The OSCON conference held in Austin, Texas was another great event for the open source community, with plenty of presentations and speeches to intrigue and spark debates and discussions. Jeffrey Goff, Perl programmer extraordinaire and life long Perl entuziast was there for a Perl 6 presentation. Check out the interview for the full experience.
BIP: How long have you been contributing on Perl 6?
J.G:That’s sort of a trick question. Technically since 2002-2003 when it was called Parrot and I was the release manager after Simon Cozens passed on the mantle. From a practical standpoint I got interested again in mid-2014 when it could do a few things I’ve wanted (and still want in Perl 5), such as support for grammar rewriting, Unicode operations and finally straightening out a few of the context issues that plague the beginner Perl 5 programmer.
I’m currently focussing on working on talks and transition material for people coming in from Perl 5, as when I did a quick show-of-hands at the tutorial session, about â of the people had actually used Perl 5 before, which was surprising. I figured I’d get a higher percentage, but there apparently are quite a lot of people interested in it as a language on its own benefits.
Before that I was focusing on (and finding a lot of bugs in) the grammars, actions and to a lesser extent the dynamic language bindings. Mostly because I can finally write the compilers I want to.
BIP:What was the idea behind holding a presentation on Perl 6?
J.G:Well, OSCON was originally The Perl Conference, and Perl representation has gone down in recent years. @vmbrasseur, an old friend of mine, mentioned that OSCON was looking for content, and I figured the only way to see if we could get more Perl representation was to try.
Why Perl 6? Well, it already had a formal announcement at FOSDEM in February, and it was only fitting that it should come full circle back to OSCON. I figured that Larry already had the keynote locked up, so I thought I’d throw in a few side notes to show people that Perl is very much alive. One of the problems with the Perl 6 naming was that it effectively froze Perl 5’s image, even though it’s very much a language on its own, with a very active development core and yearly releases.
BIP:How did the presentation go, in regard to people’s response?
J.G:I’m probably a bit biased in that regard, so let me quote from a friend who ambus...er, politely asked people after the talk what they thought of the 3-hour presentation:
"I asked 5 people when they left the room what they thought of the course. They all said that Jeff did well, that they learned a lot, that they could follow all he said, and three of them said they were surprised of what Perl 6 had to offer and that they certainly will start using Perl 6 now. One more said that he will start using Perl 6 as soon as there is good DBI-support for Oracle (I replied "well-volunteered", but he didn't fall for that)."
I was actually amazed at the interactivity I got during the tutorial session. I came out there with 70+ slides ready to go, and only had time for about 50 of them. The audience asked intelligent and engaging questions, and on occasion pointing out a bug. Everyone managed to complete the exercises I assigned, except for one person who cheated :)
BIP: How do you see Perl 6 in comparison to Perl 5?
J.G: Perls 5 and 6 are different languages, to the point where it’s almost easier to learn Perl 6 if you don’t have preconceptions from Perl 5. It still has those weird squiggles (sigils) that we know and love, but how they’re used has changed. For the better, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve had to clarify how Perl 5 context works time and again, and Perl 6 solves most of those issues.
The community is the other big change from Perl 5. Perl 5 Porters has been the core of Perl 5 development for a long time, and it’s wonderful that we have these people here to support the codebase that is the Perl 5 macro layer, it wouldn’t have gotten as far as it has without them. Perl 6 is built around a different idea though, with the complexities in the VM layer keeping the actual language coding simpler, and in fact Perl 6 is almost completely written in Perl 6 by this point.
BIP:Care to make a prediction about Perl 6’s future?
Especially because of its interactive nature - it’s driven mostly through GitHub pull requests and IRC chat - it’s a fast-moving community, and problems get solved quickly. The regulars are friendly, so there’s none of the stigma surrounding the old Perl 5 channels. Just keep an open mind and relaxed attitude, and you’ll do fine.
BIP:Last but not least, how was OSCON as an experience?
J.G:Hasn’t changed that much since I was there last, in … 2010, I think. I was there as a TPF (The Perl Foundation) member doing networking, and sneaking into the occasional talk when the hall monitors weren’t looking. It’s definitely gotten more corporate than I remember, with sponsors being more prominent, but it’s still got the basic open-source orientation.
As ever, the hallway tracks are the place be be. These conferences are all about networking, and OSCON is no exception. It moved from Portland to Austin this year, and I gather that attendance dropped as a result, down to ~4000 based on what I heard. By comparison, FOSDEM in Europe is a completely free conference, and when I spoke there last year attendance was ~10_000.
Kind of a shame, as Austin was a nice town to kick around in. After the tutorial, most of my time was spent wandering the expo halls waiting for friends to get out of their respective talks so we could compare notes. I didn’t get a chance to get to any of the speaker’s after-parties because I kept getting dragged to other people’s parties, but since those looked to be mostly sponsored networking events I don't think I missed much.
Hopefully they’ll invite me back next year, it’s a much needed break and the crowd is my kind of people. They had a few teething issues, but nothing you don’t expect from the first year in a new city.