This weekend I attended my second Midwest PHP conference. I was excited to be asked to speak again this year! With the exception of Madison PHP conference, this is the first conference that I've been asked to speak at more than once1!
My family is fortunate enough to have the privilege of being able to have the whole family attend many of the conferences at which I am invited to speak. Since Minneapolis is so close to our home in Madison, we decided to take the whole family this time around. There were at least two other "speaker families" there as well. Both Beth Tucker Long and Patrick Schwisow were there with their families.
My son, Luke, has gotten to know Beth's son, Liam, pretty well over the last two years. The first conference they were at together was Sunshine PHP in 2014. Our families live in the same city now but the running joke is that we still see each other more often at conferences than in Madison itself.
Jonathan Sunquist did a great job of catering to speakers traveling with families. Family members were invited to the speaker dinner and he coordinated with his wife to ensure that there was a huge LEGO box there for the kids to play with. These little things are definitely noticed by people who travel with their loved ones. Midwest PHP has been great about this both last year and this year. Special thanks to Jonathan for this!
The speaker dinner was mostly a gathering of people playing games. It looked like there was at least a dozen games in boxes on the table but I only saw three things being played. There was a LEGO table, another table playing a game I wasn't sure about (sounded like an assassination game of some sort?), and a table that was devoted to Cards Against Humanity.
My first experience with Cards Against Humanity was in the hotel bar at True North PHP in 2013. I wasn't a speaker at that conference but there was a group of speakers and other attendees playing CAH that night. It was... interesting. I seem to recall doing rather well but I was sort of uncomfortable the whole time.
With so much talk about trying to ensure that conferences are inclusive I have grown to feel like CAH being played at conference events is playing with fire. It is a game that intentionally crosses the line of what people would ordinarily consider "acceptable" by most conference codes of conducts.
The general feeling seems to be that playing CAH is opt-in and that people are usually warned upfront about what they are going to get themselves into. I can see this (we're all adults about this, right?) but I personally don't think it is worth the risk. For my part, I don't plan to partake in playing CAH at conferences again.
I've been looking forward to meeting Jonathan in person! We first started talking when he was trying to use Sculpin themes to build The League's website but we haven't had a chance to meet in person before. It sounds like he'll be at php[tek] as well so we'll get a chance to talk again soon!
Later in the evening Jeremy Ward sat down at our table and he and I started to have an interesting conversation on diversity and what can can done to help to make conferences more inclusive. I got a better insight into the talk selection process for Midwest PHP and the work that he had done to help ensure that the speaker list didn't consist entirely of just white male speakers.
I'm encouraged by the fact that more people organizing conferences are being more aware of this issue. Even more so that some organizers are being intentional about trying to get more diversity at their PHP conference.
At the same time, Jeremy acknowledge that a speaker lineup that was 25-30% women wasn't something for which they were looking for a pat-on-the-back. While even the gender balance itself could be better, they realized that the speakers were still almost exclusively white. Jeremy and Jonathan both said that they were already actively discussing finding ways to improve upon next year.
The Lost Day — Preparation
I've found that I often end up getting scheduled for the last slot of a day. This was true for Midwest PHP. This sometimes has an adverse effect on my conference experience the day of the talk. This, too, was also definitely true for Midwest PHP.
I showed up for registration, breakfast, and the opening keynote by Joe Devon, "Accessibility: The Forgotten Piece you need to know to become a complete Developer". I enjoyed the keynote, on accessibility, quite a bit.
I have to say, I've not paid nearly enough attention to accessibility. I talked with Bec about it after I attended the keynote and she said it sounded like a lot of extra work. And it is! But more than ever I believe that this work is both important and worth it. Joe's talk was well done and I enjoyed the video's added to the talk to help make the point.
After the keynote I went back to the hotel to continue getting ready for my talk and to do some social media scheduling for the rest of the day.
I've been doing more and more social media planning at events over the last year. I'm not sure how much it helps, but I'm finding it to be super important to spread the messages out over time rather than sending a bunch of tweets back to back.
