Larry Wall (born September 27, 1954) is a computer programmer and author, most widely known for his creation of the Perl programming language in 1987. Wall grew up in south Los Angeles and then Bremerton, Washington, before starting higher education at Seattle Pacific University in 1976, majoring in chemistry and music and later Pre-med with a hiatus of several years working in the university’s computing center before being graduated with a self-styled bachelor’s degree in Natural and Artificial Languages. While in graduate school at UC Berkeley, Wall and his wife were studying linguistics with the intention afterwards of finding an unwritten language, perhaps in Africa, and creating a writing system for it. They would then use this new writing system to translate various texts into the language, among them the Bible. Due to health reasons these plans were cancelled, and they remained in the U.S., where Larry instead joined the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory after he finished graduate school.
Wall is the author of the rn Usenet client and the nearly universally used patch program. He has won the International Obfuscated C Code Contest twice and was the recipient of the first Free Software Foundation Award for the Advancement of Free Software in 1998. Beyond his technical skills, Wall has a reputation for his wit and for his often sarcastic sense of humour, which he displays in the comments to his source code or on Usenet. For example: “We all agree on the necessity of compromise. We just can’t agree on when it’s necessary to compromise” and:
For example, it's been several decades now since a certain set of Bible translations came out, and you'll notice a pattern: the New English Bible, the New American Standard Bible, and the New International Version, to name a few. It's really funny. I suspect we'll still be calling them "new this" and "new that" a hundred years from now. Much like New College at Oxford. Do you know when New College was founded? Any guesses? New College was new in 1379.
Wall developed the Perl interpreter and language while working for System Development Corporation, which later became part of Unisys. He is the co-author of Programming Perl (often referred to as the Camel Book and published by O’Reilly), which is the definitive resource for Perl programmers; and edited the Perl Cookbook. He then became employed full-time by O’Reilly Media to further develop Perl and write books on the subject.
Wall’s training as a linguist is apparent in his books, interviews, and lectures. He often compares Perl to a natural language and explains his decisions in Perl’s design with linguistic rationale. He also often uses linguistic terms for Perl language constructs, so instead of traditional terms such as “variable”, “function”, and “accessor” he sometimes says “noun”, “verb”, and “topicalizer”.
Wall’s Christian faith has influenced some of the terminology of Perl, such as the name itself, a biblical reference to the “pearl of great price” (Matthew 13:46). Similar references are the function name bless, and the organization of Perl 6 design documents with categories such as apocalypse and exegesis. Wall has also alluded to his faith when he has spoken at conferences, including a rather straightforward statement of his beliefs at the August 1997 Perl Conference and a discussion of Pilgrim’s Progress at the YAPC (Yet Another Perl Conference) in June 2000.
Wall continues to oversee further development of Perl and serves as the Benevolent Dictator for Life of the Perl project. His role in Perl is best conveyed by the so-called 2 Rules, taken from the official Perl documentation:
Larry is always by definition right about how Perl should behave. This means he has final veto power on the core functionality. Larry is allowed to change his mind about any matter at a later date, regardless of whether he previously invoked Rule 1. Got that? Larry is always right, even when he was wrong.
"And don't tell me there isn't one bit of difference between null and space, because that's exactly how much difference there is" ― Larry Wall