Before our memories get swamped by our daily lives, let’s take a look back at the Dutch PHP Conference 2011. For me, two things stand out when I look back on this years DPC.

One was the rate at which ideas were exchanged, both during the regular conference days and at the associated social events. Triggered by the talks they attended, people from many different nationalities were discussing a broad range of subjects, ranging from front-end technologies like HTML5, via the pitfalls of API design, to Extreme programming and its merits. Although this isn’t anything new for conferences like this, I felt that this year was extra dynamic. Many people I talked to were very enthusiastic about their co-attendees and their ideas.

Exchanging ideas is ultimately the goal of a conference like this. When everyone goes home inspired and with a head full of new ideas and insights, the conference was a success. This was clearly the case with DPC11. A prime example of a talk that inspired people was Aral Balkan’s keynote: The Art of User Experience. It was easily the most discussed talk of the conference. It was cool to watch all these PHP developers get excited about UX.

The other thing to stand out was the fact that many talks were not about PHP. That sounds a bit strange for a PHP conference, but to take a closer look at the subjects of the different talks let us do a little not-very-scientific analysis.

I started out with determining the ratio was of PHP vs. non-PHP talks. This was what I came up with:

  • Talks about PHP or directly related technology: 16 (37%)
  • Talks NOT about PHP: 18 (42%)
  • 50/50 (mostly not PHP, but with PHP examples): 9 (21%)

As we can see, only 37% of all talks were about PHP-specific subjects, such as Zend Framework, Doctrine 2, PHP extensions, etc. All other talks were about more generic subjects to do with software engineering or web development, sometimes in a PHP context. What, if anything, does this tell us about the interests of PHP developers? To be able to draw any conclusions we need to have a closer look at the subjects of the talks. To that end, I tried to categorise the talks in a few broad subject categories *:

  • Architecture: 11 (26%)
  • Methodology: 6 (14%)
  • Tooling: 5 (12%)
  • Technical/Coding: 16 (37%)
  • Front End: 2 (5%)
  • Framework news: 3 (6%)

Disclaimer: I understand that my categorisation of the talks is rough and could be subject to discussion. But even if we would shuffle some talks around, I think the general picture stays the same.

It is immediately obvious that there were a lot of talks focusing on general software engineering subjects like architecture, methodology and tooling. Together they made up more than half of all talks. Of course there was still a lot of focus on the more technical talks with subjects ranging from profiling PHP to handling i18n and l10n with Zend Framework: a decent 37%. Another thing that is very noticeable is the scarcity of talks about front end technologies such as Javascript and HTML5 or about UX in general: only 5%.

How do these categories share out between the PHP and non-PHP talks then?

Topic PHP talks (%) non-PHP talks (%)
Architecture 2 (13%) 5 (28%)
Methodology 1 (6%) 5 (28%)
Tooling 1 (6%) 3 (17%)
Coding 9 (56%) 3 (17%)
Framework 3 (19%) 0
Frontend 0 2 (10%)

PHP Topics

We can clearly see that most of the talks focusing on architecture, tooling and methodology are not PHP-specific. To me this means that the PHP community is becoming even more mature than it already is. We already moved into the enterprise market with the help of decent frameworks and by adopting concepts like continuous integration and continuous deployment. Many developers and companies have already made a choice for their preferred framework and can develop good quality software: no one is reinventing the wheel anymore.

Today we want to have efficient development teams and flexible architectures that can easily accommodate changes. This is reflected in the many talks about architectural subjects such as API design, Domain Driven Development, Modular Application Architecture, Test Driven Development, etc. The need for more efficient teams was evident in the subject of talks too: there were no fewer that four talks about agile development or team management.

For today’s PHP development teams, generic software engineering principles and technologies allied to PHP have become part of their architectures and daily work routine. It is only logical that we want to know more about them and learn about new ones. It is no surprise then, that we see schedules at PHP conferences which include a good proportion of talks that are not directly about PHP itself.

Having said so much about the diversity of topics, I still found that there was a subject that was conspicuously absent: development for mobile. This is a very hot subject right now and will remain so for the forseeable future. There were talks about API development, which is crucial for mobile development. But APIs are only one part of publishing to mobile: we also need to talk about the client technology. Even without talks about Objective C or Java, I would have very much liked to see some talks about how to go mobile with technology that we already use – such as PHP, HTML5, CSS3 and Javascript.

Apart from that small nitpick, I think it was a great conference. I enjoyed myself immensely, met a lot of people and learned a lot. I would like to thank all attendees, speakers, organisers and of course my Ibuildings colleagues for their contributions. Hope to see you all again next year!