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Perl’s True Success Is in the Telling

O'Reilly Makes a Lasting Impression with "Perl Success Stories"

by Betsy Waliszewski

My first day on the job at O'Reilly & Associates was unforgettable. Hired primarily as a Perl advocate, I spent that day at the O'Reilly Open Source Convention in Monterey, California, surrounded by the most influential people in the Perl community. Boy, was I overwhelmed! I managed to learn everyone's contribution to the language (not an easy task), but I came away puzzled.

How was I going to translate all of this devotion and enthusiasm for Perl to IT managers? How could I convince the programming world at large that Perl was the real thing?

After tossing around ideas with O'Reilly editor Nat Torkington, we decided to promote Perl through a series of stories about folks who actually used it. We sought out case studies showing how programmers working for mainstream companies had used Perl in nontrivial applications that were mission-critical. The goal of these "Perl Success Stories" was to demonstrate that Perl is not a toy language, but an important programming component that the big wheels of commerce could rely on to do a variety of tasks.

Success Started Slowly

In the beginning, it wasn't easy to get these stories. Programmers who answered our call for clear-cut examples of how much time, money, and pain Perl saved them needed approval from their bosses to release their information. And the people at O'Reilly who wrote the articles exchanged many drafts with these programmers, making sure they were accurate and acceptable, without having them turn into puff pieces.

O'Reilly's Perl resource center,, contains a wealth of information for all things Perl. You'll find a complete list of our Perl books, articles by our Perl book authors, links to features, and, of course, an archive of our Perl Success Stories. Bookmark it and check back regularly.

But we got some amazing stuff. Our first story talked about Perl's use at the Federal Reserve. Others detailed its use by Amazon, Agilent, UniCredito Italiano (Italy's top bank), and the U.S. Census Bureau. Each story chronicled a different -- and very critical -- use for Perl. Italy's bank used Perl DBI for a data migration from one enterprise data warehouse to another. The Census Bureau employed Perl to display our country's leading financial and economic indicators online, with twice-daily updates from thousands of sources. Perl helped Carnegie-Mellon University develop speech synthesizers for robotics applications. And programmers developed a Perl-based Web application quickly to run the Swedish National Pension.

As the stories were completed, I'd post them on our Web site (, and after I had collected eight of them, I put them together in a booklet for distribution at the Perl 4 Conference. The response was incredible and I received many requests for the booklet afterward. (We also sent the booklet to our corporate mailing list.)

Now the Momentum is Great

Three years later, I no longer have to hunt for Perl Success Stories. Programmers send them directly to me, and you can find the latest through my Weblog at (I'm a bit behind in getting them online, but don't worry --they'll all be posted.) And I've now printed the third edition of our collection of Perl Success Stories, a booklet that was distributed at the Perl 6 Conference this past summer. We now have more than 25 stories and new ones roll in regularly.

How has corporate America received these stories? Well, the momentum is genuinely building out there. Along with other open source tools, Perl is now being taken seriously by IT managers who need a quick development solution -- not just for Web applications, but as a general-purpose language for quick prototyping, system utilities, software tools, system management tasks, database access, graphical programming, and networking.

The Call Continues

So, do you have a Perl success story? Write it up for us, making sure that you cover the following points:

  • The company and its business
  • The name and function of a particular Perl application
  • Rough size of the code and its development time
  • Rough idea of how heavily the code is used (number of users)

If you're ready to send us your "Perl Success Story," please email it to Todd Mezzulo; he can be reached at . Todd has taken over the marketing of O'Reilly's Perl books now and will carry on where I've left off. He's looking forward to collecting your tales of success on his own. So don't stop sending us your stories!

Promoting Perl has been an incredibly fun ride these past three years, and the best part has been working with the Perl community. The spirit of sharing and helping each other is unusual and fantastic. I've learned so much about Perl and why it's important. Thank you to all the people who have contributed to this project.

Editor's note: This article has been republished with permission from The Perl Review. The article was originally published in Vol 0, Issue 6 of TPR's November 2002 magazine.

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