Four countries, three days, two European EA user groups. This is the EA User Group on tour, September 2015. These are my* observations of the events, with hints for future attendees and organisers, and some cautionary tales.
We’ll always have Paris
Today is an unusual day. We're at an EA User Group meeting, but only as spectators. Normally, we're involved in some more active role: speaking, organising, sometimes both. But today is different. This is the 12th northern hemisphere UG meeting: two in Canada, one in USA, 4 in UK, three in Germany, one in Switzerland. And I’ve been to them all. But this is the first one mostly in a language which I stopped learning when I was 14.
It's a lovely early autumn morning in the city by the Seine. We're at the Viseo offices right by the river, just outside the centre. Guillaume Finance from Viseo is doing my presentation, so I can sit back and relax. We first-language English speakers are so lucky that the world speaks our language: I hardly ever find myself in meetings which aren’t in English, so this is a treat.
Had an interesting dinner last night with some of the other speakers. This is one of the perks of speaking at these events - meeting the other speakers over dinner. It’s a chance to find out what they know which they won’t talk about in a public meeting. And there are usually ways of using EA that I never dreamed about. Last night I found out about how to use EA to organise the logistics of the French sugar-beet harvest.
Today is an opportunity to look at the presentations in a new way. Since my schoolboy French is nowhere near good enough to understand what's happening, I can concentrate on looking at the pictures on the slides, observing the body language and style of the presenters, and watching the reaction of the audience.
We're not off to a great start. The first presenter arrives 10 minutes late. Not bad, given the terrible Paris traffic, but just enough to give the organisers heart-failure. Tip for anyone presenting at a UG - if you're on first, get there in time. Or bring your own para-medic. Luckily Guillaume survived.
Reading slides which aren't in my language makes me appreciate EA's diagrams so much more. Even though the text in the boxes isn't familiar, the layout and notation translate surprisingly well. At least, I think so.
But it can't translate the jokes, so I just laugh when everyone else does.
You also can't rehearse the technology too much. The presenter’s worst nightmare: the tech which worked fine last night now doesn’t when we come back after lunch: the projector is having an afternoon nap. Hasty rearrangement of schedule.
We have the eaDocX exhibition stuff setup in the lobby of the building. Jackie gets chatting to a French guy, on his way out to have a smoke. He’s nothing to do with the UG, never heard of EA. But he decides it looks interesting. I see him later at the back of Guillaume’s presentation. I wonder what he thought?
eaDocX a la Francaise
A strange sensation, to hear my own presentation delivered in another language. OK, so not exactly my presentation, but a much-improved version from Guillaume, but recognisably mine. I wonder what he's saying. Everyone seems to be listening.
I've got used to the idea of demonstrating my own software. It's as stressful as watching my own children on stage: they are my responsibility, but I’m totally out of control of their performance. And it’ll be my fault if it goes wrong.
So now I've found something even more stressful. Watching somebody else demonstrating your own software, where you don't understand what they’re saying, much less understand the questions the audience are asking. Is it going well? Are the crowd 'getting' what he's saying? I have no idea. But so far, at least the tech is behaving itself. And he's making it do much more than I normally do. He's just smarter…
At least nobody has walked out yet. Wait a minute. There's one going now. He probably has a train to catch. Maybe.
They're asking questions now. I'm at the back, so I can't tell if they are happy about it or not. Hopefully Guillaume won't ask me any questions, in any language.
Hang on. Guillaume is smiling now. He seems to be happy with the way he's answering the questions. And there are lots of questions. Not sure yet if that's a good thing. At least they didn't just applaud at the end and go straight to coffee.
Finally over – they do applaud, and Guillaume looks happy. Relief?
No time to hang around. Off to Gare du Nord, and the Thalys to Brussels. Exotic picnic on the move - baguettes and beer. No chance even to congratulate Guillaume and his team, which is a pity, because the organisation was faultless.
Factoid of the day: they don’t use the French language version of EA, since apparently it’s been translated by Quebecois, not Frenchman, so sounds weird to them.
Friday – it must be Belgium
Interesting chat last night with Geert and Sander (Hoogendoorn) about life, EA, and everything, over some excellent Belgian beer. Off to the venue today. Another splendid one. It really makes all the difference to a UG if there’s enough space for everyone to mingle around, and also have spaces to go and hide away for a 1:1 chat. And have lunch and coffee, and space for the sponsors exhibitions. This venue was built as a hospital, never used, and is now the HQ for a Belgian trades union. Loads of space, and all very new and shiny. Just as well, as there’s a big crowd.
All talks in English today. Sander told us all about microservices. I’d not come across them before, but after an hour of listening (only an hour?), I feel like an expert. But he lied to us: he said he had 120 slides, but I’m sure he missed a few. Hardly more than 100. All great stuff.
Then straight into our presentation. Lots of technology: 2 laptops, an iPad, and a link to a server in London. This time the tech let me down: laptop decided to freeze over at the ‘ta da’ moment, which rather ruined the effect. Still, the audience were very understanding.
After that some more talks. Always great to hear other people struggling with similar issues to my customers. I think potential speakers underestimate the power and usefulness of a simple ‘this is what happened to us’ story. I’m always re-assured by these, even if they might not seem interesting to the speaker themselves. We don’t need speakers to deliver research papers on super-smart bits of EA – just an interesting story is great.
The finale was Daniel from Lieber Lieber doing a talk about EA 12. Well, not exactly EA 12. More EA 12.1, which was handily (not!) released the day before. This has happened before, with EA 12 – announced the day before a UG meeting. Must be a coincidence: I don’t think Sparx HQ are that bothered about UG meetings to do it on purpose.
So Daniel bravely showed us the fruits of his 24 hours of experience with 12.1, and did a great job under the circumstances.
So that’s it – off to the airport, and back home in the small hours of Saturday. A huge thank you to the organisers: Guillaume and Geert, who despite having young families and full-time jobs, still organised two excellent events. And to their teams, and the donors of the venues, and the sponsors. We know what hard work it all is, but these are great events for making friends in the EA world, finding out new stuff, and generally joining in the growing conversation which is the EA User Group.
If you’d like help in organising your own UG meeting, don’t ask permission, just get started. We have lots of help and advice available – contact jackie(at)abilityengineering (dot)co(dot)uk for her cheat-sheet, filled with the learnings from the 12 meetings we’ve been involved with. Here’s to the next one!
 England, France, Belgium…and Wales, where we live.
[*] Ian Mitchell, author of eaDocX