Mike Riley used to think of his Oracle user community as a network of experts who could help him solve technical problems. But after he was diagnosed with cancer in 2013, he found out it was much more.
When news of Riley’s diagnosis spread, fellow members of the Oracle Development Tools User Group “sprung into action,” offering him support, encouragement, meals—even tickets to a World Series baseball game. “They knew my Cards were in the series,” says the St. Louis native.
One ODTUG member collected the money to send Riley and his family to the game—limo ride and box seats. It was a short but welcome respite from his punishing routine of chemo and radiation. “We didn’t win the game or the series,” he says, “but it was amazing that we were able to put cancer in the background for awhile.”
Another member, who lives across the country, made sure meals were delivered to Riley’s family on days when he had cancer treatments.
Riley initially was surprised by the support from a technical community that bills itself as a “seriously practical” place to exchange know-how—ODTUG is the largest independent group of Oracle development tools users. But he says he came to understand that the 35,000-member user group he had helped build as a board member had evolved into a “community of support.”
“We talk about community a lot,” says Danny Bryant, chairman of ODTUG’s Kscope16 conference in Chicago last month. “We think of [the annual conference] as our family reunion, where all those people we’ve worked with throughout the year get to reconnect.”
In addition to the 350-plus sessions on database, business intelligence, enterprise performance management, and other technical subjects, Kscope included newcomer breakfasts, career-building workshops, informal gatherings for people of different nationalities and with different tech interests, and a rousing community appreciation night. Kscope, which draws about 1,500 developers from 35 countries, goes out of its way to encourage people to “trade business cards and get to know each other,” Riley says.
As if to put an exclamation point on the importance of community, each year ODTUG members arrive a day before the Kscope conference opens for an unusual event called “community day,” where they do service in the host city.
This year 80 members helped a Chicago organization that works with homeless families—organizing clothing in a thrift shop, pulling weeds, planting flowers, and preparing and serving meals. “We have to give back,” Bryant says. “We’re fortunate to be able to come [to Kscope]. We’re fortunate to be able to do the things we love to do. There are so many people who don’t have that.”
Even the “little” gestures can matter a lot, emphasizes Riley, whose cancer is now in remission. “You wouldn’t imagine what an email does to you when you’re having a bad day and someone sends an email and says they’re thinking of you,” he says. “I got a card from an ODTUG member who I didn’t think was really close, but the card was so heartfelt and unexpected it made my day.”
Years ago, when Riley was a nervous chairman of the Kscope event, a fellow member “would regularly stop me and say in a quiet, singsong voice: ‘Everything is going to be just fine,’” Riley relates. “When he heard I was battling cancer, he recorded himself saying that phrase a bunch of different ways. I played it every morning before I went into chemo.”