Meet The Champion: October 2023

Sunday, Nov 12, 2023| Tags: Perl, Raku

Get to know about Packy Anderson

Welcome to the monthly series Meet The Champion.

Last month we declared Robbie Hatley, the winner of September 2023.

Today we are talking to Packy Anderson, the winner of October 2023 of The Weekly Challenge. I hope you are going to enjoy the interview.

Mohammad: Tell us about your technical background?

Packy: My mother learned how to code in the Navy flipping bits on the console of a UNIVAC (and wrote some of the code in NTDS) and her father had been a systems analyst for ConEdison, so the last thing I wanted to do was work with computers. I’d sat with my mom in chilly machine rooms at 2AM while she fixed bugs in her male collegues’ batch jobs that made them crash (they refused to answer the phone after 9PM, but since my mother was in charge of operations and needed to ensure these jobs ran, she didn’t have that luxury), and I wanted none of that.

But then in 1979, when I was a Freshman in high school, my mother heard they were starting a computer club at school. She insisted that I go at least once, and if I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t have to go again. But when I saw what I could do on an Apple II microcomputer, I was hooked. I even had my mother teach me COBOL using the coding forms and punch cards they were still using at her employer. In 1983, I managed to learn Pascal at our local community college, and until I was introduced to Perl, it was my favorite language.

In the 90s I wore a bunch of hats--sysadmin, network technician–but writing code was what I liked doing the most, and by 2000 I was exclusively programming… and some of it was in Perl.

Oh, and I only stopped going to my mother to have my SQL questions answered back in 2017 when her answers devolved into "Well, that's easy to do in Oracle. Just use that!"

Mohammad: How/When did you start using Perl?

Packy: By the mid-90s, I got it into my head that I wanted to develop for websites as a side gig, so for Christmas in 1995, my roommate gave me a copy of the pink Camel Book, saying "If you want to do web programming, this is the language to use."

Programming Perl Book

I started trying to find excuses to use Perl wherever I could: first under VMS at work to generate DCL scripts, then when I became my workplace’s webmaster, to manage our website.

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

Packy: I had taken a job from 2017-2022 where Perl was frowned upon, so I was using PHP and Python. I had fallen out of the habit of going to YAPC conferences, but when I switched to a new job in the Fall of 2022 where I would be debugging Perl code, I resolved to start going to conferences again. At TPRC 2023 in Toronto, I was talking with Bruce Gray at the banquet, and I was lamenting how I’d fallen away from the community and I wanted to do something to reconnect. I felt I needed some task to do. “Have you heard about The Weekly Challenge?” Bruce asked. I’d heard of it, but I hadn’t given it a close look. It had felt like the latest iteration of Perl Golf, which had never really interested me.

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

Packy: I like that it gives me a prompt for blogging about Perl and Raku. I feel like there’s entirely too much content on the internet that tears Perl down; and I want put my voice out there showing people how easy Perl is to use and how expressive it is. That’s also why I don’t try to make my solutions as "efficient" as possible. Part of it is my distaste for golf solutions–I want to have variable names that help me understand what the code is doing–but part of it is the coding philosophy I’ve developed over the years, where I would much rather write code that someone else can easily pick up and understand and maintain later, because entirely too often that later person is me. I let other contributors to TWC go for minimal solutions. I’m going for expressiveness and ease of use.

I’m also using TWC as a vehicle to expand my Raku knowledge. Over the past few challenges, I switched from writing my Perl solutions first to writing my Raku solutions first, and then back-porting them to Perl.

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

Packy: Usually about 3 hours. Since I’m seeing this primarily as a blogging challenge, I’m writing my blog post as I’m writing my solutions. I write all my solutions for one task (Raku, Perl, and Python) before tackling the other task, though I don’t always tackle the tasks in order. I go with whichever one interests me more.

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

Packy: Not as often as I’d like. When I see a solution that I like, I make sure to comment on it. I particularly like that Bob Lied also tries to make musical tie-ins to his solutions.

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

Packy: Have fun! I feel like TWC is a great way to promote the Perl/Raku family of languages, and the more fun you have doing it, the more that will come through in your writing and encourage other people to pick up the languages.

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

Packy: I really want to thank Mohammad not just for TWC but for everything else he’s doing for Perl, and Bruce Gray for encouraging me to start doing TWC.

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


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