Monday, July 15, 2013

Signs that Java is Fading

My website is losing traffic. It never had terribly high traffic, other than the days it was mentioned on Reddit or Hacker News, but in the last year that traffic has been cut in half. There are no doubt many reasons for this, but I'm going to take a dramatic interpretation: it's another indication that the time of Java is passing.

Bold words for someone who only gets a few hundred hits a day, but the character of those hits are changing. The two most-hit pages on my site have consistently been those on bytebuffers and reference objects: topics that are of interest to people doing “interesting” things, and not something that you'd use in a typical corporate web-app. Recently, these two have been eclipsed by articles on parsing XML and debugging out-of-memory errors.

This sense that Java isn't being used for “interesting” projects comes from other sources as well. Colleagues and friends are looking into other languages, some on the JVM and some not. One of the best recruiters I know, a long-time specialist in Java (and founder of the Philadelphia Java Users Group) is now emphasizing other languages on his home page.

Of course, Java isn't going to disappear any time soon. There are billions of dollars of sunk costs in Java software, and it needs to be maintained. And with hundreds of thousands of Java programmers in the job market, employers know that they can always staff their projects, old and new. Corporate inertia is all but impossible to overcome, as evidenced by the fact that you still see plenty of COBOL positions open.

Java is occasionally called “the COBOL of the 21st century,” and I've never found the comparison apt. But the position of Java today seems to be similar to that of COBOL in the 1980s: a huge installed base, huge demand for developers, but slotted into a specific application area. If you wanted to venture out of the accounting realm, you looked for something else.

Yesterday was my birthday. This upcoming January will mark 30 years that I've received a regular paycheck for making computers do what other people want. In that time, I've switched areas of expertise several times. I figure that I'm going to be in this business for another 15 to 20 years, and I want to be doing something interesting for those years. So it's time to re-evaluate Java, and think about what my next area of expertise should be.

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