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My first approach to Perl. How has been yours?

by blazar (Canon)
on Sep 02, 2005 at 15:55 UTC ( #488691=perlmeditation: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??


This is not exactly a meditation as much as it is a memory. I also bet this has come out before. Hope not too often...

Update: as per holli's reply, this thread is much like a duplicate of Roads to Perl of just a few days ago, which I hadn't noticed. In case you're interested, see also my own reply there.

The whole story

I'm sure I first heard about Perl short after the birth of the web. It may have been 1995 or 1996 at most. At that time the internet was becoming a mass phenomenon and one of my friends lent me a magazine about it.

There was just a brief column there advertising Perl - it was mentioning it along the lines of "Do you know those URLs like Well, most probably there's Perl behind them".

I'm not even sure if it actually said "most probably". Indeed we all know that this kind of popularity -also through the proliferation of skript kiddies- has contributed much to Perl's diffusion (update: related meditation at Script kiddies and the like: beneficial or disadvantageous?). Up to the point that still nowadays many people mistake web server issues for Perl ones, which is most often quite a PITA...

To stress even more the subject it called Perl "the glue that kept the web together". It also mentioned that Perl programmers have fun writing obfuscated code and that that language gives great oppurtunities in this sense. Which intrigued me very much, I must say!!

But I didn't get actually in touch with it then. Much time later -I don't know exactly when, but for sure we were already in Perl5 times- a few friends of mine took a brief Perl course at university. I didn't, but continued to be intrigued, also because of their enthusiastic comments supporting my interest.

I can't remember exactly when I actually put my hands on it, but the first version I worked with was 5.6.1, so it shouldn't be too difficult to track an approximate time interval.

Basically I had to do some numeric computations, say Number Theory or Combinatorics: nothing really too computationally intensive. Just too hard to do by hand. Or with a pocket calculator. And -also for this reason- I didn't want to start again with C which I had already abandoned about a decade before. So I said to myself: well, let's give Perl a try...

Of course I had to start from somewhere so in some way I obtained a copy of "Learning Perl" which drove me for the first steps and helped me to do what I had to do. I can't remember those programs nor do I have a copy of them, but I bet they were horrible...

Unfortunately that copy of the book was an obsolete one, still referring to Perl4. But then I soon began to read and post regularly to clpmisc and the gentle people there helped me correcting my errors and introduced me to more modern coding. I'm sure I've learnt more there -about Perl, that is- than anywhere else...

Also, about that time, I had to do some offline HTML generation, for personal use. I had done similar stuff with editor macros, shell scripts or more dirty hacks before, but in this case it was getting quite complicated for similar approaches.

With the help of clpmisc's contributors I could easily obtain what I wanted with perl. Retrospectively I think this added a big thrust to the motivation I had to go on with Perl. And indeed I continued to use it for my own use, asking on the newsgroup for practical suggestions, but also reading the articles there for the sole sake of learning.

Now I'm still a student, but I also have a part-time job as a Perl programmer. And this forces me to go on learning about application-specific topics and to discover more modules to do what I'm asked to do, and so on...

How 'bout your own encounter with Perl?!?

Replies are listed 'Best First'.
Re: My first approach to Perl. How has been yours?
by mrkoffee (Scribe) on Sep 02, 2005 at 19:01 UTC

    I'm what you'd call an "accidental programmer". I'm an accountant by training who learned some SQL around 1997 so I could get my data faster and stop lining up at our guru's desk. I found the fetching of the data more interesting than the subsequent accounting, so I eventually left my company's Finance department for a reporting job in Customer Service.

    At one point I had the opportunity to learn some web app development to deploy some reports to our intranet. I have some freedom as far as languages and platforms, so I started out with ASP (I knew a little VB, just like a script kiddie), and shortly thereafter discovered open source and ported my app to PHP.

    Cut to early 2002, and I'm on a learning spree. I had heard of Perl years before, when the web was taking off, but now something told me it was something I should add to my arsenal, so I decided to pick up Perl. I figured "I'm a pretty smart guy", so went straight to the Camel book. (I struggled with that a little, and, looking at the Llama a couple years later, realized I should have just started there instead of trying to read ahead.) Still, I picked up enough to become dangerous, and wished I had learned it about five years earlier, where it would have made my data-munging and database-interface tasks much easier.

    So now it's 3 1/2 years later, and I'm no wizard, but I've written ever-improving codebases for our department's web apps (reading some of my own early code makes my eyes itch), and lots of command-line data-munging tools, some dealing with millions of customer records per day. I've picked up working knowledge of some other languages (C, Java and recently some Ruby), but I always come back to Perl because I like its expressiveness and the way it gives you enough freedom to do things a different--and interesting--way (or enough rope to hang yourself with--you decide). I also have a decent sense of what CPAN module to use for a particular task--something that's way more important than newcomers think it is.

    One of Perl's strengths is its sometimes dysfunctional, usually helpful, always interesting community, and after three years I'm starting to get more involved. I've been to four OSCONS and one YAPC. (I remember about three months after starting to pick up Perl, sitting in TheDamian and TimToady's Perl 6 talk at OSCON 2002, with my head spinning. I was pretty much just picking up bits of knowledge off the ground at that convention.) I've learned a lot at these, but never got to know many folks or participate in the "hallway track". At this year's YAPC::NA, petdance expressed the "there are no nobodies in the Perl community" sentiment, following it up with an OSCON lightning talk, and he's right. I've been in in the monastery for a while--and learned a lot--but it was read-only for most of that time. I've recently decided to chuck the vow of silence.

