Sun Community Champions at the 2006 JavaOne Conference

By Rich Sands, June 2006  

What happens when you get some of the best and brightest in the Java technology universe together in one place for a week and turn them loose? JavaOne 2006 saw the first anniversary of the Java Champions program, and 37 of the Champions - 50% of the whole group - were on hand to mix it up with each other, Sun and other industry representatives, and the broader developer community. Here are some of my own personal highlights:

While the visible activities and accolades get plenty of attention, the one to one and small group discussions were, as usual, a highlight of JavaOne. When leaders put their heads together and explore common interests and opportunities for collaboration, there is a magical fusion of creativity and enthusiasm out of which new ideas and initiatives are born. This is the genius of the Java technology ecosystem: it is so broad and populated with such dynamic and passionate experts and advocates that there is no telling what will happen except that it will be great!

My own "Champions" experience began on Saturday before JavaOne 2006 opened, at the Community Leader's meeting. With Bruno Souza, Fabiane Nardon and Totto Hetland all community leaders on, the Java Champions are putting their energy into leading several online communities where the real work happens. After this meeting, the Brazilian contingent including Bruno and Fabiane joined myself and Roger Brinkley for dinner and a spirited discussion of whether and how Sun could open source Java SE. Everyone at the table was familiar enough with the issues to argue all sides of it, and so this conversation wasn't really about convincing anyone, but rather about getting to know each other and having some fun.

"Do you know Aaron Houston?" was my introduction to Stephan Janssen, Java Champion and the leader of BeJUG in Belgium, who stopped by the JDK Community pod in the Sun booth Wednesday morning. I had just met Aaron, who was standing among the beanbags at the bottom of the escalators. Aaron is the program coordinator for both Java Champions and for Java Users Groups (JUGs). So I quickly brought Stephan over and introduced him before Aaron moved on. The three of us launched into a discussion of the JUGs Community and how best to foster and encourage new JUGs while maintaining minimum membership requirements and activity levels for recognition. Its a complex problem, because the JUGs are by their nature very distributed, with distance and language barriers inhibiting free exchange of "best practices" and ideas. No solutions yet, but with committed people like Stephan and the other Champions leading JUGs eager to help out new JUGs wherever they spring up, I'm confident that these barriers will fall.

Wednesday afternoon, I had the privilege to interview Dr. Barry Levine ( podcast) at the booth, which doubled as "Champions Central" for the show. Dr. Levine is a Java Champion, a professor at San Francisco State University, and the founder and director of the Computer and Information Science Program at the American University of Armenia. We talked about his experiences teaching Java to students at both universities, and the challenges and rewards to starting and running the program in Armenia. Dr. Levine has been leveraging the Student Stipends program to support students in creating pilot projects using Java technology that focus on social welfare. In Armenia, four CS graduate students and a public health graduate student, plus two students from other universities are developing an open source Java-based medical records system, and the Student Stipends program is helping make his effort possible.

As Dr. Levine and I stepped away from the podium, we ran into another Champion, Xu Bin of Tsinghua University, Beijing. I mentioned to Xu that we'd just opened a new project in the JDK Community to foster community translation of the Javadocs for Java SE, and that this might be a great project for his JUG at the university. Dr. Levine chimed in along with Aaron Houston who'd joined us, and pointed out that the Student Stipends program might be able to help support this effort as well. How's this for cool: a mashup of the JDK Community Translation Project, JUGs, and Student Stipends!

Thursday evening found me back at the booth to do the SDN Channel video interviews with Java Champions Fabrizio Gianneschi and Clark Richey. Fabrizio had just won a Duke's Choice award earlier in the week for his pioneering work with JUG Sardegna and Project AVIS, a Java application used by blood banks to quickly contact blood donors using SMS messages to their cell phones. Now, when there are blood shortages on the island of Sardinia, the local blood bank can send out a bulletin in seconds to hundreds of potential donors, replacing a time consuming and expensive telephone and postcard based system for mobilizing blood donations in the past. Fabrizio and I discuss the project, and the satisfaction that comes from leveraging Java technology to save lives.

