Review of the Gateway Java Symposium
06/02/03 05:00 PM

I just spent 3 days at a local Java show thrown by No Fluff, Just Stuff Java Symposiums. They sent a handful of authors and Java evangelists to St. Louis for three days to give a total of 50+ lectures in 5 hotel show rooms. It was possible for an attendee to see 11 of these lectures. Since this show will be appearing at a number of other cities, I thought I would share my experiences to help others who might be considering this symposium.

First of all, if you want more information about the classes or bios of the lecturers, then you may want to check out the symposium web site: nofluffjuststuff.com.

Overall I really enjoyed the symposium. Being from St. Louis, I don’t get to talk to many people who really know their stuff, so this was pretty refreshing to me. I also liked the small class sizes (the smallest was 8 people, the largest was around 35).

Despite the title of the Symposium, it did have quite a bit of fluff topics (if you don’t know Ant and XML, your probably not really a Java programmer). They seemed to consolidate the lighter weight classes at the beginning of the show, while the last day of the show was crammed full of interesting lectures with overlapping time slots. I don’t know if they were trying to gauge the audience, or get the beginner topics out of the way, but I didn’t think it was the best decision. If they had spread the beginner topics across the entire weekend, the beginners would have had something to do the entire show. It would have also given the rest of us a chance to see more of the good lectures that were doubled up on the last day.

Scheduling is a minor complaint, however. Many of the speakers were very good. Here is a quick breakdown of who to see, and who to miss:

James Davidson – After I went to his first presentation, I re-arranged my schedule to hear him speak again. His “Effective OO” class was essentially a re-hash of Josh Bloch’s “Effective Java”, but it was interesting to hear from a new perspective (again, this was one of the earlier classes, so the alternatives weren’t that great). His second lecture was about Objective-C. I expected a crummy old cryptic language, but was surprised by a language with all the RAD capabilities of Visual Basic wrapped in a package far more flexible than Java (due to dynamic typing). The editor included with Mac OSX was great. Being a complete Java nut, I was very surprised that my two favorite lectures were about Objective-C and Ruby.

Jason Hunter – I went to a lecture given by Jason Hunter on Java Assertions and JDK 1.4 logging because it would be the only chance for me to hear him speak. I probably should have just moved my schedule around. The topic was pretty basic, and there wasn’t much for him to say, other than explaining the API (both of which are pretty self explanatory). I did get to hear more from him at other lectures (he was part of the audience). He has some interesting points of view, but the topics he was speaking on weren’t especially thought provoking.

Dave Thomas – The keynote on Friday night was a presentation by Dave Thomas about many of the concepts in his book “The Pragmatic Programmer”. I read the first few chapters before going to the symposium and so far I love it. The lecture was equally as good. After that lecture, I changed my schedule for the next day to see two of his lectures: “Decoupling Patterns” and “Ruby for Java Programmers”. I have his Ruby book, but never made it past the first few chapters (it didn’t seem practical at the time to learn a language I wouldn’t be able to apply for years). The lecture, however, really got me interested in it again. He really preached the advantages of a dynamically typed language (a common theme throughout the conference). Thomas was a very interesting person to be around. Although it might be easy to confuse his confidence with arrogance, it turns out he is very approachable and is interested in two-way conversation as much as evangelizing his beliefs. If you go to one of these symposiums, sign up for one of his lectures early. After you hear him speak the first time, you will want to follow him to his next lecture.

Stuart Halloway – I attended two sessions presented by Stuart Halloway: “XML Schema” (a two part presentation) and “Class Loading”. Both sessions were extremely interesting. Halloway doesn’t have the engaging personality of the other speakers, but he was a very good teacher. He was well prepared, and kept the sessions moving nicely. I was especially surprised by the XML Schema presentation. I planned on blowing off the second half of the session in favor of a session by Robert Martin, but after the first session, decided not to. If your attending a show, I wouldn’t go out of my way to see one of Halloway’s sessions, but if your interested in the topic, you should know he will teach it well.

Bruce Tate – I had already heard Bruce Tate speak at a local Java User Group. He’s a good speaker. His presentation at the JUG was one of my reasons for attending the symposium. The presentation I watched (“JDO vs. EJB”) had a lot of review information from the JUG discussion on persistence frameworks. He presented the information well despite having problems with his voice. I would only recommend the session, however if you are still a big Entity Bean fan (are there any out there) and still need to be shown the errors of your ways.

Ted Neward – Ted Neward’s presentation was fun. He is very loud; very opinionated (“Swing Sucks! Get over it!”); and very funny (“… because consistency is the sign of a small mind”). I attended Neward’s presentation on “The JVM and the CLI”. The topic, which should have been inflammatory, was actually very analytical and very interesting. Neward also had so very interesting things to interject into Stuart Halloway’s class loader presentation.

I missed quite a few speakers including Bob Martin, but I think I got all I could out of the symposium, given the scheduling problems I described earlier. After early-bird and JUG discounts I only paid $550 for the weekend (less than the airfare alone to a show like JavaONE).

If you get the chance to go to one in your area, I would defiantly recommend it. I would specifically recommend finding sessions by Dave Thomas and James Davidson. Don’t go to sessions which just explain APIs you could look up in a book, instead take the chance to learn concepts while you have the chance to ask those who should know. If you get the chance, take a session about another language. Although the information might not directly apply to your daily work, and you may never switch, the new concepts will give you perspective that you wouldn’t be able to get reading a Java API guide.

After an intro class in ’96, I learned Java on my own from books and online tutorials. It was very refreshing to sit and be taught again after all that time. I really need to do that more often.

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