Birds of a feather

The art of moulding a JUG

JAX Editorial Team

What does it take to build a successful Java Community?

Group dynamic is a powerful thing. It
can help transform the stirrings of an idea into a full scale
movement , and, when harnessed for a common cause, can give even
the most junior developer a say in the direction of a platform.
With roughly nine million Java developers internationally, thriving
Java Community Groups (JUGs)
have sprung up all over the
world. One of the biggest is the London Java Community (LJC), with
3,500 plus members. It’s also the only community with membership of
the Java Community Process (JCP), an executive committee
responsible for mapping out future versions of the

But how do you make and grow a local
community group from scratch? This was one of the big questions
presented to our panel at the JAX London Community night on
November 29th. Here’s a handy summary of
what they had to

Bootstrapping a community on a
shoestring budget

Barry Cranford: I would say
the first thing that you want to do is try and get some kind of
talk organised, some sort of speaker in the UK around various
conferences. So the first thing you want to do is get a really
awesome talk out there, and then just try and get as much attention
on that as possible – make a real noise about what you’re doing. So
try and find if there’s any companies, and spread the word, send it
out to the team. Really just try and make as much noise as
possible. Find out if there’s any other Java user groups, or any
other user groups in near you by doing some searching on

Martijn Verburg: Yeah, well
if you think it’s chicken-and-egg, right? When you start a
community, you need a community large enough to be able to say to a
speaker, or someone who wants to talk to a community, “Hey, come
and talk to our five members” or something like that. Whereas it’s
hard to to grow the community when you haven’t got any speakers! So
how do you deal with it?

Tricia Gee: You can start
by tapping into other vendors. I’m not necessarily talking from a
MongoDB point of view, I’m talking about the LJC in the early days,
where we had a lot of talks from Spring and other various vendors.
Because, they do have the budget to send people to your usergroups,
and they will pay for their travel and stuff. So, you’ll need to
start by seeking that sort of thing.

I’ve been to talk to a bunch of communities
outside of London, just to try and get the interest and try and get
it going. So there are vendors who will pay for that sort of

Sandro Mancuso: So, you
don’t need a speaker. You don’t need backers, you don’t need
anything. What you need [to do] is just talk to some people that
you know are Java developers.

Say, “I’m going to be in that pub looking
for people who also want to discuss Java”. That’s what you need,
that’s how we started: two people in a pub. Today we [London
Software Craftsmanship Community, another usergroup with 1,400
members] are the largest software craftsmanship [community] in the
world. We never had a big speaker coming down. We had them later,
because they happened to be in London, but you never need

You just need a few passionate people,
invite your friends and find something you find cool, and
they find cool, and the whole thing spreads. That’s how it
starts off. You don’t need a big relationships to become the
biggest. We never did anything to become the biggest community like
that. It just happened. Just doing the things that we wanted to

Growing your community

Verburg: I think an early
trick we had with the LJC…we challenged everyone who turned up:
Next time you turn up, bring one of your colleagues. And in London
especially, there’s a lot of people — of Java developers –
especially if you work in boring 9-5 jobs, who hate the
idea of going to a community evening. They just want to go home to
their family.

But, if you can get access to those
people by having one of your colleagues say, “hey, just take a
chance, and one night, to hear something interesting”. I think
that’s how we were grew rapidly in the last year. In particular, we
had a focus on getting general 9-5 Java developers to do a bit with
the community – it was very effective.

Simon Maple: When you start
a community, what gives you the impetus to say, right this
community is quite small, or there is no community – Trish, when
would you start a community in a town like, let’s say, Seville?

Gee: Well, I have started
meetings in Seville. Partly because I am really experienced in the
London Java Community, and I’ve learnt a lot through being part of
that community. It’s really helped me level up my career, and
really helped me make connections.

And, also feels like this ingrained thing
of, kind of, I know for a fact that, in cities that are not
massive, there are lots of people doing the 9-5 jobs where they
just want to get it done, and go home, and it’s kind of a little
bit sad that we did something because we liked it – we loved coding
– and then, when we got to our day jobs, we kind of started to
disconnect from that.

We make up for it by either going to things
like the communities, and that does happen, you can can rig up hack
days and all sorts of stuff, or you meet people and they’re doing
cool stuff. Interestingly as well, you can meet me people in this
cool company over here, who just happen to be recruiting – and
that’s quite a good thing too!

But you know, people build up this
excitement – and it’s not just for me, because I get enough of my
own community night, I can come back to London, I talk at
conferences – I don’t need to build a Seville community, but I do
feel the need to excite people, and remind them why they do that
stuff, because I know the passion is there – especially in Spain.
It’s there – just ignite it.

How community action can make a

Verburg: The difference we
make – everyone around the room – tell us if you like the existing
Java date and time libraries? The new Java 8 is going to get proper
date and time libraries. The sole reason it has made it into Java 8
is all the work that the LJC has put into it. The typical and the
social work that they’ve done to ensure that that very important
thing made it into Java 8 on time…A community like the Java User
Group is absolutely essential for things like this.

