by Bruno Souza
Top developers share why they value the Java community and how getting involved has changed their lives for the better.
Ever felt alone in a party packed with people, or when you had nothing to say at the family reunion? Do you feel strange trying to explain to other people at a friend's barbecue what you really do? Many of us do. No matter how much software shapes the world, developers still feel a bit out of place…
My daughter once explained my work like this during a show-and-tell class at school: "My dad stays at home playing games on the computer."
Oh, boy,…did she ever get it right!
Puzzles involving cryptic languages, invisible objects, virtual tools, and unseen pipelines…the "games" we like to play are too abstract for most people's taste.
We might never lose our sense of strangeness during public conversations, but we don't need to feel like we don't belong anywhere. Because we do.
Tell me who you walk with, and I'll tell you who you are. Java Champion Yara Senger likes to use this Brazilian saying to inspire young developers. "Get them to join technical communities, so they can grow in their careers."
But can participating in Java user groups (JUGs), or other developer communities, really help our careers?
To find out, I asked some friends, to learn their secret of success.
The Best Decision in Your Professional Life
Developer communities are the place where we software developers meet other developers. Belonging to a community can be the best career boost we ever experience in our lives.
Alexis Lopez, who is today the leader of the Cali Java Users Group, has traveled around the world. And he changed the Colombia market along the way. At some point, he quit his job to be more in control of his career, and he is today an independent consultant. Once he became a technical reference for Java in his country, Alexis received many job offers. Today Alexis says, "At first I didn't know it was going to be one of the best decisions in my professional life." But he says that being around developers is the main reason for his success! "This happens because you are surrounded by really bright people, working together to promote and improve the Java platform."
Being around good developers is a sure way to push us to become good developers!
Simon Maple is a developer advocate at ZeroTurnaround. He is also leader of the Virtual Java User Group and the London Java Community. Simon echoes that same feeling of belonging. "Being part of a JUG and a vibrant community is one of the most important parts of my career. My connections and networks were critical to me progressing and learning. It makes my role really fun! It's great to see fellow geeks discussing technical problems and talking about their opinions on future technologies or architectures in such an open and honest way."
Now, His Life Is Completely Different
Belonging is important, but we are developers, and what we really enjoy is interesting projects and challenges. Nothing hurts our careers more than dull projects, boring activities, and little progress.
If you feel you are stuck, being part of a JUG is a great way to find new opportunities!
Andrii Rodionov, leader of the Ukrainian JUG, told me about his student and fellow JUG member, Igor Dmitriev. Andrii invited Igor to present a talk at their JUG meeting. "It was Igor's first public speaking experience," Andrii said. "His presentation was so deep and technical! He immediately got a proposal for a senior Java developer position in the company hosting the meeting." Igor went on to present in the biggest Java conferences in Ukraine: JEEConf, JavaDay Kharkiv, and JavaDay Kyiv. His career is now on overdrive!
It's interesting that those great job offers never show up on any job boards. They are offered first to those who are "discoverable": the ones who are participating in communities and sharing their knowledge.
And sometimes, changes to our lives come from unexpected places. Michael Levin, the leader at Orlando JUG, told me an incredible story. "I went into a music store for some guitar strings. During our conversation, the owner wanted me to meet his son, who is a smart guy with a math degree. But he was only getting jobs as a waiter…I invited him to our JUG meetings. Google recruiters dropped by. Now, his life is completely different. He's living the dream as a Google software developer!"
Other times, we have an opportunity to change directions in our careers. Bob Larsen, from GreenJUG, completely changed gears. Just a few years ago, Bob was a system administrator working for a small company. Invited by John Yeary, he started attending GreenJUG meetings. Bob says, "I learned a tremendous amount from the meetings and Java Boot Camps, and from the countless hours spent conversing with John over beers or in the parking lot after a meeting." Learning can come from many places! But most important, Bob says, is the fact that "the material I learned from this and other JUGs allowed my career to evolve. I'm now working as a Java EE architect." He got new projects and new opportunities because of community involvement! We see this all the time. It can work for you, too!
An Opportunity to Rediscover Your Region
One thing about software development is that our careers are not isolated. There are so many things happening at the same time…we can't do it alone! We have more opportunities if there are several of us experimenting together.
This is the reason why JUGs have a large impact on their region and the ecosystem they are part of.
Víctor Orozco, from Guatemala, told me about the tour GuateJUG organized around the country. In a country where few have access to a university, sharing knowledge is vitally important. Víctor said, "The JavaDay Tour was an opportunity to rediscover our country, make friends in every region, and have technical and life experiences." The tour touched the lives of many. "For the students, the JavaDay Tour was an opportunity. They had questions about software engineering, computer science, women in IT, Android, careers, and even about life outside their regions! And lots of questions about Java, of course! I'm glad I was a part of that."
Alexis Lopes said similar things about his work in Colombia. "A local JUG in your area gives you an opportunity to improve our Java knowledge and network. We keep in contact with other JUGs around the world and with Oracle. We discuss what's coming in the Java platform, best practices, improving projects, and more. We also host sessions with local and international speakers. All this helps to improve the technology industry in our region."
When technical expertise grows in your region, there are more opportunities to work. Smart people and interesting projects pop up. JUGs are the catalysts to all that.
The Benefits Aren't Limited to Our Professional Life
In a JUG, we meet other developers. Friends that share some of our tastes and objectives lead to more rewarding relationships.
