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Are we a dying breed?

by thaigrrl (Monk)
on Nov 10, 2005 at 20:32 UTC ( #507527=perlmeditation: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

Recently at my place of employment we have decided to try and hire a contractor to come in and help out with our overwhelming amount of work. It appears that every perl developer in the area has once worked here. And to make matters worse, no new perl developers understand inheritance or any other OO methodology. What's the deuce?

I don't understand it, we have been looking for months and have had a very very difficult time trying to find quality people. And by quality, I mean someone who is proficient enough in perl to be able to learn how things work here. We're not asking for any superhero "perl gurus" or anything fancy like that.

Back to my original question: Are we a dying breed? I've also been trolling the jobs.perl.org site for recent job updates and it appears that there's no jobs on the east coast. There are the same 10 companies out west repeatedly searching for perl people.

Is it java that is scaring away quality perl people, or is Perl just not that viable a solution for company needs?

It seems that here at least, Perl is a very expensive solution, because Java programmers are a dime a dozen. Which is why the company has decided to convert all large perl applications into it's nemesis.. java.

~thaigrrl~

Replies are listed 'Best First'.
Re: Are we a dying breed?
by pboin (Deacon) on Nov 10, 2005 at 20:42 UTC

    Many of the very best people are never on the market per se. They tend to either have jobs they like, or go from one to the other based on personal contacts. I just happened to read the following article, which explains this fairly well.

    http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2005/01/27.html

Re: Are we a dying breed?
by GrandFather (Sage) on Nov 10, 2005 at 20:53 UTC

    In many guises this has been discussed here before. At the end of the day in a situation such as yours you may have to cast a wider net. Look for programmers with wide language experience. For a widely experienced programmer Perl offers some subtle edge cases, but generally DWIM saves the day. From personal experience I can tell you that a good programmer can come to Perl cold and be doing good work in a couple of weeks.

    It's generally the problem solving ability that you need to target rather than detail knowledge of a particular subject. If you have time to bring someone up to speed with Perl you could well win over the term of the project by looking outside the immediate Perl community. When you do, introduce them here and their learning time will be cut to 1/3 :).


    Perl is Huffman encoded by design.
      When you do, introduce them here and their learning time will be cut to 1/3 :)
      And there's an excellent chance much of that will be after hours :)
Re: Are we a dying breed?
by dragonchild (Archbishop) on Nov 10, 2005 at 21:26 UTC
    Have you considered contractors that telecommute? I maintain a list of people who would love to help you out on my homenode, if only you're willing to let them work from their home.

    My criteria for good software:
    1. Does it work?
    2. Can someone else come in, make a change, and be reasonably certain no bugs were introduced?
Re: Are we a dying breed?
by renodino (Curate) on Nov 10, 2005 at 23:59 UTC
    ...the company has decided to convert all large perl applications into it's nemesis.. java.

    1. I don't see Java as a Perl "nemesis". They both have their uses, champions, and detractors. As another poster noted, colleges (even trade schools) are churning out Java coders as fast as possible. Which is probably a good thing, since it usually takes 10x staff to implement something in Java as it would in (Perl, Python, Ruby). My preference is Perl, but I do miss some Java features - esp wrt threading - that Java does very nicely (and, I'll add, I'm trying to implement Perl modules to address that...).

    2. Finding good developers of any language persuasion is tough (if you think the Perl pool is thin, think about the piles of COBOL code out there likely to succumb to coderot as an entire generation of developers retires!). There are many developers skating by using IDE wizards to cover their lack of knowledge of the language in which they've pimped themselves as being proficient. Also, since a major portion of Perl users are

      • sysadmins, accustomed to just hacking whatever is needed to keep the systems running at 3 AM so they can get back to bed
      • people who picked up Perl casually just to build some simple CGIs
      • J. Random Hackers who've been using Perl as a general purpose tool for lots of little odd jobs

    I'm not surprised that many of your candidates were not well versed in the CompSci aspects of Perl. I suspect that many in the Perl community are not deeply experienced in building Big Object Oriented Projects. Java, OTOH, is nearly impossible to use without some grounding in OO basics. I consider it another strength of Perl that so many people can use Perl effectively without needing to know all the CompSci esoterica, yet it provides all (well, maybe most) of the tools needed to build Big Object Oriented Projects.

