Java Magazine Interview

There is a nice profile of me on the Java Magazine of this bimestre, and I am very flattened for this so let me share it right away with you.

There is one question I was expecting though but didn’t come: “When did you start working on Java?”.

So, in order to give some more context, let me play with it and answer my own question here (and without space limits!). I think this is important, because it is about how I started to contribute to OpenJDK, it shows that you can do the same… if you are patient.

JM: When did you start working on Java?

Torre: I started to work in Java around its 1.3 release, and I used it ever since. I did start working on Java quite later though, around the Java 1.5/1.6 era probably. I was working to create an MSN messenger clone in Java on my Linux box, since all my friends where using it (MSN I mean, not Linux unfortunately), including the dreaded emoticons, and no Linux client supported those at the time.

I had all the protocol stuff working, I could handshake and share messages (although I still had to figure out the emoticons part!), but I had a terrible problem. I needed to save user credentials. Well, Java has a fantastic Preferences API, easy enough, right? Except that what I was using wasn’t the proprietary JDK, it was the Free Software version of it: GNU Classpath.

Classpath at the time didn’t have Preferences support, so I was stuck. I think somebody was writing a filesystem based preferences, or perhaps it was in Classpath but not GCJ, which is what everybody was using as a VM with the Classpath library, anyway when I started to look at the problem, I realised it would have been nicer to offer a GConf based Preferences store, and integrate the whole thing into the Gnome desktop (at the time, Gnome was a great desktop, nothing like today’s awfulness).

I was hooked. In fact, I even never finished my MSN messenger! After GConf, all sort of stuff came in, Decimal Formatter, GStreamer Sound backend, various fixes here and here, and this is when I learned a lot of how Swing works internally by following Sven de Marothy, Roman Kennke and David Gilbert work.

When Sun was about to release OpenJDK, I was in that very first group and witnessed the whole thing, a lot of behind the scenes of the creation of this extremely important code contribution. OpenJDK license is “GPL + Classpath exception” for a reason. I remember all the heroes that made Java Free Software.

I guess I was lucky, and the timing was perfect.

However right at the beginning contributing actual code to OpenJDK wasn’t at all easy like in Classpath. There was (is!) lot of process, things took a lot of time for anything but the most trivial changes etc…

But eventually I insisted and me and Roman where the first external guys to have code landing in the JDK, Roman was, I believe, the first independent person to have commit rights (I think that the people that are still today in my team at Red Hat and then also SAP had some changes already in, but at the time we two were the only guys completely external).

It wasn’t easy, I had to challenge ourselves and push a lot, and not give up. I had to challenge Sun, and even more challenge Oracle when it took the lead. But I did it. This is what I mean that everybody can do it, you can develop the skills and then you need to build the trust and then not let it go. I’m not sure what is more complex here, but if you persist it eventually come. And then all of a sudden billions of people will use your code and you are a Java Champion.

So this is how it started.

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