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Well, actually it's been over for a week now, but I digress...
One week ago today wrapped the second PHP Appalachia Conference. The first one was two years ago and consisted of a bunch of geeks sitting around a camp fire, hanging out in a small cabin, and generally having a good time. This time around, it was quite a bit different.
The highly esteemed Elizabeth Naramore - who works with Marco Tabini* of php|Architect to organize php|works and php|tek - took the lead and found The Beast. It's this massive mountain-top fortress cabin which sleeps 40, seats 40 in the kitchen, seats 20+ in the movie theater, and 20+ in the living room in front of the massive flat screen television.
If you've read any of the other accounts or seen some of the pictures, you might have seen something about a hot tub, a stabbing and ER visit, the firefighters showing up, something about a bit of alcohol, or something about some of the sessions. For the record, we had about 10 formal sessions and lots of ad hoc discussions that popped up throughout the weekend. What all of those things describe at but miss the point of is the larger PHP community.
Talk to any .Net developers and ask them if they've ever met the core people driving their language forward. Ask them if they even know who leads their community or who they can go to when something just doesn't make sense. Ask for help in the Rails community or try to do something outside the norm and see what happens. Or just try to write code in the Java community and see what happens!
Seriously though, there are few times and places that you can sit down with the people who are driving our community forward and making things happen in general. These conferences - PHP Appalachia, ZendCon, php|tek, php|works** to name a few - are the opportunity to do that. They make it so when you hit that particular issue or run into that specific problem, you might have just met the guy that wrote the code for it. Or find their slides online and be able to find that specific answer that has been teasing you.
That's the value of these conferences. Even the small ones - like the 30 of us at PHP Appalachia - offer a chance to meet and learn from some of leadership and peers throughout the community.
* Marco, a few other PHP luminaries, and I are working on something... it's mostly public but the "official" announcement hasn't happened yet. I'll wait a bit longer on that one.
** I have involvement in most of those conferences ranging from speaking (php|works) to helping in some portion of the organization. Regardless, I'd go to all of them even if I wasn't involved... that just makes it cheaper.