Perl Recruitment Thoughts

Not many weeks go by when I don’t hear of another Perl-using company that has been evaluating alternative technologies. In most cases, it’s not because they think that Perl is a bad language to use. The most common reason I hear is that it is becoming harder and harder to find good Perl programmers.

On Quora I recently saw a question asking what job opportunities were like for Perl programmers. This is how I answered:

Right now is a good time to be a Perl programmer. Perl is losing mindshare. Very few new Perl programmers are arriving on the scene and quite a lot of former Perl programmers have moved away from the language to what they see as more lucrative, enjoyable or saleable languages.

But there are still a lot of companies with a lot of Perl code. That all needs to be maintained and enhanced. And many of those companies continue to write new projects in Perl too.

All of which means that it’s a seller’s market for good Perl skills. That won’t last forever, of course. To be honest, I’d be surprised if it lasts for more than five or ten years (well, unless Perl 6 takes off quickly). But it’ll do me for the next few years at least.

I’m putting a positive spin on it, but it’s getting to be a real problem. More programmers abandon Perl, that makes it harder to find good Perl programmers, which makes it more likely that companies will abandon Perl, which leads to fewer Perl jobs and more programmers decide to abandon Perl. It’s a vicious circle.

I’m not sure how we get to the root of that problem, but do have some suggestions for on particular area. A client recently asked my for suggestions on how they can improve their hit rate for recruiting good Perl programmers. My suggestions all revolved about making your company better known in the Perl community (because that’s where many of the better Perl programmers are).

I know that many of the Perl-using companies already know this. But in the interests of levelling the playing field, I thought was worth sharing some of my suggestions.

Perl Mongers Social Meetings

Do you have a local Perl Mongers group? If so, they almost certainly have monthly social meetings. And in many cases they will welcome a company that puts a few quid behind the bar for drinks at one of those meetings. For smaller groups (and there are many smaller groups) you might even offer to buy them dinner.

It’s worth contacting them before doing this. Just turning up and flashing your money around might be seen as rude. And some groups might object to this kind of commercialisation. But it’s always worth asking.

Perl Mongers Technical Meeting

Some Perl Mongers groups have technical meetings (either instead of or as well as social meetings). In this case, instead of meeting in a pub (or bar or restaurant), they’ll meet in the offices of a friendly local company and some of the members will give presentations to the group. Many groups struggle to find venues for these kinds of meetings. Why not offer your office? And perhaps throw in some pizza and beer.

Perl Workshop

The next step up from technical meetings is Perl workshops. Many Perl Mongers groups organise annual one-day workshops. There can be many talks taking place across a number of tracks over the course of (usually) a day. The organisers often like to make these events free (mainly, it seems, because charging for stuff like this adds a whole new layer of complexity). But it’s not free to put on these events so they rely heavily on sponsors. Can you help pay for the venue? Or the printing? Or the catering? Different events will have different opportunities available. Contact the organisers.

YAPC

Workshops are national and (usually) one-day events. YAPC are international conferences that span many days. They have all the same requirements, but bigger. So they need more money. And, of course, sponsors can be at the conference telling potential employees just how wonderful it is to work for them.

The Perl Foundation

The Perl Foundation are the organisation that promotes Perl, holds various Perl trademarks and hosts many Perl web sites. They issue grants for people to work on various Perl-related projects. They never have enough money. They love companies who donate money to them as thanks for the benefit that Perl brings. How much you donate is up to you, but as a guide, most announcements seem to be in the $10,000 range.

In each of these cases, the idea is really to show the Perl community how much you value Perl by helping various Perl organisations to organise events that raise people’s awareness of Perl. Everyone wins. The sponsors get seen as good people to work for and the events themselves demonstrate that modern Perl is still a great language.

So the next time someone in your company asks how they can find good Perl people, consider a different approach. Can you embed your company in the conciousness of the Perl community and make yourselves look more attractive to some of the best Perl programmers in the world?

7 Replies to “Perl Recruitment Thoughts”

  1. The main reason Perl developers are hard to find is that almost no universities are teaching it. (“Why” is another question I’m still investigating).

    One approach that has been taken by companies in need of Perl developers is to recruit developers from other languages and train them in-house. Both Dave and I have been involved in this kind of training and feedback indicates that it has been reasonably successful.

    1. I imagine that there are a couple of good reasons why Perl is not being taught in universities.

      1/ The number of Perl jobs out there is tiny compared with the number of Java, PHP and .NET jobs. It would be hard to justify taking time to teach a language that has become such a minority interest. University lecturers are often accused of being out of touch with the needs of the industry – but on this occasion they seem to have it pretty much right.

      2/ As far as I can see, there are no lecturers in British universities who know Perl. I’d certainly be worried about the quality of Perl courses developed by people with next to no knowledge of Perl. When I see the occasional person posting university coursework on Perl Monks or StackOverflow it’s almost always some ancient CGI code that doesn’t even use CGI.pm to parse parameters. I’d worry that university courses in Perl would do more harm than good.

    2. “..almost no universities are teaching it”
      I can confirm that, at least here in the Czech Republic. From 95% it’s all about PHP and WAMP although teachers themselves admit it’s no longer a reasonable option. They’re doing it just because of historical and sentimental reasons. And if it comes to Perl they mention, if anything, it was used back then in the beginning of the web and CGI. Even Ruby or Python courses are sometimes missing.

      On the contrary I have to say that lot’s of elder teachers are quite rooted in Perl here but they’re not teaching it..

  2. Actually, no-one is giving institutional courses, and the Raspberry Pi and new UK school syllabus is concentrating on Scratch then Python. I think one of the things it needs is reasoned advocacy, people telling prospects why it’s a ‘good’ and rather unusual language.

    Also, it needs an image makeover, so that people don’t see it as a silvery-hair/ponytail/stupid-tee-shirt male language. I’m 64 and a guy, so I can’t help with that…

  3. as someone who just spent the past 10 years of his life working on a large “enterprise” code base, i have never been happier to leave the language behind.

    between all the ways it allows you to shot yourself in the foot to the lack of any real tools out there to make refactoring a large code base easier, it’s no longer wonder no one wants to develop in it anymore.

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