Java Community Leadership: What Does It Really Take?

Last week there was a discussion started by a JUG leader on one of the Java aliases that got me thinking, which led to this blog post.

The JUG leader made two significant points in his original posting:

  1. He perceived a lack of JUG related activities (including his own).
  2. He felt Oracle were poor at building communities.

This JUG leader is based in Asia, so his first comment may be partly attributable to cultural and geographical issues. According to my friend Daniel deOliveira’s excellent research JUGs in Asia account for 14% of those in the world compared to 40% for Europe and 23% for North America. Having said that, there are a number of highly active JUGs in places like Tokyo, Beijing and Pune (where the JUG leaders have organised the excellent Indic Threads Conference for the last seven years).

I’ve not been involved in running a JUG, so it’s hard for me to be subjective about this but, since I know many JUG leaders, I do know just how much hard work and dedication is required to make a JUG a success. Even with a leader with these two qualities you still need to attract and engage an active membership, otherwise there won’t be much experience to share.

It is not uncommon for a JUG to start and become successful but, at some point, things change such as a leader starting a new job or moving away. Without a suitable replacement leader, the JUG may not survive, but that’s natural; it’s certainly not a reflection on the lack of popularity of Java. I see nothing to indicate a negative trend in JUG numbers or coverage. Quite the reverse, in fact: there are over 360 JUGs in the world according to Daniel’s data.

To address the second point, when it comes to supporting the Java community what does it require to be successful?

To me the Java community consists of three overlapping parts, all of which need their own type of support:

  1. Java Champions: These are people who demonstrate a high level of technical knowledge and commitment to championing Java to developers in general. These are essentially unpaid Evangelists for the Java platform. In this case, Oracle provides them with a few freebies as well as a mailing list to express their opinions in a way that gives Oracle insight into what the wider Java community feel about Java. The Champions are not shy and are happy to tell Oracle what they think, even if these views aren’t in line with Oracle’s.
  2. Java User Groups: Probably the most visible part of the Java community. Since Oracle decided to no longer have a team of Evangelists dedicated to the Java platform there are fewer Oracle presentations at JUG events. However, there are plenty of people from other Java-related companies who are willing and able to deliver high-quality content at these meetings. Remember, Oracle describes itself as the custodian of Java and, whilst it does own the Java trademark, there are many companies and individuals who, in effect, own a stake in the future of Java. Given my new role at Azul, I’ll be able to contribute to ensuring the JUGs continue to be well served with opportunities to hear the latest news on Java developments.
  3. Java Developers: Although many developers are members of a JUG, there are literally millions who are not. To address the needs of this segment Oracle still provides a lot of on-line content:
  • There are quarterly Virtual Technology Summit webcasts including a significant range of content coming directly from the Java community.
  • The Java Magazine, again with significant content from outside of Oracle.
  • My friend and ex-colleague Stephen Chin’s Nighthacking videos with content coming almost entirely from the wider Java community.

Once again, whilst Oracle are providing all this great content for free, there are many other companies and individuals doing similar work through webcasts, live events and blogs. Community is more about sharing than having one leader that everyone expects to satisfy their needs.

Nurturing a community, especially of Java developers, is a tricky balancing act. On the one hand, you need to ensure that there is sufficient support for the various parts of that community for them to be successful. On the other hand, trying to give too much direction can result in members of the community feeling they don’t have enough freedom. I think, at the moment, Oracle and other Java community leaders are getting it just about right.

One of the freedoms provided by the OpenJDK project and community is the choice available to developers of which implementation to use. Here at Azul, we’re doing just that with the Zulu JDK. Built directly from the OpenJDK source base and verified as compliant using the official TCK Zulu provides past, present and future (through early access JDK 9) versions.

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At Azul we’re very focused on helping the Java community, providing a forum for feedback and discussion on all things Zulu. Check it out here to join the community or get the free download of the Zulu JDK.

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