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All the Perl that's Practical to Extract and Report

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  • Some of the stereotypical attitudes of perl experts towards perl beginners may have to do with its origins. Perl was once described as the language to use "if its too difficult to do in the shell, and not worth coding in C." That of course, assumes that the programmer knows both the bourne shell and C, and has used the both enough to understand what the limits of the shell are and what is tedious to code in C.

    And then came the web. Then a lot of people who didn't come from some sort of computer background wanted to learn Perl, and it doesn't seem that the results weren't good.

    This article seems to imply that the problem isn't the language itself, and it isn't the novices trying to use the language. The problem, the article claims rests mostly in the perl community. I'm not sure if I believe the problem is so entirely one sided. Some could reasonably claim that perl is less than ideal first language, and sometimes people make it hard to help them.

    Some of perl's DWIMmer aspects, at least the original ones aren't so much "Do what I mean", but rather "Do what Larry expects". How intuitive perl seems is directly proportional to how well your programming background matches the perl developers. This worked well when the audience was Unix developers and sysadmins, but less so when the audience was graphic designers.

    At least during the initial explosion of the web, some of the novices didn't help things either. A lot of comp.lang.perl, and later comp.lang.perl.misc had posts that basically read "I'm not a programmer, but I just want to do {something}". That was problematic for a couple of reasons. Once someone decides that they want to create a program that does the "{something}", they are a programmer. They may be a novice, but they have made a decision to be a programmer. Trying to learn to program without being a programmer (at least a beginning programmer) seems nearly impossible to do, (although it does sound somewhat Zen-ish.) Sometimes "{something}" was the wrong thing to do, and it can sometimes be hard to explain that to someone with a preconceived notions of what they need. Sometimes the "{something}" that is wanted is inefficient, insecure, or just wrongly thought out.

    As far as the disrespect the perl community gives novices, I have always suspected that there are other issues at play as well. And once a group of people were being pummeled anyway, a portion of the perl community fell into a pack like behavior. I do think it is a small but vocal minority. I spent a large amount of time [] trying to help novices in comp.lang.perl.misc, but eventually ran out of free time for it. But for the work I did, I hope the people I answered considered me to be helpful, and I find it hard to believe that someone could find a flame in any one of the 1700 articles that google has archived.

    Unfortunately, I think that the perl beginners list is doomed to fail. I think that the beginners and beginners-cgi split is the first evidence of it. (the next step is when people start arguing about what is appropriate for which list.) Newsgroups were created specifically to address the problems that mailing lists don't scale well, and this is a mailing list trying to fix problems with a newsgroup.