Eclipse Day Comes to China, Local Developers Hit a Language Barrier

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eclipse-logoIf you’re not a programmer, there’s a good chance that you’ve never heard of the Eclipse IDE. That’s okay. Neither had I. Suffice to say, Eclipse is an open source project used by millions of developers around the world to, among other things, make websites. Big websites. Eclipse is the most popular integrated development environment (IDE) for writing Java in China and the world. Like almost all programming languages for building websites or software, Java caters to fluent English speakers.

Paul Verest wants to bring together the Chinese and foreign developer community in Beijing. He’s a software architect at Funshion Online, a Chinese video website. He organized China’s first ever Eclipse Day and DemoCamp last week. Eclipse events are organized around the world by local volunteers. These were organized by Verest, who hails from France, and attended by both Chinese and foreign developers. Speakers at Eclipse Day China included representatives from software companies like IBM, Oracle, and Actuate.

Both remote and in-person presenters talked about their projects, applications, and products made using Eclipse. The event was bilingual, but Verest says his mostly Chinese audience missed out on the presentations given in English. Because most Eclipse project creators are from western countries and the content is so complex, the average level of English known by local developers just isn’t enough.

High level developers must know English. Most new documentations come in English. When learning from translation, a developer is usually one to three years behind.

More visuals needed

English is Verest’s second language, too, so maybe that’s why he has high expectations for his Chinese counterparts. Most Chinese developers do know English at some level, but anyone who’s ever tried to read programming documentation knows how dense it is. I can barely make sense of much of it as a native English speaker and novice programmer. Jack Liu, a Chinese software engineer for eBay in China, says he understood about 80 percent of the English presentations. He speaks English pretty fluently, much better than many of his Chinese colleagues. But for his own presentation about the VJET Eclipse plugin he contributes to, he spoke in Chinese.

“In my opinion, demos will help the audience understand English easier,” he says, but demos often are unavailable.

Eclipse was started by IBM back in 2003, but no single company owns or profits directly from it. Anyone can make a library plugin to extend the capabilities of Eclipse, such as writing in other programming languages or reducing the amount of code needed. China has a handful of contributors like Liu, but the vast majority are from Western countries. Even though they live and work in China, Verest says a lack of English fluency is holding Chinese devs back.

I hope more Chinese companies and individuals join us to show what they can do with Eclipse, and maybe we see Eclipse projects that originated in China as top level Eclipse projects.

The other Javanese language

SpringSource is a company that created a Java plugin for Eclipse and a handful of other IDEs, now used by millions of developers. They make their living providing training, consulting, and support for Spring, and they have full-time employees dedicated to open-source projects like Eclipse. Education manager for SpringSource Michael Isvy spoke at Eclipse Day China to talk about Spring best practices – stuff so far over my head I couldn’t see it through the Beijing smog.

“I’m sure you have at least a million people using Eclipse in China,” Isvy said.

The Java developer says events like this one in China are pretty rare compared to those in his hometown.

“In Paris, if you want to go to a technical event like this, you have one every evening. The market is already very saturated. In the US, it’s kind of the same. In China, it’s still quite new,” he says. “In a few years from now, there will be many events like this.”

But will Chinese developers learn better English to get the most out of these events and, in fact, their careers? Should they have to? Do they have any alternatives? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Paul Verest plans to hold the next Eclipse Day sometime in November.

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