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What’s in it For Me? JUG Members Learn the Benefits of Active JCP Participation
 

The Java Community Process (JCP) program has seen the door of participation in the community widen dramatically since its inception in the 1990s. In recent years, the Program Management Office (PMO) has reached out to encourage individual contributors and representatives of academic institutions and other technical organizations to join and participate. The membership has broadened through specific efforts and for this practical reason: diversity in the membership makes the specifications more robust and transparent, stimulating more demand and implementation in the marketplace.


Patrick Curran
Year after year, new strategies have been employed to attract a greater variety of members. For example, provisions were made for individuals, non-profit organizations and open-source licenses. Patrick Curran, chair of the JCP, and Heather Vancura-Chilson, group manager of the JCP PMO, completed a world tour to gain more representation from all corners of the globe. They attended and spoke at numerous Java technology events that draw in developers and users from all over, such as JavaOne in San Francisco, California; Javapolis (now Devoxx) in Antwerp, Belgium; JavaZone in Oslo, Norway; Qcon in Brazil, China, and Japan; and The ServerSide Symposium in various locations.


Heather Vancura-Chilson
As a result of program adjustments and targeted recruitment, the JCP community now has members from every continent except Antarctica. In addition, research, open-source, and other non-profit organizations and academic institutions have joined, including Eclipse, OWASP, the Open Group, Enterprise Computer Telephony Forum, Industrial Technology Research Institute, Electronics and Telecommunications Institute, Institute for Information Industry, Peking University, IAIK University, IBBT-Ghent University, University of South Florida, and Xi'an Jiaotong University.

The JCP program has already benefited tremendously from the increased diversity in its membership. One quick way to see this is to watch for changes in the Executive Committee roster, list of annual awards nominees and recipients, and list of Spec Leads. If JUGs get involved in the way that they seem to want to do, the community will see changes all over the place, and, most importantly, in the specifications themselves. And if JUG representatives get involved to the extent that they are willing, they may find themselves on the golden pathway to career advancement.




Recruitment of Java User Groups

Since 2009, the PMO has been particularly focused on recruiting Java User Groups (JUGs). JUGs are communities of enthusiasts who may share their experiences with and ideas about the Java platform in order to gain knowledge, network, and have fun. It is not so easy to target this growing segment of the Java industry since JUGs can be casually organized, very small, and easily overlooked. Moreover, they don’t always see the point of joining a standards body like the JCP community. In order to begin communicating with JUGs, the PMO spoke and answered questions at conferences, sought out connected individuals, and promoted word-of-mouth social networking through Facebook and Twitter. The PMO also followed up on direct contacts and referrals; some JUGs discovered through other means such as this website.

The PMO wanted to remove as many barriers to participation as possible for JUGs, so they waived the fee for JUGs to join the JCP. JUGs who become members are showcased in a list as additional positive reinforcement. Another jcp.org webpage points out some special benefits to JUG members, such as guest speaker services, opportunities to speak, logistical support, and a JavaOne event. The PMO has also offered to participate in JUG leader calls and events.

“The PMO strategies have been largely successful,” says Heather. “We have added over twenty JUGs to the JCP membership since we began this effort in 2009. We have also seen two of those JUGs -- London Java Community and SouJava -- join the JCP Executive Committee this year, solidifying their commitment to the JCP program.” A third JUG also ran in the special election, but didn’t make it in this year.

How JUG Organizations Open the Way


Bruno Ferreira de Souza
It’s hard to be the first to step into a new situation, but after having discussions with the JCP PMO, SouJava blazed the trail for other JUGs to follow. According to Bruno Ferreira de Souza, founder and coordinator of SouJava (Sociedade de Usuários da Tecnologia Java; Java Technology Users Society), those talks opened the door that many other JUGs would eventually walk through as well. And by participating personally in JSR 314, JavaServer Faces 2.0, and JSR 310, Date and Time API, which were specifically important to Brazilian developers, the directors of SouJava also modeled how their own JUG members can follow the same path. At the same time, SouJava stood up for Java standards and promoted the JCP program inside Brazilian companies and the Brazilian government, illustrating how a JUG member of the JCP can have a greater say in causing significant change.

Even after a JUG becomes a member of the JCP community, it can take a while to figure out the ins and outs of getting involved. In addition to their recent election to the Executive Committee (EC), the London Java Community (LJC) JUG is just beginning to figure out how they want to get involved. According to Ben Evans’ write-up of the 23 May 2011 meeting minutes, the group is cautiously “feeling our way around to see what’s going to work best for us as a grassroots user organization.” After winning the election, the group formed a committee to track JCP activity, communicate it to members, and encourage upward participation. The committee now blogs and presents lightning talks related to the JCP program and upcoming standards at all LJC technical events. For their new Adopt-A-JSR program, ordinary LJC members champion and discuss individual active JSRs inside and outside the LJC. “So far, JSRs 310, 349, 350, and 343 have been adopted, with more on the way," Ben says.

SouJava and the LJC are taking rapid steps toward getting their JUG members involved in JCP activities, and more can be done. “I think we can do a better of job of enabling a deeper participation once the JUGs have joined, but the fact that the JUGs are showing interest in joining the EC already signals an interest in greater participation,” says Heather.

