User Groups: Java changing the world, one line at a time!

Picture this: your VERY IMPORTANT PROJECT is already over the deadline, and your solutions aren’t working; your boss is breathing down your neck every 5 minutes; you cycle futilely between “Dilbert” cartoons, search engines, impostor syndrome, feelings of helplessness and hacking about in all directions; nothing breaks the deadlock. Finally, a colleague tells you to check with the local User Group and… it works! This happens all the time, all over the world.

Technically speaking, the primary function of a Java Users Group – JUG is to promote the platform and fully support the developer through volunteer work. A JUG generally is independent of vendor, free of charge, conducts monthly presentations, annual meetings, have dynamic discussion lists, disclose technical information, and broadcast community novelties on social networks. Cool, isn’t it, but how does that works?

To answer this basic question, this article will tackle some different, sometimes strange, aspects to understand the JUG ecosystem and governance: structure, statistics about the population, the importance to focus on people not on technology, the life & death of communities, JUGs as learning engines and the importance of increasing the participation of our groups on the society.

User Groups structure

JUGs (virtual or physical) are basically structured in four layers:

DegreeParticipationfigure 0

1 – The Core Group, that is the JUG Leader, coordinators, moderators, mentors, facilitators, who are responsible for the group governance, the social aspects of the community. Also in this group, for the technical aspects, we have the Gurus, the thought leaders, the well-respected practitioners, experts whose knowledge and reputation are the brain trust and who help legitimize the community.

2 – The active members of the community are the reason for the existence of the group. They are the regular participants in the activities of the group, they are the users who contribute (at least once a year) to face-to-face meetings and/or to online activities associated with the group; and they only represent 15% of the community.

3 – Peripheral members: They are the Lurkers (they don’t visibly participate) and represent around 80% of the community. As a form of membership, the Lurkers are a very important element on the UG ecosystem. They are not the free-riders, and/or the heavy burden to the community as some leaders usually think (at least I did it a lot!). They are the large, silent majority of users.

They don’t participate because they feel uncomfortable about posting their thoughts. After reading some uglier flames, the tone and hostility in public forums some Lurker’s comments from the web some were compiled. Here, Julia gives her testimony: “I am afraid to post because the incredible arrogance and hostility among some people on sites like this.” “I’d like to learn Linux, but I don’t get the feeling that these people would help me. They would just make me feel stupid.”

Mason said: “people who lurk do so because they do not fell competent to post.” JUGs are a naturally social interactive “Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning” – CSCL space, however we observe that Lurkers don’t participate because they are self protecting, and even some of them are introverts. Healthy JUGs are the groups that understands what Lurkers want, naturally accept them as a reality and create an acceptance space, so this vast silent majority can feel welcomed, comfortable and protected by the community.

In “The Strength of Weak Ties”, analysing social networks like our User Groups, the author brings another interesting interpretation of these peripheral members, showing that they are important because they bring novelties to the community. Some Lurkers could be lurking on several groups and be active in other(s), observing, learning, looking for interesting information to bring to it’s own community. In this case, Lurkers are the “Innovation Vectors” because, having weak ties to a group and, no hard attachment to any community, sometimes participating in several JUGs, they are the bridge transporting information between groups.

So, if you run into a problem and need solid information, important advise, support, look for people in the core group where the knowledge is clustered. If you need fresh ideas, innovation, look for the people in the periphery.

4 – Outsiders. As we learn from X Files, the truth is out there. They are not members, but they are a very important component of the community. They are the external visitors, invited speakers sometimes from other JUGs, or industry specialists employed as Evangelists. All come to “spread the word” on relevant or new aspects of the technology. They are the “alpha-geeks”, the “powerful globe-trotting information brokers” who, as itinerant practitioners, circulating worldwide, spread and synchronize technical knowledge for a global common understanding. In this process of cross-pollination, they take the role of “Bees” sharing knowledge into the community and, making the bridge between different groups.

User Groups Demography

Seeking in several sources on the internet, we find 367 JUGs all over the world, and 894,000 members, and interestingly we observe that they behave exactly the same way, regardless of geography, gender, religion or physical differences.

Other authors and researchers have analysed the Open Source and Lua developer communities in California Bay Area, Brazil, India, and compared these with the Java ecosystem. They concluded that those groups all had a similar makeup by age, culture and gender, comparable to the results described above for Brazilian JUGs.

This is, in part, due to the use of the same material resources, and shared culture/symbols and discourses/meanings which emerge because the different groups are “facing similar problems, but solving them in similar ways, relying on the same set of concepts, calling relevant objects by the same names, and making many of the same jokes along the way.”

All these academic works led us to think that we can generalize, that the data from Brazilian JUGs (see BOX) might be applied to the Java community worldwide. To confirm this statement we began to look on Twitter, where we found that 77% of all JUGs around the planet use this social media tool to broadcast their messages (Figure 1), as shown in this video.

