No Fluff, Just Stuff

by Eric M. Burke

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I had the chance to attend the Gateway Java Software Symposium last weekend. This was one of a series of weekend technology conferences held in various cities across the United States. If you get the chance to attend one of these conferences, I highly recommend it.

One thing that sets this conference apart from others is the fact that it is held over the weekend. It is painful to give up a weekend in order to attend a conference, however the reality is that many people (like me) have a hard time getting away from work during the normal week. Weekend conferences are more cost effective for employers, as well.

Fluff, or Stuff?

Stuff. This symposium consisted of technical topics only. If you have
a chance to attend one of these symposiums, you will not see vendor
presentations or sales pitches. Instead, you'll be able to meet and
learn from people like James Duncan Davidson, Jason Hunter, Bruce Tate,
Dave Thomas, Robert Martin, and many others. The topics were mostly
Java-related, although you could also learn about Ruby, XP, Web Services,
Objective C, or even an overview of Mac OS X.

The expert panel discussion was the highlight of the symposium. This
consisted of a little over an hour where eight of the speakers answered
any and all questions from the audience. Several interesting opinions
came to light, including:

  • Many of the experts gave high praise to IntelliJ IDEA

  • Swing was openly criticized

  • Entity beans were bashed

  • Heavy use of UML was discouraged. Most seemed to agree that
    UML is best for whiteboard designs

  • Rational Rose was not popular among the experts

  • We seem to be reaching some kind of critical mass of complexity.
    There is a growing frustration with complicated code and several
    speakers predict a resurgence of loosely typed languages. Ruby
    and Python were mentioned, and one person suggested that
    Smalltalk may make a comeback.

  • Everyone on the panel had a great sense of humor and it was
    a very interesting discussion/debate.

  • Lightweight, common-sense processes clearly dominate current
    thinking among the experts.

My personal favorite speaker was definitely Dave Thomas, one of the
authors of "The Pragmatic Programmer". I found myself agreeing with
his philosophies over and over again. He has really influenced me in
recent months, in particular I've been trying to expand my knowledge
into other areas thanks to his book and his presentations. My current
goal is to learn Python in the coming months. He talked about Agile
Development, Naked Objects, Decoupling Patterns, and Ruby. Dave also
delivered the keynote address, and he was on the expert panel.


You can gain a lot by attending a conference like this. One strategy
is to attend all of the presentations related to a single topic, such
as Struts. This is an excellent approach for
people wanting to learn a specific technology they need to use on
their next project. For experts in particular, I think it is a better
idea to attend presentations on a variety of topics.

One of my co-workers used this strategy: attend presentations from
each of the famous people he wanted to see. I thought this was a pretty
good idea because he got to hear the widest range of opinions and
probably got lots of good ideas for his own development work.

Even if you never plan to use a technology like Naked Objects, you
get new ideas when you spend an hour or so learning about it. Some of
these ideas might just work their way into your next project. And
while you won't become an expert in a technology from one or two
quick training sessions, you will get a good jumpstart making it
all that much easier to learn the details later.

One thing I learned about was a little tool called Graphviz, a free
tool for generating graphs from simple text file input. I used this
tool the other day to automatically generate graphical charts showing
dependencies in Ant buildfiles. This simple little tool helped me
locate a few problems in a really big buildfile that should reduce
compile times for every team member on my project. Graphviz isn't
even a Java tool, but attending this conference sparked an idea
that will improve our development environment and save money.


As I said before, I highly recommend this conference to Java
programmers at all skill levels. You will learn a lot in a short
amount of time, and get a chance to meet some of the best known
Java experts.

One more thing...I'm going to post the XSLT stylesheet and Ant
buildfile that let you generate graphs of any Ant buildfile using
Graphviz. I hope to post it sometime this weekend.

Does your employer pay for you to attend technical conferences? They should.


2003-08-12 14:28:14
Did your employer pay for you to attend?