A Reminder

Organisers of events, whether working for their local user group, conference or camp, put a lot of time into making the best possible event for attendees. A great event is created when everyone there participates, and this includes the attendees – so here are some tips from me to you, covering things we can all do to make events we go to that tiny bit better.

Turn your phones on silent

Learn from my mistake – there is nothing more embarrassing than when everyone turns their heads and stares at you whilst your phone is ringing.

Keep being curious

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but I think it’s something we should celebrate.

No question is too stupid or too small. Raise that hand up, ask that question. I can guarantee someone else has the same question as you. They also think they are being silly for not knowing the answer.

If you are shy about asking the question in front of the audience, ask the speaker when they get off stage, or in the hallway.

If you are on the recieving end of this curiosity, I’m sure there was a time when you had similar questions, and you most likely still have questions every day. Be patient and watch how you can inspire and support someone as their understanding increases.

Manners are free

If you are at a conference or user group and someone is stood up speaking, regardless of who that person is, shut up and listen.

They have chosen to share some words with the room. They may have had to build up the courage to stand up and share those words with you, so the least you can do is show respect for their effort.

We can hear you

Talking under your breath to yourself, or whispering to your neighbour whilst someone is speaking is plain rude, no matter the reason. If this happens because you agree or disagree with what is being said, nod or shake your head. Everyone else can hear you whispering – after all, the rest of the room is listening.

As a speaker this is really distracting and irritating. It’s like talking in a virtual meeting whilst hearing feedback of your own voice.

As an attendee, it’s like having a bee buzz in your ear whilst trying to pay attention. It is even worse when the conversation you are having is nothing to do with the topic that is being presented to you. No, I don’t really care about how to implement this functionality whilst in a talk about accessibility.

If you must talk – leave the room quietly or go old school and write a note and pass it on.

Say Hello

I’ve seen it countless times: People who have taken a big step and gone to an event on their own, where they have known no one, and stand on their own looking a little shy as everyone around them is in their cliques. Even though I’m on the extrovert side of the scale, this happens to me too.

If you see these people, extend a hand out, say hello, step aside, make room and wave them in to participate in the conversation.

This is one of the biggest things we can to do make our community welcoming to everyone who passes through.

If you are stuck for ways to strike a conversation, here’s a few of my go to questions I use constantly.

  • Hi, what did you think of that talk?

    This is great at nearly every event. You can also follow it with – Have you used [ insert subject of the talk ] before?

  • Hey, been to any good talks?

    Good during breaks and lunches at a conference

  • Hi, I’m [ insert name here ], have you travelled far?
  • Gosh the weather is [ insert observation of weather here ]…

    Rather British but a classic

If you don’t attend events for what ever reason…

There is no reason to fear missing out

If there is anything that 2015 has taught me is that the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is very real and is a real pain. The 2015 FOMO basically meant I was never home, I put my personal life on a serious back burner and meant I travelled with a messed up ankle because I hadn’t made time for the doctors.

Don’t misread this as me complaining, because it was totally worth all the adventures, conversations and people I have met this year.

Quality over quantity

What I have learnt this year is that it is better to attend fewer events with more energy. To learn, absorb the atmosphere and have quality in-depth conversations with a select few, is better than running to chase after every conference badge.

There are ways to be part of the conversation without having to leave your home. IRC, Twitter, personal blogs, mailing lists – the list is long. Join in and take part virtually.

One final thing

It is important to leave a empty space for new people to fill – whether that is as a conference, camp or user group organiser, speaker, developer, [insert role here], etc.

If Lorna had never left the PHPNW organising team, would I have been asked to join them? Would I have worked hard to make everyone feel as at home at in my home town as I did?

We have a responsibility to pass on our roles to others. This reduces bus factor within communities, and tills the soil allowing next season’s budding talent to grow.

As a community let’s celebrate building legacies not linchpins. Let’s work together to create a better community than the one we each walked into. Leave a legacy that can survive without us for those moments when life throws a spanner in the works.

There is always a choice

This is the one thing that I remember from therapy that has stuck with me all these years.

Whatever we do, whenever we do it, we are performing a choice. The choices we face are not always favourable, but they are choices none the less.

This includes the momentary choices we make on how we act as a person, a team and a community.

