I’m going to take some time to reflect on my introduction to the PHP community and how that’s affected my life.

I started programming and shipped my first web site when I was around 11 years old. I started with QBasic, then HTML, eventually making my way to Perl. I was homeschooled, so was able to begin working at 15 years old at a local computer repair / networking company near my hometown in Alabama. I started down the path of working in IT for awhile, with various small programming projects on the side. My first corporate job was at a robotic automotive manufacturing plant, I was hired to do IT support there but eventually saw the need for reporting and data visualization of the production processes. This evolved into my first job as a software developer and was also the first time I wrote a line of PHP code. Back in the PHP 4 days.

Another robotics engineer at the company hosted an NFL site/forum that was written in PHP so he introduced me to it there. We eventually built an app for reporting the plant’s various data using PHP, MySQL, Python, VB, C#, and lots and lots of duct tape. Thinking back on that app, it was some of the worst code I’ve ever written; SQL queries directly in views, no idea about APIs, security issues at every turn, but it solved a huge business need and was one of the most exciting projects I’ve ever worked on since it combined the digital and physical worlds in a very tangible way.

What really stuck with me most from this experience was the accesibility and flexibilty of PHP. I gained experience with many different languages, learned much better design patterns and best practices, but the experience of being able to create something so useful, so easily, with PHP really left an impression on me and it became my language of choice for web development.

I became involved with CodeIgniter a few years later. I ended up moving to Jacksonville, Florida for a web development job that was mostly in PHP and Javascript. Which was a pretty transformative experience for this Alabama boy. Moving to a new city sparked my love for travel and it led to my entry to the PHP community.

It was there that I started using CodeIgniter for several of our projects, which lead to getting involved on the CodeIgniter forums, #phpc, meetups, and eventually open source development. I still remember one of the first meetups I went to, Cal Evans was in Jacksonville promoting his employer at the time, Adobe, and trying to convince us all to start developing in Flex. I wonder how many people’s first exposure to the PHP community was from Cal Evans. That’s a damn scary thought…

I spoke at my first conference a few years later. Which was directly tied to my open source development and the friends I made there. I met Phil Sturgeon on the CodeIgniter forums, we started collaborating on open source software together, and built a friendship. Phil was organizing a conference in New York City and invited me to come speak. It’s really amazing how something as small as a forum post can evolve in to speaking at a conference and a long term friendship. Actually now that I think about it, I met two of my co-founders on that same forum and it turned in to us building multiple companies together over the years.

This community is one of the most inviting development communities I’ve ever been a part of and it has greatly improved my life. It started with a horribly written piece of duct tape software, a move, a forum, and then a meetup. Here I am now, 12 years in to using PHP, and it has given me the opportunity to do so many things. I’ve moved around the United States. I’ve met some of my best friends at conferences, on forums, and via open source projects. I’ve had the chance to speak at conferences around the world. I’ve met some of the smartest and kindest people I know. Been exposed to so many cultures and ideas. Worked on some really awesome projects with amazing people. Everyday I’m thankful for the opportunities presented and how much the community we’ve all built is a part of that.

In closing I want to implore you to do what you can to strengthen the community and add a bit of yourself to it. That might take the form of going out of your way to answer the newbie questions on forums, IRC, or slacks. It might take the form of giving talks at meetups and conference. Or it could be something as simple as going out of your way to show someone something new that helps them level up just a bit.

I hope that in another 12 years I’ve helped a few other people have the same great experience with you all as I have. This is our community, let’s appreciate it and contribute to it’s growth. As the year wraps up, use it as a good excuse to reflect back on your experience as well. I hope you had a great year.