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I was at a conference, you should go too!

September 18, 2011 at 11:27 AM - by Freek Lijten - 2 comments

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Yesterday I visited a one-day conference organised by a dutch PHP community ( It was well-organised and entry came at a fair price (37,50 euro, convert here for yourself).

I had a great time for three main reasons: I learned new stuff, I met people and I got inspired by topics I already knew about. I like to (shortly) share on the experience itself and I hope to explain why I think it is valuable to visit a conference every once in a while.

I will start with a short recap on the conference itself, so if you couldn't care less about the content of this specific conference skip to the part where I explain why you should go too. 

This conference is organised by a community called PHPFreakz which started out as a PHP centered forum. This, combined with the relatively low entry price, means the visitors where a mix of full-time professionals and enthusiastic hobbyists. To attract a more international public there where two tracks of which one was solely in english. This mix created a conference with advanced as well as beginner topics from first time speakers as well as internationally known speakers.

The talks I listened to are listed below:

  • "Community works" by Michelangelo van Dam
  • "Quality management" by Lineke Kerckhoffs-Willems
  • "Living inside the browser" (on the shift from native apps to browser based apps) by Richard Tuin
  • "The why and what of PHP extensions" by Derick Rethans
  • "SPL datastructures and their algorithm complexity" (Excellent talk! It covered the O-notation far better then I describe here) by Jurriën Stutterheim
  • "Docblox (the new kid in API docs town)" by Mike van Riel
  • "PHP: a status check" (keynote) by Zeev Zuraski

As you can see this is a diverse list of people and talks which was great. And then I missed out on some good talks as well, because they where back to back with the ones I was in. All in all it was a great and very well organised day. A big compliment to the organisation!

So why should you go too?

First of all, it is a place to learn. You hear about this great new new tool, you get in-depth knowledge on PHP's workings, you learn about something you wouldn't come accross in your day-job. You name it, its there! Learning is always good and it is even better to get back from a conference and start teaching and telling about what you just learned to your co-workers. This way newly gained knowledge on a conference spreads like a wildfire.

Secondly, it inspires. Of course we know we should do something about quality management, of course we know about event dispatchers and the listener pattern. What these conferences manage to do for you however is getting these topic back in your focus. Conferences in the past have resulted in our softwares Event manager to name but one. It also inspired rewrites, paradigm shifts and smaller changes. An enthusiastic talk on a topic can be enought to have a group of people think "Oh yeah, thats right. Great principle! Lets start building...!".

Thirdly, you meet new people. This seems like something you could everyday, which is true of course. But you don't get to speak to a pool of hundreds of other developers every day (unless you work at Google, Facebook, <insert other big company>). I like meeting other developers for several reasons:

  1. There is a dutch proverb: "Een kijkje in andermans keuken" (a look in someone else's kitchen) which freely translated means as much as seeing how other people are doing stuff. It's always good to hear how other development teams are solving problems. They have the same problems you have, perhaps they have this brilliant solution they want to share.
  2. It is generally nice to talk to people who share your passion for (web)development. My girlfriend is the sweetest person on earth but she really couldn't care less about PHP extensions :) Of course there are co-workers, but a new face every once in a while doesn't hurt.
  3. It's a network. If you become a more or less frequent visitor you will meet new people each time, but you'll also start to recognize people. This network can be extremely valuable while looking for help with a problem, a nice open source project to work on or even a new job you would like to find.

Where should you go?

The larger conferences last multiple days and will cost you a considerable amount of money. If your boss won't pay for it because he can't see the added value, you are not likely to be able to pay several hundreds of euros multiple times a year. A nice strategy would be to find a local usergroup. Simply google PHP + <area> and check the results. I regularly visit the PHP Benelux meetings which are free and great fun. There are usually two talks and less visitors, but they offer the same merits I mentioned earlier. If there isn't any usergroup you could always start one.

If you've found and like a usergroup you're probably covered with a monthly meeting. Visiting a larger conference once a year is a good next step. Use your newly found community to discover which one offers the best value for money! Maybe there are some smaller conferences nearby, like the one I was at yesterday, which also fit your profile. These possibilities combined will provide ample possibilities and learning moments. I hope you'll enjoy them! 

If you have questions or tips for people who want to start visiting conferences or usergroups, please share them in the comments.

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  1. RichardRichard Wrote on September 18, 2011 at 2:36:34 PM

    Spot on Freek, conferences or any other type of meeting with other people from your profession is inspiring and fun.

    Like Michelangelo explained, the so-called "hallway tracks" are very valuable also!

  2. Lineke KerckhoffsLineke Kerckhoffs Wrote on September 23, 2011 at 9:30:15 AM

    Great post Freek! It was nice meeting you at PfCongres, I'm sure we'll meet again at another conference or usergroup meeting.

    The social aspect of being at conferences is for me the most valuable. You feel part of the PHP community by interacting with other members of the community.

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