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 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.
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.