Maple: I think that’s a
really, really important point. What we’re talking about is an
individual, acting on their own work. And part of the community
make a huge difference to Java. I worked at IBM for about 10 to 12
years, and people always said, when you work for a major
corporation, you’re only a cog in a major machine. And you don’t
need to work in a small startup – making your views heard, and
putting your comments across about what is good and bad about
potential Java JSRs is really, really important – it does make
changes in those major corporations about how they deal with their

…I think having a like minded community,
and also having that synergy between the community and the leaders
as well, is an important point.

The biggest challenges you face
when setting up a community

Cranford: I think the
biggest thing we did with the LJC – the first thing was engaging
with our members. This was easy for me, because I didn’t have a
clue what was cool within Java because I was a recruiter. So I had
to go out and ask everyone else, what do people want to hear about?
So that was the first thing to me. I was trying to constantly feed
back into: what do people want? And how do we give it to them? It’s
a great way of keeping that active.

The second thing, and probably the best
thing that we did to keep the LJC alive, and keep in growing in the
way that it did, was to set up the LJC associates, which was a
smaller community within the LJC. It’s got about 50 or 60 members
at the moment – and it was typically the people that were highly

Gee: I see a bunch of user
groups where you’ve got one person, and they’re starting it because
it’s their passion, doing the and it’s their thing that they want
to do, and after about five or six years, when it’s been day in,
day out, doing the organisation, and finding their speakers and
driving it – on their own time – they burn out, and they can’t keep
their spirit alive, because a lot of these things are carried by
one person.

The LJC has been extremely successful with
that, because as soon as we get someone with an opinion like, “I
think we should do this…” we pull them in and have them organise
it – and it’s a really good way to get people involved.  

Cranford: The most
important thing I could say to keep your community going is to get
the most influential, the most interesting, the most opinionated
people, and try and pull them into making your events.

And finally, introducing: The
Virtual JUG

If you find that life/ work/ will to leave
the sofa gets in the way of your ability to hang out with your
local JUG (or you just can‘t get enough of community fun), then
Simon Maple may have the answer. Working with Geert Bevin, Oliver
White, and Anton Arhipov, he‘s recently founded the world‘s first
online Java user group. Dubbed vJUG, the group is open to anyone
with an internet connection, and will provide presentations, live
Demos, panel discussions, and live Streams of JUG meetings.
Although it may be early days for this group, to date, 539
enthusiasts were already signed up at the time of writing. To join
them, head over to:
and add your voice (sadly, you’ll have to provide your own beer and



Barry Cranford is the
Managing Director of RecWorks and the Founder of the London Java
Community as well as several other tech communities. As a Tech
Recruiter that was not from a development background, he became
exposed to the collaborative nature of the open source movement and
became passionate about bringing people together for the good of
the industry. Over the last 6 years he has founded or lead
communities for Java Developers, Front End Developers, Graduates
and Technical Leaders, within everything he is involved in he
retains a strong sense of Talent Development and Talent


Martijn Verburg (CTO –
jClarity) has over 10 years experience as a technology professional
and OSS mentor in a variety of environments from start-ups to large
enterprises. He is the co-leader of the London Java User Group
(LJC), and leads the global effort of JUG members who contribute to
JSRs and the OpenJDK. Martijn’s first book “The Well-Grounded Java
Developer” with Ben Evans is being published by Manning. As a
leading expert on technical team optimisation, his talks and
presentations are in high demand by major conferences (JavaOne,
Devoxx, JAX etc) where he’s known for challenging the industry
status quo as the “Diabolical Developer”.


Software craftsman and
co-founder of the London Software Craftsmanship Community (LSCC).
Sandro has been coding since a very young age but just started his
professional career in 1996. He has worked for startups, software
houses, product companies and international consultancy companies.
Having worked as a consultant for the majority of his career, he
had the opportunity to work in a good variety of projects, with
different languages and technologies, and across many industries.
Currently he is a director at UBS Investment Bank, where he works
as a hands-on mentor, giving technical directions, looking after
the quality of the systems and pair-programming with developers in
the UK and abroad. His main objective is to help developers to
become real software craftsmen.


Simon is a Technical
Evangelist at ZeroTurnaround, but is less about preaching and more
about discussion and interaction. His passion is around technical
communities and is an active member of the London Java Community
(LJC) organising group as well as the LJC JCP EC committee. Simon
used to be a tester, developer and technical evangelist for IBM on
the WebSphere Application Server for over 10 years prior to joining
ZeroTurnaround. He enjoys playing and watching football (spherical
variety), drinking tea and spending quality time with his


Trisha is a developer at
MongoDB. She has expertise in Java high performance systems, is
passionate about enabling developer productivity, and has a wide
breadth of industry experience from the 12 years she’s been a
professional developer. Trisha is a leader in the London Java
Community, and involved in the Graduate Development Community, she
believes we shouldn’t all have to make the same mistakes again and



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