Growing Up

Posted on 13th August 2010

YAPC::Europe 2010 - Thoughts Pt 1/3 - Young Blood & The Old Guard

Last week I was in Pisa for YAPC::Europe 2010. Although I was doing a talk about CPAN Testers, my intention was to keep a low profile and observe more. Having run the conference surveys for the past few years, it has been noticeable that the attendance has been changing. While there are new people coming along to YAPCs, the general average age is getting older. Marketing Perl to companies to encourage its use is one thing, but attracting people in general to the language is also important. The fact that for a notable number of attendees this is their first YAPC, probably means we are getting something right.

There were several European Perl Mongers that were noticeably absent this year. While some had posted apologies (mostly due to imminent baby arrivals it would seem!), others perhaps have moved on to other jobs, projects or languages, or their life means that they cannot commit to something like YAPC any more. While we miss them, it is a natural way for the community to evolve. It does give a chance for newcomers to become involved and this year I wanted to see who we are potentially going to see more of.

It seems we have quite a few people who are giving us, the Perl community, a fresh look and I think that the Perl community is rather healthy at the moment thanks to them. At least from a European perspective. YAPCs are an ideal chance for people to meet and discuss projects, which otherwise can take days or weeks via email and even IRC. Those new to projects can better introduce themselves and forge better communication channels with other project members, both during the conference and at the evening social events. I think it was Dave Rolsky who observed that the Europeans seemed more accustomed to putting down laptops and talking, rather than sitting in silence hacking away. There certainly seemed to be lots of discussion in hallways this year at least.

With all the fresh faces around, it's crossed my mind on several occasions, as to who is the old guard these days. There are several I could name who kind of fit the bill, and many of us have been around working on projects for quite a few years. Not necessarily hacking on perl itself, but certainly helping to build the Perl community. We have quite a vibrant community, one that I think is quite inclusive, supportive and appreciative. We have disagreements at times, but it's a community that seems to easily span age and experience barriers and is willing to learn from each other.

Keeping a low profile initially seemed to be working for me, that is right up until the afternoon of the last day. During the day, José had asked if I would help with his lightning talk, but not wanting to be part of any more talks, I respectfully declined. Little did I realise it was just a ruse, so he could say thank you to me for organising and running the YAPC Surveys. So much for not drawing attention to myself! After the Lightning Talks, brian d foy took centre stage to present the White Camel Awards. I was very pleased to see both Paul Fenwick and José Castro receive awards, and in fact was laughing at José as he realised one of the awards was going to him. However, José was almost in hysterics when he saw my reaction when I realised I was also receiving an award.

As I mentioned in my acceptance speech, I've never wanted an award for what I do. I do it because I want to, and because I love being part of this community. I had been asked before whether I would accept a White Camel Award, and I'd said no. Although I don't think the awards themselves are a bad thing, its just that I think others have been more deserving of them. I've been involved in many Perl projects over the years, and have largely hid behind them, as I've always felt the projects themselves are far more important than me. The fact that several people felt I needed to be acknowledged this year, regardless of my reluctance to receive the award, I guess means that sometimes I just have to accept that people would like to say thank you for the work I do. If like José, there was one person I should thank for introducing me to the Perl community, it would be Richard Clamp. It was Richard who gave me my first proper Perl job and persuaded me to go to a London Perl Mongers social.

Which sort of brings me to one of the projects I helped with last year, and I'm very pleased to see continuing this year. Introducing people to the Perl community is one aspect of the Send-A-Newbie programme. Edmund instigated the programme last year, and we managed to bring 3 people to YAPC, giving them a chance to experience the conference and the community. The hope was that they would use and benefit from the experience, and hopefully feel more empowered to contribute to the community. Then maybe be in the future, they might be able to attend future YAPCs. I was delighted to see Alan Haggai Alavi at this year's YAPC, and surprised to see him so soon. I was then even more impressed to hear what he has been doing to promote Perl in India, as this is exactly the kind of enthusiasm the Send-A-Newbie programme can benefit from too. I spoke briefly with Leon Timmermans, who was this year's attendee via the Send-A-Newbie programme, and again it seems we've found another deserving recipient.

With programmes like Send-A-Newbie, the Perl marketing efforts and the community in general, I'm very hopeful that we'll be seeing more young blood in the community in the years to come. However, it still needs some effort from every one of us to ensure that happens. Which brings me to my next post in this short series, which I'll be posting soon.

I've now been in the community for over 10 years, with Birmingham Perl Mongers celebrating their 10th birthday in September. I'm guess that means I'm one of the old guard now, which isn't bad for a C programmer who had a lot to learn all those years ago. I feel I've come a long way in the last 10 years, and it's been a fantastic journey. Perl and the community have changed immensely in those years, and I'm looking forward to seeing how the young blood and fresh faces now, take us in new and interesting directions over the next 10 years and more.

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