When I started working with PHP, it was because I was fed up with Perl. I had been building HTML websites for quite a while at that point, and I had already been interested in programming in general. Perl worked, but as anyone who has done work with Perl knows that the syntax is, well... it's Perl. I was working at a local ISP at the time and one of my coworkers, Matt Wiseman pointed me to PHP, so I started to look into it. I liked what I saw.
Like many developers I worked in a bubble for many years after that. I stuck around at the ISP for about two more years before moving on to a job that was dedicated to web development full-time (well, mostly). While it was an insurance company, they were one of the few smaller ones that had a dedicated development staff. Insurance has a history of continuing education, so one of the perks was attending training. Northwest Ohio itself is pretty technologically devoid, so I had to look around. I attended a SANSFire conference in 2007 since we used SANS for much of our security training, and LinuxFest Ohio that year as well.
In 2008 I discovered php|tek. I had never attended a conference, and I'll admit that I did php|tek 2008 wrong, just like I did SANSFire and LinuxFest Ohio. I went to the sessions, made small talk with people, but didn't really interact. I didn't know these people. I didn't talk to anyone on IRC, Twitter wasn't really a thing, and at best I matched names up to some blogs that I read.
I had a good time, don't get me wrong. I learned a lot. I attended Zendcon that year as well, and I decided to not spend as much time in my room. I met more people, with one of them being Michelangelo van Dam, not suprisingly. I'd started a programming blog, and I had began to find more people in the PHP community through Twitter and IRC.
I went back to tek the next year. There was Michelangelo again. Elizabeth Naramore, whom I had never met in real life, recognized my IRC handle from #php despite me doing nothing more than lurking there. There were other people I'd seen at Zendcon. I met more people. I got introduced to the #phpc channel on freenode, and I started following more people on Twitter.
I had unknowingly taken the advice I'd hear five years later from Yitzchok Willroth/coderabbi, which was "Do not separate from the community."
At Zendcon 2009 I was invited to my first non-official party, held by Microsoft. All because I wanted a shirt, and had managed to ask Josh Holmes for one. Michelangelo talked me into submitting to conferences. When tek rolled around in 2010 I don't think I submitted. I didn't feel like I was ready. That was actually a good thing, because my employer decided to cancel my trip to tek so I could travel Ohio and present some stuff we were working on. I started submitting with Zendcon 2010 (I think).
I didn't get accepted. I attended though, and met more people, and tried to be a bigger part of the community. I continued to blog and network with people at conferences because there wasn't anyone locally. I could already see myself becoming a better programmer because I had surrounded myself with people smarter than myself, and people that faced the same, yet different problems. I could bounce ideas off of people. I was exposed to what other people were doing, talking about, and working with.
I grew as a developer.
In 2011 I didn't get accepted to php|tek, but I did get asked to write an article by Elizabeth Tucker Long for the php|architect magazine. I really enjoyed working with her, and have been writing for the magazine ever since, and working with her on other things, but it was through the community that I began to write slightly more professionally.
It took me two years to get accepted as a speaker, but Kevin Schroeder liked one of my talks so I got to speak at Zendcon 2012. That helped boost my confidence immensely, and I also caught the speaking bug.
Since then, I've attended many more conferences. I've met many great people. I've met lots of people that I consider my friends. Going to conferences and being part of the PHP community led me to get a contracting position with The Brick Factory in Washington, D.C., because I had met John Bafford at tek one year, followed him on Twitter, and noticed him post a job. I'm assuming he didn't actually look at my Github profile before he offered me the job.
A few years later another member of the community, Chuck Reeves and I met and have become friends, and it's through meeting people through the community and conferences that this month I'm moving on from The Brick Factory to working with him. I'm chalking that career move to the delirium caused by standing in line for 8 hours waiting for hotdogs with Chuck, Jeremy Mikola, Drunk Phil Sturgeon, Sober Phil Sturgeon, Daniel Cousineau, Matt Frost, David Buchmann and Sammy Kaye Powers though. #wurstcon was a trip I would have only made with the PHP Community.
At php[world] 2014 I got to watch as new people were brought into the PHP community, all because they were standing outside when we were figuring out cars for #koshercon (and that whole inclusive, very friendly conference thing put on by php[architect], that probably helped as well).
Growing from a lone developer at a small Ohio insurance company to the developer that I am today, the PHP community has been there, helped me, and provided opportunities I never would have gotten otherwise.
I've mentioned only a fraction of the names above of the people that are a part of the community, and it would be impossible for me to list all of them. I'd thought about it, but it's easier for me to just say look at the people I follow on Twitter, and see the people that hang around in #phpmentoring, #coderabbi, and #phpc on freenode.
If you are a PHP developer, make sure you are a part of the PHP community at large. Attend conferences, attend a local user group. Meet people. Find a group standing around talking, and walk up to them. Say hi. Join an IRC channel.
In closing, I just want to say Thank You to the PHP Community at large. I wouldn't be here without you.