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286Discernment on the Shoulders of Giants

Author: Dr Heinz M. KabutzDate: 2020-11-30Java Version: AllCategory: Inspirational

Abstract: Today is the 20th anniversary of The Java Specialists' Newsletter. Time to sit back, relax, grab a coffee and wax lyrically about what makes Java so great (you) and how we can find great mentors in life.


Welcome to the 286th edition of The Java(tm) Specialists' Newsletter, sent to you from ... yes ... you guessed it ... Crete. It has been 275 days since my last flight, but we are healthy and enjoying the Cretan autumn. We have managed to harvest most of our olives and the oil is stored in large stainless steel barrels. My wife and I still run on Kalathas Beach most mornings, followed by a quick dip in the Cretan Sea. The water is getting cooler, but for someone from Cape Town, 19 degrees Celsius is almost bath temperature (Think Lewis Pugh). Let's see how long we can carry on for :-)

Twenty years ago this day, I sent out my first Java Specialists' Newsletter to 75 poor souls gleaned from my address book. Most of them stayed for a while. Some of them are still reading my writing, twenty years later. At least two from that list have unfortunately passed away. Others have retired.

My strategy was this: Write fun Java newsletters on advanced topics, targeting clever Java specialists, then wait. After a few years, these Java gurus would advance into senior management positions. If their company needed a Java consultant or wanted to upskill their Java programmers, they would call me. And they did.

The total number of readers stabilised a few years back. New readers sign up daily, but at roughly the same rate as older readers retire from programming. My newsletter has never been about massive numbers. What I find far more interesting is who is reading my newsletter: Java Champions, architects, leaders in our Java world. It is very humbling to think that this boy from South Africa who got a C for English in high school, has readers in 150 countries.

This newsletter is first of all a thank you to YOU, my dear reader. I sent out my first newsletter with fear and trepidation, expecting scorn and mockery. Some of my colleagues mocked me a bit - all in good fun - and not enough to make me stop. For twenty years the overwhelming response from my readers was kindness and encouragement. What an amazing community we have in the Java world!

And there is something for the younger ones among us, who are facing life and wondering how to get a foot up. Or the older ones needing a push in a new direction? Please visit our new self-study course catalog to see how you can upskill your Java knowledge.

Discernment on the Shoulders of Giants

Growing up, our family would sit around the dinner table, eat our meal and chat a bit. Three big boys, one little girl, and mom and dad. We did not own a television and there was no world-wide-web. My father would talk a lot, sharing interesting stories about life. My mother would tell my father to give us guidance so we could avoid making mistakes in life. And he would say: "No, unfortunately they will need to make their own mistakes and learn from them."

His stories were like parables of how to be self-employed. He spoke about everything from how to set prices, to customer service, to managing employees, to the importance of working hard. A couple of years ago I assembled the best of these into a short course to help whose wanting to start their own business. My primary motivation was to record this wisdom for my kids. Who knows? They might want to start their own businesses one day and some of their grandfather's wisdom might come in handy. My family has a long line of entrepreneurs and at least one of their companies still lives today.

My dad was saying for the umpteenth time "No, they must make their own mistakes", but that did not make sense to me. It was not an efficient way of living. Instead of making our own mistakes, why not observe others' mistakes and avoid them? And instead of learning from one person, why not from many?

My mission from a young age was to find mentors to help me succeed. These would be giants that had achieved something worth learning from. I hung on each syllable that came out of their mouths, taking careful note. And then I would look at their lives and decide which part was worth emulating. Discernment on the shoulders of giants.

As I continued along this path, I noticed an interesting trend. Every single one of my idols was deeply flawed. One might be thin and sporty, but also an alcoholic and mean to his family. Another might have a lot of money, but be stingy. I remember as a teenager sitting next to a wealthy gentleman in church who asked me for one Deutschmark to put onto the offering plate. (He only had big notes.) No matter how much wisdom someone possesses, their lives are a mess in some way. It is like eating fish. Keep the flesh but spit out the bones. Discern the good parts, and copy those.

As for me, I managed to avoid some of my dad's foibles (debt), but have some of the exact same faults (overweight), plus a lot of extra ones (not enough space to list them here). If we were keeping score of character faults, I would emerge the champion.

How does all this apply to our lives as Java programmers?

Well, we have a lot of heroes in our industry. And I am indebted to so many for their wisdom and guidance. The Java world has always been particularly generous. It started with Sun Microsystems giving us Java to use, for free. They even let us look at the source code. The culture of Sun Microsystems was generosity. When Oracle bought them, I feared this might stop. But it didn't. Oracle has continued allowing us to use Java and sharing knowledge with us. Even more so than Sun Microsystems. We have the Java Community Process (JCP), NetBeans and OpenJDK.

It is not only Oracle who is generous. The whole community shares that spirit. Each little town seems to sport its own Java User Group (JUG), led by volunteers. I have spoken at JUGs in A Coruña, Amsterdam, Bangladesh, Cape Town, Cologne, Darmstadt, Düsseldorf, Durban, Gdansk, Graz, Hannover, Heraklion, Karlsruhe, Ljubljana, Malaga, Manchester, Montreal, Nairobi, Niš, Paris, Skopje, The Hague, Thessaloniki, Warsaw, and Zürich. Plus of course the amazing VirtualJUG. Then there are the Java conferences, clustered mostly around Europe. These are usually non-profit events, with dozens of volunteers donating their time and energy putting it all together. Speakers share their knowledge for free. And yes, if you ever get invited to speak at one of the European Java conferences, do try to go. They treat their speakers like royalty.

