Meet The Champion: May 2021

Sunday, Jun 20, 2021| Tags: Perl, Raku

Get to know about Pete Houston

Welcome to the monthly series Meet The Champion.

Last month we spoke to Aaron Smith, the winner of April 2021.

Today we are talking to Pete Houston, the winner of May 2021 of The Weekly Challenge. I hope you are going to enjoy the interview.

Mohammad: Tell us about your technical background?

Pete: The 8-bit home computing boom started me off in the 80s with BASIC and Z80 machine code. A combination of scientific education and short-term jobs in software/hardware/networking led to the inevitable conclusion - a career as a sysadmin.

In 1993 I became aware of Linux. It was mind-blowing to realise that someone could write and release an O/S kernel which would then be packaged with utilities from GNU and elsewhere along with a GUI from XFree86 and the whole thing distributed with source code for free. The fact that it was 100 times better than the then universally reviled but inexplicably market-leading proprietary O/S was a revelation. I have naturally been an unwavering supporter of open source ever since.

Mohammad: How/When did you start using Perl?

Pete: I first tried Perl (as perl4) in the mid 90s for some data munging tasks. It was probably the generally high regard in which it was held on usenet that convinced me to give it a go. Learning from a hard copy of the man page (on 11x14 fanfold) took a while but the more I learned the more I liked.

Since then it has always been my language of choice. Nothing else comes close for being so intuitive and expressive. The facts that it is both ubiquitous and fast are bonuses.

Mohammad: How did you come to know about The Weekly Challenge?

Pete: Having been an active participant in the CPAN Pull Request Challenge I was on the lookout for something similar when that finished at the end of 2018. I don’t recall for sure how the Weekly Challenge came to my attention - it is over 2 years ago now, after all. But it was good timing!

Mohammad: What do you like the most about The Weekly Challenge?

Pete: Having 2 tasks each week is great. Usually I will have a go at both but sometimes one of the tasks is not something I can get on with for whatever reason. If it were the only one that would then be a fallow week. Also, if one task is straightforward it allows the programmer to spend a larger proportion of time on the trickier or more interesting one.

An honourable mention goes to your willingness to accept the guest solutions. Sometimes (as with task 1 of week 108) it is interesting to investigate how to achieve the same result in other languages. I would still do this even without the guest solutions but adding them just makes it more open and more interesting.

Mohammad: How much time you dedicate every week to The Weekly Challenge?

Pete: As must be the case with most participants, it varies quite a lot depending on the difficulty of the problems, whether a guest language looks like a good or interesting fit, and so on. Anywhere between half an hour to 2 or 3 hours if there is something that really intrigues me.

Mohammad: Do you checkout others solutions and who is your favorite?

Pete: Yes indeed. I must give big thanks here to Colin Crain and the remarkable work he has been doing with the reviews. Reading through his analysis and categorisation of the submissions is always enlightening.It is great to see the different approaches taken to the various problems - even the seemingly simplest ones can throw up approaches I would not have considered. It is always a learning experience.

Mohammad: What do you suggest someone just started The Weekly Challenge?

Pete: It isn’t a race! :-) Just take it easy and approach it like any other programming task: algorithm first, then code. And don’t forget to test.

Mohammad: Anything else you would to like to share with us?

Pete: I would like to take this opportunity to thank you publicly for all your hard work in conceiving, launching and running this project over the past couple of years. Most people probably don’t know the work this would take but it is clear to me that you must put a great deal of time and effort into it, so thank you for all you have been doing. I will try to submit a task or two in future to help out a little.

Obviously, I would like to thank Pete Sergeant and all his team for the sponsorship too. We wouldn’t be having this conversation otherwise! Having the monthly champion is one more incentive to keep sending in those solutions.

And finally, thanks to everyone who participates. It is great to learn new things from your submissions and perhaps you might even occasionally learn something from one of mine.

That brings the end of the conversation with Pete Houston. Please do let us know your view. We will come back next month with another champion.


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