I'm a Java Champion


On Monday, January 8th, I woke up expecting just another day. Little did I know that this would become a day etched in my memory forever. The day started with me helping my girls prepare for school. Once I settled into work and checked a few emails, I noticed a notification for a tweet mentioning me. At 8:46 AM, I received news from the Java Champions Twitter account; I had been named a Java Champion.

Java Champions Tweet

In this article, I'll share my story as it led to the title I now hold. If you're only interested in learning about the Java Champions program, feel free to skip to the end.

My Story

My story begins when I was a senior in high school in 1996, at the dawn of the internet era. My mother enrolled me in a typing class, much to my dismay. I remember telling her that I had no plans to become a writer or a secretary. Little did I know how significant that class would turn out to be. By the end of it, I had learned to type approximately 68 words per minute.

Shortly after graduation, my mother gave me an old computer. After making some upgrades, I got it up and running. This sparked my fascination with computers, how they were assembled, and the software that powered them.

My College Journey

As a landscaper, I was accustomed to hard work. My routine involved landscaping in the summer and plowing in the winter. Being out late in the cold was exhausting, and I grew to dislike it. Towards the end of one summer, I realized I needed a change, but I was unsure of my options. I had always enjoyed math, science, and mechanical engineering in high school, but without a scholarship or funds for college, it seemed out of reach.

Eventually, I discovered Remington College, a two-year technical college. I applied, got accepted, and started my journey. Although I don't remember the specifics of the financials, I recall the lengthy process of paying off my student loan.

During college, I learned about a programming language called Java. My classmates often complained about the complexity of starting with an Object-Oriented Language like Java instead of something simpler. But, naive and eager to learn, I embraced the challenge.

In March 2000, I graduated. While studying, I taught myself how to build web applications using HTML/CSS in FrontPage, eventually transitioning to Dreamweaver and learning ColdFusion. I found clients online and undertook side jobs building websites. My most significant project was for an online luggage retailer, for whom I built a complete e-commerce application.

Heading out West

I used my connections to join a California-based startup called Five9 as their seventh employee. My initial role was a level 2 support specialist, acting as a liaison between customers and engineers. As the company grew, I increasingly worked with engineers, helping to develop our primary product: call center software using VOIP.

I learned a lot in this role, particularly from repeatedly answering the same customer queries. This led me to develop training videos to address common problems. This was pre-YouTube era and, in hindsight, my first attempt to convert my knowledge into content to help others.

I also worked on a few of our websites that used Struts, which was my first exposure to a Java Framework and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Living in Oakland, near Berkeley College, I used my free time to expand my knowledge in Java and ColdFusion. I hired a tutor from Craigslist, a Berkeley TA, to deepen my understanding of the Java programming language. Concurrently, I explored web building using ColdFusion, which became a significant part of my early career.

I cherished my time at Five9 and living in the Bay Area. However, after two years, I was homesick and didn't see a long-term future there, so I decided to return to the Cleveland area.

Web Development Career

I started my career at a company called Letternine, which primarily focused on contract web development. They had a custom CMS built with ColdFusion for creating custom solutions for clients. As an integral part of a small team, I had the opportunity to work on some exciting projects. This is where I began engaging with the community, using an open-source blogging platform called BlogCFC. I frequently blogged about my work and developments within the ColdFusion community.

Later, I joined another company in the Cleveland area, STERIS. I undertook web development on various platforms, including our customer-facing website and an e-commerce platform written in Java + Oracle. My role involved a significant amount of integration with this platform. I stayed there for four years and greatly enjoyed my time.

Throughout my career in ColdFusion, I made some good friends in the community. One such friend was Jason Delmore, who used to be the product manager for ColdFusion. Jason moved to an insurance company called Markel as the Director of Technology and brought me into the organization. I worked on a few mission-critical applications and was part of the team that migrated some applications over to Java/Groovy/Grails. I had a great time working there, and I still have some close friends from that period. During my stint at Markel, I got married, and I was fortunate to have Jason at my bachelor party and Jason, Sam, and Lance at my wedding.

Coding Bootcamp

After about 15 years of coding, I sought a new challenge. Having coded for so long, I began pondering the next steps. While some transition into management, I discovered a different path. I learned about a new coding bootcamp, Tech Elevator, which had just started in the Cleveland area. I was already familiar with them, having participated in panel discussions and meetup groups they held.

Interestingly, I found out that the co-founder, David, and I attended the same high school. The world is indeed small.

