The Physical Herd

When March rolled around, we quickly shifted gears to working and going to school from home. I’d been working remotely for nearly a decade, and I thought the transition would not affect my routine. In many ways, it didn’t alter my daily routine. However, one of the markers for me that 2020 was not a typical year was not going to a PHP conference or user group meetings. While I’m firmly in the introvert camp, I missed the energy and camaraderie they provide. Although many events and groups pivoted to online-only affairs, it’s not the same thing—the talks you go to are only one part of it.

At a local level, user groups can be welcoming and an easy way to meet like-minded developers. If you’re looking for work, networking with local companies can bypass HR. You can get to know the lead developers, and more importantly, they can get to know you. If you want to present a talk, organizers are always looking for presenters. Telling the group about a service, framework, or library you use is a great way to get started. While many groups have a Slack or Discord channel you can join, it’s challenging to replicate the energy of having all the members together for one night. I have to admit, I haven’t been a regular attendee at my local PHP UG, but going to the Drupal meetup near me helped me make new connections, give PHP classes, and try out new talk ideas.

Most PHP developers may never attend a PHP conference, but they’re vital to the global PHP community. Where else might you see core contributors chatting in the hallway or making elePHPant movies? Did you know the PHP FIG got its start from discussions at php|tek in 2009? For every attendee, a conference is a chance to meet the maintainer of that library you use all the time and give them feedback. It’s a chance to get to know what kind of business someone runs while you play a board game one night. And, it’s a chance to get to know someone beyond their Twitter handle while you check out a local restaurant for dinner. Yes, you’ll be going to excellent talks throughout the day—but, believe me, there’s more to a conference than the scheduled talks. You never know what might happen at a conference. Before you know it, you’re publishing a magazine and books with the help of the folks you met at one.

Elephpants need to congregate. Getting together with PHP devs isn’t just about the professional connections you can make. The people you meet at a conference or user group are bound to share some of your non-coding hobbies. Most Saturday nights, I play Dungeons and Dragons online. It’s one thing that’s undoubtedly helped me make it through this seemingly interminable year, and all the players in it are friends I’ve made through PHP conferences. If anyone is suited for delving into dark, dangerous places—it’s us.

Will user groups and events come back? I sure hope so. But I know that just wishing it won’t cut it. When it’s safe to get together again, we can all revitalize our user groups by taking the time to attend. Maybe reach out to the organizer and offer to give a talk. When it’s safe to travel to a conference, convince your boss that it’s time worth sending you or even look at sponsoring it.

I hope to see you at one in person soon.