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gnat (29)

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Journal of gnat (29)

Thursday January 03, 2002
01:49 PM

The Perl Democracy

[ #1890 ]
TorgoX's writings on democracy and Perl got me thinking about it. I love the fact that Perl is a wide-open meritocracy. If you can do the work, there's a space for you.

Every open source project has work that needs to be done, and Perl is no exception. There are people currently doing work (the perl5-porters, for example) but in most open source projects (and Perl in particular) this group is not a closed clique. Our doors are wide open--we want and need new people, because of the regular attrition that takes place as the current hackers get bored, get old, or get lives.

If you can do the work, you're welcomed with open arms. It's entirely possible to become The Expert in some area of the internals (just ask Simon about Unicode, or Artur about Threading). Or to write a module that tops all other modules in the field (just ask Matt about XML, or Andy about templating). Or to fill any other need the community has (just ask Casey about the beginners list or Robert about tinderbox and rt).

I'm amazed every time I re-realize that it's possible to go from unknown to guru in a very short period of time. And that the road from anonymity to gurudom is never closed. We're minting new gurus all the time, and there are always more things to do and so more gurus to be minted.

Right now, for instance, Parrot is wide open. We've got a couple of new coders who are blazing trails, but there's so much yet to be done that someone with clue could step up, do the work, and become a household name (well, my household at least :-). We really need someone to design and implement the extensible parsing system for perl 6 (what a great opportunity to work closely with Simon, Dan, and Larry). I dearly want to see non-trivial programs compiling and running by TPC in July, and that's going to take clue and effort.

Parrot's not the only place with opportunities for people to make a name for themselves. There are all sorts of projects that people have wanted from Perl 5 that still need implementing: relocatable installs, modules in zipfiles, pure-Perl zip/gzip modules for the core, .... Over the years, many people have worked on these things, so a lot of the groundwork is already done. But as with everything, it'll take a smart person with dedication to make the push that brings it to fruition.

But I'll bet that most of the new stars won't make their name doing anything on my list. They'll see an itch that you and I can't see. They'll see a new way of doing things (installing CPAN modules, defining objects, sharing data structures between processes ...) and take Perl in a direction that wasn't on our maps. Because if there's one thing that's for sure in the Perl world, it's that we have some of the most creative and inventive programmers in the world on our team. And that just makes Perl all the more fun to work with.


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  • you are being completely unbiased when you say that there isn't a clique. There are many. Saying that's it's one big happy meritocracy is like saying the US is one big happy democracy.

    • Can you name some? I agree that in 1999 it seemed a pretty hostile environment, but I feel like we've really made great strides in opening up since then.

      If there are cliques, they're still relatively easy to get into. It seems to me that it's a damn sight easier to make your way into the upper echelons of Perl than in any business of the same size.

      And while a CEO-sized paycheck of respect won't pay the bills, it can make your 9-5 grind a little more bearable. Mr Jark doesn't get paid for his hard wor

      • Elaine's right, at least in the realm wider than p5p or perl6-internals. (And with p5p it's only since things got less contentious) It is far from a meritocracy once you hit the newsgroups (Hi, Gojira!), some of the mongers meetings, or some of the subject-specific perl mailing lists. It's less bad in person than in email or news, but the issues are often still there.

        Yes, some of the Exalted Inner Realms are a lot easier to get into on sheer merit than they used to be, but there's more to perl than those.

        • Indeed. It has nothing to do with how many people name their children after Jarkko or how they gush over the amount of time he spends on perl...rather a general observation of human behaviour in a lot of different places. It's not unique to Perl but I just wanted to make the point that it would be a mistake to think that somehow the people of perl have managed to transcend earthly human behavioural patterns. It's not always a bad thing but they do exist. Being female in a 98% male crowd may also give me a

          • You still haven't actually named any specific cliques. But I take what I assume is your point that there are buttheads and bigots in Perl. I don't think I was saying there aren't buttheads and bigots, or that the Perl world is perfect, only that I'm amazed that it's been possible for me to do what I've done, and that it's still possible for others to do the same and better. It feels so much more conquerable than the "real world".

