PHP Benelux 2017 report

The end of January is always blocked in my agenda, because I know PHPBenelux will be around that time. This year the eight edition of the conference was held the 26th and 27th of January at the same venue as always: Ter Elst in Antwerp.

I’m proud to say I’ve visited almost all editions of PHPBenelux and therefore I wouldn’t miss this for the world. As soon as the blind bird tickets went on sale, I secured myself a ticket and made sure I booked a hotel-room in the nearest hotel. And then the waiting started 😉

Last weekend the wait was over. I convinced two co-workers to join me, and together we left for Antwerp on Thursday evening. Most of the time I travel a day early, so I don’t have to worry or stress out to get to the conference on time. So after a quiet (but pretty fast) trip, we arrived at the hotel and went to bed after enjoying a couple of great Belgium beers.

The next morning after breakfast we walked to the venue, checked in and started the conference off with a tutorial. I signed up for the Basic CQRS and Event Sourcing with Prooph tutorial given by Marco Pivetta.
I already heard of the concept and was actually doing something quite similar for one of my projects, so I was eager to learn more about the topic and see how you were actually supposed to set something up like that in a proper and structural way.

It was a nicely given tutorial. It started off with a small introduction of the topic and Marco drew a clear representation of the whole process is working when storing date in an event sourced way. After that it became hands on. He prepared a repository for us via GitHub Classroom with an initial example and skeleton code for all the assignments, so it was fairly easy to start. After each assignment he did a quick recap and a live coding/demo to show the result to everybody and helped out where he could.

When the tutorial was over, it was time for the lunch. As always the PHPBenelux crew and Ter Elst employees had taken care of everything. I met up with a few people and while waiting in line to get some food I spoke to some people I did not met before. I don’t mind stepping in line at my own. This way it is easier to meet new people, because you can just start chatting with one in front or back of you.

Meeting new people is always one of my goals for a conference. Not only is it nice to meet new people and to get to know what they do for a living or think about a great variety of interesting subjects. It is also good to expand your social/professional network.
If I think back to the first conference I every visited, it was very scary. I didn’t know anybody.. Now, after a good 8 years of visiting conferences and meet-ups, I can say I know a lot of people in the community and am lucky enough to call some of them my friends. This not only makes it easier and more enjoyable to visit other conferences “by yourself” it is also very helpful in your day to day live. Whenever you’re stuck with a problem or need help with something your co-workers can’t help you with, you can rely on a large network of people you can contact and are willing to help you out!

After the lunch it was time for the welcome and introduction, followed by the keynote Using Open Source for Fun and Profit by Gary Hockin. I had already seen the talk at PHPNW last year in Manchester, but that did not make it any less interesting. It is a very inspiring story, especially for people who visit a conference for the first time.

And then the conference kicked off in all its fury. There were four tracks to choose from, including an unconference talk, where anyone who wanted to give a presentation could claim a spot.

I started of seeing the Debugging Your Set-Up talk from Derick Rethans. I already have quite some skill in debugging PHP code and finding problems, and had used an strace before in the past. But most of the time I called somebody else to figure out what the problem was whenever I ran into segmentation faults or other “unexplainable” errors. So I was curious what I could learn from Derick. The talk was fairly technical, but easy to follow in my opinion. Derick provided great examples based on his own experience while working on xdebug.

After that there was a small break followed by more talks. I choose for Make Legacy great again! by Donatas Aleksandravičius. It was a good talk and I was glad to see it inspired my co-workers who joined me in this talk. We have a lot of legacy code around the office I’m currently working at and Donatas gave some great tips on how we could start to improve this.

Next up were more talks, I wanted to visit the unconference to see Freek van der Herten talk about Creating a realtime dashboard with PHP and websockets, but it was so packed I could not easily fit in the room anymore. So I strode around the hall and started an interesting conversation with some people there. So I decided to skip this round and do the hallway-track instead.

During the last round of the day, I visited Python for PHP developers by Joshua Thijssen. I always love his talks, because they are a bit out of the ordinary most of the time. This talk was no different. He showed us how much Python and PHP look alike and are different at the same time. It is funny to see you can easily spot out the PHP developers who do python, or the other way around. And it is always good to see what other programming languages have to offer and make it possible for you to choose the correct tool for the job.

And that’s it, day one was over.. or was it? I don’t think so! One of the best parts of conferences are the socials, and especially the ones PHPBenelux organizes! It was time to eat, drink and meet more people.

As always there were snacks, fries and something else for the people who are vegetarian (or just wanted something different than snacks). I joined the queue and chatted with the people around me until it was my time to order my snacks. When I got my fries and walked back, I saw some people I knew, so decided to eat my food with them.

There were lots of cool things to do. There was table tennis, a pool table, a box-ball, pinball machines, laser game and many other things. It was a very enjoyable evening with lots of laughs, beers, talks and again I met some interesting people. But around 3am it was really time to go and find my hotel 😉

The next morning I started with the great talk from Bastian Hofmann called Expect the un-expected: How to handle errors gracefully. Unbelievable what their company keeps track of. He told us about the tools they use to monitor all the processing and things going on in their systems and showed us how valuable it is to keep track of all these things in case of errors or bugs. This will definitely be something I will dive in next week when I’m back at work.

Unfortunately the talk I attended hereafter about caching was a bit disappointing.. so I was looking forward to the break after. During the break I joined Joshua Thijssen in his current pet project: creating a distributed data store completely in PHP. Unbelievable what this guy thinks of and is able to create. If you are interested, let him know! He is thinking of turning the idea in a talk but is not sure if there is any interest for it. He has my vote, because I missed the next talk talking to him.

After lunch I went to see Chris Hartjes with his talk Time Management For Grumpy Programmers. Another great talk. Time management is also a thing I’m always struggling with and still looking for tips and tricks to improve. Although I’m not sure if Chris’ way of time-boxing everything will work for me. Hearing his talk I once again confirmed the most important things you need to learn and change to be successful in time management: learn to say no and be disciplined in the way you work.

The night before I spoke with Rowan Merewood about a few things and he told me to check out his talk. So I did and stayed after Chris’ talk to hear Rowan talk about how passwords are bad in Connecting people – Identity in your platform. Very cool to see how Google is trying to find a way to make it easier to authenticate users across platforms. I’m not sure if I really like this new technique, so it got me some interesting stuff to think about. But at least I will give it a try.

During the last round some people were already leaving and I spent my time again in the hallway track. Saying goodbye to some and discussing the talks we’ve seen with others. After that it was time for the closing, raffles and dinner. Followed by again an evening of social. Luckily the boxing ball, laser game and pool table were still present, so it was once again a very entertaining night!

Again it was a great conference. Many thanks to the PHPBenelux crew and the Ter Elst personnel, I cannot think of a better way to start the conference season this year!

And for anybody who was not there or never been to a conference before. Make sure you get tickets for next years edition!

Jeroen is an IT allrounder who likes to play with all sorts of techniques. The thing he likes most is working in new and rapidly changing environments. His co-workers and clients sometimes call him “Chief Duct Tape” because of the quick and creative solutions he comes up with to fix their problems. It may not always be the best maintainable solution, but it will ensure the company to react on the continuously changing market and getting things done in the quickest and cheapest way so they can grow to a next level. If they (already) reached the next level, he will gladly help them take the steps to pay off their technical depth and grow even further! You may contact him by mail at or @jcdejong on Twitter.

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