PHP North West 2009 Conference

Manchester, Sackville StreetLast weekend I had a pleasure to attend the PHP North West Conference in Manchester. Everything started on Friday evening, one day before the actual event, with a pre-conference socializing in the Lass O’ Gowrie pub. I really enjoyed meeting and talking to so many people involved in the PHP community. Everyone, regardless of experience, were very kind and keen to exchange their points of view. Informal meetings with beer, food and video games are really good environment for expanding your social network. I guess it might be even more effective than exchanging views between the conference sessions. The conference was opened on Saturday morning by Kevlin Henney with his “The Uncertainty Principle“. Kevlin is not really a PHP guy. As a matter of fact, he has nothing to do with PHP as such. However, his presence at the conference was definitely justified as he generally specializes in patterns and software architecture. The talk was a vast source of knowledge about good practices in code design and dealing with uncertainty in everyday life of a developer. Sessions were performed in two alternative tracks. Thanks to that more people could present. Unfortunately, the choice was sometimes hard to make. I decided to attend “Passing the Joel Test in the PHP World” by Lorna Mitchell. Joel test is a set of 12 questions about software creation process aiming at quality assurance. As questions were prepared with desktop applications in mind, not all of the rules have to apply to the web development. Furthermore, in case of web applications some points could be added. Lorna extended the list with her points. I was missing things like doing code reviews and performance tests on it. Joel Test is a rule of thumb for best practices. I think it becomes more and more common in enterprise PHP development even though it is not called or known as “Joel Test”. Next Rowan Merewood talked about “Tools and Talent“. It was a funny presentation about role of tools in a development process and heroic developers who are finding, choosing and introducing these tools in their company. What really stuck in my mind the most is the thought “It is easier for people to attack bad ideas, instead of having new ones“. To stimulate new ideas sometimes it’s worth giving the team a couple of bad ones. After lunch Rob Allen was “Getting a website out of the door“. His presentation was all about managing the project to deliver a website. This kind of projects are a bit different in their nature than the web applications or portals. Rob creates the actual specification after signing a contract with client which makes finishing the project within the budget more challenging. But if you give it more thought, you will come to the conclusion that websites are in most cases built from similar components and their development  is not as risky as with more sophisticated solutions. Later Derick Rethans tried to make our life easier by presenting Xdebug (“Making your life easier: Xdebug“). I prefer to test rather than debug, because when you really follow TDD need for debugging decreases extremely. However, there are still many situations when Xdebug comes to rescue, especially since it includes features like profiling or more verbose error messages. Even though the tool was not new for me I enjoyed listening to the presentation given by its creator himself. Later on Michael Nolan told us a story about “Building an Anti-CMS (and how it’s changed our web team)“. It was an excellent example of building an application based on a robust framework (Symonfy) rather than using Content Management System. In this case it was easier to implement a custom solution than rely on a ready-made CMS. Michael made a good point saying that CMSes are slowly adapting to new technologies and too often tie us to a specific vendor. In my opinion, the reason why NOT using CMS proved beneficial while Michael’s team was building the system was that it was just too custom. CMS is useful and  can be applied in the case of building commonplace websites. It is hard to use with constantly developed solutions which often are expected to determine new trends. Scott MacVicar taught us about “Getting Involved with the PHP Project“. He presented many options of involvement and proved that anyone, regardless of posessed skills and experience, can do something for the PHP community. The project is open for everyone eager to help and it’s really easy to start. At the the closing session Microsoft had its time to present their Expression Studio and SketchFlow prototyping. Many people liked the presentation including myself. It was funny. However, the way the tool was presented didn’t encourage me to even consider using it. Some feature are nice (like versioning of sketches) but the whole product seems to be more suitable for developing strictly in Microsoft’s technologies rather than PHP. The day was coming to its end but the evening was just about to begin. First, lotterydrawing took place. I even won an e-book and caught a t-shirt. Then, again that day, food was served and SUN opened a bar with free drinks. It was like a bigger version of pre-conference party but the beer was for free this time 😉 Sunday was a day meant for less formal presentations. I didn’t manage to attend most of them as  I arrived to MOSI quite late. First I was hanging around with others in the corridor. Then I attended “PHP 5.3 – Hot or Not?” by Sara Golemon and “jQuery” by Michael Heap. Finally, I went for a meal with the most enduring attendees and speakers when the moment to say good bye finally arrived. I was having a really great time at the conference (as well as at the parties and the sessions).  Such events are really essential for developers not only to  improve their skills or the scope of knowledge but also to expand their social network. If you did not attend the PHPNW this year than you can still see the slides. Furthermore, all the sessions were recorded and will be put on-line (hopefully soon). Once it happens, the  announcement will be published on the conference’s website. If you joined the conference then you can follow and participate in discussions about sessions on joind.in. Last but not least, I’m interested in what your observations were and what conclusions you came to. So please fill free to give us the feedback!

PHP development manager in GOYELLO, focusing on delivering high quality software with clean and easily maintainable code. Follows best programming practices and use the best Open Source solutions. Big fan of symfony framework.