Who wants to be popular?

[I originally wrote this in the /r/perl thread Perl as top language, but I’ve rewritten most of it here]

Every so often, someone new wonders what it would take to make Perl the coolest language again. It’s an evergreen topic and a natural one for a new person to ask. That it’s a mine field is a completely reasonable thing to not know.


Perl doesn’t need to be popular to be a good decision. It’s available and supported, and it’s easy to find help. All for free. As long as it has those three things, we’re good.

Most people’s problem is that other people don’t select Perl for big enterprise projects. I don’t think there’s anything that Perl can do about that because the problem isn’t the language.

Most programming ventures anywhere are a mess and staffed by people who could use much more professional development and time to write good code, but they aren’t given that. Almost every place I’ve worked that promised it degraded to day-to-day firefighting within six months. So, forget about doing something that requires them to start over.

A lot of programming is done by people who aren’t in programmer roles just like most writing is done by people who aren’t “writers”. It’s a part of their day and it takes longer than they can really give it. They are focusing on biology, accounting, whatever, so even if they did have time to learn more about something, it’s probably going to be their main subject and not the tool. I have another rant about how we misstructure teams and misallocate resources, because the best way to solve that is to have a programmer with a little bit of domain knowledge working with a domain expert with a little programming knowledge. That’s not what we do though.

Perl, however, is for programmers, and especially those who like knobs and dials. Sysadmins are that sort, too. It’s a powerful language with an amazingly amount of flexibility. Despite “baby Perl”, many people who program as part of their work don’t particularly care about knobs and dials. And, it’s pointless to try to make them care about those things that aren’t making their jobs easier or helping them go home on time. Many of these people do not go home to hobby projects or read Hacker News or whatever else might immerse them in a particular tool.

People (including me) use tools, and often don’t care where they come from if they are good and make their lives easier (or even bad and make their lives easier). I use WordPress because I barely have to think about it and I don’t really care that it’s PHP. I also use Jekyll, a Ruby thing, because it’s easy and I don’t have to think about it. Terraform is Go (mostly). I really like that there’s a Perl library for AWS, but if I’m doing serious work I’m using the Ruby aws-sdk. yq (jq for YAML) is a Python thing that supplanted my own feeble attempts to do XPath like stuff in Perl.

We should have lots of options and lots of ideas! If you want Perl to be popular because you don’t want to use any other language, well, get over that. Learning other languages helps you in your favorite. And for everyone reveling that their single language has the spotlight now, just wait. :)

One of the things that hasn’t turned out well for Perl is the insistence that anything a “true believer” use has to come from Perl. For awhile, various people tried to compete with fledgling Perl projects in arenas that had already made their decision. You aren’t going to be successful by starting the race late and just getting to parity with an existing tool people are already using. Perl doesn’t even have tools that would compete with those enterprises use to get a lot of the boring everyday work done. Many of those people don’t even like those tools, but that’s what there is and they deal with it.

So, let’s spend more time making new tools for hard problems that haven’t been solved yet. Then, talk about them as tools instead of talking about them as Perl. Its problem can’t be “there’s not a Perl way to do this” or “I want to try things in Perl”. It has to be “this thing is now a lot easier than any other way”.

Or, you can go the way of Mojolicious and do something that’s been done a thousand times before, but do it insanely better. It’s like going back to the Stone Age when I have to deal with any other web framework in any language. But, good luck with that–few people in the world could pull that off.