As a technology manager, one of my teams consists of a web development group building both internal and external business applications. The core platform is built on ColdFusion, a JVM based technology, mixed in with various other frameworks and technologies (jQuey, Flex, ColdBox, SQL Server, etc…).
A couple of years ago we had a project that involved integrating JBoss Drools (a business rules workflow engine), and we needed a way to easily bridge ColdFusion and Drools together, and came across the works of Barney Boisvert and his CFGroovy project. using CFGroovy, we were able to successfully complete the project, while being able to assess the Groovy language itself.
Meanwhile as the years went by, whenever we had to recruit additional talent we found it increasingly difficult (you can find an article I wrote on the topic at RIARockStars). We don’t even bother looking for ColdFusion developers any more, we look for any talented individual with a web engineering background willing to learn.
With the success that we had on that one project, and the seemingly shrinking ecosystem we decided on a strategy of switching over to another JVM language. The reasoning and hypothesis include:
- Ability to progressively evolve our existing platform (we can do it feature by feature, vs. total rewrite)
- Opens up access to the larger Java talent pool
- Keeps the product on a more relevant platform
- Keeps the staff’s skills relevant
Why not Java itself?
The big assumption
Assessing the risk/potential
- Is the technology gaining traction in the community?
- Who is backing it (corporation, random collection of open source guys, etc…)?
- Is there corporate support?
- What is the size of the community (aka talent pool)?
- What is the momentum of the community (shrinking/growing, accelerating/decelerating, etc…)?
- How long will it take for a team to achieve a degree of proficiency?
- How do you get a team to proficiency (training, books, blogs, magazines, etc…)?
- How fast is the technology improving (rate of releases, etc…)?
- Have other companies been successful with the technology?
This article is from the eyes of management, and not that of a developer. The findings are equally useful, but the conclusions a developer would make would be different than that of management. Most importantly as a developer, you should make it your mission to learn as many technologies as possible, it opens your eyes to new techniques and trends, and makes you an adaptive individual – and this is something a business values (Seven Languages in Seven Weeks is a particularly good book in this context).
Another thing to note is that I’m not evaluating the technologies themselves – there’s no shortage discussions and articles out there that cover this, so you can read up on those as part of evaluating technological fit (you’ll find some good ones on StackOverflow and Quora).
I’m by no means an expert on any of these platforms, and this was the result of a series of Googling for a week to gather various angles. If my perception is off on anything, I welcome the feedback. Thanks!
I just didn’t have the time to fully evaluate all of the JVM languages and their ecosystems, so I had to focus on (from my analysis) the biggest three: Groovy, Scala, and Clojure. Given more time, what I would need to do is focus the research on specifically web development as all these languages (including Java) encompass more than just web applications.
But I needed to start somewhere, and you can see where I try to rope in some web perspective.
Groovy at this point in time would be the conservative/safest bet, business wise. It’s like the Ryan Seacrest of non-Java JVM languages; its conservative, clean, polished, and very active. Groovy is like the athletic younger brother of the lethargic and obese Java.
It appears to have the overall largest ecosystem of the three, and is backed by a huge well known entity (VMWare/EMC). Grails being the web framework of interest, they’re also about to release a big 2.0 update.
I am very disappointed that although SpringSource mentions they have a Groovy and Grails courses, they actually don’t conduct any. This could be used as clue that there’s not enough interest to warrant hosting such classes (well more than a clue, that is the case), but you figure just for strategic reasons they’d take a loss on the training (the classic Gillette move, sell the razor at a loss and make it up on blades).
However, I found the Scala and Clojure training availability just as disappointing.
Scala would be the other strong contender. Although its ecosystem is smaller than Groovy’s, it has a noticeably more passionate community. As well, having Twitter as the big success story is a massive notch on its belt.
The funding of Scala would be on my things to keep an eye on. Part of Scala is backed by a Swiss university (EPFL), and educational institutions tend to be extremely bureaucratic and their funding dependent on government entities. And then you have a business also involved (TypeSafe.com) who has only been able to generate $3M in venture capital, based on the size of their corporate team, that money won’t last long if they’re not generating revenue (since they are private there’s no way to know).