            As for your technical contributions ... you're just a sysadmin, right? :-)

            • Is the irony of mentioning "perlcabal" while trying to prove there aren't any cliques intentional? :)
            • I believe we met when you were the ass grabber mr. torkington :) Gone are those days replaced by the prim image of pious family man *sigh*

              And, no worries, I am a decidedly cheap and goofy drunk but it does seem to get far more press than it deserves. We usually see only what we want to see or hear only what we want to hear so I made the example personal since I am no more immune to that than anyone else and it was the most fresh on the stack. It has less to do with affection rather how we interact without

              • In some sense I think I agree, in that while a meritocracy is great, it is also unfortunate when people introduce each other by exchanging CVs instead of shaking hands. Sometimes "what have you done for us lately?" is as bad as "we don't know you so you can't do anything for us."

                A nice thing about #perl is that while you are respected for what you do, you are also respected for who you are. You can hang out and do nothing, or almost nothing, for "the Perl community" but still be respected by many, just
        • Odd. Pretty much all the Perl places I'm privy to are meritocracies these days, including p5p, macperl lists, use Perl,, #perl, etc. Ah well, something for the other groups to shoot for. ;-)
      • Nat, it's a beautiful community. I've never found anything but acceptable, although it was an honest acceptance that told me when I was passing bad ideas.

        My first brush with the Perl culture was reading the files in the Perl distribution. Seriously. That documentation was magnetic; it made me want to get out there and contribute. And even though I haven't done much (yet), what little I've done has never made me feel there was a clique that didn't want me.

        Heck, I jotted off a message to Larry Wall one

        J. David works really hard, has a passion for writing good software, and knows many of the world's best Perl programmers
        • acceptance, not acceptable.

          always click preview, not submit.

          J. David works really hard, has a passion for writing good software, and knows many of the world's best Perl programmers
  • I have to back you up on the point that it's easy to contribute.

    I subscribed to p5p six months ago and already several dozens of my patches were applied into the core. Moreover, and more amazingly, I'm beginning to understand how the core works!-) I have to thank in the first place Simon for writing the papers and tutorials that made me realize that it was possible for me to go for developing Perl. (In the second place, thanks to everyone for being so nice.)

    Publicizing the work done by the Perl 5|6 develop

    • Damn straight it's easy to contribute. That nut Jarkko has even accepted 3 patches from me! What the hell is he thinking?!


      • He wants to get 5.8 done ...preferrably before the frost forms on the gates of hell. :)

  • As elaine and others have pointed out, its not 100% open.


    One interesting facet of the community is that it is very difficult for it to discriminate based on race, sex, age, etc.

    This is a facet of the general nature of the Net and in particular of the fact that the Perl community is largely text-based (IRC, mail, news).

    Sure, we might see each other at conferences but if I never showed up to one you wouldn't necessarily know anything about my age, race, etc.

    Of course, due to discrimination in
    • I think Elaine might disagree on whether it's easy to discriminate based on sex, race, or a number of other factors. (Age is one of the few that isn't that easy) It's also more than just active discrimination. Some of the perl areas (clpm for one) are pretty actively mysoginistic and, while they might not necessarily discriminate against you because of your sex, they do make it damn uncomfortable to be there. It's certainly not everyone, and might not even reflect the views of the poster, but that doesn't m
      • Ah, I avoid newsgroups in general quite a bit. I was mostly writing based on my experiences on various mailing lists (p5p, dbi, mason, etc), plus to some degree IRC and use perl, etc.

        My point was that its harder to discriminate against a particular person based on some quality they have (like race or sex). That doesn't mean that there aren't still plenty of barriers to entry.

        Plus there's the issue that once a person identifies themselves in some way (as Elaine has, for example), then they may start be
        • I don't know, since I earned a bit of armor many moons ago...but, I would say that even at the highest ranks of our little Perl world there is plenty of gender issues that plague the rest of humankind still. Anyone over the age of 30 who says he or she is completely unbiased with regard to gender is not being fully honest with themselves....myself not discluded.