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Java's Ultimate Skeptic

With Spring, Johnson has brought Java back to its roots.
Rod Johnson, Lead developer of Spring Framework and CEO of SpringSource

Rod Johnson
Lead developer of Spring Framework and CEO of SpringSource
Rod Johnson is living proof of the value of keeping an open mind. A Java programmer who picked up the language on the job and leading Java architect at London financial institutions, Johnson moved back to Australia, took a break, and started reading Java critiques. "I had the experience of seeing things from outside a day job. It gave me a clear view of Java 2EE," he says. "I didn't believe in it anymore."

Johnson realized no one was working to reverse the complexity that had seeped into Java development, so he decided to write a book on the subject. The result, Expert One On One: J2EE Design And Development (Wrox, 2002), sold 30,000 copies. Readers urged Johnson to release the source code he'd used to make his points into the open source realm. He did, and Java developers flocked to it, adding ideas and contributing code. "That was the start of Spring," he says.

The Spring Framework's goal is to simplify Java, and judging by adoption, it's succeeding. Oracle put hooks to Spring into its JBuilder tool, and a plethora of other vendors--as well as enterprises--also are converts. The lesson? Don't be afraid to ask why.

"I began to question the fundamental tenets of the language," Johnson says. Many Java developers are glad he did.

Q&A With Rod Johnson
InformationWeek: You didn't start out as a designer of application development frameworks, did you?

Johnson: I was originally educated in computer science and music at the University of Sydney. When I graduated, I spent two years teaching classical 19th century music. Computing was just my hobby. I started out as an academic musicologist.

IW: How did the skill in software development come about?

Johnson: Anyone who's a good programmer will get exploited. The music department needed all kinds of software. I had some responsibility for the computer lab in the department, so they'd say to me, 'Here's the programs we need, and if you can produce them, you'll get an extremely good mark in your course.'

IW: Where did you gain your experience in enterprise computing?

Johnson: I'm fairly independent and entrepreneurial. I wanted to have more control over my career. I picked up Java very early. So in the mid-1990s, I moved to Birmingham in the U.K. and went to work for AT&T on its development staff for insurance systems [in a former AT&T contract business]. I wrote a big part of a comparative quote engine. I moved to London in 1999 and worked for the London Clearing House, the Financial Times, and the Voca interbank payments system. Voca migrated 10 million lines of mainframe Cobol to Java. I became a senior architect and most influential staffer on Java strategy at the companies I worked for. I loved the work, but what happened was, I was kind of forced to leave the Financial Times. My mother fell ill in Australia [and Johnson moved back to help care for her].

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