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The front row club...

Posted by danese on June 10, 2003 at 3:24 PM PDT

One of the perks of working on JavaOne is sitting up front in the General Sessions. Its a two-edged sword, tho', because if you need to get up to go to the bathroom everybody KNOWS you've left your seat. I'm sitting in the 2nd row center, sort of behind John Fowler and a whole row of folks with flesh-colored microphones pasted to their ears. The guy immediately in front of me however is exceedingly tall. Tall people usually sit in the back in my experience but since he has a microphone on, he probably doesn't have a choice. Sitting to my right is my pal, Brian Behlendorf, who called me a few minutes before the keynote started to see where I was sitting. Hopefully he's not regretting that call, since now HE can't get up either without everyone knowing he's leaving.

You *do* get a different view of the keynote from up here. For one thing, since everyone sitting around you is from Sun, you get different reactions to the jokes, etc., and that makes me reflect on how hard it is for big companies to get a real read on what the outside world thinks when they surround themselves with insiders (of which, sitting where I am, I am apparently one - don't think the irony of this is lost on me!).

You also get a different view of the physical set they use for JavaOne. So, for instance, I get a really good view of the band. I can also read the tiny, tiny lines of Java code that are wafting across the big blue background on the main projection screen (I'm not saying I can read them WELL. One of them references Kivasoft, but for about a minute Brian and I were convinced it referenced another company whose name ends in ...soft). I can see the stage managers signal the speaker when its time to get off the stage. My husband Joey says it ruins the movie if you know too much about how it was produced but I'm of the backstage ilk and so I find all those nuances fascinating. Demos fail, stomaches churn. Demos succeed, people pat each other on the back conspiratorially.

A couple of years back I was responsible for recommending (and hence for "handling") Tim O'Reilly as a keynote speaker for JavaOne. The person speaking after Tim was the CEO of a famous large company. Tim ran a tad long (he was on a roll) but I thought what he was talking about was really interesting. However, the people immediately behind me were with the next speaker, and as Tim took his time wrapping up they were (quietly) groaning. It was really hard to tell from where I was sitting what the rest of the 15,000 people in the audience thought about Tim's speech. When Tim was done, he and I discreetly removed ourselves (okay, the truth is that EVERYBODY knew we were leaving because as discussed above we were SITTING IN THE FRONT ROW) and to our surprise, about 75% of the rest of the audience was also leaving. Turns out they had loved Tim's speech which was developer focused, but weren't too hot on the marketing message the CEO was delivering. And honestly, we couldn't tell from the front row.

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