How I Learned to Stop Lurking and Love the perlmonks (and actually post something)


Lurkers of perlmonks Unite! You have nothing to lose but your anonymity.

I have been a member of the monastery for two years now, and have not posted once. I have gone from having never heard of Perl two years ago to building an order entry system in object oriented Perl over the last few months (using wxPerl and Class::DBI, both awesome modules).

This is due in a large part to perlmonks and its wonderful occupants (thanks are also due to TheDamian for his excellent book Object Oriented Perl (the one Perl book I own) and the Chapters bookstore chain where I have perused many Perl books I do not own for monetary reasons (ie the lack thereof)).

So I am in the position of having benefited very much from the perlmonks community while not giving very much back. I have tried to be a somewhat active member of perlmonks by voting but I have never posted anything. This was initially due to my lack of knowledge which kept me from trying to answer or respond to any posts and my fear of asking a question that would provoke the dreaded RTFM. As a result I have grown quite adept at using perldoc and searching perlmonks to find the answers to the questions I have had.

One question I could never find an answer to is how best to give back to this community that has helped me grow so much. I am still reluctant to post answers to questions, because I know there are monks that will respond with a more informed and accurate response than I could give (and perhaps chastise me for providing a poor answer). I have realized that it comes down to the fear of being wrong (and/or looking the fool) that has kept me from posting. But this ensures that my growth will stop until I start to challenge what I think I know about Perl (and programming in general) and risk being completely wrong.

So I have a question for any former lurkers out there, how did you go about making the transition to active vocal member of the community?

Finally, a big Thank You to all the members of perlmonks. This community is an excellent source of knowledge, insight, and humour.

It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt – Voltaire

I want to know if I am a fool, maybe I can do something about it - me

Replies are listed 'Best First'.
Re: On Two Years of Silence...
by gmax (Abbot) on Mar 31, 2003 at 18:51 UTC

    There is nothing wrong about silence. One of my favorite nodes is The Virtue of Silence, by TheoPetersen, but maybe that is a different kind of silence. :)

    As for me, I was peeking around for two weeks before I posted my first node. I thought it was a long time, until I heard about you!

    In addition to lurking around, though, the act of posting was very much influential. Going to the motions of preparing a post was beneficial even before I actually posted something. The procedure of looking at the FAQ, searching the site, and reading the manuals, brought me sometimes to find a solution before I clicked the "submit" button. I refer to this procedure as The PerlMonks algorithm, which is a positive side effect of the Monastery life.

    Now, how can you contribute?

    Just share with us your accomplishments. Since you've been around for so long, you must know where to post what, and don't be ashamed of asking when you have doubts. The Seekers of Perl Wisdom section is there for everybody, and experienced saints ask there with as much will to learn as the last initiate.

    So, welcome to the "active" world of PM. :)

     _  _ _  _  
    (_|| | |(_|><

      Thanks for the links. I had not seen The Virtue of Silence node before, but I had previously enjoyed The PerlMonks algorithm before (and ++'d it as well). I could not agree more with both posts.

      The problem, IMHO, is knowing where to draw the line as far as how much effort to put into solving a problem yourself before asking a question. But in my experience with the monastery, as long as you show that you have put at least a modicum of effort into solving it yourself the monks will be more than willing to help solve a problem.

      Thanks again and ++.

      I could not agree more.
      Update: Fixed gamx's name.
Re: On Two Years of Silence...
by jasonk (Parson) on Mar 31, 2003 at 18:49 UTC

    My opinion is that if you think you have an answer, post it! If it turns out to be the wrong answer then you, the original poster, and everyone who participates in the thread will have learned something. And if people chastise you for giving the wrong answer, ignore them, at least you are making an effort to contribute. Even the most knowledgeable of monks posts a wrong answer on occasion.

    A witty saying proves nothing. -- Voltaire
      Aha! Another good quote from Voltaire. Thanks for your reply and ++;

      The best is the enemy of the good. --Voltaire
Re: On Two Years of Silence...
by Aragorn (Curate) on Mar 31, 2003 at 19:29 UTC
    I'm a user since March 13, 2000, and posted my first answer to a question on May 13, 2002, exactly 26 months later. There are a number of reasons why I started posting so late. First of all, when I joined, I did mostly sysadmin work with very little Perl involved. Also, on most sites where I worked, I didn't have an Internet connection (weird as it sounds, it's true :-). At some point I just kinda forgot PM.

