SunshinePHP 2016 Recap

The Good

SunshinePHP 2016 was an awesome event! Not only were we sold out of tickets for the 4th year in a row, but the attendee list was truly amazing! Each year more and more companies in South Florida send most if not all of their PHP developers to the conference. This year we saw at least 20 companies in South Florida send 5 or more of their developers, and around 8 of those sent around 10. We love seeing our work take hold, and with this many companies embracing the conference it is obvious we are doing a good job. Thanks to all for participating.

SunshinePHP CrowdsThis year we had 14 of our amazing 19 sponsors represented in the exhibitor area, handing out Lego pieces and speaking with developers about how they could help them enhance their careers in one way or another. We are happy that every sponsor raved about the event, attendees, the amount of contacts they made, and the overall organization of the conference.

SunshinePHP exhibitor areaAttendees told us they loved the Lego puzzle idea, and really enjoyed collecting the Legos from the sponsors.

We had some amazing talks and keynotes this year, and really pulled some topics that were outside the box we typically see at PHP conferences. Two talks were about the brain and mental functionality, and how rest and downtime can affect our thought processes and how we learn. There were talks about dealing with customers, and how to help them help us. The keynote speakers shared tips on collaboration and teamwork while sharing stories about Pacific Ocean crossing, and growing up with physical and/or mental disabilities.

Or course these off-the-wall, but very valuable, subjects joined our already mind blowing lineup of topics and speakers.

We also had a very gender diverse attendee and speaker lineup with 16 female speakers (or 36%) and around 20% female attendees! This is a step in a very positive direction, and SunshinePHP continues to lead the way through non-biased speaker selection and responsible marketing.

The menu each day was slightly altered from previous years, with some healthier choices. The quality of the food was another nice touch as the venue really stepped up to provide some tasty items.

Evening events went well with games and panel discussions about API building indoors, and an open bar with some food items outdoors on the pool patio. (Yes, it was nice and warm.)

SunshinePHP tasty food

Overall the event went amazingly well.

The Bad

We didn’t receive too many complaints in our feedback from the event. Some mentioned that the temperature in one room was a bit cold for awhile. Others mentioned that we could have added the technical levels of the talks on the printed schedule. (We had them on the site, but overlooked adding it to the printed materials.)

One complaint, which we loved, was that we made it very difficult to improve the event for next year. 😉

The Ugly

Yes, unfortunately there was some ugly. With the recent awareness of codes of conduct and with the increase in gender diversity there is bound to be more visibility as victims come forward rather than remaining hidden. (Because even though we didn’t hear about these incidences in the past, they were already happening.) We are relieved to report that each incident below was handled professionally, and to the satisfaction of the victims.

One report was about a male attendee offering 2 separate female attendees a private sampling of relaxation techniques in his room. And when the women refused the man did not continue or push. When the incidences was brought to the man as being inappropriate he apologized and said he meant well, and he would not do it again.

A second report was made about a man in the pool area, long after the conference had ended for the day, who approached the girlfriend of an attendee and flirtatiously claimed that she could do better than her current boyfriend. We recommended that the man retire to his room (to prevent an assault) and get some rest for the next day, which he did. Nothing further was said, and no additional actions were taken.

There was a third incident reported which took place before the conference actually started, but was reported after the conference ended. A male offered to take a female shopping some distance away from the venue. Allegedly, while they were shopping the man touched the woman in an inappropriate manner. Because of the lateness of the report there were no further actions.

In a fourth report, allegedly a woman was swimming with a group, long after the conference had ended for the day, and one of the men in the group touched her in an inappropriate manner. The following morning this was brought to our attention as a 3rd party story by someone who was not present. We spoke with the man, who remained in his room except for meals over the remainder of the conference.

And finally in a fifth incident, also reported by a woman but late into the following day, it was stated that a man in the pool area the night before was over-aggressively tugging on the straps of her swimsuit. The apologetic man was questioned and promised to refrain from such activities in the future. The woman said this was an acceptable outcome.

My desire, and the reason I am being open about these incidences is to help others. Other conferences need to be aware this happened, so they can also keep their attendees safe. And attendees need to know about these things so they can watch for it, report it early, and help keep each other safe. Because whether we admit it or not, these types of activities happen everywhere. If you organize an event or group, please do not fool yourself into thinking your event is immune.

Conclusion

While SunshinePHP was very organized, and was an awesome event, sometimes things can happen that are out of an organizer’s control. I feel the SunshinePHP staff did everything in their power to ensure the safety of our attendees. We are looking forward to next year.

