Jeff Carouth

Web and mobile developer. Agile apprentice. Photography enthusiast.

MidwestPHP 2014: My Experience

| Comments

It’s taken me two days, but I’ve thawed out after my trip to the frozen white north for MidwestPHP 2014. I know all the Minnesotans are rolling their eyes because it was a warm front at 10 degrees above zero, but to a Texan that might as well be human-popsicle-making weather.

All weather jokes aside, MidwestPHP 2014 was a fantastic conference. It is fascinating to me how every PHP conference across the country has its own unique vibe while still imparting the same passion, motivation, and drive in the following days and weeks. This one was no exception to that rule.

Venue Review

I had the privilege of attending MidwestPHP in 2013 and 2014. Let me just say that the venue for 2014 was light years above the venue from last year. I know for a fact the organizers listened to feedback about the location and took it to heart. The result was very positive. The rooms were spacious and comfortable; the projector set up was readable; and there were even a couple of areas to encourage the hallway track.

If I have anything negative to say about the venue it would be that there was no clear indication to me from the outside where to go the first day. Luckily I was walking from across the street with some other attendees and happened to recognize someone inside the building, but knowing the exact part of the campus ahead of time would have been nice.

Other than that, one of the rooms upstairs had a microphone but both batteries were dead. Normally this would not bother me all that much except I lost my voice the second day and had to present by screaming. It reminded me of my early teens when my voice would crack, but luckily no one mentioned this on joind.in yet.

Schedule

I’m just going to come right out and say this: I am not a huge fan of the weekend-only conference. Sure that is personal preference, but to me it is always preferable to have a weekday conference.

I really liked the line up and mix of content available at the conference. While there were several people I already knew speaking at this conference, there were also several I had never met. The balance can be hard to strike at regional conferences, so kudos to the organizers for finding one.

The after party was fantastic. The venue was upscale with the right mix of seating and areas to allow people to move around and form discussion groups. I took the opportunity to jump into conversations with several groups which is always a positive in my eyes.

The only criticism I would give about scheduling is how the talks were indicated on the schedule. They were listed as starting every hour. Logically this means that the talk should take 45-50 minutes maximum to allow some transition time. But many speakers targeted the one hour mark which left no time to travel between rooms or participate in the hallway track without missing parts of other talks. It’s a minor gripe, sure, but it’s important to effectively communicate that to attendees and speakers.

Takeaways

Both keynotes by Evan Coury and Aaron Saray were fantastic and inspiring. The main takeaways from those two talks alone are enough to say the conference was worth it. From them I am taking away to get involved in projects outside of what I do right now at “work,” and to push the boundaries of what I think I know.

I also really enjoyed Paul Jones’ talk on modernizing legacy codebases. Granted this wasn’t my first time seeing it, and it is a complimentary talk to one I gave later that day, but he does a great job conveying the message of incremental change in legacy applications and it is always a pleasure to hear him speak.

This might seem like a strange takeaway, but I was speaking in a slot against Eryn O’Neil talking about being a tech lead, and Brian Fenton speaking about professional software design, and, judging from tweets and conversations, I hope to get a chance to see those talks in the future.

My Talks

I had two sessions this conference. The first was Git and Github: Working Effectively on a Team and Introducing Tests in Legacy PHP Applications. I’ve received awesome feedback on both talks and am excited for what will hopefully come out of the experience of giving them.

In my git talk, I wanted to stress how to work effectively to spur communication and avoid conflicts. I introduced a rebase workflow which was met with some resistance from people attending the talk. I realize not everyone is into rebase workflows, but my point was to consider it as it is a powerful and useful option when using git. The best part of this experience was the several conversations I had at lunch, in the hallways, and after the closing of the conference before we were kicked out of the auditorium. Hearing from people about their aversion to rebase in general was very useful for me as a speaker and as someone who wants to effectively communicate on this subject. I now have a queue of things to consider before I give this talk again at php[tek].

My second talk was one I’ve given before. I wasn’t thrilled with the delivery, but I think part of that was due to whatever I came down with taking my voice from and congesting me just enough to cause me to not sleep well. Even with the slight disadvantage, the people who attended seemed engaged and the couple of conversations I had afterward were positive. I was lucky enough to run into a group of attendees outside the room who were talking about my talk and I was able to have a discussion with them about various topics related to how to effect the type of change to process and thinking required when undertaking a significant change to legacy codebases. I hope they were able to take away from that conversation as much as I did.

Fin

If you can stand the frigid temperatures of Minnesota in March (or, really, if you can’t) you should make a point to travel to MidwestPHP next year. If the past two years were any indication, it should be a great and useful time.

Overall I’d give the conference a 5/5, would attend again.