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Beyond the JavaONE survey

Posted by bsandersen on July 21, 2005 at 7:43 AM PDT

I received a survey invitation from the JavaONE organizers yesterday. I clicked through the link included in the message and began selecting choices 1-5 or NA on all their questions. Ugh. It was frustrating. It isn't just that all surveys are frustrating to me (though it sometimes seems so). This one bugged me because I just didn't believe they would be able to draw the conclusions I wanted them to draw. So, rather than leave things to chance in our multiple-choice world, here are just a couple of observations I'd like to make.

#1: A common topic of conversation was the relatively low technical content of the presentations.

Don't be alarmed. This is a common lament by nerds regarding most events like this. If we're not complaining that we've been to 12 sessions and nobody yet has shown us how to make the antigravity machine management has promised our customers, it wouldn't be a conference. Still, there might be some truth in here someplace. The general feeling was the dweebs in Marketing(TM) had hijacked the conference and ensured that the sessions selected and the topics allowed would not be too challenging to the attendees. You can almost hear the voices from the planning sessions long past, "we don't want to have things that would be too difficult for our audience."

If indeed this happened, let me give next year's planning committee a clue: nerds want to be challenged! Really. Really really. The average attendee probably spends $1,000 a day to attend JavaONE. Plus, each of us had to convince our management that missing a week of work was worth it. We're not in the office. We're not coding. We're costing the company $5K. It better be worth it. The first question we'll face when we return is not, "how was the After Dark party?", it will be, "how was the conference? Worth it?"

The way to make it worth it is to provide kick-butt technical content. Sandy, the other (and smarter) engineer in the house went to the No Fluff, Just Stuff conference last year (and yes, all I got was a lousy tee-shirt!). She's an exceptional engineer (IMHO) and she thought the No Fluff, Just Stuff people did a pretty good job of providing kick-butt technical content. JavaONE has competition. In these tight times, if a nerd can only have one boondoggle a year, they'll pick the one with the highest nerd-factor. JavaONE planners: think about that when choosing content next year.

#2: BOFs were too short. One hour won't cut it.

The BOFs had the opportunity to have higher technical content and those I attended did. But, they were way too short. One hour is not enough. Period. For some of us, this is the one time a year when we can get together with other people in our respective communities and really hammer some stuff out. Just about the time we got going in a couple of the BOFs I attended, time was up.

Again, in these tight-fisted times, nerds have to make choices. I'll give an example here: I went to the Jini/JavaSpaces BOF (which used to be two BOFs, by the way) and the time was so short we really couldn't get into the kind of exchanges the topic deserved. For Jini community people, there might be some allure in attending the Jini Community Meeting (the next one to be held in Chicago) where the BOF lasts 3 days. Might it be better to spend your boondoggle budget on two such trips per year rather than one to JavaONE?

Let me be clear, I think JavaONE is a terrific idea. I enjoyed my time there immensely. But, I was also frustrated by the sense that many of us had: that the marketing-types were careful to dumb it down so as to not intimidate anybody (hence the many comments I overheard about the level of technical content).

Some technical presentations deserved two hours. Some BOFs deserved two hours. Some presentations should scare the pants off you and make your head spin! After all, JavaONE is just one week a year. It should inspire and motivate us to use the other 51 weeks to learn about the stuff we've seen. That is what nerds want from JavaONE.

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