So PHP is no longer your day job…now what?!?

From 1998 until 2015, PHP was the tool I used to make the vast majority of my income. I built all sorts of things with the language, and worked my way through my career going from place to place trying to leave things better than when I got there.
I carved out a great niche for myself as “that guy who yells at you about testing your PHP code”.

Then one day I got a message saying “hey, do you want to come and work at Mozilla?” Almost a decade ago while speaking at a web conference in Vancouver I had met Laura Thomson, who had just started working there. Talked to her for several hours while a group of speakers stomped around

Like the happy little networker I am, I stayed in touch with her over the years and asked her to keep me in mind if ever anything came up at Mozilla that would be a good fit. I interviewed there once before and got nowhere. But now was a chance to do something I was very interested in: work for a company where their mission isn’t to “disrupt” something or just to hang on long enough to get aquihired by one of The Four Horseman Of The Internet (Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple).

There was no way I was going to say no.

It didn’t matter that I wasn’t going to be using PHP at the day job any more. The group I work with uses Python to test the various web services that Firefox talks to. So I no longer was going to be using PHP at the day job. But my whole identity had been built up around the community of people using PHP. So now what? Should I speed off towards a new career and leave PHP in the dust? It would’ve been really easy to do so like many many other folks who like to make fun of PHP have done.

Instead, I stay connected with the PHP community so I give back to a group of folks who helped me build the life I have today. This is not a joke or hyperbole. Without the support of people who also believed in my mission of helping people to learn how to test their code, I wouldn’t have built up a skill set that lets me write tests in another programming language.

The community has helped me meet dozens of people and fly all over the world to convince other people that you can test your PHP code and you can build a satisfying career just like I did. Even though I don’t use PHP at the day job, I still work on open source projects that use PHP and will continue to spread the message that you can test your PHP code and continue to willingly write PHP code.

I can’t ever give back more than what I got from all of you.

Your community needs YOU!

As the end of the year is approaching, I’m looking back at 2017 and think I just dreamed it all.

Similarly to Nikola, who wrote yesterday’s post, I gave my first ever conference talk earlier this year at PHP South Coast. This was followed by speaking at GothamGo later in the year. An absolute dream come true! I also spoke 12 times at various local user groups in the UK this year, more than I’ve ever done before. And it has been the third year of co-organising PHP South West for me too (my local PHP user group).

It’s been an incredible year, and I’m thankful for each and every person I got to meet along the way. It blows my mind that this time last year I was reading 24 Days in December to get more familiar with the PHP community. And never in a million years I’d imagine I’ll be writing a post for it today!

So how did that happen? I met Andreas at PHPSC!

Celebrating with friends old and new after giving my first conference talk.

For me, giving a talk at a conference has definitely been the springboard to all the other activities that followed. It also made me realise how valuable it is to be a part of the wider community, and that there are loads of ways to contribute. Seeing a few conferences close this year (PHPSC, PHPNWLone Star PHP) and local meetups asking for help made me even more aware that it is important that we encourage others to get involved.

There are hundreds of local user groups, so see if there’s one near you ( or are good places to check). They range from generic “PHP meetups” (or any other programming language or technology for that matter) to the more specialised ones like Drupal/WordPress/Laravel etc. There are also online communities such as Nomad PHP, and of course all the big conferences around the globe. Smaller meetups are a great way to try your luck at giving talks or to try out new ideas and get feedback. They usually have a relaxed atmosphere, so this can be a great way to gain more confidence especially if you’re not a native speaker.

Getting more involved in the community has lots of benefits. It’s an easy way to get to know other folks in your area, make friends and get help with any questions or problems you might have. It’s also a great way to learn new things and stay up to date with what’s going on in the industry. Conferences and meetups give you a chance to meet some of the biggest figures in the PHP world in person. This networking might lead to some great opportunities in the future as you expand your circles, and actively taking part in those events raises your own profile. I always leave inspired and motivated, which can be especially encouraging for women, minorities or LGBT+ people. The vast majority of those events will have a code of conduct and actively promote diversity, teaching us all to respect and be grateful for each other’s contributions.

And if you can’t afford to attend conferences, speakers usually get to attend for free and get their travel / accommodation costs covered, so how’s that for an extra motivation to start submitting talks? 😉 Have a list of when the ones you’re interested in happen and keep an eye out for when their CFPs (“call for papers”) start and end. Twitter or is your friend here. There are also organisations providing sponsorships which can help you out.