Why JUG Constituents Want to Participate

Some individual JUG members wonder why they should personally get involved in the JCP program. What’s the point of spending precious leisure hours participating in JCP activities when there is no monetary incentive to do so, no employer footing the bill for those hours of effort?

“You have to ask yourself what’s in it for me,” says Trent Gray-Donald, IBM Java 7 technical lead, also responsible for “Java consumability” -- the production of tools that make Java easy to use. He is also a long-term IBM participant in the JCP community. During a JCP roundtable discussion at the JustJava conference held 13-14 May in São Paulo, Brazil, he made a strong case for the tremendous professional opportunity the JCP program represents. “In my mind, through your voice and influence, you control the future instead of being a passive receiver. It’s extremely important to most organizations to show your ability to interact with the experts outside your company and become an influencer and a decision maker.” JCP participation can translate into sharpened skills, networking opportunities, job security, and leverage for promotions and better pay.

Trent’s viewpoint is shaped by his experience with the way IBM guides its employees to get involved in the JCP program. IBM managers constantly survey the ranks for software engineers that could benefit from more external exposure, and they use JCP activities as career development opportunities for those engineers. A seasoned veteran mentors the engineer to ease his or her transition into full-fledged technical responsibility and participation in an industry consortium.

Huge Career Benefits Overcome "FUD Factor"

For both individuals and organizations, “Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt” -- the FUD Factor -- is one of the greatest obstacles to overcome. Trent explains that organizations who are considering becoming members in the JCP program may have a fear that goes like this: “We can’t just let Bob go off and say things in public in the JCP. We have to figure out how to make sure Bob doesn’t do something wrong.” As a long term member of the JCP (and other industry groups), IBM addresses concern by formalizing the situation into a repeatable and well-defined process: “Bob is going to contribute to this JSR at this level of participation. Here’s his JCP mentor. Here’s the legal framework he been briefed on and understands.” If the overseeing organization turns JCP participation into a standard corporate process, it’s less of a “scary other thing,” and more business as usual, says Trent.

Yara Senger, vice president of SouJava, names two specific fears that typically hold back JUG representatives: “One of the main challenges is to really believe you have the knowledge, that you can add something. In general, people are afraid they are never Expert enough. A second problem is being afraid we won't have enough time to give.”

Trent has heard JUG members express fear, too, in the form of, “The JCP sounds good, but I don’t know where to start, and it sounds scary.” It’s understandably hard for individuals to get out of their comfort zone and explore a situation where protocols and expectations aren’t well understood. But the fear doesn’t have to be prohibitive. Like any corporate member or individual, a JUG representative can participate at any level, from no-risk to do-or-die-trying:

  • observe JSR activity,
  • review specifications and provide feedback,
  • participate in a project through OpenJDK or Project Glassfish,
  • join an Expert Group, or
  • submit and lead a JSR.

Sometimes concerns have legitimate roots. “The first real scare occurs when the engineer has to disagree with the Spec Lead on a technical issue,” Trent says. A mentor can guide the newbie through the process of thinking through the issue -- is it truly a hill to die on or merely a nice-to-have? -- and crafting a mature, professional, effective response.

If a JUG cannot or will not provide that kind of mentor, perhaps because none of the members are themselves veterans, Trent urges individuals to get involved anyway. The obstacles are surmountable, and the career benefits are huge. The JCP incubator can enhance knowledge and skills, offer practice communicating, enable the shaping of cutting-edge technology, and enlarge circles of expert contacts to include potential contractors, vendors, implementers, employees, or employers. Trent says that after working with a JSR’s Expert Group, “I guarantee that they’ll know you, and you’ll know them.”

Any organized group, from a Java User Group to a corporation, can ease its members or employees onto the golden pathway of JCP involvement. But even when there is no behind-the-scenes help, the beauty of the JCP program is that mentorship is already built into it: a Spec Lead guides those in the Expert Group and encourages their participation. Trent adds, “Spec Leads are not creatures from another planet; they’re people too. If you just email the Spec Lead and say, ‘Hey, here’s my credentials, and I don’t really know what I’m doing, but I'm willing to try hard and contribute,’ most Spec Leaders will respect that and bring you gently into the group.”

First Steps to Getting Involved in the JCP Community

Becoming an Observer is probably the easiest means of entry for those who are shy or tentative or just want to set their own pace. JCP members can sign up to observe an Expert Group, usually by sending an email to the Spec Lead of a particular project or finding the link to subscribe to an open email list.


Emmanuel Bernard
For example, to check out the work of JSR 349, Bean Validation 1.1, open its web page and select the Update tab or read its “transparency checklist.” These are standard sections of the official JSR website available to JCP members, and will typically point to other ways of getting information about the Expert Group, such as by subscribing to the group’s email list or clicking through to blogs or forums. If you have any questions, the Spec Lead’s email address is always included on the page, and Spec Leads like Emmanuel (ebernard@redhat.com), are happy to help Observers view group emails and even comment on drafts of the specification if they wish.

