Comment Pug Challenge/exchange Americas 2016 Recap

Rob Fitzpatrick Sponsor
Another PUG Challenge is in the books. Special thanks to the executive committee, and to all the speakers, sponsors (especially Progress Software), organizers, and volunteers who made it possible and made it a great success.

This was my fifth one and I had a blast. It's great to meet up with old acquaintances, make new ones, talk shop with customers, partners, and consultants from all over the continent, and learn about what's coming soon in OpenEdge as well as the new things we can do in the versions we run today. It's also a heck of a lot of fun! This year I got to meet LarryD and TheMadDBA; it's always nice to put a face to a name.

The venue was new this year; the Radisson Downtown in Manchester, NH. It's a nice hotel, very reasonably priced, and it's large enough to accommodate the conference as the number of attendees grows year over year. There's also a very good selection of restaurants and excellent brew pubs within walking distance. I'd be happy to go back there next year.

For those who are in North America and haven't yet attended a PUG Challenge conference, I can't recommend it highly enough. For a few hundred dollars I attended two three-hour hands-on workshops, a keynote speech by Progress Software, and 16 hour-long breakout sessions on a variety of technical topics. That price also includes daily breakfast, lunch, coffee and refreshments between sessions, and evening mixers with food and drinks.

There are five simultaneous tracks in each time slot, so whether you're a developer, an architect, or a DBA, you can find tons of material that is valuable to you. And a lot of that material can't be found anywhere else. Even the docs and KB don't have the valuable nuggets of info you can get only at a technical conference, let alone the opportunity to speak directly with Progress engineers and architects. Progress is listening now more than ever and this is your chance to be heard.

I've spent money on my career development in various ways; bought books, attended seminars, read the docs and KB, done research and benchmarking, and attended instructor-led training. Attending OpenEdge conferences, especially PUG Challenge, has done more to enhance my knowledge and boost my career than all of those things combined. If you haven't attended one of these events, and you're on the fence about whether it would be worth the money and the time away from the office, I strongly encourage you to take the plunge. You'll be so glad that you did.

Can't wait until next year! :)

Cringer Moderator
Staff member
Nice review Rob. And if anyone reading this can't wait a whole year, the EMEA PUG Challenge is only a few months away. It's in the Netherlands this year. Oh and yours truly is speaking again. There must be someone totally mad on the committee!


Thanks Rob! Great review. We worked hard to pull it off and planning for next year has already begun!

Yes, Cringer that committee is obviously insane -- they accepted some of my talks too ;)

Cringer Moderator
Staff member
I like the look of yours. I will be endeavouring to attend both published ones!


Active Member
I have to agree wholeheartedly with Rob's review...

This was my first PUG Challenge, and won't be my last. The sessions were extremely helpful and informative, and even being around since V5 I learned quite a lot of what goes on 'under the covers' of OE, as well as dispelling myths that have gone around over the years. The breadth of knowledge and productive discussions with colleagues and Progress personnel made it well worth the cost (which is very very very reasonable).

I had only one complaint... there were competing sessions that I wanted to attend and couldn't do both. Maybe they will consider having some of the sessions repeated so that we get a chance to attend both.

Meeting Rob and seeing others that I haven't seen for years was also fantastic... I just wish I knew that theMadDba was there so I could have met him also.

Thanks Tom and all who put this on.


Active Member
Next year Larry... next year :cool:

It was a lot of fun. Some of the talks did seem a little short considering how many questions were raised... but varying the length of the presentations and preventing overlap is obviously quite a challenge.

Way more valuable than any of the official Exchanges I have been to.

Cringer Moderator
Staff member
I believe there are going to be some 90 minute slots at EMEA PUG Challenge this year. Will be interesting to see how those go.


I feel your pain. Really, I do. I always have a list of sessions that I wish I could have been at.

It is basically impossible to create a schedule with zero conflicts. I'll bet if you poke around you can probably find doctoral dissertations on the topic ;)

Even if it were possible -- rumor has it that it is not a bad thing if a programmer might have to choose a DBA topic and a DBA might have to learn something about code once in a while...

Rob Fitzpatrick Sponsor
Scheduling is a hard problem. You don't want to double-book within a track, you can't double-book rooms or speakers, you don't want to double-book info exchanges, etc.

A while back, I saw an interview with one of the organizers of the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference, a massive show in LA. He decided it was too complex to do it himself. Being a programmer, he wrote a genetic algorithm to create random schedules, assigning weights to different positive or negative outcomes, e.g. speaker has back-to-back sessions and has only 15 minutes to walk from one end of the convention centre to another. Eventually after many "generations" the program settles on one highest-scoring schedule and that gets vetted and published. An interesting computer science problem. Add to that the fact that there are people involved and they have last-minute family emergencies, sickness, travel challenges, etc., so the schedule isn't really "done" until the conference starts (and maybe not even then).

Having been to a couple of Exchange conferences, I appreciate how great the scheduling is at PCA. Granted, it's easier for a DB guy to be satisfied with the schedule than for a developer who has more content to choose from. But as an example, at Exchange 2013 I believe there were 13 DB sessions across 6 (6!) time slots. I would have needed a team of 3 to see every DB session due to double- and triple-booking. At PCA it is typical that there are 15 to 16 time slots, almost never a double-booking for DB content, and it's about half the price of Exchange, or less. The scheduling is consistently fantastic. And there's a mobile app where you can build your personal agenda, see session abstracts, speaker bios, floor maps, provide feedback, etc.

And I agree with Tom about expanding your horizons. I love to hear great DB content and that's why I'm there, but there are other sessions I would like to attend as well if I had the time, to learn about security, source code analysis, Docker, OO, etc. etc. At least we get all the slide decks and code samples so we can get a flavour for what we missed. I've learned a lot from past sessions and even conferences that I didn't even attend just because I've built a library of their downloadable content. :)


Also don't get me wrong -- we welcome all feedback about the scheduling and constantly strive to improve it.

In the way of insight into our actual sausage making process... we don't do "tracks" per se but there are roughly 10 major categories that we assign stuff to. As it stands we have 4 "technical" breakout rooms and a 5th room that is set aside for road maps, info exchanges, commercial sessions and that sort of thing.

It doesn't always work out but we try to look for "progressions" of topics -- if an area is being covered by multiple sessions and one talk is more general while another is a "deep dive" we try to do the general one sooner so that people who aren't sure can get a feel for things before diving in.

We try to build a bit on the excitement from the general session and find talks that might be relevant to whatever is going on in there as well as road map talks for the sessions that come after the general session.

Lastly we try to find exciting topics for the end of day Wednesday talks.

Once that's done it is almost random for the first pass. Conflict resolution and spreading things around kicks in at that point. It's a lot like sudoku.

We also try not to set it up so that people will spend the whole day in the same room. If there is a larger room we try to guess which sessions are going to draw big crowds and act accordingly. Sometimes we even guess right.

Certain speakers are well known for struggling to fit 800 slides into a mere 60 minutes. For some reason they often get the pre-lunch and end of day slots. Along with a stern talk about time management.

Another speaker once failed to get out of bed on time. As a reward he is the winner of every 8am slot that we can possibly alot to him. We've considered adding 6am slots but that would require us to man the registration desk at 6am... it's not totally off the table though if anyone wants to encourage the idea ;)

When we publish the schedule we also ask the speakers to review it and make sure that we haven't screwed up the principles above or missed an opportunity to create some synergies. That along with community feedback from vigilant attendees (thanks Rob!) usually results in a few things being shuffled around.