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InfoQ Homepage News JAX London 2023: Team Dynamics, Developer Platforms, and the Adoption of AI

JAX London 2023: Team Dynamics, Developer Platforms, and the Adoption of AI


For the tenth time, Java fans attended JAX London in the first week of October. The keynotes argued that teams are the real product of software development, soft skills are anything but soft, developers should want to use internal platforms, and that AI won't take developer jobs – developers using AI will.

The first keynote was "The Team is The Real Product" by Jason Gorman. He said that businesses see teams as a means to deliver software by a deadline and an expensive liability afterward. However, a Harvard Business study states that 95% of all software projects fail in the market. So, Gorman argued, teams are the real product then – and delivering software builds and grows them. Or, as Jim McCarthy wrote in the book "The Dynamics of Software Development","The end of software development is software developers." Keeping and developing stable teams benefits the business; stable teams can learn faster. That means their organizations can change directions quicker and test more new products to compete better.

Ted Neward delivered the second keynote: "What International Relations Can Teach You about Development". He studied international relations, which included political science, geography, history, economics, law, sociology, psychology, and philosophy. This diverse background helped him work with legacy projects, understand the startup community, talk to users, and generally work with a team. According to Neward, "soft" skills are anything but "soft" – they are difficult, nondeterministic and fuzzy. And hard skills aren't. That makes soft skills hard to grasp for developers who prefer binary logic. He also argued that it's not enough to know the history, one also has to apply it. Finally, he discussed the OODA loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) in projects and businesses: applying it is not enough, but the speed of going through the OODA loop is important.

The third keynote, "Paving the Road to Effective Software Development" by Sarah Wells, discussed the tension between developer autonomy and standardization. Having autonomy is a key motivational factor for developers. Yet, it carries higher risks and costs for organizations because it increases the number of technologies. Guardrails are one countermeasure; they mandate specific outcomes and features, such as security and performance. But, verifying compliance with guardrails is a challenge.That's why Wells proposed an internally developed platform that developers actually want to use. She built such a platform while heading operations at the "Financial Times." Most developers prefer such a "paved road" platform, though they can still seek their own way through the woods if they wish. Wells suggested the following principles for building such a paved road: build what people need, own and support things long term, don't make people wait, make things easy to use, allow people to extend and adapt, and help people do the right thing.

The last keynote by Kevin Goldsmith, "The Inspiring Synergy between Software Developers and Emerging Technologies", addressed the timely question of whether AI will put developers out of work. Goldsmith put this question into historical context with thirteen "Things That Were Supposed to be the End of Software Development," starting with Automatic Programming in the 1940s through IDEs in 1991 to AI (twice: 2005 and 2020). So far, all increases in software development productivity have only led to more software, more sophisticated software, and more developers. Goldsmith didn't know if it would be the same this time around. But he cautioned developers to adopt and use AI: "AI won't take your job. It's somebody using AI that will take your job," Richard Baldwin stated at the World Economic Forum 2023. He suggested using AI to automate the easy stuff, creating documentation and explanation, replacing Stack Overflow, and adding ML-based features to applications. He also suggested AI for Low code/No code: prototyping, developing simple applications, and empowering non-technical teams.

The 2023 edition featured 43 sessions and keynotes in four tracks over two days, surrounded by six full-day workshops on two additional days. This was slightly fewer than the 46 sessions from JAX London 2022. There were also just four exhibitors this year, fewer than in 2022. Devoxx Belgium ran in parallel this year, which may have explained a lower-than-usual attendance at JAX London.

JAX London was a hybrid conference that streamed all talks to remote participants. An Artificial Intelligence track was prominently featured with four talks and a keynote. The other tracks were: Core Java & Languages; Cloud, Kubernetes & Serverless; Microservices & Modularization; Software Architecture & Design; Agile, People & Culture; DevOps & CI/CD; and Serverside Java.

JAX London will return in the first week of October 2024 in London's Business Design Center.

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