Re: My first approach to Perl. How has been yours?
by McDarren (Abbot) on Sep 02, 2005 at 16:52 UTC

    hmm... I was encouraged by a friend/collegue to learn Perl about 5 years ago. I had just started a job where I was part of a team responsible for managing a (geographically widespread) network of around 100 linux boxes.

    Learning Perl seemed a sensible thing to do, although I admit I was intimidated by it. I didn't have any programming background to speak of, and I just couldn't get my head around the concept of scalars, lists and hashes. Seems silly now, looking back...

    After skirting around the edges for about 3 years and basically learning nothing (I kid you not), I finally decided it _was_ time to get serious and learn - so I got myself a copy of the Llama book.

    I think I read it from cover to cover about 4 times before I decided to attempt anything serious, and I really struggled at first (yes, I'm slow ;). But with help from the friend who originally encouraged me to get started (we still work together) things finally started to fall into place.

    These days I'm quite comfortable with most tasks I attempt using Perl, although I still consider myself very much a novice. I guess that's one reason why I started hanging around perlmonks - seems as good a place as any to continue learning :)

Re: My first approach to Perl. How has been yours?
by GrandFather (Sage) on Sep 02, 2005 at 22:57 UTC

    Early this year we set up a TWiki based wiki at work to provide a convenient way to document stuff relating to our software development. I had a few Word documents that I really wanted to get into the Wiki. Someone had mentioned to me that Perl was the thing for manipulating text, so I decided to save the Word documents as HTML and use Perl to convert the HTML to TWiki markup.

    Along the way I dicovered PerlMonks and my journey really started. I now consider that I have a modest knowledge of Perl and am aware that there are gaping holes in my Perl knowledge, which are slowly being filled by reading material posted here, and often by researching for my self to find answers to questions posted here.

    Having discovered Perl and PerlMonks (and the Perl Monks), I am now the Perl Guru at work (there are four other people using it there to varying degrees), and am using it to create all sorts of quick helper scripts (see for example Open diff windows looking at CVS file merge conflicts).

    Exciting times!

    Perl is Huffman encoded by design.
Re: My first approach to Perl. How has been yours?
by pg (Canon) on Sep 02, 2005 at 16:20 UTC

    I was sent to Texas to help on a project. It was a library and for a reason, we need it to be done in three versions: c, Java and Perl. I had no idea of Perl other than its name. A guy gave me a Perl black book and that's how I started. Since then I started to like it and use it for various things (that I thought Perl is a fit).

Re: My first approach to Perl. How has been yours?
by b10m (Vicar) on Sep 02, 2005 at 19:27 UTC

    I'm an "accidental programmer" too (and am not employed in that field at all, although I sneak in Perl into my job now and then, for it always comes in handy).

    Back in the day I maintained a personal website (pre-blog era, but similiar ;-) and noticed some scripts were cool, but could be cooler. So I just messed with the existing code and just started altering it. Starting with just altering scalars, to adding features much later.

    Years later I finally found this community and got an even worse case of Perl-fever ;-)


    All code is usually tested, but rarely trusted.
Re: My first approach to Perl. How has been yours?
by neniro (Priest) on Sep 02, 2005 at 19:02 UTC
    I like books, especially books about all that it-stuff - so I bought books about perl someday a few years ago. I wasn't very interessted in perl these days but I thought it could be usefull in the future. Sooner I had to do some conversion, between the format of the logfiles of some new measurement-equipment and the format of the software the guys in our laboratory used. That was the point when I thought: Hey you've got those books about that perl-thing - maybe it's the right tool for this kind of work. And it was. After that I was asked to build some small intranet-web-apps and again I tried perl to do it (and produced a lot of really bad and ugly code) - and it worked fine. I've joined the folks at (german-speaking perl-community) about 2 years ago and learned a lot. Some time later I joined perlmonks and I'm still learning a lot.

    So I've to thank all of you for work here.

Re: My first approach to Perl. How has been yours?
by trammell (Priest) on Sep 02, 2005 at 20:19 UTC
    The first time I heard of Perl was in the summer of 1991 when Eric McCaughrin (sp?) was commenting on something I was trying to do in C--he thought Perl would have been a better fit for the problem. (He was right.)

    Fast forward to 1996, cobbling together some CGI scripts for Fermilab experiment #872 (see e.g. DONUT), learned Perl 4. Been writing C code in Perl since. :-)

    Tangentially, Stanford University physicist Martin Perl won the 1995 Nobel Prize for discovering the tau lepton; the corresponding neutrino was "discovered" by the DONUT experiment.

Re: My first approach to Perl. How has been yours?
by holli (Monsignor) on Sep 03, 2005 at 07:28 UTC
      I wrote:
      I also bet this has come out before. Hope not too often...
      holli answered:
      Roads to Perl
      Ouch! I hand't noticed it. Either this comes out way too often, or it was an extremely unfortunate choice of a day to post this...

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