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Hits and Misses: JAX India 2007

Posted by indroneel on June 1, 2007

JAX India 2007 finally got over today. A quick Google search just before I started on with this blog entry, gives me the general impressions of ‘let-down’ and ‘not up-to-the-mark’ that is being shared by many of the attendees. After sitting through nearly three days worth of seminars and presentations from technology thought leaders, my opinions right now are definitely ambivalent. In this column I intend to reflect objectively upon the high and low points of the JAX India 2007 event.

Ma, I finally met Elvis!

The event promised of a stellar panel of speakers with some of the best known names in the Java community space. I am referring to the likes of Craig McClanahan, Mik Kersten and Craig Russell. Most of these people have played a key role in the creation of components, frameworks and platforms that we use on a regular basis, day in and day out. I am sure a lot of the people who attended wanted to meet the people being the show, share their thoughts on an one-to-one basis and discuss issues and differences.

They weren’t disappointed.

My high point was when I shook hands with Craig McClanahan, a person whom I admire as the creator of the ubiquitous Struts framework.

It was also great meeting the less known persona from Interface21 (the group that gave us the Spring framework), the CodeGear team and the implementors of the LifeRay portal.

Reality and Vision

If the panel was stellar, what they really had to share was not at par with the general expectations. What the audience wanted was a glimpse of the thought processes that goes on to formulate bleeding edge technologies and a vision of things to come. Instead what we got was a relatively tame walk-through of existing solutions, some of which would even be considered archaic given the rapid pace at which technology is advancing these days.

So we had events that sounded terribly like in-house sessions and delivered content that read like tutorials. Paradigms and patterns we have been using for the past one to one-and-a-half years were touted as emerging technologies.

I believe this was the overall low point of the event.

On this note, here is a quick compilation of topics that I feel should have been covered rather than what was actually delivered.

  • Component-driven vs. MVC paradigms in user interface design and implementation rather than a history of Web UI from Struts to JSF to AJAX spread across three sessions.
  • The perceived role of dynamically typed languages in upcoming frameworks and platforms rather than sessions on RoR and Groovy.
  • Practical enterprise architectures using Web Services and ESB rather than the merits and demerits of SOA.
  • How Spring does retro-charge enterprise application development rather than the AOP capabilities of Spring.

Note that the items on the left are what the speakers actually had in mind when they discussed about the items on the right. Also note that I have not deviated from the overall theme or list of topics for this edition of the JAX India event.

In the Beginning …

Most of the panelists shared the common trait of painstakingly explaining the basics for each and every topic covered. The audience were repeatedly reminded to ‘think service-oriented’ and follow the golden rules of writing great code. Precious minutes were lost in the process robbing the presentations of depth and leaving the attendees unhappy.

Do you speak English?

I believe this event is the occasion for many of the members on the panel to visit India for the very first time. So you really cannot blame them to go out of the way in explaining cliches like ‘comparing apples to oranges’. I also believe that many of them were not aware of the large population of (advanced) Java developers here in India although the figure was briefly mentioned in one of the opening presentations (more than a hundred and twenty thousand, most of them based out of Bangalore).

I only wish the organizers of the event had done their homework better in meeting the expectations of such an illustrious crowd.

Catchy Title, Patchy Content

I wish I had been the first to coin this cliche; unfortunately I must admit that I borrowed it from Amit Agarwalla’s writeup on the same event. This phrase is probably the best summarization of the JAX India event.

Lesser known panel members like Thilo Frotscher and Tobias Israel were a pleasant surprise. Their content, though heavy on implementation details, definitely gave the audience food for thought.

Apparently, several of the presentation slides had obvious typographical errors. Spell check, anyone?

Entrepreneurship meets Geekdom

Much of what has been covered so far is more about the low points of the JAX India conference. Let me now give you the real high points of this event.

During one of his sessions Craig McClanahan threw up a slide explaining his plans to roll out the next version of Shale once he is back home and has time to fix some of the pending bugs. And then you have Brian Chan, chief architect of the LifeRay portal, expressing his plans to roll out the next version sometime in June, once he finishes coding the final pieces of the portlet repository features in LifeRay (I hope I recollected that correctly). When you hear people talk this way it leaves you with a funny feeling. You suddenly realize they are talking of the next version of a solution that you are currently using in a customer engagement.

The Bangalore technical community just had its first exposure to geekdom, up close and personal. Suddenly, IT is no longer just about long hours, deadlines, pointy-haired bosses and irate customers.

