PHP UK Conference

It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a PHP conference. I stopped actively contributing to PHP in mid 2009 when my IBM job changed. Of course, I had hoped to continue in my spare time but I found learning about OSGi took up all my IBM time and all my spare time. In November last year I finally had time to get re-engaged with PHP and volunteered to do what I could to help organise the PHP UK conference. I will doing a much longer write up of the conference for the Web and PHP magazine, so this is just a short post on a couple of personal highlights.

The first thing I want to say is that it’s been a huge pleasure to be part of the conference team. PHP was the first developer community I got involved in and it was a delight to see how much had changed in two years and how much, the warmth and friendliness, was still the same.

That leads on to my second point. Rasmus Lerdorf gave the first conference keynote and the message I took away from that is that PHP still needs more contributors – in particular we need people to fix bugs. If you are bored – and especially if you work on Windows – please try this:

and see if you can help us fix a bug?

The best talks always teach me something and leave me with a picture. June Henrikson (Redpill Linpro) gave a talk about creativity in which she explained something I knew already but was reluctant to believe because I didn’t have have a good mental picture for it. I can’t even begin to count the number of times that I’ve sat in front of a screen trying to solve a problem, knowing that it was taking too long and that I was tired, but just fixated on staying at the keyboard until I cracked the problem. Deep down I always knew that the best answer with that sort of problem is to take a break – here is  why:

Dual CPU model of the brain

Imagine your brain as having two CPUs, one side (CPU1) does the analytical problem solving part and it’s operating while you are concentrating on trying to fix a bug, solve a technical problem etc. While that side is using the memory bus the other side of your brain (CPU2) has no access to memory. When you stop using CPU1, for example – go for a walk, get a cup of tea, you give CPU2 a chance to start working on your problem – which it does as a background process. Eventually – given enough time, CPU2 will deliver a solution, it will feel as though it has just popped into your head. In summary – if you have a difficult problem to solve -  force yourself to take regular breaks.

It’s probably slightly bad form to list my own talk was a highlight – but it was for me. I was a little nervous about doing it the way I did – I owe a huge apology to the people who thought I was serious to start with. In fact I meant almost precisely the opposite of almost everything that I said. I was calling out bad development management practices which I have seen, and even been part of, in large organisations. There was one final twist that (if you don’t know IBM that well) most people probably missed. IBM’s newly appointed president and CEO is a “Lady Cat”. I am ridiculously proud of this fact – also that she holds a degree in Computer Science so is an example of someone that started as an engineer and is a hugely successful manager.

I would love to extend the “Misguided manager” talk – but I need a few more examples. Mail me if you have one and I’ll try to work it in.

There were many outstanding talks at the conference, Hugh Williams gave some fascinating insights into Ebay, Stefan Marek talked about the journey towards CI at Plusnet, Ian Barber talked about why fraud detection is so complex, Patrick Allaert gave a great talk on how to implement complex data types efficiently. All of the talks were recorded and will be made available within the next couple of weeks. I am looking forward to watching the ones I missed – in particular Davey Shafik’s “PHP 5.4: The new bits” which I somehow managed to miss on both days.


3 comments on “PHP UK Conference

  1. I always knew that a good night of sleep could help resolve any problem but I never get a real explanation for this. Knowing this will force me to get out a little more to breath fresh air ; )

    Great post !

  2. Hi Zoe,

    I can’t claim responsibility for the model unfortunately:), I got it from Andy Hunt’s “Pragmatic thinking and learning”. Check it out if you want to learn more about it! It’s not a true model of how the brain works (don’t think one exists), but it illustrates quite well why you should take a break once in a while!

    Can’t wait till your talk is posted online btw, people keep talking about your acting skillz:)!


    • Hi June – the model fits with our experience as developers. It doesn’t matter if it is correct or provable in an absolute scientific sense. It’s a bit like Bohr’s model of the atom not being completely correct – it helped to explain observed facts before physicists had got to grips with a much more complex reality.

      I’m not so sure about my acting skills – I know just enough about planning poker to give a convincing and completely screwed up description of it. The Agile evangelists will probably send out a hit squad….


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