    In April 2002, I joined a company as a full-time Perl hacker/software engineer. I rediscovered PM and someone asked a question about a module I had some experience with by using it in a project I worked on.

    After that, I posted some answers at irregular intervals, although lately I've put in some more time reading questions and answers (lots to be learned there!) and occasionally answering questions. With approval of my manager, no less!

    Thinking about questions people ask and reading other people's answers makes one a better programmer kinda by osmosis. Answering questions makes you think even more about stuff (not necessarily programming per se, but also about design and algorithms) and hones ones' skill at answering questions of your collegues. Actively participating in a community is very much a win-win situation for everyone involved.


      I have found that the best way to learn a subject is to teach it to someone else. When I have had difficult problems to solve over the past two years I always describe the problem to my wife and how I am trying to solve it (and recently my son as well - he is going to be one great Perl hacker). This usually results in a smack to the forehead and a mad dash back to the computer.

      By actively posting to perlmonks I plan on getting the same benefit as well as benefitting from the very significant knowledge of the numerous perlmonks.

      Thanks for the reply and ++.

Re: On Two Years of Silence...
by Anonymous Monk on Mar 31, 2003 at 19:10 UTC
    One question I could never find an answer to is how best to give back to this community that has helped me grow so much

    Here's my top three (semi-unusual) ways to give something back:

    • Support Pair Networks. They donate the servers and bandwidth for Perlmonks. This would be a major cost otherwise. Make sure to let them know they get your business because of hosting Perlmonks. They're also the best hosting provider I've ever dealt with. And no, I don't have any connection with them other than being an extremely happy customer :).
    • Write Open Source Perl software. More good quality software written in Perl results in more Perl-related jobs, and makes it easier to get existing projects done efficiently. Also spread the word about Perl, get your family, friends, and business associates interested.
    • Use your skills to help out non-profit organizations. There are plenty of them out there that could definately benefit from your skills.

    One last note on posting, don't be afraid to offer your solution to a problem. Even if it's not optimal and someone else comes up with a better one, there's no harm done. The more perspectives on a problem, the better.

    Best of luck and happy Perlmonking :)

      A great response from one of my fellow lurkers. ;)

      Some great suggestions, thanks and ++ (even the anonymonk needs votes now and then).

Re: On Two Years of Silence...
by VSarkiss (Monsignor) on Mar 31, 2003 at 19:21 UTC

    It looks like I created an account here about a couple of weeks after you did. I also started lurking initially, and I posted my first writeup about a month after that. In that time, I've written good answers and bad ones, and have been encouraged and derided (not always in that order!). But I like to think I've helped some questioners, and I know I've had a lot of fun, and learned some new tricks too.

    The biggest benefit of signing up, for me, has been the ability to carry on conversations, both thru the CB and thru email with other monks. (I even met one in person.)

    My only previous experience with on-line communities was on usenet, mumble years ago. That's where I learned to "lurk-n-learn": spend a little time in the community learning the ways before you speak up. But once you've done that, don't be afraid to speak up: the others are just regular people too1, and flamewars don't hurt, they're just silly.

    1 Although the monastery is a much nicer place than the average newsgroup.

      One of the things I truly enjoy about the monestary is the relative lack of flamewars.

      And one of the greates benefits of any community, IMHO, is the realization that we are all just regular people.

      Thanks for the reply and ++.

Re: On Two Years of Silence...
by LAI (Hermit) on Mar 31, 2003 at 19:00 UTC

    I guess my approach to the issue doesn't work for everyone. My f1rst pr0st was a response to a fairly simple regex question. I like to think that the fact that there were no more responses after mine means that I solved the problem so definitively that nobody else felt the need to say any more. The fact that my post was written just over 24 hours later than the OP's "thanks, I've got it working now" post is immaterial.

    My next post, and the one that counts as far as a debut goes, was a pretty neat question about $[. After that followed a few which were kinda dumb, and others that were kinda good, but once I told myself "Self, you're pretty good at this Perl stuff, and you have something to say. So say it and to hell with anyone who poopoos you," I started writing more.

