PHPNW is primarily a conference aimed at professionals within the industry to allow them to learn from each other and discover new ideas and techniques which they can then apply to their every day work. What is less prominent is how this is equally as useful for students, who may want to work in this same area once they have graduated.
Why should I spend Â£38 of my student loan on this?!
There is the saying “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. This is not strictly true, however there are definitely elements of truth in this saying. At university you learn a lot about a wide range of things around your subject. This is very important in order to gain a well-rounded education (see my Breadth vs Depth article) but if you know the area you want to go into once you graduate chances are you’ll want to gain more specific knowledge.
Professional conferences will give you insight into what people are doing in the professional world. As a student you are often isolated within a bubble. This bubble contains the information you need to gain good marks on your exams/coursework, but does not necessarily reflect what is happening in the profession. This is your chance to learn from people in that profession. Use their experience to give you guidance and an insight into what you may end up doing yourself.
Conferences are not just a load of lectures happening. A lot of what’s important (and indeed a lot of what you learn) takes place in the breaks, meals and of course – in the bar! Through having conversations with other delegates you can get even more insight into what it’s like to work in this industry and also will allow you to get to know people in the industry. This is where you can pick up contacts and even potential placements (if you’re on a sandwich course) or employment for once you’ve graduated. This may not come in terms of a job offer, but showing your face at these conferences prove that you’re keen and interested. It will also be beneficial in at least being slightly familiar if a job opportunity comes up with someone you met there.
Finally, there is the CV. You can put on your CV and application forms that you attended this conference (of your own accord with your own money) so you could learn more about the profession in your own time. This shows dedication and interest. Potential employers hold this in high regard and can set you apart from other candidates going for the same job. Particularly if you are able to talk about what you learnt.
OK, you’ve convinced me! Should I do anything to prepare?
Yes, it is highly recommended, particularly if you are not overly familiar with the subjects being talked about. There is a variety of talks; some are basic/beginner, some more advanced. All talks will assume knowledge of PHP (after all, this is why we’re here) and experience with a LAMP (Linux, Apache, Mysql, PHP) server setup will be very beneficial as this is the most common platform for PHP development. You should also look at the talk schedule and read up about the areas surrounding the talks, as this will give you some context for the talk and also help you decide which talks you are most interested in.
When coming to the conference it is recommended that you bring a laptop (if you have one) with a full battery. There will be power points available, but generally not in the rooms with talks and people will be fighting over them in the breaks. A laptop will allow you to do extra research around the area as well as communicate with other people on at the conference (via IRC, Twitter etc..). Finally, come and say hello before the conference in the official PHPNW IRC channel: #phpnw on freenode, and don’t forget to book your ticket!