Know Thy PHP Conference Know The Dutch PHP Conference (DPC) & The Dutch Mobile Conference (DMC) – “If You Can Do It Ahead Of Time, No Matter What It Is, Do It!”

Contents At Glance

Purpose Of This ‘PHP Conference Interview’ Concept

This is the #1st set of Know Thy PHP Conference in an attempt to create more awareness of:

  • what is $this PHP Conference about + get to know the people behind it
  • what is a PHP Conference in general
  • what is involved in organizing a PHP Conference
  • what is a PHP UnConference (I will try to fit that in wherever possible)
  • to personally know all the PHP Conference Around The World – that excites me and I hope you too!

This concept is also a good opportunity for new elePHPants to know about all these things and conferences going on. My message and aim in this respect is: [ (Read + Observe + Learn) => Do_It_Thyself]. Everything is possible, let’s get going. let’s do this!

Join This Concept And Initiative On Facebook & Google+

This 7PHP “Know Thy PHP Conference” Series also has a group on FB and G+, do join us there!

  1. The PHP UG on FaceBook Group
  2. The PHP UG on Google+ Community

Welcome To The Dutch PHP Conference (DPC) & The Dutch Mobile Conference (DMC)

Dutch PHP Conference (DPC)

Dutch PHP Conference (DPC)

>> Could you, the leader(s), tell us a bit about yourself?

Our conference work is a company wide effort done through Ibuildings, a Dutch agency specializing in web and mobile app development. Everyone helps out in different ways, from graphic design to rating papers to running errands at the conference.

There is a core organizing team which varies a bit from year to year. For this edition, we have:

  1. Joni – Organizer since the first DPC, Managing Director of Ibuildings. I adore creative things and working in the garden.
  2. Martin – Dutch Web Developer with a strong focus on Mobile web development, therefore I mainly focus on the Dutch Mobile Conference which is being held alongside DPC. But besides mobile development, I also very much enjoy PHP development and the DPC.
  3. Ross – American expat, team lead and rookie speaker. I love books and hats.
  4. Angela – Office manager at Ibuildings, the “Girl Friday” at the office and also during the organisation of the conference. I am a dancer and like to see the world.

>> What is this conference about?

Actually, we have two different conferences that run at the same time. The first is the Dutch PHP Conference (DPC) which is about, well, PHP. While that’s the main focus, there’s also a lot about web development and building great software in general.

The second conference is the Dutch Mobile Conference (DMC) which is a conference about building mobile applications using technologies more familiar to web developers. That means everything from HTML5 to Titanium to FirefoxOS to you name it. It also covers related topics that might help you do that like websockets or testing APIs.

Although both conferences have “Dutch” in their name, everything is in English. In fact, we like to joke the only Dutch thing about the conferences is their location.

>> When was it first launched?

  • The first DPC was in 2007 and we’ve had it every year since then.
  • DMC is a newer event we just started last year (2012).

>> Place(s) the conference is(was) held

The conference has always been held in the Amsterdam RAI which is the biggest conference center in the Netherlands (to my knowledge). The socials are always located somewhere downtown, usually a rented cafe or club.

>> How many editions of this conference have been organized till now?

This is the seventh DPC. Wow, time flies.

>> How did the idea and motivation come from?

Originally, IPC was in Amsterdam once a year. When they stopped, that left a gap in the community. Ibuildings felt compelled as an authority in the PHP area to fill that gap. After a successful first year, we made the conference annual and have grown from 1 conference day to 2 conference days with an extra tutorial day.

>> What are the objectives and aim of this conference?

Primarily to educate. We’re trying to make an event where people can find the knowledge and best practices that are relevant to them, learn as much as possible and then take it back home with them to their local community. Which is, ultimately, the best for everyone. As they say, “a rising tide lifts all boats”, especially in open-source.

That also feeds into the second goal of any good conference, which is to inspire. We hope that being exposed to all of this will inspire people to keep taking the next step forward in whatever they do.

>> The average number of attendees?

The first year started with 265 attendees, which was the maximum capacity of our first conference hall. Those tickets sold out very quickly so we expanded to a larger hall the next year. Since then, we’ve averaged 375 attendees per year.

>> The highest number of attendees?

475

>> Attendees tend to be of what background mostly?

