Sunday, September 30, 2007

NFJS 1 Boredom 0 (a No Fluff Just Stuff review)

Here's a disclaimer from my review of March 2007:

This is
NFJS #6 for me. The first 4 years, I worked with a previous employer. This year, I attended while employed by an affiliate of a sponsor. Over 5 years, I have paid some of my own $; other times, an employer covered the cost. All 6 times, my own, personal weekends were consumed. As you know, these opinions are solely mine.

The Skinny

If you are new to NFJS, see my review from March 2007 for a general overview. This review will assume you're familiar with the shows and are interested in the current 'vibe'.

The upshot, like last time, is that this is a no-brainer if your company will foot the bill. If not, then it is a personal decision. I believe it is a good value, and am glad I attended. I felt it was a weekend well-spent because:

  • I love the energy from a concentration of developers.
  • Though the show is more familiar now, and one can't recapture the wide-eyed wonder of seeing these speakers for the first time, the content is topical and good stuff.
Plus, it's fun.

Editor's note: In this CodeToJoy exclusive, Jay Zimmerman (organizer), Ted Neward (keynote speaker), and a computer (Ted's infamous Mac) report the result of the weekend:

The Vibe

From my perspective, the prevailing themes of the show were:
  • The energy around the Language Renaissance is palpable. Everyone wants to try out at least one of Scala, Erlang, Haskell, etc for fun. To paraphrase panelist Jeff Brown: Groovy and Ruby are now required. (Ed: see Jeff's clarification of context in the comments. 'Twas a fun remark that got a big laugh, though IMHO it is a reasonable statement.)
  • Both open-source solutions and agile methods are increasingly accepted in the workplace. The level of discourse is much different than even 2 years ago.
  • Yes, the buzz around Rails and Grails is still strong. Increasingly, speakers are talking about making money by working on these kinds of projects.

The Keynote

Ted Neward talked about how the next 5 years will be about languages. (Fellow speaker Alex Miller has a post which contains a link to a similar talk and some of his own commentary).

Ted's thesis was that the Big Runtimes (the JVM and CLR) act as a bridge between the academic language lawyers and the problem solvers in the field: the academics can experiment with language syntax and exotic semantics; the problem solvers can use these languages and rely on the venerable runtime libraries to get things done.

I enjoyed the talk thoroughly. Ted paced to-and-fro like a giant cat: if NFJS is Narnia, then Ted is Aslan, except very hungry, and with a mild-case of rabies. Many good jabs toward, well, everybody. He's an equal-opportunity offender (and a big softie underneath it all.)

Editor's note: In this shot, the popular veteran speaker Stuart Halloway concurs with the result:

The Panel

The panel discussion (during a lunch break) covered the language issue, and the Rails/Grails progress, but also discussed:
  • Is the JCP a good thing? e.g. Should Spring go under a JSR? Would it have succeeded if it originated that way? (Opinions were mixed: many agreed that the JCP has done cool things, particularly for language development (e.g. annotations), but most think it is too bureaucratic to have spawned something like Spring).
  • Sun goes open-source with the JDK/JVM: good or bad? There was disagreement on whether or not there would be forks, but most felt this wouldn't be harmful.
  • A favorite is the panel's picks for tools and books. I'll try to summarize the books in a future post. Major props to the seminal JCiP and many 'psychology of design' books.

The Sessions

I can't cover them all or even half, but some memorable sessions for me:
  • Jeff Brown had a very cool session on Metaprogramming in Groovy. I have some experience with Groovy, so it all just clicked for me (e.g. the ExpandoMetaClass). I think that this is strong mojo, and probably best used in frameworks (versus apps). But it's powerful... I am planning a post on the effect of mind-bending warps through the JVM as one 'thinks' in Groovy and then in Java.
  • You can't go wrong with Stuart Halloway: I saw at least 2 sessions on agile development. The pace is animated and brisk; sometimes it's like doing mental wind-sprints, but the ideas just flow.... One takeaway was that Stuart's company really, really does agile in a major way. How about this: the CI build breaks if it detects that the 'code complexity' constraints are violated. Here's a thought: comments often describe what the code is doing, but the code should really be so expressive that it describes what the computer is doing.
  • I caught a session on Terracotta caching for Hibernate with Alex Miller. Highly recommended. I don't know a lot about clustering, but there were demos and stats that were made the case in a compelling fashion. I'm still blown away by the very nature of Terracotta. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to hear Alex talk about it and some of the internals. I recommend keeping on eye on this project.
  • Michael Nygard won me over during the panel discussion, and created some after-session gossip. That is, he told stories about enterprise failures (often involving holiday online sales), and, later, people would share these nuggets like ghost stories around the campfire. I saw his talk on 'Design for Operations'. The gist was that developers aren't done when QA gets the deliverable: it goes into production. Yet it is amazing how corporations act as though Dev and Ops are 2 entirely separate, disjoint entities. The thought is that there are a variety of ways to get them closer together: true person-to-person communication (!), and designing for monitoring (e.g. JMX) are just two examples.
Final Score

At NFJS #1, I saw Dave Thomas for the first time. I heard my first "Ted Neward Insult Of Irreverence". One can't recapture that kind of magic, which was kinda like geek sex.

NFJS #6 was a different kind of experience, but because now _I'm_ different and the 'speaker circuit' is more familiar. It was a fun weekend and worth the investment.

If I hadn't been there, I'd either have been on a treadmill or watching a baseball team which has already missed the playoffs. There's no contest:

NFJS 1 Boredom 0


Jeff Brown said...

I was really only joking about Ruby and Groovy being "required". There was no smiley face in the post so I want to clarify that. :)

I was serious about the idea that learning something like Haskell that is radically different than Java and other OO languages has some benefits. I think learning a functional programming language, for example, really will help a lot of folks build better OO systems.


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