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The Perl Conference in Amsterdam

Community Traditions

Mon Aug 14 17:00:20 2017

Last week, 9th-11th August 2017, the Shadowcat crew[1] travelled to the European Perl Conference held this year in Amsterdam.[2] It was for us going to be a busy event. We had decided beforehand that we would be:

  • Presenting main talks (I had one on the EPO, Tom had one on Testing and Matt had three, one about Javascript, one on IRC Bots and one on dependencies);
  • All of us would be doing a Lightning Talk or two (Matt as usual did 2 Lightning talks);
  • Mark was going to be announcing that he was running the 2018 Perl Conference in Glasgow and doing a talk/presentation based on that;
  • We would be hacking on the EPO infrastructure[3];
  • We would be engaging in the usual community rituals of meals and conversations.

This is going to be a general snapshot of the week with some discussion on the talks I saw.


I attended a number of talks, as usual some of them went beyond my abilities, the speakers may have communicated them well but I don’t have the capacity to understand and grade in all cases. Of the ones that were very memorable I want to highlight the following.

Damian Conway gave a number of talks, however his main Keynote concerning a new module he has written on Keywords and PPR was fascinating. Damian is a good speaker and his talks are always presented so that even the casual viewer comes away with an understanding of what his issues were, what he was attempting and what he achieved. A highlight was not on how complex a regex of over 1100 lines (with a singularity in it) was to write, but how difficult it is to debug.

Larry (Wall) gave a keynote that was much more personal this year and focussed more on his recent family and holiday. This may seem odd at a technical conference but for me it helped to ground the fact that conferences are often about the people and not the language. We invest in our community as much as we do the technology and it is not a bad thing to be reminded of that with an understanding of what drives us, our personal life.

SawyerX gave a great update to where we currently stand with Perl 5.26 and the road forwards to Perl 5.24. This was a good way of refreshing everyone on the current developments into Perl 5 and also a subterfuge for him to introduce ‘perlthanks’ a method in core of thanking the authors of Perl directly and something I will be encouraging the usage of. Sawyer also pointed out the strong UTF8 support Perl has. It is so good that there are no programs on his laptop able to display the output of its manipulation of UTF8.

Ervin Ruci gave a talk on his aim to map world literature, showing the locations that a book discusses and is based in through an indexable database. It is a massive project and undertaking that has an impressive start. Ervin discussed it in a 2016 Advent Calendar entry and based on the positive feedback has implemented a system this year that already has thousands of works and NLP using Deep Text. It will be an interesting project to follow going forwards.

Wendy gave a personal talk using her close understanding of the history of Perl though her community involvement over the last two decades of how Perl has changed in that time. It was a timely reminder of the various shifts in both community and language and of how we have weathered a number of shifting challenges.

As always the Lightning Talks were a mixture of the informative, the clever, the insane (mst!) and the fun. These should all be watched as they are short and really enjoyable. I was really happy that Paul Evans, Errietta, Tom, Matt, Finn and I all managed to get a talk into the Lightning slots on Day two making it a back-to-back wall of Shadowcatters.

Matt gave a manic talk on the Thursday with a lot of slides

Matt gave a manic talk on the Thursday with a lot of slides

Tom's talk was tabletop geekery and fun

Tom's talk was tabletop geekery and fun

Finn gave a great self-deprecating talk

Finn gave a great self-deprecating talk

My favourite talk of the event was from Ruth Holloway, @GeekRuthie, who gave us the last keynote at the start of Day Three on the importance of Empathy in a community. Ruth brilliantly conveyed the need for understanding and respect and how we should loo9k at each other and perceive our differences.

It was fun to be skillfully manipulated by Ruth, who is an inspiring speaker, who engaged her audience in some fun games, took us on an emotional and personal journey, and grounded us in the need for more empathy.

Ruth talks about Empathy

Ruth in mid-talk about the need to understand Empathy

I could probably write a lot more about Ruth’s talk but I want you to find it online and watch it yourselves. Some of the power will be lost by the effect of video and watching it on a small screen where it seemns to have its charisma and charm drained away, but I believe most of the original message will translate well.

Community and Infrastructure

The Conference was also a good chance for me to catch up with a number of people who are prominent, or who have access to performing infrastructure changes, in the Perl community. There were a lot of discussions. Many of them revolved around the EPO and of course the Perl Conference that will be held next year in Glasgow. I was glad that I could catch up with both the president (Domm) and treasurer (B00K) for YEF.

What became obvious, however, was the lack of clarity over who runs what in the Perl world. Many people are unaware of how many people are involved in maintaining the large body of community infrastructure and how they need continued support. It was partially a part of my talk[4] and probably something that I will be focussing on in the next year. I may have to continually repeat the message to join in and help out with the various initiatives.

I gave my talk about the EPO but I also participated in the EPO Hackathon with Matt, Chrissy, Finn and Tom.

The EPO Hackathon

The EPO Hackathon

It should be pointed out that this turned into a Shadowcat hacks the EPO event, I was hoping that we would have others but wasn’t disappointed as it was announced quite late and people were mostly there for the conference. Tom did a massive job of moving, replicating and rebuilding some of the Membership infrastructure.

The Event

Amsterdam was a great event and a big hug and a lot of love go out to the organisers. It isn’t easy to run such a large conference over 5 days, the speakers, sponsors, workshops, attendees, event hosts, food, drink, printing, website, schedules, promotion and a host of other things have to be managed. This is before we get to the inevitable shifts, slips and changes that plague any large event involving random interactions of people.

In the same vein it is really brilliant to see the effort and support of our sponsors, some new, some familiar, some who never miss an event or a chance to help out.

I would like to offer my thanks to all that were involved on any level you helped to make it an excellent conference that is going to be hard to follow.[5]

Final Thoughts

Conferences, Workshops and hackathons are the events that bind us together as a community. It is good to communicate across all the forms of electronic media and to collaborate on projects. It is good when we can share in community events in our companies and organisations.

The Monger groups help to ground us in our local communities and to meet people who are like us and socialise. But the workshops and conferences bring together a wide range of people to think, work, learn and collaborate. They come to share and to receive and we all come away a lot richer than when we arrived.[6]

[Don't forget that you can join in this conversation by using the comments form or by tweeting at @shadowcat_mdk]


[1] The crew were Mark Keating, Matt S. Trout, Tom Bloor and Finn Kempers. We were fortunate in that another of occasional ‘Catters sub-contractors were also there, Paul Evans and Christian Walde along with Errietta a former Intern and now Alumni.

[2] I make no bones of calling the Perl Conference in Amsterdam, #TPCiA, the Yet Another Perl Conference :: Europe :: 2018 :: Amsterdam, #yapceu2017 - YAPC::EU::2017::Amsterdam. To me the name will always be interchangeable. We may have re-branded but I feel we have to use both still.

[3] Go see Mark’s talk for what is wrong with the EPO.

[4] Right after doing my talk the EPO gained its newest member as @GeekRuthie joined on the spot.

[5] Since I am the person following this act i am filled with a somewhat growing sense of fear and dread, oh well, Yaldi.

[6] Just not usually financially.