php[tek] Open Spaces - User Groups and Community Building

php[tek] Open Spaces - User Groups and Community Building

Open Spaces sessions are very similar to unconference sessions. They are ad hoc sessions where anyone can sign up for a topic and lead a discussion.

At my very first php[tek] conference in 2014 Michelangelo van Dam held an Open Spaces session about User Groups. As I was already a User Group leader I joined and was excited to be able to speak in person with so many other individuals who were also running user groups as well as people interested in starting their own User Groups. Michelangelo and others also did this again in at php[tek] 2015 and again I participated and was excited to share knowledge about User Groups.

At php[tek] 2016 Michelangelo was not able to attend so I mentioned doing a User Group session to Chris Spruck from AtlantaPHP, Sammy K. from Chicago PHP, and Ben Ramsey from Nashvile PHP.

Ben Ramsey had the idea of streaming the Open Spaces via google hangouts. Below is the recorded version of our session. I hope you enjoy it as I certainly enjoyed being able to host the session. Thanks to everyone that joined us at php[tek], Ben for being our cameraman, and others that watched live and contributed during the event.

Notes that Chris Spruck took during the session:

User Group Leadership Open Spaces

Attendees: Chris Spruck (AtlantaPHP), Joe Ferguson (MemphisPHP), Sammy K. Powers (Chicago PHP UG), Mark McCollum (St. Louis Full Stack Developers), Dave Stokes (North TX MySQL User Group), Cal Evans (Palm Beach PHP UG, NomadPHP), Brian Retterer (DaytonPHP), James Titcumb (PHP Hampshire, PHP SouthCoast conf), Ben Ramsey (NashvillePHP), Bill Condo (Columbus, OH PHP User Group), Matt Turland (Gnocode New Orleans), Jeff Geerling (Ansible and Drupal St. Louis), Michael Pickreign (NE PA, looking to start a group), Travis Fettig (Palm Beach PHP UG)

How do you handle lack of attendance? Joe said that MemphisPHP tries to provide quality content, and not just a hack night. He encourages members to present, and does more social events (which usually yields better response due to the shorter time committment than a full meeting). Dave made the point to be aware of time issues and entrance security processes, depending on the location. James made the point that lack of attendance isn't necessarily bad, and any consistency is good, even if you feel like the numbers are low. Chris said that fast/immediate growth isn't urgent.

Activities among groups? Cal and others mentioned joint Christmas parties, summer BBQs, etc. with multiple groups, and Bill mentioned things like Laravel/Wordpress/PHP joint activities. Don't forget about groups that use PHP, but are more focused (Drupal, WP, etc.) - opportunity for speaker cross-over and softer skills talks that can apply to any developer. Joe mentioned "Super User Group meetups" - lightning talks across groups, holiday parties, etc. These can be specific to group leaders or involve entire groups.

Beth Tucker Long (of MadisonPHP, @e3BethT) has "training talks" or some kind of material developed to encourage cultivation of conference speakers from within her user group.

Someone mentioned using a Trello board for group members to suggest talk ideas, talks they can present, etc.

Consider PHP-adjacent talks and other tech (JavaScript, databases, etc.); consider remote presenters or other groups.

Look for chances to bring in someone nearby or passing through. Examples: Coderabbi was at Laracon (in Kentucky), so Bill from Columbus asked him to stay an extra day to present to Columbus PHP (Bill went to pick him up, etc.) AtlantaPHP just had an extra "special speaker event", because Sebastian Bergmann was in town the week after their regularly scheduled meeting.

SammyK - summarizes RFC activity for his group, so members can get a taste of PHP internals w/o the stress.

Alternative formats to consider: Show and Tell nights; test fests; bug fix night; pair programming; screencast live coding; "bring your problem", code reviews

Cal asked "how do you level your content?" for junior vs advanced devs. Dave said one of the Dallas groups has a different meeting for junior devs, and Boston started a virtual online class for juniors, where people could contact more experienced group members for help.

It's a good idea for organizers to try to spot new people, to at least say hello and make them feel welcome. Name badges are very helpful to break the ice, remember names, etc.

Do groups have free beer? A few people raised hands and said it's typically sponsored by recruiters or third-parties. Some go out after the meeting to another location.

Try to have the next meeting topic ready to promote in advance, so people know what's coming up and can plan accordingly. It definitely helps reduce organizer stress to have a few speakers lined up ahead of time, and have backup plans for cancellations.

How to start a new group? Definitely get on Meetup, as the discoverability factor is worth it. Ask attendees to bring new people. Public libraries are good for meeting space, as well as banks and other places with a "community space". Find local companies with devs, as they can help with space, new presenters and attendees, etc. Look at local universities.

Dues or fees? Depends on need and scope - some charge per event or special event, some have annual dues, most have none. May need to charge for a given event to cover expenses to bring in someone from far away.

How to handle recruiter spam? Stop it at the source - moderate your mailing lists. Be firm, but polite in person and set the expectations for their behavior at meetings. Some openly allow recruiters to attend and speak or mingle, and others limit it to before or after meetings or at after-gatherings. Have solid guidelines for posting to your lists (see AtlantaPHP's guidelines at - feel free to use and adapt!)

Upcoming Conferences - php[tek] and php[cruise]

php[tek] 2016 St. Louis — May 23-27, 2016

Wanted to go to a PHP Conference but always frustrated that they're just outside easy driving distance of Memphis? Me too!

The fine folks at php[architect] have solved this problem for us. The annual php[tek] conference has been moved to St. Louis, MO! With St. Louis being a mere ~4 hour drive away this is an easy drive to an amazing conference.

If you have never been to a PHP conference php[tek] is a great one to be your first. Our own Jeremy Kendall started this user group after attending php[tek]. My own first PHP conference was php[tek] 2014 and it was a blast. They have an amazing schedule (I admit I'm biased - I'm a speaker) and they're doing a special 2 day "PHP Essentials" training session for those new to PHP. I'll be giving my Laravel training session and a regular talk during the conference.

To make the offer even better they have offered me a special price for anyone coming from the Memphis area. You have to contact me and I'll put you in touch!

php[tek] 2016

php[cruise] Out of Baltimore, MD - July 17-24, 2016

After you've made your plans to join me at php[tek] in May, go ahead and make you reservations to join me on a boat! This special event won't happen again anytime soon and our good friend Cal Evans will be giving a one time only talk on the cruise. Bring the family or friends along, there will be days in ports and days at sea.


MemphisPHP November and December 2015 Meet Ups

This Tuesday (November 24th) is our November Meetup. This month I will be doing Static HTML Sites with Sculpin! Live WordPress to Sculpin demo.

RSVP here:

I will have a Teal PHP 7 Elephpant to give away (you must RSVP and be present to win) I will also have PHP 7 stickers to give out.

If you want to show up early we'll be doing our usual Happy hour event at 6150 Poplar Ave Suite 122 Regalia Center Memphis, TN 38119 From ~5pm-6pm

December Meetup Like last year, will not have a December meet up. Instead join us for the #memtech Holiday party Friday, December 11, 2015 7:00 PM. You can RSVP here: