Meet the Author

Harshad Oak, author of Pro Jakarta Commons

by Jason Menard, Thomas Paul, and Mapraputa Is

This month we introduce a new column for the JavaRanch Journal, the "Meet the Author" column, which will include interviews with authors of Java related books. For our first interview, we spoke with Harshad Oak, the author of several books, including Pro Jakarta Commons.

JavaRanch: You just had two books published by Apress within the span of only a few months: "Oracle JDeveloper 10g: Empowering J2EE Development" and "Pro Jakarta Commons". That's pretty impressive. Writing one book is challenging enough, but how did you manage the challenges of writing two books at the same time?

Harshad: Thanks. It wasn't meant to be this way. The Commons book was expected around this time but JDev was supposed to come out earlier. We began with JDeveloper 9i but the announcement of JDev 10g meant that we had to rethink the book and I had to put in a lot of time with the new version. Early 2004 was crazy yet fun as I tried to meet deadlines for both books.

JavaRanch: You previously co-authored "Java 2 Enterprise Edition 1.4 Bible", published by Wiley. Were there any eye-opening experiences writing that one that really prepared you for your next two?

Harshad: Oh yes! I have been writing articles for a long time but writing books is just so different. There are 'n' number of reviews. You need to use templates, follow guidelines, stick to certain rules...Although I was already working on the JDeveloper book back then, the J2EE 1.4 Bible experience certainly taught me a lot about writing technology books.

JavaRanch: Tell us about your relationship with Apress. Were there any major differences between your experience with Apress and Wiley?

Harshad: My experience with both publishers has been very good. I worked with Wiley for a relatively short time but I have been talking to folks at Apress for over a year now. All the people I have been interacting with have been down to earth and polite (very important). Also most of them have written books in the past and so can empathize with an author.

JavaRanch: What has Apress done to promote your books?

Harshad: I suppose budgets these days are very tight and so Apress' role has primarily been that of making the book available across stores and countries. Apress also has been sending out free copies for review to magazines and other opinion influencers.

JavaRanch: Many authors admit that they can get rather obsessive about how their books are doing on Amazon. They will watch their Amazon sales rankings like they do their stock portfolio, and religiously check for new user reviews. How about yourself? Can you identify with this or do manage to remain unphased by the whole Amazon thing?

Harshad: I do keep track of how my book is doing on Amazon. I think the real reason behind Amazon addiction is that book sales figures aren't very transparent to the authors and most authors unfortunately have to look at Amazon to get an idea of how their book is faring. All publishers really need to address this problem.

JavaRanch: "Pro Jakarta Commons" is an interesting albeit uncommon topic to write a book on. What prompted you to approach this subject?

Harshad: Take up any popular Java/J2EE software like Tomcat, Struts and Hibernate and it is very likely that the software is internally making use of some Commons component. I was surprised to see that although Commons is very useful and used quite widely, there was no book on the subject. Also as the docs for some of the components aren't that great, it made even more sense to write a book about the project and fill the docs void.

Jakarta Commons was one of the book ideas I had send to John Zukowski who was back then the Java editor at Apress. Surprisingly, he himself was considering writing a book on Commons but he graciously let me take the idea further. John took up the task of being the technical reviewer of the book and I wrote the book.

JavaRanch: What do you think the value of the Jakarta Commons project is to the software community?

Harshad: Jakarta Commons is awesome. So often it happens that we see the Java community raving about some concept or software but we finally think that "Nah! this isn't for me!". Guess what! Jakarta Commons is something that is useful for every Java developer. It is a collection of some simple yet very powerful components. I like to call it the Swiss knife without which you better not enter the Java jungle.

JavaRanch: Is there any particular component or combination of components in the Jakarta Commons project that you find most useful?

Harshad: I like and use a lot of the Commons component but l guess I am most fond of Digester and Validator. I hate having to parse XML without the Digester and Validator has in a way revolutionized field validations on all projects that I develop as part of Rightrix Solutions. The HttpClient and Lang components also can be very useful.

JavaRanch: After these latest two books, are there any others on the horizon?

Harshad: There are a couple of ideas being discussed but things are rather vague at the moment. No Harshad Oak book at least in the next few months. :)

JavaRanch: From your bio, we see that you are a Sun Certified Java Programmer and a Sun Certified Web Component Developer. What do you feel is the place of the Sun Java certifications in our industry?

Harshad: I owe a lot of what I know about Java to my certifications. If it was not for those, I am quite certain I would not have taken the pains to study the intricacies of the language. I occasionally teach some Java and J2EE and I always make it a point to encourage my students to take up certification. I would also like to thank Javaranch for the great cert content it has. Although I did not contribute regularly, I read and learned a lot from the Javaranch forums.

JavaRanch: Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about yourself, or are there any final bits of wisdom you'd like to leave our readers with?

Harshad: Wisdom...Now that's a tough one! I would just say that any software developer today needs to stay open to new ideas and also make a conscious effort to work smart and not work hard. This might seem clichéd but I honestly think that software developers do a lot of unnecessary hard work. For example, many developers will never invest time in learning to use a powerful tool like JDeveloper but instead will keep working with basic editors and manually do a lot of things that the IDE could have easily done for them. Why parse XML using SAX instead of using a component like Digester, why write string manipulation code when the StringUtils class in the Lang component can do a million things with strings....

I will be presenting about JDeveloper at the ODTUG meet in June and hopefully will also be around at JavaOne this year. I am looking at other speaking engagements as well and so if the readers happen to be at a meet where I am, I would be more than happy to meet up. Also please send any feedback about my books to