Lessons Learned from Teenagers

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This weekend I am in Janske Lazne, Sun is sponsoring here the Czech state programming contest. I took a picture of the older group of students (max. age is 19 years) who are just solving a tough problem of finding the best trajectory of a car in a track:

Young developers

I did a presentation to both groups about NetBeans. The nice thing about presenting in front of kids is that they let you know what they think immediately, they are very honest. So for instance they asked me why is java slow? Now think about this... how do you provide an answer to a young kid who asks this question?

You can talk about the bytecode, and how Java is sometimes faster than C/C++... but if they see the presentation they can judge that Java on desktop is mostly slower than C/C++. Yes, it's both the combination of the language/platform and of the products which use really lots of code... when I was showing Creator, they told me: you see, indeed, Java is slow (and we had lots of fun about prolonging the presentation till next morning while the app server was starting... :).

I've shown lots of features of NetBeans. Probably the most favorite features they've seen were from the mobility support (I was not surprised) and it was definitely a reason for most of them why they grabbed the CD. I've seen lots of excitement when showing Matisse and when building web applications. They immediately wanted to see the source of the HTML and were wondering if the generated HTML code is valid and how big it is.

Most of these kids don't know Java - only several older ones do. Despite that I created a small RCP application and to my surprise I could see in their eyes that they can understand.

These boys are bright, very curious and a couple of them stayed after the presentation and because I was tired, I've just played some of the flash demos from netbeans.org. Although they didn't understand English so well, they kept watching the demos :) One of the boys said "Now that I've seen Java, I think I can skip C/C++, this looks just like what I need". He was around 13 years old.

I had so much fun at this event... it's so cool to meet elite young programmers and talk with them. They got lots of t-shirts and CDs (some of them are now proudly wearing OpenSolaris and NetBeans t-shirts). Today, Microsoft will come to do presentations of Microsoft's technologies. We'll see whose T-shirts they will be wearing tomorrow :)

Anyway I have to go now to show them the cool 3D OpenGL application I created to visualize the problem they were solving... time to show that Java doesn't have to be slow!

Update: I have found out that Microsoft originally didn't want to come to this event but once they found out that Sun is coming, they changed their mind. IBM, where are you? ... ;)

Update 2: The OpenGL project is available here. Just unzip, open in NetBeans and set up library for OpenGL - right click on project and choose resolve reference problems. Then create a library called OpenGL and add 2 jars from dist/lib into this library. Then run and if your graphical card is relatively new you'll see really fast pseudo 3d graphics in Java... mouse/mouse wheel/arrows control the camera.

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Comments ( 5 )
  • Lukas Saturday, June 24, 2006
    Mobility rules ;)
  • Alexis MP Saturday, June 24, 2006
    Did you show them the collab (IM) feature?
    Not sure the teacher would like that ;-)
  • Roumen Saturday, June 24, 2006
    I had Geertjan waiting in Prague for collab but unfortunately the internet access didn't work... their wifi got broken. It started to work half an hour after my presentation, as usual :)
  • Dean Iverson Sunday, June 25, 2006
    In order to get your program to run on OS X, the project's Run settings have to be tweaked slightly. The back slashes in the map paths and the java.library.path have to be changed to forward slashes.

    Other than that it seems to work on OS X. You are a brave man to take on the challenge of answering the questions of (smart) kids!

  • Jeffrey Olson Monday, June 26, 2006
    The comment about skipping c/c++ is worrying to me, what will happen when the up-and-coming geeks slowly forget those languages and the things that its used for today, such as the JVM, become harder to maintain/develop because of a lack of knowledge? :/
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