BEAWorld 2006 Is a Wrap

Last week, I spent most of the week in San Francisco at the annual BEAWorld conference. I’d been in 2004, and found it to be a good show. This year’s was good, albeit not quite as groundbreaking.

Monday – Travel

In our crazy world, the folks in charge tell you that you need to be at the airport two or three hours ahead of your scheduled flight departure time. For me, that meant getting to the airport at 4.30am, which backed up into getting up at 3am. Ugh.

I got to the airport, parked the truck in offsite parking, and caught a shuttle to Lambert. I was surprised to easily find a shuttle at this time of the morning, but I guess if the airport and government are saying folks have to be at the airport at 4.30am or earlier, then you’ve gotta give ’em a way of getting there. I lobbed my checked bag at the TSA folks, and went on through security.

This is the first time that I’ve flown since the events in August that dramatically tightened the airport security picture here in the States. I definitely got a sense that I was being watched very closely, as was everyone else in line. I had no trouble with my carryon, which only had my iPod, charger, and cell phone. No worries.

I’d never flown with my iPod, and man was that great. Being able to listen to any kind of music while reading my magazines in the terminal was just amazing. I still just cannot figure out how in the world how I got along without one of these. I’ve carried music with me all my life — transistor radios to high school, portable cassette tape decks to events — but nothing compares to this little Marvel from Cupertino.

The flight was great. The morning sun was just rising, and I could see fog in the river valleys of eastern and central Missouri as we took off. The ground slowly changed from tree-covered to farm-covered, and I could see the large tracts of land, box-like cuts upon the land, with the occassional circularly-plowed crops easily visible. I had to change flights in Denver, and made it with only ten minutes to spare. Unfortunately, I couldn’t remember if I’d closed the sunroof on Smokey when I parked, so I had Beck checking into that while I continued on to San Francisco.

I got into SFO, and learned from Beck that the sunroof was indeed closed — yay! I picked up my luggage and went out to the cab line. Holy cow, there were a lot of folks trying to get cabs from the airport! I finally got one, and headed to the Hilton. However, what I didn’t count on was having a craaaaaazy cab driver carrying me to my temporary home. I mean, he was doing 80mph in a 50mph zone, dodging in and out of the heavy traffic. Sure, he’s probably a pro, but I didn’t need that kind of excitement to get my day moving!

The Hilton had everything ready for me, so I checked in, dropped off my luggage, and caught the BEA shuttle down to the Moscone Center to get my registration completed for the conference. I could’ve waited until Tuesday morning, but I’m kinda nuts about getting places early, and getting all my ducks in a row, just in case there’s things that need to be straightened out. There were no problems though, and I picked up my conference materials — carry all bag, booklets, schedule changes, floor layouts, etc. By this time, my internal clock was still on Central Time, and my stomach was crying foul, so I got a late lunch (or dinner, if your body’s still set two timezones to the right!) across the street from the Moscone.

After linner ( 🙂 ), I headed back to the room, started figuring out my schedule for the next couple of days, and waited for 7pm to come. Azul Systems was holding a reception Monday night, and I was invited. Now, I’d met these guys a few months ago, and talked in some depth about their java appliances. It’s cool technology, and man do they promise a lot with it. I’ve not actually laid hands on the device, so I can’t testify to its capabilities, but if it really does live up to the specs — and I’ve no reason to believe it can’t — that’s a remarkable device, and I don’t know why there isn’t one or more of these in every company out there running java apps.

The reception was good, great food, good conversation, and I even caught back up with the folks that had come to St. Louis to show us their product. However, they held this in a sports bar, which wouldn’t ordinarily have been a huge big deal…. except that Monday Night Football was still on while they were trying to do their presentation. Kinda hard to compete with a game that went to halftime scoreless! Nonetheless, they got their presentation done, and I stuck around for a while. By the time I finally got back to the hotel, I’d been up 21 hours, and was absolutely exhausted.

