2011 Conference Recap

In previous years, I’ve reviewed & covered each conference as I went to them. In 2011, I got so busy that I gave up midway through the year and just decided to do a recap at the end.. it’s only now that I realized how many I actually attended. So without further ado.. here are the conferences in order:


I’ve covered CodeMash previously, so I’ll spare you from a second round. [post]

I’ve already written on PHP Benelux, so check out my PHPBenelux coverage here.


This is always a down month for conferences, but the day long Mongo Day Austin sparked Travis Swicegood, Sandeep Parikh, and I to start the Austin NoSQL meetup.


This month is always set aside for the chaos of SXSW. While there is much talk of the sessions, the alcohol, and many other things that Shall Not Be Discussed Further, I think the most valuable part of this one is the community. Conveniently enough, I was able to chat with Brandon Satrom & Clark Sell on Community for the Developer Smackdown podcast.


This month kicked off with SugarCon [precap]. This one was unique because I generally work in an entirely tech-focused space. This was my first foray into a mostly business space. First, it was intimidating because this audience usually speaks in terms of benefits, not necessarily features. Or another way to say it: How does this increase revenue or decrease costs? I spoke on a technical integration and while the session went relatively well, I would take a much less technical approach for this year. At the time of this writing, SugarCon 2012 is still accepting sessions.


The jewel of May is always php|tek (or simply tek). This was my third time being a co-sub-unimportant organizer and it just gets to be more of a blast each time. This year we managed to sell out the entire hotel and our hackathon managed to gather 90+ people, some of whom hacked until 2am.. after a full day of sessions. I also delivered the Closing Remarks. (Lots of other coverage linked from there.)

Chicago was also my first API Hackday… more on that later.


This month brought a very strong PHP focus. First, there was WordCamp Reno. It was smaller and more intimate than WordCampNYC which I sincerely appreciated. It’s one thing to see the people who make the software and the community, it’s something else entirely to be able to stop and interact with them. If you are in the WordPress community, I would suggest finding one of those smaller WordCamps to visit. They’re well worth it.

Next, we had Lonestar PHP in Dallas. It was a first year conference but the Dallas PHP community is large enough and active enough that they managed to make it work. I hope they do it again this year.

Finally, I spent a week in Redmond for Microsoft’s Jump In Camp. This was quite a bit different from normal conferences in that it was more of a private workshop. The Vision of it is pretty simple: Many companies want to use PHP applications but are on a Microsoft stack.. so let’s make our apps compatible. In my case, that meant working on SQL Server support within web2project. On this point, I have to give Microsoft credit. They not only brought in Developer Evangelists for SQL Server, Azure, etc but also some of the core developers that gave us walkthroughs on why some things behaved ways we didn’t expect. From that guidance and some work after, I managed to add ugly beta-quality SQL Server Support to web2project which should go out as a Release Candidate soon.


In July, I was drawn back up to Dallas to attend Drupal Days. Like most Drupal events, it was heavily focused on principles and practice as opposed to hard development skills, but I found that as a good match. There are so many false divides between the communities that understanding – or even expose – other communities is useful. It’s odd how often Drupal and WordPress and PHP don’t consider themselves part of the same group..

This month also brought a completely new experience when I attended and spoke at the Future of Jewish Nonprofit Summit in Chicago run by my friend Dave Weinberg. Since I’m neither Jewish nor work for a non-profit, it was educational to say the least. Once I understood some specific nouns (thank you Google!), it was entirely applicable to building most communities and other mostly volunteer driven efforts. My specific role was to interview Patty Huber, Director of Community Initiatives at Groupon. It was during their pre-IPO “quiet period” so the conversation stuck to their non-profit efforts and avoiding “forward looking statements” but it sparked quite a bit of discussion after.

July also brought Portland API Hackday attached to the end of OSCON. API Hackdays are a chance for a bunch of people to come together, explore some companies’ APIs and see what they can build in ~8 hours. It’s amazing what some teams can do. This was my first time running the Twilio side of things.


August kicked off with another foray into a new area when I jumped into the Lone Star Ruby Conference [precap]. Jim Freeze of Austin runs this event which is in its fifth year and honestly, it’s a blast. I didn’t know 2/3 of the syntax and it took some quick vocabulary review, but  Yes, I still primarily work in PHP, but sometimes stepping into another language/community gives you a new perspective on your own.

