It was not until yesterday, after having spent a month in Alexandria, Egypt, that I remembered the high school I went to in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, was called 'Alexandria Boys High School' (which at the time was for white boys only, both of which are no longer true). But the school was named after some princess while Alex in Egypt is named after Alexander the Great, who founded it. Unless I miss my early morning plane, I'll be back in Prague during the weekend. Aside from the scuba diving I did here (did you know there are, among many
other things, an Italian warplane, the ancient Egyptian lighthouse, four headless Sphinxes, and Cleopatra's red granite table at the bottom of the Alexandrian harbor, all at under 10 meters?), and the general hanging out, and the daily slog through Arabic conjugations (hey, I passed my exam, hurray), I came across (and participated in) a remarkable number of different Java-related things in Egypt:
- Cairo NetBeans Platform Training. I delivered a full-blown NetBeans Platform Training in Cairo. Here's the announcement and here's a report. It was the largest group of students at any NetBeans Platform Training held thus far (50+), plus most were teachers themselves, or worked within commercial companies. Just imagine if the training were held while students are not preparing for their exams (which is why they didn't attend). I'm expecting we'll see quite a bit of further development (and, potentially, some of them turning into NetBeans Platform Trainers themselves) by those who attended this course. Watch this space.
- El Menoufiyeh NetBeans Presentations. Earlier, I did two hours of presentations at El Menoufiyeh University. (Read about it here, then read all the comments to see the enthusiasm with which the presentations have been received, indicating massive potential there and elsewhere.) In addition to all the hallmarks of NetBeans IDE (Matisse, JSF CRUD Generator, GlassFish integration, etc), I also presented JavaFX, Groovy, Grails, and Wicket, which were all new to the students, who were mostly in their 2nd year of university. (Hamada and the students gave me a very nice party afterwards and a Pharaonic bust that will take pride of place on my desk in Prague when I get back there.)
- NetBeans Platform Project at Suez Canal University. I met Ahmed Gaber and another student from Suez Canal University (cool name for a university) in Ismailia, who are in a team of 10 students creating a visual database generator on the NetBeans Platform. Read about it here. Potentially, they could end up working on their project in tandem with the database engineers on the NetBeans team, but that is still under discussion. (Ahmed also created a new Shisha plugin for NetBeans IDE, which I will blog about separately, soon.) By the way, those two students traveled 5 hours to visit me in Alex and left me with a shoebox full of great biscuits from Ahmed's mother.
- Ofok. I spent a great day with Moataz and Mohab from Ofok (which means "Horizon") in Cairo. (They took me on a tour of the Mohammed Ali mosque, among others, and museums that are all found in a cluster together, guided by their friend Mustafa who is an architecture lecturer at the university, so a perfect tour guide who knew everything about everything.) Ofok is a Sun partner aimed at popularizing open-source tecnhnologies in Egypt. They specifically mentioned they're offering Ubuntu and OpenSolaris as part of their package. They have a training center in Cairo, which I visited, including two labs where they hold their trainings. Hopefully next time I'm there I'll be able to hold a NetBeans Platform Training with them, which we've discussed as flowing nicely from Java SE trainings. I'd like to interview them for an upcoming NetBeans Podcast, because they're doing some really cool open-source things that people need to know about.
- Dental Application on the NetBeans Platform. Ahmed Ramadan, one of the students on the Cairo NetBeans Platform Training, is porting his dental application to the NetBeans Platform. For his degree, he's creating this application which dentists can use to analyze teeth and figure out how to fix them. It has a lot of graphic-related functionality and it is already far enough along in the porting process for Ahmed to demonstrate the advantages of doing so, which he did during the course, on the final day. Is there a better way of demonstrating the usefulness of the NetBeans Platform than having someone who is in the process of using it demonstrate its applicability?
