Author Spotlight: Justin Albano

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Author Spotlight: Justin Albano

Learn about longtime DZone contributor and Java expert, Justin Albano.

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In the latest DZone Spotlight interview, I highlight longtime contributor and Java expert, Justin Albano (DZone Profile). Learn about Justin in this in-depth profile on what they do, a trending DZone article they had, all-time favorite video game, an Andy Hunt story, their Brian Goetz inspiration, and what some of their hobbies are.

Justin Albano author spotlight

For those not already familiar with your work on DZone, tell our audience about who you are and what you do?

I’m a Software Engineer at Catalogic Software, Inc. in Northern New Jersey. I have been developing software for around 10 years now and my primary focus is Java and Spring.

How did you first get started writing or reading DZone?

I found DZone in college while working on an Android app for a course project. The guides that DZone provided helped me to understand the Android market and the common practices that much more talented Android developers were using. Since then, I have continued to learn from many writers, much more talented and skilled than myself.

I began writing on a whim after a series of discussions that I had in college with a few co-workers about “the best programming languages.” That debate resulted in my first article, Do Not Marry a Language: Selecting the Correct Language for the Job, which was published on Christmas day in 2015. Since then, I have continued to write about topics as I learn them (i.e., many of my Spring and Java articles reflect the topics I was learning in-depth at the time) and write articles that I wish existed when I was starting out.

Your article "Creating a REST Web Service With Java and Spring (Part 1)" has been hugely popular on DZone. Were you surprised at its success and how many continue to this day to read it in getting help?

I was surprised to see that the article was so successful, but that has to do with my ability. I never would have thought that any article I would have written would be so popular. As for the topic, I think there is a hole in software writing on creating functional REST applications in Spring. A lot of times, articles or tutorials are either “Hello, World!” applications, or they have so much detail that creating the application takes too long or seems too intimidating.

Every year there are new articles proclaiming the demise of Java yet here we are in a new decade and it's still widely popular. What do you credit with as some of the top things that give Java its continued success and adoption?

Since the time I started learning the language, I’ve heard people claim that Java is dying. A lot of intelligent people make this claim and even provide credible evidence for their arguments, but year after year, Java is still here. What’s more, some years, Java even gains market share. I think that it has lived such a long life for two reasons: (1) Java is used everywhere and (2) Java, at least in the last 10 years, has started to evolve.

First, Java is still used because it has a long track record, and therefore, they are so many frameworks and libraries that exist to support it. This makes the Java ecosystem feature-rich and stable, which makes for a compelling argument in favor of Java when starting a new application. Second, with the 6-month release cadence and the addition of modern features—such as records, sealed classes, and lambda expressions—Java has become a more attractive language (and not to mention more fun).

Justin with miniature tank

Following up with that, how do you see the work of Brian Goetz helping to make Java what it is today?

I think Brian has done an excellent job adding important features that matter to developers. Under his leadership, Project Valhalla, Project Amber, and Project Loom—as well as numerous other JEPs—have matured the language a lot over of the last few years. Compared to even 6 years ago, Java is much more feature-rich and even more enjoyable to use than it already was. It’s incredible how much different the language is since I started with JDK 6 9 years ago, and that’s a testament to how much Brian and his team have been able to accomplish in such a short period of time.

Any advice for developers just starting out in their careers today and any foundational books or DZone articles they should read?

I would suggest reading:

Justin Albano hobby spotlight

What are some of your favorite hobbies that you like to do for fun?

I play two sports outside of work: Brazilian Jiu-jitsu (BJJ) and hockey. BJJ is an amazing sport. I started listening to the Jocko podcast around the spring of 2016 and had heard Jocko talk about BJJ for years, but I never really thought that BJJ was for me. I thought I was too out of shape or not cut from the right cloth for martial arts. Then, in 2019, a friend of mine living in Upstate NY started BJJ. 

I visited him in the winter of that year and asked if I could join for a class at his BJJ academy. I was hooked after one class. When I got back to NJ, I immediately joined my local academy for a full year contract. Anyone that personally knows me knows that I don’t commit to big things without a lot of thought and consideration (usually weeks or even months), but I didn’t need to analyze anything: It was worth every penny, and I knew it day one.

