Last week I traveled to Austin, Texas and the O’reilly Open Source Conference to share a talk called What’s Your Skateboard? This is a talk I enjoy sharing. It gives strategies for organizing and planning work. I started out talking so quickly that I tripped over my tongue a bit. I got it under control and conveyed the useful strategies to my audience. In another week, I’ll be giving this in a workshop format at PHP[tek], and I’m really excited about that! A 40 minute time slot, such as at OSCON, doesn’t leave attendees time to try it out. The practice will become a lot more clear when attendees can get their hands on some post-it notes and organize work.
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!
We’ve had lots of talk about inclusivity in our community. A group can only be as inclusive and welcoming as its members, right? We know the saying, “A rotten apple spoils the bunch”. Bad apples affect the inclusivity of a community. You can’t control a rotten apple, but you can prevent it from spoiling you and those around you.
So ask yourself, “Am I inclusive?”
We all want to say yes, but how do we know for sure? I have an example to help you answer. Imagine a time when you were talking with three or more people at a conference. There are many other people at the conference. If someone walked near your group, did you make room for them? Did you open the circle and invite them into your discussion? Did you introduce them to the others? Did they instead linger in the outskirts or decide to walk past, playing it cool. When that happened, had you noticed them looking at your group? Had you made eye contact with them?
This is something I see happen at conferences, and it is both a great test and something easy to fix. I find welcoming a person feels great! The conversation may be interrupted briefly, but you can quickly get back on track.
I have also made eye contact with a person who looked like they wanted to join a group I was in, and watched them walk away instead. I recognized the nervous feeling on the approach and the attempted nonchalance when they walked on to some other place. I’ve been that person, shy to approach a large group. We probably all have.
It is hard to break into a circle of people together, to squeeze yourself in, not knowing if you’re welcome. But when the circle opens up to you, there is no doubt you are welcome. So now, how will you answer the question?
Are YOU inclusive?
Lately I’m thinking about my accomplishments this year in tech. I feel much more a part of the greater development community than I ever have before. I owe a lot of that to my Co-Organizing the TrianglePHP meetup group and my TA-ing with Girl Develop It. I have also overcome some of my hesitation to contribute code in Open Source again.