    So, in reply to the OP Subject line:

    No, the Perl community isn't really dying. Its just that there weren't that many of us (Big Object Oriented Project Perl Developers) to begin with. There are still many, many "little project to just get it running for the task at hand" perl developers.

      I don't see Java as a Perl "nemesis". They both have their uses, champions, and detractors.

      Agreed, and I would guess that there are many out there, myself included, for whom Perl is just another tool than can be pulled from the toolbox when required or appropriate. I would think that one of the distinguishing differences between many developers would be the degree of freedom they have in picking the tools used for a given job. Some employers don't care how a problem is solved, some do. I have an easier time finding paid work for Java...

      Can Perl be used for most jobs? sure, but then so could many other general purpose languages. Is it always the right fit for a job? That's a different question, and that depends on several factors -- many of them not technical.

      ...since it usually takes 10x staff to implement something in Java as it would in (Perl, Python, Ruby).

      I think this is an oversimplification, which depends on the problem, the developer(s) in question, their experience, the tools they have available to them and their own private libraries they've cobbled together over time. There are many things that I can do faster in Perl than in Java, C, C++, or various other languages.

      However, there are a few things that I know I could do faster in Java than in Perl. This doesn't mean that Java is necessarily better at the task, but that I am better and more experienced at solving certain problems in Java or other languages than I am in Perl. I am also more knowledgeable in the tools available in Java to solving those problems than I am in Perl. So, for some tasks, and for some period of time until I was able to get up speed on the Perl equivalents, I would be less effective.

      No, the Perl community isn't really dying. Its just that there weren't that many of us (Big Object Oriented Project Perl Developers) to begin with.

      I completely agree that Perl isn't dying, it's just that maybe developers aren't using it for as much as they used to. Perl has a lot more competition these days with some of the newer languages and it's showing it's age a bit. If someone was interested in an OO scripting language and just starting out, I wonder why they might choose Perl when there's Python or Ruby. It's more understandable if someone has existing experience with Perl, but I think it can be intimidating to beginners.

Re: Are we a dying breed?
by tilly (Archbishop) on Nov 11, 2005 at 06:12 UTC
    It takes time to find good people. That's life. If you can't find good Perl people, then I'd suggest finding good people and teaching them Perl. (It doesn't take that long.)

    As for the job situation out West, I don't know what 10 companies you're thinking of, but apparently at least 6 of them are in LA. (And that's not counting the companies that occasionally have a position from time to time.) My understanding from friends in other cities suggests that this is far from the only good local market.

    As for Perl vs Java, judging from recent conversations on boston.pm, PHP is seen as a far more direct threat.

      As for Perl vs Java, judging from recent conversations on boston.pm, PHP is seen as a far more direct threat.

      I agree. I code in both. I like both. However for what I do (web/database intergration) PHP is my 1st choice. Perl was the defact language for CGI and dynamic websites. Now PHP (and to some extent ASP) has replaced it. Perl has it's place for a lot of background tasks and for anything too complex for shell scripting.

      Java doesn't really compete with Perl (or PHP) in any of these places. I don't understand what all this Java vs. Perl stuff is about.

        Different people, different jobs. For what I use Perl for (and have used Perl for for more than a dozen years), PHP is not an option. I don't do webby stuff. If I had to replace the stuff I've written in Perl by stuff written in another language, that other language would be shell, AWK or C. And whatever language I might have learn if I hadn't learned Perl. Python probably. Ruby maybe, but that's quite a newcomer. And had I learned Java, I might have written some of it in Java.

        But whether or not "perl is dying", I don't care. Perl exists. Even if no new versions appear, it doesn't cease to exist. And it won't stop doing what it's doing. It won't effect me, nor my job, if everyone else stops programming Perl.

        Perl --((8:>*
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Re: Are we a dying breed?
by jacques (Priest) on Nov 10, 2005 at 23:17 UTC
    Two big reasons:

    1. Perl is not widely taught in colleges. So new college grads tend to look for Java/C++ jobs.

    2. Perl is not buzz-word compliant, has no marketing campaign, or mega corporation behind it.

    There are plenty of Perl jobs out there. But unless Perl 6 takes off in the next few years, I think you will see those jobs start to slowly dwindle, but Perl 5 will live on for a long time.

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Re: Are we a dying breed?
by ickyb0d (Monk) on Nov 10, 2005 at 22:35 UTC

    I wouldn't really say that perl programmers are necesarrily a dying breed, but they might be harder to find in the midst of all of the mainstream programming out there (java, c++, c#, etc.). Granted I've only been really getting into the perl community for the past 6 months or so. To me, it seems like there will always be perl programmers and a need for them. There will also always be people curious about perl and people that just go out and learn it on their own.

