I got interested in Java in 1996 or 1997, after reading about it somewhere. I don't remember when downloaded it for the first time. I was working for a multi-national corporation in Kazakhstan, and wanted to move overseas. Switzertland was my first preference.
One day a head of IT from our European HQ visited our factory. We sat next to each other at the dinner, hosted by my local IT manager. I mentioned Java and hyped about it a lot. I remember the big boss told my manager that he'd take me to the company's regional development center in Eastern Europe. It was rumored to be the best software development group in the firm, and everybody wanted to join it. I wasn't in very good relations with my manager at the time. So, he might as well let me go, but that didn't happen. He said that I first have to finish my current project, which a big deal QA Lab instrumentation/automation implementation.
From that day I came to hate that QA project :) Although in retrospect it seems to be a very interesting project. I learned Smalltalk and we hooked up all Lab instruments to thesystem. Anyways, they never sent me to that development group, but my Java afficionado reputation was built and paid off one year later. As far as I remember a company got new software development manager, with background in Smalltalk and OOP, he wanted to push Java into the shop.
It's worth noting that the company was and still is a Microsoft biased enterprise. Somehow, they reject anything that's not Microsoft. So, it was hard battle to a get a major development in Java. Nobody wanted to risk. Apparently, my manager suggested that he can commit developers, then my name popped up. Long story short, they offered me, "a Java guy", to become a tech lead on the distributed budget system. This system was supposed to improve regional budget preparation for Finance dept. The company had many affiliates across Estaren and Central Europe, as well as the former USSR area. So the finance people in all these affiliates would enter their numbers into the system, then the HQ people would consolidate the numbers.
The project got a regional status, and was supposed to be a pilot joint effort in Java adoption. I got two developers locally, and a couple of IT folks in Switzerland. There were some resources promised from other affiliates, but they never materialized. It was a high stakes effort the regional management in Europe. I was told there's no option to fail :) Anyhow, after a few weeks of training in Java and UML in Geneve, we jumped into development. I think that first Phase was delivered in Fall 1998, after 3 months of development. That's how I really got into Java. Next year, in 1999, I got Sun Certified Java Programmer certificate and left the company :)
All these memories are because this year's JavaOne is going to be the last Sun JavaOne. Sun JavaOne started in 1996. This Spring Sun was bought by Oracle. Things are not going to be the same.