I’ll be stepping into 2016 trying to make the best choices for myself, the people around me and ultimately, for the community.

I hope you will join me.

To 2016 and beyond!

Image by bibliojojo titled: Reminder3

About not giving up…

In the past 3 years, I went from freelance webmaster on my own —badly maintaining my so called framework— to a community aware developer. This transition was made easy being a member of the local PUG afup Lyon and being more and more involved at a broader range with the French PHP User Group. I can say PHP and its community had a big impact on my job opportunities, my vision of openness and my life as well.

The HaPHPy Birthday project

Not being a code genius, I wondered how I could contribute to the general effort or at least, how I could thank those who made it happen so far.

HaPHPy Birthday - the PHP movie
I started the HaPHPy Birthday project to allow anyone like me to express her/his feelings toward this incredible community. The idea was to gather people in a collaborative movie in order to pay a tribute to the PHP language, to those who helped building it to what it is today, to all the families it’s made of (WordPress, Drupal, Magento, ZF, Symfony…).

A story of enjoyment, doubt and satisfaction

I guess starting to think about the project late spring and building the website during summer was not optimal. On September the 1st, official opening for contributing, only 18 groups were supporting the project on the 200ish I contacted. Well, I was not totally happy with it but I was thinking it was just the beginning.

A good start

In fact, the kickoff went pretty well. Some of the people I admire for their involvement toward the PHP community like James Titcumb, Erika Heidi, Adam Culp… (just naming few) contributed quite early. Another good surprise was the translation of the website in Spanish by Luis Montealegre from the Comunidad PHP Puebla. Icing on the cake, came the video from the Kenyan PHP User Group, simple and so fresh! It gave me the Force to continue the long-term job of contacting the groups — I hope I wasn’t to spammy 😆. Reaching the target of 100 contributions to have a decent movie seemed obvious.

Winter was coming

And it came suddenly. Mid September, contributions almost stopped and a period of doubt began. New user groups were just supporting the project but few compared to the amount I contacted and surely not enough to make a representative video of the community. The minimum of 100 participations became uncertain. The long process of contacting groups and convincing people had worn me out. At one point, I considered giving up.

Gif kid begging for more (extract from silent movie)

Losing heart? Just look at what you achieved so far… with the help of others.

I made a break. I had a look at what was achieved so far. Well, most of the work was done and there was still time. At least, I could let run the project smoothly and see what it will become. A thought that kept me going on was the people who trusted in the project. I didn’t want to disappoint the first contributors, the early supporting groups or those who helped starting up the project.

PUG organizer opening a GitHub account to support HaPHPy Birthday
A non-techy community organiser creating a GitHub account and making her first pull request to add her group to the video. It seems pretty common to a lot of us but I took it for a great gesture.

Then new PHP user groups joined in to support the initiative, with more and more positive feedbacks about it. People I contacted expressed how much they were looking forward to the final movie. My mind was up again to make that one last effort in the communication campaign. Eventually, contributions went over the minimum required goal making the PHP movie come true.

A haPHPy end

The final movie reflects the PHP community. One made of people, of user groups, of companies… I’m glad with the overall result, the video is nice.

Starting to work on it, I didn’t imagine what I would have to go through to make it work (especially the relational side of it). For sure, the PHP movie would not be here today without the community support.

Exploring outside the bubble

When I was growing up I always wanted to be an expert in something – anything really. Most recently I’ve focussed these efforts on Drupal. I’ve started maintaining a few contributed modules as an extension of my full-time work as an engineer at Acquia. The Drupal community is amazing and has really opened my eyes to the power of open source. I started attending Drupal user groups, Drupal camps, and Drupal conferences — I’m even writing this while wearing a “Drupal” sweatshirt.  I’m still by no means an expert, but I have become “comfortable”. I’ve also come to recognize that I’m in a Drupal bubble — one that may be limiting my growth as a developer.

Stepping outside

I managed to get funding to attend the nearby php[world] conference, and while I originally intended on focusing on the Drupal tracks, I soon realized that this was just the place to step outside of the Drupal bubble for a few days.

