Phoenix.PM has been in serious limbo since Brock (Awwaiid) moved to DC (not to guilt him or anything). He had a fantastic personality for the role of Pumpking and he generated a lot of excitement which in turn created interest which of course resulted in turnouts and activity.
I'm second in command (by choice -- I'm not a good personality for that sort of thing) so I've found myself with the job of trying to breathe life into Phoenix.PM. This blog post is some collected thoughts on an email thread we had (which was me posted about 20 times times, eventually goading people for a reply, then getting three thoughtful replies).
In the way of background, I set up the Planet blog aggregation software hoping to make a big combined blog/feed of Phoenix.PM member's blogs. I was thinking of making the group slightly more virtual, since we have massive sprawl here and most people have to drive a long ways to get to a meeting, and we're in dangerous short supply of presenters anyway. It seemed like a way to easily create signs of life and come up with mini-presentations and discussion material for the blogs, and just to stay in touch, with no additional effort beyond the blogging people were already doing. I sent out a request for people's feeds. Then another. And another. Then started yelling at people.
Here are the themes, taken from the perspectives offered in reply.
* Not working on anything interesting; work is tedious and not automateable.
* No one (except a few people that I already knew about) have a blog, and they don't read other people's blogs, and find blogs boring.
* They're doing other things for fun, such as Python on mobile devices, or Rails, but mostly, people are just working. Perl is just a job for them now days.
* They're too busy to blog. Free time is spent on family, kids, photography, seeing friends in real life.
* Everyone seems to hate Twitter and think "blogging every minute of your life is dumb". (I don't see Twitter this way; I see it as an ultra stripped to the core Evite which many people have adopted as a micro blog type thing).
Hundreds of people on the mailing list and not one reply with a blog.
Now it's time for theory.
I wonder, as you probably do too, whether these "unautomatable" tasks actually aren't.
As my theory goes, there are three kinds of people in a group like this. There are the fanboys, who hop around to whatever is considered cool by other people (because they're not cool if they're not into something that other people consider cool), there are the maintenance programmers, and then there are the happy hackers.
The happy hackers care least about what language they're using as long as it doesn't suck. They're not into the politics or the hype. They enjoy Perl, but they still enjoy SNOBOL too, and they think Ruby is neat and maybe they write a lot of it. Maybe they even write less Perl. Maybe it's a phase. But it doesn't matter. They might have gone off and learned Haskell too. They generate the excitement that keeps any language going, somewhat ironically as that isn't their aim. The Ruby on Rails folks wrote Rails on Ruby because they liked Ruby and it suited them. Now a lot of people decided they have to learn Ruby because that's what Rails runs on. If the guys who wrote Ruby on Rails followed that same logic, it would be Ruby on Java because they'd have felt like they have to write for the language that was "cool". But they don't care about that -- they're the happy hackers.
Then there are the maintenance programmers. They also don't care what programming language they're using, because they're doing boring, tedious maintenance work. Also in this group are people who just keep cranking out the same banal logic and are convinced, out of a lack of passion that might have come before their job or might be the result of it, that they can't automate their work. Tedious manual work is evil; that itself, in my book, justifies doing extraordinarily evil things in Perl in order to be able to automate it. Anyway, this group doesn't switch language because they basically only program for work and work is in Perl (or whatever language).
Then there are the fanboys. Not much explanation needed there. They have a nose for hype. With the same conviction that they were convinced that PHP was da bomb they're now convinced that Ruby on Rails will make every project quick and easy. These lazy bastards never actually bother to learn much so they never get to the point of realizing that the really hard problems in programming haven't been solved, only a lot of incremental automation and removal of tedium. As such, these guys are complete leeches. They use other people's work and build with it but never do anything to help their fellow programmers. In an office setting, they're oblivious to what can be automated to make the lives of their non-technical coworkers easy. They just sit there greedily with their hand out waiting to be paid to program dumb business ideas.
Most people fit that category. Look at what whores people are when it comes to Linux distros. RedHat, SuSE, Debian, Gentoo, Ubuntu... every week it seems 90% of Linux users have all moved at the same time to a different distro. Everyone has to be using the "best" distro, even if it means reformatting and downloading all of their software all over again. If you suggest they grab the bits they like from this other distro and install it on their own distro they'll give you miffed look -- it's not having the software or the configuration or the package management system -- it's being a fanboy and being able to say, "Yeah, I emerged Gentoo". Back in my day, you simply did not reformat a Unix install. You might dump/undump over to a larger drive, you might do a thousand upgrades and installs, you'll sometimes fix snafus... but the only reason to ever reinstall from scratch is the hard drive melted and the backups turned out to be blank.
So, now that we have our characters, this is what I think happened. The fan boys have all left. When we lost a whole bunch of people to PHP, I rejoiced -- fuck the fanboys. I thought we were better off for it. I was less celebratory when we lost a lot of people and people's attention to Ruby, but what will happen will happen. Now we have just maintenance programmers left. The happy hacker types are basically not involved. I know of some very good Perl programmers in town but none of them feel they have any reason to be associated with Phoenix.PM. Maybe they came to the realization a long time ago that people are fanboys and maintenance programmers and have no desire to be associated with them. Sometimes, especially in Perl land it seems, the happy hackers will reach out to the community and try to keep them entertained with presentations, just trying to live up to some ideal of being a good citizen. I see a shocking amount of long suffering in the Perl community and it's exactly that that gives me a feeling of value to what we have.
This isn't the point of the article, but for the sake of a conclusion to the situation outlined at the start of this, I'm looking at just joining other group's meetings and sending Phoenix.PM there, kind of merging them in, probably circulating who we're joining to including the Web group here, the Ruby group, the Linux Developer's group, the BSD group...