Midwest PHP: 2014

It's been a long year since the initial Midwest PHP conference kicked off in the Twin Cities. During that time the community has changed, new technologies have cropped up, and other things that once seemed so shiny and cool are starting to show a bit of tarnish. Also, I've personally had the opportunity to start using some more industry-standard tools (Git flow, queuing systems, Puppet, etc), allowing me to come into the conference this year with at least some base knowledge on many of the topics that were being covered.

One big change for Mark, David, and I (all three of us came over together last year) was arriving a day early. Last year we were all working at Blue Door and decided to make the drive on Saturday morning. It left us exhausted and rushed for the entire conference. This year we all work at separate jobs (yay turnover!) but still met up in Minneapolis on Friday evening over drinks. It was relaxing, easy, and gave us plenty of time to catch up and converse with other attendees before the conference.

Saturday kicked off with a surprising talk from Evan Coury about his semi-legal jaunt into programming. It was relatable and wildly hilarious. Afterwards I rolled straight into the technical, getting a refresher on Vagrant, picking up some helpful Git tips (rebase can be more helpful than not), and then some CLI from the infamous Cal Evans. Cal has been a key contributor to the PHP community for many years and gave a great talk, reminding me more of a charismatic professor than a stereotypical programmer.

There were more good sessions later in the afternoon, like Unit Tests and Composer with Beau Simensen. By the time the first day was done I felt like my head was stuffed with good knowledge. We wandered over to the after party, chatting about the sessions and debating different technologies. This was something new from last year, the after party. One of the sponsors (Constant Contact) was covering food and drinks at a rather fancy spot (the Marin). We crowded in with the rest of the attendees. The next few hours was spent trying to talk over the din and meeting more and more people. It wasn't difficult to crash that evening.

Sunday started with an excellent keynote from Aaron Saray about seven pieces of good advice ranging from mentorship to development practices. While it was a bit more serious than Evan's keynote he did have plenty of good jokes and light moments to keep us awake. There were plenty of other sessions that day about Responsive Design and HTTP REST and RabbitMQ, but there was one that I was truly excited about.

Legacy applications is a problem that I've faced several times. Some companies were aware of the issue and attempted to work with the development team to fix it while others were completely oblivious, taking the stance of 'if it works, it works'. Not only was there a talk about it at Midwest PHP, it was done by Paul Jones, a key contributor to the PHP community who is writing a book about the very topic. The session was incredible, breaking down how to define the issue and come up with a reasonable approach for resolution. Even though there were plenty of great sessions during the conference this one definitely left the biggest impact.

On the long drive back Mark, Kenn and I had plenty of time to reflect back on the conference. Sure, the numbers seemed a bit lower this year and there were less sessions to choose from. Also, there seemed to be a lot more vendor-specific talks and less overall good practice ones. It was still a great time and, if any, is starting to feel more polished and mature. I can't wait for next year's trek to Minneapolis.