Ulf Wendel

Still in love – PHP Unconference 2011 (Hamburg)

After five years I am still in love with the PHP Unconference Hamburg (Germany), which took place last weekend. On Saturday morning I was as thrilled as if I was going to the first date with a person I had just fallen in love to. Facts: 200 tickets sold in 20 minutes! 350 tickets sold in total, 280 attending. One can’t compare this pure madness with any german PHP (un)conference I have presented at during the past 11 years. The continued success of this local german event makes me break my own tradition of german language only reports. What is so special about this event? What makes it my #1 annual PHP event in Germany?

Unbelievable, unbeatable unconference

Secret number one: the popstars. All the german PHP popstars go there since five years! This year, for example, Pierre Joye (PHP core developer, Mr. Windows), Sebastian Bergmann (PHP expert, book author), Johannes Schlueter (PHP 5.3 release manager), Kristian Koehntopp (general purpose guru at booking.com), Jan Lehnardt (CouchDB), Hartmut Holzgraefe (PHP contributor, MySQL guru) came to Hamburg, to name only a few of the internationally known. Plus, a great number of internationally lesser known experts that can easily compete with the superstars.


Secret number two: is it an unconference. At the beginning of every unconference day, all attendees gather around the "bathtub". People propose sessions of any kind – discussion, presentations, workshops – and start voting. This year, there have been about one hundred proposals to choose between. Because the audience does the selection, only relevant and hot topics win. There is no expert jury making more or less educated guesses on what could be of interest. No sponsor slots.

Bathtub during a break

Secret number three: the price. The ticket price of 30 Euro is affordable to all. Prices are kept extremly low by help of many sponsors (Travian Games, Bigpoint, Mayflower, Cloud Control, Microsoft, Amazon Web Services, Mindworks, TEQneers, ICANS, apprupt, Bytemark Hosting, Estivo). The Department of Informatics, Hamburg University, provides the perfect venue with the "bathtub" in the middle and six surrounding lecture rooms. Food is self-service but yummy and, if it comes to important details, such as the coffee, it is stellar. A wide variety of Open Source (biological, fair-trade) coffee was offered! That was real coffee not hot water as served in many conference centers.

Photo: Jonathan Maron

The mood

Secret number four: the mood. As a developer or team leader you go there to feel home. You are welcomed with a smile, you do not need to dress up, internet connectivity works flawless, good air in all rooms, all the beamers work, you drive the agenda, the evening event is at a beer brewery. And, if you know who to follow not only on Twitter but in real life, you can party around the clock. Hamburg never sleeps especially not the pubs and clubs in St. Pauli.

Album on Flickr with 124 reasons to go to the unconference

The megastars, the organizers

The biggest secret: the organizers. Take a detailed checklist on how to prepare an unconference and give it to a team of volunteers. Most teams will fail after short time. Only few will teams will be able to organize the event. And, even less teams will be able to repeat their success for five years: 200 tickets in 20 minutes… It needs way more than a checklist to form such a team, to glue them together and to be a long term member.

Invisible to attendees most of the time the megastars ensured – somehow – that people like me call their unconference Germany’s #1 annual PHP event. The megastars made sure that the above listed popstars have a stage to present themselves. This years megastars are:

Congratulations and thank you, dear megastars!

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