Behind the NFJS Java Conference Tour w/ Jay Zimmerman

NFJS JVM & Java conference seriesWe sat down with Jay Zimmerman, creator of the NoFluffJustStuff JVM & Java Conference series. We talked a lot about his philosophy; specifically what prompted Jay to create this Java Conference series (and subsequent destination shows), how he has the attendee-centric focus differentiates it from other conferences.

Full Transscript

[background music]

Michael Carducci:

You’re listening to the “No Fluff, Just Stuff” podcast. The JVM & Java Conference series with dozens of dates around the country, and there’ll be one near you. Check out our tour dates at nofluffjuststuff.com.

Hey everybody, this is Michael Carducci. We are reaching about the halfway point in the 2016 No Fluff, Just Stuff tour. We’re gearing up for UberConf, which is our flagship event. It is a seriously intense tech event. We have 161 sessions. We have 10 concurrent tracks.

We have almost a dozen full-day workshops, 20 plus half-day workshops. We start at 7:30 AM. We finish at 10 o’clock at night. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart. It’s for the serious software practitioner who really wants to master their craft, and continue to be a master of their craft even as the entire landscape of our industry is changing.

I had the chance to sit down and talk with Jay Zimmerman, the creator of the No Fluff, Just Stuff Java Conference tour, about just that. About UberConf, the entire No Fluff series, the history, how it came to be, and some of the philosophy.

Enjoy this opportunity to sit down with Jay Zimmerman and learn a little bit about the tour, but if you are interested in UberConf, it’s rapidly approaching. The early bird is about to end. June 20th is the end of the early bird rates, if you want to take advantage of that. To learn more about UberConf, go to uberconf.com. To learn more about the NFJS tour around the country, go to nofluffjuststuff.com.

On with the podcast!

[music]

Michael:

Good morning. We’re here in South Florida, at the ArtConf. I’m joined by the man himself, Mr. Jay Zimmerman.

Jay Zimmerman:

Thank you, Michael. It’s always good to be back in Fort Lauderdale, and we’re happy to be here at ArtConf. This is our latest and greatest destination show, centered around software architecture, and it’s going fantastic. Great group of attendees, and of course, we think we have some of the best speakers in the business. You put it together, and interesting things happen.

Michael:

It’s a sell-out crowd, and an amazing crowd, too. I was doing my talk the last session of, what was it, the 12-hour day?

Jay:

12-hour day, yeah.

Michael:

We had a packed house, and we were still going.

Jay:

Your talk is quite compelling. Fully optimized memories, something everybody should take advantage of, especially in the tech community.

Michael:

Plato said that, “All knowledge is but remembrance.” I was talking to somebody after the session. There’s a lot of people with follow-up questions at the end, and one of them just said, “Quite frankly, why would I not want to improve my brain?”

Jay:

Correct. There’s direct benefit, both on a personal and professional level. There’s no doubt about that.

Michael:

But I really want to talk about you, and the tour, and some of the things that we’ve been doing. It’s been a long and busy year.

Jay:

Very productive year, and fantastic turnout both at the road shows that we do on the No Fluff tour as well as our destination events. With angular summits, ArtConf, rich Web experience, continuous delivery experience, and of course our flagship event, UberConf.

It’s amazing how fast time flies. We’re just very appreciative as far as our attendees are concerned, and the benefit that they derive from being an active participants in their quest to build their knowledge portfolio. We think we have both exceptional attendees and speakers, and I just can’t thank both parties enough for what is gained by bringing those two groups together, which is fantastic.

I remember when first created “No Fluff” back in 2001. One of the comments I got is, “You know, people aren’t going to go to conferences in the future. We’re just going to do everything on the Web.” My response was simply this. “The Web is a great place, but it’s still a one-dimensional view into a three-dimensional challenge.”

There’s nothing like being in one place at one time, one moment with the right people. That is an intoxicating elixir that yields lots of benefits, but you have to be an active participant in your journey.

That’s what you get when you come to a conference like No Fluff. The one thing I will say, we view enough of experience much different than traditional Java conferences. Just like in anything in life, not all conferences are created equal. You have to ask the question. “What’s the motivation behind the conference?”

Is it about pleasing the sponsors, or is it about focusing on the attendees? When I created No Fluff, that was my primary and only concern. Everything’s built around the attendees. That’s why our sessions are 90 minutes. They’re not 30 or 45 minutes.

We have very limited participation in terms of any sponsors that attend our destination shows. We’re very thorough in terms of our vetting, regarding our speakers. Making sure they have the right stuff. Not only the domain experience, but they have the communication skills and they enjoy being challenged by the attendees.