Almost all attendees are developers although we have some project managers, designers and even interested clients attending as well. Many are Dutch but there’s a large international crowd from expats in Amsterdam or folks who flew in for the conference.

>> Could you briefly tell us about the key people behind this conference and their respective roles? How are the tasks distributed among the team members?

When new tasks come up, like updating Youtube channels or making contact with a sponsor, we tend to discuss them and the one person will volunteer. We also pitch a lot of ideas back and forth, then decide which are worth following up on together.

  1. Joni – Head of the conference, sponsorships and resolver of tough decisions.
  2. Martin – Organizer and host for DMC. Speaker contact, scheduling and promotion.
  3. Ross – Organizer and host for DPC. Speaker wrangling and writing blog posts, mailings, etc.
  4. Angela – Logistics and communication. Whether it’s booking a hotel room or fixing a ticket shop issue, she has it handled.

>> How do you go about finding sponsors, what are the key aspects to successfully finding sponsors? Are there any particular challenges?

Ibuildings chooses primarily top notch technical partners and tries to screen out those focused on recruitment. Tickets are usually purchased by companies that want to inspire and teach developers, so you don’t want them spending the entire conference being headhunted. Because of this, DPC/DMC have relatively little sponsorship but that’s a deliberate choice.

The key aspect is asking on time with the sponsor’s annual budget and making certain that it’s a win-win for everyone. Your sponsors need a good incentive to sign up and the cost of sponsorship should be fair in proportion to the benefit.

>> What unique opportunity does organizing a PHP Conference present?

First off, it’s a great way to make contact with leaders in the community. Organizing a conference is also just fun to do. It’s always interesting to see what comes about because of events like these.

>> What is this famous ‘call for paper’ and how is it scheduled?

The CfP, as we call it, happens several months before the conference, usually from the middle of January – February. That gives us plenty of time to review the papers, make selections, and do travel arrangements (which can take a lot of time!). Our CfPs are open, which means anyone can submit a talk for review. Like most conferences, the submission process itself is very simple: we just use a form on the website to collect as much information about the session and speaker as possible.

>> On what criteria does the team select speakers, what are the key areas that you seek to select a speaker?

The team itself doesn’t really select speakers. Instead, we assemble a group of interested developers who then pour over every submission and rate it on a scale of 1- 5. We calculate the average for an overall score and the standard deviation to see which are controversial. With this in hand, the talk selection almost does itself but the organizing team does make a final selection to prevent having 10 talks on the same topic.

Very rarely, we may invite a specific speaker, usually for a keynote. That’s not common though, we’re very lucky in that a lot of great submissions come to us.

>> Rejection emails, how do you handle them? (softly or ‘to the point’ styles)

The Dutch normally pride themselves on their bluntness but we try to leave that out of the rejection notices and write something a bit kinder. It takes some courage to submit and nobody likes getting rejected. We also try to include a discount code to encourage speakers to visit and hopefully sign up for the unconference*.

>> How is it different from other PHP Conferences?

Tough to say, there’s a lot of really great conferences out there. DPC is fairly advanced and thanks to the fact it’s organized by a company, there aren’t any commercial talks. A lot of speakers also tell us that they feel the conference is really oriented towards the speakers, attendees and community. That’s always the goal but it’s nice to hear it comes through that way as well.

DMC is a different matter, as there are few mobile conferences that focus on web technologies (as opposed to native development). Nonetheless, we keep it focused on developers.

>> Things that it excels at, as compared to others

Running a tight schedule? We always start on time. Generally, attendees never notice that anything goes wrong because we’re always running around like crazy behind the scenes.

Speakers also mention the high ratio of joind.in comments and feedbacks they receive, which really shows how much the speakers are valued by the attendees.

>> Aspects where it lacks as compared to others

One thing we sometimes wish we could do is liven up the venue. Having the event at a major conference center means you get enough rooms, good sound/wifi and on-site catering which is all fantastic. Still, it’d be fun to do it somewhere more colorful at least once.

>> Lessons learned from previous editions

If you can do it ahead of time, no matter what it is, do it. Don’t forget capacity planning. Always check in with your speakers ahead of time and treat them well. Be flexible. And above all else, Don’t Panic.

>> How are you going to make new editions even better than the previous, any specific focus?

