Having been out of the PHP community for the past three years I wasn’t quite sure what to expect at this year’s PHP UK Conference. I knew some of the speakers but not all, and it was the first time it had run for two days – I even got a speaking slot (surely that meant they were a bit desperate?). I didn’t have high expectations . . . but how wrong I was! It was a brilliant conference and I heard some outstanding speakers.
The conference opened with a keynote from Rasmus Lerdorf, the creator of PHP. Rasmus took us through a history of PHP starting in 1995 and ending with a brief overview of some of the new features that we can expect in PHP 5.4. Davey Shafik covered these in more detail in a talk that I couldn’t be at but is apparently worth hearing, so look out for the videos.
It was interesting to me that Rasmus, from the start, viewed the PHP ecosystem as having paramount importance – he said that the community was more important than the language itself. This is arguably the best decision that was ever made about PHP – it goes a long way towards explaining why the documentation is better than that of any other language’s, and why it’s still the easiest language to use for new programmers. Rasmus encouraged all members of the community to get involved in the development and testing process: “If you are bored for a few minutes, and especially if you work on a Windows platform, try http://bugs.php.net/random – see if you can write a fix.”
Sebastian Marek took us, in the style of Tolkien, though his five year journey towards Continuous Integration (CI) at Plusnet. Starting from almost no code management at all, they introduced unit testing (PHPUnit), Jenkins, functional test using BeHat and a quality management system using Sonar. Initially, selling these ideas to management was hard; good infrastructure costs money and no one likes spending money when they can’t see any immediate financial benefit. Sebastian used the following analogy to help to convince his managers to invest:
“Technical debt is like a credit card bill, you can keep building up debt and nothing bad will appear to be happening. However, at some point you have to pay it off and if that’s at an inconvenient time for you it will seriously damage your business. Just like credit card debts, paying a little bit each month is better. So investment in good tools pays off because it stops your debt building up”
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