Perl People are Great!

I have been reading the Catalyst mailing list for a while.  I’m also subscribed to the DBIx::Class mailing list.  These are reasonably busy lists where converstations range from incredibly techincal arguments about ways to refactor the cor to new and confused people sticking their head in and asking questions.  Usually they’re polite and well thought posts from intelligent people.

This is a little different from a lot of Open Source projects! 

There are intelligent people helping, unlike the last time I was on the Rails public mailing list.  It apparently consisted of complete newbies who couldn’t get Rails installed asking “experts” who had been around all of two weeks how to get unstuck.  My question there got dead silence, until someone finally said, “Gosh.  That’s hard.”

The Perl folks don’t seem to consist of angry people who’ll tear you up if you ask a question that’s referred to obliquiely in one of the documents.  That behavior always reminds me of the openbsd-users list, where you’d better have read every possibly useful man page before you ask a question.  (Save yourself the trouble; just read them all.)  Last time I asked a question there, I got snarked at to, “RTFM!” and then they got slammed with, “They did.  Read the OP.”  The final result was, “Gosh.  Shouldn’t ought to do that.  Dunno.”

I haven’t seen thoughtless idiots shouting, “Read the FAQ!” yet, either.  That whole phenomenon explains why I stayed away from Linux for as long as I did; I had a problem and tried to ask if anyone knew a solution.  I asked if anyone could help me debug it.  I was willing to trace code as far as it took; I had time, I was a C programmer, I could help.  All I got (dozens of copies of, from different jerks across the world), “Read the FAQ!”  Guess what?  I had, and it wasn’t there.  Three years later I found it was an actual kernel bug.

I asked a  question on the Catalyst list the day before yesterday.  I wasn’t expecting it to be painful because I’ve read the list for a while and know that isn’t their style.  I wasn’t expecting what I got, though.

I got not one, but several clear and helpful replies.  In fact, the response has been fantastic.

They were of varying lengths, but all made interesting suggestions.  They were from the authors of the modules Iam using, core organizers of the project as a whole, and other interested list members who had suggestions to make.

They pointed out techniques that could work with the current code, discussed some improvements they would like to see to some modules to make things easier, and made many useful suggestions.

Now, they did mention that the cost for excellent advice like tihs is to turn the advice in to documentation.  I think that’s great, for a number of reasons.  If it happens on a regular basis, it clearly explains why Catalyst some of the better documentation of an Open Source project.  That sounds like topic for an entierly different post.

After they were so helpful and kind, how could I not want to follow up and write down a bunch of the things that were discussed?

In addition to asking a question, and getting a lot of fantastic help, I followed up on a prior suggestion here on this very blog, that I update the documents for a component of Catalyst.  I took the time and did so.  The response to that was also good.  They didn’t snark about every possible little thing that could be different.  They accepted the patch, and were pleased about it.  They said “Thank you!” and it sounded like they meant it.

I know that saying “Thank you” is something we try to teach every little child… but somewhere along the way it seems to get lost.  It’s so very nice.

In addition to these friendly mailing lists, there are the Perl Monks.  That’s another big batch of folks who’ll talk on their forums and write messages and answer questions and be helpful.  As well as silly, friendly, goofy, and encouraging.  There are only two hard parts to talking to them; one is figuring out their slightly odd forums, and the other is getting up the gumption to post.

Seems to be worthwhile.

One of the points Matt Trout wrote about was to get people out of the mailing lists and on to blogs where they’d be easier to see.  I think that’s great.  I also thought I’d take a moment to tell someone who might find this to go to the mailing lists!  They’re great too!

I’ll end with this: Thank you for the responses.  They’ve helped me solve a techinical problem, and learn how the system works, and learn new techniques to finding things, and understand the libraries and Perl better.  You really do form a community, and it’s a great thing.

15 Responses to “Perl People are Great!”

  1. Xavier Noria says:

    Oh common there are friendly and intelligent people in any community.

    There have been Perl channels where you were bashed if you didn’t RTFM, because there are unfriendly people in any community as well. Freenode#perl was called the friendly Perl support channel precisely because, you know, there was a need for that.

    I mean, this post is just a generalisation. It is true that Perl has a great support online and that there are really kick-ass people in the community, I agree with that part of the post, but it is hard to say something true when you start to compare entire communities.

    • Xavier,

      I think you’re misunderstanding. This wasn’t a full detailed comparison of different programming communities. It was a statement of one person’s experiences dealing with multiple programming communities. It’s not a generalization, it’s an anecdote.