That Podcast has been sponsoring a few of the recent conferences I've been attending so I've been wanting to help make sure that That Podcast is active on the conference hashtag. Since we are sponsoring Midwest PHP, I definitely wanted to help spread the word. I'm not sure if we got any new listeners out of it but hopefully someone at least noticed us.
I've also been including That Podcast stickers on my copies of Wisdom of the ElePHPant. This was the first chance I've had to give these out in person at a conference so I wanted to make sure that people knew about it!
The official Wisdom of the ElePHPant Twitter handle helped retweet some of my announcements so that was cool. All told, I think I ended up handing out five or six of them. I know Larry and Beth were handing some out, too, so I'd be curious to hear what sort of reception they got.
I also had copies of "twig" and "stack" #ossart prints and a Sculpin "swim with the cool kids" poster to give away after my talk. Most of the work I did Friday afternoon on social media was getting people on the list to win those.
I snuck back over to the conference for lunch. I had a chance to meet some people from Spyder Trap and Kim Wilson from Root River Studio. It was nice talking to Kim as it sounds like she's been doing similar things. I love meeting other small independent shops and comparing notes or stories. You never know when you can pass work on to someone who is a perfect fit for one of your clients. And vice versa!
As I was heading back to the hotel Daniel Schulz-Jackson flagged me down and we caught up for a bit. I was rushed so we didn't get to talk as long as I would have liked. I appreciate it when people take the time to follow-up with me. Thanks, Daniel!
I spent another two hours back at the hotel reviewing my slides and checking in with people in Twitter before my talk. Bec & Luke came back from their day trip and had a bit of time to relax with them before heading back over for my talk. It never seems like enough family time, but some is some!
Bringing Sculpin to Life
My talk started a little late as the schedule had been starting to slip a bit throughout the day. I was mostly setup and ready when the talk should have started but I let people trickle in for another five to ten minutes.
The crowd was pretty small. I was going up against Jeremy Lindblom's, "What's in your project root?" and Eryn O'neil's awesome and ever popular "You Can UX Too: Avoiding the Programmer's Interface " talk.
I feel like I've been up against Eryn most of the times we've spoken at the same conference. I think I've only been able to see her speak once or twice? She noted that she's never seen me speak, so yeah.
Still, my crowd was pretty awesome. I saw a lot of friendly faces and that made me feel right at home. I had been tempted to try something that our church pastor pulled recently and ask everyone to "move up to the front" but to my surprise everyone naturally settled in together and closer to the front of the room. It made the whole thing feel far more intimate.
This was the second time I've given this talk, "Bringing Sculpin to Life." The first time I gave it was in a big room at Forum PHP in Paris, France. That time was very much me just talking straight through without trying to get interaction from the crowd. This talk worked great for that style of presentation at that conference but I wasn't sure that style of presentation would be right for Midwest PHP. At the same time, I wasn't sure how this particular talk would work with trying to get a little more crowd interaction going on.
I was pretty happy with the result! I was happy to see people were reacting and feeding off of that. I'm glad that I was able to adjust the delivery a bit for a more intimate setting. I haven't had a chance to do something like that before and I learned a lot.
On length, I think the talk went about five minutes longer than it should have gone. Given my history on this I'm pretty happy with that. When I'm the last talk of the day I tend to get way too relaxed as the talk comes to a close and not worry so much about the time.
Unlike in Paris, I decided to give a little disclaimer upfront to make sure that people knew that this talk was about creating an open-source project and not about using Sculpin. That was actually part of the social media work I had been doing as well; I had been saying for a few days to come to see the talk about creating Sculpin and that it was not about using Sculpin. At least one person told me that they were happy I had set that expectation for them and that it helped them know what they were getting into for the talk.
I'd love to have a chance to give this talk at other conferences but I feel like it is a tough sell. I think that it is pretty easy to assume that this is a talk about using Sculpin, despite the work I put into the talk description (and the "notes to the organizers") in guiding people's expectations about the talk.