Trending wise it appears to be accelerating in popularity – it’ll be interesting to resample six months from now and evaluate the landscape. Although not as many books as Groovy, its books are more current.
From a business perspective, I wouldn’t even put Clojure on the radar for now, I’d need to see if it gains more traction in order to justify investing in it, as well as a much more solid foundation behind it.
Although I don’t fully analyse it, the ColdFusion ecosystem is much larger than any of these languages. Extremely passionate community, backed by Adobe who invests millions per year in it, vast array of physical and online user groups, etc… As of right now, going by numbers, ColdFusion wins.
But, we wouldn’t be looking to hire a Groovy/Scala developer, just a developer willing to learn. I know that Java/.NET/PHP folks have no interest in ColdFusion (beleive me, we tried on many occasion). So the question is, is that the same situation with Groovy/Scala/etc…, and trend wise is it a matter of time and we’re just at the infancy stages?
- Groovy: 2398
- Scala: 625
- Clojure: 532
Books on Amazon:
- Groovy: 12
- Grails; 7
- Scala: 7
- Lift: 2
- Clojure: 6
- Conjure: 0
- Noir: 0
Note: The current offerings of the Groovy & Grails books are relatively old (most recent Groovy one being from 2008, and the most recent Grails ones from 2009).
- Scala: 53
- Lift: 4?
- Clojure: 33
- Noir: 0?
- Conjure: 0?
- Groovy: 23
- Grails: 63
Email List Activity:
- Groovy: 50/day
- Grails: 83/day
- Scala: 38/day
- Lift: 46/day
- Clojure: 33/day
- Noir: 2/day (Google Groups)
- Conjure: 1/day (Google Groups)
- Scala: 50
- ColdFusion: 59
- Groovy: 69
- Clojure: not on the list
eWeek Article 09/12/11 (http://bit.ly/nbbtbx):
- Note: the early relative percentages are interesting, but as impressive as a 100% increase is, going from 1 job to 2 jobs isn’t.
- The more relevant thing here is the industry perception an article like this generates.
StackOverFlow Search on terms:
- “groovy” : 4390
- “grails” : 3391
- “scala” : 3222
- “lift” : 1608
- “clojure” : 3059
- “conjure” : 89
- “noir” : 34
Source of funding/corporate support:
- SpringSource a VMWare company, subsidiary of EMC Corporation
- VMWare: Publicly traded on the NYSE (VMW)
- Employees: 9000 employees
- Market Cap: $42B
- Revenue: $3.54B
- Gross Profit: $2.36B
- EMC Corporation: Publicly traded on the NYSE (EMC)
- Employees: 48,500
- Market Cap: $51B
- Revenue: $19B
- Gross Profit: $10B
- Team Size: 68? (http://bit.ly/ryL8fb)
- Ecole Polytechnique Federale De Lausanne (EPFL), a Swiss Federal Institute of Technology organization.
- Scala Solutions, acquired by TypeSafe.
- Privately held
- Founded in 2011 by the creators of Scala.
- Received $3M (euro) in Series A funding on 5/12/2011 by Greylock Partners.
- Team size: 12? (http://bit.ly/u3uPmI)
- Primarily via the personal “commercial endeavors” of the creator of Clojure (Rich Hickey) and private donations.
- Team size: 8? (http://bit.ly/tIEaQ6)
Who’s using it:
- Twitter, LinkedIn, EDFT, Novell, The Guardian, Xebia, FourSquare, Sony, Siemens, Thatcham, OPower, GridGain, AppJet, Reaktor
- Wired.com, LinkedIn.com, Sky.com, Aegeon, eHarmony, EverBank, ExpertPlan, NetJay, NimBuzz, XWiki, Vodafone Music Store,
- BackType, Sonian, Fightcaster, Akamai, BankSimple, Relevance, KamaGames, Stere, Infinitely Beta, Wusoup, Factual, The Deadline, holodb, Prismatic, Amazon
Job Searches on Dice.com:
- ColdFusion: 343
- Groovy: 247
- Scala: 126
- Clojure: 20
Job Searches at Monster.com:
- ColdFusion: 196
- Groovy: 120
- Scala: 64
- Clojure: 9