[erlang-questions] Support for newcomers and the popularity of Erlang

Fred Hebert mononcqc@REDACTED
Mon Mar 19 18:11:18 CET 2012

On Mon, Mar 19, 2012 at 12:19 PM, Wojciech Knapik <wmknapik@REDACTED>wrote:

> Hello everyone
> I have a question regarding mnesia that the books I have and the tutorials
> I found do not answer.
> I tried IRC, but was refered here. I tried the Manning forum, but was
> refered here. And here I was completely ignored. Not even a "go away",
> nothing. I had to check the list archives to make sure my emails reached
> their destination.

I was one of the people who tried to help you on IRC; I'm generally busy
with my own things and not *that* knowledgeable about Mnesia, sorry I
couldn't do more.

It is better, in my opinion, to receive no reply than a 'go away'; the
former means your question is either complex enough that people don't know
the answer or that writing a useful answer would be too long for them, for
whatever reason they have to be busy. A 'go away' is a direct sign of being
closed, with somebody telling you they want you out -- which didn't happen.

The referral from (IRC | Some site) to the Mailing list is usually
something done because people wherever you are do not know the answer or do
not have the resources to help you. The mailing list is where a lot of
veteran Erlang programmers take their time to reply (whenever they have
time), including some people from the OTP team itself, working at
implementing the language. It's an escalation of tiers for help, but
nothing comes really fast and yet again, answers may not come at all.

> I know this isn't some paid support list and you have no obligation to
> help anyone, but with a community of this size, you decide about the
> language's popularity by answering (or not answering) people's questions.

Many of us do our fair share. People here work on some of the 'killer apps'
that more to Erlang's name than it had at Ericsson (although Ericsson
people are on here too!). You've got the contributors of all major Erlang
servers, many databases written in Erlang, message queues, build systems,
regulars from many corporations (Klarna, etc.). I myself decided to write
Learn You Some Erlang, and you've got other people on here who do
professional training, contribute to a lot of open source projects, work on
the core Erlang repositories themselves, etc.

The community has a noticeable size, but it also has a *lot* of work to do
and being done constantly. The same community that does a lot of this work
also tries to write their own doc and come in here and do support (and ask
for it when they need it).

I understand this isn't exactly relevant to your problems, but I would say
the community is not yet large enough to have too many resources and plenty
of leeway for mailing list support.

If you manage to solve your problem, I do invite you to stay on the list
and help people who need help in the future.

> With any non-trivial project, there are situations where people have to
> depend on outside help - where the documentation available simply doesn't
> allow them to answer a question and they need the opinion of someone
> experienced with the language. And this is not C++, or Java - you can't
> just ask any coworker for help. If you don't get an answer on this list,
> you're likely not getting it anywhere.

Yes, that is certainly a problem. I do not have a solution that doesn't
include 'brute force your way through the source' (I hate this), 'wait for
someone who can help' or 'hire help'. I don't think we can mandate people
to give more support on this list than what they can do. Especially since
once you break the point where people do this by passion, it becomes a job
to them.

> I'm now part of a group of 9 developers undertaking a rather large project
> and Erlang is, in my opinion, the perfect fit for us. Most other members of
> the group are beginning to see this too. The only problem is that none of
> us know this language. Sure, we're reading the books (and they're excellent
> btw), but you know that books only go so far...
> I'd like nothing more than to stick to Erlang for this project, I've been
> a fan of functional languages for years, but we've only written a page of
> code and we've already run into a problem that noone seems to want, or be
> able to help us with.
> We all know a number of languages and make a living developing code in
> them, so the temptation to switch to something we're familiar with, where
> support will not be a problem, is pretty big. I'm guessing this is a very
> popular scenario when Erlang is being considered for a new project (once
> you get past the fact that everyone will have to learn a new language and,
> in most cases, a new programming paradigm).

Switching to a language you know might be a valid approach if you can't get
what you need (and the help currently given in this thread isn't enough).
Getting your products out is the most important thing, I figure.

I just hope this wouldn't turn into a blog post about 'how the Erlang
community is unfit for newcomers' or something like that :)

> I could go on, but you get the idea. Perhaps these are the things to
> discuss in the next thread about Erlang's popularity, instead of ejabberd,
> Yaws and CouchDB...

Eh, people talk about what they feel like talking about, and things they
use more. You brought a topic to the table and it was discussed. Hopefully
it's not too bad.

Disclaimer: this e-mail represents my views and perceptions of the
community, the mailing lists, etc. and I in no way speak for the rest of
the people in here. Sorry if it may look like I'm speaking as if I knew
what they think, this isn't my intention.
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