I joined them as a Curriculum Developer, tasked with developing course content for both instructors and students. This role allowed me to utilize my content creation skills. I learned a lot from David and my colleagues, greatly improving my technical writing skills. Occasionally, I also taught in the classroom, sharing the knowledge I had included in the curriculum.

However, the most rewarding part of this experience was the lives we helped transform. Witnessing students from all backgrounds enter our program and depart with a new career they were genuinely excited about was truly amazing. The daily interaction with the students made coming to work exhilarating.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Despite Tech Elevator's successful transition to a remote program, it wasn't the same for me. Hence, I decided to seize another opportunity.

Enterprise Java Architect

I took a position as an Enterprise Java Architect at a company called Briebug. By the time I left, I had been promoted to Principal Architect. In this role, I worked for one of the world's largest logistics companies, with many responsibilities. I worked on several mission-critical systems that processed millions of transactions per hour. These systems were distributed and built on Java, Spring Boot, Spring Cloud, among other projects in this ecosystem. I also interviewed potential Java and Spring candidates and helped develop our interview process. Despite my enjoyment of the work and my colleagues, I decided to take a new opportunity when my dream job came calling.

Spring Developer Advocate

I first learned about an opening in the Developer Advocacy team at VMware from a friend. They were specifically looking for an advocate for Spring, a role that seemed perfect for me. I had been an unofficial Spring advocate for some time, having worked with and taught Spring, so this was my dream job.

Securing this position was not straightforward and required a six-month process. However, as the saying goes, nothing worth having comes easily. Eventually, I was hired as a Spring Developer Advocate. This new role allowed me to educate our customers and the community through various mediums. I was tasked with producing YouTube videos, writing technical articles about Spring Ecosystem projects, speaking at conferences, and more.

Being actively involved in the Java community for the past two years has significantly contributed to my receipt of the Java Champion award. I genuinely enjoy what I do every day, and I never take that for granted.

Thoughts on my Career

At no point in my career have I been coasting. I've always wanted to do this, but it hasn't been easy. Every step of my journey has required extensive learning, late-night coding sessions, and failure. Success has never come easily, which is why I have a deep appreciation for it. This experience has also fostered a sense of respect for my peers and empathy towards them, as I understand the challenges they have faced.

I have a deep passion for learning and teaching others. I hope to continue this throughout my career.

What is a Java Champion?

So, that's my story. With this context, you might understand why I'm so thrilled about this title being bestowed upon me. It's a result of my hard work throughout my career.

You might be wondering, what is a Java Champion? This is someone who advocates for the Java programming language within the community. They can do this through various mediums such as writing books, speaking at conferences, contributing to open-source projects, and more. There is an insightful quote from the JavaOne Conference in 2009 that I believe aptly describes a Java Champion:

"The Java Champions community was started by Sun at the 2005 JavaOne conference to recognize key influencers in the Java community. Java Champions are influential Rock Star presenters and Java technology educators, authors, and consultants; Java platform event organizers; and others within the Java technology ecosystem. For the third consecutive year, Java Champions have contributed to the JavaOne conference process as technical reviewers for paper submissions, have been recognized for their achievements, and have shared their thoughts about the state of the Java platform at their BOF sessions.”

Oracle currently oversees the Java Champions Program but does not vote on who is awarded this title. Becoming a Java Champion requires nomination by a current champion, followed by a voting process. I won't delve into the details of that process just yet. The Java Champions Program comprises some of the most talented individuals in our community, so being nominated and voted in by them is truly an honor.

Out of the 10-14 million Java developers worldwide, I am the 385th to be named a Java Champion. This recognition makes all my hard work over the years worth it. Many people have asked me what benefits come with being a Java Champion. Besides receiving a nice polo and jacket, which I will proudly share once I receive them, the most significant benefit is the recognition that comes with the title. I will wear this recognition like a badge of honor throughout my career.

What’s Next?

The reward for hard work is often more hard work. Through this nomination process, I've gained some insights. Firstly, I need to create a space to keep track of all my career achievements. It's important to remember the work that has shaped my career. Consequently, I plan to create a page to showcase my career highlights.

Secondly, I've realized that despite writing for my blog and newsletter, I aspire to contribute more to other publications. One of my long-term goals is to write a book, but I am not ready for that just yet. Instead, I aim to write for other outlets this year, with some projects already underway.

Lastly, I want to be more involved in the Java Community. I'm exploring ways to achieve this, and it will certainly be a focus for me this year and in the future.

Thank you

I want to express my gratitude to everyone who reached out to me with such kind words. I have read all of your messages and sincerely appreciate your sentiments. My hope is to carry this title with honor and to serve the Java community well.

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