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Java Learning/Projects

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Eclipse IDE Spring Java
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I have been working on java related technologies for almost for 2.5 years.Now, I very much like this technology and I wanted to explore more than what I get to know from my projects at work.I want to try new and interesting things,but I am little confused about how to start and where to start. Below are the list of things I can think of doing to pursue my passion. As I didn't have clear picture of java world,and I feel there are better starting points or leads available,Can you guys please guide me.Thanks

1)Certifications ( will act as motive factor to learn,try and explore fundamentals ,syntax,semantics and tricky things).[Currently, preparing for OCPJP 6 which will be completed by end of this August and will go for web component certification,then next is Spring core]
2)TopCoder.com ( Trying to solve exiting problems and participating in upcoming contests will help sharpening Aptitude,Analytical and Application skills) [Currently doing this and its a continues process]
3)Self Projects( Thinking of to create some interesting applications staring from small projects)[Not yet started,Currently thinking of ideas to work and will be staring from next month]

1)Are there any portals where we can start a project and interested people can join OR I can join in existing projects?
2)Will it be helpful moving from job to PHD(research) side( are there any phd programs available related java )?
3)Where can I learn about new/interesting happenings in java world, and How can I become one who is contributing?


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It's really best if you can find a job working on the things you find new and interesting. You get colleagues to help you learn, managers to motivate your progress, and, of course, money. If that's not possible, there are many open-source projects that always need talented developers. Most of them have public listings of defects, which you could take on to get familiar with the code base before you dive into to helping with new features. You could also come up with a product of your own ... maybe something you would personally find useful ... and work on developing that. If other people like it as well, you have the beginnings of a business.

I doubt there are PhD programs in Java per se. They are likely to be in computer science or engineering, but of course you would be using Java and other languages as part of your studies. My experience with PhDs as software developers hasn't really been positive though. If you want to teach computer science, or do pure research, then go for it! Otherwise, I don't think that's a good way to learn Java.
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If you are really interested start contributing to opensource Java projects , recently we have started a big opensource project ...if you are interested than message me with your email so that i can forward you all the details of our project and also your role in that

Jesper: Unnecessary quote of Don's message removed. Please don't quote the whole original message like this.
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