Pragmatism in the real world

A few thoughts on conferences

Last week, I attended PHPUK 2024. This is one of the major PHP conferences and I was pleased to speak about DDD there. Sam and the team did a fantastic job this year with the videos already published.

To my mind, attending a conference provides a number of benefits. The first and most obvious one is that you learn some amazing things, from people who tend to know what they are talking about. At PHPUK there were talks directly relevant to day-to-day development, such as testing, API development and git usage. In addition, you get the opportunity to learn new things that may not be directly applicable today, but are useful for wider understanding or future applicability. I include the talks on serverless, pair programming, and non-traditional uses of PHP from this year’s conference in this category.

One thing that a conference programme provides is curation. Sure, you can go to YouTube and find things to learn, but a conference provides a constrained set that the organisers believe is relevant now.

In addition to the content itself, there’s the so-called hallway track. This is short-hand for “talking to people informally during the conference”. We could also call it networking.

The people at a conference know things that you don’t and lots of them love to talk about the conference subjects. You can learn much by asking someone what they thought about a talk and then letting the conversation grow from there. If I see a group of people chatting in a break, I’ll wander over and join the circle and listen to the conversation. I’ll invariably learn something. The people you meet can also become useful contacts for the future. I have met many people at conferences and by these connections, have advanced my knowledge and career.

It’s hard to summon up the courage to talk to someone, but in my experience, the speakers in particular are approachable. You already have a conversation starter as you can ask them about their talk and I’ve found that they are always very happy to chat.

I invariably come away from a conference inspired to do better work at my day-job and also to contribute to the community scene too. The energy from like-minded people at the same event all excited about the same topic cannot be underestimated.

There are many PHP and related conferences all over the world this year and I recommend that you try to attend one. In the US, php[tek] is in Chicago in April, In Europe, there’s Amsterdam’s Dutch PHP Conference in March and then phpday in Verona in May. For UK folks, Laravel Live UK is in London in June. This is just scratching the surface and of course there are more in the second half of the year. The PHP website has a rather useful list of PHP conferences, so check it out.

There’s also tech-agnostics conferences on topics like APIs, DDD, Open Source, and so on. I also recommend considering these too. You will be exposed to different ways of thinking that you can bring back to your own projects. The value of this cross-contamination of ideas across communities cannot be underestimated.

I’ve also found that relatively few people spend much of their time immersed in learning online in their own time. Another clear advantage of a conference is that you have reserved time and space for learning both formally and informally. Give yourself this opportunity and take advantage it.