Java learnings

10 things we learned at Devoxx 2015

Geertjan Wielenga
Learning image via Shutterstock

The JavaScript ecosystem is still messed up and JDK 9 modularity is real. Geertjan Wielenga reports on the key takeaways for Java programmers at the recent Devoxx 2015 conference in Antwerp.

Devoxx 2015 is well and truly over. Live from Antwerp, Belgium, as the last straggler’s ears ring with the bangs of long tables being stashed away, as the lights and even the network (eek!) are being switched off, and beefy Belgians glare at those daring to still hang around, here are 10 key takeaways from this year’s edition of a leading European Java developer conference.

In no way can each and every session be dealt with in the context of a single article, nor each and every excellent speaker, though hopefully some central trends can be established for further discussion and debate.

1. JDK 9 Modularity Is Real.

Tirelessly, throughout the conference (watch several on YouTube here), Oracle’s Mark Reinhold and Alan Bateman have been educating, educating, educating, and educating. Who have they been educating? Everyone and every thing in the Java developer community with the willingness to listen. About what? Specifically and singlemindedly about the fact that JDK 9 modularity is real and it is coming and it is not just for the JDK itself.

While on one hand JDK 9 modularity entails a complete restructuring of the JDK on your disk, a removal of rt.jar and other duplicated bits and pieces, it clearly also entails the possibility of natively being able to create modular applications in Java for the very first time. Sessions by the two of them focused on introductory topics, as well as advanced modularity topics, as much on the newly structured JDK as on how to think about modularity for your own applications.


“JDK 9 will be a fairly disruptive release,” was Mark Reinhold’s dry yet pointed warning at various stages of his fully packed sessions. Many discussions ensued, questions about implications, and clearly this topic was a leading theme of Devoxx 2015.

A serious question that also needs to be asked, though, is when will other large organizations in the JCP be doing these kinds of educational sessions, as well as when will other large organizations take real leadership in the Java ecosystem, i.e., where are IBM, Google, Red Hat, etc, and how sustainable is the current model where Oracle, on its own, is shouldering so much of the burden and cost of pushing Java forward. And is this situation not inherently dangerous.

2. The JavaScript Ecosystem Is Still Messed Up.

For the first time, a session was hosted, entitled “AngularJS FTW?” (watch on YouTube here) where the applicability of the leading JavaScript framework was openly challenged. The session was completely packed out, with a mass of disappointed Devoxxians clustered outside, held back by closed doors, tapes, ropes, and an apparently malnourished Belgian. It is a session well worth watching.


In another session, Hadi Hariri presented an excellent and highly appreciated (one of the top sessions) overview of the “silver bullet syndrome” (watch on YouTube here), wherein he showed the fallacy of the current hype of the day and the importance of evaluating new trends and the need to determine their resilience over time. With such a rapid turnover of new frameworks, libraries, and toolkits, all bets are off in terms of what will still be supported and available tomorrow, in terms of the technologies made available in the JavaScript ecosystem, coupled with the constantly improving hardware and enhancements in web standards forcing rewrites of those technologies.


All the solidity of the specifications encompassing the Java EE Platform suddenly look remarkably sane in this context.

3. Spring Boot & Java EE MVC Are Refreshing.

While appearing to have nothing in common, these are two enhancements to the Spring world and the Java EE world that seem to have a “bolted on” feeling to them, while at the same time providing a new impetus for these well established technology stacks.

Josh Long, the embodiment of an energizer drink, rocked the conference, yet another conference he has rocked, with amazing and rapid demos of setting up projects with Spring Boot (watch on YouTube here) as part of a session on the Spring Cloud.

Elsewhere, Matt Raible introduced the JHipster project (watch on YouTube here), which encapsulates AngularJS with Spring Boot via a Yeoman generator. Dressed as a hipster, while sipping scotch throughout his session, Matt showed how simple and sane JHipster makes the process of creating the infrastructure of a typical enterprise application.

Could JHipster be the start of a standardization for doing JavaScript development, with the support of Java via Spring Boot?

In another room, the Java EE MVC specification was introduced in an extremely pragmatic session by Ivar Grimstad, together with Rene Gielen (watch on YouTube here). Interestingly, Rene is the project management committee chair of the Apache Struts project. In other words, he’s a leading light in a directly competing project to that encompassed by the Java EE Platform. Then again, he is a proponent of action-based frameworks, of which the MVC specification is the latest implementation, where Struts was one of the first.

What is the need for Java EE to have MVC? The answer to that question I have always found to be quite odd—”because we asked the community whether they wanted MVC and a lot of them said ‘yes'”.