Developer pool sustainability

Developer hunting

Over the past couple years I’ve noticed a rise of good companies no longer outsource offshore to save money, instead they outsource because they can’t find developers here.  Notice, I said “good companies” because there are still poorly managed companies who believe the hype of offshore developers saving them money.  Since the poorly managed companies will eventually join the ranks of failures with their next social “thing”, we’ll stay focused on good companies here.

I’m sad to see the dwindling number of developers available to fill a growing number of jobs.  Local colleges and universities don’t seem to be helping, with outdated course material and terrible intern programs that aren’t helping prepare grads for “real” jobs after graduation.  Couple this with most companies and recruiters simply draining from the pool without giving back, and governments sinking more and more of our hard earned taxes into already flooded non-tech related fields.  The end result is higher unemployment, folks with a degree who can’t find work, and the vicious cycle continues on and on.

We have a pretty large tech hub here in South Florida, but we are losing developers without re-filling tomorrow’s developer pool.  Where are developers going?

  • Good students are picked up from companies outside of the area.
  • Other students tend to work in unrelated fields because local companies are unwilling to hire entry level and train. (myth of getting to market faster)
  • Experienced developers move to other areas with better culture and/or higher salaries.
  • Those developers who stick around often burn out after a few years because companies didn’t treat them well.

If we continually cut down trees in the forest we eventually find there are no more to cut down, leading to an environment where companies and recruiters head hunt among themselves to stay afloat.  Hint: This doesn’t help developers, it doesn’t help the community, and it doesn’t help companies (higher acquisition, training, and retention costs).

Companies removing developers from the market, but not contributing so other developers can be created is a fairly large problem.  It is not sustainable, and we need to make companies aware of this, to prevent a very dismal tomorrow.  The folks over at Tech.Nottingham wrote a great blog post about this, so go check it out for more details on how you and your company can start contributing for a better tomorrow. http://www.technottingham.com/news/2014/7/29/tech-companies-are-you-contributing-or-just-consuming

For companies or techs who doubt this, look no farther than the nearest event happening in your own back yard.  Look down…at the companies sponsoring these events.  Are they local companies?  Are they companies that are interested in growing the local community?  Is it your company?  I’ll close with that thought.

How to grow a tech community

I had the unique opportunity last night to attend a local community meetup where local businesses were brainstorming on how they can attract, and keep, technology professionals to the area.  Years ago Florida made a solid investment in technology when they brought a direct pipe to the Internet through the state.  However, most technology professionals still tend to leave Florida rather than stay.  I live in Boca Raton, Florida and the meeting was held close by, so I decided to attend and see what it was all about.

As most know, I am the organizer of the South Florida PHP Users Group and I am passionate about helping the PHP community grow in south Florida.  Over my years as a developer I have noticed the decline of technology in this market, and specifically the PHP community.  It was this that led me to organize a group dedicated to turning this trend around, and and grow the PHP community rather than continue to watch it decline.

The Meeting

 The meeting started with networking where everyone exchanged business cards and talked, then gathered around a HUGE conference table where the meeting began.  I quietly listened as a new co-working facility was announced, and as the idea of a “computer lab” was brought up as a way to help teach new college students learn things they were not getting in their classes.  Then the conversations gravitated to how local universities were not teaching students everything they needed to know.  The topic of how local businesses should use internships to also teach students “on the job”, then retain them as employees later.  One business owner quickly spoke up and said they did not have the time or money to take on such an endeavor. (Hinting at the true problem in the area, but quickly skipped over.)

The conversations highlighting each persons view of the same topics continued, and anything of real substance was not truly mentioned.  I turned to a fellow developer and said, “They really don’t get it, do they?”  His reply was, “Then tell them.”

After listening to this misdirection for almost an hour I could not take any more, and finally broke my silence.  In my opinion, these are the things that companies can do to attract, and keep, technology professionals. Below is what I covered:

Disclaimer

First, let me state that I realize all companies are not bad.  There are many good companies out there who do treat their developers very well.  I also realize there are companies who pay their developers well, and provide an awesome working environment.  And finally, I realize there are companies who treat their developers as professionals and trust their input rather than using them as a commodity.  I also want to go on the record as saying that south Florida is not unique in how the tech community is mistreated, sadly there are many others.

Also, I realize all people have differences.  Therefore some of my recommendations below might not apply to all.  However, I would assert that my recommendations fit the largest percentage and have been shown to work well with multiple teams I have built and managed.

