Sunday, 14 October 2018

Growing your Perl Team - BoF

Expanding the dev team is a challenge every successful Perl shop has to face. At the most recent Perl conference I ran a “Birds of Feather” (BoF) where representatives of over a dozen companies and community groups came together to exchange their experience of what works, what doesn’t and general principles which emerged from these discussions. This is a summary of what came from this meeting.



The Perl Conference - Glasgow 2018 (formerly known as YAPC::EU 2018) was a truly wonderful get together with a lot of ideas being exchanged. Apart from the multitude of interesting technical presentations, there were a number of more reflective discussions on the history of Perl, Perl as a technology, Perl as a community, turning humans into Perl developers, and turning Perl developers back into humans. My own involvement was around how to grow a Perl team.

As a trainer and developer, although I’ve learned a lot about growing a Perl team - there’s only so much experience one person can get. That’s why I organised a BoF with over a dozen people from companies of all sizes sharing our experiences. The BoF attendees’ roles included developer, recruiter, trainer, team lead and manager so it was more like an ecosystem than a flock of birds!

Having used the Agile methodology in my role as software developer almost exclusively over the last decade, putting the BoF together as a retrospective seemed the most normal thing to do. The structure was to sit around and jot down on Post-it notes what has worked well, what has gone badly and ideas on how to move forward. We put them all on the wall, categorised and consolidated them into high level observations which I summarise below.


Observations


A well designed onboarding process is crucial
  • Make sure enough time is reserved for learning about the company, the processes and the technologies - especially if they’re learning Perl.
  • Carefully tailor the tasks for newbies to maintain morale.
Watch your attrition rate/churn
  • Even if your team is growing, if your long-term developers are leaving there will be trouble!
Make sure your team has a good spread of Junior/Intermediate/Senior developer
  • Everyone needs support in pushing their boundaries.
A sense of belonging is essential
  • to the team, the company and the Perl community.
Provide a path for career growth
  • E.g. 1st line > 2nd line > 3rd line support > developer
  • This generates developers with a much better understanding of the business than developers recruited with the target skills.
Perl’s unpopularity is an obstacle
  • Companies and the community should collaborate on fixing that.
  • Need to focus on the company rather than the technology when getting people onboard.
Don’t off-shore/outsource software which is in your company’s DNA
  • Keep the developers and stakeholders close to reduce frustration on both sides


Acknowledgements

I’d like to thank the people below who participated in the meeting, and openly shared their experiences. That said, the statements above are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect their views.


  • Aaron Rowe, Software Development Manager, Adestra
  • Dave Cross, Consultant and Trainer, Magnum Solutions
  • Johan Lindstrom, Software Developer, Broadbean
  • Julien Fiegehenn, Software Developer and Onboarding Mentor, Oleeo
  • Lee Johnson, Senior Software Developer, HumanState
  • Makoto Nozaki, Board Secretary, The Perl Foundation
  • Matthew Lyons, Head of IT, Pirum
  • Peter Kainrad, Atikon EDV & Marketing GmbH
  • Rick Deller, Head of Technology, Eligo Recruitment
  • Roland Schmitz, Senior Consultant, telexiom AG
  • Sandra Schuhmacher, IT Specialist, IBM

What’s next?

This gave me a lot to chew over and I think each of these topics is inviting some deep-dive research. If you’d like to collaborate on one of these topics, please let me know!

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