Peers Conference 2013 in Chicago

When something is executed in a way that feels simple and effortless, you know a lot of thought and effort went behind it.

That’s how I felt about Peers Conf, a perfectly sized event with just right the number of attendees. I was able to meet almost everyone there, and even chat one-on-one with the presenters… a rarity for most conferences I’ve ever attended.

The event’s topic matter was that of PHP frameworks with a mix of business discussion and philosophy. It was coordinated by Jessica D’Amico.


Laravel was on a lot of people’s minds, as the framework’s creator Taylor Otwell was on site to demonstrate new features in its latest release.

I have been a long-time productive user of CodeIgniter myself, but can’t hold back my excitement for Laravel. It strikes a nice balance with excellent documentation and feature set, but avoiding the feeling of “kitchen sink” abundance. It brings inspiration from Rails and other frameworks, including migrations, an ORM (Eloquent), authentication, sessions, routing, message queuing, template engine (Blade), and many other tools.

Taylor highlighted the fact that documentation and great community support are what make frameworks popular. Laravel will be no exception in that regard.


Peers included several presentations about Pixel & Tonic’s new commercial CMS, which just reached 1.0 status (base version is free).

Take a look under the hood, and you’ll find an extremely well-executed set of tools for building a site with dynamic content. On the front-end, templates are rendered with the Twig template engine. Add-ons are sensibly structured and the process for plugin development is well-documented.

Best of all, developers can test paid add-ons in a local installation based on samples available in Pixel & Tonic’s Github repository.

The Building Craft Add-ons demo got me excited about plugin development. A few takeaways:

  • Plugins simply extend Craft’s namespaced BasePlugin class (PHP 5.3+)
  • Plugins updates are easily deployed and include support for migrations
  • Plugins are theme-able with Twig
  • Built on Yii Framework (bringing PHPUnit, Active Record, Logging, Auth, il8n)
  • Developers can debug PHP code via browser console (console.log)

High Traffic Expression Engine Sites

Anna Brown’s lessons learned while working with a high traffic news site based on Expression Engine.

Being a WordPress developer, I found many takeaways from Anna’s talk that could translate to any CMS, not simply Expression Engine:

  • Many things about your site will become increasingly difficult as database size increases.
  • Caching can not be simply bolted on to your CMS, and no singular caching solution will solve your problems. An HTTP proxy or accelerator like Varnish can be helpful when configured with a lot of memory.
  • Make performance changes one at a time and measure their impact with tools like those provided by New Relic.
  • Communicate clearly with your devops folks.
  • It’s hard being a team of one. Form a team of people with a variety of skill sets who can help.
  • Include managed hosting in your technology budget.


Pronounced “stat-ah-mick”, Statamic is a flat-file CMS, demonstrated by Fred LeBlanc.

Things I liked from the Statamic Crash Course:

  • Build for any custom content type, such as a blog or events calendar.
  • Configuration files are all in YAML.
  • You can develop your own add-ons.
  • Plugins and field types are customizable.
  • Tasks can be run in the background, and your add-ons can hook through a tasks API.
  • End users can publish content with Markdown and Textile files, or via mobile-friendly admin panel.

My only disappointment is that Statamic’s source code is unavailable for review without purchasing up front.


Trevor Davis of Viget Labs presented his team’s Expression Engine deployment workflow.

Having automated many of my own development tasks with Make, I can see a ton of smart thinking behind Viget’s workflow and deployment process with Capistrano. By now, I think everyone realizes Capistrano isn’t just for Rails apps anymore.

My best takeaway for versioning databases was their sync-down workflow. Databases are always a pain point when it comes to version control, and the sync-down process makes a great deal of sense when you migrations are not an option.

Framework Agnostisity with Composer

Phil Sturgeon, the developer of PyroCMS has touched many frameworks and libraries PHP communities have come to know and love.

Phil Sturgeon talks Framework Agnostisity with Composer

Talking points:

  • PEAR is old.
  • CodeIgniter took the helm against everything that PEAR stands for
  • There are myriad of frameworks available now, and many standards have emerged to solve the problem of package management
  • Composer has evolved to provide dependency management for almost any type of project
  • PyroCMS is deprecating CodeIgniter in favor of Laravel in version 3.0
  • The complexities of deprecating a framework could easily merit several more talks
  • I enjoy the way he pronounces “HTTP”

Everyone I know has used one of Phil’s libraries by now, so throw him a few bucks as he raises money for the Braking AIDS ride this fall.

Slides available from his talk on Slideshare.

Closing Talks

The conference wrapped up by waxing philisophical…

Overlooking Millennium Park from Chicago Cultural Center.

Finding Balance

Angie Herrera’s talk spoke to me. After many years of totally overdoing it myself, Angie reminded me that the balance of work and happiness takes time and reflection, and that the importance of surrounding yourself with family and loved ones can not be understated.

Take time to support your own health, get sleep, and get outdoors.

The Dao [sic] Of Low

Lodewijk Schutte’s conference wrap-up felt like a peaceful sermon:

“What is work? Why do we work? How do we keep working? In this contemplative talk, Low will look at these questions (and more), while trying to answer them with the help of ancient and modern philosopher’s theories, and a healthy dose of critical thinking.”

Roundtable Discussions & Peer Review

The one-on-one peer review discussions were a great part of this conference. I had the opportunity to talk business and work with Allan Branch of Less Everything.

And many more…

I spent my time on the development track and missed a few of the business sessions. Hopefully somebody else does a wrap-up on those.

Thanks Peers Conf. I learned a lot!

Comments are closed.