Back in 1999, when I was an editor at JavaWorld, my editor-in-chief, Michael O'Connell, was recruited by IBM® to head up the editorial end of a project called developerWorks. I left JavaWorld not long after Michael, and after a series of layovers, including a brief stint at Sun Microsystems, I followed Michael to dW to manage the Java technology zone. That was in November 2000.
Since that time, there have been many successes (and a few — okay, more than a few — failures) with the Java zone, but overall it's been an excellent experience. We've managed to produce a consistent level of high-quality content, while grappling with a changing development environment, strategic shifts, and economic woes. While there are many who should be credited with that accomplishment, it's the writers, first and foremost, who make dW the place to find practical, useful, and technically sound articles on the topics that matter most. They're the ones with the expertise that helped me realize my vision for the zone.
During the past nine years, I've hired more than 200 writers, some for a single article, some for the long-haul, contributing long-running or consecutive series of articles. And regardless of how they arrived on my virtual doorstep, each of the writers I've hired has been a huge asset to me — and several have crossed the line from professional colleague to personal friend. I gotta tell you, it makes for a great gig.
A number of factors are required to produce great content that resonates with readers, including good writing and editing, technical expertise, topic choice, reader need, and timing. While I like to think that everything I've published meets those criteria, there is the same elusive quality to a runaway hit with technical content as with anything else. It's not always predictable. So when it happens, it's always a pleasant surprise. Following is a list of writers, in no particular order, whose content hit that mark:
Early in my tenure at dW, Brian called to see if I might be interested in some articles on multithreaded application development. We talked for some time, and I had a very good feeling about him, so I assigned a three-article series. That decision was one of the smarter moves I've made in my career. Brian soon became a regular fixture on the Java zone with his popular series Java theory and practice, which ran continuously for more than five years. He also became my closest technical advisor and leapt many a tall building on my behalf, and for that, I'm eternally grateful.
Andy submitted a proposal through the online submission form and I was immediately impressed by his style and enthusiasm — that, and he wanted to write about Groovy, which was in its infancy at the time — and contacted him post haste. His Practically Groovy series was an instant hit, and years later, as Groovy reached maturity, his friend and fellow top Java author Scott Davis, resurrected it to great success. Besides being one of the nicest people I know and eager to introduce me to his circle of technical friends, Andy has the distinction (unknown to him) of being the catalyst for a significant change in my dietary habits.
By the time I came to dW, John was already an established colleague, having written for JavaWorld since its inception. Over the years, John has penned two successful series of tips, Magic with Merlin and Taming Tiger, and acted as moderator for the Client-side Java development discussion forum, all that while tending to his day job and bringing a new baby into his home.
Rick has the distinction of writing the single most popular article/series ever published on the Java technology zone. Even if Rick is guilty of creatively interpreting the concept of deadlines, his ability to accurately assess the Java development landscape is nothing short of amazing, and he always finds himself back in my good graces once his work comes to fruition. His new series, Google App Engine for Java is already well on its way making its mark in 2009.
In late 2001, our sister site, alphaWorks, published a game called Robocode, which taught Java coding principles. There was tremendous excitement around this application, and that excitement translated into several highly successful articles by Sing and spawned Robocode Rumble, a contest of Java coding prowess. Sing's enthusiasm for the game and attention to detail — not to mention his willingness to meet my every demand — gave Robocode the boost it needed to be one of the most downloaded technologies on aW. The dW Java team loves Sing, and I'm routinely reminded by them that I should strong-arm him into writing again.
Currently actively engaged with his Java Web services series, Dennis has been writing for me for almost seven years. Although none of his series has been top-ranked in and of itself, collectively speaking, he's one of my bigger draws. Not only does he focus on pertinent topics, but his writing ability is second to none. We don't ever like it when our writers miss their deadlines, but with Dennis, I can always be sure that what he's submitting is virtually ready to roll.
Elliotte Rusty Harold
Elliotte has a knack for identifying problem areas for computer science students and writing articles that address that need without condescension. His articles on managing the Java classpath, one of the most complex and infuriating parts of the Java platform, may seem like old hat, but mastering it is essential to becoming a professional Java programmer. Students and professors around the world (and a few seasoned vets!) have remarked on how useful his work has been.
As a relatively new contributor to dW, Scott has skyrocketed to stardom — at least with regard to the Java technology zone statistics. With his dueling series, Practically Groovy and Mastering Grails, Scott has found a sweet spot. His affable style and dedication to both Groovy and Grails has resonated with a broad swath of readers. In addition to being the most charming of my writers, Scott has been willing to work with me to ensure I have a steady stream of good content even while the financial chips were down.
Creator of Mylyn, a wildly popular task-focused interface for Eclipse, Mik was part of the AOP@Work cabal. He spun off on his own when he wanted to write about Mylar (the first incarnation of Mylyn). The articles were long and deep, but the response was amazing. Mik updated the series when he released Mylyn, and again the response was overwhelming. I wonder how it feels to be at the top of the heap.
Although published early in 2003, Mark's series A JSTL primer continues to be in the top 10 rated articles most months. I'm surprised, but pleasantly so, that a topic that has fallen out of favor in many circles is still useful in others. I can't say much about Mark, as I've only worked with him on that one long-ago series, but I'm grateful to him for writing it!
One last comment before I take your leave. As I noted earlier, the writers are the bread and butter of any publication, and I value their work in the highest regard, but without a solid editor working silently behind the scenes, many technical writers (read: professional developers who write for fun) wouldn't come across nearly as well as they do. Editing is hard work and typically goes unnoticed, often by the writers whom it affects directly. Having said that, I'd like to note that my contract developmental editors, Eileen Cohen and Athen O'Shea, and our internal team of Web editors through the years — Chris Stackel, Jennette Banks, and Mary Ferguson — have been instrumental in making the content of the highest quality.
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