It’s been just over a week since I came back from Amsterdam, where I went to attend The European Perl Conference1. This is the second time I attend, and the first time I give a talk2, and I wanted to put down in writing some of my impressions.

Joining a community

Like in previous years, the conference was really great, and it reinforced an idea that has been incredibly illuminating and transformative: that programming is a social practice. In brief: if you are coding alone, you are doing it wrong.

For the longest time I wrote my code in solitary. I got a lot of help online, of course, and from some of those around me who were more experienced than I was. But my circle was always small, and most of the code I wrote I did on and for my own.

As a consequence, that code was terrible, and born outdated.

(Incidentally, the talk I gave this year was basically about that, in the context of my secret santa project).

Throughout my years studying Phonetics, I went to a number of conferences, in different countries, and with different target audiences. They were all very different, and in every case I think I learnt something. But I don’t think I ever came away from one of them feeling like I was a part of the community the conference was for.

For some reason, the Perl conferences I’ve been to (including smaller meetups and workshops, and even the occasional pub outing) have been different. And I don’t know if this is how technical conferences are in general, or if this is because of the community of the Perl programming language in particular.

But the truth is it took very little for me to feel involved, and to feel like I was a part of something bigger. And I’ve made efforts to get more closely involved, including participating in this year’s Pull Request Challenge.

This year’s conference

If last year I was trying to find my place and learn the ropes, this year I tried to meet people and participate a little bit more of the so-called Hallway Track, and to take a little bit of a more active role.

This included having the chance to meet Paul Cochrane, who maintains App::CLI, the module I was assigned to for this month’s PRC. And it was great to be able to bounce ideas off him and to discuss some of the changes I wanted to include.

He was also very good with the feedback to my contributions, and taught me some very useful lessons about what to write in a good commit message, and why they are important.

The keynote talks were also really great. Damian Conway gave a funny and at times mind boggling talk on how to give in to madness and scratch an itch in a way that is productive and beneficial for others. You can watch it on YouTube3.

And Ruth Holloway gave a touching closing talk on empathy, which really served to stress the point about how people is the most difficult (and important) part of programming (and I guess all other human endeavours). Her talk was particularly welcome in the context of the whole “diversity” memo fiasco.

Other highlights

There were other aspects of the conference which I particularly enjoyed:

I’m already looking forward to the London Perl Workshop (and I managed to coax two of my non-Perl friends to come as well… fingers crossed!). And to the conferences coming after that.

  1. It’s not entirely clear to me how to call it at this point. Some people still call it YAPC::EU, as in “Yet Another Perl Conference”, which I personally like because it has a particularly Perlish ring to it. At the conference they were calling it TPCiA, as in “The Perl Conference in Amsterdam” (since The Perl Conference is apparently the American one). But I’ve since started seeing TEPC, as in the title of this post. So I guess I’ll go with that one. 

  2. That said, last year, when I went for the first time, I did give a lightning talk on writing software in academia, and how I thought that the values of the Free Software movement are allied to those of the scientific community. You can see that talk on YouTube. 

  3. I’ll update the video links to the talks when they are officially made available by the conference organisers.