Whenever you talk to Java developers in Belgium, one word always comes up: community. This might be a computer language designed to help oiling the wheels of business and industry, but along the way it has fostered a sense of sharing among those who spread Java out, to the rest of the world.
At 20 years old, Java is not at the cutting edge when it comes to languages. Nor is it the most modern, most rewarding to work with. But it is the most widely used computer language in the world, and one of the main reasons it’s still such a sought-after skill is because you can always find a solution to a Java problem.
“Companies still choose Java to work with because there is so much buzz around it,” says Levi Claes, of Computer Futures’ Antwerp office. “If there’s a new framework coming up, it’s quickly peer-reviewed. Because it’s open sourced, there is a lot of activity around the code, and developments are very swift.
“It’s not .net so it’s not licenced and you don’t have to wait for the next update or version to move things on with Java. It’s an ongoing process, sometimes you have something new that is not so good. You learn from it, then you direct that into a better framework or different framework and you get more engagement from the Java community.”
José Luis Santos, of creative agency Design is Dead, says Java’s huge community provides the support that enables it to be versatile. “This translates to frameworks and tools that can be used by the developer and makes life easier. The language itself is probably no different to other object-oriented programming language. However, the community behind it is what makes Java different.”
The framework and tools are on such a scale that they make Java really versatile, he added. “And from a pragmatic point of view, the job opportunities make a difference too.”
Sten Govaerts, a Java Project Manager with Geo Solutions, suggests the versatility of Java has little to do with the programming language itself. “It comes from all the libraries, frameworks and tools based on, and designed, for Java. Acknowledging, of course, the fact that the JVM can run cross-platform from the smallest devices to the largest mainframes.”
Levi Claes backs up this versatility and says Java is enjoying a resurgence in Belgium. “Consultancy is providing new opportunities for Java developers. Projects throughout Flanders – private and public – are looking to consultancy firms and they are engaging Java developers because the libraries and frameworks available are just enormous.”
Resurgence in mobiles market
There are other fields where Java is proving a hit. One Belgian company is utilising Java to direct robot arms in a production area because, as Levi says, “they want to make it as easy as possible for people working with the arms to programme them. They’re not making the cheapest arm, but making the most reliable and sustainable one.”
Java is also enjoying a resurgence on mobiles, through Android, and embedded devices like Arduino, fostering the Internet of Things.
Wouter Blancquaert has spent eight years developing core applications at Infrabel, the company which builds and maintains the national rail network. He says Java has made the task of creating the core software which manages railway infrastructure and plans traffic one which can be done quickly and with an enterprise quality.
There are four jobs for every Java developer in Belgium, but that doesn’t mean candidates can just walk in to a new position and write their own cheque.
“Clients have expectations in terms of technical ability,” Claes explains. “They want developers to know Java, CSS, HTML, to be aware of the current trends and have an understanding of different frameworks. But they also have to tell me what they want from a candidate and candidates need to know what they’re looking for and why they’re looking to move.”