Listening to podcasts is another way to get new ideas and stay up to date with what’s going on in the community. Hosting or taking part in them is a great alternative for those who are up for sharing their thoughts with a wider audience, but who are not so keen on taking the stage.

If public speaking isn’t your thing, you could still help to run things behind the scenes as an organiser. You could also contribute to open source projects or write blog posts instead. There’s a way to get involved for everyone, and diversity is most welcome.

Whichever way you choose, just ask. What’s the worst that will happen? They’ll say no until one day someone says yes.

Dream big, but expect to start small

In other words, set your expectations right. It can take years or months for you to gain some recognition in the community, so don’t expect things to happen overnight. Don’t get discouraged if your talk submissions don’t get accepted right away. Even something seemingly simple as writing an abstract is a skill in itself and you’re likely competing against hundreds of people. Some conferences may be particularly open to first time speakers, so they might be good first choices. Improving your communication skills, written or spoken, takes time and practice. Luckily there are plenty of resources to help you Spin a Good Yarn. I found TED’s guide to public speaking to be particularly useful too. There are plenty of Open Source Guides as well, or guides to running a successful meetup if that’s your thing.

Your actions speak louder than words, so if you do good work you will get noticed. Be aware though that it may take up quite a lot of your time (and money) and you probably won’t get paid for your work for the most part. So pick something that you will truly enjoy doing, regardless of the outcome or the sacrifices it may require. Or something that will expand your skills, knowledge or interests and benefit your career that way.

No contribution is too small!

You don’t need to speak at events or organise them to be a part of the community. You simply need to attend. Attendees are the reason those events exist, and you will benefit greatly by participating in them compared to those who don’t. Similarly, you don’t need to run your own open source projects –  contributing to the existing ones is equally valuable and no contribution is too small. Fixing a typo still counts! It’s ok to not know or make mistakes too – try to see it as a chance to learn and improve yourself. We all benefit from the community, be it by getting answers on stack overflow or by using other people’s code in our projects for free. So it’s good to give something back in return if you can.

  • Put the next meetup you want to attend in your calendar and set a reminder. Drag a friend along if you need support or that extra motivation. Maybe you’ll want to help with organising at some point?
  • Write down whatever you recently found interesting as a talk idea. There’s a good chance others would like to hear about it too. Maybe you’ll turn it into an abstract one day? Maybe you’ll blog about it?
  • Pick a project you’d like to contribute to. Fork and clone the repo to your laptop and have it ready for whenever you feel like hacking on something. Ask a friend to pair with you if need some help or to help with commitment.

You don’t have much to lose, but you have a lot to gain. And if you never try, you’ll never know! Follow the groups you’re interested in to see what they’re looking for and get in touch. There are also plenty of projects on github looking for new maintainers.

Make 2018 the year YOU got involved in the community!

Put Your Name Out There

Ever since I decided for PHP programming language as an ultimate weapon of choice for my software development career, I immersed myself into it. I got online, joined forums, participated in discussions. I spend a lot of time on Twitter which for me is by far the most important knowledge resource. In parallel, I attend meetups and conferences in my area.

Working full-time will earn you a salary, but most of 9 to 5 jobs won’t afford you enough opportunities for staying up to date with the latest technology trends and best practices, which is crucial for keeping in step with times in our industry. All it takes is to allocate some time and effort to invest in yourself – read books and articles, work on side projects, contribute to open-source projects, attend conferences. As a bonus, chances for improving your visibility and reputation in the community are opening up.

Below are my experiences in terms of professional development outside of regular work, in an attempt to become accomplished and recognized PHP expert.

Local user groups

It is very likely that there is a PHP user group in the area where you live. If you don’t believe me try finding one. User groups gather enthusiasts, like-minded people who share the same passion for programming. They act through all sort of activities, ranging from moderation of online discussions and publishing educative articles, to organizing major events that attract hundreds of participants.

Those are the characteristics of a user group local to my area – “PHP Srbija”. Upon joining, I was primarily involved with writing articles on a group’s website, but I eventually found myself in the role of a conference co-organizer.

