Hamster The Wombat or Are You Going to Melbourne?
The blog you’re about to enjoy is actually almost one year old. I wrote most of it after the trip to the Mastering SAP Technologies 2014 conference in Australia where I had privilege to be a speaker. There have been different opinions on what a decent ‘event blog’ should look like and it seemed not everyone enjoyed fashion analysis of the attendee wardrobes or the conference food reviews. Fair enough. But the fact that for me the memories from that event are just as vivid today as they were last year speaks for itself. So after a quick sprucing up I present to you a totally unapologetic account of my experience as well as some tips for this year’s attendees and speakers.
For the easy consumption I’ve broken the blog into sections and oh, if you’re wondering what’s the deal with the title then just scroll to the very bottom.
Tips for the International Travelers
- Electric outlets are different in Australia than in Europe or USA. There was a converter available in the hotel room at Crown Metropol, but I was glad I brought one too to charge 3 different devices. My converter came from Amazon, make sure to read the reviews because some of them don’t work so well apparently.
- Flight from Los Angeles to Melbourne takes about 16 hours. It seems rather daunting prospect to sit on an airplane for 2 work days straight, but in reality it’s not that bad. Quantas has pretty awesome entertainment program with a variety of movies and prime TV shows. And flight attendants regularly carry around snacks and drinks (don’t forget – alcohol is free and it’s always four o’clock somewhere!). If you’re lucky, you might even end up next to an interesting person and have an enlightening conversation. Plus you’ll have plenty of time to ponder why can’t the airplane just fly up and let the Earth turn around underneath it.
- There will be the forms to fill in for the Australian border control (pack a pen, by the way). You’ll need the flight number (it does feel a bit odd to ask ‘what flight are we on?’) and the address where you’re staying. In the “occupation” field it might be very tempting to write something unusual, like “prestidigitator” or “fringe scientist”. Whatever you do make sure to remember what you wrote because when you leave you’ll have to fill in the same form again. Obviously this information is of major importance to the Australian authorities.
- On the way home when an immigration officer asks you “Where are you coming from?”, “From a plane!” is most likely not the answer they’re looking for. (Even though it’s 100% accurate. Really, they need to be more specific, especially at 6 am.)
- Compared to the US, pretty much everything is extremely expensive, even the ATMs dispense only 50$ bills. I am kidding you not – Vegas is like Walmart compared to this place.
- At the airport stores you’ll get charged 1.5% extra for using a credit card (which is unheard of in the US) on top of their outrageous prices. Plan accordingly if you would like to keep some funny Australian currency as a souvenir.
- You can get really good coffee pretty much anywhere, even at the mall’s food court. And I mean “good” not by the Dunkin Donuts standards. There is no Splenda though, bring your own.
- We did not get a chance to do a lot of sight-seeing but the Queen Victoria Market (a suggestion by the fellow Mentors) is a great place to get some souvenirs. Also the boardwalk is just a few minutes from the event site and perfect for walking and people-watching.
- I’ve counted several different code violations and potential lawsuits by the US standards, including lack of any railing along the said boardwalk. This place is super chill!
On Sunday afternoon there was a quick orientation for the speakers. As an “ice breaking”, “team building”, etc. effort everyone was asked to answer few questions about themselves. One of the questions was ‘Your favorite song?’ (or rather ‘favoUrite’). This is where most people suddenly start to feel the pressure to show encyclopedic knowledge of the music industry. No one ever confesses they rock out to Britney Spears. No siree. Instead pretty much everyone gets up with a serious face, clears throat and says something epic like “my favorite song of all times is ‘Broken Light Bulb’ by The Neon Hot Pants”, then triumphantly glances over the room to gauge the effect. And everyone just nods, like yeah, totally dig that too. Well, my favorite song actually is Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” and if we learned anything from her it is to be proud of our choices no matter what everyone else thinks.
But wait, the story doesn’t end here. Next day when I’m getting ready for my presentation guess what song starts to play? Ding-ding-ding – “Poker Face”! Not sure if it was just a coincidence or a nice surprise planned by the organizers (in which case – thank you!), but the lesson is – you have a better chance hearing your actual favorite song when you are not pretending.
Since this is an SAP-themed gathering one might feel a natural urge to compare it to the other SAP events, such as user group meetings, TechEd, SAPPHIRE, etc. But in reality this would be like comparing TechEd to a holiday dinner at your aunt’s house. It would be gross misrepresentation to think of Mastering SAP Technologies as some kind of “mini-TechEd for our little Australian friends out in the boonies”. Yes, there are sessions where people talk about SAP and there are vendors and food, but that’s where the similarities pretty much end.
The important thing to note is since the event is not organized by SAP AG it is definitely not a “sales” event. Yes, there is “Ed” in TechEd but let’s face it – the education SAP is really-really interested in is the one that can help them to sell you more stuff. And there is nothing wrong with that per se – business is business.
But in the case of Mastering SAP Technologies the organizers are not trying to sell you anything other than a ticket to the event. It’s in their interests to have satisfied attendees, so that you’d come again to visit next year. And last year the organizers went out of their way to make all the participants happy, welcome and part of the experience. Even the SAP executives delivering well-rehearsed official presentations somehow seemed more laid back in Melbourne.
Here are some specific items the organizers got right and I hope will continue at this year’s event:
- Networking is strongly encouraged. It’s not a secret that IT has probably largest concentration of grumpy introvert types. For many of us talking to a stranger is just a notch more comfortable than approaching a rattlesnake. But when everyone in the room turns and greats their neighbor it definitely doesn’t feel that bad.
- Session feedback opportunities. Just about any event has some kind of session rating system. But here we also had a big “sticky note wall” where everyone could put any random thoughts triggered by the sessions. We had tons of fun talking about those notes at the “Collective wisdom”session at the end of the event.
- Designated speaker “hang out”. It’s not always easy to catch a speaker for some follow-up questions or just a quick side conversation or a simple “thank you”, so the designated spot to meet the speakers was very helpful, in my opinion. It also worked great for the speakers as a guaranteed lunch table. 🙂
- You get to meet the Australian Mentors and lovely Sophie Sipsma in their natural habitat.
Bottom line is at Mastering SAP Technologies you are the essential part of the event. Whether you go there to network, to share your experience and pain, to learn from experts and colleagues, you won’t be disappointed. This is the true community gathering, long corporatey key notes just don’t belong here.
Hamster The Wombat
Back home I’m greeted enthusiastically by my 5 year old son Alex who is excited to see the new toys. Much to my surprise, he immediately pushes aside the cute-as-a-button stuffed koala and instead reaches for rather unremarkable looking wombat toy. “Hamster!!!”, – shouts the kid. We correct him that it’s a wombat but this information leaves him completely unphased. “His name is Hamster!” – declares Alex and runs to introduce Hamster to other toys. At the end the oh-so-commercial koala went to live at our friends’ house, but Hamster The Wombat became the beloved companion.
Come to think of it, in a similar way Mastering SAP Technologies might lack the brand recognition of the koalas, err… TechEds and SAPPHIREs, but it’s homey, cute in its own way and, ultimately, the one that stays with you for a long time.
So – is there a wombat in your future? 😉
P.S. Other blogs about the past Mastering SAP Technologies events on SCN:
Disclosure: my trip and attendance to Mastering SAP Technologies were paid for by the organizers.