Tuesday 17 June 2014

Interview: Michael Rupp - Adding Perl to the toolbox

For the last six months Geekuni has been in the Beta phase. Several dozen people have taken my Perl Essentials and Web Development courses, giving me helpful feedback on the course content and technology. As market research I've interviewed a few of my graduates to understand what motivates people to learn Perl. I'm sharing these interviews to provide a glimpse of the future Perl community.

Michael lives in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, US and works as a Business Analyst at QBE, one of the world's largest insurance companies. Michael has broad experience from writing web sites using Javascript, Mongodb and Node.js through to data modelling, analysis and reporting using Crystal and Visual Basic. He has recently completed the Perl Essentials course at Geekuni.

I saw you have a very diverse set of technical skills. What kinds of applications do you use them for?

As a Reporting analyst I have had to acquire a diverse skill set for data mining everything; from screen-scraping websites to key emulation scripting against Server side EMR hosts using a terminal client. This is where VB 6 shines. It can be used to quickly deploy an ActiveX component to be used in a scripting environment (VBscript/jscript). Though I have only recently used Node.js w/MongoDB, I find it to be a great fit for quick deployment of web applications. I wish I had more time with other languages like C/C++. Scripting languages are more useful to me and are the "work horse" in my day to day chores.

Tell me about your first experience of programming. What motivated you to do it?

My first experience with programming was with VB 6. At this point there are probably many programmers laughing at that, and I must admit, I wish I had started out with C or C++. It sure would have saved me from having to break old habits I acquired using VB 6. Take this quote from Bruce McKenny in his book “Hardcore Visual Basic” Chapter One:
I think of Basic as the antithesis of a statement attributed to Albert Einstein: "Make things as simple as possible—but no simpler." Had that quote been written by the original designers of Basic, John Kemeny and Thomas Kurtz, it would have been simplified further: "Make things simpler than possible."
It wasn’t until I dove into C++ that I found out just how much of the hardware and memory is abstracted away from the programmer in language like VB .

What motivated me was the ability to create something with my own skills. I didn't have to be constrained to using someone else's innovations. That is still the driving force behind my work.

What has lead you to learn Perl? What are you hoping to achieve with that new skill, and how have you progressed so far?

Actually, it was out of necessity. I found myself having to write some automation scripts in an AIX/DB2 environment. Perl was the only thing available to me. Actually I had used Perl before and didn't realize it. I had been using Regex expressions in both vbscript and javascript for years. It just felt natural to finally be using the "granddaddy" of Regex. I only regret I hadn't found Perl earlier on.

From the viewpoint of all the technologies you've got under the belt already, how would you describe Perl to another person thinking of learning about it?

Do it! Some people say that Perl has seen its "heyday", and that might be true, but It is a very versatile tool to have at your disposal. Python seems to be stealing the show, but to me, Perl seems like the winner.

What would you like to learn next?

I would like to further my ASM/C++ skills in firmware and driver development. Possibly even compiler design. To actually get down to the hardware level and learn the “nuts and bolts”, if you will.

Is there anything else you'd like to tell us?

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” You probably have heard that before. Well I can tell you that I’m not as young as I use to be. I had better be able to learn new tricks, and for others out there that may be new to Perl, or any other technology, for that matter, don’t get set in your ways to the point that you become un-teachable. Be ready to get out of your “comfort zone”.

Now I have to confess I was thinking how, living in Sun Prairie, a town of only 30,000 being a Perl developer must be rather lonely, and imaged you starting a Perl mongers group where you'd be giving presentations with only your pet beagle as the audience, but then I saw you're only half an hour's drive from Madison where JT Smith has the party in full swing! http://www.meetup.com/madmongers/

Actually I had not heard of the Madison group until recently when I signed up for the YAPC 2014 down in Orlando this June. It seems that JT is scheduled to show-up. If so, I look forward to speaking with him, and other Perl mongers. I’ll have to give you a follow-up on how it goes.

Thanks Michael, I look forward to hearing all about what you've learnt at YAPC!

Footnote: Due to a change in circumstances beyond his control, Michael can't use his ticket to YAPC this year. If you were going to track him down, drop me a line and I'll put you in touch.

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