Do you remember the exact moment the idea of a Bulgarian PHP Conference was born? How did it all begin?
As a matter of fact, I remember perfectly when and how it all began. It was after a trip to Zend Con in 2012 in Santa Clara where I met Michelangelo van Dam – a very compelling person, who has started and helped a lot of PHP groups all over Europe, participated in the organization of many conferences such as PHPBeNeLux. He actually asked me, after learning where I came from, if we have a user group in Sofia. After my negative response he suggested I start one when I get back… and pretty much that’s what happened. With the help of some colleagues from SiteGround – Lyubo Anev, Georgi Penkov, I started a Facebook group and in 2013 we began our Saturday morning meetings in the company office. Soon after that the idea for Bulgaria PHP Conference was born and it was welcomed and supported by SiteGround.
Is it hard to organize such a big event?
Haha, you in fact probably know better than me 🙂 I admit that during all the years I participated in the organization of Bulgaria PHP Conference I have worked with a very strong team of people dedicated to making sure the event is perfect from every angle. It’s difficult because there are so many little things to think about, and it is exactly the little things that make the difference between an OK conference and a very well organized one.
You have been to many conferences all over the world, what makes ours stand out?
Like the best conferences I have been to, ours is also stemming from a usergroup, starts in the community and happens largely with the help of that community. People from the group call it “our conference” – it really belongs to all of us. We have volunteers helping to make it happen. I have been to a lot and very well organized commercial events where the organizer is a company holding the event to win a nice amount of money, but almost every time you can sense that the atmosphere is different. Community-based events are always more charged and buzzing, and, as a bonus, usually prices are far lower. What makes our conference unique is the fact is our conference – it has proven to be the main event for the PHP community in Bulgaria, and being community-organized makes it similar to one of the best events of that type that I have been to, such as PHP Serbia, PHP Benelux and Sunshine PHP (Florida).
What is the most important factor that makes such an event successful – team, sponsors, speakers…?
All of it. All these factors are necessary to make it successful, but the key, in my opinion, is the team of people that took the responsibility of organizing it knowing that so many things can go wrong in the process. Congratulations and thank you for all your courage and determination, Boryana and Milko!
What are the things that a programmer can learn from a conference like that?
The panels definitely offer a lot of interesting and new things and people can find inspiration for future projects and learn from other people’s experience. For me, however, the most valuable thing to gain is the knowledge that there are more people sharing your interests, problems and preferences out there. Thanks to the conference participants may not only expand their knowledge, but also their network of friends and acquaintances, they may meet new people or reconnect with old contacts. At some point you realize that there is a certain new circle of friends you meet at such events (and not only), that enrich your social and professional life at the same time.
What did you personally learn from all the conferences you have been to and that you have organized?
I learned that a person should never be embarrassed to speak and to share with others things that they find exciting and interesting. I have seen speakers coming to the stage for the first time and having great and funny lectures without being experts on the subject they talk about. I have also seen experienced speakers that have made me fall asleep – literally and figuratively. Generally, the experience of the speaker on the subject is not the only thing that makes a lecture interesting. A person shouldn’t be worried about preparing to talk about something that they have learned a month or two ago; on the contrary – that is a great opportunity to get deeper in the subject and to spark interest in other people like them for that technology or practice. There are always people in the hall who will find this new and/or interesting. People should also not be embarrassed to talk to strangers next to them in the hall or during lunch, or in the hallways, because there is a big chance that they share common interests and start a great conversation.
Is visiting such events good for new programmers trying to get in the professional communities?
Together with joining user groups, that is perhaps the most useful activity for all programmers – new and experienced. Our job is a very dynamic one, like many others, such as doctors, constructors, engineers, even in the food sector. Generally, that applies to all fields driven by creative process and every year there are new trends, technologies, practices, and if you want to stay on top of the wave (or at least in the water :)), you need to participate in such forums.
This year you will also be Opening Keynote Speaker – what is that key thing that you have learned as a programmer and you want to share with your colleagues?
The opportunity to give the Opening Keynote is a great honor and, at the same time, a great responsibility for me. Honestly, it will be my first time giving a keynote, and only second or a third time giving a so-called soft talk (non-technical lecture). I don’t want to reveal too much of the content which I am currently developing and refining, but I will say that the essence will be about people’s interaction with the communities they participate in – what they give and receive in return.
