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Percona Live from a community insider's perspective

I am writing this on my blog because I want to take the Percona hat off (partially) and wear my community hat a bit. My loyalty was to the MySQL community long before I was involved with Percona.

There are now three Percona Live events for which we have signed venue contracts and begun plans: London in October, Washington DC in January, and Santa Clara in April. I have insider knowledge of what’s going on with planning all three events, and I’m proud and happy that I have a community-member seat at the table.

The London event, which is October 24-25, will be a natural interpolation between the medium size of our very successful event earlier this year in New York, and the much larger Santa Clara event next year in April. We’re adding a day of tutorials and more speaking room, and an expo hall so sponsors can show off their products and services. The call for papers is open for that event until September 1st. Submit a session proposal! We have a full tutorial and preliminary session schedule in place, and after the CfP closes, we will publish the full session agenda. This is another change from New York, where we invited speakers personally, and didn’t hold a formal CfP. We’re also paying tutorial speakers a portion of the revenues, and paying travel and accommodations for them.

As a community member, London makes me very happy. I think the Oracle User Groups have been received well in Europe as co-hosts of MySQL-focused content. However, I think that MySQL also deserves its own space. Conversations and presentations develop differently when you aren’t looking over your shoulder thinking about how this fits in with a “bigger picture” that isn’t exclusively about MySQL.

In general, compared to New York, the conference is larger, more traditionally organized, planned further in advance, and more influenced by outside suggestions. It feels good. Not that New York or San Francisco were isolationist. They weren’t. They were just planned so quickly, and in the case of San Francisco with such a tiny budget, that nobody had a chance to get involved if they wanted to. I didn’t have much chance to participate in San Francisco myself, even though I work at Percona.

Back to the events. Washington D.C. in January (website coming soon) will be a bit scaled back, more like the size and flavor of New York. This is intended as a very regional event. It’ll be one day only, no expo hall. We have a contract at the Press Club for the space. The goal here is to do what we did in New York: create opportunity in a place that doesn’t really have many MySQL-focused conferences, facilitate learning, help people network, and so on.

As a community member, again, this makes me very happy. I’ve felt for a long time that Washington is neglected. Washington is unlike anywhere else in the USA, because of the huge military-industrial complex, government and defense contractors, big public institutions such as the Library of Congress, on-profit organizations, and so forth. The people who work there have very different constraints and possibilities than people who work in America’s more traditional companies or the Silicon Valley/startup entrepreneurship environment. Many of them can’t get approval to travel for conferences, for example. And Washington is a pork-barrel stronghold that pays a lot of money for proprietary database licenses. I’m not denigrating any software company, but as a citizen and taxpayer I am a strong supporter of open source in government. (Don’t get me started on voting machines.) So I think it’s a good idea to have a MySQL event that focuses a lot on what the attendees will get from the event.

Washington’s event fits in with one of Percona’s goals for Percona Live: take the conference series around the country and the world, bringing the content to the users so they can still attend even if they can’t travel outside their region. It’s not the easiest thing to do. The easy thing would be to pick a venue in a big market, get the process and vendors nailed down, and repeat the formula from year to year. That’s safe and predictable, and it’s the way to make the most money. Taking the show on the road is a lot more work and risk for less profit. But it’s worth it for sake of the attendees, and for nourishing the MySQL ecosystem where it lives, instead of always asking people to uproot and travel. I feel very strongly that this is a good thing.

For the Santa Clara Percona Live MySQL Conference and Expo event in April, which will carry on the tradition that O’Reilly established with their MySQL Conference and Expo, we are establishing a conference committee composed of community members and representatives of major companies. You will see the formal announcement of that soon. This committee will operate much the same way that O’Reilly’s did. In fact, we’re trying to mimic O’Reilly’s event in as many ways as we can. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I think the key differences attendees will see at this event will be a back-to-the roots focus on MySQL instead of the breadth and diversity that was represented at the 2011 conference; and we’re going to set our own pricing, not mimic O’Reilly’s pricing. In addition, participants will get to share in the conference’s success here, too. Tutorial speakers will receive a revenue share, for example, which can be a considerable amount of money.

And how do I feel as a community member? Thrilled. In my opinion Percona will do a great job carrying the torch for this event. I have been really troubled for the last few years. The MySQL conference has always been the lifeblood of the community. And it’s irreplaceable. If you remember, in 2009 Percona ran a one-day Performance Conference, and when it was unclear that O’Reilly would do a conference in 2010, Percona said they’d run that event again. But I had such a sinking feeling in my heart about that. I knew that Percona Performance Conference could not sustain the MySQL ecosystem. Percona could never begin (at that time) to organize an event of the scale and atmosphere required to create a community+business watering hole, bringing everyone together to brainstorm and negotiate and envision and leave with a huge burst of energy to go innovate for another year. Thankfully O’Reilly decided to risk running their conference again, so Percona cancelled their Performance Conference and put their shoulders to the O’Reilly conference’s wheel; and then O’Reilly did it again in 2011. I really cannot express how grateful I am to O’Reilly. Who knew that they would play such an important role in the MySQL world?

I’ve been involved in many decisions about these conferences, and I have consistently striven for the most inclusive and fair – and successful – conference possible. (You should know that this is not an uphill battle inside of Percona. We’re all united in this goal.) However, and this is a key point, things still have to get done. Form follows function.

I am speaking here with my community voice, but I’m a Percona employee. As such, I won’t get into a public debate about this or the topics raised in other recent blogs about Percona Live, so I’m not going to promise that I’ll respond to comments. I hope you’ll understand. This is my own opinion, written in good faith, as one who cherishes the MySQL community and makes a living from the industry that has sprung up around MySQL. It’s absolutely crucial that they continue to flourish. I’m in this to stay (more news soon on what I am planning next, independently of Percona), and you can trust me to make my community voice heard inside of Percona, as I’ve done for years.

This is an uncensored opinion. No one else at Percona saw this post before I published it.

Posted on Thu, Aug 18, 2011. Approximately 1400 Words.

Conferences Databases