I talked today with Richard Dice, the newly-elected president of the Perl Foundation, about the recent changes in TPF, and what TPF has been working on lately. If you've asked "What does TPF do? Why should I support it?", this interview should help answer that.

Andy: Richard, you're now President of The Perl Foundation, Jim Brandt is Vice-President, and Bill Odom is Chairman. What do these changes mean for TPF and for the Perl community?

Richard: Regarding the first of the two questions you have embedded in there, what it means for TPF, there's a pretty straightforward answer - it means that I am now the person entrusted with the abilities of the President, per Article V, item 5.05 of the Bylaws of The Perl Foundation. From the point of view of TPF being a corporation the abilities of the President are pretty standard President-stuff. It basically means that I'm the guy able to sign contracts and am responsible for the general management of the corporation. The President is also a member of the Board of Directors so I have a voice within that group and a vote in all voting matters of the Board. I don't think that there are too many surprises as far as any of that goes. It's vanilla-corporation-legal stuff.

For the previous two years the TPF President had been Bill Odom. In the past few months Bill had been considering what his own personal strengths, interests and abilities to commit time would be in the future and mostly he was thinking that what we wanted to invest his energies into were Board considerations. That is, organizing how the Board would conduct its responsibilities. And that's a Chairman job. The chairman for the previous few years had been Kevin Lenzo. After all the years Kevin had been involved he felt as though he had done all he wanted and needed to in terms of active participation. So the Board thought that Bill would be the right person to take on that role. I was the Steering Committee Chair of TPF for the almost-two years up to that point. Bill and I did plenty of work and discussion together because of that, and I got a level of familiarity with much of the rest of the Board over that time as well. They thought I would be a good choice to fill the position.

I think that the Board liked one aspect of my thinking in particular pertaining to the Perl community. That is: the Perl community is just fine. Better than fine. The community is great. TPF exists to support the community. So what we have to pay attention to is the areas where the community is not great.

Andy: What areas would those be?

Richard: We need to help the rest of the world understand what Perl has to offer them. We need to talk with the rest of the world and gather together what they have to tell us, organize it, and present it back to the community in a coherent way so that we understand what the perceptions of the rest of the world are regarding what Perl and its community are all about. This kind of communication is a pre-condition for the next step, which is figuring out how the community and the rest of the world can help each other.

Andy: Any plans or grand ideas to share along those lines?

Richard: I'll share one plan that has already come to pass. Forrester Research approached TPF back in April 2007, asking us to participate in a survey of dynamic languages (Perl, Python, Ruby, PHP, Javascript) they were putting together. That was really important. Forrester has a lot of reach into the corporate IT world, at the VP and CIO/CTO level. I thought it was very important for us to get the word "Perl" prominently placed within that survey. What followed was a few weeks of brain-wracking work, not just mine but with a ton of help from about a dozen people inside and outside of TPF. But it was also important for us to participate because just seeing what sorts of considerations Forrester put into the survey were reflection of what they thought their audience was interested in. Participation was an excellent two-way communication opportunity.

Andy: What were the results of their report?

Richard: The results were quite good I thought. Forrester "Wave" surveys have a pretty standard format; in it, Perl was considered a "Leader" in this space. TPF will issue a larger press release about the results of this survey later. (The citation guidelines are complicated and we have to spend some real time in sifting through it all before we can make an official and detailed statements of the results.)

Another project that I'm involved with now is trying to make Perl 5.8.8 an official part of the Linux Standard Base 3.2 spec. This is a really good idea, as it means that any Linux ISVs that make a product that targets LSB 3.2 can assume the presence of a (sane) Perl distribution and so they don't have to ship it themselves.

These two examples suggest what I think will be a theme of the next year, which is TPF working with other organizations in alliances. Everyone is good at something. No one is good at everything. We have to be able to offer our expertise to other organizations, and we have to be willing to work with others in order to take advantage of their expertise. Trying to do things another way is a recipe for frustration and limited results.

Andy: Is the LSB project something that needs to happen at the TPF level? Is this one of those things that couldn't happen if TPF weren't doing it?

Richard: That's a good question. I don't immediately see a reason why TPF would have to be involved. Linux Foundation could have tried doing this without our help. However, this goes back to what I said about everyone having their own areas of expertise. The people in Linux Foundation aren't experts about Perl. From my perspective, the things I helped them with on this are pretty minor. But I saved them a ton of time helping them stay away from blind alleys in where they were going with this. And I could give them confidence that this was an effort that was worth undertaking. If they wanted to include Perl in LSB and they couldn't find a "Perl door" to knock on to get help in what they're doing, maybe they'd think that it wasn't worth the effort because Perl wasn't vibrant, active and supported.

[Note: Allison Randal noted after this interview was published "In fact, the Linux Foundation did try to do do it without our help, but had a hard time figuring out who to talk to in the community." -- Andy]

As I said before, I think TPF has a huge role to fill in interfacing between people on the inside of the community and people on the outside. Perhaps some Perlbuzz readers can't imagine other people thinking that Perl isn't vibrant, active and supportive. But that's exactly my point — without an organization like TPF to speak for Perl in these kinds of situations, that's exactly the kind of impression that would be conveyed. Some aspects of what TPF does are simple, but they're crucial.

Andy: So did the Linux Foundation come to TPF asking about getting Perl in LSB 3.2?

Richard: I'm not quite sure what the mechanics of the engagement were. Allison Randal, a TPF Board member, was the one who started up the discussion with Linux Foundation. Once she made initial contact I inherited the doing of the work.

Andy: So what can Perlbuzz readers do to help out with TPF?

Richard: The first thing I'd urge Perlbuzz readers to do is to be involved with the Perl community. Go to YAPC conferences, go to Perl Workshops and Hackathons, go to your local Perl Mongers meetings. This strengthens the whole Perl community, not just TPF. (And as an aside, it's something I've found enormously personally rewarding and enjoyable. I recommend it to anyone.)

Be eyes and ears on the ground and in the local Perl and IT scenes. If you see something interesting that you think has implications for Perl, let us know. Email pr@perlfoundation.org. Pay attention to websites like news.perlfoundation.org, use.perl.org, perlbuzz.com and yapc.org. Every now and then something can happen where TPF could use specific help. These are the places where the news would first go out to. There is also the #tpf IRC channel at irc.perl.org. If you want to talk to TPF folk, you can look for us there.

Andy: I should note that I am the pr@perlfoundation.org contact, and that Perlbuzz is sort of an outgrowth of my PR role for TPF, although entirely separate from TPF.

Richard: That's it for projects right now, but please track me down for another interview in a few months. We can cover what's been going on then. And thanks for the great work with perlbuzz.com! And while it's separate from your Perl Foundation PR hat, I think the most important thing is that Perl gets promoted! You and Skud are doing this fantastically well with perlbuzz.com so I'm a big supporter.

Andy: Any time you have something to say to the community, Richard, I'm glad to publicize it. Thanks for your time.