Three Innovator Lessons from Larry Wall

Jun 29, 2009 by

Who is Larry Wall? Many of you may not know who he is.

He is the father of Perl, a programming language that is more popular among system administrators. He created Perl in mid-1980s. You may never hear his work, but there is something we can learn from his life as a programmer and innovator.

Today I want to share the three attributes of innovators, inspired by Larry Wall as he is mentioned and described in the book Learning Perl, by Randal L. Schwartz, Tom Phoenix, & brian d foy (I don’t have any idea why the last name is written in lower case).

1) Be Lazy

Some people are so diligent working on the same thing over and over. Larry is not following that status quo, he is lazy. Larry was trying to produce some reports from a Usenet news (some kind of discussion forum which is a precursor of different web forums available nowadays). Being the lazy programmer as he is, he decided to overkill the problem with a generic solution, where he can also use it in at least one other place. This is the laziness that he also puts in the three virtues of programmers.

Laziness – The quality that makes you go to great effort to reduce overall energy expenditure. It makes you write labor-saving programs that other people will find useful, and document what you wrote so you don’t have to answer so many questions about it.
Larry Wall, Randal L. Schwartz and Tom Christiansen (Programming Perl)

2) Be Greedy

Larry created Perl because he wanted the advantages of both sides of programming language. On one side, it’s the low level programming (C or C++) which is hard to write, but fast and unlimited. On the other side, it’s high level programming (“shell” programming) that slow and limited but easier to code. Larry is not satisfied with either one of them. He chose to create something that will incorporate the strength of those two. And Perl is born, easy, nearly unlimited, mostly fast and kind of ugly.

3) Be Ugly

Larry knew very well what he want to create through Perl. He chose to trade off certain thing for the goal he pursued. He knew that he could not please all people. When he had to make a trade off between features that make programmer’s life easier but make it more difficult for student to learn, he will pick the programmer’s side.

Perl has many conveniences that let programmers save time. And that results in how Perl looks ugly for the beginners. If you’re not an experienced Perl programmer, you will need some time to understand all the code and shortcuts. Perl is symbolized as a camel. Camel is kind of ugly too, but they work hard. Camel gets the job done even in a tough conditions like the desert, even if it looks ugly and smells worse, or sometimes even spit at you.

Concluding Thought

20090629-larry_wall_yapc_2007The three virtues of programmers (laziness, pride, and hubris/excessive pride) have the similar characteristics to those I’m sharing above.

Yes, it’s not all the attributes needed as an innovator, but they exactly represent the  attributes that not many people consider as virtue. Larry has turned the limitations to advantages. They have become something beneficial to Larry’s life as programmer and innovator.

Despite of the laziness, Larry took pride and believed in his solution. He worked hard at it. He introduced the Perl to the community of users. And that is followed by a number of feedbacks and questions. Larry did not grow weary on responding but he consistently grew his work on Perl.

Now Perl is widely recognize, installed in nearly every system in use today, thousands of pages of online documentation, dozens of books and several main streams of newsgroups and discussions. It’s the fruit of what Larry Wall has worked in.


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  1. This is beauty of wisdom. We can all get wiser by hindsight at someone else’s trial and error methods which succeeded. Statistically, repeating the same process, is unlikely to work for other projects.
    .-= Nicole Price´s last blog ..The Most Expensive Paintings Ever =-.

  2. Thanks Nicole, here is one person we all can learn from =)

  3. This is called a very well maintainned strategy. A very well said by larry wall to be lazy for reducing energy expenditure and to be greedy as for oneself and only wise persons can do these all.

  4. These are three things that many people don’t have difficulty becoming… haha. You are right, I actually had no idea who lary was until I read this article. Yes, lol he has turned his limitations into advantages… they are extremely advantageous for his career choice.

    Till then,


  5. Bardy, I think Larry knows what he wants. He is committed to make Perl works. Indeed a wise person.

  6. Hi Jean, yeah, i think it’s called lazy, greedy, and ugly with purpose =) the purpose makes it advantageous.

  7. He is really a wise man from whom we can learn.Everybody can learn different things which only he needs.

  8. Hey Robert you posted quite impressive inspirational post, as Larry created Perl by useful characteristics of two languages it’s totally great, yes some time positive laziness did great job for us.

  9. It such very inspiring stuff which you have provided in your post. I was really unknown about such great person. Thanks for introducing him.
    .-= fourposter beds´s last blog ..The truth behind the demise of cabinet made furniture pt3 =-.

  10. Afriza N. Arief

    Wow, great article!

  11. There is something about those advices. The first thing to remember when trying to achieve success in any branch, that you never will satisfy everyone. There will always someone that can say: wow man, everything you do is crap. And we have to respect such voices but not necessarily agree with them 😉 Being a little bit ugly could do the job 🙂 About lazy I mostly agree, but being too lazy is also not so good idea after all 🙂
    .-= Tipsy´s last blog ..Pazurki od Eweliny =-.

  12. Amazing post. I like these three inspiration lesson of larry. Thanks for information.

  13. I like all the inspirational thoughts decribed here. Thanks for sharing with us!

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