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scrottie (4167)

scrottie
  scott@slowass.net
http://slowass.net/

My email address is scott@slowass.net. Spam me harder! *moan*

Journal of scrottie (4167)

Wednesday December 19, 2007
08:24 PM

How I mismanaged Phoenix.PM into the ground

[ #35155 ]

I've been writing for a while about the state of Phoenix.PM. This is the latest chapter. I wanted to give a talk on new stuff in Perl 5.10 as well as just have a general meeting. Some back story is near the end.

At one point, we had a lot of people just getting into Perl, people who were doing fun stuff with Perl on their own; people interested in what was going on in the community and in any techie Perl stuff even if they couldn't use it themselves; people who saw whole Perl careers ahead of themselves.

Then we stopped getting new Perl programmers, except for a light trickle. Then we only had people who wanted techniques they could apply to their daily work, which was mostly them being in over their heads trying to do some work in Perl or else accomplished Perl programmers doing uninteresting maintenance work who don't program for fun; now, thanks to my bumbling mismanagement, all that's left of the group is three guys that don't even actively use Perl and never really did that much anyway plus one who does actually work in it.

Granted, I didn't give much notice and it's the holiday season, but I actually caved and offered to give a presentation.

The current state isn't all my fault; a lot of Perl programmers were lost to C++ and whatnot when things got tight and the older, more stodgy industries were all that were left. When Python broke, a lot of Perl programmers decided that it suited their personality better, and they really wanted a break away from all of the not-so-clean they had been working on. A chance to write new code, from scratch, in a language whose culture valued cleanliness more than Perl's was a welcome change for them. Then PHP broke, and the snotty little brats that didn't think they should ever have to learn anything, just call routines from a library (nevermind algorithms, complexity management, security, or any of that), all pissed off and stopped coming to Phoenix.PM looking all glassy eyed all the complex (OMG!) things people were doing in Perl. Then Ruby struck, and their culture was filled with a hackish spirit that valued neat APIs, cool tricks, minimalistic design, and above all else, fun, something that we who had been doing predominately maintenance work in Perl for all too long could definitely appreciate.

So all we had left was Perl programmers who, for whatever reason, didn't defect from maintenance work in Perl, and some stragglers who attend meetings for reasons entirely unrelated to the content of the presentations or the Perl theme -- two of the three just attend a lot of technical meetings for technologies they don't actually use or use very, very little.

I tried a few things -- I wanted to virtualize the meetings, so that Perl programmers who were too busy to come to meetings or even post on the list could more easily keep in touch with each other and what other Perl programmers in Phoenix were doing, thinking that people would blog about stuff at work, their own take on technology, what they were doing, or even how their family was. Nope. Two people of the hundreds on the list had a blog and one I dug up Googling. He asked me to remove the reference to it as it was entirely off topic to programming. I ruffled a lot of feathers trying to get this idea to fly and in the end only alienated people more.

So I decided to have laser tag meetings, or try to get people out to ski, or just do something social. Again, no show.

In retrospect, the only meetings that would have gotten attendees would have been variations on "how to do small scale projects in Perl without learning very much at all" or "ways to more rapidly diagnose and troubleshoot problems in large hairy Perl programs and avoid having to do so in the future". In fact, I did one or two of those on subconscious instinct, and sure enough, that's what got people out.

Back Story:

Brock (Awwaiid) left town and left it to me. Being one of very few presenters, and presenting frequently, I've been a sort of second in command who assumed pumpkin by default. Towards the end, I was sick to death of only Brock and I giving the presentations. I like making little presentations, but it had turned into the Brock and Scott hour. So when Brock left, I started trying these various things to reinvent the group as something other than me sitting there talking to a small group of people, most of them who wouldn't be back because they didn't get anything they saw as immediately applicable to their work programming from the meeting.

No offense to the people that said they could make it; it's good that you wanted to come hang out with me and each other. But, from my point of view, not even the maintenance programmers

By the way, I'm not trying to convince anyone that Perl is dead; Phoenix is a special case. People here are apathetic and distant in general; anyone passionate about programming would be sorely tempted to move to silicon valley, Boston, or anywhere else, and those here that do have person interest all seem to be interested in moving somewhere else. Unless all you need to live is McDonalds, Home Depo, and so on, Phoenix is not for you.

-scott

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  • I'm no doubt missing a lot of context, but I doubt it's fair to say that you mismanaged things. It sounds like you tried to reinvigorate things, but what if it was inevitable?

    I guess it depends on what you mean by "mismanaged $X into the ground". If you mean "$X was headed into the ground, and I could've done better about slowing its descent", then okay, but if you mean "I personally caused $X to plummet to its fiery death", that doesn't sound right, from the story you told at least. I mean, who are these