If you've had your fill of this subject already then, fine, I understand that. Stop reading now (because I'm certainly not forcing you to) but don't vilify me for wanting to express my views. I repeat, you don't have to read them and that's at least two lines of warning! Here's another one ... don't like it? SWITCH OFF!
Some of you will have been following the comments thread over on Howard's blog about the changes to Oracle's ACE program and Tim Hall's earlier blogs on the same subject (three, in all). Howard's blog has attracted additional attention over here. A friend pointed out that it's becoming a long and slightly tortuous thread and I was determined that I wouldn't say too much more on the matter. I know I've said more than enough already but I'm in a positive mood so wanted to attempt to see the good on both sides of the argument and to reconcile some of my own thoughts on the matter. We all say things in the heat of the moment, but what matters most to me is that I feel comfortable about what I've said and, if I don't, correct it.
First, and most important to me, I'm conscious that I may have offended some of the following, when I genuinely didn't mean to.
"Chris Muir, Eddie Awad, John Scott, Lewis Cunningham, Mark Rittman, Rich Niemic, Tim Hall."
In fact, I just trawled through the ACE list very quickly, picking up Directors as I went including (*deliberately*) people who are friends and I respect (and they know that's true). What I was trying to highlight was the arbitrary nature of the selections but, in retrospect, who knows who OTN might decide as Ace Directors in future? I think the point I was trying to raise was similar to what Tim Hall was talking about here, but maybe I jumped the gun. To put it another way, it was never a dig at those listed above, more a sense of surprise that they should be deemed of greater technical competence than ...
"Anjo Kolk, Connor McDonald, David Aldridge, Howard Rogers, Jared Still, Laurent Schneider, Mogens Norgaard, Steve Adams, Steve Feuerstein, Tim Gorman, Werner Puschitz"
(... and, as I've said before any number of times, dozens of others I've worked alongside who aren't active community participants.)
Looking at ACE Director again, though, it doesn't just imply technical competence, but a willingness to work together with Oracle and not everyone would want that type of relationship. Besides, if I think that Oracle have missed obvious candidates, I can always nominate them. It might take them a while to get through all of the nominations though!
I'd hate to think there's a danger of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Just because a program is not what I'd want it to be, I'd rather not just discount it as worthless, but try to improve it. Justin Kestelyn becoming involved in the debate is welcome, as are his invitations to comment, and I'd dread to think that someone at Oracle might say, 'Listen, let's not bother with this, it's just too much hassle.' I know I can sound like an awkward customer myself, but the reality is that I'd rather have a grown-up discussion about most things if all parties are truly interested in listening.
Interfacing with a community you have no real control over is probably a pretty thankless task but if Oracle are serious about community engagement then it's unavoidable and only they can decide if they're up it. I think part of that task is accepting the passion of the participants and allowing them to be themselves. Once you start excluding the more prickly or argumentative participants you're in danger of ending up with a boring, unrepresentative (cough) web 1.0 crowd.
I still think Howard's right about the Oracle ACE status being devalued by Oracle's own recent words. The evidence is there on the OTN website and just because Howard argues passionately and at length and you might disagree with some of his views, that doesn't change the central fact and title of the blog - 'Devalued'. I remain convinced of his original point. Now, there's a possibility that by devaluing the ACE requirements, Oracle are saying - ok, every community contributor is welcome but before we're going to start supporting you more, we're going to expect higher skill levels. If that's the case, though, they can't tie it in to personal commitments or rewards or, if they do, make that clear. Then again, as someone pointed out to me today ... "The FAQ is a much better statement of things." As usual, I think the best way of avoiding community unrest is early, open communication.
The funny thing is that I was always slightly embarassed to get the ACE thing. The people who I truly believe deserve ACE awards are those that I suspect they were invented for - significant contributors to the forums on OTN. Of course there have always been active forums and mailing lists dedicated to Oracle, including CDOS and Oracle-L, but it's no surprise if Oracle focus on the forums that they host themselves. (But, sigh ... I shouldn't mention forums too much because it forces me to take an embarassed look at my own 'contribution'. Oh, goody! Yet another opportunity to mention my forthcoming blog entry on my relationship with forums that will probably never appear! LOL)
My closing thought on this is that honest, direct debate is the life-blood of any community and the fact that people use different writing styles or have different personalities adds to the effect (for me at least). We don't always have to agree with each other and disagreeing does not imply bad feeling - it's an exchange of views.
No, actually, my closing thought on this is that I can't think of a better candidate for AD than Howard. I know it might seem 'out there' to some, but he seems as excited about Oracle software as anyone I know, puts a lot of work into a useful website that several other ACEs use (this one included) and, to quote Marco :-
"getting / being passionate is part of the deal".
P.S. I typed this up last night so I could review it and click 'Post' in the morning. Whilst I was in my bed, another post appeared on Howard's blog, which doesn't change anything I have to say here.