BOX

Between 2001-2004 several Brazilian National Java Surveys were held involving 38 national JUGs and about 1,200 participants. The composition of the Brazilian JUGs at that time was quite young (44% aged 19-24, 34% aged 25-30) and predominantly male (91%). 88% had college degrees, but 48% learned Java self-taught and 68.3% didn’t have any certification.

The participants were all professional developers are who used Java in their daily work (68%), mostly SO Windows (75%) and Eclipse IDE (63%). Is important to emphasize that that 91% of respondents agreed with the statement that learning was their main motivation for participation in JUGs, and this is important because highlights the importance of JUGs as a learning space.

Similarly in 2015, during the Java 20th year celebration in Brazil, Fabiane Nardon, a fellow computer scientist and Java Champion, inferred from online behavioural analysis that the community has aged (now 25% aged 12-19 and 44% aged 33-60), but not changed significantly in gender makeup (88% male) and is still highly educated. On the other hand Windows dropped to 40%, Linux has the same 22% as 10 years ago, and Mac emerged with 18%.

Twitter World

Figure 1: 3 in every 4 JUGs use Tweeter to communicate with its members

The geographic distribution by continents (Figure 2) and countries (Figure 3) shows us that we find JUGs in 78 different countries.

Continent

JUGs

Africa

25

Asia

50

Europe

140

Latin America

47

North America

79

Oceania

09

 JugContinent

Figure 2: In all world’s 6 continents were located: 7% of JUGs are in Africa, 14% in Asia, 40% in Europe, 13% in Latin America, 23% in North America and 3% in Oceania.

It should also be noted either that only 8 countries, which have more then 10 JUGs, represent 56% of all groups in the world (121 JUGs), as shown in Figure 3. Countries with more than 10 JUGs are: 4 are in Europe (Italy, Poland, France and Germany), 2 are in Asia (Japan and India), Brazil in Latin America and USA in North America. USA alone have more than the double of groups of the second place (Brazil).

Top JUG > 10

JUGs

 Pizza top Jugs Country

United States

68

Brazil

30

Germany

28

France

20

India

14

Japan

12

Italy

12

Poland

11

Rest of World

121

Figure 3: 8 countries with more than 10 JUGs represent 56% of all world distribution: 19% in United States (Purple), 9% in Brazil, 8% in Germany, 6% in France, 4% in India, 3% in Japan, 3% in Italy, 3% in Poland, and 121 world JUGs represents 44% (dark Blue).

Since the first Tweet from TulsaJava on May 31, 2008 until August 2015, 160,178 tweets were collected and produced a map (Figure 4), which shows the transfer of shared Java knowledge between JUGs.

JUG world networkFigure 4: On the right, the graph shows the JUG world network, Java information flowing between connected JUGs.  On the left side of the graph, JUGs hibernating and (bottom) some active but isolated groups.

People not technology

When we start a Java User Group our goal must always be to “transform people”, change their lives one line at a time, support our members in their needs, create a friendly and amazing experience for knowledge sharing.

Well, I'm a geek, and since childhood, I've always been involved with all types of gadgets, wires, bits and bytes. This is the environment where I felt comfortable and had fun, which naturally led me to study science at college. Later, when we started our JUG, the idea was provide to our community with the same joy we have programming, learn from and with them, share our discoveries. Talking with other JUG Leaders around the world we find that this  is a common experience. It's interesting when we discover how many JUG Leaders were boy scouts (some still are). We started as a Java Certification Study Group, all technical stuff, only bits & bytes. It took us a lot of time to realize that technology is cool, however, people are the main reason for the JUG's existence. In other words, if you don't like people, please don't start a User Group, you will fail miserably.  You need to LOVE people in order to have a successful JUG. Shocked? Don't get me wrong here, the necessity of this fundamental love was learned from an übergeek, a Nobel prize candidate talking about biochemistry of cells networks.

How to built a healthy community? Well, this is the million dollar question and the answer is …with PASSION. The JUG Leader is important, although s/he can’t do all necessary work alone. Everything is a teamwork, is the passion of the core group that makes the JUG healthy. If you want your group to survive, you need to love your community with passion, and your energy will be an inspiration, will infuse this ecosystem and developers will come, because they feel value in your actions, and will follow your dreams. It is a virtuous cycle, the Long Tail, the Matthew effect where the rich tend to get richer and more developers you attract more will come. I know it, we created a JUG with 47,000 members.

However, the most fascinating thing learned in all these years of activism in the JUG ecosystem is that, independently of the country, religion, race, gender or culture, all JUGs worldwide behave the same way. Incredibly they all exhibit the same patterns, always focusing on support for the members necessities. As John Gage once said, in one of the first JavaOnes, talking to an international multicultural community: don’t be ashamed, here we all speak… Java.

