“Is Java dead?” And other questions answered by our Java tech lead.

Is Java dead? Are you thinking of using Java for your next project? If you’re like most people, you probably have a lot of questions. And given the influx of newer technologies, you might even feel confused.

To answer these questions, we consulted with our Fastdev Java tech lead Alexander Belyaev. Alexander is an invaluable member of our team—and you’ll soon find out why. Here, he gives us an insider’s look at the day in the life of a Java tech lead, and expertly addresses the pros and cons you should consider before using Java in your next development project.

Q: What is your role like as a Java tech lead at Fastdev?

A: At Fastdev, a tech lead is an expert in a particular technology who can be asked various questions related to that technology. For example, developers rely on tech leads to help them decide which approach to take or which library or framework to use. Or the sales team may ask tech leads to review technical requirements and provide estimations of how long it will take to implement them. Tech leads also use their specialized area of expertise to support resource managers. 
For me, the tech lead role is an extra role. My primary role is as a developer. So, my typical workday looks like a developer’s workday. I write code and documentation, review code written by colleagues, and discuss current problems with the team.

Q: Before we go any further, let’s address the elephant in the room: Is Java “dead?” Why are people saying that? Is it true?

A: That is a tricky one. I think it is better to ask the people who are saying that, not me. But, the short answer is No. I’ve been seeing a lot of activity in the development of JVM and popular frameworks like Spring. I’ve also been seeing a constant flow of Junior Java developers. We could dig deeper, but I think these two facts prove that Java is not dead.

Q: What are the main reasons to use Java for a project?

A: There are several reasons to use Java for your next project. The main ones include: 
Backward compatibility on source level. This means that source code written with older versions of Java will compile without (or with minimal) modifications on newer versions of Java.
Backward compatibility on binary level. This means that code compiled for older Java will run on newer Java.
Tons of open-source libraries which you can use for free, so you don’t have to spend time re-inventing the wheel. 
Accessible support. Another benefit of Java being an open source platform is that it is supported by major companies like Oracle, Google, and Red Hat. So you don’t have to worry that support will be suddenly dropped.
Java programs are cross-platform and can run on any OS and CPU architecture where JVM is implemented. There are many developers who know Java, so you don’t have to ever worry about not finding a replacement for a developer who decided to leave your company. Java is relatively simple and easy to learn, which means that there are always a lot of junior developers on the market.

Q: What are some reasons not to use Java for a project?

A:  There are a few things to take into consideration here, including:
The need for a predictable reaction time to external actions. Java uses Garbage collector (GC) for memory management and it may sometimes pause the whole application for a significant amount of time (seconds). You should definitely not use java to control CNC machines, for example. The use of Java in realtime games, for example, may require you to tune GC settings and optimize code to reduce memory allocations.
Lack of language features (without changes) that other modern languages have. Due to backward compatibility, it’s hard to make changes to the language that won’t break existing code. Another thing that slows down the evolution of the language is that every change of the spec must be approved by multiple companies (as part of the JSR process). On the other hand, this reduces the chances that poorly designed changes will be applied. There’s a way to overcome this problem by using languages running on JVM, like Scala and Kotlin.
Manual memory management is required because GC overhead becomes too high. This usually happens on large (tens and hundreds of Gigabytes) heaps and objects with an average lifetime of minutes and tens of minutes. Java provides two ways to exercise manual memory management which are Direct ByteBuffers and memory allocation via Unsafe class, but this might not be enough. This is a  common problem for all languages that use Garbage collection.

Q: What are some areas where Java can compete with other languages or platforms?

A: One of the most common uses for Java today is coding logic of business processes that will run on servers. – -Other use cases include:
– Conducting automated testing of user interfaces (using Selenium)
– Building process automation using Gradle
– Implementing cross-platform desktop GUI applications
– Creating Android applications

Q: What do you think about Python as a competitor to Java… is Python taking over?

A: Both Java and Python are very popular, but I’d say they play in different areas and mostly don’t compete with each other. Python shines as a scripting language – it’s cross-platform, it doesn’t require compilation, and Python scripts have a quick startup time. Basically, Java cannot compete with it as it requires compilation, and JVM startup time is way longer.
On the other hand, Java offers better runtime performance and type checking during compilation, which allows you to catch errors during compilation, as opposed to when the program is already running. To summarize, Python is good at scripting, Java is good at handling complex business domains.

Q: What are the relevant needs for organizations in terms of Java right now, and in the future?

A: It really depends on the organization. For example, let’s say a large enterprise has purchased some IBM products like Websphere Process Server, Websphere ESB, and Websphere MQ. They will need Java developers who know the Websphere products. Companies that want to be cost efficient will probably try to avoid unnecessary risks and will prefer to use well-known, mature, open-source products and libraries based on Java. Startups might want to use Java-based bleeding edge technoogies and frameworks (such as RSocket and GraalVM), or want to develop an Android app. 

Q: Can you share some examples of the types of projects you’ve worked on where Java is a key technology?

A: The most common type of project I’ve worked on is a backend for a web application. In simple cases, we have one Java application that implements all required logic, a database where we store the data, and the frontend application that works in the browser and handles interaction with the user. We typically integrate the application with external systems such as a payment gateway, Spring Boot for the Java app, and database solutions such as PostgreSQL or MongoDB. 
For example, we are currently helping a leading application performance company build new systems on Java. Their old systems are implemented on a variety of technologies (C++, .NET, Python) and the cost of supporting these were high since they needed multiple developers (at least one per technology) who knew these technologies.

Thank you, Alexander!

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