At this conference I got a breath of fresh air in terms of approaches to common development problems. I attended sessions on topics common to all of us such as standards, testing, caching implementations, and source control. At each session I heard solid advice that I’ve heard inside the Drupal community, but also insight from a different approach outside of Drupal. I started feeling the old excitement of tapping into the richer knowledge of programming and all thanks to visiting a different point of view.

Why should you step outside the bubble?

Getting different perspectives make you a better developer.  

Let’s face it – most of the problems in programming have been approached before. The beauty is in how we solve these problems. The broader your understanding of a problem, the more elegantly you can approach a solution. Some frameworks approach problems the same, but many do not — we need to be learning from each other’s successes and struggles.

Providing different perspectives makes for a better community.

As the tech world is generally learning, diversity in a community provides its own benefits such as improved creativity, innovation, and faster solutions. You can be part of that diversity. Just by coming from your own point of view, you provide a new perspective.

Broadening your community keeps it in perspective

Most of us aren’t the top contributors in our space — many of us even struggle with imposter syndrome and feel that we aren’t keeping up. The more you experience the community around you the more you begin to realize your value within it, building confidence as you begin to see where you can help and how you provide value.

Baby Steps

Time is precious. With two kids, a full-time job, and several volunteer responsibilities, it’s hard enough for me to make it out to Drupal meetups, but I’ve made a pledge to myself to take baby steps to engage outside of the Drupal community. For me, that will be getting to the local PHP user group meetings every other month or so. For you it could mean finding a new chat room to follow, getting involved in standards organizations like PHP-FIG, or getting involved in PHP itself! If you already run a user group – thank you! Try inviting someone from a different group to come speak.  Why not have a session about the similarities between your framework or CMS and another? Whatever you do, be sure to start today, and get out of whatever bubble you happen to be in!

Lessons learned on running a Usergroup

Our first UG meeting was held on 5th August 2014. It started out quite well with an attendance I would later find out was actually decent, fifteen people. All would have been well but having never really run a UG before I had the assumption that attendees would spontaneously start chatting, bonding and networking.

PHP-Usergroup Kenya Nov. 2015

This of cos did not happen and in as such within the first 30 minutes of life of the UG, I had already messed up! Thankfully a colleague and good friend of mine, Kennedy Kirui was around. A master of public engagement he had absolutely no problem working up the room and getting everyone to good cheer. Later on he taught me some lessons on facilitating conversations among the attendees.

The next few meetings proceeded rather well except for a rather disturbing fact, the numbers we’re dwindling. For a group with 15 members this was a disturbing trend to say the least!

At this point I had a chat with one of my mentors on the unfolding situation. He asked how I usually run the meetings. I said

  1. Welcome all attendees
  2. I Introduce topic of the day
  3. Talk a bit about its background
  4. Ask questions and have members discuss the answers given
  5. Set topic for next meeting and close

All the while my mentor was nodding approvingly (or at least I thought so) he then asked “What was the name of that UG again”? I said “PHP UG” he then responded, you are wrong this is “Chenchas UG”. I was shocked at this statement, what could he possibly mean? I didn’t have to think for long, he clarified, “You set the topic, you lead the meetup, it seems you are everything!” I was flabbergasted, I wanted to argue but I knew he was right, I had changed the group from its original mission to my own personal sounding board! Something had to change.

That was the turning point in how activities in the group we’re carried out. We now have a structure that is more like

  1. Call for speakers for meetup based on set theme
  2. Introduce speaker to meetup
  3. Group listens to presentation
  4. We all engage with the speaker
  5. Member vote for theme for next meeting

Since then growth has been stable with steady growth from meetup to meetup.

We are still learning and iterating, maybe next year we will land on an even better schedule! Till then I resolve to continue serving our community to the best of my ability.

PHP UG Kenya is a group of PHP developers fiercely committed to changing what it means to be a PHP developer. It’s our dream to equip all our members with the knowledge and tools they need to deliver great service to their businesses and community. We do this by hosting talks, running coding camps and mentorship programs.

As of this writing the community is currently 150 member strong and growing consistently.

The gratification of gratitude

I have met hundreds of you on conferences and user groups, and talked to even more online, the community is what makes PHP so awesome, thank you for always being there for everyone, and for spending your free time and energy on Open Source software and building our community. 