Working Conditions

Technology professionals need a space with little distractions.  It has been shown that distractions severely hinder professionals because it takes a HUGE amount of time for us to get back into the groove. (some estimates put this number at 20 minutes to get back to where we left off)  So why do companies think it is cool to stuff a bunch of developers into a room sitting around a huge table, or multiple tables, where every movement in the room pulls their eyes away from the screen in distraction?  (So, every time someone moves it causes everyone to loses 20 minutes of productivity.  So how flexible are deadlines?  And how many developers can the company afford?)

Do not mix developers with the general population!  The other staff in the office has no reason to bother developers while they are working.  By not providing a “developer area” it literally cuts productivity in half, or less.

It has also been shown that office workers need their “personal space”.  Not only does this make employees comfortable, but it also allows the employee to “mark” their territory and make it their “home”.  Doing this has been shown to create longevity in employment.  If someone feels at home they are less likely to leave.  Allowing someone to create their space gives a perception of “ownership”, and humans do not leave things they own.

On the other hand developers do like to be able to communicate freely, and having them close together makes sense.  However, I have found that providing a personal space with low (waist high) dividers is wonderful.  It gives developers the personal space they need, and also allows for collaboration when needed/wanted.

Remote or Telecommute Workers

Please do not be alarmed, I am not going to say that all developers should work remote.  However, I think that many are capable of doing it and being more productive as a result.  Many smart companies do tend to stick their developer in a side room somewhere and instruct nobody to talk to them.  (See the Working Conditions section above for tips on how to do this well.)  So, does it really matter if this room is on-location?

Also, if a group of developers desks are put in a room, we notice that very little talking actually happens in the room?  Yet developers seem to “know” what each other is thinking?  This is not voodoo magic.  The developers are regularly communicating through IRC chat or instant messages so they do not disturb each other. (See the Working Conditions section above for why distractions are bad.)  So, if they are communicating without talking or even looking at each other, why do they need to all be in the same place to begin with?

Companies that allow remote working are still able to manage pretty well by having regular meetings, where everyone is required to attend.  This is often used when planning a new project or to relay very important events.  The rest of the time they do not really need developers to be “on location”. (Imagine the money saved for office space!)

Sweat Shop

Most developers actually work around 6 hours per day.  Please do not confuse this to be “Most developers do technology things 6 hours per day”.  That would be a lie.  Developers actually put many more hours into technology each day, but only around 6 of it is actually “work”.  No, just because developers are in front of the computer until 8:00pm does not mean they are getting THAT much work done.  The project will not magically get done faster by keeping developers around longer each day.

Also, please do not fall into the old habits of over-working employees to cut cost.  Forcing a group of 4 developers to regularly work an extra hour or two each day, or God forbid weekends, means another developer hire is needed.  Do not over-work developers.  Adding hours to their schedule does not really get more done, and it will ensure developers leave to work elsewhere.

If you are asking, “What are developers doing after this 6 hours of work each day?”  The answer is probably not as bad as we may think, unless they are not treated well.  Usually they are learning new technologies, or reading blogs and communicating with other developers to keep current, and unfortunately looking for new jobs if they are over-worked regularly.

Future Community Hurt By Moving Too Fast

Many graduates and entry level technology people in south Florida have a very tough time finding a job.  Companies in south Florida, and perhaps everywhere, are moving so fast and have very little money to help grow these entry level folks into a contributing member of the tech community.  To companies who already have a few developers, please augment the team by hiring one entry level person.  Trust me when I say the entry level developer will quickly learn and will be contributing very soon, and may even be the best developer later because they will learn things the “right way”.  Companies will get much more than their money’s worth.

Training (I did not mention this, but should have)

Technology never stands still and is constantly on the march.  New things come out every day, and technology professionals work very hard to keep up with all of this information.  Yet companies do not seem to realize how helping technology professionals learn will inevitably help them.  Companies that help developers learn will benefit.  I am amazed at how many companies will not send their people to developer conferences, or other training events happening.  Not only do these conferences teach new things, but it also allows developers to network and build friendships to help them with problems later.  Then these same companies expect their people to somehow “know” these new things.

On the other hand, if there is a “sales” conference going on, many companies jump at the chance to send as many people as they can.  Then the salespeople re-learn the same techniques and practices that have been taught for decades.  Sales technology has essentially not changed for a very long time.  Seems a little backward, yes?

Respected as professionals

Companies are not professional developers, and many of them have no idea of how to develop.  That is OK, because it is not their expertise, so they hire developers to fill that need.  However, it seems that very few companies actually allow developers to provide their professional advice.  Instead of listening to developers for time estimates, functionality tips, testing requirements, and hardware needs, these things are all ignored to meet some fictional perception the company has for building the application.  Of course the result is typically failure of the application, and ultimately failure of the company or startup as well.

