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PHP UK Conference 2010

Last Friday (26 February 2010), myself and Ed Lucas from White October took a trip down the M40 to the PHP UK Conference 2010, hosted at the Business Design Centre in London.  The purpose of the trip was three-fold – firstly to attend some great talks, secondly to socialise and meet other members of the PHP community, and thirdly to see if we could recruit any budding new junior PHP developers (we failed on the last part but get in touch if you’re interested in working for a great web agency in Oxford).

The conference kicked off with the keynote speech delivered by Josh Holmes, on “The lost art of simplicity”.  This was a great keynote – some of the feedback I’ve read since the conference describes it as “nothing new”, or “knew this already” but regardless of whether you knew it already or not, it’s all too easy to forget about making things simple.  An example that stuck in my mind from the keynote was if a client asks for a report… and they’re delivered a report system.  Error, not what the client asked – they don’t care about a system to do it, they just want to know how many pencils they have in stock etc.  This seemed to ring true with a large majority in the room! It’s something that we at White October try and build into systems/sites we produce, so that the client has as much hands-on control as they need, without fancy technology or “cool ideas” getting in the way.

After the keynote, Ed and I split off to attend talks in our areas of interest.  My first stop was Stefan Koopmanschap‘s talk on documentation.  Another area which seems to get forgotten about! Stefan gave some great examples of how to get documentation done effectively, eg by getting your users to write the user manual (NOT the developers!).  In particular, he included “obvious” documentation methods which may be forgotten about, such as commit messages, DocBlock comments in code and unit/functional tests (we all do those, right?).  These all make for a much more maintainable system.  Great talk – extremely useful.

The lunchtime talk was given by Symfony legend Fabien Potencier, on new features in PHP 5.3 and how to solve real problems using new features.  The ubiquitous “lambda functions” came up, used as part of the example of the Symfony 2 Dependency Injection container.  Thoughts are divided in the WO camp on dependency injection, but I think once we shift to Symfony 2 and start using it in practice, it will make much more sense.  We also ambushed Fabien at lunch regarding the possibility of open-sourcing/releasing Sismo (the Symfony continuous integration server) but sadly it appears that’s not meant to be!

After lunch I attended the “hidden features” talk by Johannes Schluter which was interesting, if a little disjointed.  In particular, I discovered useful applications of streams eg for processing zip files, and  the PECL ‘inclued‘ package which shows you your require/include() calls. Handy stuff.  This talk was followed by “Regex-fu”, by Juliette Folmer – lots of sweet-throwing around the room for correct answers to questions; highly entertaining! I picked up a good few tips here, and enjoyed the explanations of how regular expressions work internally in terms of optimizing them etc.  I haven’t seen a talk with quite so many random characters being drawn on the presentation whiteboard before however…

The final talk we both attended was “Best practices for web service design” by Lorna Jane Mitchell.  This was an excellent talk, littered with real-world anecdotes from Lorna, and included again some “obvious” ideas/guidelines which I’d imagine we all forget to do from time to time! Things like stacking errors, presenting a consistent interface in terms of response codes etc, keeping as small an API as is needed for operation – all useful stuff, and a good way to end the talks of the day.

After the talks finished, Facebook kindly provided a large amount of free beverages, which we all were only to happy to partake in.  We met some interesting people during the next few hours, and tried our best to recruit budding junior developers… and failed.  Seems like everyone was recruiting at this year’s conference! We then headed back up to WO HQ in Oxford.

There were a reasonable number of stands, and varied ones at that, which was good.  The O’Reilly stand seemed to get a large amount of attention; probably due to the great discount available! It was also good to see the data.gov.uk stand in attendance, if a little sparse each time I glided past…

Anyway, a massive thanks to the PHP London guys, for putting on a great conference – definitely looking forward to next year’s!

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