    I think that these forums pretty much speak for themselves and show that perl programmers aren't a dying breed.

Re: Are we a dying breed?
by perrin (Chancellor) on Nov 10, 2005 at 22:13 UTC
    No jobs on the east coast? I see postings for Massachusetts and New York nearly every day.
Re: Are we a dying breed?
by samizdat (Vicar) on Nov 11, 2005 at 14:56 UTC
    Perl and Perl programmers are a long way from dying off. I'm starting to help upgrade the Perl skills of an understudy now so she can expand on the work I've started and apply it elsewhere. Also, the Big Major Project we're starting over at the fab is going to be mostly Perl and Oracle. People here are sick to death of the problems associated with Java and Microsoft servers and databases. And, yes, this is enterprise-level stuff. The existing systems that are running the databases (eight 8-way's, last I counted) are well over 50% busy 24x7. We've got our (and a few more people's) work cut out for us because there area lot of failed Java and VB/ASP (and even C++!) apps that need to be converted and integrated.

    Perl is very much a lingua fraca here. There are lots of little-job programmers here whose day job is chip design or system admin.

    I agree heartily with the suggestion to find flexible programmers and teach them your Perl idioms. They'll end up teaching you as you all get better.
Re: Are we a dying breed?
by zentara (Archbishop) on Nov 11, 2005 at 13:34 UTC
    I don't understand it, we have been looking for months and have had a very very difficult time trying to find quality people. And by quality, I mean someone who is proficient enough in perl to be able to learn how things work here

    That is true of almost any field now. The colleges are cranking out assembly-line graduates, and it is hard to find any new graduate who actually can think for themselves and solve a problem. Hence the need for an "assembly-line language" like Java. The same is true for Operating Systems, give the dummies Windows.

    It has always been like this. It used to be that only the top 20% of students would go on to higher education after high school, and the rest would go to "practical employment". Nowadays, everyone gets to go to college and get C's on curves, and it shows in the incompetance in the white collar workforce.


    I'm not really a human, but I play one on earth. flash japh
      It has always been like this. It used to be that only the top 20% of students would go on to higher education after high school, and the rest would go to "practical employment". Nowadays, everyone gets to go to college...

      Not to disagree with the rest of your post, which I pretty much agree with, but I know a great many people who have moved directly into employment after high school (and several others, like myself, who can afford only one college class a year, or every few years, and will consider themselves lucky to get a 2-year degree). The percentage has certainly gone up but everyone, even 50% IMHO, is proably pushing it.

      "Cogito cogito ergo cogito sum - I think that I think, therefore I think that I am." Ambrose Bierce

Re: Are we a dying breed?
by zshzn (Hermit) on Nov 11, 2005 at 23:54 UTC
    "It appears that every perl developer in the area has once worked here."

    Then don't just worry about finding Perl programmers, work on keeping them.

      I completely agree on this one. Good workers are hard to get and should be considered as one of the most valuable assets of a company.

      spikydragon.fi - t-shirts for Coders, engineers, roleplayers, scientists, jugglers and nerds
Re: Are we a dying breed?
by hackdaddy (Hermit) on Nov 12, 2005 at 11:01 UTC
    Go to Dice.com.

    Enter "python" in search box. Enter.

    Jobs 1 - 30 of 516 matching your search request.

    Enter "perl" in search box. Enter.

    Jobs 1 - 30 of 4196 matching your search request.

    Any questions?

    I have worked at one of the world's largest software companies (starts with "M") and they use tons of Perl scripts. True hackers know that Perl gets the job done quickly.

    And then there are the straight C/C++/C#/Java types that can't do a damn thing outside of their IDE.

    It pretty much analogous to musicians that can read music, but cannot write or improvise. And those musicians that cannot read music, but can write and improvise.

    Is programming in your blood? Then you're probably using Perl to make quick utilities and glue open source tools together into new systems.
Are we a breed? Why didn't someone tell me?!?
by Anonymous Monk on Nov 11, 2005 at 18:07 UTC
    Perl programmers are generally created by adapting previously bred, fully grown humans, often by whacking them in the head with a small mallet. ;-)

    If you're trying to hire enough staff by breeding and raising programmers from birth, no wonder your costs are through the roof! Try adapting pre-build humans, not building them from scratch; it's simpler, more time-efficient, and more cost-effective!

