The PHP UK Conference celebrated its 10th annual event this year at the end of February. More than 700 participants gathered in London to share knowledge and experiences surrounding PHP and related web technologies.
WordPress community members Jenny Wong and Aaron Jorbin both spoke at the conference and the videos have just been released today. During Wong’s keynote presentation, titled “Integrating Communities,” she told the story of how she learned PHP by attending local user groups, asking questions, and embracing the community. Her session encouraged those in attendance to build bridges between technology communities.
Wong came to WordPress from the PHP community and her presentation addressed the friction that is often present between the two. I spoke with her about the inspiration behind her topic and the deeper issues underlying the general lack of understanding between the two communities.
“Lots of people have used WordPress when it was young – maybe before all the beautiful UI came in,” she said. “I am not one of those people, but I’ve heard the stories of how bad the UX was.
“Some people learned to live with it and became part of the WP community; some people hated it and left. The people who left have a particular ideal of WordPress from their very old experience and unless we as a community reach out to them, their perceptions will not change.”
She believes that WordPress contributors should strive to attend and speak at non-WordCamp conferences to learn from and experience other communities.
“Inside the WP community I often hear, ‘How do you become better at PHP?’ We need to show them that the WP community is welcomed by the PHP community and that it is not a scary place,” she said.
The situation is gradually improving across many events, as ZendCon announced today that it will be including a WordPress track. WordPress community members made an effort to attend PHP World 2014, PHP developer Lorna Jane Mitchell spoke at WordCamp London, and PHP South West (a user group in the UK) recently had a joint night with the Bristol WordPress People user group.
“We’re seeing more and more of this cross pollination, at least between the WP and PHP community, slowly,” Wong said.
Venturing Outside the WordPress Community
Speaking at WordCamps is an excellent way to give back and connect with others in the community, but the value of venturing outside of the WordPress bubble is often overlooked. Aaron Jorbin attended the PHP UK conference knowing only one person.
“I think there is a personal benefit in putting ourselves in situations we aren’t automatically comfortable,” he said. “I’m used to knowing a lot of people at events. Knowing only one person before hand helps me do a better job of empathizing with people that feel like outsiders at WordPress events. If we want to do a better job of creating diversity, it’s good to feel the problems people feel when they don’t feel like they belong.”
Jorbin spoke on Modernizing the WordPress Toolbox. His presentation goes far beyond the topic of modernizing WordPress’ build tools to include his passion for removing barriers to contributing to the project. Jorbin also delved deeper into the reasons behind the project’s selection of certain tools.
“We as a community need to do a better job of both getting out there and bringing people in,” Jorbin said. “This is something that we have improved over the last few years (Nacin keynoting PHP Tech, Joe Dolson and Joseph O’Connor at CSUN, Mel Choyce, Nacin and myself at OS Bridge, etc.), but we have a long way to go.”
Currently, going outside of the WordPress space usually means that you will encounter some negative opinions about WordPress. Jorbin said that these are largely born out of a lack of knowledge of WordPress and why contributors make the decisions that they make.
“PHP developers hear things like PHP 5.2 as a minimum and write us off,” he said. “When they hear that 1) We run just fine on PHP 5.6, and 2) are already running our automated tests on php7, and 3) that we do it based on our user focused philosophies, they understand it and actually gain a lot of respect for us.”
Beyond combating negative opinions of the software, Jorbin believes that the WordPress community can find a wealth of knowledge outside of WordCamps.
“Another benefit is hearing how other projects are solving problems helps WordPress solve problems,” he said. “Hearing about The Drupal Ladder influences how I think about on-boarding new contributors. Hearing about how Etsy started using HHVM helps me get ideas for rolling out HHVM on WordPress sites.”
If you make the effort to venture outside of your usual networks, you will undoubtedly encounter situations wherein your skills of diplomacy and bridge-building will be sharpened, as both Wong and Jorbin found at the PHP UK conference. However, the value gained in connecting with other communities far outweighs the challenges. The WordPress community has a great deal to share with the world, but it is also enriched by other technologies.
If you already speak at multiple WordCamps per year, here’s a new challenge for 2015: Speak at a conference outside the WordPress bubble where you may not know many people. Who knows who you’ll meet or what you might learn?