My PHP User Group Experience

Posted by Justin Carmony on November 27th, 2009

I’ve been meaning to blog about this for awhile now, but never got around to it. I woke up and couldn’t sleep only 1 hour before heading out for some Black Friday madness. Might as well make some use of me being awake.


I will have to say that belonging to a local PHP user group has been an awesome experience. A little over a year ago I somehow stumbled upon the Utah PHP Usergroup, ran by a now good friend Victor Villa. I had no idea other people were meeting on a monthly basis to talk about PHP and web development stuff. I joined their IRC channel on freenode, and I instantly found a great little resource for myself. Within two months of regularly using the IRC channel, I decided to drive the hour down to where the meetings are held. I now go almost every month whenever possible. I miss now and then due to family functions and such, but for the most part I make the trek down from Ogden to Murray to enjoy the meetings. There are a few things that I found local user groups (LUGs) can provide others that I’d like to share.


Resource for Help


Its amazing the wealth of knowledge that the rest of the members bring to the user group. My experience in asking for help with advanced issues has be much more positive than trying to ask on forums or the regular PHP channel on freenode. The reason? Over time you build up friendships and acquaintances with the other members, and you get a feel for their different skill sets. When asking help from total strangers, especially as a veteran developer, most people will assume that I am a newbie, and typically ask “why would you want to do that?” instead of “here is how I’d do that.” I felt like I would spend more time explaining how I had logically arrived at my decision to use technique X or technology Y rather than getting actually help with my problem.


With the user group, we know each other and skip the whole “determining if you’re a newbie or not” phase. This is great for both experienced developers and new comers, as we are able to help each other out quicker since we already know where the other person is coming from.


Another great aspect of the user group is that we’re not all 100% exclusive PHP people. Each person has other unique skills that we can draw upon. There are two or three guys who are killer system administrators. They have helped me on numerous occasions to point me in the right direction to solve a Linux problem. Another two guys are Database Gurus who have vast experience with HUGE databases. We have some guys who rock at CSS/HTML/JavaScript, which I typically find myself fielding a lot of those questions. I’ve also had the opportunity to share some tips on Web Services and Mobile Web Development. I’ve probably had 3-4 non-PHP questions answered for every PHP related question. It is just so awesome.


Friendship & Fun


One thing I’ve missed since leaving my old job and doing full time contract work are my co-workers. Oh I know, sometimes they can drive you absolutely nuts. However, on the flip side, working basically alone every day, and my only contact with other work people are with my main client via Skype. While my wife is super smart, she doesn’t appreciate my war stories of adding a simple index that took down the entire website, or how I improved our DB performance one day by 40%. On a daily basis I don’t get to talk with other developers about development stuff. I missed that a lot from my old work, where I could talk about this stuff with co-workers.


Going to the PHP meetings helps bridge that gap. Its fun talking & discussion at the meeting about whatever topic we have. Then we go to the local Applebee’s for the “after-meeting-get-together” and shoot the breeze for a few hours. I get to talk to other PHP guys, swap war stories, exchanges ideas and techniques, etc. It helps satisfy the social aspect that working as a solo developer can lack.


Getting Involved & Giving Back


One year after starting attending the meetings I got “roped into” helping with the Utah Open Source Conference. I presented there on scaling, and helped organize with the sponsors. It was an opportunity to “give back” to the community for all the awesome things they provide here in Utah. Many user groups do “bug hunts” and other activities that help open source projects, and enable people to “give back” to the different communities.


I highly recommend seeing if there are any local user groups that pertain to what you enjoy in your area. They provide a great experience to meet new people, learn new things, and have some fun.


Thanks UTOS & UPHPU. :)

About Justin Carmony

Justin is the Sr. Director of Engineering for the Deseret News and Deseret Digital Media, Previous President of the Utah PHP Usergroup, and frequently works with the Utah Open Source Foundation which organizes the OpenWest Conference. Justin loves just about anything with web technologies from PHP, JavaScript, Node.js, Salt, and managing engineering teams.

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