- JavaLobby Interviews. For JavaLobby, I did two interesting interviews about local development stuff. Firstly, I interviewed Amr ElDawy (here) about his JSPX web framework, then I interviewed Mohammed Ali and Ehab ElBadry from eSpace about their switch from Java to Ruby (here). I probably only touched the tip of the iceberg, though. (Here's an interesting statistic: after Amr's interview was published he wrote me with these words: "After publishing the interview yesterday the number of hits on the project website increased massively. The number of countries visited the website have now increased from 18 to more than 46. and all this just in hours.") Hopefully I'll be able to meet more companies or individual developers another time. (ITWorx, "the largest software professional services firm in Egypt", was a company I was arranging to visit but never did and I owe Ahram Canadian University a presentation on the NetBeans Platform, thanks to Tarek (who is a sky diver) from the Cairo NetBeans Platform course.)
- Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT). I had a very interesting discussion, thanks to Ahmed Ramadan who I mentioned above, with a consultant attached to the MCIT (i.e., a governmental department). He said they're extremely interested in open-source solutions and would welcome Sun presentations on this topic. Future visits to Egypt could include full-blown presentations to the MCIT on OpenOffice, GlassFish, NetBeans, OpenSolaris, et al.
- Ahmed Hashim & Hamada Zahera. None of the above would have been possible without Ahmed from the Egyptian JUG (after the government consultant mentioned above, Ahmed is the most well-connected person on the IT-front you're likely to meet in Egypt, read an interview with him here, on the state of Java et al in Egypt) and the uber-enthusiastic Hamada from El Menoufiyeh. Thanks for everything and hope to see you again soon!
In general, I can confidently conclude that Sun's hardware focus in Egypt is accrueing a great expense—while in the software world Oracle, IBM, and Microsoft are massive here, Sun is almost non-existent. (I could almost say that Java is being adopted here, if at all, not because of, but despite, Sun.) Especially now that Egypt has officially entered Gartner's top 30 countries for out-sourcing (read here for evidence), for example, while simultaneously being a country that is the main driver in the Middle East in terms of the number of IT-related graduates graduating per annum, and similar indicators showing Egypt's leading position in this part of the world when it comes to technology, though simultaneously being part of a pretty poor part of the world... one would think the opportunities for open-source here are massive. However, .Net still leads significantly in popularity over Java, which I believe can be attributed to the strength of aforementioned companies here versus the weakness of Sun. (On the other hand, what chance does any alternative to Windows have while most (all?) computers come pre-installed with Windows? When I got my new laptop, my first step was to uninstall Windows, then install Ubuntu, then, much later, install OpenSolaris via VirtualBox. But how many end users are seriously going to make that effort, when the benefit to end users is marginal if at all? Isn't there a case to be made for Microsoft having an unfair advantage via its preinstalled distributions?) Here's some more interesting reading. Summing up this bit, I'd say Egypt should not be considered a backwater in technology, anymore, assuming it was ever correct to hold that opinion.
Plus, take a look at the list above and see how many times "NetBeans Platform" is mentioned. Seems to me a big deal of money could be made from that product, bearing in mind that most of the encounters above fell in my lap without my even trying. Just imagine what could happen if a little bit of structured focus were to be placed on that Sun technology in terms of money-making potential. (FYI, the NetBeans Platform is a Swing desktop application framework empowering and simplifying the development process of Swing desktop applications as well as, as can be read here, modular web applications.)
The personal highlights of my trip were (1) all of the above, (2) watching a real Arabic movie in the cinema (with a friend whispering translations in my ear every 5 minutes, which was about the time it took for me to lose the plot), (3) getting a genuine Palestinian scarf from a Palestinian guy I met in the market in Cairo and who I hung out with later in Alex (who is the 26th of 28 children, which was an interesting discussion). Some more cool things were reading "Antony & Cleopatra" from scratch right after diving around artifacts that they might personally have held, checking out Cavafy's apartment which is now a museum, as well as reading Evelyn Waugh for the first time, which is kind of odd to read in Egypt. Interesting encounters included one with a full-blown Holocaust denier, a long night in a club in Cairo, and very many small attempts at exercising my rather poor Arabic. (Thanks to the dozens of fake-watch vendors in Alex, I can now say 'I already have a very beautiful watch' in fluent Arabic in my sleep.)
It's been a very cool time in Alex and I hope to be back later this year.