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Is Oracle Dumping Its Java Evangelists?

The rumors are flying about the fate of some of Oracle's top Java evangelists, thanks to a tweet and a Reddit thread picked up by the press last week. These rumors follow hot on the heels of the departure last month of Cameron Purdy, who served as senior vice president of Oracle's Cloud Application Foundation and Java EE group.

The Reddit discussion grew from a comment citing a Facebook post by Simon Ritter, evangelist on Oracle's Cloud Development team, which read:

"I've heard it said that you should try something new every day. Yesterday I thought I'd see what it was like to be made redundant. One month of 'consultation' and then I'll be joining the ranks of the unemployed claiming my job seekers allowance. To be fair, I was expecting this, but feel bad for the numerous other people on my team whom I don't think saw this coming...."

A number of names of the newly departed or soon-to-be-departing emerged during the Reddit discussion. I wasn't able to talk with them -- and Oracle isn't commenting -- so I won't post their names here. (But you can see them in the thread.) I was, however, able to connect with jClarity co-founder and CTO Kirk Pepperdine, who posted the tweet, which read:

I caught up with Pepperdine via e-mail. "I only stated what was pretty much public knowledge at [the time] it was tweeted," he told me. "I'm a little surprised that it's taken off as it has."

Pepperdine said he caught a hint that something was up in July at his company's annual jCrete conference. jCrete is an invitation-only, think-tank event that typically draws about 75 people. One of the sessions was on the end of the Java evangelism team and some thoughts on what direction Oracle is taking. "My understanding was Java evangelism was to become cloud evangelism," he said. "I didn't expect that people would be let go. My guess is that they were on a round of cutbacks, and evangelism is a soft target."

Pepperdine believes that Oracle has been good for Java in general, but at moments like this, it's clear that its interests don't always coincide with the interests of the Java community. "Oracle is a top-down CCC organization that is very much focused on the bottom line," he said. "The reality is, making money from core Java is plain difficult. Supporting core Java is very expensive. Making moves without properly priming the community has always been a problem in that it inevitably turns out to be a PR disaster. And that is a shame, because on the whole, Oracle has been a great steward of Java ...."

"This move away from evangelism appears to be an attempt to refocus the business people," he added. "However, Java didn't become a pervasive technology because of business people, it became the platform of choice because of developers."

Pepperdine's tweet generated a lively conversation about the health of Java. Among the many comments was this one from Gartner Inc. analyst Eric Knipp:

"This one actually makes sense. Why promote a dead platform?"

I asked Knipp what he meant by that. "I look at it like this," he explained in an e-mail. "The platforms that dominate greenfield application today, will be the dominant platforms of tomorrow. The majority of application development occurs in the creation of packaged software (and then the technologies from the software 'as a product' world move into the enterprise). Packaged software is in transition from COTS [commercial off-the-shelf] products to SaaS [Software as a Service]. This transition will take some time, but I don't think anyone can argue that it isn't happening. For many years, the default choice for new packaged software was the Java platform. Java is no longer the default choice, and hasn't been for at least five years. In fact, I'd argue that today Java isn't even the dominant choice -- that mantle is moving to other runtimes more suitable for massively distributed cloud-native architectures, like Node.js, Go, Erlang and so on.

"So if you come back to my original point -- platforms that dominate greenfield today will be the vibrant 'winning platforms' of tomorrow -- it ought to be concerning to Oracle (and Java enthusiasts in general) that its platform is no longer dominant. That portends the death of the platform in terms of relevancy to enterprise IT. Would it be more accurate to say 'Java is dying a slow death' or 'Java is the new COBOL?' Maybe, but the gist is the same."

Pepperdine's partner, Martijn Verburg, CEO of jClarity and co-leader of the London Java Users Group, argues that evangelists still play an important role in the Java ecosystem. He listed his reasons, which included, among others:

  • Shifting customers that run on Java enterprise solutions in-house to Oracle Cloud means getting Java developers on board. No evangelists? Can't do that as easily.
  • Oracle cloud middleware, and so on, has a strong Java core and customers need to understand the how, what, when and why of that.
  • Java, despite being the No. 1 or 2 language (depending on who you ask) today, is under serious competition in the enterprise, thanks to server-side Javascript (Node.js), as well as .NET being open sourced and being made available on Linux.
  • Emerging markets have millions of developers who can be influenced to go down a certain ecosystem. Oracle potentially will lose out on having any good will with the millions of new developers arriving in China, India, South America, Africa and so on.
  • Undoing a lot of good work that they'd done with the existing Java community, many of whom are paying customers, it was a long slog to get the two sides to see eye to eye and work together; this move brings back old fears and doubts.

For what it's worth, this looks like cost-cutting to me. Oracle hasn't exactly been killing it lately, and as Pepperdine said, evangelists are a soft target. And maybe Java no longer needs an army of preachers spreading the gospel.

Posted by John K. Waters on September 9, 2015