Snow and Vodka: Preparing for Sun Tech Days in St. Petersburg April 2-4, 2008

I'm preparing for Sun's St. Petersburg Tech Days, scanning the weather reports, remembering Russian movies I've seen, staring at a Google satellite view of the city and then remembering that although I grew up in Chicago, Illinois, I have not walked on ice or snow in more years than I want to count. I have no idea what to expect.

St. Petersburg is on the Baltic sea, contiguous with Finland, and heavily Europeanized, with river inlets and canals flowing all through it. Its history is beyond my comprehension. Back when it was called "Leningrad," about 40% of the 3 million people in the city died from starvation, violence, and disease as the Nazis surrounded, bombed, starved, and laid siege to it during WWII. Hitler’s explicit intention was to commit genocide. What would San Francisco (where I've been living long enough to be called a native) be like if 40% of the people here had been killed in a war 65 years ago? The reverberations would go on for many generations.

Yet St. Petersburg is a place of great culture, beautiful architecture and it's thriving. It's the beer capital of Russia, due to the poor water quality -- unfortunately I don't like beer. It's sometimes called the "Venice of the North" because of the canals. There are more than 1000 bridges! And the Hermitage is one of the world's greatest museums.

I'm looking forward to blogging on Solaris, hearing Rich Green's keynote, which I imagine will further clarify Sun's software strategy which evolves and twists and turns rapidly in response to emerging technologies. I'll hear Simon Ritter, a fun-loving Java evangelist, whom I've worked with over the years, give an update on programming for cool devices using the Java ME PhoneME Stack. I hope to wander around and find some Russian developers whose English is good enough that I can interview them and get a taste of how they view Java, software, and more. Most unfortunately, I don't speak a word of Russian so we'll see if I can learn it in a week, ha ha, or how good the Lonely Planet English to Russian phrase book I just bought is. (Any ideas about what I should ask the Russian developers? I'm all ears.)

It's not surprising that Russian developers have such a good reputation -- this is a country of great chess players. Former Sun engineer Victoria Livschitz, whom I had the pleasure of interviewing twice, was a chess player in the Ukraine before immigrating to the US. James Gosling blogged about all the great Russian engineers he met in Moscow. A tour of the web suggests that Russian developers are well-paid, well educated and constitute the third largest developer population in the world, a figure I can't vouch for.

Learn more about Sun Tech Days.

Janice J. Heiss

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