I flew out Thursday evening, and I’m sitting here mid-Saturday, still not 100% recovered. If you make your living in a way that involves software development, it’s a thing you ought to take in sometime. Herewith my take-aways.

It’s Big · It’s hard to find anyone you can pin down on how many actual paying non-camp-follower humans are there, and anyhow, conference organizers lie like rug merchants on the subject. But I heard the figure of 14,000 bandied about, and it sure seemed like more people than last year, and the Moscone was pretty well maxed out.

Being there, you realize the phrase “Cares about Java” selects an incredibly huge number of people. Walking into the echoing vastness of the opening plenary—always with good music playing—the sense of being part of something much bigger than yourself is overwhelming and, even for a cynic like me, uplifting. Everyone in this endless, endless room cares about software, and about doing it right. After all these years, Java is still a fine thing to be part of.

Who? · My unscientific sampling method involved accosting people I was standing in line and sitting at lunch with. They were mostly IT staff from non-IT companies; I remember Gallo wines, Bose audio, some insurance companies, a German bank, a couple of universities, a US spook agency.

They talk about “enterprise architecture” with no hint of irony, but they worry that they’re not really doing this “SOA” thing and ask around trying to find anyone who is. They don’t give a flying fuck whether Java is open-source or not, and the ones who run it on Linux haven’t had trouble installing it. They really, really care about Microsoft interop, but at the same time they hate Redmond and sneer at Windows without even being asked. Equal opportunity: they’ll crap on WebSphere or Enterprise Java Beans without much provocation. They like the EE 5 story and are ambivalent about PHP. A lot of them have never heard of Ruby or Rails. For most, the JCP is a remote castle in the sky, nothing to do with their reality. Many are a long way from getting to the current 5.0 release of Java.

What’s Good · Best of all is the passion; lots of 10:30-PM BOF sessions have hundreds of attendees, and if you want to hoist beers and argue about IDEs or persistence frameworks till the wee hours, you’ll have lots of company.

Near as I can tell, the technical paper selection and scheduling is done with a lot of integrity and focus on the user experience, and I don’t detect any hidden agendas. Based on what I heard, most talks were good and few sucked. They work hard to support the presenters in getting their act together before they get on stage.

The organizers try hard to encourage people to have those hallway and lunchtime conversations that are what really matter. And a lot of those conversations happen. Some of them are a side-effect of the fact that you spend a lot of time standing in line, so you might as well talk.

The session logistics—audio-visual, room setup, projectors, and so on—seem 100% fully debugged. Things start and end on time and the mechanics Just Work.

What Sucks · The presentation police that quality-assure your slides catch some typos, but then they turned one of my slide titles from “The Jini Rio Framework” to “The JiniTM Technology-based Project Rio Framework”, and in two places “1010” became “1010”. That’s major suckitude.

The size of the thing is beginning to stress Moscone out. I was supposed to hustle from the opening keynote to the press-conference room, and I’m not normally claustrophobic, but trying to press through the jam-packed hallways had me pretty stressed by the time I got there. Getting to the sessions involves more standing in line than it should. But if we outgrow San Fran, I suspect the next step is Las Vegas, so let’s hunker down and try to live with Moscone for another year or two.

San Francisco restaurants and bars, near as I can tell, universally have rock-hard walls, floors, and ceilings, so that the level of ambient noise is deafening, and after a few days of conference schmoozing and evenings of restaurant shouting, my vocal cords were reduced to bloody shreds.

It’s good that the “sponsor keynotes” are called that, so you know perfectly well that you’re going to hear a pitch from a big vendor who paid for the privilege, and I didn’t go to any, but I heard a lot of really cynical remarks from people who did.

Unconference? · If you’ve been to a camp-style event or unconference, some aspects of the whole sit-and-listen-to-the-guy-on-the-stage thing start to grate. The BOFs (and there are lots of ’em) go some way to addressing this problem; but someone ought to go wild-and-crazy and try something radical.

Maybe a half-day within-the-conference event that’s spontaneously organized by 100 attendees picked at random? Maybe 50 mini-unconferences in parallel some morning?

How’s this? Put up a “Speakers’ Corner” video booth and let people record one-minute rants about anything Java-related; then fill an hour-long keynote with sixty of the best.

There’s lots to learn from the people on the stage, but the people in the audience outnumber them by hundreds to one. A lot of their stories are going to be worth hearing, too; I know because I heard some.

Would I Go Again? · Yep, but... Next time I’m going to spend less time being a Sun spokesdroid and more time hitting sessions and parties. Which may be tough to accomplish, but I’ll do my best.


author · Dad · software · colophon · rights
picture of the day
May 20, 2006
· Technology (85 fragments)
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I am an employee of Amazon.com, but the opinions expressed here are my own, and no other party necessarily agrees with them.

A full disclosure of my professional interests is on the author page.