    Now the only thing that might possibly stop me from writing something would be XP factors -- and I'm taking care to remind myself every now and again that even though it's fun to see a "you have gained 7 xp" message when I log on, it's really not that important.

    So, I'd say that the main thing that will get you out of your shell would be getting out of your shell. And when was the last time you saw a monk chastise another for giving a "poor answer?" Most "your answer sucks" posts I've seen have been reaped pretty quickly.



      Thanks for the reply. I agree that XP, although 'fun', should not be a significant factor in the decision of whether to post or not.

      As far as getting out of my shell, that was what this meditation was meant to do. A challenge to myself if you will.


        I sort of disagree about XP being no factor in whether one should post something or not. But see for yourself. :)

        Makeshifts last the longest.

Re: On Two Years of Silence...
by Aristotle (Chancellor) on Apr 01, 2003 at 11:22 UTC
    You quote Voltaire:
    It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.
    There's another quote, I don't remember whom from nor the exact phrasing:
    He who asks will look stupid for five minutes, he who doesn't will remain stupid for the rest of his life.

    Personally, I often find myself favouring silence over posting when others have covered the question well enough that I don't feel I have anything to add. And there are so many folks participating here that this happens a lot.

    Funnily enough, I have hardly posted any questions since I joined - maybe this is just my own modus operandi. The questions I did post were almost exclusively requests for comments on style questions.

    But if you look at Monks by Writeup Count you'll find that "often favouring silence" is quite relative - I have posted a ridiculous amount of answers and comments. Of those, the times I've been wrong weren't enjoyable, but the most educative. I can say with certainty that the time spent here has been a tremendous boon to my skills.

    Don't fear the corrections. If you give a wrong answer and are corrected, you will learn something, and so will whoever posted the question. Also, chances are always that if there's something on your mind, you're only one of many others who're thinking the same. The sooner an exchange leads to a correction and the more people have the opportunity to listen in on the exchange, the faster the everyone will grow.

    Don't also fear giving bad advice. There are so many others around that any bad or incomplete advice is likely to be corrected and completed very quickly.

    Looking back over what I wrote - what an incoherent ramble..

    Makeshifts last the longest.

      One of my professors told the class one time:

      There are no stupid questions, except for the ones you do not ask.

      The quote from Voltaire was meant to reflect my reasons for not posting, with the tongue in cheek 'quote' from me giving my reason for changing my mind.

      Thanks for the reply and ++.

Re: On Two Years of Silence...
by Jenda (Abbot) on Mar 31, 2003 at 21:02 UTC

    I know that feeling. "Just don't look stupid, Jenda! You know they'll laugh. <five minutes of cursing skipped>" It's hard to unteach something that dates back to childhood. I guess that's why in any comunity at all (well almost. Once I was in too much press.) I waited until I could answer a few questions before daring to ask anything. (Trying not to hear my brother's usual "but you should already know that".)

    Always code as if the guy who ends up maintaining your code will be a violent psychopath who knows where you live. (It might even be me!)
       -- Rick Osborne

    Edit by castaway: Closed small tag in signature

      In addition to the self doubt aspect, I was also concerned about misleading other monks with a sub-optimal answer.

      For example, I am subscribed to several ActiveState Perl mailing lists (which I believe you are quite active on Jenda). Very soon after subscribing to one of the lists I answered a question regarding the syntax of how to 'dereference' an argument that has been passed to a subroutine:

      sub foo { my ( $array_ref ) = @_; my @array = @$array_ref; ... }
      That was all well and good, except someone else pointed out what I failed to mention. Any changes made to @array would not be made to the array that $array_ref referenced. The person asking the question did not indicate if they were intending to modify the original array, but if they were my answer might have introduced a 'bug'.

      This led me to decide that I should be more careful in my answers, only answering when I was confident I fully understood the question and the implications of my answer. Of course this being 'careful' led to never answering another question. Perhaps I should become a little more vocal on the mailing lists as well. ;)

      Thanks for the reply, Jenda++.

        Ah tunaboy,

        Good to have you on board.

