MidwestPHP Review

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It seems like smaller regional PHP conferences are popping up all over the place these days. While they don't have the budgets of the bigger conferences like ZendCon and |Tek, they do provide something those other conferences just can't: an intimate setting. The newest conference on the block is MidwestPHP. I've never been to Minnesota, but submitted two talks to them anyway. Both somehow got accepted and I had a blast at the conference, even while speaking (I'm terrified of public speaking, but it is getting easier). Here's some thoughts on the conference:

The Good

  • Organization - Many attendees that I talked to had no idea it was a first time conference run by first time organizers. Things went relatively smoothly. Kudos to Mike and Jonathan for a great job.
  • Speaker gifts - As a fan of craft brews, I appreciated a four pack from a local brewery.
  • Newer speakers - Smaller conferences with four tracks have space to take a chance on some new speakers, injecting some new blood into the speaking circuit. The PHP community seems to have the same speakers at many of its conferences. Midwest did a good job of mixing "big name" speakers (like Chris Hartjes) with relative newcomers (like me) as well as some first timers. Giving new people experience is great for the future since the larger conferences might feel safer accepting a talk from someone that has spoken before.
  • Attendees - It's great seeing so many people so eager to soak up knowledge. I made note of a few people at the beginning of the conference and mentally stalked them throughout. Unlike many conferences I've been to, they weren't always with the same group. Being willing to talk to random people at a conference is a great way to amplify your benefit from going to a conference.
  • The venue - Some intimate rooms as well as larger rooms, all with tables. Lots of wide hallways for the important between session discussions.

The Less Good

  • Speaker gifts - While I appreciate good beer, some people don't drink. And based on the four 4-packs I ended up with, some speakers weren't interested in carrying them home.
  • The venue - The rooms were very spread out and difficult to find at first even with the map. More signs directing people where to find where they're going would be very helpful. Also, as with most conference rooms, more power would be awesome. 
  • No organized social - There were a few attendees that I would have liked to socialize with after the conference finished for the day, but with no social event to go to they just went home. So it ended up being just a bunch of the speakers socializing with each other. While the other speakers are cool and all, I already knew several of them. I'm not implying that the social needs to be a huge party, but just reserving a large room at a nearby restaurant would be cool.

The Ugly

  • The cold - I hate it. My thin Texan blood still hasn't warmed back up to my normal body temperature. 
  • The snow - Delayed some flights and froze me even more. I admit it, I'm a wimp when it comes to the cold.

The Sessions

As for the sessions, with four tracks I obviously missed more sessions than I attended. Some sessions were easy for me to pick, like the ones where I was speaking. Some were easy for me to decide not to go to, like Chris's testing talk which is awesome, but I've seen it. There was a good mix of basic, intermediate, and advanced talks as well as a good mix of front-end and back-end talks. The talks I personally really enjoyed:
  • Scaling PHP with HipHop by Sara Golemon - Since the first time I heard about the HipHop project I've been fascinated by it, even though I never really had a reason to use it. Her talk was interesting from a historical and architectural perspective. Again, I'm probably still not going to have an excuse to run HipHop in production, I do plan on playing around with it.
  • Caching and Tuning fun for high scalability by Wim Godden - Great pointers for when and how to use caching, with some real world examples. Much of this would be immediately useful to sites trying to scale up.
  • Embrace Your Inner Designer by Josh Broton - This was a stretch for me, since I'm about as far from a designer as they get (I don't "do" pretty). But I actually feel like I gained something from it to make me a slightly less shitty designer. And Josh probably had the best delivery of any speaker that I saw. Just don't tell him I said that.

Overall, great conference. I learned a lot, met some great new people, and had a great time. I will probably make the trip up next year as well, though I may need a heavier ski jacket to protect me from the sub-zero temperatures.

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