Jack Barber / Website Design

PHPNE Conference 2013

I love living and working in Whitby.  It's probably one of the best places in the country to bring up a young family.  And, never having enjoyed the busyness of bigger towns and cities, the pace of life suits my laid-back attitude.

However, there are drawbacks, particularly professionally.

There are a few things a small town like Whitby can't provide.  Especially when the nearest larger towns are 40 mins or more drive away.  From a work perspective, as far as I am aware, I am the only website developer in town who's sole job is building websites.  This means there is little chance to meet with, work with, and learn from other like-minded individuals.

Last year I attended DIBI, a conference which has really made its mark not only in the North East, but also nationally and internationally, drawing talented speakers from around the globe.  It is usually held in April, but this year things are a little different, and the conference is scheduled for 7th/8th October (yes, I've already got my ticket).

However, there's a new kid on the block, in the form of PHPNE Conference.  PHPNE is a user-group for PHP developers in the north east of England and this year was the first time they'd organised a conference.  And what a great job they did!

The venue - Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle

Arriving a little late (I had forgotten to add extra travel time for slow traffic and fog) the conference got underway at about 9.30am.  I attended a great mixture of talks, picking what I thought would most benefit me from the two tracks on offer.

@BastianHofmann talking about Measuring and Logging Everything in Real-Time

I won't go into the detail of each talk I attended, but here are some of the stand-out thoughts and ideas from the day which I hope to implement into my projects over the coming months:

  • I cannot and should not attempt to be the best at everything - even if I am a 1-man company.
  • I need to learn and implement some kind of script versioning.
  • Practice makes perfect - I need to push myself to improve what I do.
  • I should search out the best solution, not just the easy options.
  • Building APIs (Application Programming Interface) into projects can make them far more useful, to me and to others.
  • Utliising more APIs can give better access to data and a better experience for users.
  • Setting up proper logging, reporting and analytics (not just Google Analytics) can give me a better understanding of how users are interacting with my projects and help solve problems more efficiently.
  • Designing systems to make them more 'fail proof' will provide a better service to my clients.  Whether it be server failure or more simply graceful degredation in the interfaces I design, it's far better for a system to offer limited functionality for a period than for a problem to cause an entire site to go offline or become unusable.
  • I should be helping to educate my clients about 'the cloud' - what it is and how it can benefit them and their businesses.

@DaveGardnerIsMe talking about failure

As well as an excellent choice of talks and speakers, the venue was also fantastic.  Tyneside Cinema is an independent cinema in Newcastle's city centre.  It was perfect for an event such as this.  We had access to a couple of different cinema rooms (one for each track) and a variety of other communal spaces.

All in all it was a great day.  Megan (my wife) came with me and we enjoyed a few hours without the children, staying in the adequate-but-could-be-better Vermont Hotel and travelling back home this morning.  I'm look forward to next year's event already.

So what now?

It's easy to walk away from events such as this feeling ready to make changes, apply new techniques and develop what we do for the benefit of ourselves and those we work for.  In practice it is much more difficult to achieve.  So I'm setting myself three tasks in the hope that I'll follow through on at least some of what I've heard.  Here are my ideas:

  • Create some kind of creative community meet-up in Whitby, open to creatives from all fields (art, music, digital and so on).  Keep your eye on www.whitbycreatives.co.uk for more information!
  • Make better use of my client mailing-list to provide useful information about cloud-based tools which may benefit the people I work with.
  • Strive to write better code and design better interfaces.

I'll let you know how I get on.