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Journal of nicholas (3034)

Saturday August 05, 2006
10:50 AM

the "no good Perl jobs"/"no good Perl programmers" myth

[ #30538 ]

We keep hearing that it's really hard to find decent Perl people, yet from the other side it seems that it's really hard to find decent Perl jobs. Now it may be a bit of blinkers issue here on both sides, as certainly the recruiting problem is more general - it's hard to recruit good people full stop, and likewise it's wrong to think that one tool is good for every job, but I believe it fair to assume that there are some jobs for which Perl is the best tool, or at least a good enough tool to get the job done, which in the end is what counts, hence there should exist "Perl" jobs.

So what's going on here? On Thursday at the social there were perhaps half a dozen good people considering their next move, looking for jobs that will stretch them, jobs that involve programming challenges breaking new ground, rather than just productively churning out many effective but samey websites. And like me when I was recently looking they don't see anything. I have contacts in a couple of banks that are recruiting (or at least they'd like to recruit me) but banks aren't for everyone (I have my reasons for thinking that I'd go mad at one, hence I politely turn them down). But apart from that we all see roughly the same jobs cycling round it seems that many who advertise for "senior perl person" actually want "experienced website maker". Yes, you want a good person who can work without close supervision. But no, you don't actually want a senior person in the traditional sense of the rôle - a person who leads and mentors a team of juniors. Many of these jobs would be in small to zero team, with no career progression upwards, and they are small companies so there no career progression sideways*. In addition, many of these jobs these are not in companies that rely on a technical edge for their profits, so the job is about getting non techies' things done, rather than out innovating the competition. Some of the agents try to make jobs look sexy by using more buzzwords, but the sort of calibre people they're looking to recruit were (un)employed in 2001, so see through hype.

Yes, there are a few other jobs out there, and some of the people advertising them may even be reading this. But if they're asking for a minimum of 2 years experience and the offered salary range is only £5000, then they're hardly thinking about recruiting someone with 8-10 years' experience**, and unlikely to be able to really take advantage of those extra skills that person would bring. It seems that we have the King Louie problem.

And maybe I'm being a bit arrogant here in some of my assumptions, but even when I was looking for a job a few months ago I was surprised and disappointed that no-one in London seemed to be interested in hiring the current pumpking. Do I know Perl? Well, um, you're probably running a version I released - does that answer the question? Can I diagnose and solve your obscure problems, test and refactor your code, benchmark, profile and optimise your system (and not necessarily by micro-optimising the code)? Hell yes. If your HR department cares more that I have a degree than experience even now, will that be a problem? No! Is my written English going to let you down? Well, you're still reading piece, aren't you? And yet still no-one in London (other than one friend in a bank) was trying to recruit me. At least 3 people wanted me to apply for jobs and move to the US, but nothing or nowhere so exciting that I had a U-turn on my "I like London" policy.

So I'm starting to think that there's a bit of a myth here. There may well be employers looking for good people who know Perl to do jobs. But these are jobs that would suit 9-5 programmers who need to pay a mortgage and feed a family, people with a Chinese wall in their head to divide work from play. And how many good Perl people do you know like that? The best Perl people are passionate. And probably that's why the jobs remain as vacancies - because your spec is impossible to fill. If you really want good people then you need to make it clear that you will stretch them, rather than taking a dull job and trying to tart it up with this month's buzzwords.

Or maybe we should temporarily forget our principles, and make hay while the sun shines.

* I've had an e-mail exchange with one person advertising one of these jobs - a nice polite chap who was honest and confirmed that I was accurate in assessment of the job behind his advert and therefore why it was not for me. From the qualities he demonstrated in that exchange I'd love to work for him, but not in that company simply because of the sort of jobs that it can('t) offer.

** If you wish to argue with that one, consider that someone who was on £25,000 after two years and had a 3% rise each year would be on £30,000 at eight years. So that's £5000 just for sitting at the same level for 6 years. And we're not talking about those sort of people, or those sort of salaries.

[This rant is also available here]

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  • 6 months ago I was able to walk out of a job, and find another senior role, with better pay, prospects and technology (including R&D and possible decent training), and they were a good outfit to work for.

    Unfortunately I had to leave because of problems with my wife's health that required me to work from home - although they were very reasonable and if it wasn't so bad I could probably have stayed.

    Anyway - I found a contractor position where I was able to work from home pretty quickly, and although I may

    @JAPH = qw(Hacker Perl Another Just);
    print reverse @JAPH;
  • The problem isn't jobs or canditates, it's the arseholes in the middle that understand neither candidate or position, that screw everything up.

    A friend at a major UK clearning bank told me off two positions at one of their major non-London data-centres. They need a "hacker", someone who is able to function on VAX, Solaris or Windows, someone with initiative, someone who is able to think and select the best tool and apply it rather than a thoughtless one solution fits all drone.

    Management is in fits on h

    -- "It's not magic, it's work..."
  • With more than 10 years experience, if you aren't in management or wanting to be on the management track, you either find jobs advertising for that 'senior' person who is either a glorified systems babysitter or up to their ass in alligators left behind by the last guy who was smart enough to get the hell out while the going was good before the music stops and the chairs are all gone. Even then, when you do get an interesting problem, many places just want the quick fix instead of the nuanced analysis and

  • the job is about getting non techies' things done

    This is something I've recently realized is why I'm frustrated with how things are going in my life. I'm not doing anything, I'm doing what enables others to do things. And I think I'm smart/valuable enough that I should be doing things.