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pjf (2464)

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I run Perl Training Australia [].

I help with Melbourne Perl Mongers.

I spend an awful lot of time talking about Perl, and have had my picture in the Australian newspapers with a camel. That's rather scary.

Journal of pjf (2464)

Thursday May 07, 2009
11:04 PM

The social life of a Perl trainer

[ #38938 ]

The social life of a Perl trainer
I'm blogging every week about Perl, not least due to the presence of a competition that encourages me to do so. However this week I'm not dealing with technical matters, I'm dealing with personal and social ones.

There's a common perception that I have a massively social job. I travel around the world and teach people Perl. I speak at many conferences each year. I attend a multitude of user-groups. Sometimes I do consulting, and when I do, the things I'm fixing are often people related: internal education, politics, and culture. In any given year I meet work closely with hundreds of new people. People are my life and my job.

Despite that, sometimes it feels very lonely.

The problem isn't with the quantity of people I meet, but the quality of my relationships with them. When I meet course attendees we spend a lot of time together, but it's one-to-many time. At conferences I have more quality social time, but it's only for a couple of days, and my talk preparations often get in the way. Often there are so many people at conferences I want to meet or catch up with that I only spend at most a few hours with each person, regardless of how much I like them.

Due to my lifestyle, I meet many wonderful people who I would love to spend more time with. The problem is that so many of them live in other cities, or other countries, or have travelling or lifestyle schedules similar to me. In fact, my travel schedule can really screw things up. Last night there was a gathering of four of my most favourite people in the whole world, and in my home town. I wasn't there, because I was on an yet another airplane.

Back when I had a "real job", or even when I did regular consulting, I didn't have these problems. I'd see the same people each week at work. I'd go to the same places for lunch. There'd be regular social activities that I could attend, because I wasn't changing city every week. While having a regular job may not help with the breadth of friendships, it certainly helps with the depth of them.

I've been teaching and living this lifestyle for many years, so why am I noticing this just now? Well, it's partially because I'm so busy right now. The global financial crisis has kicked our business into overdrive. A combination of hiring-freezes, and the need to do more with less, has caused Perl courses and consulting to be very popular. Sometimes I joke about being in a different city every week, but recently it's been the norm.

However the big wake-up was that how I've been associating with my students has changed. Years ago they were learning Perl because it was cool, and fun, and because doing things in Perl was so much easier than doing things in almost any other language. Those students were were bright, eager to learn, and full of questions. That almost always meant that I got along extremely well with them socially, as well as academically. These days we still get those students, but many people are on our courses because programming is their job, not their passion. They don't always self-identify as geeks, and I find that I have an awkward time relating to them socially.

Having good students is one of the most rewarding parts of being a teacher, and is what got me hooked on teaching before I even graduated from University. I'm unlikely to give up the teaching any time soon; I enjoy the travel, the freedom, and it's certainly hard to argue with the money, but I do find that ephemeral socialisation is really starting to tick me off. Sometimes I wonder if I should actually go back and teach at University, purely for the social highs associated with doing so.

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  • how about setting pace little loose? I thought one has the freedom when not working in a regular job and can call your own shot.

  • You're quite correct that I have the ability to set things at my own pace, but like many sparkly things, conditions apply, and actual results may vary.

    Training is very much a variable and seasonal business. Sometimes we're flooded with bookings (like recently), and sometimes there's no work for months (like this upcoming June/July). Ideally, one moves work from the busy periods to the quiet periods, but that's not always possible. Sometimes businesses have itinerant staff, and this is the only week th