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Nestoria Interview for LPW

Reprint of the Nestoria Interview

Thu Oct 8 14:45:25 2009

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I am hoping that a lot of people will come to the event and decide to begin something new in Perl.

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Original Interview
London Perl Workshop 2009
H-Online Press Release

A few weeks ago the people at Nestoria interviewed Mark for their site. What follows is a revised transcript of the interview, you can find the original interview linked above.

1. Why does London in particular have such an active perl community? What's the essential ingredient in maintaining an active open source community?

There are a combination of factors that make up London's strong Perl community. The first to my mind is the steadfast support of its more senior members who have been active in promoting the group, I am avoiding saying mature in relation to these people as it makes one think of age and cheese and a large number of the Perl luminaries are younger, and a great deal smarter, than I am. London held one of the very first YAPCs and the first YAPC::EU and has always encouraged strong involvement from its members in the wider community.

Another contributing factor is the manner of the social meetings, they always try to make newcomers feel welcome, will organise emergency socials at the drop of a hat for visitors to London and strive to make the socials as non-Perl specific as possible. No matter what your background you feel included by these people.

Then there is the mailing list. At some times trivial, always busy and with great historical events such as the Willow vs Buffy trauma, the LPM mailing list is perhaps the most subscribed to list of any monger group and with good reason.

These to me are a basis for the essential, and sometimes elusive, ingredients of maintaining a community. There is no silver bullet or single approach, it is a combination of factors and the inclusiveness, support and notion that one is working amongst equals (though I always feel surrounded by giants) is a strong factor in this.

2. The last few years have seen a renaissance in the perl community, with great new modules, an emphasis on testing and "enlightened" development techniques, more conferences, and a more vocal community (big thanks to blogs like perlbuzz, Ironman competition). What's responsible for this?

Still going for the easy questions :). That is a very complex situation to assess as there are many factors affecting the Renaissance/Enlightenment/Modern Perl that we have today. On a side note my personal preference to that is that Perl is in an Enlightenment that is the motion towards what we can know as Modern Perl, the Renaissance, for me, came and went around 5.8.

The changes started a good deal of time ago. I think the dawning of the current movement happened around the time between Perl 5.6 to 5.8, or at least that's when the effects could be seen. Since that point there has been a maturity of projects and the developers both in their approach and output. At the same time there has been changes in the language itself, projects such as Moose, Catalyst, Dbix::Class and Devel::Declare to name a few, who seek to utilise, and in some cases form, the language changes that have been under continuous development in Perl. We should value the importance of CPAN and its breadth of resources that have allowed Perl development, projects and libraries to start with a strong foundation.

As for the vocal community, I think we are finally coming to realise that we know how good the language and its associated tools are, but it often feels that the rest of the world is under some impression that we are just gluing things together with CGI scripts. So I think there is a common feeling that we must firstly discuss the current state of Perl and secondly educate people away from 'legacy' techniques bringing them up to date with the current best practices.

3. This year LPW's theme is "Beginning Perl". Who is the target audience? What types of talks can attendees expect? Why are universities in the UK typically not teaching perl, despite the high level of demand from companies?

As always the LPW seeks to bring new people through the doors, and these can be Perl developers with years of experience 'under the belt' as well as welcoming back old friends and stalwart community giants. The theme is broad and is intended to give the speakers and audience a chance to explore the notion of beginnings. This could be starting Perl for the first time, or a 'How To' for people not familiar with the language or a project, it can also be taken as a chance to present how something began, such as a piece of development. One could even go further and look at the great advances in Straberry Perl, Raduko, Padre and see this as Beginning Perl and Perl 6 on Windows. But at the same time the current movement in Perl, the feeling that in Perl since 5.8 we have been passing versions instead of point releases, so that we currently stand at Perl 5 Version 10.1 and the changes in the projects and the core itself seem to reflect that. So Beginning Perl could be seen as truly that for all of us. I am hoping that a lot of people will come to the event and decide to begin something new in Perl.

There is a culture in UK Universities to teach Java in computer science degrees and this is going to be difficult to change without a level of investment and commitment. There is also the fact that there have been non-educational forces on the universities as well, on a business sense it is wise for them to push .net and Java to their students as it gives them a broader job market when they leave university which satisfies a governmental focus. Part of our task should be to educate universities as much as possible to the job market for Perl skills. At this year's LPW we will be running a free 'Skills in the Workplace' seminar that will be initially offered to University students to help towards this issue.

4. As someone who started a business working with open source software, please describe your experiences. How has the level of acceptance of open source changed in the business community in the past few years?

The movement towards open source becoming accepted has been slow, and in many cases quite tortuous. In the last few years though we have seen a big push inside some Governments for open standards and open document formats for the sharing of information and resources, particularly in the European Union, and OSS already works towards this. For most Small to Medium Enterprises though, there is a great deal of struggle to convince them that the software pre-installed is the best way forward, especially since their staff will have a great deal of experience in using it and this to them outweighs the cost of ownership versus OSS solutions.

Where we have come forward has been in the acceptance of projects such as Firefox and the general awareness of the populace that many servers use Open Source to function. The pushes by Google to open source Android has given businesses faith in the idea that a business model can be built on OSS.

The transparency of Open Source, the ease of availability and the fact that we are a far more computer-orientated culture has also helped to strengthen acceptance of the possibilities of using it as an alternative. There is still a long way to go though.

It has certainly helped that open source is reported and discussed in the general media, at one time we would spend the first hour or so of any meeting explaining what open source software was in comparison to proprietary/closed software, we no longer have to say as much. I still feel that there is a culture of treating it as a 'ham radio' or academic-orientated which is an uphill struggle.

There are even deeper changes caused by the flow and availability of data, expertise, as to whether businesses can now rely on a closed-model of business focus if it seems to stymie innovation, and if using a proprietary route will mire you in the circumlocution of patents, intellectual property, copyright and trademarks but I think they are out of the scope of this answer.

Certainly if we examine the last twenty years there has been a broader uptake of Open Source in the last five years, how much this has been influenced by the stronger computer-orientated culture is interesting. I hope that the future we will see more companies realising that OSS represents a real choice to a formerly dominant closed software system.

If anyone has feedback (and until we have a commenting system) please don't hesitate to email me at: m.keating [at], if your comments are useful, fun, or just plain interest to me, or if I think will be useful to others, then I will add them to the end of this post, let me know how you would like to be named (anon, nick etc.).


Mark Keating is: Managing Director of Shadowcat Systems Limited
Director and Secretary of Enlightened Perl Organisation
Co-Founder/Co-Leader of North-West England Perl Mongers
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