Interview for a magazine in October 2015

01 – From the background material I have, I understand that you are founder and founding Java champion of the first JUG in Brazil, DFJUG in Brasilia, the nation’s capital, about 20 year ago.

– To answer your question I need to tell you a bit about DFJUG’s history, at least the way I saw it.

Yes, Brasilia is the capital of Brazil which follows the same idea of Washington DC, so the state name is Distrito Federal (Federal District). So DFJUG means Distrito Federal Java User’s Group.

Since 1982 I worked with my good friend Rainer Brockerhoff who introduced me initially to the Apple II and later to the first Macintosh – the 128K model, which eventually I “inherited” ;-) I spent two years in Paris studying at the “Apple Developer University”. In 1994 he invited me to help him create a Macintosh User Group – MUG in Belo Horizonte (Brazil). At the time I had no idea what an UG was, but it seemed to be a good idea and I accepted. The project did not take off for several reasons, but what I learned eventually opened the doors for me to work at the Apple “Developer Resource Center (DRC)” in São Paulo (Brazil).

At the DRC I worked many many layers below “chief evangelist” Guy Kawasaki, where I learned about the disruptive Macintosh “cult”, how to help programmers produce insanely great products and the strategic importance of creating strong links between developers and the IT companies, which is financially good for both sides. It was my UG school!

Retracing DFJUG’s history I believe we can pinpoint its origins to San Jose, during 1995 WWDC. At that time I worked for Apple’s DRC and was participating at this conference, learning about Macintosh User Groups, when I first heard about this new language. Java proved to be a huge diversion of what should have been a meeting to discuss the new System 7 operating system for the Mac. Everybody only spoke about Java, which had been released on the previous month (May, 23, 1995). It was a crazy environment, we had talks about this language even… in the toilets. Curious, I tried to figure out what this strange “animal” was about, which everyone saying that it would be THE next big revolution, a disruptive technology. Deeply impressed, it was like my first love and decided to dedicate my career (my professional life) to this new language.

DFJUG wasn’t my idea, the inspiration came from Luci Campos. Inspired by a dream that Luci had to create a group to learn Java in a collaborative way. Because of my experience with the Apple User Groups, and then living in Brasilia, I was invited to create the DFJUG, which was “officially” founded on the second Saturday of February 1998. It took us about two years to start to ramp up all the activities involved in the creation of this type of community. We have a colleague that often says: Luci dreamed and we all have to do the delivery :-)

Our group has always been involved in community social projects, our vocation has always been to teach Java, when possible free of charge or, at least, token prices. At our technical meetings we always ask for a “contribution” of milk powder, which is donated to charity causes we support.

For instance, JEDI, our complete Java engineering course, has trained more than 47,000 new developers since 2005 for free, in very underprivileged environments of social exclusion such as slums, favelas, in the seven countries where Portuguese is spoken. Since 2011 we have had a team of volunteers working on localizing to Portuguese the Greenfoot environment, that aims to teach children to program Java, through games.

The Java Champion part came later, when Sun Microsystems decided to create the Java Champion program, in June 2005. I participated in the founding committee with great humbleness, and at the same time terrified, because I attended this committee with my personal heroes: people like James Gosling and other luminaries of the Java world. The invitation to participate in this founding group, came after my JavaOne presentation about the Rybená project. I was teaching Java for the deaf (DFJUG’s JavaS program) and my students and I decided to create a Java project, using mobiles, to translate text to LIBRAS (the BRAzilian Sign Language).

02 – That was at the very beginning of Java, wasn’t it?
– Yes, it happened that I was in the right place at the right time, when the Java revolution started. I was inspired by that magic moment, when I felt that the world would be completely different, and I was right.

03 – What programming languages and technologies were you using before?
– I wrote my first “hello world”, which obviously did not work, in 1974 :-) So, I’m a computing dinosaur! I began programming in the Pleistocene era, in the last century, punching cards in Fortran, then C, C++ and since 1995 Java. Oh, before you start doing the math, I have been bit twiddling for more than 41 years!

04 – What inspired you to turn to Java?
– I wasn’t happy with the performance and complexity of C++, I was looking for something more elegant and simple… Java.

05 – Why did you consider Java a better alternative?
– In 1995 I would say it was the simplicity and ease of learning. Today, as a JUG Leader and Java teacher, concerned with the career of my students, I believe it is the employability. Regardless of where you live in the world, Java developers always have a guaranteed job.

06 – Brazil has a large number of JUGs and Java appears very successful in the IT space in that country. Can you tell me why Brazilian developers took to Java so enthusiastically?

– Again, I believe is employability for the Java developer, the job opportunities and high salaries, well above the market. Several factors contributed to the success of Java in Brazil. The most important one was the adoption of Java by a big governmental bank, and its impact on the entire national financial system, immediately after the launch of language in 1995. In parallel, another important factor was the choice by the Brazilian government in favor of adopt free/libre open source, which eventually dragged all corporate market.

07 – How did/do organizations like DFJUG help promote Java in Brasil?
– The primary function of JUGs is to promote the platform through: voluntary based, free of charge, monthly presentations, annual meetings, dynamic discussion lists, disclosure of technical innovations in social networks, and full support to the developer.

