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Meet a NetBeans Blogger: Dustin Marx

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Meet a NetBeans Blogger: Dustin Marx

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Dustin Marx has been a professional software developer for 16 years and was hacking code for years before that. Although his bachelors degree is in Electrical Engineering and his preference is to write code, he also earned an MBA degree and finds himself managing software development teams at times, as well.

He maintains a blog called "Inspired by Actual Events" (http://marxsoftware.blogspot.com) that covers software development topics.

Hi Dustin, nice to meet you! How did you get started blogging?

I had written several articles for online sites, but wanted to write about many things that seemed to lack the scope to justify an entire article. As I began experimenting with blogging five years ago in early October of 2007, I began to realize blogging's many other advantages, such as being able to:
  • write about a wider variety of topics
  • spend more time on content and less time on editing
  • write more timely responses to current events and trends
  • focus my thinking on subjects
  • help me transition thoughts from short-term to long-term memory
  • provide an easy place to find examples again
  • feel like I'm participating in the community
What are the main themes of the blog?

I try to keep "Inspired by Actual Events" limited to software development, but tend to cover anything that I think is of interest in software development.
I frequently write about Java and NetBeans, but also have written a large number of posts on Groovy, Flex/ActionScript, and general software development topics.

How often do you blog and how do you decide that something is worth blogging about?

My blogging frequency ranges anywhere from a few times per month to a few times per day. I typically post the most when attending a conference like JavaOne because I am focused on blogging my experiences there. I blog the least when other things such as work or personal activities consume more of my available time. I generally blog on something if it interests me and meets one or more of the following conditions:
  1. it is new and not heavily covered already
  2. it is something that I run into frequently and repeatedly and want to document so that I can easily look it up again
  3. it is something that I'm asked frequently and repeatedly and want to document so that I can refer the person asking to that post
  4. it is something that was particularly difficult to get working correctly and I want to help others when they need to do the same thing
How have the responses been to your blog and what kind of responses do you get?

When I first started blogging, about the only responses I got to my posts were spam messages selling offshore software development or some other (usually) software development related service. I also got the typical plethora of spam linking to more seedy websites. I was forced to turn off "open" comments and require a Google account to leave a comment. I was hesitant to do this because the best posts are the ones with lots of community discussion, but I also wanted to keep the garbage out. This seemed like a viable alternative. Comments to "old" posts also require my approval before being published for the same reasons.

As my blog became better known through its affiliation with JavaWorld, JavaLobby MVB program, and Java Geeks, and as it was featured on Java.net, I started to see more useful and satisfying posts. In general, I love to see posts from people who are expressing thanks for saving them a bunch of time or helping them solve a perplexing problem. It is fun to hear people I know as well tell me when they're read my blog, particularly in the cases where they ran across one of my posts as the result of a search engine reference and particularly when they didn't know I blog until running into one of my posts.

I really like responses such as the ones to my post "Ten Groovy One Liners to Impress Your Friends" because they add value to the post by adding additional insights. The feedback comments related to my "JDK 7: New Interfaces, Classes, Enums, and Methods" post are another example of this, where one person went so far as to improve my example and make the improved source code available on github.

Finally, I have Google Alerts set to tell me when someone writes about one of my posts and it is always nice to see positive references to my blog from other bloggers or from Java.net or in articles. It was an honor to have my blog referenced in the outstanding book The Well-Grounded Java Developer and to have my blog syndicated.

Quite frequently you blog about NetBeans. How did that come about and what are the latest features you've found to be cool?

I like to blog about things that I use regularly. My blog is called "Inspired by Actual Events" because nearly all my posts are inspired by actual day-to-day experiences and events (and because I like movies). NetBeans is something I use about as much as anything else, so it's not surprising that I post fairly often on NetBeans. I started using NetBeans years ago when I was doing a lot of development with GlassFish. NetBeans's easy integration with GlassFish and its early support for new Java EE features made it a natural fit.

The constant innovation in new releases of NetBeans also makes it an easy topic to blog on without fear of repeating what's already thoroughly covered. I love the NetBeans integrated hints and warnings. They make it so much easier to write higher quality code.
Some of my favorite new features in recent releases of NetBeans include:
I would love to see a code collaboration tool come to NetBeans and there are times when it would be handy to have UML support back in NetBeans.

You were live blogging at JavaOne this year. Can you say a few things about that experience?

This was my third year to blog on JavaOne and I have thoroughly enjoyed it each year.
I try to write the blog as the sessions and keynotes are progressing. The downsides of this include the difficulty of following the topic and typing my thoughts at the same time. The huge upsides of this include being able to publish the post almost immediately upon completion of the session and the ability to enjoy San Francisco tourism activities at night without needing to spend significant time on my blog.
One thing I did new this year for me was to use Twitter (@DustinMarx) to tweet about each post as I submitted it. I also followed Tweets on JavaOne this year and referenced several Tweets in my posts when the Tweet said it better than I could.

What kinds of skills and talents does a software technology blogger need to have (or not have)?

The two most obvious skills that benefit a software technology blogger are:
  1. Knowledge and experience with software development topics.
  2. An ability to write prose as well as code.
I think it's important to realize, however, that only a small amount of each is really necessary to get started.
Writing blog posts will likewise help the blog author learn more about software and become a better writer. There is a lot of talk about the importance of diversity and sometimes it is difficult to pin down why diversity is something to seek for. However, I have found it very useful over time to read the opinions and approaches used by a diverse set of software developers with diverse backgrounds. Sometimes, I learn better from a particular blogger than I do from another with a similar post simply because of writing styles or the different backgrounds and perspective that they bring to their posts.
A software technology blogger willing to write things that matter to him or her and explain why they matter to him or her can help someone without even knowing it, especially in this age of high performance search engines.

What would you say to someone who doesn't want to blog because of a fear of unintentionally exposing their ignorance?

This is a legitimate concern and is probably the second most common concern I hear from developers about blogging (the first being that they cannot imagine having anything to say that hasn't already been covered or would be of interest to anyone). If a developer writes enough posts and especially if that developer writes about topics that are new to him or her, this will occasionally happen. However, feedback comments usually call out corrections and these corrections can be graciously acknowledged and incorporated into the post. To reduce the likelihood of this happening, I try to find other sources of information backing my claims and provide links to those sources. Even more importantly, I like to try out with unit testing anything I might advocate before I write it. When expressing opinions, I try to make sure it is clear that it is only an opinion and provide the reasoning behind the opinion.

I think the tone of the posts is important. Posts coming off as haughty are more likely to lead to ridicule and smugness over incorrect assertions while posts written in a helpful, sharing tone are likely to lead to gentle reminders and corrections. Ignorance combined with arrogance is most likely to draw negative attention.
Finally, reading other blogs, reading articles, reading books, and attending conferences are other ways to reduce the concern about exposing ignorance because confidence is gained from learning more about specific software topics and about software development in general.

Anything else you want to share?

I appreciate Oracle's continued investment in NetBeans. Some of us were concerned when Oracle acquired Sun that Oracle would drop NetBean,s given Oracle's investment in JDeveloper and Oracle's Eclipse investments such as Oracle Enterprise Pack for Eclipse.
However, it's been nice to see NetBeans continuing to improve and allowing me to improve the code I write. It was also reassuring to hear so much positive excitement at JavaOne 2012 from Oracle employees and from members of the community about the future of NetBeans and the future of all things Java.
Thanks for the interview, Dustin. And I'm hoping this will inspire others to create inspiring software technology blogs too!

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