Why Community Matters… (Updated)

It’s easy for us to look around at the technology we work with every day and think that we can solve all of the worlds problems with a few lines of elegant code. We think that just because we have a mastery of our language of choice, that we can conquer any challenge we might face. The only problem is that we’re forgetting one thing. No matter how much code you write or how much time you spend pouring over that shiny new architecture you’ve dreamed up, there’s one thing that can never be replaced – the human element.

Most of the developers I know have started off with a language the same way – they heard about it from a friend. They casually heard the name “PHP” dropped in a conversation and either (depending on how outgoing they are) jumped in to the conversation or made a dash home to look up what everyone else seemed to be talking about. Without this word of mouth, I dare say quite a bit of the technology that we have today wouldn’t be around. Think about it – how many times have you looked at a new language or bit of tech just because someone else you trust said it was cool. Sure, it might sound a little like siding with the popular kid, but what happens if that kid’s the one who’s right? That language may be the next big thing – if not for the online community as a whole, then just for you and your development.

Think back to when you first started programming PHP (that may be yesterday, that may be ten years ago) and think back to all of the influences you had along the way. Chances are you didn’t make it to where you are today without a little help. You found blog posts of others that solved the same problems, you hopped on IRC and talked with like-minded folks trying to overcome the same hurdles and you shared you own experiences for the future generations of web developers to learn from. You’ve come full circle, sharing what you know back with those who need it the most. You’re a contributing member of the community.

So, why am I writing this if it’s all so obvious to even the most casual observer? I wanted to reinforce the fact that, even if you’re new to the community or you’ve been writing PHP so long you dream about namespaces and PHP6, you can always be more involved. Technology is great, but really – people are better. I can’t recommend enough the effort that the PHP Community Conference is doing to bring this human aspect back into the conference scene. They’ve taken the traditional conference mentality, turned it on its side and put an extra helping of emphasis on the thoughts behind the technology and less on the syntax of the day-to-day. This approach provides an interesting perspective, different from the usual track-based methods (similar to the Brooklyn Beta event).

If you haven’t looked at the conference, time’s getting short – it’s happening about a month from now, April 21st and 22nd, in Nashville. I’ll be there as a speaker talking about my first PHP love – PHPDeveloper.org and doing what I can to give back as much to the community as possible. Because really, without each other to help us through, none of us would be where we are today.

UPDATE: I want to take a second to apologize for any poor choice of wording I’ve used in this post. My intent wasn’t to make conferences like php|tek or ZendCon seem less in comparison to the PHP Community Conference. It was more of a commentary on the different conference styles – the “why” PHPComCon offers rather than the “how” sessions that several of the others provide. The ironic thing is that I’m also in the process of planning my own conference and it follows the track-based ideas. It’s a difficult process and I have a growing respect for people like Keith Casey, Marco Tabini, Cal Evans and the scores of other folks behind the scenes of these excellent events. They work their hardest to keep people from “feeling like a number” during their events, and – especially tek – keeping the community as a large focus. My hats are off to them for planning not only quality content during the day but fun, engaging activities during the evenings that bring community members together from all over the world to laugh, enjoy a few beers and shoot the breeze about all things PHP.

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