First off, the venue was great, staff were wonderful hosts, food was excellent, everything was spotless and Chicago in May is a pretty nice place to be. While php[tek] is more narrowly focused, more PHP-centric than ConFoo, the talks still spanned a broad range of topics for developers of all levels.

The speakers knew their stuff, generally encouraged questions throughout and were approachable and willing, often excited, to continue the discussion outside of the session. Larry Ullman’s keynote was fantastic and Elizabeth Smith’s security talk may well have been the best of the conference. Everything ran very smoothly. 30 minutes intervals between talks was a great idea.

There was no need to rush from one talk to the next; you had time to stop and grab a coffee (which never seemed to run out), stop and talk with / ask questions of the speaker, or pop outside for a little sunshine. If a talk ran over or if there were lots of questions, no problem. This was a small change that made a big difference. If there was a time slot that didn’t have any talks of interest, there was Open Spaces. This was their ‘un-conference’ track where people could gather for a sort of open forum discussion on topics suggested by the attendees themselves. Propose a topic, reserve a time slot, and away you go. The space allocated was a little on the small side, but I believe Open Spaces was new this year and turned out to be more popular than the organizers had anticipated.

The day’s events didn’t end after the talks were done.

Wednesday evening’s Mental Health Summit was a brilliant series of talks shining a light on something we’re often not comfortable discussing and, consequently, about which there’s a general lack of knowledge. Thursday evening’s hack-a-thon was a great way to get the community working together on a number of Open Source projects with mentoring and direct feedback from project maintainers and/or core contributors. In three jam packed days I attended 12 seminars, participated in a number of Open Space discussions and joined two evenings of talks and activities. Needless to say by the time I boarded my plane back to Montreal I was exhausted but brimming with information and ideas on how to apply this new knowledge to our day to day Development at Plank. Here are my top 3 takeouts from the event:

1. October CMS – it’s coming and it promises to be a game changer.

This file-based CMS has no DB storage which means, theoretically, you can use Git to version your content. The DB is used to store settings, which can also be useful in keeping development and production environments neatly separated. I was Introduced to Pagekit, another nice-looking potential alternative to WordPress et al. I haven’t looked at Pagekit in depth yet, maybe none of these solutions are production-ready yet, but we’re increasingly approaching a point where we’ll have a back-end that’s user-friendly enough to compete with WordPress and a codebase that’s robust, extensible, and a pleasure to work with.

2. Intuitive UX, without complication, is a must

Don’t expect people to read. They won’t. If your actions require a paragraph of text, your UX is broken.

3. Data management must remain a priority consideration throughout any project

Know your data. Where does it come from? Is it confidential? Do we NEED it? Sometimes it’s better NOT to have it in the first place. Know your users. Is your site or the data it contains attractive to anyone? Will your competitors pay to have you hacked? Update. Update. Update. OS, PHP, DB, everything! Make regular updates part of the maintenance process so when they’re vital (ie. Heartbleed) they’re also trivial.

Did you attend php[tek] 2014? If so tell us about your experience. What were your highlights?

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