When you put all those together, and know that you can execute at a high level, and provide a really good Java conference experience for the attendees, and you’re focused — equally important — on the long term.

We’ve been around since 2001. We just didn’t magically appear because times were good, and start spinning out conferences. We’ve been committed to the market since the very beginning, and we’ll continue to do so.

That also speaks well for everyone that’s involved in the No Fluff, Just Stuff journey. We are very appreciative of all the attendees past and present that have attended, and we look forward to delivering very compelling and thought-provoking conferences and experiences as we move ahead into 2016 and beyond.

Michael:

That’s definitely a very special, select group of attendees that come. I just see one of the recurring themes is that the attendees themselves are really passionate about their craft, about improving.

Jay:

This is not a Java conference that people go to just to miss work and go in the streets of San Francisco or New York and go on adventures while the conference is going on. You name the city. We’ve got attendees that, like you said, are very passionate about their craft, very engaged.

That’s why we even do evening sessions once again. When I pitched the idea of doing a session at nine o’clock at night, everybody said, “Nobody’s going to come to that.” I said, “I disagree. Let’s give it a try and see.”

If you put together compelling session content, you have the right attendees who are in it to win it, so to speak, we have full rooms at nine o’clock at night.

Michael:

What does the future look like? I know you’re starting to plan the 2016 tour. To put it a different way, we’re coming to the end of the tour. This is the last stop of the year. The tour doesn’t start again until March, but you’re already planning the 2016 schedule. What can we expect?

Jay:

Lots of more great content. As you’re well aware of, if anything the technical environment we’re in is changing at a more rapid rate. One could pose the statement — I wouldn’t even say could, should — that it’s more important today than ever to be attending Java conferences and keeping up to date with this fast changing environment that we’re in.

We’ve got great subject matter coming out for 2016. We’re going to be spinning up one, maybe two more destination events. The one that I can talk about, that we’re in the formative stages of putting together for next fall is, one centered around Web security and encryption for enterprise architects and developers.

Michael:

That’s a big challenge.

Jay:

Yeah, which is something that I don’t think is really adequately covered in the market today. There are events, but they don’t have the No Fluff spin. For those that aren’t familiar with No Fluff, Just Stuff think of it this way. I heard this a while back.

There’s the sizzle and the steak. We’re all about being the steak, about being substantive in terms of our approach, in terms of what we provide our attendees. A lot of conferences, it’s just a bunch of pomp and circumstance. We’re just really driven by the technology, driven by technical excellence, driven to give the attendees a fantastic experience regardless of the conference that we put on.

We think that’s very important. If you’re going to spend your money, or your company’s money, and your time, you want it to be fruitful and have merit that you can take back that has both short-term and long-term benefits.

Michael:

That’s one of the things I heard from an attendee a few weeks ago at one of the stops, that you do cover all these different dimensions in the content. He said that the technical content is great.

“I love learning new things, but the really valuable takeaway are the talks and the sessions that not only give me technical know-how, but completely change my perspective. That I walk away not only with new skills but with a whole new way of looking at things.”

Jay:

Agreed. My approach when I created this is there’s multiple dimensions of being a developer, an architect, or technical manager. It’s just not all about the domain. You need to be able to communicate your ideas well. You need to work within a team dynamic. You need to be able to motivate people if you’re in technical leadership, in a sustainable way.

There’s lots and lots of what I would call soft skills that you have to incorporate in your repertoire if you want to get the best out of yourself as well as others. I’ve seen it time and time again. You get the right team together with the right leadership dynamic, and those five or six individuals can do incredible things.

I’ve seen the obverse of that statement. Where you have a team of 10 or 15 people and it’s totally dysfunctional. Nothing gets done. It’s delayed. People are working 70 hours a week. They’re not getting anything done. Project doesn’t come on time, or ultimately fails.

We’ve been around long enough now that there are direct causalities to success. That if you follow this path, you can get to where you want to go. To me, that’s part of the experience, as well.

We think we have a really nice, blended approach to what we do, both in terms of hard, domain-specific skills and what you would characterize as soft skills, agility-based concepts that you should incorporate, both in terms of your personal technical journey as well as from a group standpoint.

Michael:

I really think this mix also adds to the endurance of the attendees, as well. You can go and blow your mind in deep, live coding, technical sessions, and then switch gears and switch gears. That’s why we still have active participants at 10 o’clock at night.

Jay:

If you look at the secret sauce to a life well lived, it’s all about mastering context switching. The more you can do that, the more valuable you are both on a personal and professional level.

Michael:

I like that. The secret sauce, mastering context switching.

Jay:

Whether it’s becoming more proficient in terms of your language fluency, that you’re not just a Java developer but you also know Scala and Groovy, and JavaScript. Same thing, context switching just makes you better at what you do, in all senses of the word.

