Hello, Friendly Perl Community! You may not want to hear this, but you’re not getting any younger. This is having a dramatic effect on the bottom line of companies which do or would use Perl.

A few months ago I started helping a friend recruit Perl developers for the company where he works. Aside from talking to the many people I know in the community I also put out several open calls for developers interested in switching jobs. I’ve now met and spoken with many great people—most of whom I’d never have had the chance to meet otherwise—and I’m very grateful for that opportunity. It’s helped remind me why Perl is my open source community of choice.

However, after only a few weeks I started to notice something odd: I had yet to speak with anyone who wasn’t Senior Developer. The overwhelming majority of persons with whom I spoke had well over ten years of experience with Perl. I believe the lowest number of years of Perl experience I saw was around eight. In my town of San Francisco it’s reasonable to see Senior Developers with five or fewer years of experience with a language. You can quibble with that definition, but there’s no denying that it’s the way we do things here. And since I was recruiting for a San Francisco office, all of these candidates qualified as Senior.

When I recognized that I was only speaking with (or even hearing of) senior developers some gears started turning in my mind. To verify my suspicion that Perl is a language of aging practitioners with few people available to replenish the ranks, I gathered some data…

Exhibits A and B. Since 2009, YAPC::NA and YAPC::EU have asked the following question on their respective post-conference surveys:

How do you rate your Perl knowledge?

  • Beginner
  • Intermediate
  • Advanced

All YAPC survey data is available online. I compiled the data from the past four years of responses to that question. The result was the following graphs. The Y-axis is the number of respondents in that year.

YAPC::EU Perl Experience by Year, 2009-2012
YAPC::NA Perl Experience by Year, 2009-2012

As the definitions of “Beginner,” “Intermediate,” and “Advanced” are left as exercises for the respondent, it’s impossible to make a direct correlation between these results and my soft definition of “senior developer” as one with five or more years of experience. Regardless, it’s very obvious from these graphs that there are remarkably few junior Perl programmers available and that issue is not being resolved as the years pass.

Because the best kind of data is MOAR DATA, I ran a very informal poll on the Linkedin Perl group. The question and results:

How many years have you been programming Perl?

70% of the respondents have more than five years of experience programming Perl. A mere 13% are new to the language. (If you tilt your head to the right you can see a graphic summary of what this might mean for the Perl community.)

Granted, there is no small amount of selection bias going on here. People who attend YAPC or participate in the Linkedin Perl group are more likely to be more experienced and comfortable in the community than more junior developers.

Regardless, after seeing these numbers I’m convinced that the practitioners of Perl are aging and not enough junior developers are being created to sustain the language as a going concern in the development world. What’s worse, Perl does not appear to have any sort of succession plan. It’s turning into the Shakers of the software development world: attempting to rely on conversion for proliferation rather than on reproduction.

In the next post, I’ll tell you why you should care about this. Read Part 2