And then you have Neelan Choksi (COO, Interface21) and Bryan Cheung (CEO, LifeRay) to illustrate that geekdom is not just about coding and hacking. Geeks can be entrepreneurs too.

Neelan’s presentations on corporate open-source and open-source as a business model should be quite a pathfinder and eyeopener for many of the Indian IT services industry. His sessions corroborates my belief that corporate open-source (creation, consumption or collaboration) would be a clear differentiator for players in the Indian IT space in the near future.

The Air-conditioner is Broken

Some people complained that the stalls were uninteresting and I must agree. Some stalls like Interface21 and LifeRay were unmanned for long stretches at a time and were low on content. In general, many of the stalls had very few things to offer in the form of demos or presentations other than the obligatory product literature.

Some stalls like Parasoft and Impiger did have demos running of their products. I wish Collabnet had a demo of their enterprise portal running. Oracle was giving out free T-shirts that ran out too soon and people had to be happy with a copy of their developer suite DVD. CodeGear had a couch in their stall (they had a couple of overweight people on their team). The IBM stall managed to look wooden as usual.

Pink Pages

I could not attend all the sessions or have offline discussions with all the speakers present at the conference. Here is my take on those with whom I did.

Craig McClanahan was the real graybeard of the panel and had a whooping five sessions to deliver. Unfortunately, he tried to walk us through the features of NetBeans which did not ring a bell with Eclipse users.

Craig Russell was the atypical university professor. His sessions on Java persistence were informative though basic. It is indeed sad that he does not like Hibernate.

Neal Ford was entertaining and arguably the best speaker of the lot. He had the audience captivated as he evangelized dynamically typed languages like Groovy and Rails. Unfortunately, he tried to teach the same audience to write better Java code.

You could feel the tension in the room when Thilo Frotscher spoke and the audience shared the tension with him. This is best expressed in the words of one from the audience that I managed to overhear: “he was so intense and technical, you really have to listen closely so as not to miss anything”. Thilo, smile! We love you!

Vishal Puri made a fine presentation of AOP in Spring. The audience had come for a session on leveraging Spring for the Enterprise and had a tough time re-orienting.

Tobias Israel had a distinct German accent in his speech and you had to listen closely (he did speak slowly and that helped). I feel his session on Web services persistence was one of the better and interesting topics presented.

Brian Chan beat the crap out of PHP and Ruby even as Neal Ford exposed the fallacies in the Java programming language syntax. Both these sessions were interesting in being offbeat and delivered with the right toppings of humor and energy.

Neelan Choksi gave a nice and interesting perspective on ‘corporatization’ of open-source and entrepreneurship. However, many in the audience (as per the buzz) would still like to work for free and indulge in Bill bashing.

Conclusions

JAX wanted to paint Bangalore orange, unfortunately oranges are not in season right now. If you didn’t attend the event, you definitely missed it both ways. The event however did highlight a major drawback of the Indian IT scenario: the lack of entrepreneurs and product-based organizations in the software space.

57 sessions in three parallel tracks across three days for the 500 odd attendees (I am making a guesstimate here) is definitely an overkill. A larger turnout was expected or the number of sessions reduced.

The event organizers failed to do their homework in meeting the demands of a highly skilled target audience. As a corollary, if they are using the same set of sessions in other venues across the world, the Indian workforce does appear to be at par, if not superior, to similar groups elsewhere.

Buzz on JAX

[1] Day 1: JAX India 2007: Web2.0? But I am Barely keeping up with Web 1.0 Right Now!

[2] JAX India 2007: Web2.0: What you should do? on OpenPerspective

[3] JAX India 2007: Day 4 Report by Binil Thomas. Don’t forget to read his other entry covering day 3 of the event.

[4] JAX India 2007 – Bangalore day 3 by Amit Agarwalla


Author’s Note: All opinions, observations and their interpretations expressed here are entirely my own. Your mileage may vary.

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2 Responses to “Hits and Misses: JAX India 2007”

  1. […] More reading at  Hits and Misses: JAX India 2007 […]

  2. binil said

    Nice summary! Meeting many of these luminaries – for me, Craig Russel in particular – was interesting. Of all the sessions I attended, content-wise, Tobias’ was the best – I sincierely feel that he had some message to give which was worth listening, although I did could not follow his arguments closely.

    Another aspect lacking was the “networking” which happens outside of the conference halls. Somehow, I feel, the conference wasn’t arranged to make that happen – sessions in a hurry leaving little time for discussion, no laptop power strips, no place outside the halls to sit and talk etc.

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