Friday, February 22, 2013

Humbled at Spark Nashville

Last night I had the pleasure of attending Southern Alpha's Spark Nashville event. We had some great food, drank some good beer, and heard some fun stories of early tech days in Nashville from Marcus Whitney and Nicholas Holland. In addition, there were some fun pitches for various company ideas.

My primary reason for attending was to support my friends Jacques Woodcock and Jason Myers and hear their pitch for Sucratrend (which won the viewer's choice award, btw. I like to think my tweets and RTs helped).

Earlier in the day, when I mentioned I was going, I was amused at Jacques' reply:

Jacques (and those who have read my blog and my thoughts on business and profit), knows that I'm not a huge fan of VC money when it comes to "startups". The main reason being, I like what I'm familiar with, and I've only ever bootstrapped. I'm also not a fan of debt (having worked for Dave Ramsey for almost four years). Giving away equity may not be the same thing as debt, but on the other hand it might be worse. But I won't get into that here. Different strokes for different folks.

For me, the event was a great success. I'm about to get vulnerable here, so cut me some slack. At times, I can be a little scatter brained (just ask my wife). Months ago, I distinctly remember asking my business partner about buying a ticket for Spark. He was totally on board and (in my mind), I bought a ticket with the company card.

As I was driving to the event last night, I started to second guess myself. "Why didn't I receive a reminder email from Eventbrite? I... did buy the ticket... RIGHT?" I'm ashamed to admit, I started using my phone while driving in the rain to check my email.


Now I'm starting to feel like an ass. I happened to see this tweet earlier in the day and started to hope:

Guess who greeted me at the door? Before I could even finish my sob story of stupidity, Tara was already pulling out a ticket for me. How awesome is that? Big shout out to Aaron Sanders Law Firm for hooking me up. If you're doing anything in the tech space, please give them a call. They are extremely helpful, friendly, and awesome. They just might change your opinion of lawyers and best of all, they LOVE the technology space.

The night just kept getting better. Everywhere I looked I saw friends and smiling faces. I even got some compliments and words of encouragement about my involvement in building cool stuff and being part of the community. Someone even recognized me from a Barcamp and wanted to say hello. It was kind of surreal.

After the event, I had a great time hanging out with some friends old and new and talking everything from Agile development methodologies (Brendan Wovchko is amazing) to women in tech to RV living.

Another topic that came up (and seems to come up a lot in Nashville for some reason) had to do with the difference between those who are doing great things and those who just seem to be talking a lot. Need an example?

John Wark. Now there's a doer. He stopped complaining about not enough tech talent in Nashville but instead created the Nashville Software School to build some.

I won't give examples of talkers because everyone seems to have a different opinion of who those people are in the community and those judgements are probably unfair anyway. Let's take a different approach. Instead of talking a big game (or ridiculing those who do), let's humble ourselves, help those around us, and get stuff done.

Don't seek out recognition. If what you're doing matters, that will come when it's due.
But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, 'Friend, move up higher'; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you.
- Luke 14:10
Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.
- Matthew 23:12

Monday, February 11, 2013

I'm Not One of the Cool Kids; We All Are

This past weekend I had the privilege of attending (and sponsoring) the first ever SunshinePHP Conference in Miami, FL. I must say, Adam Culp did an amazing job organizing and executing this event. Every moment I saw him, he had on is his regular friendly, beaming smile. I've never seen a conference coordinator so relaxed! On top of that, from what I understand, his only staff was the ever moving Pablo Godel.

Great job, Adam! You certainly made it look easy (and we all know it was anything but). Among everything you had to coordinate, you somehow found time to drive Paul, Matthew and I to dinner the first night. You even let me borrow your laptop for my talk! Your willingness to serve those around you is phenomenal.

I loved hanging out with great friends and making some new ones. I also finally took advantage of the "hallway track." I didn't attend a session during every single slot. Instead, I slowed down a bit and hung out with guys like Keith, Cal and Joe. I met the creators of the tools I use every day including Sebastian Bergmann (PHPUnit), Jordi Boggiano (Composer), Fabien Potencier (Twig, Silex... if you don't know all the things he's done, you probably don't use PHP)... I could go on and on. It was amazing.

Oh, and did I mention the guy who started this whole PHP thing (Rasmus Lerdorf) gave the opening keynote? That was epic. I really enjoyed the history lesson and the "why" behind the decisions he made (which actually made sense at the time in 1993).

(If you're wondering where that stat comes from, you can look into it yourself at

So on to the point of my post... as I was meeting and listening to these giants of the industry, schmoozing with the "cool kids" during the hallway track... I began to realize something.

There are no individual cool kids.

We're all the cool kids.

I got some really encouraging feedback on my Hypermedia API talk from people I previously thought were on another level. As I was meeting speakers in the hallways, I realized many of them do "the conference thing" quite a bit. They are conference regulars and are sought out to speak all over the world. They are what I had always thought of as "the cool people" when I was simply a "regular" conference attendee.

For a half second, I began to wonder if someone might think of me as "one of those" now that I've given this talk a few times. It was a humbling thought. I don't think of myself as someone special in the programming community. Other than helping start an ecommerce company, I haven't contributed much (yet).

It was then I realized a speaker isn't more or less special or cool than anyone else. We're all building and doing amazing things, and we're all on different stages in our journey. Whether you're just learning to code, or you've been doing it for years and contribute to the tools thousands of people around the world use every day: You are what makes the PHP community great.

As Cal said so well in his keynote, you are awesome.

Even if you don't feel like an expert and just started using PHP last week, guess what? You're probably an expert on what it feels like to use PHP for a week. Everyone has something to offer, and everyone contributes to the awesome PHP community.

So go build something awesome! As Keith so eloquently put in his keynote (I'm still thinking about the ideas he put out there), don't build a copy of something crappy thinking you'll hit the next gold mine. The next dating site? The next photo sharing app? The next Facebook? That's about as practical and as likely as a unicorn farting rainbows and pooping lucky charms.

Related note: When a friend like Keith looks at you with that "I'm up to no good" smile and says "I updated my slides", be afraid. Be very afraid. (If you missed his reference, we included this sticker in the sponsor bag which is from an image we built out for our 404 page)

In summary, the conference was amazing. The people in the PHP community are amazing. And as Larry Garfield quoted in the OOP panel discussion, "You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake." Whether you're a speaker or not isn't as important as being part of the community and helping make it better. Attend your local PHP group this month and help them out. If you didn't make it out to SunshinePHP this year, plan on it next year. While you're there, come find me and say hello.