This is often overlooked or just mentioned as a footnote, but it is the reason that I started to look at Perl in the first place and why I have come back to it several times (sometimes kicking and screaming).
My other main criteria was that I did not want to have to learn one language to do sysadmin stuff and another to do web dev stuff. Perl seemed to offer both.
When I was looking for a language to focus on for use in my work as a graphic designer and web designer and all round cheese and custard cream devotee, I remember looking for a group near to me who were active as I wanted to meet people to get a grip of whatever was going on.
Having being part of Malvern LUG for many years I presumed that there must be eqiulvelant things for other languages.
I had started programming in Java years earlier before I learned HTML, so I had a look around for JUGS which are far and few between.
My search for PHP groups did not really give me anything to shout about as they did not seem to be doing alot, however while looking I came across Perl Mongers. This exotic sounding name with a hint of the arabic (camels), could it be the language for me? More importantly would there be a group near me? Luckily the Birmingham Perl Mongers were close by and I decided to take a trip. I had heard things about the black art of regex's and line noise but had never really given it a go. The group turned out to very active with an emphasis on technical talks which was ideal as I started to learn the basics.
I got a great deal out of the meetings even though they were often beyond my experience, I understood them and they gave me reason to persevere. However my first YAPC, which just happened to be hosted in Birmigham that year was my first introduction to the community at large. As I lived fairly close to the venue I only went during the day but did not socialise during the evening. The talks were really good and I could not believe that I was getting all this for less than a good night out for four, when some of the Java conferences were just out of my reach financially. Not only that I was meeting the top programmers in the country/world.
I had a great time in Birmingham and I carried on using Perl for doing simple scripts. I actually managed to write some that were chargeable - always a good thing in a hurrican with the mast just broken and the safest port miles away across the horizon.
The big change came the next year in Vienna. What I had not realised was that when you ate, drank and slept at a YAPC (not literally, although its never ruled out as there is more than one way to do it), you realised how great the people were, how passionate they were about the language all the time, not just in the lectures. Most of all people at YAPC's had a great time.
It is no underestimation that YAPC::VIENNA changed my life. Suddenly it was not about the language it was about the people.
We had a brilliant time getting up to all those noble things that you do when you are away in a foreign country on your own - staying up to watch the sunrise, going to wild nightclubs and watching people getting very drunk. The people were fantastic, informative, erudite, witty, enthusiastic, genuinely interested in what you were doing or trying to do and had a love of the bizarre. Because of the people I met in Vienna I started hanging out on IRC and got to know people from Milton Keynes Perl Mongers and London Perl Mongers, I felt I belonged and that I was valued. I work alone most of the time but now it was like having an office full of mates to have a chat to or to ask stupid questions of or just annoy when I felt like it.
There are other reasons why Perl changed my life in Vienna but those are between me and my camel.
Due to a few odd turns I sort of dropped Perl for a while as I was doing lots of graphicy designery stuff. I even dropped out of IRC life. However I had been playing with Java after a long boute in a dark tunnel which turned out to be a cul-de-sac and suddenly found myself on irc.perl.org again. What I had missed was the connectin with people and the reassurance that there were people out there who could help me if I asked. It is the people that brought me back to Perl not the syntax or the this or the that or the other, its the people. Although the economy of code needed to just get a simple script running compared to other well known brands is a good enough reason to use it.
I can accept that it can be hard to learn sometimes when you get a little deeper or that there appears to be no logic of how it all fits together or that is uncool or because it is cool or because my mother never used it or because its a Thursday, because I know that eventually, with help from the the people, I have the best chance of acheiving the things I am going to acheive by using Perl as my programming language of choice.
Its people who do the work, find the answers, solve the problems and get stuff done not the language. Although if it is half decent it helps.
If you have never got on irc.perl.org or been to a Perl Mongers meeting or been to a YAPC, where have you been? It does not matter what language you use, go to a YAPC and you will have a great time, make life long friends and you may even learn something.