Thanks for stopping by; Andreas invited me to contribute this post, and as usual, for me, the imposter syndrome phenomenon kicked in; what do I know, I don’t have anything valuable to say. I wrestled with this for a little while and then a randomly timed twitter poll was started by Kara Ferguson, I didn’t spot the initial tweet, however, but I was tagged into the reply by Thomas Dutrion, thanks! The poll question was ‘When you think of the big influencers in the PHP world, what names come to mind?’ – wow, what an amazing list followed in the tweets of that thread! And there’s me included in it, amongst some of the all-time greats – no pressure, right?!
Once I stepped back from my self-doubts and started writing, I reflected on the things I’ve done ‘in PHP’. I realised I had made a number of contributions to our community, some that are fairly visible, like running the PHPNW conference / user group; coaching at WeCamp as the regally titled ‘Coach of Coaches’; and many others that are not visible in the slightest, except to those people who’ve been directly involved in the conversations or activity. I’m not telling you this to boast, instead to give some qualification for what comes later on.
I believe that our PHP community is fantastic. It is made up of so many people who are prepared to go the extra mile, to go out of their way to help others along their journey to being a better software practitioner. Go and read the names in the twitter thread mentioned earlier and tell me that you’ve not had great value from someone on that list. However, all in all, in my view, it’s just not enough! So let me explain why.
I think of all the people I’ve met through the conferences, unconferences, user groups and other events that orbit the PHP language ecosystem – it’s certainly well over 2000 people (if that’s one of you by the way, then Hi!). Overall, however, It’s probably only a fraction of one per cent of the people who work with PHP in our industry, the rest are somewhere on the outside, not members of this tribe of tribes. Perhaps some of them believe they don’t need the rest of us, that’s fine, their choice (& loss); some, however, are wandering lonely out there, without knowing there’s a better way, the PHP community you and I respect and love.
At an empirical level, I see this with great regularity during the hiring process in work or conversations at conferences and the like. Alongside being a software engineer, I’ve been a hiring manager for well over 20 years, in both of my careers to date, initially in the UK health service (NHS) and in the last 20 years in the software world at Magma.
In the tech world, I see so many people who have never heard of, or only just discovered, the PHP Community. They then maybe don’t do so well during the interview process (or are telling me about their experiences), and their stories have a common thread running through them. They’ve done the same role for 2, 3, 5, 10 years (time matters not); they’ve perhaps outgrown their current position, or life has started to indicate that they should be progressing (maybe they’ve met someone who’s better at X, Y or Z than they are); whatever the route, they start to understand there are missing pieces in their learning.
Then I ask them what they do to improve themselves. Usually, it falters at this point, because if the candidate had already actively worked on this area, then the interview would have likely already gone better of course. So, I introduce them to the PHP community, specifically PHPNW, its YouTube channel or specific blog posts or websites that can act as relevant career accelerators and generally tell them a bit about our world. Most start to realise what they’ve missed out on in their career so far and what they could do next to improve, some rise to the challenge, some have gone on to become names on the roster of big influencers mentioned earlier, some go the other way and settle for an easier job and continue coasting along.
Well, folks, it’s time to suck it up, over to you, it’s your turn! Your mission, should you choose to accept it… If you’ve gained from the PHP community, then why not balance the scales and get out there, do some (more) amazing things, release your passion on the PHP / software engineering world. Get noticed, who knows, maybe become an influencer within this community (& beyond) and encourage those who don’t yet know the value of being involved, that there’s a less isolated and lonely path, one that can give them that leg up that we’ve benefited from in our respective journeys.
If you’re reading this and thinking something like, well this is all well and good, it’s easy for you, you’re already ’there’. Then let me tell you, that the majority of the things in our community, including anything I’ve directly started or influenced, comes from ordinary people, with a certain desire to add to our collective whole. They generally get off their backsides one day, stand up and say I’m thinking about doing a thing. They’re driven by their passions, from being inspired by seeing others doing the work, or perhaps more often, from sheer terror once they realise that stuff got real all of a sudden! However, they press on through, and suddenly you’ve got the next user group, podcast, blog, conference or even camping or cruise experience from which we can benefit directly.
So, my call to you, as you look over the previous year, and into the next during this festive season, is to ask yourself, your colleagues or contacts, what can I do to give back? Here are a few examples of simple contributions that can make our PHP world that bit more inviting, some are glamorous, many are not. Perhaps, your talent might be reaching out to those on the outside, inviting them along to the next event. Maybe, you can ‘sweat the small things’, be the one who gets the speaker or user group organiser a drink, when they’re busy getting the equipment to work or preparing this week’s announcements. Perhaps, you’re the next great conference speaker but don’t know it yet; you could start by giving a tutorial at work or the local user group; get some feedback and then submit a talk to a conference or two (trust me I’ve seen whole careers grow from this approach!). Maybe you’re the one who can invite others in by writing great documentation, or answering bug reports for an open source project. Contribute by being the welcoming character in the local user group slack channel or on the meetup event night. Here’s a simple side-mission for the meet and greet role, introduce the new person to 2 others within the first few minutes; now they don’t feel like they don’t know anyone, they’ve met three people in 5 minutes and then do the same for the next new person arriving.
In essence, don’t tell me there’s nothing you could contribute, put plainly, I don’t buy it! From my perspective, one of the worst things would be to do nothing, to consume others efforts and not contribute, or worse perhaps, to publicly bitch or moan about someone who’s endeavouring to do good (trust me as a conference organiser you learn to develop a thick skin rather quickly!).
Whatever it may be, promise me that you will do it and that it will be done more than once (remember three times makes a habit!). Ask for feedback from others so that you know how you can improve as you go and then, finally, tell others what it felt like to get started so that they to are encouraged, by your story, to step up as well.
If that happens, for at least a few of us in the PHP world, then perhaps we can build out the (less than) one per cent in our industry to 2, 3 or maybe even, dare to dream, 5% contributor level – what would our collective strength be then?
I hope you enjoy the festive season and enjoy a well-earned break. However, in between the food and drink, please think about what you could do to help us all win together, what your contribution can be, then next year, write up your experiences so we all can learn from them.