What struck me the most about the eight or nine block back to the hotel was the number of homeless wandering the streets, panhandling to make it past another day. I believe I remember that SF had passed some legislation that gave these folks some rights to be there, be homeless, and panhandle, and I think it’s admirable that someone paid attention to them. It seems like it must’ve attracted so many more to the city though, which means there’s way too many people in one small area that need all kinds of help. Probably the somberest point of the trip for me.

Tuesday – Day One of BEAWorld

If your body is two hours off the local timezone for meals, it makes sense that it might also carry that time slippage over into your sleep. My body is a great timekeeper, and I was awake at 3am Pacific Time — which is my normal Central Time waking time — with little chance of getting back to sleep in a decent way. As it ends up, I would repeat this behavior every night I spent in San Francisco.

In 2004, BEAWorld had a great breakfast spread for us, and really took good care of our stomachs throughout the whole conference. In 2006, things were a little different.

I went to the Moscone on the shuttle, expecting a nice breakfast, and having not eaten anything before I left the hotel. That was probably a mistake. The idea for breakfast in 2006 was bagels and some fruit, along with all the coffee I could drink, along with sodas, water and some fruit juices. No hot cereal, no cold cereal, no toast….. and no tables! Frantically, I could hear the staff realizing that they just didn’t think about tables for breakfast. Big oversight! So, 4000 of us stood in the various parts of the Moscone, trying to juggle a plate with some light food, a drink and our silly little bags.

I was really disappointed in the carry-all bags we were given. They were a little lightweight, but that’s not what was odd about them. There were no dividers inside a pretty massive cavern to store things. Invariably, your materials floated flat to the bottom of the bag, and if you had a book or two in there, everything in the bag was crushed beneath them. Add to that the funny hang of the bag from the shoulder strap, and you end up with a crazy bag design that wasn’t very comfortable, and was only just useful for hauling stuff around the conference.

The doors opened for the keynotes, and the gaggle that is 4000 BEA junkies wandered into the big auditorium. Much like 2004, I felt like I had accidentally walked into a rock star’s reception: big screens, loud music, lights whirling and twirling, and a groupie-like atmosphere among my fellow attendees.

Alfred Chaung, Chairman, CEO and co-founder of BEA, spoke to us about the future of the brand, and where they were trying to head. What struck me was how he wandered around the stage, with what looked like a brown windbreaker on. I think I remember him wearing almost the same thing two years ago. 🙂

The best was next though. Shaygan Keradpir, CIO of Verizon, spoke to us about Verizon’s use of BEA’s technology, and it’s then I realized I was hanging on his every word. It was eye candy, brain candy. They are doing incredibly cool things for their customers, and even better, for their employee base. Shaygan talked for about an hour, showing off Verizon’s technology, and sucking me farther and farther down their road. It was inspiring to hear him speak, and to see the kinds of things their IS culture has fostered internally: blogs, video conferencing, gaming during videoconferences (yes!!!), and a culture where the CIO is accessible, and is reaching out to his folks. Shaygan asks his folks regularly what they are doing after hours. That’s a barometer for emerging technologies Verizon might want to look at, either for customers or for the employees. They are truly a community of workers, rather than just folks wandering around siloed from each other. Big difference in culture.

It was just flat amazing to see this convergence of so many technologies into a one-world view of your data, no matter where it was, or where you were. That’s cool stuff. It certainly made me look wistfully at the sexiness of what they are playing with day-to-day, and the mundane things that I work on day-to-day. It’s not that my work isn’t challenging or thought-provoking — it is — but at the end of the day, I haven’t advanced the art, advanced my skills much, nor done something that a whole bunch of other people haven’t already done. It’s regular ol’ business, not the cool, sexy stuff, and I’d forgotten how much I’d missed that.

When I first came to my employer, it was the sexy stuff, and it was things that were cool, useful, advancing the art, and hadn’t been done before. Somewhere over the last 11 years, that part of our company — at least from my view — fell away, withering on the vine of the necessity of the moment. I hadn’t really realized that until confronted with this incredible vision of not only the present, but the future.

