Not now! It will be interesting to try out the new version.
3. What’s going on whilst we’re in town?
MW - The Birmingham Frankfurt Christmas Market (often called the German Market) will be in full swing. This is the largest German market outside Germany and Austria and is located between the ICC and New Street Station. You can get mulled wine, German beer, sausage, pretzels, all sorts of things and buy presents for those back home. The ice rink and big wheel are also making a seasonal return. Birmingham centre is a great place for a bit of Christmas shopping. If you are here before/after the conference, the National SEA LIFE Centre is right next to the ICC and the Birmingam Science Museum is not far from New Street Station.
JD - Next door to the ICC is the refurbished NIA, now the Barclaycard Arena, has Dynamo the magician performing all Conference week.
4. We’ve a great agenda this year, a packed exhibition and plenty of socials to get everyone chatting – for those that have never attended this type of conference before what would you recommend?
MW - If you are new to your area of Tech, look out for the Introductory Pathways - we've picked what we feel would give you a great basis and also introduce you to some of the most engaging speakers. Whatever your level, try to plan your sessions before the day and use the app if you have a suitable device. It's good to plan the odd gap in your schedule just to find a coffee, chat to people and let yourself recover for more sessions. Some speakers are special and you should make efforts to get to one of their sessions. In the Database arena I always try to catch at least one talk by Connor McDonald, Jonathan Lewis, Tim Hall and Maria Colgan. And the tech keynote is going to be something a little special this year.
JD - Definitely attend the Keynote and the Community Keynote sessions. These are given by senior, experienced Oracle personnel and provide all the latest information, but at a high and easily digestible level. These sessions are a great start to deciding what to consider next in your journey through the packed agenda over the three days. Also think about attending as many Roundtable / Open Mic / Panel sessions as you can. These are informal forums, an up close way to get real information from your peers. Do visit the Exhibition and chat to as many exhibitors as you can. Not only will you make useful contacts, you might also win a fun prize. Finally, don’t miss the social events, just after the last session of each day: free beer and the chance to make valuable new contacts - what more could you ask for!
MW - Talk to people. I know, it can be a little hard to start up conversations with those you don't know but you are surrounded by people you have things in common with - many of who are wondering how they can start conversations with people! For me the social side of the conference is as important as the technical content. Talk to the people next to you in the coffee queue, and if you see a speaker wandering by, say "Hi" and how much you liked their session. Speakers are vain (I am one, I can say that), we will talk to anyone who likes our talks. Then when you see people at the socials you can say "hi" again and maybe chat more.
Thanks very much for that, you've given us some great insight - we're excited about visiting Birmingham - we hope you are too.
To join Martin and Jeremy in Birmingham register now for: Tech15, Apps15 or JDE15.