About the Perl Toolchain Summit
We've had a few questions and discussions about the toolchain summit since our announcement in January. In this blog post we'll address some of those: why the name change, what things are fair game to be worked on, and who decides who comes?
The Perl Toolchain Summit is the new name of the Perl QA Hackathon, an event organised for the first time by Salve J. Nilsen in Oslo in April 2008. In Salve's words from 2008: "The purpose of a QA hackathon would be to Quality Assurance-related problems that are easier to solve when everyone is gathered in the same physical location. This can include issues with packaging, testing modules, community support or with tools."
Over time, the event has grown in importance (it is now the major non-conference event of the Perl community), and moved around Europe, organized every year by a different team in a different European city. It is entirely financed by corporate and community sponsors interested in having a healthy and reliable Perl environment.
Why the name change?
Neil Bowers has been involved in raising sponsorship for the last three years (including this year), and as such he has had to explain the event to a lot of people, why it's important, and encourage them to support it. We've also talked about it a lot to the Perl community.
As a result of those things, it felt like the name didn't really match the event. Many times Neil had to explain "no, it's not that kind of hackathon", and that the focus was not on Perl itself, and not on just QA, but on all the tools that all Perl developers and Perl-using companies rely on.
We've also done a lot of thinking about what the event is really for, and who should be attending. At last year's QAH, we had a discussion session on this, which Neil wrote up on his blog. Discussion and thought on this continued sporadically following the QAH, but we knew that if we were going to change the name, it had to be for this year's event.
What is the event about?
Many companies, and many individual members of the Perl community, rely on CPAN. While we may all love Perl, it is CPAN that really helps us get things done. For Perl to stay relevant, we need to ensure that CPAN gets more reliable, and that we help new authors produce reliable modules.
That is the focus of the toolchain summit: ensuring the CPAN toolset continues to improve, and makes it easier for authors to release modules that work across many versions of Perl, and on a wide range of operating systems.
The priority for the event is Perl in Production. The Perl that is paying the bills for many of us. That's why most of the attendees are those working on the Perl 5 toolchain (from CPAN installers to test modules, not forgetting distribution builders). Perl 6 is growing in use, and there are people looking to leverage Perl 5 and CPAN in Perl 6, which is why we also invite Perl 6 toolchain developers.
This is not an event about the Perl language. There is now a P5P hackathon, which is the right place for language discussions, brainstorming, arguments, etc.
Everyone working on the toolchain is doing this as a volunteer, so the work fights for their attention with many other things. Bringing everyone together not only gives them dedicated time to work on the toolchain, but the atmosphere helps fire everyone up for another year.
How are participants selected?
Most people working on the toolchain are volunteers, which is why we try to cover as much of the costs as possible with sponsorship. Why do companies support the event? They have Perl in Production.
To bring the most value to the Perl community at large and the sponsors, the goal is to get all "the right people" together for 4 days so they can: fix gnarly issues, push things forward, have discussions about future directions. The discussions are one of the main benefit of having the relevant people around you. It's also invaluable to have the tool author next to you when you just found a bug in their module, or when you need some explanation on its internals.
Since 2014, the selection of "the right people" has more or less been formalised into a three-tier process.
The core group is selected by the organisers based on relevance: the lead developers of the critical tools that everything else builds on. This group slowly evolves as people hand over responsibilities (Doug Bell replaced Barbie when Doug took over as lead maintainer of CPAN Testers), and new tools become established (Olaf Alders represents MetaCPAN).
The core group nominate the next level. Who are the people they want to work with, that they've been working with for the last year? Who is relevant in their opinion?
The final group depends on how many places we have. This is where we mix in the Perl 6 toolchain, and try to identify if there are any parts of the toolchain not represented that should be. We usually keep a few "open seats" for interested people to join. We make sure they understand what the event is about, so that there is no surprise (see "no, it's not that kind of hackathon" above).
The Perl Toolchain Summit was renamed to reflect the purpose of the event: get together the lead developers working on the CPAN and Perl toolchain. Given that definition, the people invited varies from year to year, based on who's been doing the work.
If you want to come to the summit next year, all you need to do is start helping out on the toolchain!