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Why the Oak Table Was So Great

This weekend, I watched a wonderful TEDx video by Barbara Sher, called “Isolation Is the Dream-Killer, Not Your Attitude.” Please watch this video. It’s 21 minutes, 18 seconds long.

It reminded me about what was so great about the Oak Table. That’s right: was. It’s not anymore.

Here’s what it was. People I admired, trusted, and liked would gather at a home in Denmark owned by a man named Mogens Nørgaard. Mogens is the kindest and most generous host I have ever encountered. He would give his whole home—every inch—to keep as many of us as he could, for a week, once or twice a year. Twenty, maybe thirty of us. We ate, drank, and slept, all for free, as much and for as long as we wanted. And the “us” in that sentence was no normal, regular, everyday “us.” It was Tom Kyte, Lex de Haan, Anjo Kolk, Jonathan Lewis, Graham Wood, Tanel Põder, Toon Koppelaars, Chris Antognini, Steve Adams, Stephan Haisley, James Morle, John Beresniewicz, Jože Senegačnik, Bryn Llewellyn, Tuomas Pystynen, Andy Zitelli, Johannes Djernæs, Michael Möller, Peter Gram, Dan Norris, Carel Jan-Engel, Pete Sharman, Tim Gorman, Kellyn Pot’Vin, Alex Gorbachev, Frits Hoogland, Karen Morton, Robyn Sands, Greg Rahn, and—my goodness—I’m leaving out even more people than I’m listing.

We spent a huge amount of our time sitting together at Mogens’s big oak table, which was big enough for about eight people. Or, in actuality, about twice that. We’d just work. And talk. If there wasn’t a meal on the table, then it would be filled with laptops and power cords covering every square inch. Oops, I mean millimeter. That table had millimeters.

And here’s what was so great about the Oak Table: you could say what you wanted—whatever it was!—and you could have it. You could just say your dream and your obstacle, and someone around the table would know how to make your dream come true.

It’s tricky even trying to remember good examples of people’s dreams, because I’m so far removed from it now. Some of them were nerdy things like, “I wonder how long an Oracle PARSE call would take if we did a 256-table join?” You’d hear, “Hmm, interesting. I think I have a test for that,” and then the next thing you know, Jonathan Lewis would be working on your problem. Or, “Hey, does anyone know how to do such-and-such in vim?” And Johannes Djernæs or Michael Möller would show you how easy it was.

I got into a career-saving conversation late one night with Robyn Sands. She had asked, “Is anybody else having trouble finding good PL/SQL developers? I can’t figure out where they are, if there even are any. Are there?” We talked for a while about why they were so scarce, and then I connected the dots that, hey, I have two superb PL/SQL developers at home on the bench, and I had been desperately trying to find them good work. The story that Robyn and I started some 3:00am over beers resulted in a superb consumer femtocell device for Robyn and a year’s worth of much-needed revenue for my tiny little team.

It was a world where you could have anything you want. Better yet, it was a world where you could dream properly. Today, in isolation, it’s hard to even dream right. After nearly two years of being locked away, I can barely conceive of a world that’s plentiful and joyous like those Oak Table years. I feel much smaller now. (Oh, and it wasn’t COVID-19 that killed that Oak Table experience. It died years before that—but, obviously, it’s a factor today.)

I want it back. I want my friends back. How are we going to do this?


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