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A php[tek] 2014 Recap

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending php[tek] 2014 in Chicago. Along with fellow Visionary developers, Bryan Gruhlke and Tony Ruchti, this was the first time I had attended one of these conferences, and I was very excited to see what was in store.

One of the great things about the conference was that the various session topics spanned a wide range of experience levels – something I took full advantage of when deciding which ones to sit in on. I opted for sessions pertaining to topics that were completely new to me, though I also attended some that were great refreshers.

Overall, here are just a few things that I took away from it.

Building Scalable PHP Applications

The term “web scale” is nothing new, but developing systems that are web scale is not something that a majority of PHP developers have the opportunity to be a part of. This session was a great introduction to the idea of platform as a service (PaaS) and how developers can leverage the various cloud-based service offerings in the marketplace.

The less time we spend building and configuring the computing environments our apps run in, the more time we have to spend making our apps that much better. And when it is time for things to venture into the realm of web scale, we can rely on the expertise of these PaaS titans to ensure our apps grow to accommodate the needs of users.

Two-factor Authentication and You

Unfortunately, security breaches are almost commonplace these days. One way that developers can help protect users’ identities is to offer two-factor authentication for their applications.

While it might sound complex and cumbersome, I was surprised to see how easy it is to implement and how convenient it is to use for end users.

One type of two-factor authentication that is gaining popularity these days is the use of time-based, one-time passwords (TOTP). You might be familiar with this method already.

An application will authenticate using the standard username and password followed by asking for a short, seemingly random string of letters and numbers that is only valid for a short period of time. This passphrase can be retrieved from hardware “token,” a mobile app, a text message or even an automated phone call.

Many online services such as Twitter, Facebook, Google and LinkedIn currently offer this additional level of security. Integrating TOTP into your application or website, especially those powered by our Site On Call product, is quick, easy and a great way to offer additional protection for you and your users.

From SQL to NoSQL

We live and work in a sea of data. It has been this way for a relatively long time. What’s different now is the amount of data that is being aggregated and analyzed in real time for various business needs.

New methods to manage and mechanisms to operate on this mass of data is sometimes required; the traditional relational data concept doesn’t always work as well as it used to.

Starting a new data-centric project or transitioning an existing project will require a different way of looking at your data. We need to imagine storing data in the form of documents with properties and values, as opposed to storing it like a spreadsheet with columns and rows.

Data stored as documents isn’t required to reside on a single, monolithic database server. It can flow and balance between multiple servers, even spanning across geographic regions of any size to provide high availability and accessibility.

It was exciting to get a brief overview of some of the technologies that encompass this new “NoSQL” concept. Considering “big data” is something near and dear to my heart, I am looking forward to utilizing these new technologies so we can offer even faster and scalable solutions to our customers.

Schemas for the Real World

Often times, people are asked seemingly innocuous questions to describe our identity for some business or social need.

For the sake of clean and easy data, we’re offered a limited set of responses to pick from or a rigid way to answer these questions. Restricting the way that users, people, can answer these questions can sometimes have a negative impact.

In some cases, requiring users to answer questions regarding race, gender, religion, sexuality, visual appearance, even relationship status in a ways that don’t fit how they identify themselves can lead to a bad user experience.

We should be conscious that the questions asked and the way answers are accepted truly fit the business needs of the systems that we develop.


Those were just a few things that I took away from my time at php[tek]. Undoubtedly, my colleagues may have a completely different list of things, which is great. There was something available for developers of all sorts.

However we all share the realization of how amazing it was to participate in a conference where the sense of community was valued just as much – if not more – than the info presented during the sessions.

Learning new stuff is always great. What’s even better is connecting and sharing knowledge on equal terms with community members from all over the world.

Along with a slice or two of Chicago-style, deep-dish pizza.

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