The art of moulding a JUG
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 platform.
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 say:
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 Google.
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 thing.
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 them.
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 do.
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 difference
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 APIs.
…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 opinionated.
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: http://www.meetup.com/virtualJUG/ and add your voice (sadly, you’ll have to provide your own beer and pizza).
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 Mentoring.
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 family.
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 again.