An Interview with Allison Randal

This week, perl.com has the pleasure of interviewing Allison Randal, one of the key figures in the Perl community. Allison has been active in the Perl 6 design process since its inception, and is the President of the Perl Foundation. Let's hear more from Allison about what all of this means to her.

perl.com: To begin with, please tell us a little about yourself.

Allison Randal: I'm a Perl programmer from Portland, Oregon. I'm the president of the Perl Foundation, project manager for Perl 6 (as well as a code and design contributor), and run a small consulting company. I lead a rather hermit-like life. In the rare moments when I'm not working on some project or another, you're far more likely to find me reading or puttering in the garden than anything else.

pc: For those who don't know, what is the Perl Foundation and what does it do?

AR: The Perl Foundation is a supporting structure for Perl development and the legal entity behind Perl. It is the copyright holder for Perl 6 and Parrot, and carries the legal responsibility for Larry Wall's copyright in Perl 5.

TPF is the central organization for perl.org, Perl Mongers, and Perl Monks. Through perl.org we support the mailing lists, bug tracking, source control, and web sites critical to Perl development. Perl.org has had several significant upgrades over the past year thanks to generous donations of hardware.

Through Perl Mongers and Perl Monks, we support grassroots involvement in Perl. Perl has always been community-centered, and the face-to-face and online interaction of these two groups play a big part in keeping the community strong and active. TPF also gives the yearly White Camel awards, recognizing significant contributions from individuals in the Perl community.

TPF directly funds Perl development through our quarterly grants. These grants range in size from $500 or less, for a particular project, up to full funding for a year of Perl development work.

pc: And what do you do, as President of TPF, from day to day?

AR: I spend 10 to 20 hours a week making sure the plates keep spinning. Sometimes this is as simple as sending out reminder messages. More often, it means pitching in on whatever odd task needs to be done. I've been known to: write press releases, work on the web site, set up and man TPF booths at conferences, edit grant proposals, organize votes, coordinate with donors, talk to lawyers, talk to artists, and work with companies on licensing arrangements, among other things.

pc: That sounds like a lot! Aren't there people who can help out?

AR: More and more, the responsibilities that have traditionally belonged to the president are moving to other shoulders. As TPF continues to grow, we need a coordinated team to handle the load. In addition to the familiar faces, we've added several great new volunteers this year: Larry Hixon on donor relations, Gavin Estey on public relations, and Baden Hughes as secretary of the grants committee. The complete list is up on the "Who's Who" page at perlfoundation.org.

pc: You are on other committees of the Perl Foundation, such as the steering committee; what's the day-to-day role of that?

AR: The steering committee is responsible for the daily operations of the foundation. Except for some legal and financial decisions, the steering committee has the same powers as the board of directors.

pc: There's also a YAPC committee. What's TPF's role in the many YAPCs that seem to be springing up around the world?

AR: TPF directly runs the North American YAPC. The rest of the worldwide YAPCs are largely independent. We offer assistance and seed funding where we can, but so far, the conferences have all donated back more funds than we've given.

pc: We used to talk about "Yet Another Society," but now much of the community impetus comes from "The Perl Foundation." What's the relationship between these two groups?

AR: "The Perl Foundation" and "Yet Another Society" are really just two names for the same organization. These days we mainly use the name "The Perl Foundation," because it does a better job of explaining what we do.

pc: Tell us a bit more about the grants process -- who can apply, how grantees are chosen, what sort of projects TPF is looking to support, and so on.

AR: Anyone can submit a proposal. The details are up on the "How to Write a Proposal" page at perlfoundation.org. Proposals are reviewed by the grants committee every quarter. We tend to focus on core Perl development, but other Perl projects are also welcome.

pc: Where do TPF's resources come from?

AR: TPF has a small number of big corporate sponsors, a larger number of medium-sized corporations, and an even larger number of individual sponsors, so the resources we get from each group is about equal. It's easy for individuals to think "I'm just one person, I can't make any difference," but if every Perl user around the world donated $25, we could fund Larry full-time for several years. Really, even the corporate donations ultimately start with individuals, because someone took the time to think "Hey, our company has gained so much from Perl, let's give something back."

pc: Turning to Perl 6, what's TPF's role in supporting the Perl 6 project?

AR: We try to keep a good balance between Perl 5 and Perl 6 projects. The most significant way we support Perl 6 is by funding Larry Wall to work on Perl 6 design. We were able to fund him for a full year in 2002, half of the year in 2003, and hope to fund him for a full year again in 2004. We also funded Damian Conway in 2001 and 2002, and Dan Sugalski for half of the year in 2002.

The Ponie project (Perl 5 on Parrot) is part of the larger Perl 6 project. It runs on developer time donated to the Perl Foundation by Fotango.

pc: What does it mean to be the Perl 6 project manager?

AR: Project management is all about making sure people have what they need to keep moving forward. It's not about giving orders, it's about listening for where people need help. It's about encouraging people to do the best job they can with the available resources, without stressing about what they can't do.

We have a great team: intelligent, motivated, and profoundly funny. You might expect ego wars in a team this brilliant, but they simply don't exist. It's a joy to work with this group.

pc: What goes on inside the Perl 6 design process -- between the discussions on perl6-language and an Apocalypse or Exegesis being produced?

AR: The design process is a constant stream of ideas bouncing around, some accepted, some rejected, some reshaped. It reminds me of grad school. You don't just forget the ideas once you leave the classroom -- you eat, drink, and breathe ideas every moment. Aside from messages on and off the lists, the design team meets in a conference call every week, and face-to-face whenever we can. The next design meetings will be in late July.

pc: How is the Perl 6 process running, from your point of view?

AR: It's quite healthy. The key to completing a marathon is simple: just keep moving. It's the same in software, especially in a project this size. Move too fast and you burn out your key players; move too slow and you lose momentum. We've set a nice maintainable pace and just keep rolling.

Luke Palmer is working on a first draft of Synopsis 12 now. Damian will start work on Exegesis 12 during his summer tour to the U.S. Larry is taking a bit of a breather and pondering which Apocalypse to work on next. His next step may be to work on Synopses as previews for the remaining Apocalypses to speed implementation work. Parrot has just recently taken a huge leap forward in objects and Unicode support. Dan currently has his eye on Events.

pc: Finally, when do you think that a complete Perl 6 beta will be available?

AR: That's a tough question to answer, because there are so many factors that could delay or speed up the process. With the state of Parrot and the design work completed so far, though, I'd say there's a good chance we'll see one within the next two years.

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