Talking PHP with PHPem | Heart Internet Blog – Focusing on all aspects of the web

PHP is the powerhouse of the web. The basis for a wide range of applications, including WordPress, MediaWiki, and the user interface of Facebook, this programming language is considered a major part of any web developer’s toolkit.

And part of what makes PHP such a useful language is the community that has built up around it. There is an active community, with meetups, conferences, and online discussion happening all over the world.

We caught up with three of the organisers of PHPem, the East Midlands PHP group. Based in Leicester, PHPem holds talks, conferences, and meetups where designers, developers, and hobbyists can meet up to talk their favourite language.

PHPem Logo

Tell us a little about yourselves.

Shaun: I’m Shaun Hare, and I’m a Development Team Leader at the University of Nottingham’s Medical School.

Matt: I’m Matt Brunt, and I’m a Senior Software Engineer with Viva IT, leading a team of developers writing both bespoke software and SaaS.

James: I’m James Hodgson, and I’m an engineer at Jadu working on their CMS. Compared to the others, I’m fairly new to programming, as I’ve only been doing it for around seven years, and only three years professionally.

What does PHPem do?

Shaun: PHPem is a community meetup focusing on bringing the tech community together to share knowledge of PHP and related technologies, techniques, and good practise. We promote diversity in the community – both in skills and in people – as well as making certain security is a primary concern in technology.

Matt: As a group, PHPem aims to help everyone, from seasoned developers to bedroom coders/hobbyists, to improve their code, meet like-minded people, and share the knowledge and experience they have. Everyone has something different to bring to the table, and we love seeing the range of ideas, opinions, and experience that a diverse group can have.

People meeting at the PHPem Unconference

What are some of the exciting things you’ve seen at PHPem?

James: The wide amount of experience and knowledge our members have and their willingness to share this with others is pretty exciting. But one of the biggest ones for me has been seeing attendees making the move to speaking.

Matt: Events that we hold alongside our regular monthly meetups are always exciting for me. We’ve had workshops introducing people to particular pieces of technology that have been great learning experiences – and we’ll have more in 2016!

Shaun: Sharing knowledge is always exciting.

What do you hope people get out of coming to PHPem events?

Matt: I’d hope that it inspires people to encourage others to come along and share in the community. With such a great range of talks from both new and experienced speakers, I’d also hope it prompts someone to think “I’ve got a great idea for a talk I could give!” or “My team at work would love this!”

James: There’s a great range of people that attend the events – lecturers, students, freelance developers, managers, and more that makes it a great way to network and make contacts you possibly wouldn’t have without attending an event.

Shaun: I hope they’d get an awareness of PHP activity in the East Midlands and the UK as a whole, as well as new skills, good discussion, and the opportunity to share their skills.

A group talk at the PHPem Unconference

You recently had an Unconference in November. What is an Unconference and what did you learn from hosting it?

Matt: An Unconference is a day where there are no planned talks and no arranged speakers. The community comes to the event to give the talks. They can suggest topics and volunteer to give talks – speakers can just share their experiences with a room full of people who want to hear what they have to say.

As an organiser, it can feel scary at first, because you have a day to fill with talks, and you’re unsure if anyone will step up and speak. But the community really stepped up, and by the end of the day, we had a board full of talks in multiple rooms, a team-building activity, games going on, and more talks that we couldn’t fit into the time we had!

James: This was only our second Unconference, and the first one I helped to host, so I personally learned a lot. Mostly, give yourself more time than you think you need, and it’s really hard to figure out numbers for catering!

What’s one thing you love about using PHP?

Shaun: The barrier to entry is low!

James: For me, it has to be the community. The openness and the friendliness of the community is amazing, and the support they can give is outstanding. Some of my best times being a PHP developer has been attending conferences and events.

Matt: There are so many tools available. You can easily pick which is best for the job at hand, and with such a wide range of people using it, the support available within the PHP community – and not just the PHPem group! – is fantastic.

Attendees waiting for a talk at the PHPem Unconference

What potential applications of PHP excite you?

Matt: PHP is very much a web-oriented language, but with the performance improvements in PHP7, I’m really excited to see what it could mean for large-scale websites. It might have been disregarded before for not being able to perform well enough, but hopefully that’ll all change now.

James: What Matt said. Over the past releases, the improvements have been amazing. Hopefully, this will lead to it no longer being scorned as often by developers using other languages.

What’s one thing you’d love to create if you had the time?

James: I have so many half-baked terrible ideas in my head that I can’t really think of one. Or it’s already been done, and there’s no point in reinventing the wheel! But if I had to pick one, I think it would be something that would help me be more organised.

Matt: An online system for managing and playing table-top/Dungeons and Dragons-style games. There are a couple out there already, but given the time, I’d like to improve on a few things they’re doing!


Thanks to James, Shaun, and Matt for talking to us! If you’re interested in joining PHPem, or finding out more details, you can find them on Meetup, Twitter, or join in the fun on their Slack channels!


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