My peculiar trajectory as a PHP developer

“Step into the confessional,” my physical therapist always used to say before asking me how well I’d cared for myself since my last visit.

I didn’t talk to many new people at WordCamp US last year, but there’s one conversation that stands out in my mind: I spoke for a while with Alain Schlesser about development topics. He told me about his novel approach to an enterprise WordPress project, and, among other things, he encouraged me to get outside of the WordPress bubble as a developer, and get in touch with the larger PHP developer world.

His talk describing that very project just posted to today and that reminded me of our hallway discussion.

Here’s my confession: the truth is that as a PHP developer, I’ve always been very isolated, and despite years of working with PHP, I’ve never been in touch with the larger PHP community. I didn’t even realize I was isolated until my team got serious about WordPress a couple of years ago. It’s kind of shameful, but it didn’t occur to me that there might be PHP conferences, online discussions, or other ways of being in touch with PHP developers. Since I’ve been actively developing in PHP since 1999, this is really kind of ridiculous, especially now that I can see what a large world there is for PHP.

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The exhaustion of invisible labor

Into a community

It started at WordCamp Raleigh this year. One of my co-workers was attending for the first time and felt she’d chosen sessions badly, she wasn’t happy with what she was getting out of them. Trying to reassure her, I said that you get what you can out of the sessions, get some energy from being around the community, and maybe meet a couple of people…

In unison she and our other co-worker said, “Maybe you do!”

I have another friend who is trying to find his own way in the WordPress world and when he said he did not want to attend WordCamp at first I was surprised – for me it seems the most logical way to meet people. But speaking is one of my ways in with people at WordCamp, and without that, would I meet people? Certainly not as readily.

So I started thinking about how people find their way into the WordPress community, or any community to which they’re new.

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Just get in the pool

1. swimming

Some time last year, I began swimming regularly. I’ve made it a habit, three times a week. This was not easy. I’ve never had a regular exercise routine in my life. At my yearly physical, my doctor was stunned. She wanted to know how I had done this.

There are a couple of exercises that I’ve used to get myself past the mental barriers that would have otherwise prevented me from forming this habit:

  1. I state my intention, out loud, to another person. This means that the night before I tell my husband, “I am swimming tomorrow morning.”
  2. The only thing I have to do is get in the pool.

I don’t have to do a certain number of laps, or swim more or go faster than I did last time. I can get in the pool and just stretch, or swim one easy lap, or do all breast stroke (my easiest stroke), and that’s cool. Just so long as I get in the pool. I set the bar really really low, and I am not hard on myself if I don’t have much of a swim. That’s a fast rule.

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A new approach to RAMP

We use RAMP, and it causes me a lot of headaches. Most of our RAMP problems come from the way I’ve customized it to work with our custom theme. RAMP proper is pretty solid, if slow, but doesn’t handle all of the custom fields that let us link to other pages on the site or display images in the media library while tightly controlling formatting. Those fields store Post IDs, and the Post IDs on the live site are different from the staging site, so RAMP does two things to make sure all of those links and images work after shipping pages over to live:

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