I think it was Willem-Jan who suggested I use the title, "Bringing the Sculpin Project to Life" as an alternate title. I may do that in the future. I don't think the title is as strong but I think it might lead to less confusion as to the actual content of the talk.
If you saw my talk and want to rate my talk and leave me feedback on it, head to joind.in/13835 and let me know what you thought!
Sculpin; I didn’t know what it was and didn’t care really. That completely changed after Beau’s inspirational (and somewhat sad) talk about his journey to creating Sculpin, a PHP based static site generator.
— Zack Tollman, MidwestPHP 2015 Wrap-up
I wish we'd had more time to chat but it didn't work out this time. He was nice enough to track me down later to let me know that he was glad he got to see my talk. I'm hoping we have a chance to meet again!
I was pretty wiped out after the talk but I did manage to make my way to the social for a bit on Saturday night. It was great to see a couple of people but the family had made plans to head to have supper with some of our local friends.
After supper, we got back to the hotel in time for me to join in on PHP Roundtable. I wasn't as comfortable talking there as I had hoped I would be. The group was large and boisterous and I was sleepy and in a corner. I did end up getting to ask Liz a few questions about extensions as it pertains to Sculpin so that was interesting.
This conference was my first chance to get to meet Sammy (the host of PHP Roundtable) in person! I had been on a PHP Roundtable in the past and had barely missed out seeing him for the first #WurstCon but we'd never actually been in the same place before. I think it is great that he is contributing to the community by way of PHP Roundtable and I hope that continues to be a thing!
I made a point to try and attend as many talks as possible on Sunday. Given I had completely missed practically everything else that was conference related on Saturday, I figured this was only fair.
I had intended to get to the opening talk to see Yitz talk about Laravel 5 but I was running a little behind. I don't think I woke up until 9:10am which is quite unusual for me. Normally Luke is rolling around bed and jumping on mommy & daddy by 7:30am — maybe 8am at the latest. Not on the day I didn't set my alarm, though! Is OK, I ended up seeing Yitz talk later on Freelancing.
Instead, I showed up about halfway through the first session. Beth was in the common area waiting to head up to her room to give her talk on mentoring. I also got to check in on the #ossart give-a-ways that the conference was doing. Jonathan was nice enough to buy three of the 11"x14" prints to give to attendees! Beth asked for help bringing her extra bags of Code Climate to give to attendees of her talk.
I have been hearing a lot about mentoring these days. It seems like everyone is talking about it. Yitz's popular talk, Talmudic Maxims to Maximize Your Growth as a Software Developer addresses it quite a bit. Both co-hosts of Loosely Coupled are heavily involved in PHP Mentoring. A lot of people talking about the benefits of being a mentor or apprentice but, at least in my limited experience, not so many people talking about how to mentor or apprentice.
I thought Beth did a great job of laying down some basic building blocks for what one should expect from either side of the relationship. It was a little more "down to business" than I had hoped for but it delivered a great framework in which one could roll out a formal mentor/apprentice relationship.
Beth's talk was particularly relevant to me because I have been one of her mentors for almost a year now. I felt more than a little convicted of not doing all that I can to help keep that relationship going in the right direction.
Again, it isn't important that we do everything she laid out in her talk exactly, but it takes work and we've both been "too busy" to make the time to work together to focus on her goals.
Let there be no doubt, mentoring and apprenticing is work.
"Actively Learning. Actively Participating. Actively Improving."
—Beth Tucker Long on mentoring #mwphp15
Gemma's talk on git was by far my favorite talk of the day. It was much more different from what I expected and it was delivered in a way I've always wanted to deliver a talk on git. Now I'm not sure I could even come close to doing it justice. Well done, Gemma!
Sadly, I was enjoying this talk so much I took very little notes. Suffice to say, the question Gemma asked early on (as seen in the image above), "why do I have to care about this?" and I think she went a long way to showing exactly why you do!