Bob Larsen changed his career because of the invitation from John Yeary to join GreenJUG. But it went beyond that. "The benefits of my involvement weren't limited to my professional life. At my first JavaOne conference, John introduced me to my wife, and he actually officiated at our wedding a few years later." It is all about new relationships! This is how we grow, professionally and in life. JUGs are also a great place to start new adventures! Víctor Orozco made lots of friends during his tour. "Those life experiences I wouldn't have had without a proper excuse to take my backpack and laptop to go share the knowledge that I had."
I'm sure he shared a lot of things and changed many people's lives. But from my own experience, I know he learned much more!
Spend Time with the Best Speakers Around the World!
How great would your career be if you could spend some time with the best Java developers out there? Joining a JUG is a great way to meet some of those developers.
This is why Simon Maple created the vJUG. As a virtual group, it does not have the face-to-face networking and opportunities of a physical JUG. But, it offers a way for developers to spend time with amazing developers! As Simon says, "Because we're virtual, we can ask any speaker to present on the vJUG. Yeah, anyone! That includes James Gosling, Joshua Bloch, Venkat Subramaniam, Josh Long, Aleksey Shipilev, and so many more. We get the best Java speakers from around the world to spend time with the community, share their knowledge, and share their passion."
Alexis agrees. "As a JUG leader, you have the opportunity to interact with other leaders in this amazing community. You can learn from them, gain recognition, and advance your career."
We see this time and time again. If you learn from the best, your career gets a big boost. Getting involved in a JUG is a great way to do that!
Open, Outgoing, and Friendly
The Java community is recognized by how welcoming it is. Simon Maple even makes this observation: "There are very few communities that live up to the open, outgoing, and friendly atmosphere which JUGs provide."
Many developers tell stories of how friendly and welcoming the JUGs and the Java community at large were when they first joined. Otávio Santana, leader of SouJava in Brazil, came to Java from some other technologies. As he recalls, "I was just starting with Java when I joined the OpenJDK mailing list. It surprised me how helpful everyone was. That was very different from what I had experienced before." Now, just a few years later, Otávio is a Java Champion and committer on OpenJDK and other projects—all thanks to the support given by those that received him well.
Being part of an open and friendly community is a great help for our careers. It is easier to find others that want the same as we do, that want to grow together and share what they know. This makes the whole ecosystem stronger!
Get Infected with the Virus Called "Community"
Events are another great place to meet developers and improve your networking. JUGs either organize or support the best Java events around the world.
Gerrit Grunwald, a famous Java evangelist, says that going to events was his first step. "My success story started at Devoxx in Belgium." As one of the top Java events in the world, Devoxx is a meeting place for JUG leaders from everywhere. Gerrit remembers that he and his friends "got free tickets as JUG leaders." At the event, they met other JUG leaders from around the world. "We got infected with the virus called community." Gerrit then started to propose talks to JUGs and conferences. "Over time, we become more and more involved in the community." Gerrit became a Java Champion and a JavaOne Rock Star, and later he got a job as a Java evangelist at Oracle. He emphatically states, "Without our JUG, none of this would ever have happened."
Getting involved in the organization of JUG events is also a great way to help and grow! Maria Castillo, from GuateJUG, told us a story of a JUG member-turned-organizer. Mercedes Wyss joined the organization after being a speaker at a JavaDay from GuateJUG. "It was one of the best choices I could make in my life." Mercedes advanced in her career and became an entrepreneur using Java technologies. Her involvement with JUG events was crucial to her success. "My first big client came to me at a JavaDay. My clients trust my work because they see the amazing work that we do in GuateJUG."
Tell Me Who You Walk With…
Everyone featured in this article is a Java developer like you and me. All have good technical skills, like you do. A few have out-of-this world skills (which I don't have). But they all share the same story: they went beyond the code. They got involved. They started sharing whatever they learned. They joined with developers focused on improving their careers, so they could grow together.
Michael "MisterM" Santos is today a Java Champion and NetBeans Dream Team Member. He believes it all comes down to participating in JUGs. Michael is concise and direct. "All my career growth I own to SouJava: my first jobs, my participation in events, attending JavaOne for the first time, and meeting people in the open source community."
Tell me who you walk with, and I'll tell you who you are. This is not a warning, but a challenge! Associate with people who want to be better developers. Be the great Java developer you deserve to be!
And it is not difficult to start. You can join a local JUG in your area. There are more than 400 spread all over the world. And…let me tell you a little secret: they all need help to run their activities! That means that you can join in and everyone wins!
(And there is always the vJUG, which you can participate in from anywhere!)
There are other ways to take part. Join an open source project around something you like. Answer questions on a mailing list. Write some code for a non-profit. Give a talk at a local university or technical school. You could even start your own JUG. Share whatever you know. Learn more. Share what you learned. Repeat.
You are serious about coding for fun and profit. So, I'd also like to invite you to join us in a community that values code for work, code for fun, and code for sharing. Come to code4.life to learn more on how you can improve your developer career!
In the next article in this series, we will discuss how you can start a JUG in your area or supercharge your local group.
About the Author
Bruno Souza believes software developers have a huge impact in the world, and can effectively improve the planet. That is why he is passionate about developer communities. Souza has dedicated his life to helping developers worldwide reach their true potential. Also known as the "Brazilian JavaMan," he is a Java developer at Summa Technologies and a cloud specialist at ToolsCloud, where he has participated in some of the largest Java projects in Brazil. Souza is also President of SouJava and has twice been on the Board of Directors at the Open Source Initiative. He believes that Java and open source are the path to career excellence and that taking responsibility for delivering software is the mark of great developers.
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