There and Back Again – A Conference Tale

Every time I’ve tried to sit down to write this blog entry over the past few days, I always find it difficult to summarize the events on which it’s based. The time period had its up and down points, but overall, I think it was an excellent first conference experience.

I was finally able to meet a number of people I’d been speaking with for over a year in the #phpc channel on the Freenode network. Here they are, in no particular order: Cal Evans, Ligaya Turmelle, Elizabeth Smith, Elizabeth Naramore, Ben Ramsey, Brian DeShong, Derick Rethans, Mike Lively, Josh Eichorn, Patrick Reilly, Sara Golemon, Chris Cornutt, Jay Pipes, Sebastian Bergmann, Maggie Nelson, and Curt Zirzow. (And if I left anyone out, just let me know and I’ll add you to the list. Chalk it up to the alcohol.)

I also had the pleasure of meeting several of the speakers that I hadn’t spoken with at length at any point before the conference: Keith Casey, Wez Furlong, Chris Shiflett, Ilia Alshanetsky, Marcus B?rger, Christopher Jones, and Terry Chay.

And last, but certainly not least, I made a few new friends. I believe some of them will soon join the ranks of the #phpc regulars. Among them are Christian Flickinger, Jeff Sica, Michelangelo van Dam, and Jonathan Peck. I look forward to future conversations with them and, with any luck, to seeing them at future conferences.

I think that about covers the people, so onto the talks.

Monday

  • Marcus B?rger, Sara Golemon, and Wez Furlong gave an excellent tutorial entitled “Extending and Embedding PHP.” I think most of the second half was over my head, but I did learn a lot and do plan to put it to use. I’ve already got an idea for a project to start me out: wrapping the libircclient library in a PECL extension. Just have to read over the examples provided during the tutorial and brush up on my C.

Tuesday

  • Terry Chay’s talk entitled “The Internet is an Ogre: Finding Art in the Software Architecture” presented interesting viewpoints and was quite entertaining in the process. How many F-bombs it contained is a topic still up for debate, but regardless there was plenty of blood, sweat, and swear for all to enjoy.
  • Ben Ramsey gave an excellent talk entitled “Give Your Site a Boost with Memcached” and came across as a very knowledgeable and capable speaker. I look forward to hearing his future talks.
  • Ilia Alshanetsky gave a very informative talk entitled “State of PHP Security” on new measures being taken to ensure security in future PHP releases. I had a brief discussion with him afterward about the retention of the open_basedir configuration directive in PHP 6 and was pleasantly surprised to find that our opinions of the matter appear to be in agreement.
  • Maggie Nelson gave a nice iChat-style (read teleconference) Unconference talk entitled “You Don’t Need a DBA.” I think I knew more of the material beforehand than not, but it was a very well-presented talk and I was glad to have a little interaction with Maggie being as I hadn’t had a chance to meet her “in person” before that point.

I unfortunately had to miss the talks in the 4-5 PM time slot, including Elizabeth Smith’s Unconference talk on Building PHP on Windows (thanks to her and Jeff Sica for recording it so I could listen to it later), in order to take my ZCE exam. Thankfully, though, I passed and now hold the distinction of being the first and only Zend Certified Engineer in the state of Louisiana. (It didn’t really come as a big surprise to me, Louisiana being as technologically progressive as it is, but still… how often do you get to make a claim like that?) If it’s any consolation to Elizabeth, I think I’ve gotten through the part of her tutorial on setting up a build environment on my laptop’s Windows XP install and just need to get around to trying to actually build with it.