        I would suggest that you've fallen into the 'fear of posting' trap (I know this because I do it as well). We assume that the question is posted with all the relevant facts, and that the answer will be used exactly as posted. However, the post should be an example of the problem, and any reply should be treated as an example. Never forget - TMTOWTDI. Which way you choose (and any bugs included therein) is purely down to your choice and how you plan to fit it into your existing code.

        A suitable answer may indeed be to look at this module or check out that link. We all have those 'I know I'm being dopey, but I just can't see this' times, people who answer RTFM or shoot you down obviously don't have the depth of experience (or maturity) to do the honourable thing and say 'err - you do realise that your not setting that ?'. Often it's all that's required.

        Post away and be dammned!.

Re: On Two Years of Silence...
by zby (Vicar) on Mar 31, 2003 at 19:52 UTC
    Actually answering some of the questions is pretty easy, here is the algorithm - first find in the question the important keyword, this is the step that works only for some of the nodes, but sometimes its pretty obvious like in this SoPW: randomly choosing elements from an array the keyword was random. Second step is go to cpan search and type in the keyword. Only for the last step you need some perl knowlege - you have to chose the apriopriate module, but usually there is not that much to choose from. Than you post an answer like: Hey look at Data::Random. Thats all.

    Another variant of this is to use merlyn online articles. This was allready covered in Merlyn's secret uncovered!.

      I had planned on writing my first post as a meditation on what to do before posting a question that went something like this:

      In the past two years I have never had to go past the second option, although I have learned a lot of useful things from merlyn's articles.

      Thanks for the reply and ++.

      Typical XP whoring exercise, I would say.

      Answering on some subjects you don't have the faintest idea about, just trying to be the first one to post something.

      Exactly the kind of co-operation the Monastery could do without.

        Heh - OK that was a joke. But I believe I am not alone in thinking that if it can be that automatic then there should be some automat to do it. This is a really bold idea, I know, but this makes it exciting too. I understand it might not be feasible in the monastery now - but if people will continue to think about it then eventually it would succeed.

      This is exactly what is wrong with Perlmonks and a great deal of other forums. You end up with people spitting out the same old drivel over and over and over again. 95% of the people have no idea what they're talking about, but nobody's disagreed with them so far, so they must be right, right?

      Wrong. The people that could correct you don't bother. They have better things to do.

      I could go on for about a couple megs or so about consequences and variations of this, but I have better things to do. And yes, I am an elitist asshole.

        That was a joke. But anyway I don't understand what you are talking about. I can't imagine how the jokingly proposed algorithm would lead to stagnation and 'spitting the same old drivel'.
        Actually sometimes the people who can correct you, actually do so around here. They (eg merlyn, Abigail-II) often start spats by doing so, but they do it anyways.

        That occasional preventative for the human tendancy towards groupthink is an essential part of what gives PM value.

        Not that I expect a self-described elitist asshole to pay enough attention to notice that this really does happen...

Re: On Two Years of Silence...
by phydeauxarff (Priest) on Apr 02, 2003 at 00:09 UTC
    I too took way to long from the time I signed up to my first post... 13 months.

    I was to intimidated to say anything for fear of answering wrong, either through my own inexperience or because I misunderstood the intent of the poster....and ending up getting flamed for my efforts

    Well, I finally got the nerve to start commenting and answering and guess what....I have gotten flamed on more than one occasion (sadly, usually anonymously) and I probably learned more from those flames than anything....mostly about reading the question a couple of times to see if I misunderstood and ESPECIALLY about reading my answer more than a couple of times to see if it was cluefull, or at least attempted to be.

    All in all, I regret the time I spent lurking because I have learned so much more by participating and as an extra bonus I have made some great acquaintences such as Limbic~Region and Merlyn that I would never have had I not had the nerve to step up and offer my opinion

    Perhaps we need our own support group, "Hi, my name is Bill and I'm a Perl Monks lurker"

      There is a saying that has come to my mind (badly paraphrased):

      You can be a big fish in a little pond, or a little fish in a big pond

      ( Although there are some monks that are big fish in a big pond )

      By not posting I was staying in a comfort zone and not risking being corrected (whether it be politely or by being flamed). Like you say though, you learn the most when you are shown you are wrong.

      Thanks for the reply and ++.

        Dude, who cares if you're flamed? Either it won't have any effect or at very worst you'll become a jaded, cynical shell of a programmer, which is highly underrated :).