Welcome to the weekly series “Meet The Champion”.
Last week we spoke to Laurent Rosenfeld, the winner of The Weekly Challenge - 013. Today we are talking to the “Perl Weekly Challenge - 014” winner Jaldhar H. Vyas. I hope you are going to enjoy the interview.
Mohammad: Tell us about your technical background?
Jaldhar: I was first introduced to computers in England (where I was born) by the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, a 1MZ 8-bit computer with a massive 48K of RAM. There were magazines in those days that contained listings of BASIC code for games. You had to laboriously type them in and then save them to cassette tape. For the really good games, the listing could be very long and inevitably you would make a typo somewhere and the game wouldn’t run. So whether you wanted to or not you had to learn to code to understand what had gone wrong and how to fix it.
Then we moved to America (where I now reside) and there we got an IBM PC (Actually some no-name clone IIRC) with Windows 3.1. I later acquired a modem and began to go on Compuserve which was one of the big online services at the time. Although you could do a lot of fun stuff like send messages to other people and play multiplayer games It was very expensive (and tied up the phone line to my mothers great annoyance.) so I wasn’t able to do as much as I wanted to.
Then I went to university and while typing up a research paper I discovered there were other computers in the lab with a funny non-Microsoft kind of Windows called Unix. If you could learn the arcane commands of this Unix, you could connect to something called “The Internet” where you could do everything you could do on Compuserve and more but for free. So I taught myself Unix.
Mohammad: How/When did you start using Perl/Raku?
Jaldhar: At this point the dot-com era had started and suddenly anyone warm body with a modicum of knowledge about the Internet could get a job for a large amount of money. On a whim I answered an ad for a new ISP in town and got hired first as tech support and then as a programmer.
I sat next to the ISPs accountant who managed corporate reports, billing etc. using Perl. I became impressed by how it kept to the Unix philosophy but enhanced it many small but productive ways.
Two other momentous events occured at that time. One was the introduction of this new-fangled graphical gopher client called Netscape. Actually it was more than a gopher client but used a set of protocols called “The World Wide Web” which went beyond the text-based hyperlinks of gopher to include advanced capabilities such as pictures sound and blinking text. Most importantly you could dynamically create web pages using the Common Gateway Interface (CGI) and the language of choice for CGI was Perl.
So I was really interested in Perl but you needed Unix which was expensive and ran on even more expensive Sun workstations. There were actually PC versions of Unix by then but they were also expensive, aimed at education only (MINIX) or of dubious legal status (BSD was in legal battles with AT&T at the time.) Thus, the second momentous event; the rise of Linux. I remember staying after work at the ISP one day to download 30+ floppy disks containing Slackware Linux. (I later moved to Debian GNU/Linux which I still use. In fact I am a Debian developer.) Perl was a standard part of Linux and I happily used Perl and Linux for the next 10-15 years. I became a contributor to CPAN, joined my local PerlMongers and attended some conferences. I’ve even taught some introductory classes.
Unfortunately Perl failed to keep up with technology trends and the demand for it dried up. Reluctantly I moved on to other things, mainly C++ and now I’m doing Android development with Kotlin but I always tried to keep in touch with what was going on in the community and turned to Perl first for my own personal projects.
Perl6 took much too long to get to a usable state and I almost gave up hope but in the last year or two it has really gotten better. All it needs to take off is a “killer app” like CGI was for Perl5. I want to be there when that happens.
Mohammad: How did you come to know about “Perl Weekly Challenge”?
Jaldhar: From PerlWeekly I think.
Mohammad: What do you like the most about “Perl Weekly Challenge”?
Jaldhar: I think I learn best when there is an element of competition and deadlines etc. Plus the topics are varied so it gives an excuse to delve into many different aspects of Perl. And I must say I enjoy doing the challenges in both Perl5 and Perl6. It is very educational for me to see how to implement the same concept in two different idioms.
Mohammad: Is there any thing you like to change?
Jaldhar: Maybe less math please :-) Not really but I was thinking about the optional API challenges. I don’t do them because I am usually hard-pressed to find time to do the required two but they are the kind of more substantial projects that interest me. Perhaps a “Perl Monthly Challenge” that is a slightly more ambitious project (a game, a complete module etc.) with a longer time frame.
Mohammad: How much time you dedicate every week to “Perl Weekly Challenge”?
Jaldhar: When the challenges come out on Monday I atleast read them and try to think about them a little bit. Unfortunately I only really get time to sit down and code on the weekends and e.g. domestic chore cut into even that much time so usually I’m scrambling to meet the deadline.
Mohammad: Do you checkout others solutions and who is your favourite?
Jaldhar: Absolutely. Laurent and Joelle are two names that stand out for Perl6 and of course I am overjoyed that the great Damian Conway blogs about the challenges sometimes. But I think I’ve learned little pearls of wisdom from many people so I try and read all the solutions and blogs.
Mohammad: What do you suggest someone just started the weekly challenge?
Jaldhar: Take notes. They can help in future challenges which often have elements in common and if nothing else, notes can help clarify your thinking. And once you’ve written some notes, why not turn them into a blog post?
Mohammad: Do you find the website user friendly? What do you like most?
Jaldhar: The theme you are using is not very mobile friendly and I often access the site from my phone. The charts in particular (my favorite feature) don’t work well on mobile.
I used to have problems at home with my cable routers anti-virus complaining that theweeklychallenge.org is a malicious site but I see you have switched to https now and that seem to have fixed that.
Mohammad: Anything else you would like share with us?
Jaldhar: Thank you for setting up the The Weekly Challenge. This is great entertainment for me not to mention very educational and I hope you can keep it going for a long long time.
That brings the end of the conversation with Jaldhar H. Vyas. Please do let us know your view. We will come back soon with another champion.