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The Degradation of Java Developers

On multiple occasions I was blogging about these legions of enterprise Java developers trained to use certain frameworks without understanding how things work under the hood. This morning I had chance to see it one more time after interviewing three job applicants in a row.

Our consulting company got a request for a well rounded Java developer with the knowledge of SQL. We have good reputation with this client, so I started screening the candidates, which I got from a recruiting agency.

First, about the resumes – each has several pages with detailed description of their work for various employers. Each resume had a list of technologies that the candidate supposedly know. Here’s the list of technical skills from a real resume:

Core Java, J2EE, JSP, JDBC, Servlets, AJAX, XML, HTML, XSLT, Web Services, CSS, JavaScript, SQL, Oracle 10g, MySQL 5.0., JMS,Eclipse, Adobe Flex Builder 3.x,UML, JDBC, SVN, JUnit, VSS, Jira, HTML, DHTML, CSS, AJAX, JavaScript, XML, MXML, Action Script, Servlet, JSP, JSTL, Hibernate 3.x, Spring 2.x, IBatis, SOAP, UDDI, WSDL, Apache Axis, Web logic Server 8.x, Apache Tomcat 5.0, Struts Framework, MVC, ANT, Maven.

Looks impressive… for those who haven’t been interviewing Java developers. I don’t want to say that this candidate is lying, but he wasn’t able to maintain a conversation about 80% of these technologies for more than 3 minutes. They’ve heard or even tried working with these technologies or tools, which is all that’s needed for adding them to the resume. What are the remaining 20% they can talk about? The frameworks. Most likely they will explain how to configure Struts or Spring, and even how to make Spring talk to Hibernate. BTW, they all love Hibernate cause it spares them from writing SQL, speaking of which, they know very little about this query language.

When I see all these Struts, Springs, and Hibernates on the resume I start with this, “Imagine, that you’re not allowed to use any frameworks. Explain in details the entire process of bringing the data from DB tables Customers and Orders to the Web page”. For most people it’s a killer proposition let alone writing some SQL queries…

One person had JQuery on the resume. I asked her, “Why did you use jQuery”…20 sec pause…”I like it, it’s nice!” That all I could pull out from her on the subject.

Two weeks ago I’ve attended a technical keynote at JavaOne in San Francisco. Brian Goetz was showing code samples of Lambda Expressions (a.k.a. closures) that will be introduced to Java 8 next year. This is a pretty advanced feature and proposed Java syntax is not for the faint of heart. I was thinking to myself, “Who’s going to use these closures in the enterprise Java world? 10% of the developers? 5%?”. Are these expressions being introduced just for fun cause it’s cool and other functional languages have them?

Software development industry is changing. It doesn’t need hackers anymore. It needs craftsmen who can configure and replace blocks of code when something stops working. Ideally, you should have in your team one Java expert who can actually understand the code of your application and can fix it not on the block level, but can drill down to a single line of the Java code. Somehow such people also know how to write a SQL outer joins, how to fix the broken build, and whatever else may come up.

A typical enterprise manager wants to increase the population of his software developers. Managing more people is the shortest way for moving up the career ladder. It is what it is. But if you are smart enterprise manager, make sure that for each dozen of framework programmers you have at least one real.

I already received a new resume for tomorrow’s 10AM interview. The resume looks the same. The only lines I read are the names of the former employers and projects. Any other written information is useless – the real picture will start developing tomorrow at 10AM.


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More Stories By Yakov Fain

Yakov Fain is a co-founder of two software companies: Farata Systems and SuranceBay. He authored several technical books and lots of articles on software development. Yakov is Java Champion (https://java-champions.java.net). He leads leads Princeton Java Users Group. Two of Yakov's books will go in print this year: "Enterprise Web Development" (O'Reilly) and "Java For Kids" (No Starch Press).

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