Monthly Archives: April 2012

Changes in the Java world

Or at least … at the Java Posse. As of episode #383, changes abound for the Java Posse.

Most of the Java developers I know stay up to date on JVM languages and the latest in the industry by listening to the Java Posse. This week’s newscast highlights 2 significant changes: Dick Wall has moved on from his day job at Locus Development to take on Scala consulting fulltime. This continues the strong message about the adoption of Scala in our industry. Secondly, Joe Nuxoll has decided to leave the Java Posse. He was the latest addition to the Posse, and is now the first one out.

Habitual listeners of the Posse know that Joe has moved away from software development and is focused on User Experience. His contribution to the podcast has been significant, in my opinion. His sense of humor, his business-related contributions, and his insight have benefitted me greatly. I missed him at the Roundup this year, and I will miss him on the podcast. Joe sort of invoked the “Law of Two Feet” concept of open spaces conferences toward leaving the podcast. He didn’t feel engaged in Java news, and he’s decided that’s not where his passion is. While I’ve felt that his participation was valuable, I totally understand his departure.

In any case, I wish Dick well in his new job … and I hope that Joe does return for the holiday specials (as he has promised) and perhaps for the Roundup.  Or, at least for CodeMash!

Functional Programming and Scala Koans: upcoming talks

On Saturday, May 5, 2012, I will be presenting “Functional Programming for the Masses” at the Great Lakes Functional Programming Conference. This one-day event is developer organized and will be held at Washtenaw Community College. You can register at Tickets have been selling quickly for the event. Here’s an abstract for my talk:

Have you heard about functional programming but aren’t sure what should be your next step toward adoption? Are you looking for ways to introduce functional programming without scaring your coworkers and your boss? How can you convince others than the paradigm shift is worthwhile? That it will provide business value while making the programmers and customers happy?

You will come out of this talk with the techniques to bring functional programming to your organization with minimal stress. Whether you use Java, C#, or are gunning for Scala, this talk is for you. We’ll show examples of how to weave in functional, starting with how to talk about functional and ending with real code examples, showing that functional programming can be … well … functional.

The Scala Koans in Detroit will be rescheduled for a later date, through Detroit Dev Days. On Thursday, May 31, I will be delivering the Scala Koans with Bruce Eckel in Detroit, at the Madison Building. Organized by Detroit Dev Days, this will be the first full day Scala koans event ever. Join us. More information and registration available at eventbrite. Lunch will be provided.

On Monday, July 16, I will again be delivering the Scala Koans with Daniel Hinojosa in Portland, OR, at OSCON. Monday is the Tutorials Day, and requires a separate registration. You can get more information about our session here and register for the conference here. Daniel and I have teamed up several times in the past (both at CodeMash and StrangeLoop) to deliver the koans, and we have given them individually as well. The koans continue to grow, and we think it’s a great way to learn!

Presenting the Scala Koans with Bruce Eckel in Detroit

I was thrilled when David McKinnon of the Detroit Java User Group invited me to present the Scala Koans in Detroit on May 31. The timing worked out perfectly for Bruce Eckel to be in town, so I asked him to join me. Bruce and I are working on an introductory Scala book together, and the Koans are a great way to learn Scala as well. The koans are self-paced exercises. You can do them from home, but in our experience in presenting them at StrangeLoop, CodeMash, and 1DevDay, the group atmosphere offers an additional facet for learning. Other participants ask questions and contribute ideas, providing a unique experience at each event.

Join us on the 5th floor of the newly renovated Madison Building, 1555 Broadway, in Detroit on May 31 from 9 am – 4 pm (lunch provided).

You can register at Early bird pricing is in effect until April 30 and regular registration runs through May 25. Hope to see you there!


Day 4 at the Java Posse Roundup: Wrapping it up for 2012

On the final day of the Roundup for 2012, Gunnar Hillert, who organizes DevNexus in Atlanta, suggested that he and I convene a session on Organizing your own Conference. Since I had previously done such a session in March 2008 with Stephan Janssen (of DevOxx): Java Posse Podcast #197, I was initially reluctant. But open spaces is about seeing what will happen, and there were others to learn from. In addition, I’ve learned a lot since then with Codemash. We decided to go for it.

The two conferences couldn’t be more different, in spite of the fact that they are both developer-organized. CodeMash attracts a diverse group of developers, intent on learning other technologies in order to improve what they do with their own. DevNexus focuses mainly on Java developers. CodeMash is in the sleepy town of Sandusky, OH, meaning that pretty much everyone has to drive (or fly) to get there. DevNexus is in the heart of downtown Atlanta, which draws an audience from the metropolitan area.

We talked a lot about what it takes to organize a conference. I think that the real key is that there is someone who is willing to put his or her neck out without knowing whether or not it will be a success. Signing a catering or rental agreement with a venue is a scary thing and I’ll be forever grateful to Jim Holmes for taking on this risk for CodeMash.

