I haven't been too many conferences. DealerFire only pushed vendor conferences, fancy get-togethers in cities like Miami and Las Vegas where we all rubbed elbows with industry leaders and vied for customer attention. When I found out that Blue Door Consulting, my current place of employment, wanted us to attend technical conferences I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Midwest PHP seemed reasonably close, only a few hundred miles west in Minneapolis, so I helped organize my colleagues and we headed out that way in the blindingly early hours of Saturday morning.
The first presentation was from Joel Clermont, one of the main organizers of Milwaukee's PHP meetup group. He seemed like a cool enough guy and gave a rather abstract keynote about learning how to learn. It was a hefty theoretical discussion to have so early in the morning, one that had the potential of putting us all to sleep, but the point was solid. Conferences are a one-size-fits-all (like a sheep dip, heh) and that it was up to us and our learning styles to get true value during the weekend. I walked away from that talk determined to (at least try to) put in just as much effort learning as the presenters were putting into their sessions.
Honestly, though, the first day was a blur of activity. My entire group was a bit wiped from the long drive (especially me, since I was up late the night before irresponsibly at a comedy club in Appleton) and being around so many other people was overwhelming. I tried to keep good notes to come back to, a limited highlight reel to poke and prod further research afterwards.
My favorite presentation on Saturday was probably by Wim Godden about the 'PHP ecosystem'. Code processing depends on a number of factors, like the hardware, network, and data storage practices. He had a couple of cool examples of slow-running scripts that were simply utilizing the external resources poorly. It was cool to think outside the box a bit, to look at how one could structure code or the network in a way to avoid such issues, and he had some solid recommendations of tools and processes to help debug scaling issues.
After a ridiculously awesome dinner at a local Chinese place and a long night's rest the second day was a bit easier to handle. While I wasn't too sure of his acronym usage, Anthony Ferrara had some cool bits during his presentation/rant on structuring object-orientated code. Since I don't have a background in computer science I really enjoy picking up terms like leaky abstraction (Joel on software talking about leaky abstraction), Law of Demeter, principle of least astonishment, etc. He talked about how to recognize and a bit on how to work around such nasty issues that may result from OOP.
The other presenters I enjoyed on the second day were by Sara Goleman and Chris Hartjes. Sara works at Facebook and helps out a lot with the open source PHP community and HipHop and talked about the processes involved in the development of their platform. Seeing how Facebook went through the standard optimization techniques (network/caching/data) before moving on to the actual code render itself (HipHop), and even then tried to make sure they were building a system that their developers could use and test easily was really neat. Chris, better known as @grmpyprogrammer, talked about the processes of unit testing and some big picture concerns.
For my first technical conference I had a blast at Midwest PHP. There was a wide array of topics, from MongoDB to Responsive Web Design to Unit Testing, more than enough for the four of us from Blue Door Consulting to spread out and each learn something new. Plus I won Ethan Marcotte's awesome book on Responsive Web Design, so that was cool too. All in all, the conference was a great first experience and I can't wait for the next opportunity.