My Perl recruitment thoughts

Dave Cross posted his Perl Recruitment Thoughts, which led to the same tired responses we see every time someone is frustrated enough to bring it up. Again. In the past decade I've written this post about every six months, decided it wasn't worth the shitstorm I'd get for posting it, and let it die. This time, I'll write just the highlights, turn off comments, and let people who care enough rant do it on their own blogs.

First, Dave does quite a bit of work to make new Perl programmers. He teaches accessible and cheap classes in London (and anywhere that will have him). I don't work in UK, so I can't speak to the particular things he sees. I teach all over the US, write the books, and occasionally step into companies to un-screw up whatever they have going on. Here's what I've learned in 20 years of doing this, but, as I said, just the highlights.


It doesn't matter what universities teach If you think a university is a trade school and that the graduates are going to show up ready to work, it's already game over. If someone coming out of a university can't pick up a new language, why would you hire them? They should already have the skills to learn new tools. Outside of Perl, they are going to have to learn all sorts of things to be useful, including...

Your architecture matters more than the language It's much harder to figure out how all the pieces fit together than it is to use some Perl in a method. Avar said as much in the reddit thread. But, you didn't design what you have and the documentation is a mess, even though you provide a wiki that no one updates. Everything accreted over years from a succession of programmers who quit when they got tired of the mess. You don't have anyone in charge of the idea, so you let anyone with a keyboard do it based on whatever fire you want to put out that week. And you have no tests, so everyone is afraid to change things. Because...

You offer no professional development I have more than a couple of very successful customers who make their own Perl programmers. They have a career ladder that takes people from almost no tech skills and turns them into programmers in a couple of years. Yeah, years. They are pro-active in professional development and there's something for new hires in the trenches to aspire to. Are you fully mining the job market or filling a position for several months until you wear out someone? Which leads too..

Your company has a bad reputation I've tried to help at more than a few places where the word about town is to avoid your company. Part of my work is always to track down people who used to work on the code to find out what advice they have. Most of the time I get warnings that aren't technical and the people who might fill the job know the same gossip. But, that doesn't matter if...

You aren't doing something interesting The really good Programmers I know don't care that much about the tools as long as they are decent tools. They want to work on interesting problems. Of all the problems out there, most aren't interesting. Of the ones that can be, bad management can make them intolerable. Some companies think they can make up for that with money. Some think they can offer equity because they have a three year exit plan that involves a buy out, so...

You don't pay enough Well, you don't for the level of pre-packaged skills you want to parachute into your mess. Even then, you kill them with the death of a thousand cuts. You start by saying you want them to work on a test suite and within a month they are fighting fires like the rest of the burnt out crew. Your daily agile standup takes 45 minutes and people sit down. You never get out of the mess that's causing the problem. But...

Pay doesn't matter if you suck I know plenty of really good Programmers who'd rather be poor than work in most environments managers let them have. I know of very few places where the programmers don't gripe about the obstacles to getting things done, and many of those gripes are social obstacles. Sometimes that means you need to fire particular people that bring down the entire team. I know many companies that bleed talent because they don't get rid of the non-performing black holes of negativity who don't document the institutional knowledge that has become their job security.

The people you want to hire don't know about your job If you're merely posting job adverts, you're only getting the people who don't have jobs. I've never hired a Perl programmer that way. I hire them away from jobs they already have when they aren't looking. This is why I (and others) invented Perl mongers. We designed Perl mongers as a business networking medium. Presentations were rare in the beginning. Drinking and socializing were the intent. Personal relationships lead to opportunities. That's not what happens now in many places. You don't know the rock stars who might turn around your company because you don't even know who they are, much less what they're interested in.

You aren't where anyone is You might be aces in everything, but if you've set up shop where nobody is and where nobody wants to go to, don't expect the same response to a job opening that you'd get in San Francisco, New York, or London.


In short, the language doesn't matter. There's much more going on in the job market and the employment opportunities that people like to blame on the language. As programmers, however, we know the ultimate excuse of the poor worker is the tools.

We don't need everyone using Perl to make it smart for businesses; we need just enough to make it easy to get things done. We have enough. Anyone wanting to use the language is going to find an engaged, interested, enthusiastic, and motivated community. They are going to find fresh releases. They will find libraries, modules, and frameworks to handle what they need. They will get their questions answered by top-shelf people. They will find answers in StackOverflow. The employers have all the tools they need to create Perl programmers if that's the language they want to use. There's not anything we can do to make it an order of magnitude easier for them.

But then, my other rant is that we've run out of Programmers. We have people who program for money, but that's not the same thing. Out of all the people in the world, only so many have the talent, skill, and motivation to design (not just type) computer programs. I think that number is very small. That you like and enjoy futzing with computers doesn't make you a Programmer any more than me reading gun magazines or firing a pistol at the range makes me a Navy SEAL.

Your real trick is to hire one real Programmer and let him handle a crew of people with moderate skills (perhaps no talent, though). But then, you'd have to actually think about organizational dynamics and how to train a tech person to be a manager then not piss them off so they leaves.


About brian d foy

user-pic I'm the author of Mastering Perl, and the co-author of Learning Perl (6th Edition), Intermediate Perl, Programming Perl (4th Edition) and Effective Perl Programming (2nd Edition).