Speaking of thank you’s. Thanksgiving is an american tradition that I always thought had a good meaning. Expressing what and who you are thankful for is so very important, but why should we do it only one day of the year?

In mid 2015 I set out a noble goal, I decided to thank someone that I appreciate every single day, and give them well deserved compliments along with it. Often I thanked friends for being who they are and for listening to me, but sometimes I went deeper. I searched for e-mail addresses and honestly felt a bit like a stalker, to thank people in the community for their hard work and it was all worth it.

The replies that I got really did surprise me, when people replied that I made their day, it made my day. I put nearly no effort into it and simply said what I was feeling in my heart. What surprised me was that most people felt surprised by my e-mails and messages, because not nearly enough people ever thank them. I think that is sad, especially when I was thanking big contributors of open source projects. Surely, it should be normal to thank them for their hard work they do? Apparently not.

Maybe it’s time for the community to try out my gratitude hobby for a while, make it a daily habit in the new year to come, and experience the gratification of gratitude, because if such a small thing can make someones day, why wouldn’t you do it?

Out of the Echo Chamber and Into the Herd

I started writing PHP a little over 4 years ago, right after I got my degree. The first job I got was managing Joomla sites. Looking back on it, it seems a bit silly, but I was so over the moon. I was a web developer!! All my dreams had come true and I’d made it.

Really, I was more of a content manager, user debugger, css tweaker. I used little to none of my CS background (and honestly very very little PHP). Still, you’ll always remember your first, and that was mine.

It was another two years before I started to get involved in the community. For the two years between that first job and when I started to get involved, I was in a silo. I was usually on one or two person teams working on a project with little to no official project management. I worked in an echo chamber where the only thing echoing back at me was Google and Stack Overflow.

When I first started to step out of my echo chamber I was cautious and a little lost. People like Taylor Otwell, Ben Edmunds, Phil Sturgeon stood out like beacons. Rather noisy, but wicked brilliant and very helpful.

I remember the first time I got a tweet from Phil; I almost died (Funny story: he now babysits my kids). I nearly died again when Taylor asked me to speak at LaraconUS. It was my first conference, my first time on stage in front of that many people, my first in person foray into the community.

In the last two years I have learned more, taught more, travelled more, been more inspired, made more friends and met more role models than in the two plus decades of my life before that. It’s been a magical journey and it’s been a privilege to be on it.

But that’s not why I’m part of the community. It’s not to travel, meet nice British babysitters or make new friends. I’m passionate and honored to be here because I remember.

I remember the silo, the echo chamber, being gobsmacked and in awe. I remember the fear of first starting out here.

It’s easy to forget that, once you’ve gotten comfortable. When you’re working with a team of forty engineers and you have other like-minded people at the tip of your twitter stream that you can ask for help.

The fact is that there are thousands and thousands of people that are right where I was a few years ago. Small team, no sounding board, not a single rubber duck in sight. Hopefully they’ll make their way out of those silos as I did, and they’ll start to find their way into the herd. And when they do, I want to be there. I want to help them and make them feel welcome.

Because really, this is home. Home and PHPamily.

Explore your local communities

Since moving to Munich in April I started attending various tech meetups. I had to wait for the next PHP meetup till the end of May (because the previous one was held late in March) but it was totally worth it – around 40 people attended, pizza and beer were tasty and the talks were about interesting topics. By chance the next meetup was, because of last minute speaker cancellation, a chance for me to have a lightning talk about HomeBrew PHP. I’ve attended other PHP-related user groups such as Magento (as a speaker) and Symfony. There is also Laravel group which I plan to check soon. Later in October I started my own UG about Phalcon framework


To sum it up: if you are new to the area just visit meetup.com website, chances are high there are established user groups for various interests including PHP. In case there are none, feel free to start one (and add it to the PHP.UserGroup as well!). Don’t feel a stranger, embrace and share the knowledge, meet new people and just have fun 🙂


PHP as a language and as a community had a great year and clearly has a bright future, lets all keep up the pace in the 2016! I wish all the readers a nice Holidays season

The Rise of the Elephpants

When I was invited by Andreas Heigl to participate on 24 days in December, I was quite unsure about what exactly I would be writing on my post. Not that I don’t have thoughts about community; I actually find myself thinking about community all the time. It is literally part of my daily job.