Other user-organized conferences that people might be interested in checking out:

That Conference

Strange Loop


Stir Trek

After the Organizing your own Conference session, I joined Andrew Harmel Law in a discussion on Variations in Pair Programming. He had originally intended it to be a lightning talk, but 5 minutes is really short! When he told me a little about the rules his company had come up with around Pair Programming, I immediately challenged one of his tenets: that pair programming should be 2 people, 1 keyboard, 1 mouse. We’ve been effectively programming with 2 people, 2 keyboards, 2 mice, 2 monitors, facing each other rather than sitting next to one another, for a few years now. He was intrigued by the variation, and we convened a session to see what others thought.

Like both of our companies, many of the participants said that they do not pair program 100% of the time.  The developers decide when and where to pair program. Our programmers have wide latitude around self-organization. Some teams have a dedicated “pairing computer” in addition to their own laptops. Andrew was thinking that he might take that back to his company as well. I’ll be intrigued to see if he does. And I can’t wait to expose our team to Andrew’s Tarot Cards of Pair Programming.

Others expressed concerns about teams of various skill levels in pair programming. Mainly these concerns seem to have come from people who were thinking about pairing, rather than those who were actively doing it. Those who actively pair program see it as a way to bring a new team member up to speed on a project quickly, and also as a way to take advantage of the individual strengths of team members to build a better overall solution. It was a fun session, and it should be interesting listening once it becomes available on the podcast.

The last session of the conference was a wrap-up session where we all talked about what we got out of the conference and what improvements can be made. This is the 6th Java Posse Roundup and it became obvious to many of the old-timers that the newbies are becoming integrated into the group more quickly. Apparently, they just have more mentors. It was also interesting to learn that at least 2 of the attendees this year had never heard of the podcast but decided to come to the conference anyhow.

On Friday night, many people head home. Those of us who have attended in previous years tend to stay until Saturday, because flights on Friday often mean missing the last session. This has led to a variety of experiments around Friday night activities. For the past several years, a group has gone up to Mount Crested Butte to a very nice (star-rated) restaurant called (appropriately for this crowd) Djangos (Geek humor alert: There’s a python web framework called Django). They have small plates and wonderful wine. The groups have tended to order “One of Everything” which is a great way to try their wonderful food. But we also found out that we could rent a yurt, accessible only via nordic skis or snowshoes. We didn’t have time to organize it last year, but this year, a group expressed interest and we were able to organize catering at the yurt for a group of about 25 people (20 others went to Djangos). This was a fabulous experience, in spite of the bad trail conditions. We hiked out to the yurt, and had a wonderful meal catered out there, complete with tiramisu for dessert. It was so much fun that it seems likely to continue in subsequent years.

People filtered out of town throughout the day on Saturday. About 30-40 people showed up for a departing breakfast. Barry Hawkins organized it and cooked up endless amounts of eggs while many others chipped in to help, such as cooking bacon on the grill, and making biscuits and gravy. It was a great way to use up the food that people had bought for their week in town, and way more fun and interactive than the smaller group that a restaurant could accommodate.

So now the Java Posse Roundup 2012 has come to a close, but the git repository remains and the projects that were started will continue to be developed. Even more significantly, the knowledge and energy that everyone took away from the conference will spread throughout our companies over the next several months until it’s time for the Java Posse Roundup 2013. I’m planning to be there, of course.

Days 2 and 3 at the Java Posse Roundup

Some people ask me why I go back to the Java Posse Roundup each year. After 3 days of Open Spaces sessions at the Java Posse Roundup (and a day of hacking), I have to say it only gets better and better each year. A few years ago, we added an additional session at Rumors, a coffeeshop/bookstore (yes, those do still exist) in Crested Butte. The intent was to give people an additional place to go as the conference grew, and the first year, we tried to record those sessions too. The traffic and espresso machine at a coffeeshop, however, don’t make for a good recording so we changed the location to target “off the record” talks. This has been an amazing addition to the conference, giving people the opportunity to speak freely without concern that their coworkers, bosses, customers, or friends might later hear what they said.

I’ve attended several sessions there, including one on Mindfulness in Programming. This particular session was held at the off-the-record location not because it was private or wouldn’t have made a good podcast, but rather because all of the other rooms were in use.

Mindfulness is “a state of active, open attention on the present”, according to Psychology Today. I was first introduced to mindfulness when I took a meditation class, and I was interested to hear what people would think about mindfulness as it applies to programming. I interpret that to deep focus on the technical task, avoiding the temptation to be distracted by other things that compete for your attention, without a longing for a speedier conclusion to the activity or annoyance that you’re doing it at all. We talked a lot about how to achieve that, as well as many related topics, such as meditation, distraction, and techniques for becoming more aware of the present task.

After the mindfulness discussion was one that was a continuation of a work/life balance discussion that had been held the day before, but it didn’t really go in that direction at all, and instead was more of a continuation of the mindfulness topic.  This made me happy, and was fine with the convener of the session. Women business owners get embroiled in these discussions often, and I would have used the Law of Two Feet if it had been the same old tired discussion.