    Perl programmers aren't a breed; but if they were, they don't seem to be dying. Soldiers are a dying breed; as a civilians who piss off soldiers. ;-) Programmers don't tend to be singled out for dying.

    It seems that here at least, Perl is a very expensive solution, because Java programmers are a dime a dozen. Buy all the Java programmers you can; then upgrade them to Perl programmers. For a salary of $0.00833, you can absorb a lot of training costs.

    Which is why the company has decided to convert all large perl applications into it's nemesis.. java

    Java is a nemesis of Perl? Should I be worried that large roving gangs of Java thugs are going to beat me up, and take my lunch money? ;-) What about converted humans who are both Java programmers, C++ programmers, and Perl programmers? Do they have to form roving gangs to beat themselves up? :-)

    Seriously, though, programming is a job; languages are just tools, not straitjackets. Hire people who will get the job done; don't fuss about the tools they use to do it.

Re: Are we a dying breed?
by kiat (Vicar) on Nov 12, 2005 at 04:40 UTC
    If you're worried about Perl dying away, then the Python people must be more worried than you about Python's future. I'm saying this in the context of job advertisements in Singapore. While I have occasionally seen advertisements for Perl programmers, I don't recall seeing any for Python programmers.

    But the truth is Python isn't going away so neither is Perl. In fact, I read somewhere that Python is being chosen as the language for some hand-held devices.

Re: Are we a dying breed?
by ewilhelm (Novice) on Nov 14, 2005 at 18:36 UTC

    Is it java that is scaring away quality perl people, or is Perl just not that viable a solution for company needs?

    It seems that here at least, Perl is a very expensive solution, because Java programmers are a dime a dozen.

    Hmm. I'm curious to know what your job requirements look like. I would guess that you're saying you want someone with 5 years of Perl experience. The problem with this sort of approach to hiring someone to work on a perl application is that one year of Perl experience can mean vastly different things to different people. I know people who say they have used Perl for 6 years, and yet they are unaware of many of the features and caveats of Perl which I learned in my first year.

    In my recent experience applying for jobs, very few of the posters who say they want someone with lots of Perl experience really mean that you need to know Perl that well. Does a sysadmin who has used Perl for 10 years really know it as well as a hacker who has used it for one?

    Good problem-solvers have always been in short supply. The trouble is that you can't identify them if you don't give them a problem to solve. If you're not looking for hackers who can identify and solve a completely different problem than the one you thought you had, you might as well just hire a slew of *++ programmers and hand them a spec.

    BTW, I'm self-taught in Perl and my BS is not in CS. My only formal CS education is one semester of Fortran. This doesn't stop me from understanding OO methodology, only from getting a job at a place where they think this requires a CS degree.

      Thoughts on this entire thread:


      I'd be interested to know how many IT managers are actually aware of sites such as Perlmonks:


      Grandfather's comment that "it's generally the problem solving ability that you need to target rather than detail knowledge of a particular subject" is dead on. Someone who understands basic programming ideas and can show you how they've solved coding problems could be productive in Perl quickly.


      I disagree with DrHyde's assertion that Perl is "not a good teaching language." I am relatively new to Perl and have been studying the "Camel" book. I find it to be superior to many textbooks both in terms of its writing style and its discussion of language design issues. I don't necessarily agree with all of Wall's design choices but he does a fine job of explaining his choices.


      Finally, a suggestion for identifying good problem solvers who have demonstrated ability in the language one is seeking would be to troll sites such as Perlmonks and look at the trail that regular posters have left there.

Re: Are we a dying breed?
by stonecolddevin (Parson) on Nov 10, 2005 at 23:52 UTC
    it's because no one calls/hires me!!!! :-P
    meh.
Re: Are we a dying breed?
by blazar (Canon) on Nov 11, 2005 at 10:36 UTC
    Back to my original question: Are we a dying breed?

    No.
    Well, I don't think so.
    I heartily hope not so.

    Well, I live in a very different area wrt yours, but even though I started programming in Perl for personal use & enjoyment, here there surely opportunities for professional employment. Hey, even I could find one - wasn't searching it and got hooked! ;-)
Re: Are we a dying breed?
by TibetPerlMonk (Sexton) on Nov 11, 2005 at 04:41 UTC

    Perl is not dying, it will be reincarnated in Perl 6.

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