In past years of ZendCon, I would provide day by day coverage of all the sessions, events, people, and chaos. I began with that mission this year – ZendCon 2008 Day 0 – but quickly realized that way too much happened which I could give justice to.. so I punted and went for the Closing Thoughts..
First, the sheer number of sessions and their overall quality was great. When I walk away from a session, I have a simple metric "Did I learn something that will help me work better?" I can honestly say that I could answer "yes" out of almost every session. The stand outs were Jay Pipes' "SQL Query Tuning: The Legend of Drunken Query Master" (slides online!), Eli White's "The Knight Rider Methodology to Software Development" (slides online!), Ed Finklers' "Where AIR blows" (other slides available!), and Terry Chay's "Making Frameworks Suck Less" (some slides online!). Jay and Terry introduced some ideas that made me consider a different angle on a regular problem while Eli shared some tips on some tools that will make my life easier.
Due to my responsibility in getting the unconference rolling, I made an attempt to pull as many people as possible into the planning as soon as possible. Some mentioned it on their blogs and passed the word around to friends and contacts. That was hugely appreciated.
But others went the extra mile and did unconference sessions. We had lots of people step forward weeks in advance of the conference to share something they were interested in. A handful of people stepped forward a day or three in advance to fill some of the open slots and explore topics they knew something special about. A final group did the most amazing thing… hours – some even mintues – before a given slot, they stepped into it with a discussion topic or point of contention within the community and discussed it.
The only way that sort of thing happens is because of the trust and excellence in the community as a whole. Numerous people feel comfortable enough and knowledgable enough to step into a position like that and simply excell. It's really pretty amazing to watch… and even the sharpest people don't behave as primadonas. Simply amazing. Which brings me to my next point:
Finally, we have Cal Evans. I happen to be biased here as Cal picked me to run the unconference, but it goes far beyond that. He's a good guy, friendly to everyone he meets, and genuinely works to grow the community in new and unexpected ways. Harold Goldberg – CEO of Zend – went as far as describing him as "Zend's Conscience". I appreciate the freedom and flexibility that Mr. Goldberg and Mark DeVisser (Zend's CMO) give him within Zend and the community as a whole. Cal couldn't do what he does without their support and Zend couldn't shine as often as it does without his community-building and presence.
First, Zend has to get their act together on power. This has been my complaint nearly every year and I'm still not sure why it's still an issue. The only upside is that I learned to plan against it and bring my Power Squid every year. It's been to as many conferences as I have. If Sun, Yahoo, or Zend put out a tastefully branded Squid, they'd see for years to come all over the place.
Next, speakers should be clear if they're speaking about their product/script or the general concept. There were a handful of sessions that consisted of little more of "here's what I did with X" without getting into the concepts. If they simply identified that as the goal of the session, attendees could make better decisions.
Finally, what was it with the wait/support staff? It seemed that coffee/refreshments disappeared as soon as the sessions began… if you stepped out of a session five minutes in, there was no evidence of coffee ever being in the space. I guess there's a coffee unbrewing machine hiding somewhere…
And the Ugly…
Honestly, I've been wracking my brain to come up something that was just horrible and should never be done again.
And honestly, I can't…
Even relatively minor things that were a bit off – such as the excessive air conditioning in Hall B – were corrected due to discussion in the IRC channel and comments via Twitter. When you have a live pulse on what is going on in real time, it's amazing what you can do.
So Zend, Cal, crew, and presenters… keep up the good work. I'm looking forward to next year.
Update: My friend and fellow DCPHP'er Shaun Farrell has collected links to all of the ZendCon08 slides on his site.