You are the founder of the Bulgarian РНР user group as well. Is it hard to organize and maintain such a community?
The hard part is that it requires persistence and regularly spending a certain amount of time. The rest is easy – people do the rest themselves. They want to talk during meetings, offer places for meetings; after the group started becoming popular, sponsors are also easier to find. Overall, the time factor is the most valuable one and the hardest to manage because this is not something we do as part of our daily activities, it’s more like hobby – part of the things we do in our free time, which is, alas, flying very quickly.
What do you get from these meetings with colleagues and the community?
I get a lot of new acquaintances and friendships, I get inspiration for my daily work, and a lot of satisfaction for being able to spark interest in other people to actively participate in the community’s social life. And the occasional beer 😉
How has the РНР community developed over the last few years?
Both globally and in Bulgaria, PHP has long proven to be and maintains its position as a leading backend web development technology. According to w3techs.com (a group maintaining stats for the use of different technology in web), as at September 2019, PHP is used as a backend technology in 79% of all websites (https://w3techs.com/technologies/overview/programming_language/all) with known used technology. Respectively, more and more Bulgarian and global companies are turning towards PHP development for their needs which leads to increased demand for qualified PHP programmers.
How true is the statement that Bulgaria is the Silicon Valley of Europe – are we really that good?
I wouldn’t stand behind a general statement of the type ‘Bulgarians are the best programmers’ – it’s clear that everything depends on the individual person, and that there are talented people all over the world. Nevertheless, I do believe that from an employer’s perspective, regardless if they are Bulgarian or foreign company, the Bulgarian IT professional is, in most cases, a good intellectual capital. A good investment against the money they receive, so to say. The increasing number of the companies opening offices here, and the number of Bulgarian startups is an eloquent proof of this.
Bulgarian IT sector is like state within the state – it employs young well educated and qualified people with good payment, flexible working hours, teambuildings, home offices, games and all sorts of treats that companies and employees from other sectors can only dream of. Is this how modern business and people management looks like?
People management and retention has never been easy, especially when it comes to capable employees with an ocean of opportunities around them. Payment, remote working and flexible hours are definitely conditions that have become a staple for this sector not only in Bulgaria, so practically a modern employer cannot afford to skip them. On the other hand, overtreating your employees is never a guarantee for retaining them if other, more important conditions, weren’t met. When you work with creative people who have chosen their job field not because of payment and treatment, but it was, actually, the job that chose them because of their mindset and constant strive for development, I believe that the best way to keep them is providing for the following:
Training and improvement opportunities (going to conferences).
Opportunities to share and implement their personal ideas and views concerning the projects they work on, i.e. freedom of expression.
Time for completing additional tasks, proposed by the employees themselves – so-called FedEx Fridays when they do something useful on their own for the team or for the project based on their idea, and to show it to the others.
Adequate behavior on the part of their immediate superiors, as well as their qualification and motivation that serve as a personal example. They need to be leaders, not ‘bosses’.
Transparent and easy communication both horizontally (in the department) and vertically (in the hierarchy) in the company.
There is this false impression that programmers are these uncommunicative people, introverts, who are not into fun. What do you do in your free time?
Hahaha, I love the introvert cliché. Obviously, there are all kinds of people among programmers and I think most of them are not like this, on the contrary – they are pretty social animals but only in the right environment. There is an old joke that introverts avoid talking to most people not because they are closed but because they don’t think that communication will be interesting enough or intellectually enriching. That is true to some extent. Because it is exactly the communication in communities like the user group, conferences and other events like this that is very active and sought after even by people with introverted personalities. This is simply the environment where people feel good and have something to learn from communication.
And for my free time – I have too many hobbies and interests for the time I have. My wife Petya and I love to cook, I love reading, travelling (especially on two wheels), but I think the thing we are most passionate about is making beer (and drink it). Homebrewing is a hobby that we picked up 3 and a half years ago and definitely is the hobby that keeps on giving back the most satisfaction and results. We are so into it that last year we decided to open homebrewers’ shop in Sofia (true.beer), because we just thought it is weird and very inconvenient not to have one here:)