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James Gosling on Java, May 2001
A Conversation with Java's Creator, James Gosling
by Bill Venners
First Published in JavaWorld, June 2001

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Community Design Process

Bill Venners: Two years ago, I asked you how the proliferation of network-connected embedded devices was going to change software, and you said, 'you can't sit alone in a room anywhere and write software. It's more of a social thing.' I've recently been involved in the Jini community, defining the process of how standard APIs will be agreed upon. In the very early days of Java, you were the benevolent dictator. And now the Java Community Process is running that show.

James Gosling: Right. These days I'm the fly on the wall.

Bill Venners: From your perspective, as the fly on the wall then, is there anything you could relate to us in the Jini community about process? What has worked in the Java Community Process? What hasn't? What can be improved?

James Gosling: One of the most important things is the notion of a reference implementation. The ink isn't dry on a spec until somebody has built it.

One continuing problem is the tension between having a bunch of engineers in a room designing and the organizations with their political agendas that turn it into this competitive marketing thing that quickly becomes dysfunctional. Generally, if the engineers can just sit down and do their thing, the end result will be higher quality. Then there's this problem that the word 'quality' has a point of view because various industrial concerns tend to look at it and say, 'well, it's not perfect for me.'

Bill Venners: I see. I don't know if it was Ron Goldman and Dick Gabriel, the guys who wrote the first draft of the Jini constitution, or where it came from, but from Jini's beginning there were two houses. One's a commercial house, which represents people who have invested real money in the technology. They want to have a voice in its evolution. And the other house is nerds. They simply care about technology -- they are the designers in a room. For a spec to be approved, it has to pass both houses. It's like an experiment to keep an appropriate balance of commercial and technical concerns. I'm not sure how well it will work.

James Gosling: It's pretty hard, but certainly the computer industry is filled with examples of places where the only people in the room were really the politicians, and the bits of technology that came out were really goofy. It's hard. I wish there was a nice answer, but anytime you have more than one person in the room, politics is everywhere.

Bill Venners: It becomes politics. Even in the room of engineers, you have to deal with personalities.

James Gosling: Yes. That's one of the things they never teach in school, and it ends up being the hardest part of any engineer's job -- the whole interpersonal thing. No matter where you are, you're dealing with people.

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