JUGs Life & Death

Keeping the JUG daily dynamic is hard. You need to embrace a lion every day and, unfortunately, not all JUGs will survive. (Sorry it’s no longer politically correct to “kill” lions, even rhetorically ;-)

For instance, today we have 30 active JUGs in Brazil, but in the last 20 years we lost 27 groups, and we see this phenomenon happening all over the world. What are the reasons for this death rate of 50%? For me this number is shocking! Could the causes of the disappearance of these groups be present in our own community?

Unfortunately JUGs are very dependent on the person of the JUG Leader, but people who want to lead are rare. Volunteer members of your community will happily support all activities you ask for… as coordinators, moderators, mentors, facilitators however, they don't want to carry the flag. Nobody wants to carry this “piano”, it's heavy, lots of insane work, and responsibilities, and it must be done on a volunteer basis.  Eventually JUG Leaders become tired, change jobs, decide to change to other technologies and to have children. In this situation JUGs slowly stop their activities, and enter a latent phase. The group is there, neither alive nor dead, just hibernating. However, one day someone completely different (not linked to the previous original managing group), bothered by this situation of non activity, decides to pick up the flag and carry on the group again. This phenomenon can be seen in several different places around the world, even in one JUG that has passed through this situation three times; today this group is managed by a very active leader, and has become one of top JUGs in the world.

The goal of a successful community is to reach the Harmonization, when the opinion of the Leader and members are in sync, they are in harmony. You can measure the rate of “health” of your group, its success/fail factor, eventually its life or death, making the experience shown here. Leaders need to have a “crystal ball” to “read” what Lurkers (around 80% of the community) are demanding from the JUG, without actually hearing what they say. Some leaders do, others fail, it’s hard!

JUGS are Teaching/Learning Machines

Communication is the process of transferring knowledge, and this process creates learning. Social network learning happens through very simple and well known instruments in our JUGs: face-to-face periodic technical meetings, discussion lists, personal or community blogs, common shared jokes, articles in news aggregators (books, magazines, etc…), chats, e-mails exchanged between members, videos on YouTube. Newsletters and social media (like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, StackOverflow and GitHub) advertising common activities, offers of training, employment and best practices connect us to our community.

Through all these knowledge transfer tools we create a diversity of learning opportunities through experiences, ideas and facts, and it’s what JUGs provide.

We learn by sharing virtual or physical conversations (text or voice), making connections with other people. When we organize our thoughts through dialog, we make connections between concepts, develop abstract ideas and then, we learn.

All these years of activism have taught me that JUGs are a social phenomenon. It's something new, it's network learning in the 21 century. JUGs are a teaching/learning machines. So, the goal is to understand how our communities learn. A paper about this subject, JUGs as learning machines, can be read here.

Social responsibility of JUGs

Communities are inherent part of our life. As social beings we participate in collective activities as companies, clubs, schools, churches, sports activity groups and sometimes we discover with surprise that out of the 367 JUGs around the world some “go the extra mile”, because THE JAVA COMMUNITY CARES.

Developers are always thinking about how to change the world and, as JUG members, we have a natural tendency to share, participate and support group activities, because our community is a natural environment for collaboration. So, why not harness this synergy to do society work as well?

JUGs have been doing social work and supporting their communities for 20 years like, charging canned food as a form of admission to meetings, to be donated to food banks (milk powder cans for orphanages) or exchanging technical presentations for clothing donations. Teaching kids Java for free, always receives enthusiastic support of colleagues, and some groups “go the extra mile” conducting educational activities in underprivileged communities or teaching Java to deaf, blind and wheelchair users, like the work of five groups: JUG Sardegna (Italy) with Jug4Avis, DFJUG (Brazil) with JEDI, GreenFootBR, Rybe and BeJUG, BruJUG and WaJUG (Belgium) for Devoxx4Kids. There musty be many other initiatives. Why not share with all what our groups are doing?

On the other hand, many JUGs don’t have any external social activity, not because they are selfish, simply because nobody there thought about this possibility. Maybe showing what JUGs are doing in their communities can inspire other to do the same.

There’s a world surrounding your JUG

Today, no matter where you go, you will find people head down oblivious to the surrounding world, typing, communicating with their peers, sharing knowledge in their favourite social media tool.

JUGs must be where their members are and, if they are on social media, then we must go there too. Everybody knows that there is a lot of knowledge flowing around the Web and JUGs are no different. There is a lot of Java knowledge being offered daily on social media.

We are 367 JUGs in 88 different countries, however, due to our daily activities we are always too busy with our own community work, looking at our own navels, and losing the opportunity to witness the fantastic opportunities other JUGs are offering around us, every single day.

Connect your group with the world, …the JUGs’ world. Follow other groups, retweet their messages, share your knowledge, it’s cool, a lot of fun knowing what our colleagues are creatively doing in different corners of the world and your members will be learning other subjects, which might not be offered by your group. “The network is the computer” was the mantra in 1984, now, for us it should be “The network is the JUG”.

Logo DrJUG
Logo DrJUG
DrJUG
JUG Leader / Founding Java / Java Champion / Duke Choice Award
daniel@drjug.inf.br
Brasil