Being a member of a user group who actively takes part in achieving the goals of the group can be a springboard for improving visibility in the community. In my case it is being a co-organizer of the annual “PHP Serbia Conference”. I met and formed relationships with some of the most prominent experts in the PHP community that we hosted as speakers at our events.

Reach out to a nearby user group or start a new one, actively engage in its work, meet fellow developers, make new friends!


To a large extent, programming is about exchanging and sharing knowledge. One of the ways to make a more visible contribution to this matter is to run a blog. I got into it recently when I started my own blog with the idea of sharing experiences and thinking arising from my professional career.

The benefits of a decent blog post are mutual – readers learn something new, useful from it, and the writer has it as a timeless note to get back to when needed.

Starting a blog is quite simple, given the number of tools and platforms that are available. WordPress is by far the most popular blogging platform nowadays. Blog hosts such as Medium are becoming increasingly popular. If you prefer to write texts in Markdown like I do, Jekyll is a leader in static website generators category, but I would recommend Spress or Sculpin simply because they were written in our beloved PHP.

The real challenge is the content with which you need to enrich your blog. But don’t worry, no one expects you to write on a weekly or monthly basis. Best blog posts are born spontaneously. So whenever you have something interesting on your mind, solution to the problem you came to or a cool library you’ve just discovered, or if you simply want to make a note of something, write a blog post and share it with others.

Open-source involvement

Open-source paradise has saved us countless hours of work, allowing us to build businesses on top of quality libraries and tools that are available.

Instead of being a greedy consumer and mere observer, I decided to activate myself in this field as well, by contributing to projects that I like and use, like Zend Framework for example, but also publishing my own work.

The principle of making contributions is simple. If you’ve come across a bug when using a library – fork it, fix it, and open a pull request to the library’s repository. Also, if you feel some functionality is missing or can be improved, propose changes. On the other hand, whenever you write some reusable component, release it to the wild and promote it, because someone might find that piece of code useful.

By engaging in the development of open-source projects, you improve your programming skills by striving to write quality and testable code. Maintainers are very passionate about their projects, and can be very demanding when reviewing pull requests. Don’t take this criticism as malicious, but rather look forward to it and be positive. If you think about it, you get a free code review by an expert and valuable advice along the way.

Public speaking

Most people can very well express themselves through writing, but public speaking is a completely different dimension. It’s fairly easy when the audience is made up of few close colleagues, but doing it in front of 50+ strangers at meetups or conferences takes a lot of skill and self-confidence.

I broke the ice at the local user group meetup two years ago. Of course, it didn’t go smoothly the first time, but I got the hang of it after few talks at meetups that followed.

Culmination of my public speeches happened in November this year, when I gave my first ever conference talk at PHP Central Europe Conference. Surprisingly, it went better then I ever imagined it, and you guessed it, I blogged about it. I consider this one of my greatest successes so far, as I believe that being a conference speaker is a major step forward in the career of every developer.

Some people are natural talents for speaking, but like with any other activity, it’s all a matter of practice. Therefore, the best advice I can give you on this subject is that you go to meetups and conferences, and see how other speakers do it. Learn from the best.

Return on Investment

After a few years of engagement in all these different fields, I doubled the number of followers on Twitter, developers use my open-source libraries, and I have a considerable number of visits to my blog, especially after publishing a new post. I successfully carried out my first talks, and I progressed to the conference podium. The very fact that Andreas gave me the opportunity to express my thoughts on this website and recognized me as one of 24 people for this year is a great privilege and honor.

There’s no doubt that my visibility in the PHP community has increased, and I believe that this fact was crucial for accepting my first conference talk proposal. I would point out that the two exceptional individuals who contributed most to my increased visibility are Marco Pivetta, aka “Ocramius” and Chris Hartjes, aka “Grumpy Programmer”. Some of their re-tweets spread my thoughts and work which then had a significant echo in the community.

If you are wondering where is money and profit in all of this, try looking at things from a different angle. There are more and more companies that ask for GitHub profile URLs instead of resumes. Almost every company appreciate developers writing publications either on their own blogs or specialized websites and online magazines. Being directly involved in the organization of big events such as IT conferences is a great thing in itself, but also a big plus in the eyes of employers.

Believe me, the chances for employment are much higher if you’re active after working hours, and at the same time you’re remaining employable. PHP community can help in achieving your personal goals and ambitions in many different ways, so embrace it and get the most out of it.