PHP Community: Of Leaders, conferences and Union

Note: This article was originally published on the march/2011 issue of php-architect. If you like it keep a close eye on the Community Column in the magazine, where i get the chance to write alongside other awesome community people.

“Our function as community leaders is to enable people to be the best they can in the community that they have chosen to be part of.” – Jono Bacon

This quote comes from Jono Bacon’s book: “The Art of Community“, and I like it because it puts somethings in perspective. Communities are a interesting manifestation of human social skills, a truly incredible joining of people by a single motivation, in our case the motivation is PHP, be it helping, learning, self-promotion, work or any more of a wide gamma of roads that lead to getting in touch with this great force. Community leaders are even more intriguing species, people who try to lead and organize this controlled chaos, and they don’t even get paid for it.

PHPSPUG during our TestFest lunch

But as Jono puts it, the Community leader is really not a leader, someone on top of the stage with all the flood lights on him. The leader is a catalyst, that spark that can lead to a forest fire, ok not the best reference, but you get the point. Leaders are there to inspire people, give them the initial push and then literally get out of their way and let them go where their inspiration and self-drive takes them, as Jono says, an “enabler”.

Its very interesting to observe Communities, their manifestations and their growth. They seem to have life of their own, to grow, mature and expand as a group in this kind of biological process, leaders are always present, but they are a cyclic occurrence, old ones move on, new ones take over and yet the community keeps going. I have been observing communities for a long while, here in Brazil and a few overseas also, thanks to opportunities from all the major conferences that help all of us “community geeks” get together and start brainstorming, sort of like this column.

Our community seems to have started somewhere in 2006, the first User Group showed up with what was, back then, this crazy idea to hold a national PHP Conference. They started small with a few local events in São Paulo. By the time the conference came around there was this great sense of awareness that we were not alone. I quickly made the wise choice to gather a few savings and get myself a ticket over. It was truly an incredible experience for me, my first PHP Conference, this incredible feeling of being in a place with so many other people speaking the same language, same topics and understanding when I started talking about frameworks, mvc patterns and how to deal with heavy traffic. See, back then I was a one-man team and had barely started using mailing lists, that conference was an eye opener, it showed me that I was naught but a mere beginner in this great career of a PHP Developer. It showed me there was this incredible source out there, one you could tap into and get this amazing collection of knowledge. I stood there watching all of those speakers talk about these incredible things, sharing all of this information, an overdrive of ideas and inspiration.

By the end of the conference I had one clear though: “I need to learn, and I want to share, next year I want to be a speaker”. That moment changed my life professionally and that conscious decision to be part of this “community” has been paid back in much more then triple. As history goes that year along with two great friends (Adler Medrado and Pablo Sanchez) we founded our first User Group, PHPDF on Brazil’s capital. And we were not alone, that single conference put so many ideas in so many heads that User Groups started popping up all over the country. The PHP community in Brazil started taking shape, we started to see that we were not quite the “few and scattered” group we believed, we were huge and ready to move to new heights.

Fast forward to 2010. Brazil has over 21 User Groups, almost one in every single state, from the amazon to the atlantic forest and going through all our huge metropoles. That national conference is now just the crowning conference at the end of the year, numerous other smaller conference are held during the year, producing new ideas and more and more groups every year, not to mention launching new speakers and bringing great members of the worldwide community to com inspire our masses. One of the side effects of this reunions is something I like to talk about to every community leader that gives me a chance to talk about community.

The "big room" of PHP Conference Brasil

Its called PHP Brazil Communities (PHPBC). Its not a User Group, its just a simple idea, a communication channel. Building and maintaining a UG has a few distinct challenges, mostly the same for every group, save for a few exceptions. After all we are “enablers” right? Its what needs to be done, take down obstacles and let the community be their awesome selves. PHPBC unites all of our community “enablers” under one roof and gives them an opportunity to talk, to ask questions, to listen and to be inspired, its enablers enabling enablers. The result was beyond any expectation we had, a constant growth of members, meetings, activities and new User Groups. Everyone shared: this is how we solved problem X, this is company Y who can give you a place for meetings, this is event format Z that can work with that goal. It turns out that collectively solving problems is very productive, who could guess? The great momentum and huge mass also made it easy for us to reach out to companies, to get support and to become a pool of talent for the job marketplace. Union was our solution and our catalyst, it helped new groups be born, it helped old groups come back and it helped new leaders take the place of other leaders.

If you would like to take anything away from this article with you, take this: Being a community leader or a community member remember that there is great strength in numbers, as a developer there is this great source of untapped knowledge, this insane problem solving bio-computer that you can reach out to and get answers, tips and ideas from. As a leader this great union can push you to become a better “enabler”, to push the limits of your community and grow, solve problems and mature.

If you are a leader, come join us on the UG Admins list at: http://phpgroups.org/. If you are not in a User Group, go find the closest one to you and let the professional growth start.

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