As the speakers continued with their keynotes, I found a little humor in watching the Windows dudes trying to get their laptops connected to the wireless network BEA had supplied for us in the Moscone. In particular, I watched one guy reconfigured his network settings half a dozen times, trying to get connected to the outside world. If you’re gonna do that, then why in the world would you sit in the darkened keynote auditorium? Common courtesy says that you pay attention to the speakers — they might just have something interesting to say.

We broke for lunch, and afternoon breakout sessions. This was the first time the vendor display area was open to the public. I raced to get my lunch after gorging myself at breakfast — or not! — and was ready to get some grub in me. Lunch, despite being a box lunch, was really very tasty. I walked around a bit afterward, and ran into some folks from Wily Systems…. and they remembered me from two years ago. Amazing. I guess I have one of those faces.

Alfred had annnounced Guardian, a nifty little tool for keeping things running right in WebLogic-land, so I attended some sessions on that tool during the afternoon. This really seems like a great way to stay up to date on fixes, as well as being able to enforce compliance with internal standards. I can’t wait until this hits the streets sometime this winter.

I stayed through to the BEA reception Monday night. This was also held in the vendor area, and was fabulous. The food was incredible. And that’s when I noticed there was a problem. Again, we were juggling a drink in one hand, and food in the other…. leaving no hands to pick up literature, shake hands, or do anything else useful. There seems to be a theme here…… I need another arm!

Wednesday – Day Two of BEAWorld

After the fiasco of breakfast Tuesday, I elected to have breakfast in the hotel. A fine breakfast, with plenty of stuff on the buffet, and a good way to start the day.

Wednesday’s session opened with breakfast and more keynotes. Breakfast this time was Krispy Kremes — nice, but still not the kind of stuff to get you moving in the morning. This time there were tables…. although only enough for about a quarter of the attendees. Once again, folks were sitting on the floor all over the center, trying to eat their breakfast and read their e-mails or newspapers.

The keynotes were, with the highlight being a technical panel hosted by Rob Levy, EVP and CTO of BEA. He brought some of the best and brightest from BEA to the stage, and they had what appeared to be a very unrehearsed conversation about the state of things in BEA-land, and where things seemed to be headed. That was an amazing view into the minds of the folks shaping this sector of java platforms.

SOA was the big push in this conference, and BEA made sure there were plenty of opportunities to see material about implementing SOA. Two years ago, BEA challenged us attendees to “Deploy SOA Now!” This year, BEA helped with trying to tackle the organizational changes needed to do SOA correctly and well. That organizational change is critical, and was the key point throughout the afternoon sessions.

So, what’re my impressions of BEAWorld 2006. On balance, it was a good conference. There were quite a few logistical problems that would’ve been so easy to fix ahead of time. Had I been a vendor, I would’ve been ticked, as the vendor floor was only open during lunches, and during the reception on Tuesday night. That meant about five hours or so of useful time to get deep dives with so many attendees. That’s a shame. I think the breakouts were good, but again, there just wasn’t enough of them in the schedule, with only six sessions or so available in the schedule.

Were it me, I’d extend the thing by another day, maybe cut the keynotes in half, and facilitate some good conversation among the attendees. Back in the OS/2 TI days, those were called Birds of a Feather sessions, and they worked really well to foster networking among the attendees.

I spend the evening packing, and trying to get myself ready for travelling.

Thursday – Goin’ Home!

I was ready to get home. For some reason, this trip couldn’t be short enough for me. That’s not like me, so I’m not sure exactly what was going on there. That manifested itself in me getting to the airport around 8am for a 11am flight. I was fine with that, as that put me that much closer to getting home.

The trip back was pretty uneventful, aside from some turbulence over Kansas, and I got back to the house around 8pm, with the trip behind me, and another successful conference under my belt. Woo-hoo!