Looking back at eZ UnConference #1 and ahead to #2
With eZ UnConference #2 fast approaching, I thought it might be a good idea to share some thoughts on last year's eZ Unconference #1. What follows is my own reflections on the event, but hopefully it's helpful for someone who might be trying to decide whether they should make the trip to Montpelier.
The first UnConference was a break from a long tradition of the annual eZ Publish Summit as a two-track "business" and "developer" combined event. Instead, there were two days of developer-aimed talks, and an optional extra day of Symfony training, and a business-focused Summit a few months later. As a US partner, Cologne is a long trip, so I was concerned that I'd be able to get enough out of the conference to justify the travel. The eZ Community team put on a useful and informative event, and really made it worth the trip.
The main draw of any conference, of course, is the talks, and the eZ Community Team did a good job here. I've worked with eZ Publish for a while, and a few things were covered that I was already familiar with, which is the case with most conferences. But more importantly, there were one or two really critical presentations that have changed the way I work with eZ Publish since. Unlike a larger conference, there was also plenty of opportunity to interact with the speakers.
The talks were good, but the really valuable things I took away from eZ UnConference #1 were the result of things that happened between sessions and in smaller groups. I picked up several tips while speaking with other eZ Developers that I brought home and immediately applied to active projects. I also met a lot of folks who were experts in specific areas (like caching, search engines, etc), so I know who to call if I face challenges in those areas. Those are all things I never would have picked up by watching talks on YouTube.For me, networking is one of the most important parts of a conference, and the "unconference" style allowed us ample time to break into small groups and talk about various development challenges with people who have a lot of experience with those challenges. It was a rare opportunity to (for example) sit down with the eZ development team and talk about the architecture of eZ Publish 5 with the people who were building it every day.
The release of eZ Publish 5 started an exciting and challenging period for eZ Publish developers. Those of us who spent a lot of time working with eZ Publish 4 have to absorb a lot of change with eZ Publish 5. In some ways, we're no longer experts because we still need to write the new rules of the platform. That's exciting, because there's never been a time to contribute to eZ Publish, but it also means taking the time to really dig in and learn some new tools. I'm sure it's possible to stay at home and learn Symfony and eZ Publish 5 by reading documentation, but the problem is finding the time. I had wanted to learn Symfony for a couple months, but there were always too many distractions and other work at home to dive in. The Symfony training day at the end of the eZ UnConference #1 was great, since it provided a day with no distractions to really sit down and dig in to Symfony. Since then, I've become very comfortable with Symfony and I'm really enjoying the new tools. Having some 'classroom' time to really focus sped up the learning curve significantly.
eZ Unconference #2 looks like it will continue to focus on learning opportunities for eZ Publish 5, which is a great theme given the continuing transition to the new Symfony-based stack. The talks have been divided up into information for those just learning Symfony, those new to eZ 5, backward compatibility, and the REST API, so there should be something for developers at any stage of development. While it's a large open source project, eZ Publish is a rare skill compared to other professions. You'll meet a lot more dentists, for instance, than you will eZ Publish developers. And dentistry is a very rare skill compared to cooking or construction work. Dentists get together at conferences all the time to compare notes and discuss techniques, because it provides an opportunity to see other dentists and talk about things that they can't discuss on a daily basis. If that's an important opportunity for dentists, then it's an even more important opportunity for eZ Publish developers, since there are fewer of us and our jobs are (in some ways) even more complicated.