PHPNW08 – Interview with Organiser, Jeremy Coates
Back in 2008, Jeremy Coates was in the middle of organising his first big tech conference, an event which turned out to be PHPNW08, when he kindly answered a few questions about how a newbie approaches such a daunting project.
Who are you? What do you do?
Hi, I’m Jeremy Coates, I’m the MD of Solution Perspective Media in Preston, Lancs. I’ve been running the company for the last nine years, starting as a one-man band (with a good woman in the background) to where we are now with 6 staff. We generally specialise in PHP development and consultancy in particular using Zend Framework for the last couple of years. We tackle a range of projects from small to large, recently completing a large payroll related project.
How did you get into technology?
I’ve always been a bit of a geek, getting my first computer (a BBC B) before secondary school; then following university I worked as an Occupational Therapist in the Health Service for a number of years; had a year being a practitioner lecturer as St. Martins College at Lancaster; before radically changing careers and starting the company I’m in now.
How did you get into PHP?
I started back in the PHP 3.1.x days, it was a lot different than it is now, I took the traditional route into PHP at the time – read books, lots of them, my staff are still amazed at how many tech books I have! I then went back to uni for a while (night school) to firm up my knowledge.
Since then I’ve had a number of clients who have had large PHP set ups, publishing firms, insurance firms and the like which really helped me get a handle on enterprise approaches to development. One experience that sticks out in my mind, that not many will have seen, is that of helping write a PHP based web wrapper to back-end mainframe systems, such as ICL, IBM and Bull. <?php = good glue! ?>
What were the first events you organised? PHPNW is the first big conference you’ve organised. What prompted it?
PHPNW and the conference PHPNW08 started as an idea about three years ago. I attended the first London conference and mused to myself that we needed something like this in the North, little did I know then that I’d be the one kick-starting it. I then went on to attend this year’s London conference and was reminded of my original idea, following on from then I floated the idea with a few colleagues and people I knew in the industry and received a resounding yes to the idea.
A small number of people then got together in July to have the inaugural meeting and to plan for the conference, things have just grown and grown since then – we’ve got an amazing schedule of speakers (http://conference.phpnw.org.uk/phpnw08/?page_id=118), some from the regulars on the circuit and lots from local talent, which was high on the original agenda from the outset. We’ve continued to have regular meetings since then that cover PHP related topics.
One of the key drivers for my involvement is the desire to help people become the best PHP developers they can be, I’ve had several good mentors and experiences that have helped me and now some ten years later, I’m able to offer similar to my colleagues. I’m also aware that there are many people, perhaps working as the sole PHP developer, who do not have those opportunities that I have valued – hopefully now through PHPNW and the conference they have that forum to share, and grow their knowledge and experience (all over a drink or few of course).
What does the PHP Community in NW England look like?
In general terms, to date, it has been reasonably isolated, with pockets of interaction, Drupal group meetings etc. With the advent of the PHPNW group, there is now a central rallying point for PHP developers. The desire to share and belong to something of this nature has been demonstrated through regularly having 20-30 people at the monthly events, and have over 140 people on the Google Group mailing list.
We’d love for more people to be involved, come along to the conference, get some great talks from industry leaders with brilliant technical content, interact with your peers, improve your skills and knowledge, have some fun social time and get a free 12 month subscription to php|Architect magazine (worth £20 in itself). We’ve also a number of prizes to give away at the event including tickets to the London conference, several books from publishers in the industry and plenty of other swag. Plenty to make this a really great event – so get signed up now! http://conference.phpnw.org.uk/phpnw08/register/
Talk us through the process you’ve been through to make it happen? What logistical challenges have you faced? How did you overcome them?
There’s a lot of time and effort needed to make an event of this nature happen, there are a number of red-herrings that can get in the way, not least the regular 9-to-5! Finding a venue was the hardest initial element, we just decided to think big in the end, and Manchester Central is pretty big as venues go. The other thing that has helped is the existing set of digital related communities (http://nwdc.org.uk/) in the North-of-England, being able to share and draw on their help and experience has made this less painful than it could have been.
What has surprised you about putting on such a big event?
The main thing is the costs of it all, events are expensive, so without the help of sponsors, the early-bird ticket price of £50 would not have been anywhere near realistic. We’ve also had to add staff cover to make it happen, to co-ordinate speakers, hotels, flights etc. Emma Parker has done a sterling job. A big shout also has to go out to Lorna Mitchell from ibuildings and Jenny Dunphy from Allegis Group, who without their efforts and contacts it would be a much tougher job. There’s still some sponsorship opportunities available, to help out contact firstname.lastname@example.org for our sponsors pack.
With PHPNW still a few weeks away, would you do it again?
Where things stand today, in the hectic mess that is life leading up to the conference, I’d probably, jokingly, say no. On a more serious note, I firmly believe that this is a healthy thing for the North and for PHP in general. There’s a lot of great talent around here, and this should continue to help us grow and learn and keep us on squarely on the map, thoughts have already turned to next year…