Java: Jim Bisso Decaffeinates this Complex Subject

July 1998 Meeting Summary published in The Connection (Silicon Valley Chapter of the Society of Technical Communication)
By Thomas Albert (

Jim Bisso of Bitzone explained to more than 140 technical communicators why knowledge of Sun Microsystem's Java programming language is a hot skill on the job market. The crowd appreciated Mr. Bisso's ability to decaffeinate the rush by slowly and clearly clarifying the fundamentals.

Java is object-oriented, so portions of a program (child objects) can
reuse (inherit) and customize (over-ride) existing functions (methods).
Java supports distributed objects which is the ability to create and
run objects remotely over a network.

An object is programming code plus data that can be treated as an unit. All sorts of things on your computer can be objects: an Excel chart, a toolbar button, a dialog box, or a database form. Even an application, such as Microsoft Windows Notepad, can be an object.

Every object is defined by a class or template. To make a culinary analogy, think of the class as the cookie cutter and an object as one cookie. First you define the class, just as you have the round or square cookie cutter before you use it to mold a cookie. Each cookie that you mold is an instance of the cookie class (round or square) associated with that cookie cutter. You can customize some cookies by adding chocolate chips to the dough.

To use a linguistic analogy, think of a class as a noun (French men),
an instance as a proper noun (Pierre DuRoi is a French man), and
"properties" as adjectives that describe the object (wine-drinking, escargot-eating, romantic). The "methods" would be verbs: pops open (the champagne bottle), devours (the snail), whispers (words of love).

A key advantage of using Java classes for programming is the ability to
re-use code instead of writing from scratch. Sun Microsystem also promotes the JavaBeans application programming interface, which uses a programming architecture that ensures that sections of Java code can be reused as components in larger programs.

Because Java is platform independent, you do not need to port your code.
Java bytecode runs on all platforms that have a Java virtual machine:
mainframes, Unix workstations, Apple Macintoshes, and Microsoft Windows-based PCs. In addition to running applications on these platforms, you can also run
Java applets on Web browsers, such as Netscape Navigator and Microsoft
Internet Explorer.

On the Web, you have considerable security thanks to the Java sandbox,
which prevents Java applets from perpetrating malicious activity, such
as reformatting your hard drive. You can also "embed" Java in systems
such as videotape players, set-top boxes for interactive television, and
moving vehicles with geographic positioning systems (GPS).

So why is Java important to technical communicators? Java means employment opportunities for technical communicators who document application programming interfaces (APIs) or seek a job transition from technical writing to product/project management or software development. Because Java is hot, the playing field is relatively level. You, as a writer, may be able to interact with developers earlier in the product cycle than is typically the case in large, established C/C++ shops.

Particularly useful to technical communicators is Sun Microsystem's JavaDoc, which is HTML documentation for the API embedded inside the Java code as
comments. JavaDoc automatically has links to the code's classes, so it
can give the technical writer a valuable headstart in deciphering the
programmer's project.

To learn more about Java:
--Contact Jim Bisso (, who also teaches classes on
Java for Technical Communicators and is authoring a book on the topic.

--Visit, which has free software

--Check out these books:
Cornell, Gary & Cay Horstmann. 1998. Core Java 1.1 (Prentice Hall)

Rumbaugh, James & al. 1991. Object-Oriented Modeling and Design
(Prentice Hall)