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Bruises and Braintickling: PHPBenelux 2014 had it all!

Last weekend was marked by the 5th edition of the PHPBenelux conference. Being psyched already about the previous editions of the conference, we were keen to see what they had in store for us at their first lustrum... and they outdid themselves yet again: the PHPBenelux crew gave us a conference to never forget.

Oh Noes! What to attend?

One of the key things of all the previous conferences was their strong lineup of speakers, and this edition must have been the best so far. Three tracks crammed with talks you couldn't miss, speakers you wanted to see and topics you were interested in made sure that planning where to go to was hard. To make things even worse, this edition introduced a 4th track, the uncon. For the uninitiated: this is a track just like the regular tracks only in this one YOU (or anybody else) can give a talk about any subject you want. Slots can be divided between multiple people and the topics usually range from the obscure to demo's from applications or code discussed in earlier talks and workshops. The schedule was almost too good!

Model Storming

After the registration where you received a goodie-backpack (thanks for the blanket!) and your conference-pass and bracelets it was time for the tutorials. Having choosen for Matthias Verraes' DDD workshop about Model Storming turned you to be a top-notch choice. We were honored with a visit by the Minister of Education from Kazachstan, who turned out to be our client for a yet to be designed new application. The setup of the tutorial was great: be pro-active, engage in the groups and start storming! After set intervals the progress and methodology was discussed, highlighting the critical elements required to properly brainstorm about your models. The best part of the tutorial was that it was actually set in reality: Matthias and the "Minister" (Stijn Vannieuwenhuyse) had experience with a case on which they based the workshop. In the end even some code that was the result of their storming sessions was shown! All in all a very interesting a eductional tutorial!

Mentorship, helping yourself by helping others!

After the tutorials (and great lunch!) it was time for the keynote. This edition Elizabeth M. Smith (or as many people will know her, auroraeosrose) was invited to give the opening talk. She delivered an inspirational story, littered with personal anecdotes, about how you help yourself get better by helping others through mentoring. She told about how mentoring got her to where she is today and what the importance of mentoring is not only for yourself, for the person you engage with but also for the community as a whole. It really is a great thing and I must admit, even though not consciously aware of it, I for sure was involved in a mentoring relationship. If you weren't at the conference, you should definitely check out the site phpmentoring, it's a great resource and a fantastic way to get involved.


Up next was the first choice to make: HTTPS, testing, safeguarding your code against a server-breach - tough call. However, Stijn Vannieuwenhuyse promised to go a bit more into the EventSourcing and CQRS and how it was used in the application the Model Storming workshop was based on, so off to the uncon for me! The talk itself was great, it provided some great insights into what are useable patterns and what commomn pitfalls to avoid when employing these techniques. Up next was Rick Kuipers who gave an interesting talk about Phing.

Following my first uncon session was a small afternoon break, so time to check where to go to next; it wasn't an easy decision but after the break we went to the auditorium for a fantastic talk from Christian Wenz about "JavaScript/HTML5 Communication APIs". The talk was awesome, informative, had great pace and yes yes, live coding (and it worked!). The delivery almost made it seem like stand-up comedy but I think that everybody left the room feeling he or she had actually learned something - and most certainly was in a good mood!

The next talk I attended was about Refactoring to Design Patterns, given by Benjamin Eberlei. It was not so much a static talk as it was a demo in how to reliably - using small steps, unittests and best practices - turn large chunks of unreadable an unmanageable code into a better, clean variant. During the trip towards the good code he highlighted why certain steps were taken and what design pattern he used to be able to refactor the code. 

During the last round of talks I opted to go to the hotel to check in and store my bags at in my room - not because the talks were bad: in retrospective I made a bad decision here, but I really didn't want to miss a thing of the conference social! Of course also this year you could indulge yourself in the Belgian fries. The social not only is great fun and a fantastic way to meet people, at PHPBeneleux there no doubt always is a great attraction. Last year there was a bowling alley and oh my, they certainly did not disappoint this year: a bumper car ride was positioned on the parking lot! I think most people will remember this awesome ride by the bruises on their legs. At midnight, after a few rides, talking to a lot of old friends a making quite a few new friends whilst enjoying some of the great beers that Belgium has to offer it was time to head back to the hotel: the line-up for tomorrow morning was something you didn't want to miss!


Albeit the morning slots were filled with great talks by Joshua Thijssen, Matthew Weier O'Phinney and Ross Tuck I attended the Uncon where Julien Pauli gave a very insightful talk about some more in-depth elements of PHP Under the Hood. Even though it was quite early, the talk covered many great things, explained why it can be better to avoid arrays in some cases etc etc. As one of my fellow attendees later said: "it was as if being explained how PHP works by someone who doesn't see the PHP code, but the matrix behind it"

The following talk to attend was Moving Away from Legacy code with BDD by Konstantin Kudryashov (aka everzet) which tought us about using BDD in order to refactor legacy applications to maintainable code. The emphasis of this talk was on how you went from identifying issues, concluding with the customer what would give the most value when refactoring to writing features that could be used with Behat and PHPSpec. When done correctly using impact mapping and feature mapping, this can minimize the impact of refactoring while providing the most value for the client. Watching the slides (see the joind.in link above) will do the talk more justice, it really introduced some great methodologies that are a great addition to any toolset!

Up next for me was again the uncon: the first half of the slot was given to Michael John Burgess. During his talk about the Philosophy of programming he gave nice insights into why a benevolent dictator, or a group of people as PHP internals can influence the life of the daily programmer. The points he covered were well thought out and I think that after his talk everyone was still mesmerized by how well the philosophical termininology was connected to their programming life. The second half of the slot we enjoyed a very entertaining PHP Trivia Challenge, given by Sara Goleman and Elizabeth Smith

Before the following round of talks first it was time for another wonderful lunch. The room was filled with people enjoying the lovely food and this provided a great opportunity to visit all the sponsor booths where one could win various prices (hosting, flares but also a drone!). During the whole conference the lunches and breaks the Dutch Web Alliance presented their radio show, providing music but also interviews with speakers and other people.

After the lunch the uncon room was again packed with people. They were treated to a talk about Clean Code by Carl Vuorinen. He showed us how to write clean and readable code an why it is important to write clean code. Even though he made the slides during the conference the talk was great and showed that clean code is really important and that the cleanest code is not always what you would expect it to be. For the second part of the slot Matthew Weier O'Phinney gave a demo that showed the power and flexibility of developing your REST api with Apigility.

Sadly due to personal circumstances I had to leave early, but from what I gathered from all my colleagues the rest of the talks were as good as all the other talks at the conference. Of course during the closing all the prizes were handed out by the sponsors and the onference ended with the post-conference social complete with winter barbeque! And for those not yet bruised (enough) there still was the opportunity to ride the bumper cars! All in all a great end to a fantastic conference.

Bruized and Enlightened 

The PHPBenelux conference 2014 was a conference as you hope it is: great talks, brilliant speakers and a fantastic crowd. Add the wonderful setting and hardworking crew, mix it all and you get a conference like no other. From behind my desk I would really like to thank all the sponsors who made this possible and of course a BIG thank you to the PHPBenelux Crew for all their hard work to give us visitors such a great weekend! I cannot recommend this conference enough, and I hope to see you again next year at #phpbnl15!

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