ZendCon 2018 Thoughts

This year my partner and I attended ZendCon.  It was our first conference in years, since our ColdFusion days, as well as the first PHP conference we’ve attended.  It was hosted in Las Vegas, at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, so I also got my first trip to Vegas as part of the event.  One of the primary reasons we wanted to go was for the PHP Certification boot camp available in the first day tutorials.  Getting our certs has been a goal for a while, and we decided it was long past time we actually made some effort towards doing so.  The sessions also looked promising, with quite a few of interest that we’d both marked.

I have to admit, the first day there was a little shaky.  No offense to the Hard Rock Hotel, it just isn’t my style at all.  Nothing against the hotel itself, the staff was friendly and helpful, the room was nice, but yeah, it just isn’t my style. Too noisy, by far, not even accounting for the casino.  It isn’t a hotel I’d choose to stay in on a personal trip for sure.  My view wasn’t helped by our getting different rooms from what we booked, namely we booked king mountain views, and got double queens over the pool, and then there was an insanely loud party going on that Sunday night.  We were on the 9th floor.  My room was directly above the pool where the party was and it sounded like it was right outside.  I can’t even imagine how deafening it must have been down at the actual pool itself.  I do fault the hotel on this one, as the first floor was sound insulated well enough not to hear the party, so no excuses on the rooms themselves not having the same treatment.

I will say, the food the hotel provided each day was yummy (especially that mac & cheese!) and I also liked the food at Mr. Lucky’s though the selection was significantly less than I expected from the description.  It was about a mile and a half walk to the Strip from the hotel, but my partner and I were fine with that and got in plenty of steps on our Fitbits making the trek in hunt of food (which I’ll talk about more in another post 😀 ).

Anyway, Monday was tutorial day where we spent six hours in the PHP Certification Bootcamp (with a lunch break between).  Personally, this alone made the conference worth it.  As we’ve found before after going years between conferences, we got a wake up call on where we stand with our skills.  Not as big a one as with CFUnited years ago, but still, a big one.  Fortunately, the boot camp not only helped us each identify our areas of weakness, but help point out things to look for in the exam to help avoid careless mistakes from reading too fast and missing keywords that need to be noticed.  I’m hoping to schedule my certification exam sometime in November – just waiting for ZendCon to send the testing vouchers that we purchased with our tickets.

That said, I left my first ZendCon with mixed feelings. The tutorials were great, the sessions were a more mixed bag. Some were really great ones, such as the Why and How of Moving to PHP 7, pretty much all of Adam Culp’s talks, and the awesome keynote by Monty Widenius.  Others though were more disappointing.  Several failed to deliver on the topics the descriptions indicated would be the topic.  For example, the Asynchronous processing with ActiveMQ never actually showed using ActiveMQ, going into code, etc.  It was primarily theory about messaging and message processing and I left feeling like the only thing I’d learned about using ActiveMQ was that it existed.  Others were hideously short, 15-20 minutes out of the entire session time, and at least one the speaker seemed to be phoning it in.

For a conference at ZendCon’s promoted level, I expected better when it came to session quality.  It was also disappointing that some of the sessions initially listed as being part of the conference that my partner and I were both excited about were just dropped from the schedule without notice.  Why announce topics that haven’t actually been finalized yet?  In truth,  the final day ended with neither my partner or I have anything to attend on the second half, so we spent the time walking around town and discussing the sessions we had attended.

I would have also liked to see more sessions on more introductory or intermediate PHP topics as a whole, versus many sessions being rather niche about specific bits of software or the like.  The few that were in those areas again came up short on time, or varied from their descriptions.  There seemed to be a heavy presumption that all attendees were at the same level of PHP and all on 7, even though it was mentioned multiple times that nearly half of all PHP users are on PHP 5 still.  So more deep-dive sessions on some of the new PHP 7 features would have been great, along with more than one session on ZF3 (considering it is Zend’s conference and all).

It’s also a little aggravating to get so little updates on the exam vouchers that were offered with the conference registration. No date was given on when they would be sent, and though the conference is now over, we still haven’t received them.  I’ve tried emailing about it and gotten no response.  Considering one of the pairs of tutorials was prep for the exam, one would think they’d make the vouchers available close to the conference so we could get registered and get it taken while the information on taking the test was still fresh.  It also just makes the conference come across as still in its infancy rather than being a mature conference.

All that said, I don’t regret going to ZendCon and my partner and I both felt we got something out of it. We will not, however, do the blind buy next year, but will instead wait until the sessions are finalized before we decide if it will be worth attending again.  We are also looking at some of the other conferences, where the topics meet some of those areas ZendCon was short in.  Cross your fingers that we’ll be attending SunshinePHP in February.

P.S.  Yes, I did get my shirt and Zoe 🙂

Got my shirt and my elephant 😀