Can you go directly from being engrossed in the coding to turn around and talking to your associate about something high-level without missing a beat?

Michael:

Without breaking that flow.

Jay:

Correct.

Michael:

Without being unproductive for the next four hours.

Jay:

Exactly.

Michael:

Being able to do that, being able to be multi-faceted like that, this brings up another really important talk concept that you’ve mentioned in the past. It starts to help you develop empathy.

Jay:

Correct. That’s another hallmark point for us. Whether you’re a colleague, or you’re in a leadership role, the more empathy you have because you’ve been in these different positions, the more effective you are as well as your team. We don’t live in a siloed existence. Nothing’s accomplished from that vantage point.

The more empathy you build up, the better you are as a person. From a professional standpoint, people are going to gravitate towards you because you know you get them and what they’re going through.

Michael:

What do you have to say for somebody who’s never been to a No Fluff show, for 2016?

Jay:

You need to put us on your calendar, make the effort. When I created this…A road show is different, because it’s held over a weekend and it’s a localized event. We traverse the country and go to these different cities. Think of it as an old rock concert tour. We take the band, we pack up our gear, and we head to the city near you.

Michael:

We even have Fluffheads. They’ll come to show, after show, after show. I digress. Go ahead.

Jay:

I just have to say as aside, those people are very insightful, smart, exactly what we’re about. Anyway, the idea is simply this. We all have skin in the game. If it’s primarily on a weekend, it means a developer, an architect, or a manager’s going to give up their weekend to come and join us.

We also get the best speakers, because the best speakers are working during the week.

Michael:

Yeah, they’re actually practicing their craft.

Jay:

Correct. It’s a very synergistic experience that requires, like I say, skin in the game. When you bring bother parties together, magic happens. We’ve gotten some pushback from people saying, “Well, why don’t you have it during the week?”

If we did have it during the week, most companies would not be able to send 10, or 20, or 30 people to the show. They’d send one, and we would not have the best speakers, because the best speakers, as I mentioned earlier, are working.

There’s something to be said by having a natural filtering agent, which is this weekend piece. That makes a huge difference. You get attendees that are really engaged, because they are giving up their time. They are true craftsmen or craftswomen that want to continue to improve their technical excellence.

They see this as time well spent.

Michael:

You’re surrounded by that vibe, which is really amazing. Just walking around, being in the break areas, being in the dining areas, you see people coming together, and just getting together, and jamming about something.

We’ll come out of a talk and they’ll start…Somebody will talk about one aspect of that talk, and they’ll sit down, start jamming. You’ll get all these great minds coming together. Even just the networking aspect is amazing.

Jay:

With the road show what’s really unique is, being that it’s a local event, there’s no travel component to overcome or missing a substantial amount of work. With those companies, to send a big group of 5, or 10, or 20 or more to a show.

You’ve got to get out of the office. You’ve got to go and listen to some other viewpoints. Maybe it validates what you’re currently doing. Maybe it challenges what you’re currently doing. Maybe you’ve learned a whole new way to approach something you’re getting ready to roll out.

We’ve heard this over and over again. “Just that one talk we went to has changed everything for us.” That’s what we’re about, but you’ve got to get away from the office. You don’t want to get into the group think mentality.

Plus, it’s what we get a lot in terms of feedback. It’s people saying, “Wow, this was just a very re-energizing experience for us. Kind of recharged our batteries, so to speak. Got me excited about what I do for a living.”

Think of us as a B12 shot. We’re all good, but you need one once in a while.

Michael:

That’s excellent. Jay, I just want to say thanks again for coming up and sharing a few words with us. I’m looking forward to everything that 2016 has in store.

Jay:

I encourage people to go to the nofluffjuststuff.com. Check it out. We’ve got a listing of our tour stops as well as our destination shows. We’ve got some great podcasts for you to listen to. We also publish a magazine 10 times a year called “NFJS The Magazine.”

Come and join us on Twitter. You can follow us, @NoFluff. We hope to see you on tour.

Michael:

Sounds good. Hope to see you. Thanks again, Jay.

Jay:

Thanks, Mike.

Michael:

See you on the road.

[background music]

Michael:

At No Fluff, Just Stuff we bring the best technologists to you on a road show format. Early bird discounts are available for the 2016 season. Check out the entire show lineup and tour dates at nofluffjuststuff.com.

I’m your host Michael Carducci, thanks for listening, and stay subscribed.

 

Learn more about the NFJS Java Conference Series

Check out nofluffjuststuff.com for tour dates and lineups.
Check out uberconf.com for UberConf, the ultimate JVM and Java Conference.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*