BJJ is an incredible sport because it’s extraordinarily humbling, the people are unbelievably welcoming, and there’s so much depth to the sport. If you have an ego, either don’t start BJJ or be prepared to have it destroyed. It’s difficult to have an ego when someone that’s 50 pounds smaller and 6 inches shorter than you can completely overpower you—and there’s nothing you can do about it. 

That’s when you learn that it’s not just about being bigger or stronger than another person, but instead, about humbling yourself, asking questions, and learning as much as possible. As far as the people and the culture, it’s fantastic how welcoming and helpful everyone is. It can be really intimidating starting a new sport, especially a combat sport, but the people are awesome. Most people will go out of their way to help you because you are new and more than one will probably take you under their wing.

justin albano brazillian jiu jitsu

The sport itself just looks like people trying to bends one another’s arms and legs, or apply chokes to one another, but it’s much more than that. It is a combat sport in the truest sense. There is a strategy involved. It requires that you flank your opponent, feint one move and execute another, and look multiple moves ahead. The best BJJ players will already be executing an escape from a move as soon as you start a movie: They are reading your moves quicker than you can execute them. 

You are trying to do all of that while doing some of the hardest cardio that you can do for 5 minutes at a time (oftentimes for 5 rounds of 5 minutes with only a minute break in between each round). It’s an exercise in problem-solving under pressure and keeping your wits about you even when you are tired or are afraid that your opponent will win. And after all that—getting submitted and submitting your opponent when you get good enough—you bump fists and laugh about it. It’s hard to describe how awesome the sport is.

If there’s a BJJ academy near you, try it out. Don’t hesitate. Don’t worry about what shape you are in. Don’t worry about your age. Just jump right in. Most places will let you try it out for free or at a small fee for the first day.

Besides BJJ, I also play amateur hockey on the weekends or late at night during the week (in the fall and winter). Just like BJJ, hockey is a mental workout: You have to read a play long before it happens, constantly learn about strategies and approaches, and practice to become a better skater, stickhandler, and shooter. I usually tell people it’s like playing chess with the board at eye-level. It’s another sport I’d highly recommend playing, or at least watching, if you get the chance.

How have you managed this lockdown period? What were the key things for you to stay sane and productive?

I have been staying with two of my closest friends during this quarantine period. Having people you love around you is very important and I have made sure to keep in touch with my family, seeing them whenever I could (and when quarantine laws permitted). When I couldn’t see friends and family in person, video chatting has been indispensable. I can’t count how many video conferences I’ve had with my friends on the weekends or how many UFC fights I’ve watched while having friends on video chat, cheering and commenting like we were in the same room again.

Apart from keeping close with those around me, I have made sure to keep working out. My friend who I have been staying with is a strength and conditioning coach, so he has a solid garage gym. He’s trained me for the last few months and it has helped more than I can explain to keep disciplined and in shape during a time where I could have easily turned into a lazy potato. While I wasn’t able to play any of the sports I loved, that was no excuse not to stay in shape—or get even stronger or more conditioned than I was before the quarantine started.

Working out and staying physically conditioned is such an important, and underrated, part of being a good engineer and problem solver. It not only kept me disciplined, but it also keep my mind sharp and relaxed during the last few months. There’s usually a stereotype about engineers being overweight and nerdy, but that shouldn’t be the case, Physical and mental health are closely tied together, and the stronger and more conditioned our bodies are, the better our minds work.

Your interview with Andy Hunt was amazing! Did you ever expect that writing for DZone that one day you'd be interviewing Andy Hunt?

The Pragmatic Programmer was one of the first software books I read as I started college. I saw a copy on the desk of a graduate assistant I knew in one of the engineering labs on campus, and it sparked my interest. I purchased my own copy and it was difficult to get through. Not because the book lacked anything, but because at the end of each chapter, I had to stop and think about for a few hours (or days), letting each topic settle in. I completely changed my view of software engineering: It was no longer just programming or writing code; I realized it was about solving problems and that to learn this craft, I had to learn to be an effective problem solver.

