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Developing a Better Community

A user group conference chair puts community service on the agenda.

By Jeff Erickson

January/February 2012

I met Edward Roske on a bustling Saturday morning in June 2011 at the Boys and Girls Club in a tough part of Long Beach, California. There were few kids around, and no one playing pool, shooting hoops, or doing homework. Instead, grown-up technologists were scrubbing, sorting, painting, and rewiring the club in a one-day jam to give local kids a better place to hang out and learn.

“Today is our ODTUG community service day,” said Roske, event chairperson of the Oracle Development Tools User Group (ODTUG) 2011 Kscope event, which opened the next day at the Long Beach Conference Center. Roske, wearing an “ODTUG Community Day” T-shirt, explained the idea behind the tradition.

“At technology events, people normally get together and attend sessions, then do a bit of partying and networking, and then go home,” Roske said. “But we want to grow a deeper sense of community at ODTUG.” One of the best ways to do that, Roske and the ODTUG board have discovered, is for the conference attendees to work together for the benefit of someone or something other than themselves.

As Roske and I spoke, a mix of developers and DBAs in matching green shirts worked all around us to improve the Boys and Girls Club. They stripped wallpaper, sanded walls and furniture, and painted most surfaces of the club. They sorted dozens of boxes of donated books and rebuilt the library shelves. They installed a network and ran network cable throughout the building. Outside they painted foursquare lines and repainted basketball court lines. “These are nearly a hundred people from our conference,” said Roske. “They are wholly unqualified to be fixing up a Boys and Girls Club, but what they lack in skill they make up for in enthusiasm.”

A Response to Katrina

In 2008 ODTUG held its annual Kscope (formerly Kaleidoscope) event in New Orleans, Louisiana—a city in tatters from Hurricane Katrina. To ODTUG leaders, it seemed wrong just to fly in, drop a few dollars into the local economy, and leave without pitching in to help rebuild. So they organized a day of service on the Saturday before the conference and invited members to come early to help out. To their surprise, 100 conference attendees—the maximum number that the project could accommodate—showed up to help rebuild a schoolhouse in the city’s hard-hit Ninth Ward.

“We did it because we found ourselves in New Orleans after the storm,” said Roske. “We had never heard of a technical user group doing a community service day and frankly didn’t know if anyone would want to come. But people loved it so much that they kept asking what we were going to do next,” he continued. “So the following year [2009] we cleaned a beach in Monterey, California, and the next year [2010] we helped rebuild a schoolhouse in Washington DC.”

A Seriously Technical Conference

Community service aside, ODTUG Kscope is a seriously practical, seriously technical conference. This year’s event opened on a Sunday with all-day symposiums built around technology areas such as Oracle Application Express, database development, enterprise process management and business intelligence, and Oracle Fusion Middleware. “People can go through an entire process, from learning to use the products to understanding how to use them best in real-world environments,” said Roske. The next three and a half days were packed with sessions, classes, and hands-on labs. “It won’t be all work,” said Roske. “We’ve rented the Queen Mary for a night of partying.”

ODTUG must be doing something right. The organization’s membership continues to grow, and attendance at the 2011 conference was up 25 percent from the previous year, to 1,000 registered attendees. Roske suspects that this growth is due in part to the strong sense of community built by ODTUG’s members learning together, playing together, and working together to give something back.

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Photography by Joseph Chan, Unsplash