There are Java programmers writing articles, recording free tutorials and helping the disenfranchised. My bookshelf is full of excellent Java books for which their authors got paid less than if they were flipping burgers.

I am waxing lyrically, but this is one top notch amazing superb community that we are part of.

I tried to explain The Java(tm) Specialists' Newsletter to my accountant. He didn't get it. What if we charge $1 per month subscription? Or $5? "No, it's free and I like it this way." He shook his head.

It is free, but the fringe benefits are enormous. First off, researching the ideas and doing the writing gives me great satisfaction. It is fun, especially when it flows. Writing articles for pay is not nearly as enjoyable. I would have writer's block right until the deadline. Each word would be excreted onto the page in agony. It was exhausting. The pay was good, but the satisfaction low.

Secondly, my writing has opened the door for so many other things. I have travelled to amazing countries and met thousands of Java programmers. Training was a little side show until I started writing. Suddenly everyone wanted the great Dr Kabutz (ROFL) to come teach Java design patterns or concurrency to their team.

Thirdly, it has allowed me to scale out new ideas with warp speed. A few years ago, I thought that it would be fun to have a Slack team to discuss Java. But I could not find one. So we started with a simple rule "be nice". Occasionally we need to point a recruiter to our #feeding-the-family channel. But other than that, the Java programmers are just that - nice. Love it. Within days we had thousands of members and have grown to a healthy community of over 11000. We might even be one of the largest Java Slack Teams in the world?

Fourthly, the way that the Java community rallies around JCrete is overwhelming. We have some of the top Java experts in the world come play in the sea and talk Java. Products and new ideas are born in between watermelon and tsikoudia. The best of JCrete are the attendees and their families. The staff at the Orthodox Academy of Crete venue always remark how happy and friendly we are. We collect money for computer equipment to donate to local schools by passing around a hat. We always exceed our targets in generosity. Have a look at our Twitter Photo Blockchain. That was cool.

That is what Java is all about.

Now about mentorship. I have had many mentors in my life. People that I looked up to and that influenced my way of thinking. I was fortunate in that my father was not shy to share his wisdom. But he was only part of the puzzle. Even if you did not have that advantage in life, there are many others that can help you achieve your dream. Look for them and let them inspire you. Listen with both ears to what they say and watch what they do. Very often the things they say do not match their actions. For example, there was a popular author who wrote about personal finance. He endorsed MLM as being a great way to learn about business. This was odd. The MLM folks I knew were spending more on their own products than they were earning. It took me years to realize that he was selling his books to people caught in MLM. So yeah, he wasn't lying, but he also was not telling the entire truth.

Another tip about mentorship. Don't only seek mentors in the Java world. Rather, look for mentors in other environments. You might find a mentor who has started a chain of restaurants. Or a real estate mogul. Or one that illustrates books for children. Someone like that is more likely to inspire you into a direction that is fresh and new. We once had our pastor help us add vision, clarity and focus to our Java business. He had not written a single line of Java code. That did not matter. Besides leading our church, he also had wide business experience and two business related masters degrees. Amazing man.

It is difficult to copy someone in your own industry, because you will always be compared to them. For example, any successful Java news podcast will always be weighed up against the amazing Java Posse Roundup. But if you get inspiration from outside, you can come up with truly innovative ideas.

For example, earlier this month my friend Nicholas Ingel spent a couple of hours chatting with me over coffee. We have known each other since we were teenagers. Nicholas runs an online gym and coaches our two older kids three times a week. (Highly recommend - check out Spend one hour with Coach Nick and you will see how motivated you are to exercise.). This year has been tough and Nicholas posed this question: "If you were 22 again and had all the resources and wisdom that you have now, what would you do about it?"

My mind went back. A 22 year old Heinz was impetuous, but also had an exceeding appetite for hard work. Coding all night was child's play. Younger Heinz also had a ton of hubris, much to the annoyance of his high school maths teacher. Mr Shapiro would say to him: "Heinz, you are being overconfident again." Then he'd write 99% and shrug.

Nicholas stirred my soul and that night was rough, remembering what a doofus that younger Heinz was. Many regrets. Nick knows nothing about Java programming. His skill stack is instructing gym and motivating people. He speaks to addicts at rehab centers and tries to help them change their lives. He's also a gold medal weight lifter, which happens to coincide with the colour of his heart.

The very next morning after dropping my kids at school I stopped at the beach and started recording a bunch of messages to my JavaSpecialists team. We were going to launch an online Java gym, where programmers could come to either exercise by themselves with my self-study courses, or join in live classes. To kick it all off, we would have 8 minute warm-up sessions every morning at 8am UTC for six weeks. These short sprints would be free, the full gym membership would be like any gym - paid.

I was impetuous and full of hubris again. Just like when I was 22. Hooray!

That afternoon we sent out invites on Slack, Twitter, and email. Thousands signed up and we have over 500 regulars showing up daily for their 8 minutes of Java fun. Some of my American friends set their alarm clocks for the middle of the night to attend. The sessions are not recorded, by design. It is new, exciting, innovative. I didn't copy anyone in the Java world.

And all this because of one inspiring person in a completely different industry. He lit a spark that is bringing learning and enjoyment to Java programmers around the world.

I hope that this newsletter inspires you too and that you will have a fantastic 2021. Here is to the next 20 years of The Java(tm) Specialists' Newsletter!

Kind regards


P.S. In case you still have money left in your training budget for 2020, take advantage of our black friday specials - valid until the 4th of December 2020.



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