The challenge to me was writing anything that wasn’t said before, multiple times, even by myself. How not to repeat over and over the same discourse, of how awesome and how empowering the PHP community is, or how grateful I am for being part of it? Mind you, this is all very true, but it’s becoming a cliche. What else could I say about community?

I feel tempted to start with a definition of what this fuzzy word means. According to Google, community is:

  1. a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.
  2. a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.

The second definition feels right on point for describing any tech community. However, when talking specifically about the PHP community, there’s something else that leverages this fellowship feeling to a point where we can genuinely feel we are part of a big, distributed family.

The element I’m talking about is actually a pain point for all of us: we are a rather marginalized community. Often underestimated and even disrespected as professionals, PHP developers have to exercise empathy in a daily basis – it’s an insane amount of crap and hate that we have to deal with, just because we do PHP. Most of us already learned that there’s no such thing as better programming language, but instead, a better tool depending on the job. We know that a programming language can definitely evolve with time, and that this is only possible with the help of a strong community around it.

Some people call this “thick skin”. I call this wisdom. It’s no coincidence that our mascot is an elephant: sometimes even revered as deities, elephants symbolize wisdom and strength in many cultures.


More than once I saw the PHP community get together to help one of its members in need; more than once I witnessed this wisdom and this strength shining through and beyond the boundaries of our community. And more than anything, it requires strength and wisdom to reinvent itself so gracefully as PHP has been doing in its 20 years.

Wise elephpants out there, I wish you a fantastic new year. May 2016 bring us more love and respect, and a good adoption rate for PHP 7 🙂 No matter what are your beliefs, the end of a year is always a meaningful checkpoint to think about what you accomplished so far and what you can do better in the year that’s to come. Happy Holidays!

The Family You Choose

We walk so many of the darkest paths in life in solitude. We are right to honor the virtue of self reliance but we forget how loneliness eats away at the heart of our humanity. When we are alone, we are impoverished and weak. Dorothy Day, the great social activist of the early 20th century wrote that “[w]e have all known the long loneliness, and we have learned that the only solution is love, and that love comes with community.”

The love that Dorothy discovered is not unique to her adopted community, the Catholic church. It can be found wherever people of like mind come together in good faith to help and support one another. I found it in the community that has come together around PHP.

I spent the first half of my career isolated in the long loneliness. It almost broke me, but I learned in time to not be afraid of letting other people into my life. I learned that I had a lot to gain from building relationships with other people. More importantly, I learned how much I had to offer.

Discovering the PHP Community
My first exposure to the larger PHP community was php[tek] in 2013. Michelangelo van Dam had offered up a free ticket to my local user group and I just happened to win it. At the time, I had no idea of how my life was about to change.

The technology conferences I’d attended in past were all about vendors pushing products, trying to make sales. Everyone was there to take something from someone else. Giving was not on the program.

When I arrived in Chicago, though, I discovered a community the likes of which I had never even imagined. A community whose conferences are about teaching and sharing, about reconnecting and reuniting. The sessions I attended didn’t push me to buy, they offered to teach. The people I met in the hallways saw me not as a potential client, but as a potential friend.

The Community
A community is nothing more than a group of people who commit to one another’s well being. When you are part of a community, you are never truly alone. I’ve seen this community of ours live up to that commitment time and time again. We have supported our own in financial need. We have grieved for those lost too soon, and worked console those they left behind. A community is nothing less than a family that you choose.

By the time I left Chicago, I knew I had found a new home. For the first time in my career I knew a group of people who challenged and inspired me. Not just to be a better engineer, but to be a better person. I found a place to belong.

Joining the Family
The magical thing is that it’s so easy to join this family. Every time you blog about a problem you solve, or answer a question on a mailing list, you are choosing to be part of the community. When you attend your local user group or fix a typo in an open-source package’s documentation, you are choosing to be part of the community. When you speak at a meetup or share a helpful library on github, you are choosing to be part of the community.

That’s all it takes!

Together We Are Strong
The playwright Tony Kushner wrote that “one is a fiction,” and that human life springs from networks. The destitution and fragility that come with isolation melt away when we open ourselves up to love and fellowship. By embracing community we become part of a greater whole and learn to push each other forward towards a better future for us all.