the "no good Perl jobs"/"no good Perl programmers" myth

Nicholas Clark nick at
Sat Aug 5 16:50:57 BST 2006

We keep hearing that it's really hard to find decent Perl people, yet from
the other side it seems that it's really hard to find decent Perl jobs. Now
it may be a bit of blinkers issue here on both sides, as certainly the
recruiting problem is more general - it's hard to recruit good people full
stop, and likewise it's wrong to think that one tool is good for every job,
but I believe it fair to assume that there are some jobs for which Perl is
the best tool, or at least a good enough tool to get the job done, which in
the end is what counts, hence there should exist "Perl" jobs.

So what's going on here? On Thursday at the social there were
perhaps half a dozen good people considering their next move, looking for
jobs that will stretch them, jobs that involve programming challenges
breaking new ground, rather than just productively churning out many
effective but samey websites. And like me when I was recently looking they
don't see anything. I have contacts in a couple of banks that are recruiting
(or at least they'd like to recruit me) but banks aren't for everyone (I
have my reasons for thinking that I'd go mad at one, hence I politely turn
them down). But apart from that we all see roughly the same jobs cycling
round it seems that many who advertise for "senior
perl person" actually want "experienced website maker". Yes, you want a good
person who can work without close supervision. But no, you don't actually
want a senior person in the traditional sense of the rôle - a person who
leads and mentors a team of juniors. Many of these jobs would be in small to
zero team, with no career progression upwards, and they are small companies
so there no career progression sideways*. In addition, many of these jobs
these are not in companies that rely on a technical edge for their profits,
so the job is about getting non techies' things done, rather than out
innovating the competition. Some of the agents try to make jobs look sexy by
using more buzzwords, but the sort of calibre people they're looking to
recruit were (un)employed in 2001, so see through hype.

Yes, there are a few other jobs out there, and some of the people
advertising them may even be reading this. But if they're asking for a
minimum of 2 years experience and the offered salary range is only £5000,
then they're hardly thinking about recruiting someone with 8-10 years'
experience**, and unlikely to be able to really take advantage of those
extra skills that person would bring. It seems that we have the King Louie

And maybe I'm being a bit arrogant here in some of my assumptions, but even
when I was looking for a job a few months ago I was surprised and
disappointed that no-one in London seemed to be interested in hiring the
current pumpking.  Do I know Perl? Well, um, you're probably running a
version I released - does that answer the question? Can I diagnose and solve
your obscure problems, test and refactor your code, benchmark, profile and
optimise your system (and not necessarily by micro-optimising the code)?
Hell yes. If your HR department cares more that I have a degree than
experience even now, will that be a problem? No! Is my written English going
to let you down?  Well, you're still reading piece, aren't you? And yet
still no-one in London (other than one friend in a bank) was trying to
recruit me. At least 3 people wanted me to apply for jobs and move to the
US, but nothing or nowhere so exciting that I had a U-turn on my "I like
London" policy.

So I'm starting to think that there's a bit of a myth here. There may well
be employers looking for good people who know Perl to do jobs. But these are
jobs that would suit 9-5 programmers who need to pay a mortgage and feed a
family, people with a Chinese wall in their head to divide work from
play. And how many good Perl people do you know like that? The best Perl
people are passionate.  And probably that's why the jobs remain as vacancies
- because your spec is impossible to fill. If you really want good people
then you need to make it clear that you will stretch them, rather than
taking a dull job and trying to tart it up with this month's buzzwords.

Or maybe we should temporarily forget our principles, and make hay while the
sun shines:

Nicholas Clark

* I've had an e-mail exchange with one person advertising one of these jobs -
a nice polite chap who was honest and confirmed that I was accurate in
assessment of the job behind his advert and therefore why it was not for
me. From the qualities he demonstrated in that exchange I'd love to work for
him, but not in that company simply because of the sort of jobs that it
can('t) offer.

** If you wish to argue with that one, consider that someone who was on £25,000
after two years and had a 3% rise each year would be on £30,000 at eight years.
So that's £5000 just for sitting at the same level for 6 years. And we're not
talking about those sort of people, or those sort of salaries.

[This rant is also available at

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