Have you ever heard of the HL7 protocol? No? Well, me neither until a few days ago when I was studying for an exam.
Unluckily I was unable to find some good documentation related to such protocol, or at least, some good and quick documentation (you don't want to spend nights reading specifications about something you probably will not be using in the near future, right?).
Therefore I fired up my web browser, pointing it to CPAN and searching for some Perl libraries implementing such protocol. And I got it: the Net::HL7 library implements the bare messaging behind HL7. The next step was to fire up Emacs and start reading the code.
Well, as usual in Perl, the code was simple, clean, elegant and short.
In less than 30 minutes I had an understanding of the HL7 messaging that was superior to that of my other competitors, even those who were already using such protocol!
I have to say, Net::HL7 did not turn me into an HL7 guru, and it does not matter how many times I read the source code, nothing will make me a guru on such a subject. Nevertheless I believe that this is another evidence of how Open Source is a much superior way of doing things and sharing knowledge, and how Perl/CPAN represent one of the wider world knowledge base ever built.
Now, thinking about this episode, I don't know what exactly made the difference: it was Perl? It was CPAN? It was the courage to fire up an editor and look into the black box? Surely it was the combination of all the above, and this is also a reason why I strongly advocate that knowing a few languages is a huge mistake and that developers should be able to find and understand as many technologies and languages as possible, to be able to get inspiration and knowledge from everywhere.