PHP North West 2012

Overview
Developer Aurélien Thieriot shares his experience of the fifth PHP North West conference, including highlights from some of his favourite talks.
Author
Aurélien Thieriot
Date

PHP North West 2012

I am writing this review on my way back from Manchester, where I attended the fifth PHP North West conference. But before I start, I have a confession to make: I am a Java guy. Well, let’s rather say that I have a Java background. That sounds important, but it’s not. Like many, I am a polyglot developer who likes to learn from everywhere and doesn’t believe that there is one mighty language or one unique solution for all problems. This event was an occasion for me to get involved with the PHP community and understand it a bit more.

1 hackathon, 21 talks (across 3 different rooms), 500 geeks and a lot of coffee across one and a half days (two and a half if we count the training day) makes for a pretty impressive event. And I saw a very nice balance between Apple devices and other PCs, as well as a lot of thinkpads and Linux based OS. The male:female ratio was not quite as balanced however!

The web wasn’t the only star of the weekend, with coverage of PHP internals, best practices, new libraries, not-so-new libraries, cloud computing and more, and that was fine with me. I enjoyed the variety of the conference programme and was happily surprised to see that even the sponsors were leaving us alone to learn instead of being on our backs all the time. 

Highlights

All the talks were recorded and you will find them soon on the phpnw blip channel. There were many interesting talks but a few of my favourites were:

Opening Keynote

A brilliant and funny Googler talked about the concept of affordance and explained why it is important to write well-written APIs. A trustworthy evangelist of the Software Craftmanship movement, he pointed out the fact that developers must be considered as equal to users in the development process; however they must also consider their code and skills as being more than a tool. Adewale Oshineye told a brilliant story of a violin maker (ask me about it in the comments!) which reminded us that we are craftsmen in our own art. You should definitely take a look at his book.

React: Event-Driven PHP

An energy-filled Igor Wiedler, the creator of React, talked about his non-blocking I/O (something I loooove) PHP implementation. He explained how, despite having a number of issues with JavaScript as a language, he took the best of Node.js (and he actually did!) to inject it in a PHP library. React make huge use of the functional nature of PHP, a subject very much “a la mode”. The ecosystem seems vibrant and I learned a lot about the community in this talk. My only concern is that he didn’t mention another non-blocking I/O framework (which, like me, is French): Play!.

Varnish in Action

I knew this tool only by name, and I now know how it works, thanks to this talk by Thijs Feryn. This awesome guy managed to explain to all of us how to handle a first installation of Varnish cache, how to extend it and the tools available to monitor it.

Other notable talks

I was also impressed by the quality of these talks:

Practical Date/Time Handling with PHP

Derick Rethans is, among other things, the maintainer of the Date/Time API of PHP, and I must say that he knows so perfectly his subject that I definitely trust his opinion. In this talk he explained how dealing with different time-zones is kind of a nightmare, geographically as much as historically, and why the Unix timestamps are not perfect. According to Derick, we need to store the time-zone as well as the local time if we really want to be future proofed.

Lithium 

Lithium is a lightweight and fully stacked web framework, and what I particularly like about it is its PHP-oriented way of coding. Richard McIntyre explained in his talk how he felt that Symfony2 borrows too much from Java, losing sight of the true PHP forces. Lithium instead goes along the multi paradigms nature of PHP, even if I must say that initially it seems not as easy to use as promised.

To SQL or No(t) SQL 

Behind this horrible title is hidden a very nice talk. I will not report everything Jeroen van Dijk said, but if you don’t know the different alternatives to the “classic” relational databases or you lack some information about a certain type of NoSQL system, I strongly recommend you to watch the video of this talk when it becomes available.

Conclusion

In the past I’ve attended many events focused on Java, JavaScript, Scala and more. At PHP North West I discovered a whole new community, full of passionate developers who are excited by the technologies of today. It’s often said that Java people are enterprise-centric. JavaScript people are great hackers. And in my opinion, PHP people are still searching for an identity. The reasonably recent release of Symfony2 has undoubtedly had a touchable impact on a majority of developers and changed the rules at some point. But there are a lot of different opinions out there. Some are defensive. Some are based on old reputations. And some proud people want to push the true and original spirit of the language into the spotlight.

Anyway, remember I am still a relative newcomer; if I don’t quite recognise myself in this community, I certainly enjoyed this conference (the fact that I won a t-shirt has no relation to that…). The talks and organisation of the event were marvellous (a little disappointing on the food, but you can’t have everything). And if I must remember only one sentence, it will be this: “There is nothing we can’t steal” – Igor Wiedler.

Comments

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  • 31 Oct 2012 16:16

    Hi Aurélien,
    I’m really pleased to hearing from you through such a nice post.
    Being surrounded by french PHP evangelists I’m not that surprised by their passion but not at this level.
    Must be nice to be around people who don’t spend their time arguing that they use the best language (i.e java).
    Thx agin for the post!

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