First-hand Report from TheServerSide Java Symposium 2011 (Las Vegas, USA)

I was at TheServerSide Java Symposium 2011 in Las Vegas, USA. This first-hand report shows some impressions and experiences from that IT conference.

Java Professionals visiting the Gambling City

Las Vegas lies in the desert of Nevada, USA and is well-known for gambling. More than 35 million visitors come to this awesome town every year. But people do not come here just for gambling. Besides many attractions and famous shows, there are also many business events. One such business event is the Java Symposium, which informs about important new developments and concepts within the Java enterprise environenment.

Java Symposium at Caesars Palace

The conference exists since 2000 and takes place at Ceasars Palace for the seventh time in a row, one of the largest and well-established hotels directly in the middle of the strip of Las Vegas. Current developments in the Java environment are presented by well-known speakers.

Several „classic“ Java-Topics

The motto this year was „Java is everywhere, but it’s not always Java as we know“. Developers, architects and managers should be able to gain knowledge and capabilities to be successful today and in the future in projects within the heterogeneous Java environment.

Thus, an important trend can be seen at the Java Symposium, just like at other IT conferences: Besides Java desktop and web applications using Java SE and EE, Java is also well-established in many other important environments such as mobile, embedded or cloud. Java is not the only used language. Often other JVM-compatible languages like Groovy, Scala, Clojure, JRuby or Jython make sense under certain circumstances.

Many well-known Speakers

Many well-known speakers arrived in Las Vegas to talk about new developments and to discuss with other participants. James Gosling, the father of Java, clarified in his opening keynote that the most important ingredient of Java is not the programming language, but the Java Virtual Machine (JVM), which is used as integration hub for many programming languages such as Java, Groovy or Scala and for diverse devices such as server, laptops or mobile phones.

In the following three days, many other familiar speakers held presentations, e.g. Steve Harry of Oracle or the creator of the Spring-Framework Rod Johnson. Two colleagues from my home country Germany were also present: Adam Bien and Andy Bosch talked about their area of expertise JEE6 respectively JSF.

One of the most interesting sessions was the panel discussion with Patrick Curran (JCP Chair), Reza Rahman (Developer of the JEE Application Server Resin) and James Gosling („Father of Java“). The conclusion was, that a huge problem is the lack of further independant developers which participate: „A democracy can only work if many people participate!“. Thus, moderator Cameron McKenzie appealed to participate in the JCP. You can do this already by reading a JSR-specification and give feedback – but you have to do it before the specification is finalized!

Another important insight is, that JEE 6 is already established in companies at the beginning of 2011. While Adam Bien presented best practices, Reza Rahman informed the attendees about how to test JEE 6 applications using e.g. embedded application servers and JBoss arquillian – testing was so aweful with J2EE 1.4 and even JEE 5. Oracle already talked about JEE 7, which will deal especially with cloud computing (no surprise!).

The range of languages, frameworks and tools is huge in the Java environment due to the large community and many commercial and open source vendors. This is basically very positive and creates many innovations. Nevertheless, you have to gain an overview about all those alternatives to choose the right tool for the right job. Therefore, Matt Raible showed a matrix to compare web frameworks. An important note is, that there is no „best“ web framework. So you have to adjust the weighting of the matrix to match your requirements. Then you can exclude non-matching frameworks and make a proof of concept with some few web frameworks which seem appropriate for your project.  A panel discussion about JVM languages – moderated by Cameran McKenzie – concluded that the next language, which will be established on the JVM besides Java, has to offer a good programming model for concurrency. Thus, Scala, Erlang and Clojure will have good chances to win this competition, whereupon Scala is my absolute favorite.

Modern Concepts for a more intensive Experience

The tracks themselves did not surprise and were structured into Core Java, Architecture, Language, Tools & Techniques, Agile, SOA and Cloud. Nevertheless, the Java Symposium differentiates a lot from many other IT conferences. Modern, unusual concepts were used, besides traditional keynotes and 60-minute sessions.

5-minute Lightening Talks avoided boredom (similar to Pecha Kucha where every speaker may only talk 20 seconds and use 20 slides). Panel discussions are also a relatively new medium for knowledge transfer. I appreciate, that even a keynote used this style.  Each day after the last session, the participants had the possibility to discuss with the speakers while having a snack sponsored by a vendor.

Another very unusual, but nice event was the „Dinner for Strangers“, where participants and speakers met each other in some of the best restaurants of Las Vegas to talk shop using the motto „go as strangers, leave as friends“.

These new concepts created a lot of communication between all parties. Long breaks between sessions were not necessary, and were reduced to 10 minutes.

Conclusion: Great Java Enterprise Conference

The main goal of the conference was to establish a surrounding area for the participants where they are able to gain an overview about new technologies and concepts within the Java environment to be successful in future projects. A high value is set on communication with other participants and speakers. The seats were limited, thus a maximial speaker-attendee-ratio of 1 to 10 was assured (I think it was rather about 1 to 15 or 1 to 20, but that was also acceptable).

The new concepts such as lightening talks and several panel discussions paid off, the goal was reached in my opinion. In these three days, each participant was able to study further in the broad Java spectrum. The organizer also gave a 100-percent money back guarantee if expectations were not fulfilled – no questions asked.

Not least because of that, every developer should circle the date for Java Symposium 2012 in red on his calendar right away. Even if you are from Europe like me: If you have some budget for education, you should think about visiting the Java Symposium. Because of low conference costs, cheap hotels and a weak US Dollar, this trip should be affordable and cost not much more than a European conference such as QCon or JAX. Add some days of vacation to this educational trip and have a great week in Las Vegas….

Best regards,

Kai Wähner (Twitter: @KaiWaehner)

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