Ever since I began attending conferences again, there have been several things bugging me.  Primarily it’s that so little has changed since I started college and later attended my first conference in 2001.  I ALWAYS bristled when a speaker would give a long list of their fellow speaker friends held up as community leaders.  There is no way to list every speaker in that list, so it seemed to focus on that person’s friends.  I knew the omitted speakers would feel left out, but I also thought about everyone else in the room who was definitely a member of the community who could feel left out in this type of talk.  It’s taken me a while to put my finger on this, so please bear with me as I tease this idea out.

When did I join the PHP community?

Well, I learned PHP in 1999.  I was a webmaster for a department on campus.  The IT lead, Kevin, said I needed to learn PHP because it was really cool!  It was, and in 2000 I took my first full-time job using PHP to do super cool things on the Internet.  I would say that I became a member of the PHP community when I first took the Webmonkey tutorial and began asking questions and building tools on the Internet.

At conferences, there is this idea that you weren’t a member of the community before you began attending conferences.  This fails to recognize the PHP conference community as a subset of the greater PHP community.  I believe this raises the stage higher than the audience and higher than the developers who use PHP daily.  I believe it puts space between the speaker and the audience.  I don’t like it!

Who is in the PHP community?

The conference community is a much smaller world.  You see a lot of the same people, and friendships form and you can see these people online in between conferences.  It’s fantastic!  And when speakers are traveling from to many conferences, they become even more familiar with each other.  The developer who can only attend a conference each year is less familiar.  This is a tight, supportive community, especially when you are known.  However, I firmly believe:

The PHP community is each one of us who use PHP or supports a PHP tool.  Because when we try to define community as anything less, we’re just forming cliques.

I learned a lot about PHP from 1999 to 2014.  PHP grew and changed A LOT in that time.  When I see the conference community represented as “The PHP Community” it very clearly omits my 15 years of experience.  It leaves out my peers on campus whose bosses don’t value continuing education for their developers.  Being in that space and relying on documentation alone to do your job and bring your skills up is HARD.  People in these legacy spaces are fighting an uphill battle to modernize their applications because the code quality is not valued by the people in charge.

Maybe, after all of this perseverance, they get to attend a conference.  They hear long lists of the new things they should be doing and judgements of how bad it was to do things the old way.  Then a motivating speaker defines community as these other people, and I just think it’s so backwards.

We are Community and So Can You!

I want to hear from the people who inherit these applications.  I want to hear how they’re overcoming challenges!  Because those projects are infinitely more useful to me than a talk about some new tool that isn’t even production stable yet.  I want to see the projects that succeeded and the ones that failed because there is so much learning there.  When we are speaking to people, we should be inspiring them to try something new.  We should be sharing tools they need, empowering them that they are valuable members of our community, and opening the floor to welcome them when they are finally ready to share that big project.

I feel very lucky that there were community members and speakers who encouraged me at conferences.  I know these talks mean to motivate people, and they also include a lot of history and support.  But it always bugs me when anyone labels the PHP Community as anything less than anyone who uses PHP. But I don’t always see that coming from the stage.  And the  stage has a louder voice.  I’d like to see that change a bit!