Wednesday 25 June 2014

Serial entrepreneur learning Perl Dancer

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.

At London Perl Workshop 2013, Andy came to my Dancer class where I gave one-hour pep talk on the Dancer Web Framework. By the end of the next day, Andy had completed the Geekuni Web Development course, skipping only the unit test exercise (and that was a premonition foretold! ).

Since then I've kept in touch with Andy as a sounding board for my courses. The little I've learnt in our conversations I find intriguing, so now I'm taking the excuse of an interview to find out more.

Andy, after that class at LPW you were telling me about your group emailing service, Simplelists. Can you tell me more about that business, how it came about and what your technical background was that lead you to developing in PHP.

Whilst at university I decided to set up some email lists for a club that I was a member of. I hosted my own version of majordomo, but when I left it was difficult to find a way to make it enduring, without somebody taking over the hosting. I found very little in terms of email lists services, so decided to set up my own.

I developed in PHP more by accident than anything else. At the time it seemed the easiest and most popular way to get started developing web applications.

That's all very well, but at the same time you were working for the Royal Navy. First of all, what did that job entail, and did you pick up any useful skills for your business and vice versa?

I joined the Royal Navy a few months after setting up Simplelists. I did a variety of jobs in the Navy, changing every couple of years, but they all entailed IT in one form or another. The most rewarding was running the IT department in an aircraft carrier. During that time it was useful to have a deep technical understanding of many of the aspects of our IT systems, more than I would have had with standard training. At the same time, the Navy developed my leadership and managerial skills that I have used in recent years.

Now you're starting a new business - Ctrl O. Can you tell us about it, and what drove you in that direction?

I was frustrated in the Navy with the lack of technical autonomy I had in the projects I dealt with. I've always been a big fan of open-source software and saw massive potential for it in the MoD as a whole, but the organisation is so tied to inefficient processes and large suppliers with long contracts, that it was difficult to make any difference. As such, I decided to set up my own business using open source software for all its aspects of service provision.

After taking the Geekuni Web Development course, you've put Dancer2 at the foundation of the Ctrl O service. What were you hoping to achieve with that decision, and does it fulfil expectations?

I've gradually moved to Perl from PHP over the years, finding it a much cleaner and efficient language. Some things are a lot easier out of the box with PHP though, so the great thing about Dancer2 is that it fills that gap and makes Perl much easier to create a web application. It's certainly filled expectations - I'm not wasting so much time on basic web functionality.

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

Dancer2 allows you access to some really quick and easy methods of performing web application functions, in a similar vein to PHP, except that Dancer2 doesn't allow you to make shortcuts and therefore ensures that the resultant code structure is still really nice.

I've noticed you're very active in the London Perl Monger's scene. Can you describe your views and feelings about the London Perl community for the benefit of people who aren't familiar with it.

I've always found the scene a really friendly and welcoming environment. I've had lots of stupid questions over the years, but people have always been really helpful. It's got a real community feel about it, and a certain ethos that's impossible to describe!

Is there any chance you'll give a presentation at the next LPW?

Possibly, but I don't feel I've got to that level yet!

I must disagree:) But either way, it was a pleasure to chat and I look forward to keeping up to date on the progress of Ctrl O.

Thank you.

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