At JavaOne 2012, I spent some time with Badr El Houari (@badrelhouari), co-founder of the Morocco Java User Group and the just-completed JMaghreb Conference 1.0. The conference was held this past Friday and Saturday in Rabat, Morocco. More than 500 developers attended the conference each day -- an impressive start for a new Java conference! Java.net was in attendance, too, in the person of Community Manager Sonya Barry.
My conversation with Badr at JavaOne started out with a discussion of the Java environment as it exists in Morocco. Badr said that most Java developers work for international companies. For example, Badr himself works for a European company. I was surprised to hear that, in Morocco, software development is not seen as a very important job. Rather, Badr said, managers and engineers are considered to be higher-level positions.
This attitude has historic origins. Thinking about our conversation in retrospect, I wonder if such an attitude reflects a society where software and computer devices haven't yet become fully integrated with the daily life of average people? For example, when I asked Badr about software start-ups in Morocco, he said that while starting a business is relatively easy, the problem would be the marketplace: who would you sell your software product to?
I asked what types of programming jobs are available in Morocco. Badr told me the main employers are banks and similar established institutions. These tend to run legacy apps developed in COBOL that run on AS400 and similar hardware. They don't do a lot of new development, and any new development typically doesn't involve Java. That's why most Moroccan Java developers work for international companies. Increasingly, Badr noted, developers can work remotely for many companies.
Badr expressed repeatedly his objective of utilizing the Morocco JUG and the JMaghreb Conference as a platform for building the reputation of Moroccan Java developers, both in Morocco itself and globally. He noted that, initially, it was very difficult to find sponsors for JMaghreb 1.0. For example, Oracle has only a sales office in Morocco, and the people there had no interest in a Moroccan Java conference. But Badr didn't let early frustrations defeat his aspirations, and ultimately JMaghreb 1.0 received sponsorship from an impressive list of companies including Oracle, the French security technology company Morpho, JBoss, Google, SpringSource, Vaadin, ZeroTurnaround... In terms of speakers at JMahgreb, Badr recently tweeted that six JMaghreb speakers spoke at JavaOne, and eight JMaghreb speakers will be presenting at Devoxx this coming week.
By the time I spoke with Badr at JavaOne, more than 1000 people had registered to attend the conference (attendance was free). Media interest was growing, and Badr was starting to wonder if the conference venue (Mohammadia Engineering School) might be filled to capacity. The signs were that Badr's persistence (and that of Morocco JUG members and other conference organizers) was truly going to pay off.
Post-conference, from looking at the @JMaghrebConf tweet stream, it seems like that indeed happened!
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