That is kind of like seeing a doctor because we’re sick, or a carpenter to build a house, then telling them how to do their job.

Companies, please respect developers professional advice.  Don’t force them to write bad code to meet unrealistically short time requirements, lack of testing, and poor hardware.  If you hired a professional, let them be one.  Insist they be one.

Salary

I saved this for last because while salary is a concern, it is usually not the largest concern for developers.  If a developer is treated professionally, encouraged/supported to attend training and conferences, not over-worked, and given a nice working environment, they generally are more forgiving of a lower than average salary. (within reason)

Speaking on behalf of developers in south Florida, salary is an issue.  Not only do most companies not follow my recommendations above, but they are also the lowest paying companies in the country for technology related jobs. (By around 10%.)  Meanwhile the cost of living in Florida is among the highest.  This has led many technology students graduating from south Florida universities to leave Florida and go to other areas where salaries are higher.

Now I’m not saying companies in south Florida should immediately start paying 10% more to their developers.  It takes time to make that move.  But perhaps companies should pay less attention to salary when hiring, and focus more on job requirements.  They may find their projects get done faster, better, and more professional because of hiring more qualified developers versus cheaper developers.

Closing

As I found in the meeting I attended, companies do not seem to know how to truly attract technology professionals to the area.  So I decided to help them by writing this post.  Of course there are other things that also help attract technology professional, but if the items I mention in this post are not present then they will not stick around.  We can have the best hackathons, the most awesome coworking spaces, computer labs, and the most funded community events.  But if the developers are not happy at work, they will slowly migrate to areas that offer happy work places.

Great time at php|tek 2012

On May 21st, 2012 I set out on a journey to my once annual PHP related conference. I have limited myself to a single conference each year and generally work the expenses and time into my employment contract. Most companies are willing to sponsor employees going to a conference, as long as it will benefit them in some way and as long as you get it approved from the beginning of your employment. (Otherwise they “perceive” it as an expense and not an investment to gain an employee.)

I arrived early in the morning rather than later in the day (there were no flights in the middle) because I wanted to ensure I had time to network and socialize prior to the tutorials the following day. For past conferences I always enjoyed them and learned a bunch, but never really socialized much. I was the wall flower quiet person sitting in the front latching onto every word of the speakers, but then didn’t really talk much after.  This year I wanted to make it different.

Why the difference? A couple of years ago (due to events I will cover elsewhere) I decided to help South Florida enter the PHP community and grow into a place where companies could find PHP developers, and where PHP developers would enjoy a thriving community. So I started the South Florida PHP Users Group which has grown to around 270 members. In the process I learned to gain the most from any event or training through an added social aspect and that realization washed over into how I experienced Tek12.

Tek12 was very social…more social than I remember on previous times I attended. It seemed like everywhere I looked there was a group talking, and laughing.  And each group was very approachable or outright invited bystanders to participate.  Plus the groups constantly changed, so there were no “clicks” where the same people were always together.  Everyone seemed to flow from one group to another and contribute to each conversation.  I also felt very comfortable walking right up to others and simply asking a question. (Something I think most are intimidated to do.)  So I learned a bunch, and had a great time finding answers to questions I’ve had for some time.

I loved the achievement patch idea, and feel it helped by gently forcing everyone to talk to the sponsors and each other. It wasn’t like entering a large hall full of sponsor tables where you quickly passed a table grabbing “swag” and avoiding an uncomfortable product spiel on something of no interest. The php|tek crew did a good job of bringing sponsors who are relevant to current developer needs.  Not only did I learn from some of them, but I also found some services I can really use.  And I did manage to collect EVERY patch, plus one extra from Mashery for building a quick application using one of their APIs. (It is the white patch.)

Of course the sessions at the conference were wonderful with lots of great speakers. It took me a few days for my brain to catch up and actually digest the contents and topics I saw. I am still trying to work through some of them. The people who decided which talks get through the screening process did a great job of ensuring we had a good list of topics, and kept them relevant to current trends.

I also took advantage of the Engine Yard Jaunt sponsored by Engine Yard on Friday night after the conference.  It was a great way to see some sites in the city, and spend more time with old and new friends in the PHP community.  There was great pizza at Giordano’s, a tour of Skydeck Chicago, and then some night life events. (My wife and son were arriving at the airport to spend the weekend with me in Chicago, so I didn’t continue on to the club portion of the trip, but I am sure everyone had a great time.)

Of course no trip would be complete without a short jaunt with the family on a beautiful sunny day.  So on Saturday and Sunday we headed out and saw a lot more of the city, which will be posted on my more “family” oriented outlets.