Welcome to the weekly series “Meet The Champion”.
Last week we spoke to Arne Sommer, the winner of Perl Weekly Challenge - 019. Today we are talking to the Perl Weekly Challenge - 020 winner Duncan C. White. I hope you are going to enjoy the interview.
Mohammad: Tell us about your technical background?
Duncan: I’ve been programming since about 1976, using BASIC on various micro computers (RML 380Z in school, Apple II, Sinclair ZX80/81/Spectrum, Oric Atmos, BBC micro, Atari ST etc), then graduating to Unix machines in 1983 at University while doing a Computer Science degree. I worked at University after graduation, initially designing programming exercises, and then became a Systems Programmer (or Administrator) in the mid-90s. I have been a programming-oriented SysAdmin, working in various Universities, ever since.
Mohammad: How/When did you start using Perl5/Perl6?
Duncan: I leapt aboard the Perl train back in Perl 4 days, around 1992 or so, and was very glad when Perl 5 came along, massively improving Perl, and enabling CPAN modules to dynamically load C libraries. Before that, I remember how Tk support required the tkperl “Perl+Tk” executable, and Oracle query support required oraperl.
I’ve been using Perl 5 ever since - mainly to assist me in my SysAdmin work, most of our infrastructure is Perl 5 based, and I write Perl oneliners and short scripts practically every day. Perl 5 is my absolute favourite language, I basically think in Perl pseudocode, whatever language I’m programming in.
As to Perl 6, I’m afraid there I part company. I haven’t bothered to learn it, probably will never bother, and really despair of our community wasting nearly 15 years on a language redesign, allowing Ruby and Python to catch up. Where could Perl be now if all that energy had been spent on incrementally adding features to Perl 5? For a start, Perl functions (“subroutines”) would surely have had proper parameter syntax around 2005!
(But of course, this is just my opinion. As ever, TIMTOWDI and YMMV).
Mohammad: How did you come to know about “Perl Weekly Challenge”?
Duncan: I saw your announcements about the Perl Weekly Challenge in the excellent Perl Weekly newsletter, which also deserves a shout out, well done Gabor! I thought your idea sounded exciting, so emailed you to join in.
Mohammad: What do you like the most about “Perl Weekly Challenge”?
Duncan: The excuse to take a short break from Perl hacking at work, (or in recent weeks physically taking a machine room to pieces, but that’s another story), and have a play at what Perl is best at - solving problems. The wide range of programming challenges has been really great.
Mohammad: Is there any thing you would like to change?
Duncan: Coming from an educational background, it’s incredibly important to me that the questions are clearly written. So I’d like the team to focus on making sure that an experienced Perl programmer who doesn’t happen to know anything about, say, Bitcoin addresses, can understand the problem with less than 5 minutes of reading. Because, after all, we’re not all going to be particularly interested in the problem area per se, just the opportunity to solve it in Perl. To be fair, this is already getting much better as time goes on.
Mohammad: How much time you dedicate every week to “Perl Weekly Challenge”?
Duncan: Usually a couple of hours, although it varies. Absolute minimum: 20 minutes. Absolute maximum so far: 5 hours. A couple of times I was hacking Perl code right up to the original 6pm deadline, although that’s been eased by the change to the midnight deadline which I thoroughly approve of:-)
Mohammad: Do you checkout others solutions and who is your favourite?
Duncan: Yes, I do, in fact more as the weeks go by. Lots of the regular contributors write great code, and interesting blogs. In particular, Damien is always worringly good. It’s very interesting to see all the different approaches, sometimes I don’t even understand how the code works on first reading!
Mohammad: What do you suggest someone just started the weekly challenge?
Duncan: Give it a go, what have you got to lose! It’s fun, and good experience.
Mohammad: Do you find the website user friendly? What do you like most?
Duncan: The website is good, the blog entries are what I like most. I would agree with others that, when viewed on a laptop or mobile, the top material that doesn’t scroll seems to take up a lot of space, leaving not so much space for the actual blog entries etc. Perhaps a minor redesign might fix that?
Mohammad: Anything else you would to like share with us?
Duncan: I’d like to say thanks very much for setting up the Weekly Challenge, my life - and I hope many others lives - is improved for having it, and keep up the good work. It must be hard to come up with two good questions (and the API optional extra question) every week.
One final thing: I wonder whether we could have a Perl data-munging (perhaps even a oneliner) challenge from time to time. Of course, that’s shamelessly playing to my strengths:-)
That brings the end of the conversation with Duncan C. White. Please do let us know your view. We will come back next week with another champion.