WEB Advent 2008 / You Need the PHP Community

Let me paint a picture for you—there’s a young developer, sitting in his parents’ basement, hacking away at his latest masterpiece. He has built it from scratch and is proud of how he’s handled the backend to frontend integration. Sitting back in his chair, he smiles and prepares his application to be deployed to the world; two hundred files, for a simple forum.

Obviously, something just isn’t right here. There’s something that was missing in his development process that you just can’t get if you’re going it alone. The PHP manual is great for finding out the order of arguments for function calls, but it’s not the best when you need tips on the best way to handle things.

Rewind back to the beginning of the project and let’s envision the same scenario with one additional key element: the PHP community. If you look beyond the surface, you’ll see this diverse group of people populating most of the major PHP resources out there. All our lone developer would have to do to see some of the errors of his ways is to simply ask, in an online forum, about a design decision that has stumped him. He’d get feedback from other developers all around the world. IRC channels are a great place to seek advice or some real-time troubleshooting with other developers. Lots of people are more than happy to offer advice on application design, which is something our isolated developer could have used.

The community doesn’t stop in forums and chat rooms, though. Once our friend has found out why having thirty include files in each page is a bad idea, he has a nugget of knowledge that he can turn around and share with others. Taking in ideas and information from the PHP community is great, but what can really help you flourish and thrive is giving back. You’re not only helping someone else, but you might also learn something new in the process. Every developer has things they specialize in, certain technologies that they have some additional experience in, and being there to help with those bits of knowledge at the right place and right time can make things a lot easier for someone who is just now getting there.

The more you interact, the more you get to know people around you and around the world. You’ll form new relationships, and you might even be able to meet up with your new friends at local user groups or at conferences (which attract people from all over the world). Having these communities around you can provide a valuable asset, not just in your development work, but also in your every day learning and growth. Sure, sitting around talking about code at a user group meeting is fun, but there’s only so much of that kind of fun to go around. The real community building happens in the after-hours stuff. Getting the whole group out for beers and maybe some pool helps people loosen up and share more of themselves, and can drop some of the stuffy atmosphere that can be present at formal group meetings.

Want to be able to give back in a way that’s a bit more permanent but still personal at the same time? Start up a blog and stick with it. Some PHP developers use their blogs to make announcements about releases for software they’re working on, and others use them to talk about hidden gems they’ve discovered along the way to help other developers. Either way, blogging can provide a window into you and your development that other PHP developers can follow. They can get to know you through your posts and mark you down as a resource to approach when they need help. Blogging also lets you reach out to the community, ask for ideas and suggestions, and offer up some of your own in the process. Some developers have even used their blogs to respond to articles on other sites that might be spreading misinformation.

So, what’s the fate of our lonely developer hacking away on his application, now with the support of the community? The possibility of an improved application that adheres to best practices, is leaner and cleaner, and properly supports PHP 5. The moral? Don’t develop in the dark; get out there and meet people. Programming is not just about how many lines you’ve written and what sort of fun tricks you’ve managed to employ. It’s about getting out there and sharing with fellow developers and making the connections and friendships that could save you down the line.

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