My First Foray Into Conferences

For sometime I have been considering going to a PHP conference. The plan was to travel to the US to maybe go to PHPTek. The biggest thing that really stopped me doing so was the massive potential costs. As I live in the UK the flights bio would be extortionate not to mention the hotel bill.

While perusing the internet last december I came across the PHP UK Conference which is organised by the PHP London user group. On seeing this I realised I was going through an unusual stage of having some spare cash so decided to take the plunge and purchase tickets for the 2 day conference.

The conference has been running successfully now for the past 8 years and was this year held in the brewery in the heart of London. From what I understand this is the first time the conference has been held in this venue.

The Venue

The venue for the conference was the Brewery which ceased to be an acting brewery in the 70’s. More recently the Brewery has become a conference centre . The centre itself is fairly sprawled out with conference rooms spanning 3 floors (well 3 that I am aware of). The brewery was very inviting and fairly easy to navigate once you got to grips where the rooms were all situated.

The Talks

The talks were quite widespread in subject matter ranging from the talks you would expect such as scaling PHP and new features that are coming with PHP through to using such products as Vagrant. The speakers ranged quite wildly in their abilities. Some appeared to have no fear at all and did not get phased (Beth Tucker Long, how you coped with the changes in schedule with such short notices astounds me) and others appeared unprepared (although I suspect this was more nerves getting the better of them at times. For some this was their first jump into giving talks (to be fair I cannot really criticise, i got so damn nervous when asking a question in Beth’s talk so I have no idea what I would have been like standing there for 45 minutes doing it).

1 speaker even managed to find a link between toilets and design. Aral Balkan is an amazing speaker and was an ideal choice for keynote speaker. I really feel for those people who had a talk directly after as Aral was a hard man to follow. He may not have a huge knowledge of PHP but his talks a very thought-provoking and inspiring.

1 thing that I was annoyed by was that some speakers were rushed off of the stage due to their talk over running. Although I understand that there are schedules and allowing 1 talk to go over can throw this out some form of allowance should have been made (maybe something to look at in future conferences).

The People

London isn’t exactly known for its friendly atmosphere and people as anyone who has travelled by tube or walked around Piccadilly Circus will know and appreciate however the people at the conference were very friendly. I did not socialize a lot (I know I missed out on a bit of networking there) however I did find myself talking to some very interesting people.

The range of different people at the conference was quite amazing ranging from people who are very active in the core development of PHP through to project managers (some who were new to PHP), and general programmers. Sometimes as is the way you can learn just as much if not more from others people’s experiences and opinions, you can gain a lot through talking these through.

The App

Prior to attending the conference I created a simple iPhone app and submitted this into the app store. Now I am not going to into detail here on my first experience of releasing an app however what I will say is that although it was fairly easy to submit the time taken to be accepted was quite annoying (especially as on 1 occasion on submitting an update the sql file did not compile into the package for some reason so the app did not work properly yet did in the simulator). The app itself managed to get around 30 people downloading it prior to the conference. This is not a huge amount but not bad considering it was uploaded a week before the conference.

I had planned on releasing more updates and features prior to the conference however time constraints did not permit. I am planning now on recreating an app but in more of a kit form so that it can be tailored for other conferences. 1 of the problems I found for this release was also due to schedule changes I was required to update the database of talks which is hard-coded into a SQLite database included in the app. For the next release such tasks will be retrievable by JSON/XML and allow users to update this way instead of updating the app in the app store (note to self contact the PHP London guys and ask if interested in an official app).

Conclusion

If there are any suggestions that I can make is that it could be worth having variable length talks. Some talks really could have done with being longer. Although I can see this being very difficult to organise..

The work that must go into organising such an event must be immense and PHP London did a very admirable job and should be immensely proud of their efforts. I have never been to such conference before but going by my experience this weekend I am sure it will be the first of many. I thoroughly enjoyed the conference.

Oh and I am really looking to seeing the recordings of the talks that I could not make due to clashes. Keep an eye on YouTube. PHP London advise these should be posted at some point in March.