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YAPC::NA 2006 Conference Report

End Pointers Jon Jensen and I, along with 450-500 other Perl enthusiasts, descended on the campus of IIT, the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, for three days at the end of June for the annual North American edition of what is affectionately known by the Perl community as Yet Another Perl Conference (YAPC).

This year's conference had three main focuses covered by four tracks of talks: Web 2.0 (as the hypesters like to call it), software development methodology improvements, and Perl 6 -- the future of the language. Participants and speakers had a range of experience with Perl and varied backgrounds, from experts working for the Perl Foundation on the forefront of Perl 6 development to beginners finding out how best to implement their first assignment.

Perl 6, while not immediately practical for daily use at this time, is advancing the language at the heart of most of End Point's development. Perl 6 represents advancements in language design that will likely bring Perl back to the forefront of dynamic language syntax and research. But Perl 5 remains in the practical lead it's long held, with the amazingly wide-ranging and useful CPAN, and it is still progressing in research as well. One talk covered the upcoming release of Perl 5.10, which incorporates some of the much-anticipated improvements in Perl 6. The Moose object system now brings much of the Perl 6 object design philosophy to Perl 5 developers as well.

"Web 2.0", on the other hand, has fully arrived, and at End Point we have already deployed sites using several of these techniques to improve interactivity and user experience. Doing so does not require a fundamental shift to a new framework or interface design methodology; we have been incorporating many newer techniques into the already mature code base of Interchange. Talks on JavaScript, AJAX, JSON, and JSAN (the JavaScript equivalent of CPAN), provided a solid foundation for user experience improvements. Talks about Catalyst, CGI::Application, Solstice, Jifty, and POE, showed how varied server-side application frameworks can help developers achieve their goals more quickly and with higher quality. Additional talks about technologies underlying these frameworks rounded out the details, particularly along these lines: MVC (model-view-controller) web development and templating systems such as Mason, object implementations such as the aforementioned Moose and inside-out objects, object/relational database mappers such as UR, and direct object storage with Presto.

Running central through all of the talks was an emphasis on design quality, methodology improvement, and enterprise class application development. Several talks showed how source code could be better managed using the increasingly popular Subversion source code control system with svk providing offline repository management at the client side. Others detailed how to test applications for improved quality assurance using automated testing platforms such as Test::WWW::Simple and Selenium, a browser based framework for testing web applications on multiple platforms in multiple browsers. Still others were less technical in essence and were tailored towards improving the general workflow of the developer through all phases of project implementation. One of these included a talk about getting out of "technical debt", which used a metaphor comparing personal financial bankruptcy to what happens when a software project ignores crucial elements such as testing, documentation, and backups, the so-called interest accumulating on top of the work already needing to be done to meet the stated goal. A second focused on common mistakes made when trying to scale systems to an arbitrarily large size.

But YAPC isn't just about the technical talks. It is also about building and improving the community surrounding the language which is always so fundamental to the success of open source software. Through informal Birds of a Feather gatherings, whether they are a social trip to see the sights of the city from the top of the Sears Tower or to hear the amazing sounds of musicians brought to the scenic Millenium Park by Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble. Or through a job fair open to all sizes of companies where Perl developers can seek out new mediums of expression or where companies can find just the right person to take their next project to completion. The sponsors of, presenters at, and attendees of YAPC know that it is the experience as a whole that is the real reason to go.

More information can be found at the conference website at yapcchicago.org