Perl fugit

April 7, 2008

I am worried about something I never thought I would have to worry about: that the Perl hackers of the world might be fading away.

When I first started out in the business, everyone knew Perl because that’s pretty much all there was for making websites with; plus Perl was already pre-eminent in the operations space. You could use Perl for grungy sysadmin chores, whip out necessary tools like Bugzilla, and produce elaborate all-singing all-dancing public CGI scripts too… there was really no downside. It was so ubiquitous in the mid-90’s that we used to joke that when industrial society finally broke down, its very last gasp would be the final running of some Perl cronjob somewhere. Après Perl, le déluge.

But I think now people are having to specialize much earlier in their careers. Young devs don’t necessarily see the same bet-hedging value to learning Perl — heck, I’m sort of convinced young webdevs these days don’t see much point to learning anything about systems and their administration (whippersnappers, grump). Probably the young pups of today see much more value in Ruby on Rails than Perl. Today learning Perl is a CHOICE, and that choice is to definitely go down the ops/tools path rather than the public-facing dev path… like shell scripting, I guess.

Since every web operation of any size is ultimately held together under the covers by Perl scripts and duct tape, I’m wondering what it means for the industry to see the pool of junior Perl initiates shrink rather dramatically. Perhaps in 10 years Ruby will be the grungy sysadmin tool of choice?

5 Responses to “Perl fugit”

  1. All it means is that the pool of Perl hackers will shrink back from the dot-com-boom glut back to something more reasonable. That’s already happening to a degree.

  2. Lisa Says:


    Good question. Forgive my technical ignorance, but where do junior devs of any type come from? Does the industry look to academia to produce web devs?

    I’m a former elementary school teacher who took a math and science track in college. My state (and many others) are clamoring for qualified science teachers at all levels, yet the funding for my program was cut a few years ago. In education, it seems like there is a disconnect between the public schools and the universities in terms of teacher preparation. I’m curious about how well universities are preparing computer scientists/technologists/programmers. (Forgive my inarticulate grasp of the lingo.) How do industry and academia communicate in this area of our economy?

  3. Charlie Says:


    “Does the industry look to academia to produce web devs?”

    Nope… totally not. Path 101 looked long and hard among the college crowd to find devs, and all we came up with was Java, Java, and more Java. We finally found one self-taught PHP intern, and she’s still learning, but she’s really enthusiastic.

    “How do industry and academia communicate in this area of our economy?”

    Poorly. Really really poorly.

  4. Lisa Says:

    Thanks, Charlie.

    So, is that a problem? Do CS students smack into a workplace for which they weren’t prepared? Is the industry in need of they types of workers that academia could prepare?

  5. amorson Says:

    Ruby on Rails will not replace Perl, Ruby on Rails is one of many Web Dev tools while Perl remained along with shell scripting the tool of choice for sys admins.

    The line between sys admins and web dev is getting wider with time as it always was. When I talk with young developers today they know NOTHING about systems, it wasn’t the case 5-10 years ago.

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