While this may seem a valid reason in itself, if the community were to be asked “do you want chocolate?”, the response would also be “yes”. MVC does not seem on the face of it to be something that fits into the Java EE ecosystem. On the other hand, if it raises interest in the Struts community, as it seems to be doing, then that can only be a good thing for Java EE as a whole. And new ideas are indeed always interesting. Everyone is appreciative of how MVC builds upon existing standards, such as REST, and it appears to be gaining quite some admirers, especially with the kinds of sessions presented by the likes of Ivar and Rene.

The session was especially useful for being practical, with slowly and carefully explained scenarios and excellent demonstrations; the session is well worth watching (or again) on YouTube.

4. Docker & Microservices are still dominant themes.

OK, so containers will take over the VM (watch on YouTube here) and we need to think a lot about the meaning of microservices (watch on YouTube here).

Can we now all move on to something else?

On the other hand, this dominance is only noticed by those who go to a lot of conferences. If Devoxx is all you attend in the year (and few go to many conferences, there’s actually work to be done too, of course), it makes sense that you want to hear about these two topics, since you’re getting only one shot at them a year. For the rest of us, i.e., those who are at a conference every other week or so, the narrow focus on containers and microservices is getting slightly, well, stale, to be honest.

5 Local speakers add valuable colour. 

While Venkat stole the show to such an extent that he doesn’t need to be mentioned together with his surname (watch on YouTube here), it is really great how Devoxx focuses strongly on local Belgian speakers, enabling them to develop as speakers in their own right, potentially for deployment (inevitably as a microservice in a Docker container) to international conferences.

In particular, the sessions that showed the flavor of being a developer in Belgium were interesting. For example, Peter Minne’s session (watch on YouTube here) on the success of Showpad was very illustrative of the differences in cultures between Belgians (maybe Europeans in general) and their US counterparts:


6. Ignite Sessions are Weird and Wonderful. 

Though I didn’t come to Devoxx to learn about growing chilli peppers, it was certainly an interesting mini session. Held during lunch times, with a span of about 5 minutes, with a slide deck that switches to the next slide every 15 seconds, this is a really nice way to learn the key points of a technology very quickly.

For many, highlighted included Stephen Chin’s talk on being a conference bum, Bert Jan Schrijver’s talk on JUGs producing printed newsletters, Richard Warburton’s introduction to Yocto Services, and Roy van Rijn on joggling. And there were many more!

7. Drone racing is a thing.

Let’s not waste any words on this new trend. Simply watch on YouTube here!


Moreover, there were, as always, several sessions dealing with IoT, from Vinicius Senger and Yara Senger with their many devices, to InfoSupport and their trains powered by Raspberry Pis, and several other similar topics.

8. Cosmologists Do Great Keynotes.

What better way to make problems of Java modularity seem trivial than to invite Lawrence Krauss, the  theoretical physicist and cosmologist, do the opening keynote? (See all the amazed Tweets from attendees here.) He did, though, end on a slightly negative note by pointing out that everything, especially, apparently, we as attendees of Devoxx, are insignificant (“on a cosmic scale”), and that the future is miserable. The birds eye view taken to cosmic extremes inevitably ends up that way, I suppose.


In similar vein, I attended a software development conference recently where an astronaut did the opening keynote. That may be the way to go for the conference of the future—don’t simply invite keynote speakers with a global perspective, go for “cosmic” instead! Entertaining and perspective shifting at the same time.

9. Java Conferences Are An Industry. 

Has there ever been a time when there are more Java conferences than are currently taking place? Between JavaOne and Devoxx, we’ve had Java2Days (Bulgaria), JFall (Netherlands), W-JAX (Germany), and several others besides.

Devoxx itself is, of course, a franchise now, with a new implementation popping up every few months.

More and more organizations exist for no other purpose than to organize Java conferences. Surely that is an interesting new trend, which has been gathering pace over the past years.

10. Java Is Alive And Really Very Well Indeed.

When you add up all of the above key learnings from Devoxx, including the underlying developments, such as the ongoing work done in JDK 9, the activity around IoT in all kinds of interesting domains, the new horizons being reached in Spring and Java EE, the functional aspects continually being explored further in the Java language, as well as the various topics dealing with JVM languages—Scala, Clojure, and Frege being three quite visible at Devoxx—one can only come to the conclusion that Java is extremely vibrant in its 20th year.


Geertjan Wielenga

Geertjan is a product manager for NetBeans IDE.

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