PHPUK 2009 – a review

For anyone thinking that PHP conferences are full of dry technically laborious talks attended by rows and rows of pasty sun-starved bespectacled boys, thus making them a completely unapproachable unappealing yawn-fest then I’d say think again!

PHP UK Conference 09 is the second conference that I’ve attended (PHPNW08 in Manchester being the first) and at both events I’ve learned a lot and had a thoroughly good time!

Now I’m not your typical technical conference goer at all. In fact I’m fairly shy, don’t like crowds (prefer to hide in corners), and am convinced that I don’t know anything and that I’m wildly under-qualified to even consider going to these events. Obviously I’m wrong about at least half of that but with only 15 months experience in a discipline that I arrived into via the most convoluted route, there’s bound to be the odd paranoia that I’ll somehow get found out as an imposter and laughed out the room. Surely such an eminent group of knowledgeable people would have little time for someone as inexperienced as me, and how was I ever going to follow any of the talks without suffering some kind of brain meltdown mid talk?

Well I’m very pleased to say that I was wrong! Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, could not have been more wrong! Luckily this time I was ableto attend both the pre and post conference socials that gave me the chance to really get to know the people and the faces (a nice change from the forums or irc) and to even have a chat with the speakers, who are actually extremely approachable, friendly people always happy to answer questions or receive feedback or offer advice and support to anybody (even little old me!). Thanks must go to Rob, Tess and Kat for arranging to meet for food before the Thursday social as otherwise the prospect of arriving alone in the dark at a random London bar full of strangers was a little daunting! Come the Friday social though I felt like I had a whole new group of friends and was quite happy to over-indulge on the wine and chatter away like an idiot to anyone in earshot (apologies if you were an unwitting recipient of this).

As for the conference talks themselves, I enjoyed all the ones I attended and more importantly, was pleasantly surprised to find that I could follow the majority of the technical content. While a few did cover subjects that I may well never have the need or desire to implement, Sharding Architectures by David Soria Parra for example (although you never know), I could still understand the concepts behind the subject and the reasons as to why you might need to introduce such a thing, which was really great and shows that the speakers don’t set out to unnecessarily blind you with science! I’m not going to go into much detail about the talks themselves, the videos will be up soon so you can judge for yourself, but I’ll just quickly mention the ones that I did manage to see.

In addition to David’s, another talk which may or may not prove useful for me in the future was Flex and AIR for PHP programmers by Mihai Corlan. This was a topic that I didn’t know too much about so thought that I should go and check it out and while I don’t think that I shall be leaping into that straight away (too much other stuff to learn first) it’s certainly something to file away for future use. Weirdly at the same time that Mihai was indulging himself with a few demonstrations of Desktop Keeley, Stefan Koopmanschap was also apparently indulging himself, somehow working cleavage into his otherwise informative and well-balanced Myphp-busters: symfony framework talk.

Sebastian Bergmann’s talk Of Lambda Functions, Closures and Traits gave an interesting introduction on these new upcoming features, which was a bit of a follow on from Scott MacVicar’s talk on What’s new in PHP 5.3 (for those who saw it). Sebastian was a very knowledgeable and interesting speaker, although it was a little hard to believe him when he saying how excited he was about these new features (something to do with his completely deadpan expression) but it was very well presented and easy to follow. A little bit more about the practical applications of when I might want to use these features would have been helpful but it was a good introduction to the concepts and syntax involved.

Stuart Herbert’s talk on Living with Frameworks was a look at his company’s experience of implementing the Symfony framework and issues surrounding this including migrating legacy code, staff training, enforcing stricter coding practices and justifying the ‘better code but longer to implement’ balance to management. It was a good, well presented talk, though I think I would have preferred a greater emphasis on some of the technical practicalities of implementing a new framework rather than such a focus on the individual thoughts of each his employees on the whole process.

One of my favourite talks was undoubtedly Chris Shiflett’s talk on Security-Centered Design – exploring the impact of human behaviour. Chris isa great speaker, the talk was very engaging (had very lovely slides – nice work, whoever designed those) and was interestingly focused less ontechnical solutions and more on the user’s experience and unwitting psychological response to websites and their error messages and security features. With some videos mixed in this was a very thought provoking talk which was right up my street as I find psychology and people’s unconscious responses and reactions fascinating. A great way to round off the talks, thanks Chris!

Finally, and I don’t know why I’m mentioning this last, but my other favourite talk was Aral Balkan’s The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades keynote talk. It might have seemed a slightly controversial decision, getting a flash developer to give the keynote at a PHP conference, but any doubts anyone might have had about that didn’t last long. It was great to have someone so dynamic and enthusiastic to start off the day, to inspire us to keep working, to keep things fresh and interesting, and to remind us that we do this every day for the pure and simple reason that we love it. It was an inspiring talk just perfect for firing us up and priming us for a day of learning, questioning and networking.

Other talks that I should mention and heard great things about but unfortunately didn’t get to see myself included David Axmark’s Clouds on the horizon? Get ready for Drizzle, Hank Janssen’s PHP on Windows – the undiscovered country and Rowan Merewood’sState Machines to State Of The Art: Smart, efficient design using ReST & MVC.

That’s all about the talks. Look out for the videos though, they should be getting posted soon!

Between talks there was time to network, socialise and visit the many stands setup by sponsors and other organisations including, of course, the PHP women stand which was well represented and where you could pick up badges, moo cards and even chocolates (if you went at the right time). There were also Xboxes and Wii’s to play, discounted books on sale, demonstrations of software and new products, recruiters to talk to, the list goes on! In fact I didn’t quite manage to fit it all in, highlighted by the fact that I foolishly missed out on the chocolates at the Ibuildings stand, and apparently Sebastian Bergmann also had cake?? Oh well…

So to anyone who’s never thought of going to a conference before, or who hasn’t yet plucked up the courage then I really encourage you to go! If you work on your own or in a team they are a great opportunity to meet new people, get new ideas, get help and advice and get a look into some of the exciting things that are happening out there at the moment. If someone like me can go and have such a good time and get so much out of it then I really can’t think of any excuse for anyone else not to go too!

Thanks to everybody for making it such a great day!

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3 comments on “PHPUK 2009 – a review
  1. shiflett says:

    Thanks for the nice review. Glad you liked the talk. I spent a lot of time preparing it. :-)

    My slides are here, although a PDF doesn’t really capture much:

  2. loonytoons says:

    As an added note, and another great reason for attending conferences, I have just been informed that I have won a load of free books, thanks to the lovely people at O’Reilly who were running a prize draw on their stand. So thanks guys, this is brilliant, now I just need to decide what to get :-)

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