The bloodletting within the Perl community has continued in the wake of Community Affairs Team chair Samantha McVey’s resignation.
The CAT was established in March last year to maintain “a community led set of rules” with moderators who would respond to unhappy netizens complaining about “incidents at events or otherwise,” but was controversially put on “hiatus” nearly two weeks ago.
Curtis “Ovid” Poe, who had over a decade as a director of The Perl Foundation (TPF) under his belt, threw in the towel earlier this week, as did Elizabeth Mattijsen, a member of TPF’s Grant Committee.
It’s the online version of road rage. I know people who, at conferences, are absolutely lovely people … face-to-face. But they’re raging assholes online
Poe, who had been pondering heading for the exit for a few months, found the furore over the Community Affairs Team (CAT) the final straw. The to-ing and fro-ing between CAT, Perl Board, and the Perl community “…pushed me over the edge,” he said.
Poe also said that the CAT incident wasn’t his only reason for departure. “It’s time,” he said, but: “It pains me that the CAT mess overshadows everything else.”
The mess Poe was referring to includes much back and forth in the community as CAT was put on hiatus and its transparency reports into members’ issues were abruptly yanked, although the board-approved sanctions it applied have remained in place. These sanctions included a year-long ban from Perl events over “unacceptable” behaviour for developer Matt Trout. The ban itself was downgraded from an earlier, lifelong ban. A formal charter and code of conduct will be required before something like the CAT can make a return.
Opting to abstain from the vote on the Board’s final decision, Poe stated that he believed the Board’s actions were wrong. Sure, it had authority over events but should it have applied sanctions? “No, but only because the rules were not clear at the time of the offending behavior.”
Also in the background is the departure in April this year of a key Perl Core developer known as Sawyer X who quit the three-person Perl Steering Committee, or Council, and the Perl Core group because of what he described as “community hostility”. The next day, Perl programmer Leon Timmermans wrote a missive calling for an overhaul in governance after a tough 12 months of pandemic titled: “A year of strife in Perl.”
The impact of Poe’s departure cannot be overestimated. The author of Beginning Perl and Perl Hacks, he has been a user of the language for around 20 years (having done his time in COBOL) and joined The Perl Foundation board of directors in 2009. The fact that the controversy of the last few months became a factor should give those involved some pause for thought.
“It’s the online version of road rage,” Poe told The Register, “I know people who, at conferences, are absolutely lovely people … face-to-face. But they’re raging assholes online.
“I don’t know if it’s because they’re out of punching range or because they forget that there are people behind the words they’re reading.”
“This toxicity is amplified by social media,” he went on, “and more and more people using social media to communicate rather than gathering at a pub and having a nice chat. It’s very painful to watch and makes me sad to see people I respect suddenly pull out pitchforks, acting as if those with whom they disagree must somehow be monsters to be overcome.”
Poe is not alone. There have been departures from all sides of the debate. As well as noting problems with grant requests by the board, Mattijsen announced her resignation from TPF’s Grant Committee over the weekend, citing the CAT review as the final straw. She also highlighted what she perceived as toxicity in the community.
“I’m fresh out of ideas with regards to handling the toxicity in the Perl community,” Mattijsen told The Register, “I’m doing my best to make sure that the Raku community will *not* allow individuals to create a toxic atmosphere without being challenged for what is now decades.”
SUSE engineer Sebastian Riedel also departed in recent months.
It all seems like, as Trout (the subject of many a Perl thread) himself put it, “a colossal and unnecessary waste of human capital.”
While churn can be a healthy thing in long-lived projects, Perl certainly seems to be having more than its fair share as the community figures out how its future and present should look.
“The Perl Community has ignored toxic behavior for far too long,” said Poe.
The problem is how to deal with it without alienating members or triggering further departures.
The Register asked The Perl Foundation for comment, but has yet to receive a response. ®