In lieu of the usual ICYMI, I was sent to the Zend Conference to be your eyes and ears to what is going on in the world of PHP these days. After returning home, there is one thing that is very clear to me. PHP will be around for a very long time. The theme of the conference, in case you didn't know, was "Powering your Business with PHP" and its goal was to make it clear in no uncertain terms that PHP is not only ready for enterprise, but that it is already present and beginning to thrive.
There was a diverse group of attendees; vendors, business professionals, developers, analysts and of course the "press," naturally, and to be honest, I wondered how it would all pan out. Mad props to Zend (and KB Conferences) for pulling it off and making it worthwhile for everyone. My only regret is that I was unable to clone myself to attend concurrent sessions, but if anyone has any tips on that I'd be glad to hear them.
Some common ideas echoed throughout the course of the conference and by many of the speakers were:
The impending explosion of PHP and open source in general
The increasing importance of community, collaboration, and multiple partnerships
The refinement of web dev tools, which will facilitate even more rapid deployment
The emphasis on simplicity
And of course, that PHP rocks!
One thing that particularly suprised me was the lack of focus on security (no offense, Chris). Besides some excellent tutorials on PHP security, the so-called PHP security concerns that seem to be running rampant in the media and FUD factories were scarcely mentioned at a conference aimed at selling PHP's use in the enterprise setting. As Chris so aptly put it, "its not the environtment that is secure or insecure, it is the application written in that environment that is secure or insecure." It did my heart well to think that perhaps this bit of information is finally sinking in.
Creating the wave
I heard several times during the conference the mention of terms like "crossing over point," "tipping point," and "explosion" with reference to the adoption of PHP and open source in general. More than one speaker noted that we stand at the beginning of some exciting times, as industries embrace the open source methodology and way of thinking as the pendulum swings away from 100% proprietary thinking and toward productive collaboration. Yes, life will be good for all of us when this thing called "enterprise" learms how to share and play nice. And as Doron Gerstel, CEO of Zend said in his opening remarks, "We are not riding the wave, we are all creating it." So if you were concerned about the future of the PHP job market, I think it's safe to say you can put those fears to rest.
We all know that one of PHP's unique strengths is the fabulously dedicated, supportive and responsive support community. In fact, this was so prevalent that it was mentioned at some point during every session I attended. When asked why they decided to develop with PHP, "the terrific support community" was one of the most consistent answers. And as the trend shifts toward realizing the benefits of collaboration, this "community" feeling will become increasingly important, especially to the long-term success of PHP. So keep up the good work, and try not to flame the newbs too badly. As Rod Smith, Vice President of Emerging Technologies for IBM stated, "The PHP Community is a hotbed for rich, collaborative solutions." And you didn't think you were cool.
The shift toward collaboration does not only relate to the support community, but also to the end user. They will become much more involved with the development, architecture design, and even troubleshooting. There will also be more partnerships emerging as companies shift away from one or 2 "mission critical" partners, to a wide array of diverse collaborative alliances. We have obviously seen this of late with the Zend/IBM and Zend/Oracle partnerships, and the recently announced PHP Collaboration Project involving numerous other large corporations. I wonder who will be next to embrace Zend and help propel PHP into becoming a household word.
This shift toward collaboration is also helping to drive improved web services, such as SOAP and REST. If you've not yet taken the time to explore this area of PHP, I highly recommend you do so as skills in these areas are becoming increasingly important.
The Home Depot for PHP Developers
What really rocks about being a developer now is that we have so many tools at our disposal, it's like a virtual Home Depot. Things like frameworks, CMSs, PEAR/PECL packages, and IDEs have been around a while, but they are constantly being refined and improved, enabling us to increase productivity and focus on the bigger picture. With each passing release, we see them all becoming more stable and bulletproof. While at the conference, I was excited to learn about another of Zend's new projects, the Zend PHP Framework and to see the demo of IBM's application wiki, QEDWiki. QEDWiki is a very cool web services app that allows you to access services like Google maps and NOAA's weather feeds by using a few tags in your source code. I think you will also be impressed with the new PEAR installer (if you haven't seen this you really should check it out). As well, we see companies like SugarCRM gaining momentum with the recent announcement of their $18+ million boost in capital, and Komodo and Eclipse continuing to improve their IDE PHP support.
The Simple Life
Although there was an entire session dedicated to simplicity in PHP by Stephen O'Grady of RedMonk, it was an underlying concept that kept popping up in other sessions throughout the conference. Simplicity in design, architecture and code not only improves scalability but facilitates end user collaboration, which was of course another prevalent concept. In other words, keep the KISS method nearby and in the forefront of your mind for all aspects of your development, and we'll all be better off.
Gimme a P! Gimme an H! Gimme a P!
As a PHP developer, you undoubtedly know the inherent benefits of using PHP, but since we all like to get those warm, fuzzy feelings from time to time, I'll just pass along some of the reasons that were given for why people in enterprise are using PHP:
Great for the web, designed from the ground up
Developers are readily available
Ties in to LAMP
The community (of course)
Support for XML with SimpleXML
Facilitates rapid deployment
Availability of libraries
The preferred language of choice for end users & clients
Availability of strategic partners like Zend
Easy integration with other languages
Its pragmatic approach
Straightforward enough to enable relatively easy troubleshooting
Enables immediate response to changes
Good web services toolkit
Vast contributions in PEAR
As an interesting observation, I frankly expected cost to be the number one reason why people in enterprise are using PHP. In reality, cost was mentioned only once that I heard, and more as an afterthought than the driving reason.
So Now What?
So to sum it up, the future of PHP looks bright--and the future of a PHP developer looks even brighter. And if I may say, conferences that bring diverse groups of people together are, in my opinion, going to become a crucial part of the success of PHP (and no, I'm not just saying that to kiss up). There is no amount of email or Skype in the world that can substitute for face-to-face networking, and the benefits greatly outweigh the costs. I was fortunate enough to meet some wonderful people, depsite my "press" badge that seemed to make some people uneasy and choose their words carefully, as if we were speaking "on the record." I was impressed by the approachability of the speakers, their enthusiasm for PHP and their willingness to chat at length with developers. Although it kept the lines in the bathroom shorter, it would have been nice to see more women developers there, but we can work on that. All in all, it was a great conference and I thank Zend for giving me the opportunity to attend.