When Andreas asked me to write something about the PHP community I immediately said ‘yes’. This community has become very dear to me over the past couple of years so I would love to share some of my thoughts.
This story begins many years before I even knew what PHP was.
When I was young I didn’t have a great relationship with the word “community”. To me, it meant conformism, in-crowd, bullying, gossip. I wasn’t a cool kid. I had great difficulty belonging. And by the time I was a teenager I kind of decided that I would be as independent as possible. Community was unsafe.
But as I grew older and gained more confidence, I did find communities where I felt at home. I was so fortunate to often have very nice co-workers. In my mid-thirties I joined a Zen meditation group. And by doing so, I became part of a larger spiritual community where I felt very much at home. It felt warm and safe being on the inside of a community and it became part of my identity. But everything changes, and the rebel in me started screaming and needing some space. Who would have thought that? My identity of being part of the Zen community in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh started to crumble. Some of the rituals started to annoy me, as well as the devotion that some people displayed towards Thich Nhat Hanh. And my spirituality expanded to include more than just Zen Buddhism. It felt like a pendulum. All the way to one side, then all the way to the other side. And right now it kind of stopped in the middle. The community of Thich Nhat Hanh is still my ‘family’ even though I don’t identify with it fully anymore. I still feel at home in it.
And then, at the age of 47, I became part of the PHP community. I was kind of nervous. In the spiritual community, I found myself among many people of the ‘feeling’ type. Many therapists and artists. More women than men. I was a bit scared to enter a community where the men were in the majority and where I expected to find people with a much more rational, thinking approach to life. Would this be a good match?
Up until then, my career had been lacking direction. Working was for paying the bills. Not very inspiring. Until the data scientist at the company I worked for, asked me to help him with some programming stuff. Then I discovered that programming actually gives me a lot of energy. That I really enjoy doing that! But if I was going to make this my profession, I would have to overcome my shyness and go meet the right people. And I did. I started going to meetups. Everywhere I went, I met nice people. No one tried to discourage me because of my age or my gender. I received a lot of help and mentoring to make my dream of becoming a developer come true. I received diversity tickets to go to conferences. AmsterdamPHP once organized a TestFest. I asked Rafael Dohms if I could attend and perhaps just watch what other people were doing because I could barely program in PHP. Rafael was very welcoming and during the event, he spent all of his time teaching me how to write unit tests. Mike van Riel played a big role in my becoming a developer as well. He was also at that TestFest where we practiced writing unit tests for phpDocumentor. After the event, I asked Mike if I could keep on practicing on phpDocumentor. Mike welcomed me to the phpDocumentor team and started mentoring me. He helped me improve my unit testing skills and programming skills in general and he answered many, many questions. It was Mike who had enough faith in me to introduce me to LTP where I landed my first job as a developer.
And then came WeCamp. Oh imposter syndrome! What if my skills were way too limited to participate? But I quickly found out that I had nothing to worry about. Such a great atmosphere! Any skill level was absolutely welcome. I felt included and at home. From then on I knew that the PHP community was also ‘family’.
I feel really rich and fortunate to be part of these communities. At the same time, I also see a danger. Remember that I shared that as a teenager I wanted to become as independent as possible? At the same time, I actually longed for a community. And when I found those communities I basked in the feeling of belonging. And I noticed in myself a feeling of “us”. I started identifying with that community. People outside of the community felt more distant. More like “them”. It’s so easy to find “us” a little bit better than “them”. I noticed that it was very tempting for instance to blame other people for harming the environment. While “we spiritual people” were so conscious. It was also easy to be oblivious to the challenges of our bosses when the going got tough for the development team.
These are mini examples of what we are seeing on a much larger scale in the world. There is so much polarization going on right now and it is getting more extreme by the day. It is so tempting to choose sides. To choose the safety of our communities and close our hearts to the outside world. It’s so easy to judge people in terms of good and bad even when we know so little about them and the situations they are in. It’s challenging and tiring to constantly put ourselves in other people’s shoes and yet I feel we should, as much as possible. At the same time we should be mindful of our boundaries. We should dare to speak up without breaking the connection.
When I was still an outsider, I experienced the PHP community as very friendly and inclusive. I have met so many open-minded and open-hearted people. Yet I know that we are all human and prone to closing our hearts and our minds when we find ourselves under pressure or under attack. May we support and remind each other to keep our hearts open to all those others out there. May we actively look for similarities instead of differences. For instance that loud and dominant woman from the other department, she has grandchildren that she adores. She can talk about them with so much love! That person who is always complaining is actually under a lot of pressure. Hmm, I tend to nag as well when I’m under that much pressure. When we look deeply, we can always find aspects in which we are the same. When we focus on the sameness of people, we can more easily access our compassion. May we extend our sense of community to include as many others as possible. May we all belong.