Why Should I Attend a Conference?

When the highly esteemed Zend'er Cal Evans was in DC earlier this week, a number of local DCPHP'ers met up with him for drinks.

2008 DCPHP ConferenceOne of the hottest topics we discussed was conferences. He – and much of the PHP Community on Twitter – are currently at php|tek in Chicago. Then we have the 2008 DCPHP Conference in less than two weeks. Then we have ZendCon 2008 in September.

And the question always comes up…

Why should I go to these conferences?

Well, they're fun.

But don't tell you boss that.

You need a better line of reasonsing. You need a line of reasoning that is irrefutable, undefeatable, and actually true. So here it goes:

Who is solving the biggest and baddest problems in the community? Who is working on the cutting edge of huge systems? Who is pushing the language and tools to new levels to do creative things that we'd never considered before?

Yes, those people attend these conferences.

And the dirty little secret is this: Yes, some of them are presenting, but even more are just there hanging out. These conferences are the few times each year where they can get together, talk, drink beer, and see each other face to face.

Stop and consider that for a second. When you're at one of these conferences and you see a group of guys sitting around at lunch, they could be random people who just met. Or it could be part of the core PHP team. That group of guys at the bar might be a bunch of random PHP'ers or it could be people from Digg, Facebook, Ning, Mozilla, Oracle, Microsoft, Google, etc talking about large scale performance issues. That guy getting coffee in the hallway might be the release manager for PHP. Who knows?

A few weeks ago, a good friend was running into issues on a large PHP deployment. After a week of debugging, he found a difference (bug?) between two recent versions of PHP in how sessions were being handled. Once he figured out the details and info to reproduce it, he was able to fire off a report to the Release Manager of PHP 5… and got a response.

And that's the point and value of these conferences. Yes, the sessions are great. Choose the ones that are important to you and go to them. I usually go to half or so. But make a point of walking around and talking to people. The people you run into in the hallways, at meals, getting more coffee… they're the hidden value at these things. You never know who you're going to meet.

The best part of all… there are very few primadonas in the PHP Community.

At my/the first ZendCon, I made a point of sitting down with a different group for each meal. As a result, I met some great people and some I'm still in touch with regularly almost three years later.