Over the weekend of November 14 a few of our developers made the trip to Wisconsin for the Madison PHP Conference. While there, we learned about our craft alongside friends and former members of the Webspec family. We made an effort to attend a wide array of talks and describe some of our individual experiences below.
Finding Inspiration from New Topics
I’ve previously attended both WordCamps and DrupalCorn, so the opportunity to attend a more broadly-focused conference was a welcome one. With PHP as established as it is, the result was a conference with topics ranging much wider than programming in the traditional sense, but branched into business practices, coworker management, a variety of frameworks and niche technologies that aren’t strictly PHP.
I often find these conferences to be more inspirational than anything. For example, I attended a talk by Austin Morris on microframeworks as engines for APIs. We’re pretty familiar with Laravel over here, but it has a spin-off project called Lumen with much less overhead designed very specifically for managing routes and data rather than views. While it was quickly obvious that there was a lot of the talk that wasn’t particularly applicable (as to date we don’t have any open pure API projects), there were best practices touched upon including unit testing, test-driven development (TDD) and strong encapsulation that I could (and should) apply to many of our own projects.
Another talk by Andrea Soper and Joseph Purcell focused on the concept of technical debt, an entirely different topic, but it had some overlap when it came to test-driven development, citing studies by IBM showing that while TDD increased initial development time by 15-35%, defects per thousand lines of code dropped 40-90% – a worthwhile investment that I intend to start considering as I continue my work here at Webspec. They further talked about the time saved by investing time in refactoring old, messy spaghetti code into encapsulated, manageable, object-oriented goodness. I immediately considered several projects that I would love to spearhead this on. And that was the topic of their presentation – just as the Lorax was the voice for the trees, we as developers must be the voice for our code, as no one else may understand the strain it’s under and the benefits of investment in it. If you hear from us in the next few weeks about refactoring your ongoing project, this is why.
New technologies like Docker and Facebook’s “Hack”, a PHP-spinoff, were discussed, and while they ultimately don’t feel like good fits for Webspec, it would be absurd to say we didn’t walk away learning something.
A Growing Conference with Great Speakers
This was the first work conference I’ve attended, and the first time I’ve been to Wisconsin. The new experiences allowed me to have no expectations as to what the conference entailed. I kept an open mind when I selected which of the talks to listen to. I’ll label the conference as a good starting point. During the closing they posted their attendance and they are growing year to year, so with some more people, the right mix of speakers, and better labeling the conference could be something even greater.
The talks I attended were Ditching jQuery by Hao Luo; REST for an Hour by Lyndsey Padget; How Not To Build a WordPress Plugin by Aaron Jorbin; Conquering Uncomfortable Code Reviews by Patrick Schwisow; and Hacking the Human Interface by Samantha Quiñones. This provided a good mix of technical and non-technical topics. My overall feeling for this set of talks is that Webspec is in the right spot and even ahead of the curve in these specific topics. Although I didn’t learn much, having affirmation that we’re making the right decisions is always welcome.
Like the name implies, How Not To Build a WordPress Plugin was about some common bad practices that developers often employ when writing plugins. I can say with confidence that Webspec avoids these pitfalls and is conscious of standards when we develop. What really excited me about the talk was the speaker, Aaron Jorbin, who is a core WordPress developer and the release lead for the upcoming major version. It’s an awesome experience to hear directly from the people who create the platform that Webspec relies on. It’s also amazing Aaron had the time to present when the release date is not very far away (currently target for December 8).
The talk Hacking the Human Interface by Samantha Quiñones was a pleasant surprise. While from the talk description I was expecting it to be about a productivity tool for developers, it turned out to be a more personal presentation. Although seemingly out of place at a conference about a programming language, Samantha confidently tied it into the overall topic of being in the work force. I could tell the talk came from a deeply personal place for her and thank her for sharing some of her struggles and insights.
From Outside and In
After being to a few of these conferences I’ve gotten used to bouncing from room to room, listening to other PHP developers presenting their insights on common issues, new resources and best practices. Maxwell Vandervelde’s presentation Demilitarizing HTTP — Developing API’s for Mobile Applications was a bit different. It was interesting to see the outside perspective of an Android developer and the hell they go through connecting to the web apps we build. He covered many ways of making their lives less hectic and overall more optimized and secure. Topics ranged from simple things like gzip compression, cache control and image scalability to using better resource management, strict data types, request structures and encryption (Let’s Encrypt: https://letsencrypt.org/). We also covered the importance of idempotence (TIL), meaning that repeatedly trying an operation will always bring the same results no matter if a connection was lost or the same input is sent multiple times.
I also found the keynote speaker Paul M. Jones’s presentation Same Thing Happens Every Time: Management, Movies, and Mythology entertaining and inspirational. As the title describes, he pointed out that the basic patterns found in most movies and mythology can also be found in our own workplace. He compared the different developer types (academic, utilitarian and problem children), brought up points on workplace structures and gave ways to deal with time management and work tension. I found myself relating while looking inward and finding many patterns within myself, both positive and those in need of improvement.
Overall, I had a great time in Madison and was pleased to see that Webspec is on top of its game (if not right on track) with the rest of the PHP community.
Our developers enjoyed their experience at the Madison PHP Conference and hope to attend again in the future. We’re always open to hearing about new conferences in the Midwest, so if you’re hosting one, give us a shout on Twitter and we’ll see what we can do.