Clark Richey and I had a wide-ranging discussion on several topics, starting with the Distributor License for Java announcement at JavaOne2006 and its implications. Clark felt that this announcement would help many developers around the world gain much easier access to the JDK and Java technology. We then talked about Clark's experiences with the Java Champions program - where it has been and where it is going. Here's what he had to say on the Java Champions program:

"It's been a lot of fun. We've had a lot of interesting conversations among the Champions and the Sun Java Engineers.... As with any new community there have been some growing pains to work through. But really as a group, we are looking forward to a closer interaction with Sun and some greater visibility to the Java Community at large, so we {the Java Champions} can act as a bridge between the Java Community and Sun's team of Java engineers... Java Champions has been a dynamic experience and a HUGE effort by Sun to reach out into the Community...."

Clark has been involved in Project Jini for a number of years, and so I asked him about the impact of the relicensing of Jini technology under the Apache 2 license and the potential for greater adoption of Jini technology with the popularity of web services. Clark described how the more open licensing was already bearing fruit in attracting developers wanting to extend Jini technology even beyond the Java platform for use in building interoperable Service Oriented Architectures.

From Left to Right; first row: Sooyeul Yang, Burr Sutter, Paul Deitel, Matt Thompson (Middle), Xu Bin, Fabrizio Gianneschi, Rommel Feria (standing up); second row: Cay Horstmann, Yuuichi Sakuraba (hat), Fabiane Nardon, Paul Webber, Yakov Fain, Calvin Austin, Clark Richey, Bruno Souza, "Totto" Hetland, JP Petines, Dick Wall; In BACK: Daniel deOliveria (behind Bruno), Stephan Janssen, Manfred Riem, Klaasjan Tukker... **Photo Credit: Sooyeul Yang - Pres. Java Community Org-Korea

Thursday evening's Java Champions BOF was a chance for the Champions at the show to get together and discuss the program with Sun management, air issues, and work through some solution ideas. Matt Thompson kicked it off with a quick recap of the first year, and introduced several Sun people who've been working with the Java Champions on a regular basis. The project started as a way to build bridges and establish two-way communication between some of the most active and insightful people in the Java ecosystem outside of Sun, and Sun's engineering and marketing groups. Matt stressed that there's no "ulterior motive" for the Java Champions program. It is a highly valued forum for Sun and the most passionate supporters of Java technology to collaborate.

And it is working! For example, the Java Champions pointed out the sorry state of Java technical education from Sun, causing a top to bottom re-evaluation and redesign of these courses. But what I've found most fascinating and exciting about the Java Champions program is the interaction between and among the Champions - the creative stew of ideas that leads to radical new answers to problems that couldn't be envisioned without the active participation of so many brilliant minds.

Matt then turned the meeting over to his two Champion co-hosts, Clark Richey and Yakov Fain, who attempted to capture in words what it means to be a Champion. Several ideas came out:

  • A Java Champion is a champion email reader - because the volume of traffic on the mail lists demands it!
  • A Java Champion is an amplifier for the whole Java Community, bringing the concerns of developers to Sun.
  • A Java Champion is a miracle worker - or is expected to be - because he or she has a very impressive new title!
  • A Java Champion offers an independent view - not colored by working for Sun.
  • A Java Champion is a leader in the local developer community:
    "Will you talk at our event? We can't pay or buy gas... uhhhh will you buy us pizza?" THAT is leadership!
  • A Java Champion leads by example. He or she is the one who, when someone has to take action, just DOES IT and makes great things happen.

Several Champions brought up issues ranging from Sun's hosting of JUGs, to non-disclosure agreements, and the need for a fair evaluation process to admit new Champions from countries without a big web presence. All too soon the hour was over without answers to these questions, but that hasn't stopped this group: discussions continue on the mailing lists, and new issues and answers pop up every day. That ultimately is the value of the Java Champions program. It brings together the passion, experience, and perspective of this diverse global community's best and brightest. And with that combination there are no limits to where Java technology can go.

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