The most fascinating thing I learned in all these years of activism in the JUG ecosystem is that, independently of the country (and Brazilian JUGs are no different), all 365 worldwide JUGs behave in the same way. They all have the same activity patterns, always focusing on supporting members professional development.

08 – Is DFJUG still active?
– Oh yes, DFJUG is fully active. For instance, we participated in the 20 years Java celebrations Brazilian roadshow. Now, we have started planning our birthday party: in February next year we will celebrate our 18th anniversary.

09 – How many Java programmers do you think there are in Brazil?
– Last year, according to surveys there were 350,000 developers in Brazil, and 33% were Java programmers. But one thing I’m sure of, namely that Brazil has 10% of all JUGs communities worldwide, about 90,000 members. I wrote a long article about this subject in “Brazilian Java History” on my Blog.

10 – I understand you are in the U.K. now. Is that correct?
– Yes, I’m in the UK for four years, while I study for my PhD at the University of Kent, with a scholarship from the Brazilian Government (Science Without Borders program).

11 – If so, what are you doing there?
– I’m pursuing my long-term dream. All these years of activism taught me that JUGs are social phenomena. They look like Communities of Practice, Discussion Lists, Computer Supported Collaborative Learning – CSCL and Social networks. It’s all of this together, …but different. I believe it’s something new, it’s network learning in the 21st century. I understand JUGs are teaching/learning machines, so my goal is to understand how our communities learn. I published an academic article about this theme, here.

12 – I’ve heard you are pursuing a PhD—is that correct?
– Yes, you are right.

Because of my engagement with the JUG ecosystem some years ago I felt the need and decided to go back to college for a second degree, this time in education. My goal was to learn how to teach Java better and, professionally, to improve the quality of our social programs, like JEDI, JavaS (blind & deaf students) and later training street children in Java programming.

I found some answers in this degree but I still couldn’t find all answers to what I was looking for. So in 2003 I decided to do a master’s degree in Knowledge Management, when I wrote the dissertation “Communities of practice: a study of Brazilian Java User Groups”. More knowledge, but still no answer.

Now the Doctorate drove me to discover that now I have much more knowledge about this fascinating field… and I’m still far from having the definitive answer. How do JUG members learn? I just need more time, teaching/learning processes are a hard topic. Programming Java is much easier. OK, that’s no problem at all, I am only 62 years old!

13 – What are your plans going forward?
– To finish my PhD. After that I will continue studying this amazing subject, contributing. To come to England to study, I did the same as Cortez did when he invaded Mexico: I burned my ships to avoid dreaming about the past. I no longer have a house, a car, a job, my loved dog, only my dear wife who is always kicking my, not to stop, keep going and helping people. It’s a mission.

14 – I’ve read some of the posts on the DFJUG blog and it seems some user groups in Brazil come and go.
– This is something that I learned in my doctorate. Throughout my research I found that JUGs don’t die, all over the world they just … hibernate.

Unfortunately JUGs are very centred on the person of the JUG Leader. Nobody wants to be the Leader, volunteer members happily support all activities as coordinators, moderators, facilitators. However, nobody wants to carry on the flag. Nobody wants to carry this “piano”. It’s heavy, lots of insane work and responsibility to do it for free, as a volunteer. Eventually JUG Leaders change jobs, decide to change to other technologies, they become tired, decide to have children, and even die. In this situation JUGs slowly stop their activities, and go into hibernation. But one day someone completely different (not linked to the previous managing group) bothered with this stagnation decides to take up the flag and carry on the group again. I have seen this happening many many times, in many different places around the world. One JUG has passed through this situation three times, and is managed today by a very active leader. Today it’s one of top JUGs in the world.

15 – What can be done to promote and keep JUGs in Brazil and around the world as vital members of the Java community?
My main message to the JUG community, for this 20th Java anniversary, is: “Look around you… there’s a world surrounding your JUG… a world of JUGs”.  We are 365 JUGs in 88 countries, with 900,000 members but due to our daily activities we are always too busy in our own communities, looking at our own navels, and losing the opportunity to witness the fantastic activities that other JUGs are performing around us every single day.  My message is simple: follow other JUGs, retweet their information to your own community to give them much more information, more technical knowledge, better skills, to increase your members’ employability and collaboratively empower them.

I’m a geek, since childhood I’ve always been involved with gadgets, which naturally led me to study physics at college. It took a lot of time to realize that technology is cool, but it’s only a tool. In the User Groups ecosystem, technology is important. However, people are the main reason of its existence. If you don’t like people, don’t start a technical community. You need to love people in order to have a successful JUG.

Finally, in these 20-year career, Java has given me everything. A career, opportunity to meet fascinating people, some have become lifelong friends, voyages around the world, a second degree, a specialisation, master’s, doctorate, and it even affected my marriage, with the woman who is the idealizer of DFJUG. Java gave me a lifetime!

Logo DrJUG
Logo DrJUG

JUG Leader / Founding Java Champion / Duke’s Choice Award