Midwest PHP 2014

TL;DR; The Midwest PHP 2014 conference was fantastic. If you were unable to attend this year, you should really consider attending in 2015. IF you were able to make it I hope you had a great time.

This past weekend, actually two weekends ago now, I had the privilege of running the second annual Midwest PHP conference. Last year I co-organized the Midwest PHP 2013 conference with Mike Stowe who has since moved to California to work for Constant Contact. With his departure to California mid-year in 2013 I emailed him to ask if he would have any issues if I took over running the conference. To my surprise he agreed and turned all of the information over to me that I would need to run this year’s Midwest PHP 2014 conference on my own.

Though I did get the ball rolling for the conference by picking a venue, sourcing sponsors, and starting the call for papers, I really would not have been able to pull the event off without some help from a few great people. Those individuals are Jeremy Ward, Geoff Wagner, Andrew Heimbuch, Katelin Irene, and of course my loving wife Kelly. Many of them helped out from the beginning and played a major role in this year’s conference. They helped select the speakers, pick out the food, help decide on the after party venue, and create the schedule. So to all of them from the depths of my heart, thank you for all your help this year.

Big changes ahead

With the departure of Mike this year it meant that everything was riding on my shoulders. It was a big task and I was up to the challenge. I spent some time going over notes that I took from last year’s conference and some feedback that both speakers and attendees provided. Although there were a number of things people didn’t necessarily like about the previous year there was for sure one thing that stuck out in my head, the venue. Although I love the University of Minnesota dearly for all that they do, the venue that we had with them just would not work out for the coming years. There was no hotel nearby, the venue was difficult to find, and there was no mass transit anywhere in the area if people wanted to take the bus or train to get there. With that I started my search for a new venue. The three things that I listed above played a key role into what I wanted in a venue. It had to be easy to get to, it has to have a hotel nearby, and people should be able to get there via any type of transit they want. The great thing about my constraints is it really narrowed down where I could look quickly. Using those criterions I was able to narrow down my choices and ultimately picked the University of St Thomas in downtown Minneapolis. The great part about this venue was it has a hotel directly across the street, its only blocks from the light rail system, plenty of parking on site or in the nearby parking ramps, and best of all the wireless network is light years better than the University of Minnesota’s wireless network, that was another gripe people had last year.

With the venue picked and an agreement made with the hotel across the street to host our speakers, the only items remaining were select the speakers, set the schedule, and find an after party venue.

It’s all coming together

As an organizer you are always wondering what type of proposals you will receive during the call for papers phase of the conference. I was trying my best to make sure I did not look to see who was submitting proposals and what they were on. I wanted the first time I looked at them to be with my selection committee. Once the call for papers closed though I was very eager to see who submitted and what.

After the field was narrowed down to whom our speakers would be we began the waiting process to find out who would accept and who would be unable to accept. Luckily we didn’t have a single speaker say they would be unable to make it to this year’s conference. That just meant one thing, time to start to piece together the schedule. Between finding a venue, and seeking sponsors, I would put setting the schedule right up there in difficulty. Although it seems as though it should be fairly easy, the difficult part comes with trying to figure out which talks you should match up or not match up. You never know for sure which sessions will draw the crowd and which won’t.

The remaining item that needed to be completed before the conference is to seek out an after party venue. This was one of those other items, besides the conference venue, that a number of people wish we had in the previous year. While looking around the downtown area I located a great restaurant and bar called Marin. Within the lower level of the restaurant they had what they called “The Library”. It was an open space with walnut trim, books on the wall, places for people to sit, and a bar area as well. It was perfect for what we were looking to host as an after party.

It’s time

The days and hours leading up to the conference or any event for that matter always seems to be the most stressful. Did I contact everyone that I needed to? Do I have enough staff to help out? Is everything going to be completed and ready on time? I knew in the weeks leading up to it that had everything completed on my to do list, but there are always those things in the back of your head you think you might have forgot. Once Friday night hit for our speaker dinner there was no turning back. Everything was in motion and we were ready to roll.

The first thing up for the weekend was the speaker dinner. We chose to have the speaker dinner at an Irish Pub called The Local. Within The Local they had what they call “the choir”, it’s upstairs and includes a sitting room and also a pool table. We thought this would be a great way for all of the speakers to interact with each other and not just the people sitting around them at a sit down dinner. Everyone enjoyed themselves at the speaker dinner and was ready for the conference to begin.

I could not have asked for a better conference itself. With Evan Coury’s opening keynote on “A start up story: sending a billion text messages” and Aaron Saray’s “7 things I wish somebody told me” on day two the conference was a hit. Everyone enjoyed both keynotes that were provided and also the after party at the Marin on day one, I have been told there was also an after after party and an after after after party though I did not partake in either event. Over all I would call the conference a complete success.

What’s next

With the conclusion of the second annual Midwest PHP conference we are already starting to look to the future. I am already starting to plan out the 2015 conference and have some big ideas in store. I’m hoping to bring some new ideas to the Midwest PHP conference that I think people will enjoy and continue to build on the success that we had this year. I have already heard from a number of sponsors, speakers, and attendees that they can’t wait for next year and to let them know how they can help out and the dates for next year as well. With all that said, thank you once again to those at attended, sponsored, spoke at, and helped out with the Midwest PHP 2014 conference. Can’t wait to see you again next year.

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