Interviews with our VCIs: Patrick Hancke

If you’ve been reading our blog, you already know that we recently started interviewing our VCIs. Our trainers are the beating heart of The Campus, so we believe they deserve to be in the spotlight! After Kristof, today it’s Patrick’s turn to take the stage. Next to being a Spring teacher, Patrick Hancke is also a Senior Solutions Consultant at XTi, part of Xplore Group.

Patrick, when was the first time you came into contact with the Spring framework? And what was the context in which you started using Spring?

“I think that was in 2006, while I was working on a project for a client. It was my first assignment outside of the Cronos Group. I was sent to this client alone and ended up working within an existing team. A colleague in the team had suddenly dropped out, so they were really desperate for an extra pair of helping hands. It turned out that this company used the Spring Framework quite heavily, while I had never worked with Spring before. It was exciting, but I was a bit nervous about it as well. Luckily this company had a quite relaxed work atmosphere, so I put my cards on the table and told them that I had no experience and that I would need some time to study Spring first. It paid off: they gave me the chance to broaden my knowledge around Spring. Eventually I even had the chance to make suggestions, because I had the impression that they were not using all features correctly. This company also had a working environment that allowed experimenting. During the time I was working there, lots of sub-projects and side projects for Spring were being created. We used some of those sub-projects during the project, even though they were still quite new. They were prepared to take the risk. So I actually had the chance to learn a lot during my time with that client, which I greatly appreciate. Working there gave me a solid foundation of Spring knowledge to work upon later in my career.”

What was your first impression of the Spring Framework at the time?

“Well, good question… I actually thought it was pretty cool and well-made. At the time, annotations on Java didn’t exist yet, so you had to work with XML. Spring changed that: we don’t even talk about XML anymore in the Spring Core course. The course refers to sources where you can find information about XML, but further advises students to leave XML behind as much as possible. It helps me that I still have knowledge about XML when a student has a question about it, but I’m actually very glad we left the time of XML behind us!”

“What I also find very important is the testability of the application that you’re developing. That has always been a point of focus with Spring from the very beginning: everything you write with Spring, is easy to test. That’s something they have been paying attention to up to today, and I think that’s one of the framework’s greatest strengths.”

How do you experience working with Spring during your day-to-day job?

“I actually haven’t worked with Spring daily. Since I left the project during which I first started working with Spring, several years passed where I didn’t have the opportunity to use Spring during my projects with clients. I started working with the framework intensively again about 4 years ago, so there’s quite a big time gap there. Once I started working with Spring again, I was actually surprised to see how much it evolved during all that time. The company I work for, XTi, was looking for Spring teachers around the time. I was interested in becoming a teacher since I found it very interesting to work with. I started to deepen my knowledge of the framework and I attended a Spring Core course given by Kristof, and I eventually became a teacher myself.”

If you had to pick a favourite feature of the Spring Framework, which one would it be?

“I think picking just one feature out of the whole framework is almost impossible… When I think about it, I come back to what I’ve already said earlier: the fact that everything is testable. I find that to be the most important advantage of Spring. It’s something that always comes back during all of your projects. The fact that you can develop something that is testable and stays testable in the future, is one of Spring’s biggest strengths, in my opinion.”

How do you see the Spring Framework evolve in the future?

“There have been a lot of developments to make Java quicker lately. Java has always had this label of being slow, but that was in a context where developers of enterprise applications would shut their applications down only once every few months to do an upgrade. Nowadays, we have cloud environments that can scale up very quickly once the load on your application starts getting too heavy. This is traditionally not one of Java’s and Spring’s strengths. My colleague and fellow trainer Nico recently posted something about that in our company’s Slack channel, and he said Spring was actually working on something that would improve speed. It’s a whole new movement around Spring, Native and Java, and it’s still a Beta version. So I’m looking forward to discovering how they’re going to do that.”

Can you give us a useful tip for people who want to get started with Spring?

“I learned a lot from Spring’s reference documentation. Younger people often seem to think that it’s not worth the time or the effort to read through the documentation, but I took the time to read it when I first started working with Spring. When you read it for the first time, you might think “what’s the point?”, but when you start working with Spring afterwards, you will come across things that you read about in the documentation. You can then easily go back to the documentation and read about the things that you didn’t understand the first time, for example. But that’s my way of learning things, and I have the impression that many people do it differently. I certainly don’t want to push people into my way of learning, but I think you will miss a lot of the functionalities if you don’t read the documentation before starting. That often results in people looking for solutions that are already implemented in the framework.”

I recognize that, though. When I buy a new device, I never take the time to read the manual anymore…

“Me neither! I never read the manuals when I get myself a new device. They’re often not included in the packaging anymore, either. When it comes to devices, I think that the UI should be so intuitive so that you don’t even need a manual. But with a framework, it’s different. You can compare it to when you update your computer with the newest Windows version or macOS version. After the update, you will often get a pop-up that asks you if you want to view the new features added. If you don’t click on it, you often won’t know that anything has changed until you need a particular feature half a year later. And then, after lots of searching and frustration, you discover that it’s not there anymore.” (laughs)

Before we wrap up, could you give us one last tip for people who have worked with Spring before, but want to take their knowledge to the next level?

“That’s a very good question, but I don’t immediately know how to answer that… I think that a Spring Core course can definitely help, but I also think you need to be lucky enough to work on a project together with someone who already has a lot of experience. If you have someone like that to learn from, it’s important to keep an open mind and question how certain things work. You need to really want to understand how Spring works. I often had people tell me they didn’t know why they did certain things the way they did, and I don’t really understand how people can do something without actually understanding what they’re doing. I’m nothing like that, I want to know why things work, and I want to be able to explain to people why they do. So I think if you ask the right questions and take the time to understand what you’re doing, you’re starting to take your knowledge to the next level.”

The Campus, Charlotte Van Rompaey 20 May, 2021
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