[yapc] What I took from YAPC::NA 2007

Carl D Cravens raven at phoenyx.net
Sun Jul 1 15:27:17 PDT 2007

I'd never been to a computing conference, so I wasn't entirely sure what 
to expect.  (I've been to a lot of week-long training sessions, which 
are very different.)  This made me nervous...  I was going in large part 
because my wife wanted to go, but my boss said the company would pay my 
way (despite his low opinion of Perl).  So I was asking myself, "What am 
I going to get from this conference that is going to benefit my employer?"

YAPC confirmed my greatest fear... I don't know enough Perl.  I learned 
Perl from the first-edition Llama book, which was Perl 4.  I was doing 
tech support for an ISP, bucking for a promotion to Unix systems admin 
(I hate phones), and was in my second year of college (mid-twenties, 
having started college late).  So most of my Perl was sysadmin stuff, 
and when Perl 5 came out, it took me awhile to switch.

I owned Programming Perl, which, as far as I can remember, was pretty 
much just a hard copy of the manpages.  Back when Perl 5 came out, there 
wasn't much in the way of tutorial for the new stuff...  modules, OO, 
references, etc.  And I hit a point where I figured I'd been programming 
Perl for a few years, I had moved into a maintenence-phase job with 
little room for coding, and I just never bothered to learn much more.  I 
never learned how to properly write a module, just _why_ "my" was better 
than "local" or any of that "advanced" stuff.  My wife owns nearly every 
O'Reilly Perl book, but I've never bothered to read them, mostly because 
I've always been a Unix sysadmin "utility programmer" and not a real 
application developer.

So this is what I took from YAPC...  a real desire to learn Perl at a 
deeper level.  I sat in talks going, "I didn't know that!" about fairly 
simple but non-obvious stuff.  Many of the talks went over my head 
really quickly, though that was as much from presentation speed as not 
understanding the concepts.

Right before I left for YAPC, I'd decided to take O'Reilly's Safari 
service for a trial spin... I figured for $20, it was worth a look.  And 
since I could read any books I wanted, I decided to start at the 
beginning...  to work my way through the modern Llama book.

Sure, some of it's tedious, because I "know" all this basic stuff.  But 
I'm quickly finding that there are all kinds of little things I didn't 
know.  I didn't know that foreach iteration variables are automatically 
scoped to the foreach block.  I didn't know (hold on to your hats) that 
an array in scalar context returns the number of elements in the 
array... I've been using $#foo+1 all these years.

What did my employer get out of YAPC?  Well, I'm dedicated to becoming a 
better Perl programmer, which is a plus for them.  And I did learn about 
a lot of neat modules.  And I started to make connections in the 
community... there was an attendee from my own city, who wants to start 
a PM here, and I didn't even know he was attending.

I don't think I got a huge amount of immediate return on my 
investment... there wasn't much I can go back to work with and suddenly 
transform my job.  But I think as a long-term investment, YAPC was well 
worth it.  A year from now, I'll be a much better Perl coder, and maybe 
have contributed a module or two of my own to CPAN.  Even if it's just 
in the Acme namespace. :)

I'm looking forward to YAPC::NA 2008.

Carl D Cravens (raven at phoenyx.net)
Don't bother pressing that key, there is no Esc.

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