This year, we’ve added a lot of secondary events to the conference. Our unconference is returning but we’re trying to make it an even more prominent feature. Zend is sponsoring a hackathon that spans the entire conference, Engine Yard is sponsoring a bigger/better social and Sensio is offering Symfony certification for first time in the Netherlands. We’re also trying to reach out to a lot of user groups and communities to make the conference more fun and interesting for everyone.

Another big theme for this year is helping people step outside their comfort zone. That might mean encouraging folks to use their DPC/DMC ticket to visit wildly different talks from the other conference. That might mean planning crossover talks for both sides so even if the topic is known to both groups, they can at least get another perspective. And this might also mean putting talks on the schedule you might not normally expect at a PHP conference like Lisp or Django.

>> When is the next one scheduled?

As always: next year, beginning of June!

>> How is organizing and running a conference different from organizing a user group?

User groups are usually for free, and whenever anything goes wrong you are easily forgiven. For a conference everything needs to be perfect, you need to deliver what people pay for or they will blame it on you. Having experience from setting up user group meetings is already a good start to connect with your audience before you even think about organizing a conference.

On the other hand, once you’re organizing a conference you’re not only delivering a fun evening, but an experience which will be remembered for years to come. All the effort you put into a conference will repay itself as ultimate satisfaction when you see all the attendees enjoying the event.

>> Your message to the people who are going to attend it?

Come, learn something interesting, meet new people and have fun doing it.

>> Any other things you want to mention/share?

A word of encouragement to new speakers: it can be scary to get on stage but it’s a great feeling to see other people learn and be inspired by your work. Just start with an uncon talk. If you’re not speaking, make sure you talk to speakers and rate them on Joind.in or other sites. It’s important and meaningful for them to see all their hard work is appreciated.

Finally, if you organize a conference, try to give new speakers a shot. It can be a risk but fresh perspectives can be a real boost to a community. And after all, everyone has to start somewhere.

What Is a PHP UnConference? Closing out with DPC..

Image by DigitalArt

>> You mentioned an unconference. Could you tell us a bit about the unconference?
>> What is an unconference and how is it different from a conference one?

The unconference (or just uncon, for short) is an extra track that’s filled by the attendees themselves. Essentially, we make an extra room available, with certain time slots and regular attendees or speakers with free time come and present whatever they like. It’s a great way for new speakers to break into a bigger audience or to present about topics that are fascinating but couldn’t necessarily fill an entire conference hall.

>> Things to keep in mind when organizing an unconference?

Often the schedule is assembled or changed very quickly, so you need to have someone specifically for that task. An unconference is a community driven event (literally), so we try to invite a different person from the community to come in and host it every year. Last year, we had the excellent John Le Drew and this year we’re excited to have Jeroen van Dyke.

The toughest part might be the actual signing up process and making attendees aware of what’s available. In previous years, the host would stand in the lobby with a giant easel and write up the schedule as people walked up with ideas in the morning. This worked well but meant the slots filled up very quickly and then getting word out to the attendees in time was difficult.

So, this year Jeroen is experimenting with a new format where he’s accepting sign-ups for some slots via a special twitter account (@dpc_uncon) so we can announce those way ahead of time to jump-start the process. We’re hoping this format will be a big hit.

>> Is “speaking for” an unconference less of a stress than a conference one?

Hard to say, any speaking engagement can be nerve wracking. There’s definitely more uncertainty: you don’t always know what time slot you’ll get or the kind of audience size. Normally, a regular speaker has time to prepare for these things, but once you sign up for the uncon, you might be going on stage 45 minutes later!

That said, there’s a certain kind of excitement that comes from that. There’s always a chance you’ll find the right topic at the right time and hit a huge, unexpected home-run.

>> Any other things you would like to say about an unconference?

For experienced speakers, uncons are great ways to “test drive” a talk or feel out how interesting a topic might be for a full fledged talk.

For new speakers, an uncon can be an excellent place to prove yourself. The barrier to entry is very low but the talks are rated and tweeted about, so if you’re trying to break into the conference scene, uncons and user groups are the place to start. We also try to encourage people to participate by sometimes offering a slot in next year’s conference to the highest rated uncon speaker. Basically, if you’ve got a small talk idea or internal presentation lying around, there’s no reason to not submit it.

Website & Twitter Handles

1) For Dutch PHP Conference (DPC)

2) For Dutch Mobile Conference (DMC)

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