Ulf Wendel

PHP Vikinger to conquer the world

What a nice event the PHP Vikinger has been! Go Vikingers, conquer the world and carry the idea of an unconference into the PHP world. Infect user groups and other community members. Make them feel the power of Thor – as Zak puts it.

You all know what a conference can be like. It can be somewhat like watching TV. At some point of the day, you sit down in an armchair, have a beer or a granita and consume the show from the different channels that you like best. You know which show to watch from the program of the day that you can find in the program guide which has been published weeks ago. Once the show is over, you flip to a different channel and continue starring at the TV box. After some time you usually end up complaining about the crappy program. You ask yourself why it is so difficult to create a good program. And all the Germans add: “Why do I even have to pay taxes for so many TV shows not of interest to me?”

From your daily experience you might agree that TV is not the best model for user group events in particular every user group event that is similar to a conference and covers a day or more:

  • It is a lot of work to identify and contact all the speakers
  • Creating the program and the schedule takes ages
  • You have to decide on the proposals and risk to drop the most wanted
  • You have to manage the speakers

Preferably all this should be done weeks in advance of the event so that people can decide in advance if it’s worth to join the event. — To make it short: it is a lot of work! Who in your group could handle this extra task in his free time? Why not limiting the management work to the bare minimum? Why not provide only the most necessary infrastructure – the armchairs and the drinks – and have the attendees drive the meeting?

This is the idea of an unconference. There is no warranty that you will end up with a good program for the meeting, if you do not collect proposals and identify speakers before the event. But there is a fair chance that the program becomes excellent if the attendees are willing to get involved, to contribute and to take part instead of only consuming. All good an well you say, but does it really work and should you really invest in it? Read about the PHP Vikinger and think about the possibilities for a moment.

PHP Vikinger was like this: Rasmus Lerdorf, Derick Rethans, Ilia Alshanetsky, Edin Kadribasic, Markus Börger, Zak Greant, Sebastian Bergmann, Hartmut Holzgraefe, Christopher Kunz, Kristian Koehntopp and countless other cutting-edge PHP experts have been caged in a room for you and have been waiting for you to to suggest topics for talks, discussions, hacking activities or whatever comes into your mind!

If for example, you wanted to discuss the OO-design of your program, you could have gone there, give a short introduction into your application and open up the round for discussion. Or if you wanted to learn how to create PHP applications that scale well on an arbitrary amount of servers: Rasmus (Yahoo!), Kristian (formerly web.de) would have been there to share their knowledge, tipps and tricks. This sounds like a great opportunity for you to share your ideas and to learn more on PHP, doesn’t it?

Some 30 people made use of this unique opportunity. On Saturday morning everybody meet in the conference center. Zak started to explain the need to create a program and forced everybody to introduce himself with a vikinger helmet (Photo of me) on his head before. After this Zak collected suggestions on talks, discussions or whatever other activities from the audience . He put put some 20 stickers on the wall (Photo with the Zak and the stickers) and we all did a quick voting on the proposals.

We ended up by having Kristian driving a discussion on things that have no name. This is fantastic topic and a great idea for PHP advocacy in my eyes. During the discussion we came along some interesting observations, e.g. ‘”Deployment model favors loosely coupled parts.” Large scale PHP applications naturally drift to shared nothing models’. We discussed how Rasmus manages to run huge web sites at Yahoo! with incredible amounts of servers and lean applications with few interdependencies. Ilia gave insights how the a shared nothing approach can even be used for social networks where interdependencies can not always be decoupled easily. Not many people have been able to follow the very high-level discussion. This was the point to demonstrate the strength of the dynamics that are possible with an unconference: we decided to write a demo application to illustrate the ideas and principles on the next day! The user management of php.net has been choosen as a task for the demo application.

The first day ended with a presentation on PHP Security given by Christopher and Ilia. Most of the second day was occupied with the hacking task. After a general discussion of the programming tasks people started to work in small groups on the different parts of the user management application. Some of the experts lead the groups and the beginners could learn how those people worked. After the hacking had been done there was some time left for Sebastian to give an introduction into PHP Unit, for Rasmus to show a Yahoo! intranet solution he wrote to allow employees to sell second-hand items to each other and for Hartmut to educate some fellows on PECL-Gen.

All in all the idea of an unconference worked quite well. It has been shown that a conference room and a local gym is all you need to organize such an event. True, you might not be able to get so many prominent PHP Vikinger to join your local unconference. But there are usually many brilliant people close to your place which you could invite to take part on your local vikinger meeting. Think about the unconference idea. I would love to see low-costs, local vikinger meetings to enrich the PHP event calendar. The PHP event calendar has become a bit commercial in the past and vikinger meetings would be an excellent addition. MySQL users, the same is true for you: go out and run delphin shows.

Meet you next year at the PHP Vikinger … or at your local event ?!

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