This past week I had the opportunity to once again attend php|tek, which is a yearly PHP conference organized by php|architect. Each year PHP developers converge in Chicago for a week of learning and teaching, and it is the one conference that I always try to attend. As is the case with every year, this year ended up being better than the previous ones.
Instead of the normal rundown of each talk that I went to, I want to point out the reasons why I enjoy php|tek, using Tek12 to illustrate those points.
Meeting New People
The biggest advantage to php|tek is meeting other developers like your self. People that come to php|tek are incredibly friendly and will not hesitate to talk to anyone. Case in point, when I arrived on Monday it was lunch time. I dropped off my stuff, and it wasn't long before I met Kevin Bruce and Cory Fowler. We struck up a conversation and decided to head down to Potbelly Sandwich Shop up the road from the hotel. Now, I had never met either of them, either through IRC or Twitter. We had a common interest, and that's all that matters.
At any point in the conference, be it sitting in a session, sitting at a group hacking away on code, or people standing in a group, you can walk up and instantly join in on the conversation. People introduce themselves, give a bit of background, and everyone gets included in the conversation. There never seems to be a period where you have to try and impress anyone. We're all PHP developers and we all can band together around that common topic and be sociable.
Meeting People You Already Know For The First Time
With many PHP projects being on IRC and their coders on Twitter, you end up chatting with people every day that you've never physically met. php|tek brings together end users with the people that make the tools they use. One person I constantly harass, though admire, is Chris Hartjes. Now, I've followed him on Twitter, talked to him on IRC, and even purchased his book, but I've never met him.
This year I did though, and I can put a face (a big, scary face), to the person that I've been talking with. And just like any other person at the conference he said hello and we struck up conversation. He knew who I was and I knew who he was.
php|tek brings people in like Paul M. Jones, lead developer of the Aura framework, or Rich Bowen from the Apache Project. We can speak with these people online at some point, and then meet them face-to-face. In my case I also got to meet Beth Tucker Long, the editor-in-chief of php|architect, which is nice since she's the one that I work with when it comes to submitting articles and my technical editing duties. I've talked to her many times via e-mail, but finally got to meet her in real life.
This is invaluable because it helps strengthen the community bond that the PHP community already has. These people are no longer faceless beings on the other side of the internet, but real people.
Getting Together with People You Really Know
The more and more I go to conferences, and the more and more I meet people, you invariably talk with certain ones more often than others. You also end up seeing them at more conferences, and sometimes only at conferences. Michelangelo van Dam, Elizabeth Naramore, and Seán Prunka are all people that I've met at previous conferences, but I never get to see them other than at conference time. php|tek ends up being one of the few times each year you can hopefully get back together with people and have a few beers.
As time goes on, you meet more people, and you recognize more people. This again strengthens that bond in the PHP community and is one of the reasons that it is so strong.
There is also the hallway track. Just by talking with people you learn all sorts of new things. People solve their problems in different ways and you can learn from their experiences. You pick up tips and tricks. You ask people for help with problems you have and you can get answers. The uncon, which is where anyone can sign up to give a presentation, always has a wide variety of topics.
The Hackathon gets you involved in new projects (or launch an awesome new URL shortening service) and you can learn from the people that run the projects. This year I helped Davey Shafik with the frapi project and their goal of a 0.1 release. Between myself, Davey, John Bafford, and two other guys who I apologize for forgetting their names, we got all of the tickets in that milestone hammered out as well as learned a new system.
Possibly The Best Conference
I think that php|tek is a great conference. I normally try to attend Zendcon as well, but php|tek really is a community-focused conference. The people are great, the organizers are great, the sessions are great... there are very few things that I ever dislike about attening php|tek. If you haven't attended before, try your hardest to get out there next year. Convince your boss or management you need to go, or submitting for the Call For Papers to try and speak. Any way that you can make it out there will be well worth it.
And I Apologize
To all the people that I met but did not directly name in this article, know that I did not forget you. This article is long enough, but rest assured, if you make it out to php|tek next year, I will remember you.