A Different Kind of Conference: the PHP Community Conference

For those who have been following along, you’ll know that I helped organize a mini-conference for PHP, along with Elizabeth Naramore, in the Fall of 2006. It was little more than an excuse for a small group of people to get together, kamp, talk shop, and have fun—and it was a lot of fun. It was so much fun, in fact, that Elizabeth and Keith organized it again in 2008. That was PHP Appalachia. It was the stuff of legends.

I’ve long wanted to organize a community-driven PHP conference, as far back as 2004, when I helped form the Atlanta PHP user group. Back then, I think my conference dreams were loftier, but I’ve since attended twenty-something conferences and given nearly sixty talks. I’ve seen conferences as both a speaker and an attendee, and from conversations with many other speakers and attendees, I knew it was time for something different. Unfortunately, I didn’t know exactly what “different” should mean.

Then, just over a year ago, I received an email from Elizabeth. She wrote:

OSBridge showed that a community-driven conference can be successful and readily accepted. I know the economy is tight, but I think there is room for a conference that has no other purpose than to be an educational and fun experience for attendees. […] We’ve had a ton of people asking about PHP Appalachia, so maybe that kind of “retreat” versus “conference” idea holds merit as well.

Thus began a long thread of messages back-and-forth with a small group: Elizabeth, Paul, Chris, Sean, Ed, and myself; each one wholly committed to the idea of a community-driven conference. But I was still unsure. My uncertainty had nothing to do with whether we could run a PHP conference but, rather, what it would be that makes our conference different. I was tapped by the group to lead the effort, so I started some planning, but everything I did looked like the same ol’ conference. I was talking to hotels, looking at traditional venues, and thinking too much inside the box. All of that was about to change, though, with Brooklyn Beta on the horizon.

With its simple narrative of “make something you love,” Brooklyn Beta showed it was possible to craft a friendly web conference that was as intimate as it was inspiring. Chris himself is an inspiration to me because he views just about everything he does as a craft, something to hone and perfect. He takes great care and pride with everything he touches. The “make something you love” narrative was not just the theme of the conference, but Chris and Cameron put it into practice with the care they put into organizing Brooklyn Beta. They made a conference they loved, and it showed—boy, did it show!

At last, I had the inspiration I needed, and with the catalyst provided by Elizabeth, Paul, Chris, Sean, and Ed, I was ready to start … but not quite. Left to myself, I would fail, and by myself, I was failing. Working for a start-up does not leave much time to craft a conference. That’s not a complaint; it’s just a reality. Help would come in the form of two other Brooklyn Beta attendees, members of the PHP community, and friends of mine: Lisa Denlinger and Nicholas Sloan.

As I recall, Lisa and Nick were both interested in helping create a community-driven PHP conference, so Chris put them in touch with me back in October. The rest, as they say, is history. Things began to move fast, now that we had a small team to accomplish the work needed. Lisa visited venues and put together our budget. Nick began working with a designer to create our website and branding. It’s been a lot of hard work, and we still have more hard work ahead of us, but we’re making something we love, and I think that’s the important part.

During one of our many planning conversations, Nick voiced what would become, for me, the narrative of our conference: PHP Community Conference is a conference for people who care about PHP and the code they write with it. That’s really what I want this conference to be about, and I’ll keep coming back to that theme repeatedly over the next few months and throughout the course of the conference itself. You, the PHP community, care about PHP and the code you write with it. I want to hear your stories!

The PHP Community Conference exists for you to share your stories. Tell us about an inspiring project you’re working on and why it’s important. We don’t want to focus on the details of the code itself, but rather on how your project solves a problem or fills a need.

There are a lot of speakers out there. I know many of you, and we all know the drill. We reuse a lot of the same talks at many different conferences. Use this opportunity, though, to stretch yourself. Craft a new talk. Craft a different talk. This time, don’t just tell us how to do something with PHP, tell us what you’re working on with PHP. What does it do? Why is it important? These are the things that matter to the community, and this is part of what makes the PHP Community Conference a different kind of conference.

There are other reasons the PHP Community Conference is different, but I’ve given you quite a bit to chew on for one blog post, so I’ll leave the rest for later and for others to share. Still, since this conference is community-driven, I need your help. Even though our tickets haven’t gone on sale yet, I want you to save the dates! Put them on your calendar and commit to attend. (Ticket prices will be very reasonable, but we’re still working out those details at the moment.) Write a blog post about your decision to attend and why you’re looking forward to the conference. Tweet about it (#phpcomcon). Follow @phpcomcon on Twitter. Talk about it on IRC. Submit a proposal for a talk. Please spread the word, anyway you can.

Finally, if you have ideas for other ways you can help, feel free to let me know.

I’m looking forward to seeing you at the PHP Community Conference!