European Application Express Training – Day 1

As seems to be the tradition when Dimitri and I do some training, we stayed up quite late last night (not too late!) in the Hotel bar, this gives us the opportunity to

  • Catch up on some business matters. Although I live in the UK and Dimitri lives in Belgium, modern technology (read: email, Skype, MSN etc) means that the geography doesn’t really matter, however sometimes you really need to be in the same room as someone when discussing some things.
  • We also get the chance to run through each others presentations and give some last minute tips/hints etc.
  • We also had a chance to relax (a little) and have a couple of beers and chat about life in general. Dimitri’s wife was due to give birth just a few days after our training, so I was always expecting him to have to dash off to the hospital at some point while in mid-presentation, so we planned what to do if that happened (I suggested that I would run out the door right after him, but apparently that was not an option).

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The start of the first day was (as you could expect) pretty hectic, it doesn’t matter how early you start you always wish you’d started 30 minutes earlier. After having some breakfast and another quick run-through of the day, we headed to the presentation room and started setting things up. I have to say that once we started preparing the tables and setting up the name tags for the attendees I got more and more into ‘Presenter Mode’, it makes a big difference when you take the extra time to do things like make badges for people (thanks Kristel!).

AE Brussels Training

We had arranged a ‘welcome coffee’ for the attendees, just so everyone got a chance to get something to eat and drink (some people were travelling to the event each day rather than staying in the hotel) and also we all got a chance to meet each other before the training began.

When we first announced the training (all those months ago!), we never really knew how many people would be interested, so we took a real risk in organising something on the scale that we did (we could have booked a far cheaper hotel, which much cheaper rates!), but we decided that for the first event we really wanted it to be ‘special’. So we were extremely happy that other people are just as passionate about Application Express as we are, and we soon managed to reach our ‘ideal number’ of close to 30 attendees (as Dimitri has already posted we had some people signing up right at the last moment, we also had one person who cancelled one day before the event and even more bizarrely a couple of people who signed up, paid and then didn’t arrive!)

Then came the moment of truth, the first part of the presentation. For anyone who hasn’t done it before, it’s very nerve wracking to stand up infront of a group of people you haven’t really met before and then start talking. It’s a very different thing to a conversation where it ‘flows’ from one person to the other, I’m sure in those first few minutes of talking people could hear the odd nervous ‘pinch’ in my voice (as well as needing to drink water every few seconds!), but then I soon forgot about the nerves and started to enjoy it (it always helps to see people nodding along as you speak, or smiling etc to help you to know if you’re making sense!).

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I won’t go into lots of detail about the individual sessions (after all, if I did that then people wouldn’t need to attend our training courses!), but on the first day we covered:

  • Themes & Templates – Dimitri showed how Themes & Templates are used within APEX, he showed practical examples of how you can use all the different templates types available within APEX to completely customise the look and feel of an application.
  • Authentication – This is a huge topic and I could spend all 3 days on this topic alone, so instead of doing a superficial overview of all the different types of authentication I concentrated on APEX users (‘Cookie users’)and also Custom Authentication. I showed how there are a few things you need to be aware of with the built in APEX users, but that they are also a very underrated feature than are not quite as ‘basic’ as lots of people thing they are. I also showed why (and how!) you can use Custom authentication, together with some practical examples of how you should be ‘hardening’ your security with custom authentication.
  • Reports & Charts – Lots to show and discuss here. Dimitri did a good job of trying to cover all the features available with both reports and charts and some of the pitfalls that you might run into. I’m sure he’ll go into more detail about this on his blog, but this was one of the presentations that really shows why we use a LOT of live demos, because it’s sometimes much easier to show something than to try and describe it. We really find that the live demo technique works well for us (when they work!) and people seem to like the way we can adapt our live demos to their specific questions.
  • Performance Tips & Techniques – Again, another huge topic, so I concentrated on the 4 tips and techniques that I would recommend to everyone to use. I’m a bit of a ‘performance geek’ when it comes to APEX, but I tried to show why *everyone* should be using these techniques. I did a quick poll among the attendees and whilst a couple of people were using a one of the techniques, nobody was using 3 of the techniques, let alone anyone using all 4 of them! I really do hope that by the end of the presentation some people were thinking “Wow…I am *really* going to use that!”.

We had arranged for each session to last around 90 minutes, with breaks/lunch between the sessions. 90 minutes might seem like quite a long time, which is why we try to use live demos to keep things ‘interesting’. We have tried doing 60 minute sessions, but sometimes that is just too short for some of the more advanced things we need to do. It was nice to see (later on) that in the feedback forms not a single person reported that the sessions were too long. It also gives us some flexibility within the sessions to make one session run a little longer or shorter depending on the feedback we’re getting from the attendees (for example one session ran longer because of the number of questions during the session and Q&A afterwards).

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We also had a lot of people asking questions at the end of the day (which is always a good sign, rather than racing off as quickly as they can!). All in all it was a great first day from our perspective and we hoped from other peoples perspective too!

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