I would have never imagined in my wildest dreams that 10 years later, I would be interviewing the author of that pivotal book for one of the largest software websites in the world. That is definitely one of the moments in my life that made me stop and realize how much God has blessed me.

There are two new video game consoles coming out at the end of the year in XBOX and Playstation? Should we hold out for one of those or is there something already on the market avid gamers should try out?

It depends on what you are looking for in the next console. Right now, they both look evenly matched in the hardware department. Until we see more, it comes down to the exclusive games for each. If you are looking forward to Halo: Infinite or the next Gears of War game, then Xbox Series X is the way to go. That said, if you have a gaming or high-performance PC, you can forego the Series X, as it looks like most of the Xbox exclusives (such as Halo: Infinite) will be on PC as well. (That’s where I’ll be picking up Halo—and no, I’m part of the “PC Master Race” but PC is definitely a great option for gaming.) If you are looking forward to the next Horizon: Zero Dawn or the next Spiderman, then go with the PlayStation 5.

What will be interesting to see is the middle and end of this upcoming console generation. Console performance has long been the measuring stick for consoles, but game streaming is starting to reach its genesis. With the advent of 5G and impressive streaming technology, it’s becoming more of a reality. I’ve tried xCloud (Microsoft) and Nvidia Go and both have their flaws—some lag, some loss of graphical fidelity, etc.—but it’s better than you would think. There’s still more work to go to make it feel like you are playing natively on the console, but we are finally in the ballpark in terms of capability. The next 5-10 years will be interesting. For better or worse, physical games may become more of a novelty than the norm.

As far as buying consoles right now, the Nintendo Switch is definitely a good option. We are in the middle of that generation, but it has some great games (e.g., The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario: Odyssey, Mario Kart, and Super Smash Bros.) and they can all be played on the go. I don’t game much anymore, but even I have played hundreds of hours of the Switch over the last 3 years. Somehow, Nintendo has a way of making some of the most fun games every generation.

Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time

All-time favorite video game and why?

That’s an easy one: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for the Nintendo 64. The first console that my brother and I bought was an N64 and although it didn’t sell all that well, it was such a fun system. When I was around 10, my family and I visited my aunt and cousins down in Virginia during the summer, and my older cousin had a copy of Ocarina of Time. Being a good cousin, he let me play, so long as I stayed in Hyrule Castle Town and played the mini-games. So I just collected rupees—smashing pots and cutting grass, of course—and played the mini-games. When I got back home to NJ, I saved up my allowance and bought the game.

I was blown away by the game. I had never left Castle Town and seen the full game, so everything was mind-blowing to my 10-year-old self. I was floored by the dungeon puzzles, the story, and the bosses. The characters were interesting, but clever and the map was vast. It wasn’t a mindless, beat-em-up, shoot-em-up game: This game required strategy and required you to struggle—sometimes for hours and days—to figure out a puzzle. All the while, the writing was incredible and the story was second to none. Today, games like that are the expectation, but at the time, there was nothing like it.

It may sound like hyperbole, but Ocarina of Time was a defining staple in my childhood. It gave me a sense of adventure like no other game, movie, or book could. It was an epic of Good versus Evil, growing from childhood to adulthood, making friends and losing them. I have so many fond memories of playing that game (except the Water Temple) with my cousin in Virginia and even playing it with my other cousins back in NJ. If you look at a lot of the sketches I did around that time, you can tell how much I enjoyed the game. There’s ones of Link, Ganondorf, Zelda, Sheik, and there may even be an Impa one there somewhere. Even after all these years, and countless games since then, it is still hands-down my favorite video game ever made. It’s going to be really tough to unseat that one.

Last question, what articles can DZone readers expect from you next?

I plan on continuing the Java and Spring topics that I have written recently. While I can’t get into details, I am working with DZone on a large project involving Spring. Hopefully, we will have more details soon, but if you enjoy the Creating a REST Web Service With Java and Spring series, this will be in the same vein, but much more in-depth.

interview, java, spring

Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.

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