Other discussions that I attended on Days 2 and 3 were decidedly less “fluffy”. I attended the discussion Modern Web Apps, which had us talking a lot about the amped up user experience requirements for modern web apps. People expect that these apps will seamlessly manage flaky internet connections and offline mode. They want consistent, client-agnostic capabilities across a variety of devices, yet also expect that the unique features of a particular device will offer richness unique to that device. We also discussed the movement of web apps toward Javascript and complexities involved with that. Ember got a lot of attention, and a hacking session was scheduled for the afternoon.

The Play2 asset compiler got some love, as it runs Javascript through a compiler for validation. GWT is still appreciated with its capabilities to develop in Java and generate javascript. Dart, which makes Javascript static, was discussed as an emerging solution to the problem, but drew groans from many in the group. IntelliJ tools were cited as hugely beneficial to Javascript developers, and enforcing “strict” mode was strongly encouraged. The book “JavaScript: the Good Parts” was recommended by several people.

Much different than the Day 1 session on Productivity Tools for Programmers was a discussion on Tools for Running a Business so that you can Write More Code. Yes, I convened that session. I’m always intrigued by what others do toward this. The key message that came out of the discussion was that, much like choosing a “stack” for software, when you choose business tools, you’re often choosing a stack for that as well. For example, QuickBooks Online integrates with Harvest (for time tracking) and Expensify (for expenses). Kashoo and Freshbooks were used by one attendee who wrote some software to integrate other tools, such as eFax. I didn’t realize that you could invoice through Zoho, but apparently you can, and it’s particularly good at invoicing in blocks of time and keeping track of when those blocks are exhausted. The Ruby Freelancers podcast was noted as a good resource for learning about business tools for small businesses. Streak, as an add-on to gmail and google apps, was noted as decent Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution. is a help desk solution that some folks use. It integrates with Salesforce, but it sounds like you can use it without Salesforce as well.

As always, I learned a lot from several of the longtime attendees of the Roundup. Many of them have run successful companies for a long time, and it’s great to hear their perspective. Some attendees noted that this year we had a lot of sessions around effectively starting or running a business. This marks an interesting change in the nature of the Java Posse Roundup. A variety of technical sessions were convened and nearly everyone participated in the hacking session, which tells me that the crowd was decidedly technical, yet the number of non-technical sessions indicates that many of the attendees have aspirations toward running their own businesses as well.

The third session of the 3rd day was on Building Effective Teams. We decided that effective teams:

  • set expectations of success
  • self-organize
  • encourage participation
  • interact and communicate

Many techniques were described. They varied from general, such as engaging the team members cross functionally and how to deal with asocial scientists, to very specific, such as how to integrate the Quality Assurance team with the Software Developers. Discussion also included how important it is to have quick success, for both customers and for developers. Some people might be surprised to learn this, but there was universal agreement that software developers are most happy when they deliver software to real customers and it makes its way into the field. Distributed teams face challenges; some of those can be overcome by effective communication, but nothing is better than an in-person get together a few times a year. One interesting discussion was around competition in teams. Some participants described how it can be used effectively in an organization, but only when it’s a non-threatening competition between teams rather than internally in one team.

On the afternoons, we continued to break into small groups who worked on projects. I was hoping to work on getting the Scala Koans online in the same way that the Ruby Koans are. This would remove some of the barriers to trying Scala, in that people wouldn’t have to install Scala, and build and test frameworks in order to get started. A small group formed at one of the houses, and we worked with Play and a library from Twitter to get things started. We still have a lot of work to do, but it was a great collaborative start!

On Wednesday evening, we got together for more lightning talks. They never disappoint. It’s amazing to see the wide variety of interests. The highlight of the evening was Eirik’s talk, projected onto a red washcloth, where he was able to do a presentation within a presentation, and change slides by flinging the washcloth. This is a do-not-miss lightning talk!

We started a tradition on Thursday nights a few years ago.  Before getting together for a live podcast, we hold a progressive dinner, traveling from one house to another for a “course”. This year, 9 groups of people in houses hosted a “stop” on the progressive dinner, and the final location was at the conference location, where we had dessert supplied by those who hadn’t hosted earlier … and then recorded a live version of the Java Posse podcast.

The progressive dinner is an interesting addition to the Java Posse Roundup. The first year was super fun, but only included a handful of houses. The second year, we feared that we had too many people, and tried to over-engineer it in an attempt to reduce traffic all at the same time (see progressive dinner on Wikipedia for overplanning). We quickly realized that the progression from one house to the next was part of the experience. Last year, we went back to the mass movement from one house to another. We publish a schedule, including a start time, and this year, we had about 20 minutes at each house. Those hosting often skip a house or two before theirs to make sure that their house was ready for 50-60 people to show up. It’s fun and crazy and the walk between houses is a walking geek-fest with non-stop talking. It’s become one of my favorite social events at the Roundup.

Stay tuned for Day 4 … and the wrapup of Java Posse Roundup 2012.