I recently had the pleasure of attending php[tek] 2013, a general PHP conference that was started by php[architect] founder, Marco Tabini. Held in Chicago, tek13 (as it came to be known as) was the first installment of php[tek] by new owners, musketeers.me. The conference featured a tutorial day with three-hour sessions, followed by three days of 45-minute sessions, keynotes, and a hackathon. The hotel’s main area was transformed into a locus for that most excellent aspect of dev conferences known as the “hallway track.”
Putting some Magento in tek13
My attendance at tek13 was due in large part to being accepted as a speaker, which was quite an honor for me as this was my very first talk. It was also due to the gracious support of Blue Acorn (we’re hiring!). My talk “Finding Your Way: Understanding Magento Code” was delivered on the second day of the conference. This afforded me the chance to talk with attendees about their familiarity with Magento, what they’d heard from out in the wild, and to let them know a bit more about the application and developer community around it. Though many of the attendees with whom I spoke were aware of Magento, most had not worked with it or had chosen not to work with it due to its infamous complexity (hence the subject of my talk).
My goals at the conference for Magento were therefore twofold: do a good job with my presentation and provide some information to as many others as possible. I believe I was able to counter the blanket negative opinions regarding Magento that I think are common at PHP conferences. I hope that I and others will be able to continue to do this at future conferences. Perhaps someday we’ll see increased direct involvement from Magento, Inc. at these conferences. Having some core developers or ECG members attend would be an even better way to get more info out there.
Great content in and out of the tracks
The conference presented some well-known PHP talent. There were numerous PHP core contributors, testing advocates, and framework evangelists in attendance. The stand-out presentation, for me, was Ed Finkler’s Uncon Session, Open Sourcing Mental Illness, where he spoke on the mental health struggles he’s faced as a programming human. It was an unselfishly candid, powerful presentation addressing a subject which is somewhat taboo. Anyone attending a conference where Ed is delivering this talk should go and see it. Even if you haven’t had to deal with mental illness yourself, it’s more than likely that you have a family member, friend, or coworker who has or is still affected. I don’t know how common it is for presenters and attendees to come to tears during developer conference talks, but there was a rapt crowd touring through the hell of mental health issues.
In addition to Ed’s talk on mental health, I attended talks on building with testability in mind, database versioning, Drupal 8, traits, UAT, and API-first development, among a few others. The diligence of musketeers.me’s speaker and topic selection process was evident in each and every presentation. I found myself furiously making note of several things which I needed to look into further, and I found myself continuing to discuss each topic with others after each presentation concluded. These discussions were one aspect of the so-called “hallway track,” which is an intangible but invaluable part of any conference. The venue’s origins as an Embassy Suites gave the perfect layout to this extracurricular curricula, as it was easy to see groups of folks gathered at all times in the hotel’s common area. Many were the impromptu pair programming sessions, one-on-one tutorials, and mini-talks, to say nothing of becoming personally acquainted with the people who, in aggregate, drive PHP, OSS, and developer craft forward.
Plan on tek14
While this was my first time at a general PHP conference, I heard many php[tek] alumni in attendance mention what an excellent job the musketeers.me crew did. The mobile app was a nice touch. Having attended a couple of comparatively large and well-funded Magento Imagine conferences (highly recommended!), I’ve grown accustomed to great content and flawless attendee experience at developer conferences. While certainly smaller in scale, tek13 was very well organized, filled with talented presenters, and attended by an eager developer cohort. All of these things combined to create a conference experience from which I gained much information and inspiration to learn more and do better. I hope to revisit tek14 next year. I have a feeling that it will be even bigger and better. I recommend this conference for anyone looking to learn a lot and connect with the notable characters from the PHP community.