Hiring Perl Developers – how hard can it be?

All the roles I’ve had during my time at Sanger have more or less required the development of production quality Perl code, usually OO and increasingly using MVC patterns. Why is it then that very nearly every Perl developer I’ve interviewed in the past 8 years is woefully lacking, specifically in OO Perl but more generally in half-decent programming skills?

It’s been astonishing, not in a good way, how many have been unable to demonstrate use of hashes. Some have been too scared of them (their words, not mine) and some have never felt the need. For those of you who aren’t Perl programmers, hashes (aka associative arrays) are a pretty crucial feature of the language and fundamental to its OO implementation.

Now I program in Perl sometimes more than 7-8 hours a day. For many years this also involved reworking other people’s code. I can very easily say that if you claim to be a Perl programmer and have never used hashes then you’re not going to get a Perl-related job because of your technical skills. With a good, interactive and engaging personality and a desire for self-improvement you might get away with it, but certainly not on technical merit.

It’s also quite worrying how many of these interviewees are unable to describe the basics of object-oriented programming yet have, for example, developed and sold a commercial ERP system, presumably for big bucks. Man, these people must have awesome marketing!

Frankly a number of the bioinformaticians already working there have similar skills to the interviewees and often worse communication skills, so maybe I’m simply setting my standards too high.

I really hope this situation improves when Perl 6 goes public though I’m sure it’ll take longer to become common parlance. As long as it happens before those smug RoR types take over the world I’ll be happy ;)

DECIPHERing Large-scale Copy-Number Variations

It’s strange.. Since moving from the core Web Team at Sanger to Sequencing Informatics I’ve been able to reduce my working hours from ~70-80/week all the way down to the 48.5 hours which are actually in my contract.

In theory this means I’ve more spare time, but in reality I’ve been able to secure sensible contract work outside Rentacoder which I’ve relied on in the past.

The work in question is optimising and refactoring for the DECIPHER project which I used to manage the technical side of whilst in the web team.

DECIPHER is a database of large-scale copy number variations (CNVs) from patient arrayCGH data curated by clinicians and cytogeneticists around the world. DECIPHER represents one of the first clinical applications to come out of the HGP data from Sanger.

What’s exciting apart from the medical implications of DECIPHER’s joined-up thinking is that it also represents a valuable model for social, clinical applications in the Web 2.0 world. The application draws in data from various external sources as well as its own curated database. It primarily uses DAS via Bio::Das::Lite and Bio::Das::ProServer and I’m now working on improving interfaces, interactivity and speed by leveraging MVC and SOA techniques with ClearPress and Prototype.

It’s a great opportunity for me to keep contributing to one of my favourite projects and hopefully implement a load of really neat features I’ve wanted to add for a long time. Stay tuned…

VoIP peering & profits

So… shortly, I believe from February next year but am probably mistaken, prices in the UK go up for calling “Lo-Call” 0845 numbers. As I understand it they’ll be similar, or the same as 0870 rates at 20p/min or so.

Now I wonder if the regulator has missed a trick here. It so happens that the nation is converting to broadband, be it ADSL or cable-based, and that very many of those broadband packages now come with VoIP offerings as standard.

My point is that these bundled broadband VoIP packages invariably come with 0845 dial-in numbers and no other choice. Dialing out via your broadband ISP may well be cheap for you but spare a thought for those calling in at much higher rates.

Having been tinkering with VoIP for a good few years I realise that actually this should be ok because calling VoIP-to-VoIP should be free, right? Wrong. Most of these ISPs don’t peer to each others’ networks – for two main reasons as far as I can see –

  1. They’re competitors and have little business reason to peer, apart from keeping the small proportion of aware customers happy.
  2. These ISPs make profits from users dialing in – 0845 is a profit-sharing prefix with which both BT and the ISP in question have a stake. This old story is of course also true of many telephone help-desks and similar. Keeping the customer on the line longer means more profits for the company and its shareholders.

It seems to me that the world could be a better, more communicative place through more thorough VoIP network peering but I simply can’t see it becoming widespread whilst profits stand in the way.