An Incredible Journey: OTN Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Tour

The first-ever OTN Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Tour is finished at last, and it was one of the most invigorating conferences I’ve ever attended and participated in. Many of my fellow Oracle ACEs and ACE Directors crossed 12 time zones to spend seven days in five cities on two continents to share our knowledge of all things Oracle with young and enthusiastic attendees at every stop.

The Tour

Our first stop on the tour was Bizerte, the oldest city in Tunisia not far from Tunis, the capital of Tunisia and the site of ancient Carthage. Tunisia is the country that ignited the “Arab Spring” in 2010, and the country is still healing its wounds from that conflict.

Our team and hosts reconnoiter the ruins at Dougga, the best-preserved set of Roman ruins in North Africa. Humbling and stunning!

But the enthusiasm of the young IT professionals in Bizrete and the rural city of Beja, “City of Wheat” and the second stop on our tour, was infectious. The magnificent coastlines and spectacular seaside views took everyone’s breath away, and the hospitality of our new Tunisian comrades showed us was humbling and endearing. We even had a chance to walk the best-preserved set of ancient Roman ruins in all of North Africa in Dougga.

The IT workers, students, and teachers we met in Tunisia inspired us because even in what most of us in the West might call a developing country, the reach of IT technology is impressive, as every attendee at both conferences had at least one mobile device. Tunisia’s future certainly seems bright, and we hope our passion for IT left our attendees with the confidence to pursue their dreams for themselves as well as their nascent country and economy.

The IT professionals in Beja were young, questioning everything. Inspiring!

Riyadh, the capital of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and our third stop, gave us a deep look into Saudi culture and its people. The young IT professionals there were hungry for our team’s knowledge. They showed us unbounded hospitality, displayed a proud passion for their Muslim culture, and picked our Oracle ACE brains on everything until almost 0200 the next morning.

Kingdom Tower, 100 stories high, dominates the skyline of Riyadh. We saw the city from the skybridge at the top – magnificent!

Jeddah, our fourth stop on the tour, is a bustling commercial seaport that is also closest to Mecca and thus closest to the hearts of my newfound Muslim brothers and sisters. A young crowd of IT professionals braved a humid weekend morning to hear us speak all too briefly before leaving the KSA.

In a single word: Dubai is magnificent. It was a fitting final venue for our tour because its sudden emergence from a desert in less than 20 years mirrors the growing importance of an IT industry that truly dominates all people and cultures in every corner of the world. Its futuristic skyline was second only to all the young professionals from the ARABOUG user group that took the time to join us for the outstanding final day of the tour; it gave us our best look at the future of IT in the far Middle East.

Our Cast of Characters

We happy few … after closing the tour in Dubai. (From L-R: Bjoern Rost, myself, Joel Perez, Osama Mustafa, Mike Ault)

Mike Ault, our most senior ACE, was discomfited by illness for most of the tour and did most of the speaking anyway. Mike’s deep experience with performance tuning gave attendees a deep look under the covers of Oracle databases. But it was his perseverance that inspired all of us to “keep calm and carry on” even when presentations ran over, travel plans went awry, or taxis were too small.

Bjoern Rost, a veteran of several ACE tours, brought his unique perspective to every venue and gathering. And contrary to world opinion, Germans do have a wicked sense of humor… even when his only response to our best jokes was, “That’s not funny.” Bjorn’s deep dives into Oracle 12c features were simply outstanding, and his emergency emcee-ing in Dubai made our final day of the tour a success.

Edward Roske crystallized exactly what Big Data is, how it’s still evolving, and why our attendees should care about it. His presentations were simply outstanding and I know I speak for our whole team that his verve and focus taught us all how to relate better with our audiences. Edward’s deep business knowledge and customer centricity also blew me away; I learned more in 20 minutes listening to him explain how to see business issues from our customer’s position than I’d learned from any formal class I’ve taken in the last 25 years.

Syed Jaffar Hussein presented on Oracle database security features – extremely important in a world where as much as 80% of data theft happens inside the firewall! – and gave us great hospitality in Riyadh. His enthusiasm for his town and culture added a lot to our enjoyment of Riyadh, especially our visit to the Kingdom Tower.

Imran Ullah Bukhari’s presentation on application and database performance tuning from the design phase forward made a great impression on our audience in Riyadh. His deep understanding of KSA’s culture helped us navigate what could’ve been potential disasters, and he truly embodied the tradition of hospitality in the Arab world.

Joel Perez, the lone South American ACE on the tour, presented on zero-downtime Oracle database migration strategies and captured our audience in Dubai with his energy and knowledge. His enthusiasm was infectious, and his passion for the perfect photo of our team after our final presentations that day tightened the bond between we happy few Oracle ACEs on our tour.

Osama Mustafa brought his ready smile and enthusiasm to Dubai as we wrapped up our tour there. His expertise on high availability principles for Oracle Middleware shone through his presentation, and I hope to learn even more from him during our next tours together.

Finally, I’ve got to acknowledge Tariq Farooq, our fearless leader, without whom this tour would’ve been impossible. Tariq’s knowledge of the region and its people, his ability to speak Arabic and negotiate our path to success even when the odds seemed against us, his deep reverence of Islam and the ways of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), and his undaunting sense of humor knitted us into a true “band of brothers.” When we look back at the 2015 MENA tour, its success will have been built upon the seeds that Tariq planted in the deserts, cities, towns, and OUG communities in Tunisia, KSA and Dubai in 2014. Until then, as my new Arab brothers and sisters say in almost every sentence: Insh’Allah.




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