      Is it possible that things could have gone differently, if different community people were involved? Of course. But it didn’t. The guys queried about Perl were polite and helpful. The guys queried about a different language were not. It happens.

      (Personally, I’ve had better experiences with questions on my local Perl user group list than just about any other mailing list I’m on. Not a generalization, just my experience.)

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  3. garu says:

    This amazing receptiveness of the Perl community is what really got me into it. Sure, there are exceptions, and sure, you can find receptive people on other languages as well, but I haven’t seen *one* other programming language community as incredible as Perl’s.

  4. David Nicol says:

    if the user made it to the mailing list without finding the answer in the documentation, that’s a bug in the documentation, or the user experience, which may be repairable.

    Advice for having a good mailing list, perhaps needed by one of the criticized mailing lists in the above posting: DON’T YELL AT THE IDIOTS! There are nice people who are willing to be nice to the idiots. Ignore the idiots, or be nice to them, then they might stick around and help the future idiots.

    It is important to respect idiots, they generally have a majority.

  5. David Nichol says:

    You haven’t been on many Perl mailing lists if you find the Perl community to be friendly. There have been talks at Perl conferences about the dire need to address the rudeness with which newbies are treated.

    Just look at David’s comment about not yelling at the idiots. In the Perl community, anyone who knows less about Perl than the experts is an idiot. The problem is so bad, I’ve often though about creating my own Perl mailing list “Perl Idiots Welcome” or something to that effect.

  6. Matt S Trout says:

    I follow a fairly standard approach – “don’t yell at the idiots UNLESS the people who are normally nice to the idiots are starting to get upset”.

    Then I yell at the idiot very, very, very loudly until he understands that ignoring advice to the point where the nice, friendly, patient people are starting to want to burst into tears is simply not acceptable.

    Or until he leaves. I’ll happily lose one idiot in ten if it means that the people who help the other nine don’t suffer support burnout – and this approach seems to work pretty well, the helpers-of-idiots in the catalyst and DBIC communities seem to be a lot longer lasting than most other places.

    (and funnily enough, I also op on freenode #perl which has, IMO, improved a huge amount over the past few months thanks to the tireless efforts of a bunch of the other ops and regulars and the occasional tired, sucky attempt at effort from me ;)

  7. Geber says:

    Just look at the comments on this site, and you’ll understand why Perl lists are so tough for newbies. I mean wasn’t there a talk at one of the Perl conferences about being nicer to newbies, such is life, but I find the claim that the Perl community is nicer than some others false.

    You will get ripped a new one for asking the wrong question on a Perl list, I know first hand.

  8. John Koen says:

    irc.freenode.net – very friendly

  9. George says:

    Reminded me of Clay Shirky’s “Love…Internet Style”. He talks about comp.lang.perl on Usernet though. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xe1TZaElTAs

  10. @greber,

    Really – I’ve seen a few accusations made about perl people ripping into people and so far none have been backed up by the mailing list archives.

    I’ve never seen anybody “ripped a new one” for asking a question on a list – but I have seen people lose patience with idiots who take the p*ss – the usual “do my coursework for me” requests, and the “I refuse to provide the information you need to help me because I know the problem better than you, stop asking difficult questions or suggesting a different way” muppets, who still get help, and only get negative responses after a long thread of them insulting, sulking and generally being anti-social on list.

    In summary, noobs are tolerated, idiot’s aren’t – most noobs aren’t idiot’s and most idiots are beyond reasoning with.

  11. mark says:

    I think mailing lists should be separated from IRC channels.

    And when one compares perl to other languages, one should compare it to the real language – like ruby – on IRC.

    I am often on the ruby main IRC channel.

    But I am never on the RoR IRC channel (besides one has to be registered to join there, and i refuse to participate in any channels which force me to register just for the sake of _me_ being able to join it. The ruby channel btw does not force anyone to register, and I think this is great. Python IRC channel requires one to register btw. Perl IRC channel does not force one to register before you can join it)

  12. Dusty Wilson says:

    “You will get ripped a new one for asking the wrong question on a Perl list, I know first hand.”

    Usually it comes down to understanding the intentions of the list/group/site. At PerlMonks.org, they tend to respond very directly. Don’t confuse this directness as rudeness. They’re not going to waste time making their responses fluffy. They’ll tell you where you went wrong and where to go next. They’re very good at this. If you take their responses as rudeness, it might not be where you should be asking questions.

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