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New Territory

A user group founder teaches the value of peer-to-peer learning in India.

By Jeff Erickson

November/December 2011

Murali Vallath splits his time between the U.S. and India, and that explains his user group situation. Vallath is the founder and president of the All India Oracle Users Group (AIOUG), a four-year-old effort that is now going strong but one that has had its share of growing pains. “I’ve had to sell the idea of a user group in a place where they have no history with such things,” says Vallath. “My fellow Indian Oracle users couldn’t see the value.”

Vallath relies on Western user groups to grow his network and sharpen his technical skills. An Oracle ACE Director and Oracle Certified DBA, he regularly speaks on Oracle Real Application Clusters and Oracle Database performance and tuning at Oracle OpenWorld, United Kingdom Oracle Users Group events, and other user group events. “I had all these resources and smart people available to me for a ridiculously small price, and I had the opportunity to share my expertise,” he says. “I thought, ‘This should take off in India.’”

So in 2007 Vallath founded AIOUG, but he soon met cultural roadblocks. “User groups have been in the West for a long time, and people have an easy time seeing the value in the experiences of their fellow users,” says Vallath. “In India, people are used to getting their information from the top down,” he adds. “They would ask, ‘Why get information from some user with no credentials when I can get it directly from the experts at Oracle?’ People didn’t get the idea of a user group.”

Vallath and AIOUG have found ways to make this top-down mentality work for them. The group’s Website acts as a clearinghouse for official Oracle training, such as Oracle University classes and Oracle Developer days. AIOUG events also get mentioned in Oracle newsletters, and Vallath notes that the group still gets more sign-ups from official Oracle e-mails than from its own invitations.

Seeking—and Finding—Success

Vallath studies how other regions have grown their user groups, and he is particularly impressed by the Latin American OTN Tour—during which a collection of small user groups pool their resources and schedule meetings in quick succession to entice top speakers to the region. Earlier this year, Vallath was a featured speaker at a similar series of events in Asia: the APAC OTN Tour, which brought top speakers to user groups in China, Thailand, the Philippines, New Zealand, and Australia. The experience convinced Vallath that a similar tactic would work in India, and he’s now doing the initial planning for an India OTN Tour in 2012.

Four years after the group’s formation, Vallath and AIOUG are succeeding. “There are a huge number of talented Oracle technologists in India, and they need a way to network and pass on their knowledge,” says Vallath. Whether technologists’ interests lie in Oracle technology, Oracle Applications, or Java, they will find compatriots in AIOUG. And the group has grown steadily. “Members are renewing their memberships, and that’s always a good sign,” says Vallath. “That means they’re finding value.”

December 9 through 10, 2011, will see AIOUG’s largest event to date: Sangam11. “We’re expecting 600 members to attend,” says Vallath. “We’re getting papers on everything from Java and Oracle Applications to middle tier, database, and Oracle Exadata. This is an opportunity for Oracle users to share their expertise with the big user base in India.” The event will also feature speakers of note such as Arup Nanda, a frequent contributor to Oracle Magazine.

Vallath talks of moving to India full time “to get the user group to be the largest in the world,” he says. But his family’s life is rooted in the U.S. His high school-age daughter recently participated in a U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) project on the use of space-based solar cells to power high-altitude aircraft, and his son and wife are active in the Sangamithra Foundation, a U.S.-based effort to bring better infrastructure to Indian schools. “We can’t leave now,” he says. “So I’m learning to use technology to reach across to the Oracle user community and grow AIOUG from here.”

Next Steps

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Photography by Clem Onojeghuo, Unsplash