I suspect anyone who was completely new to this concept might have been dazed and confused walking out of this talk but I'm not sure there is much that can be done about that. So much information was delivered so quickly and all of it required to see the whole picture.
I'd love to see her be able to expand this talk into a longer tutorial or potentially break this into several talks so that she has a chance to dig in more on some of the ideas.
Again, very well done, Gemma!
I've heard Yitz talk about his freelancing career in passing (usually on Twitter) so I was excited to see him talk about it in "conference talk" form. I was glad I did. He talks about it with such authority. It is very inspirational.
I've been ramping up my independent consulting business for just over a year now and many of the ideas he shared were familiar to me. I can't tell if he has gotten lucky, if he is truly better at it, if I've been unlucky, or I've not tried nearly as hard as he does. But it did give me hope that if I stick with some of the things that didn't quite work out so well over the last 18 months things may continue to get better.
I've actually been "independent" since 2005 or 2006 (I'm a bit hazy on dates) but I falll into the "putting all your eggs into (one client's) basket" trap since almost the beginning. When that client went away in 2013 with little to no warning it put me in a bad place. 8+ years and I had worked with virtually no other clients. Definitely not the way to go. I've been trying very hard not to get sucked back into that again but even now it is so easy to find myself working 30-40 hours for one client for extended periods of time.
A few (potentially paraphrased) quotes I took away:
- Stagger your projects so that you are never without work.
- Good clients respect a professional's availability.
- Good clients wait for good developers. Those that don't likely aren't the clients you are looking for.
- Know what you are saying 'no' to and don't dismiss things out of pocket.
- Every personal inquiry deserves a response-in-kind.
"Our job is not just writing code," is one of the big points I took away from Amy's talk. There is so much wrapped up in the "developer stereotype" that just isn't true for so many of us. I know much of it isn't true for me.
I thought it was interesting that she claimed to have gone into software development specifically because some test hinted that she might hate it.
Challenge accepted, indeed.
Great work, Amy!
I had a chance to talk to Amy just before her talk as she had just won the 11"x14" Sculpin poster! I had not run into her before that point so it took me a few minutes to realize who she was. I'm glad we had a chance to talk in person for just a few minutes. Hope to see her at another conference again soon!
The closing keynote for Midwest PHP was excellent. Liz did a wonderful job talking about the history of open-source software and gave a great overview of where it came from and how it relates to free software.
She also tackled some interesting ideas about the disconnect between normal users and the technologies we're all building on top of. As an example, she pointed out that there are only two maintainers of OpenSSL. The underlying message being that the bus factor isn't so good for some key projects that almost everyone relies on.
What can we do about this?
Give back by getting involved in open source!
Super inspiration and thought provoking. Liza did a great job.
This wound down pretty quickly after the keynote. People started to go their separate ways, some to home, some to the airport, and others back to the hotel or to grab a bite to eat.
I regrouped with Bec & Luke and we went out to supper with Jeremy Lindblom at Buca di Beppo. There were probably a lot of other places we could have gone instead but after the big post-conference supper there last year we wanted to try and start at least our own little tradition out of it.
I'm hoping to be able to take part in Midwest PHP 2016 in some way or another! The last two years have been great!
The only downside would be that the hotel and venue are not connected. Having a venue that is separate from the hotel means that it is harder for people traveling with speakers or attendees to stay involved.
Bec & Luke were very welcome at the speaker dinner and probably could have come to the social hour, but it is a far different experience from conferences where the venue is the hotel itself. This is largely based on our personal experiences with php[tek] and Sunshine PHP.
For example, I heard that Patrick's family was around but we didn't see them at all. I'm not sure if they were at the same hotel with us or not? Either way, we didn't have too many opportunities to run into them. Last year I recall seeing them as they were packing in their car to leave.
I'm not sure that there is much that can be done about this short of finding a completely different venue. I also realize we are very much an edge case! The Midwest PHP team did great and I don't want to diminish that in any way! We very much appreciate how much they did do to help our entire family feel welcome!
Though to be fair, I will be speaking at php[tek] later this year as well. :) ↩