Takeaways From the PHP Unicorn Online Conference

Our team is continuously trying to find ways to keep learning and improve our skills. The only issue is that sometimes this can be difficult to fit around our production schedule. Recently the dev team had a chance to attend an online conference which was kind of the best of both worlds. With a tagline, “The PHP Conference in the Clouds” and acknowledgement of some of the main reasons conferences can be tricky (travel time, booking days off, and returning to an increased workload) it seemed like a great option. Read on for some of the takeaways from this experience.

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One of the most recognizable parts of the conference was its specificity - it was dedicated to the PHP programming language. The experts and sessions that were offered were very unique, so calling them unicorns seemed like a good fit! The perspectives and experiences were diverse with speakers from across the globe, some who had ran their own companies, podcasts or written technical blogs.

 

Sessions & Takeaways

First up was a session on code review led by software engineer, Hannes Van De Vreken. Successful code review often includes communication and knowledge sharing with peers. The takeaway from this session was that our developers felt they were already doing some awesome code reviews, but it reminded them to create and follow guidelines for these reviews, and share them with each other.

Code review processes can help keep the dev team on the same page. 

Code review processes can help keep the dev team on the same page. 

Next on the agenda was the “Adventures of a Contract Developer” session with Tim Lytle, former PHP freelancer and CTO of BeckonCall. Tim shared his experiences of being a contract developer for 10 years, and some of his philosophies for navigating this type of work. Many members of our talented production team have experience freelancing, but for others this session shed some light on a different perspective and provided some pieces of useful advice. These include the philosophy of increasing your contract rate and working less. Negotiating your rate is not advisable as a contractor as it can create a slippery slope where people may have heard that you provide discounts or lower your prices. Knowing your worth and standing by that will prevent clients from talking your rate down. That said, no one will ever be happy with fixed bid billing. Sticking to an hourly rate will decrease the risk, give you more control of the project, and can help navigate through project changes and milestones easier. Not accepting work that you don’t do is another important piece of advice. This will alleviate frustrations for you and keep costs down as additional time won’t be spent on work that is less familiar to you. Automating as much of your work as possible (such as builds and deploys) will also help keep your costs down and decrease time spent on projects.

Freelance contract work can be done with a little process planning and communicating your worth to prospective clients. 

Freelance contract work can be done with a little process planning and communicating your worth to prospective clients. 

Programmer, Chris Hartjes, ran a session on “Lessons Learned After 10 Years of Testing”. Chris spoke about how testing is an important development tool as well as best practices on how to make it more effective. A takeaway here was that fragile tests are fine and that they can be fixed. To make it more efficient, it is helpful to look for patterns in how the tests fail. Chris also noted that we are using similar methods to the ones that they were being used way back in the 60’s. He questioned why testing isn’t more ubiquitous in the industry as it can identify the fixes required from the development phase, leading to greater reliability and more satisfied customers.

Considering rTraction’s interest and experience working in the mental health sector, the last session on mental health in the developer community was extremely relevant. Ed Finkler, founder of OSMI, discussed some of the issues surrounding mental health in the tech industry. For instance, the buzz around startup culture can often cause someone to work more hours than people who are not in that industry. This ties in with the culture of “working yourself to extremes”. Often this type of behaviour is glorified and can cause people to work late, skip lunch breaks, etc. Overtime should be an oddity. It was noted that if it isn’t, there is something wrong with the workplace and not the worker.

Ed is running a survey of people in tech and has surveyed over 1600 people so far. 50% say they are diagnosed with a mental health condition. This statistic highlights the importance of looking into mental health in the tech sector further and fostering a more supportive environment with various tactics to improve these employees’ lives.

Having open communication regarding mental health in the tech sector can help support employees and create a healthier workplace.

Having open communication regarding mental health in the tech sector can help support employees and create a healthier workplace.

This conference was a good option considering the online format and the sessions that were available. Trying to work in professional development in a busy production schedule can be difficult, but the dev team managed to make time for it and still felt as though it was a team event. Tell us if you’ve had the experience of participating in an online conference, or if you haven’t, whether you would consider this option!

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