So I had an idea what I wanted to write about; however, I have the dubious honor of being #24 in the 24 days. This means I had the chance to read most all of the entries before I sat down to write mine, and suddenly, my original topic didn’t seem quite so poignant, and a few of the articles have struck home with me.
Quite a few of the authors this year have written about the crazy year that they had. I am no exception. During this year, I left the previous company that I had founded with some amazing people, and my wife and I created our own company, dedicated to running tech conferences for a living. While I still find myself writing a lot of code to make things happen, my primary focus is the education of programmers and creating amazing experiences to bind us together as a community.
Originally this was going to be the centerpiece of my article. But it’s a funny thing when you are a small business owner, especially one who is running a conference … a majority of your time is spent doing marketing. Marketing, in general, is a tough job, and I respect those that focus on it. Targeting developers is even worse as we are some of the worst skeptics and trained to be critical of everything.
But the one thing that this position has done is opened my eyes to a looming problem that lies before us all in the PHP community.
As I was reading the articles posted here so far, I was especially struck by 3 of them that all revolved around the same theme. Lorna in her article talked about the contempt that some people in the greater webtech community have for PHP, but at one point stated:
We must spread the word beyond the boundaries of our own communities.
Then I was reading the excellent article from Davey about how PHP is Dead — (spoiler: it isn’t). The meat of the article is about how we are the glue language, we pick up various technologies and stick them together with a bit of PHP code. We run 80% of the web and need to become shepherds of it, driving adoption of the best standards going forward. But in the midst of that he made the statement:
We must get out into the wider technical community and spread our knowledge.
Finally, I found myself deep into Michael’s article about working together. A wonderful discussion of the state of the greater community, how it fragmented into sub-communities, and how people are striving to break those walls down and bridge the communities together. It’s truly a beautiful story that PHP has been going through, as Michael put it:
I see more and more new faces at conferences each year, both speaking and attending, at generalised PHP conferences and these people are often people who have been to Symfony or Drupal or WordPress conferences before, and just beginning to reach out to the wider PHP community.
But that’s where everything starts to collide in my head. The intersection of the amazing community we have, the widening of the community, and yes the running of conferences, all starts to swirl together. Suddenly I realize that I’m too focused in at that moment, and I pull out to see that this beautiful pattern of light, is surrounded by a sea of darkness.
What is this sea of darkness? We are encouraging people to reach out beyond the realm of their sub-community and to connect with the other PHP communities. We are urging the greater PHP community to reach out to the other programming communities and share knowledge. But there’s a huge gap missing.
The rest of the PHP developers.
You see, PHP runs 82% of the web. Even with a significant portion of that being WordPress (about 27%), and smaller pieces of it the other main applications such as Drupal or Magneto … that still leaves a significant number of websites out there; that are some variation of custom code. Plus a substantial portion of those Drupal/WordPress/Magento sites have custom code written into them as well.
What does that mean? Do you see it yet? Where are all these developers?
There have been estimates thrown out by companies that care to try to crunch the numbers that there are 5 million PHP developers in the world. Let’s even make an assumption that this is grossly exaggerated and that there are only 1 million PHP developers. That sounds certainly reasonable, doesn’t it? Well according to Facebook, there are 20 million people interested in PHP.
But regardless of whether you want to think 1, 5, or 20 million … if that’s the case — where are they? Dedicated PHP conferences at best pull 800 attendees (most in the 200 range instead). Drupal and WordPress, having a wider appeal to non-developers as well can get into the 4,000 attendee range, though closer to that 800 number are typically programmers. Even with 100 conferences across the globe a year and assuming people only attend on average a conference every other year. That still only puts the count at somewhere in the 100k range.
Granted, that’s just conferences, but other measures of the community are similar. On php.ug there are ~260 user groups listed, each with between 20-2000 members. The leading PHP group on Facebook has 141k members. The biggest PHP Developer Group on LinkedIn surprisingly also has 141k members. There are just over 45k people on the PHP sub-Reddit, and php[architect] magazine just has a few thousand regular readers.
The fact is that there is a significant number of people missing. Who are these people? Primarily they are the lone developers or members of a small team. They are the 9-to-5 day job coders, who got a position out of college that just happened to be in PHP. They shrugged, it’s just like any other programming language, and they started doing their job.
These people, are the ones that can benefit from being a part of the community the most, and these are the people who it is the hardest to reach — because there are not connected, even tangentially to us.
So while Michael is telling us to break down the walls, and Lorna + Davey are telling us to reach outside of the PHP community … I’m going to say that we need to be finding the “lost community members.” We need to focus on the search for those other 4 million PHP programmers out there who aren’t a part of the community. We need to connect to them, let them know that there is a support network for them and that they are welcome to join us.
We need to find our missing brethren, so that our community can be complete, and that we can all learn from each other as we continue to build upon the strong foundations that the history of PHP has provided us.