Photograph of some purple onion flowers on their tall green stalks
“Blooming onion” by erovikovafoto is licensed under CC BY 2.0

A few weeks ago, the Perl Foundation informed me that it had approved my small grant proposal. And as of today, two pull requests I submitted to the core Perl repository on GitHub — a revision of the “open” function’s documentation and an improvement to the same subject’s tutorial guide — have passed tech review. It remains possible for another reviewer to request further changes, but otherwise this work’s ultimate fate passes into the hands of Perl’s release engineers. So, barring surprise, that’s that project delivered.

While hardly my first open-source-contribution rodeo, and the product of only ten days’ part-time labor besides, this work still feels noteworthy enough for me to mark down here. Not only does it represent the first time I’ve given back in this direct way to the programming language I’ve used almost every day for half of my life so far, but it unexpectedly feels like a long-delayed coda to work I started nearly twenty years ago with Perl & XML — and then walked away from.

In the winter of 2000 I had enough self-knowledge to recognize my own drive to document the technologies I loved, pushing me to eagerly sign multiple contracts, but not nearly enough maturity or sense of responsibility to follow through on my own. Very patient editors managed to bloodily pry that book and other contractually obligated writing out of me over the next three years. Sore and sulky, I swore the whole business off forever.

The experience nonetheless gave me a glimpse of what self-directed work, if actually managed properly, could feel like. And so after napping for three further years as a salaried engineer, I tried skippering a startup, and then a consulting company, and then a nonprofit, stair-stepping up with efficacy and success each time through nothing more complex than one year after another remembering all the rocks and reefs I’d ground up on the year before and trying to do better.

This year I had various reasons to enter into an agreement to write a little bit more Perl documentation for pay, none of which resembled a desire to revisit a challenge I had handled poorly as a puffed-up twentysomething. Thus the unexpected bolt of relieved vindication upon its completion zapped me that much more profoudly.

My thanks to Dan Book and Karen Etheridge for their prompt and thorough tech reviewing, to Tom Christiansen for writing most of the perlopentut manual page (which I have attempted to complete), and to Larry Wall and the many contributors to the open function documentation whose decades of accumulated knowledge and commentary I have done my best to clarify, mostly through reordering and rearrangement into nested sections with new headings.

And because he’d have appreciated the absurdity of the gesture, I dedicate these doc-patches to the memory of Erik T. Ray, my Perl & XML co-author and one of the people who bounced me into the oblique professional orbit I’ve pursued since the century began.

This article was also posted to the “writing” section of Indieweb.xyz.

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