The second conference of the month was RESTfest in Greenville, SC. This was by far the smallest conference I’ve ever attended, but it was also the single most engaging. With this small of a group, after a couple hours, it’s hard not to connect. Every presentation can become a discussion and an active show and tell of how things might, could, and should work. People don’t hesitate to discuss, disagree, make their cases, and review the nuances of every single piece. In this particular case, we were able to record all the RESTfest sessions so you can watch them for free.


If I tried to find one high point of September, it’d be difficult at best:

First, there was the inaugural Austin Startup Week which was overall curated by Jacqueline Hughes who has become a super connector, organizer, and agitator for the Austin startup community. It began with Capital Factory’s Demo Day with an opening keynote from Dr Robert Metcalfe and wrapping with the first Austin API Hackday. It was a week of a lot of firsts, but also a lot of seconds where people got another look at what is happening in the area. I’m already looking forward to the next Startup Week.

The following week was the annual IT Expo. This was a traditional trade show with vendor sessions, ridiculous swag, and booth babes. The more interesting part was the Cloud Camp which had a much smaller audience and focused on concepts instead of sales. The IT Expo wrapped with StartupCamp Comms 4 which opened with a keynote from Dr Robert Metcalfe and culminated in a pitch competition. I’m proud to say that my friends at Flash Valet won the pitch competition.

The following week was the inaugural TwilioCon in San Francisco. While we initially hoped to sell most of the tickets and get a good audience, it turned out that we sold out weeks in advance and it was a great audience. It was a mix between business people showing how they use Twilio to make money and developers showing how they’ve accomplished cool things with the system. Videos of most of the TwilioCon sessions were posted recently.


The first event of the month was the online Day Camp 4 Developers hosted by good friend Cal Evans. This time around it was focused on Project Management with a special eye towards what we as developers need to know and use on a day to day basis. We covered concepts ranging from project management tactics to team psychology. The next DC4D is already in its planning stages.

Next, there was SchipulCon in Houston. It serves as an outlet for web marketers, creatives, and creators to get together. While “Social Media ROI” doesn’t spark interest for most developers, the sessions on Social Engineering, Arduino hacking, RC helicopters, and my session on Social (Network) Engineering put an interesting spin on things. I didn’t post my slides online, but much of the “Shattering Secrets with Social Media” source material is available online.

The next event – HTML5Camp in Austin – had a unique spin to it. Unlike many technology conferences that are focused on a single programming language or just developers or designers, this brought together local groups ranging from PHP, .Net, and Javascript to web designers from Austin, Dallas, and everywhere in between. The tracks were split between establishing what’s there, looking at the future, and then Open Spaces creativity.

Next, we had ZendCon in its seventh year. It is the fall event in the PHP community where some of the best and brightest come together to trade ideas and explore the state of the field. You can read my recap on DevZone. This year saw the launch of Zend’s phpCloud development system. At the end of the conference, I managed to sit down to interview Boaz Ziniman who serves as the Sr Director of Technology managing phpCloud. He provided some detailed perspective on why phpCloud is different from the other options out there.

Next was the Business of Software Conference in Boston. This was another unique single-track event really focused on do’ers. The presenters included our friend Patrick MacKenzie of Bingo Card Creator; Mike McDerment, CEO of Freshbooks; my very own CEO Jeff Lawson; Dharmesh Shah of Hubspot; and numerous others. In terms of the topics and information covered, it was a firehose full of great content but luckily the entire event was recorded and the videos will eventually go online.


The first week of November was yet another odd creature. I spent the time at DC Week which is less of a single event and more of a group of loosely affiliated events that all happen about the same time. It included a trip to the WordPress DC group, DC PHP, and a panel presentation during the full event.

Next was Entrepreneurs Unpluggd in Kansas City. When most people think of startups and entrepreneurs, they think of San Francisco, NYC, and Austin. This event turns that concept on its head. Instead of hitting the normal startup hotspots, they hop around the Midwest collecting local entrepreneurs to share their war stories, trials, troubles, and successes with entrepreneurs who are earlier in their journey. This was my first time attending, but I’m already looking forward to the Chicago edition later this month.

The final event of the month was Houston Startup Weekend which was 48 hours of hacking, chaos, and fun. It was my first real time connecting with the Houston community, but it was well worth it. They have some great people and I hope we (Austin) can work with them more and more often. You can read about the Startup Weekend teams and their projects at HoustonStartup.com.


The final event of the year was the eastern leg of our (php|architect’s) traveling conference called CodeWorks. You can read the full CodeWorks East 2011 recap on phparch.com.

And that’s a wrap…