“You get out what you put in, but at the same time you can go from very passive and just watching the flow and how people participate and over time to getting more involved as you feel more comfortable.” Although there is very little risk involved in observing, there can be a nice payback for those who take more initiative. For example, in Emmanuel Bernard’s blog, where he comments on JSR 349 and other Hibernate issues, he often offers a shoutout to helpful contributors. Now go show that to the boss.


Yara Senger: Involvement via Personal Connection


Yara Senger
Yara Senger is founder of Globalcode, a business specializing in educational solutions for Java programmers, and editor of InfoQ Brasil, an independent online community driving innovation in the development of enterprise software. She didn’t know anything about the JCP community in 2000, but after she met Vinicius Senger and Bruno Souza at Sun Microsystems the next year, she became deeply involved in both the SouJava JUG and JCP program. She makes the ramp-up to involvement in the JCP program look like smooth sailing, but she started out as inexperienced as anybody. Her involvement in the JUG began with simple participation at meetings, but now she is responsible for organizing conferences, speaking with partners and other communities, recruiting new members, and enhancing the JUG’s social media networking efforts.

Yara was eager to contribute to the JCP community, even before the JUG was able to join in 2009. Her participation in SouJava was an important stepping stone toward such activity since it gave her opportunities for “networking, knowledge, and a lot of motivation.” For example, in 2005, Yara worked with SouJava colleagues Vinicius Senger and Felipe Leme to present the JavaOne birds-of-a-feather (BOF) session, “Where Is the Bottleneck? A Quantitative Study of the Impact of MVC Frameworks.” Leveraging that opportunity, Felipe, who had participated in the Expert Group for JSR 53, Java Servlet 2.3 and JavaServer Pages 1.2 Specifications, introduced Yara and Vinicius to Ed Burns, the Spec Lead of JSR 127, JavaServer Faces (JSF). Two years later, Ed Burns invited Vinicius to participate on the Expert Group for JSR 314, JSF 2.0, and was “very excited at the possibility of having a better security solution for JSF.” Vinicius’ name was formally listed on the Expert Group roster, and Yara and the other members worked together with him “to deliver a better value.”

Although some of the work Yara and her colleagues proposed for JSF 2.0 was not included in the final version of the specification, none of that effort was wasted. “Our team ended up being invited to build an application used to test the JSF 2.0 new resources, called ScrumToys. The application is currently bundled with Glassfish and NetBeans, and it's used all around the world,” Yara says.

Even now, as a JUG representative, Yara finds that the biggest benefit of involvement in the JCP program “is being able to enhance or even change technologies and tools we believe in.” To give the JUG an even greater voice, Yara also helped support SouJava’s successful bid for the ratified seat on the Executive Committee in the special election of 2011.

For JUG members who want to get involved in the JCP program, Yara encourages them to “go ahead and do it!” She suggests assembling a team of participants from within the local JUG to help even out variations in the individual levels of participation from week to week. In that context, those who aren’t ready for the JCP spotlight can support those who are. She also recommends cultivating the discipline of dedicating a certain time each week for coding, studying, reading, blogging, and so on -- all the activities that might be involved in JCP participation. Yara knows that it helps to be personally acquainted with people in an Expert Group, so she advises looking for opportunities to meet or follow potential colleagues through social networks, Internet Relay Chat (IRC), and international conferences, or invite them to speak at a local JUG meeting or event.

Dan Sline: Involvement via Champion

JCP individuals or JUG members can certainly take it upon themselves to search for a mentor and create their own nurturing conditions. The JavaOne conference offers many opportunities to rub shoulders with JCP participants and ask for advice on getting and staying involved.


Dan Sline
A lot of times it takes a “champion,” a person who will stand up and bring a JUG and its members into the JCP community. Through the last couple of years, Dan Sline has acted out that role, while serving as JCP liaison for JCP members Houston JUG and JUG-USA, an umbrella JUG affiliated with local JUGs from all over the United States. With his encouragement, HJUG was one of the first groups to join the JCP during the initial promotion in 2009. In addition, he fostered JUG interest in the JCP community by voting in elections, looking at intriguing specifications, and keeping track of how JUG-USA members were involved in the JCP program while JUG-USA was an active group. When he moved to Ohio earlier this year, Dan registered the Central Ohio JUG to be part of the JCP program and shifted his service as JCP liaison to accommodate his new group.

Dan says, “For both the Houston and Central Ohio JUGs, my goal is to educate the members about the JCP and how it can help the members by allowing them to have a say in the process. Initially my focus was to have the JUG’s involvement in the JCP act as a way to put new JSRs in the system without having to deal with getting an individual membership on their own. It has also meant that if any of the members wanted to run for an EC position, they would have a mechanism to do so as a group.”

With Dan as the frontman, Central Ohio JUG ran in the recent special election, hoping to have greater influence in making sure JSRs are helpful, useful, timely, and beneficial for the ongoing development of the Java platform. The JUG was not elected this year, but the organization plans to continue encouraging JUG members’ participation in the JCP program and with individual JSRs, as well as supporting those who want to submit a JSR.