Wednesday

  • Elizabeth Smith gave an awesome Unconference talk entitled “PHP on the Desktop” using PHP-GTK. She also made mention of a few other GUI library bindings such as Qt, Winbinder, and her own WinUi project. It gathered quite a crowd and I hope she considers submitting a conference paper for it next year.
  • Shahar Evron presented a talk entitled “Content Indexing with Zend_Search_Lucene.” I was a bit disappointed with this talk, as I was expecting more advanced concepts than those I was already familiar with. I’ll be interested to see if a daemon-style solution is ever developed that is built on Zend_Search_Lucene.
  • Joel Spolsky gave a keynote speech entitled “Great Software.” While I’m not certain that I agree with his views, I must commend him for giving an entertaining presentation that seemingly managed to poke fun at every large corporation with a presence in the room.
  • Joe Stagner gave a talk entitled “PHP Diversity – PHP Applications in a Heterogenous IT Environment.” For some strange reason, my mind is coming up blank for this talk. I’ll probably listen to the audio recording on DevZone when it’s posted and say, “Oh yeah… !”
  • Chris Shiflett presented a talk entitled “Security 2.0.” It was a good in-depth view of some security concepts that I already have a vague familiarity with. And he included mention of the Little Bobby Tables strip from xkcd. What’s not to like?!
  • Christopher Jones gave an informative talk entitled “Performance Tuning for PHP with Oracle Databases” where he reviewed various approaches to minimizing client-server communications and gave good PHP-specific examples. I’m hoping Chris will at some point become available to speak at the Baton Rouge Oracle User’s Group. Hopefully he’ll have slides from his talk up on his web site shortly.

Following this was the Yahoo Night Club event, where I apparently made for a good show with my mad karaoke skills. While I’m grateful to Yahoo for sponsoring the event (in particular the open bar, which I unfortunately took more advantage of than I probably should have), I think would have preferred more karaoke to the comedian and magician. Oh well, such is life.

After things appeared to die down there, I somehow managed to wander over to the Knuckles bar despite my inebriated state. At some point, I apparently passed out at the bar. Special thanks to the friends that I ensured I got back to my room safely and apologies to anyone inconvenienced by mishaps resulting from my alcohol intake level.

Thursday

I was greeted the next morning with what Jeff Sica termed “the hangover of the Gods”, but surprisingly managed to make it through the day without any deja vu from the morning after my bachelor party.

  • Cory Doctorow gave an excellent keynote entitled “Stay Free! How Open Source Affects Culture.” He lived up to his reputation as a proponent of the open source movement and came across as a very intelligent and energetic speaker.
  • Hank Janssen and John Bocharov gave a nice presentation detailing the efforts that Microsoft has been making to ease the difficulties involved in developing in PHP on Windows. Watching Elizabeth Smith heckle their API examples was especially fun. I look forward to seeing what develops.
  • And last, but certainly not least, David Sklar gave an excellent case study-style presentation on API design based on his experiences at Ning. I wasn’t aware (though, after some thought, not really surprised either) that their API uses Atom.

I actually helped to develop the Twitter page on DevZone, and though some difficulties with Twitter made it less functional than we’d hoped, doing the work and collaborating with Cal Evans and Matthew Weier O’Phinney was a great experience. And hey, I even made it into a shot in the closing update on the ZendCon web site.

I’d like to spend a special shout-out and thank you to Cal Evans. ZendCon would not have been the monumental success that it was without his immense efforts and dedication before, during, and after the conference. And even in the midst of it, he was still around to greet everyone and introduce people to each other. ZendCon 2007 was an experience that I will carry with me always, and for that I owe him thanks.

I’m already being encouraged to look at attending other conferences in the future. Depending on the availability of funds and vacation time, I may try to go to the MySQL Conference next April in Santa Clara. Depending on how things go between now and then, I may even submit a conference paper on a use case study of MySQL by a non-profit organization based on my past experiences with the Acadiana Educational Endowment. Who knows? I haven’t even fully recuperated from ZendCon and already I’m thinking about doing the conference thing again; does that make me a masochist? Time will tell, I suppose.

4 Comments

  1. It was nice meeting you in person, Matt. If you can only attend one conference next year, I highly recommend OSCON. Even the PHPers who rarely speak tend to make it to OSCON, and it has plenty of MySQL goodness to satisfy your craving for a MySQL conference.

  2. terry chay says:

    Still bitter about Joel Splotsky upstaging me. Dammit! :-D

  3. Wez Furlong says:

    It was nice to meet you Matt.
    We may not have talked to each other very much this time around, but I’ll keep me eyes open for you at upcoming conferences, and not just because of the condiments! :-)

    I second Chris’ recommendation of OSCON; it’s my favourite conference of the year and covers just about every topic.

  4. Chris Jones says:

    Hi Matthew – it was great to meet you and I hope to see you again next year. The slides from my new presentation are up at: http://www.oracle.com/technology/tech/php/pdf/zendcon-drcp-11g-features.pdf