Feeding the Elephant – The Release of Java 7

Java was born of the intelligence and generosity of Sun Microsystems; over the past 15 years, it has evolved, grown in features and put down roots in an incredibly large part of the technology landscape.  The generosity of Sun made Java open source (for the most part), furthering its spread.

New releases of Java occurred about every two years through 2006.  Sun was in trouble as a company, and Java languished, with no new release in 2008 or 2009.

Oracle bought Sun, with all of its assets, including Java.  Oracle already had some presence in the Java environment, due to their earlier acquisition of BEA, noted for its WebLogic app server, and for its high performance JVM, JRockit.

With the release of Java 7, the first since 2006, Oracle appears to be positioning Java for renewed life.  Note that Java 7 SE is still not available for the Mac, nor was a projected date for that mentioned.

There’s only a few noteworthy new features, such as the new I/O library (NIO2); better directory support; symbolic link support; features to take advantage of multi-core processors (Fork Join framework); etc.  It’s more of a new foundation for work to come, such as the merge of JRockit with Sun’s Hot Spot JVM.

Java benefits from a large talent base of developers, highly experienced, with many enthusiastic about the language despite the lack of enhancement in recent years.  At the local JavaSIG meeting, several developers expressed concern about Java over the longer term.  The language for some was not only mature, but starting to feel a bit dated.  It’s not clear to me how much of that is valid and objective, or based in emotional reaction that it is now Oracle in charge of Java’s future.

Oracle has smart product managers, and an energetic marketing arm.  They surely recognize that they need to win the confidence and trust of the development community and those making strategic decisions for technology.  This release of Java is a reasonable first step.  Next one should be a detailed road map, and timely delivery of the items on it.

The strategic question some ask, “Will Java offer the performance and features in 5 years that we need to stay competitive?”  The jury waits on Oracle to prove its commitment over the next two years.

Java for Oracle may wind up being like the story of the person who bought an elephant, and then was faced with the cost of caring for and feeding it.



Skill-centric Teams

Professional groups often have sub-groups for specialty areas (i.e., Special Interest Groups), if there are sufficient number of people interested and a focus for the group.  The prime gain is usually learning, but may include more focused networking, collaboration and sharing issues of common concern.

The same approach can be used within an enterprise, based upon shared skills.  This offers benefits to the company, as issues of common concern are raised and resolved, or processes improved.  Improvement in morale is an added benefit.

For example, companies often have IT development groups aligned with business units, with better knowledge of the requirements of that business as a positive result.  But there are common functions and skills across the many development groups in the company, rarely with any organized way of interacting.  If a sufficient number of the people doing IT testing and QA could periodically meet, share concerns, learn something about newer tools and approaches, the company would be better for it.  Another possibility of this collaboration could be the establishment of best practices within the company for that specialty.

The same approach can apply to project manager, outside of a PMO; or to Scrum Masters.  In many companies project managers don’t collaborate outside of a PMO.

The infrastructure is also a candidate to reap similar benefits, looking across the silos of platforms or products, seeing what skills or interests may be in common.

Reminder: for this to work it needs a sufficient number of interested people and a focus.  Ideally this is done face-to-face, but can be done distributed, as long as there is energy and interaction.

Think of this interest group as a team:  build well, and benefit accordingly.

While it’s preferable to have this backed by senior management, it is readily initiated at lower levels, building from the ground up, by in-house networking.

My thanks to The Handbook of Program Management, by James T. Brown, for this shining nugget of an idea.