We are all PHP Evangelists

Note: This article was originally published on the april/2012 issue of php-architect . If you like it subscribe to the magazine and keep a close eye on the Community Column in the magazine, where I get the chance to write alongside other awesome community people.

There is a lot more to being part of this great community we call the PHP community than just learning, sharing and contributing. There is much to be said about our role in expanding PHP’s reach into companies, markets and everywhere else. Every PHP Developer is at core a PHP evangelist, someone who is ready to raise the PHP flag and defend it. This does not mean your answer to everything is PHP, as a true evangelist you know the strengths and shortcomings of your own language, and when to just say “don’t use it”, but you are also ready to defend it and prove its worthiness when its misjudged or just plainly misunderstood.

The PHP community in Brazil was once “called to arms” after a potentially catastrophic event, I would like to tell you this tale of unity, if you can spare me a few words.

Brazil’s biggest TV and media network has a lunchtime newscast which usually has some editorial pieces nearing the end. Last year they had a editorial on security, trying to demystify the “World Network of Computers” to the common folk. A honorable effort, teaching people about common attacks like phishing scams, and the likes. Usually they bring in an expert on the topic to do the “for dummies” translation, this time was no different. While explaining phishing scams the expert was giving a few tips on how to identify emails that are not really sent from their bank, this is the point when everything went bad. Both network and expert can be blamed equally but after editing was done a loose phrase came out, while pointing to a link he said: “… and if it ends in .php its usually a virus”.

The sentence in itself is not totally wrong, there are indeed many ill-intended websites developed in PHP, but given the context and the audience this had all the elements of trouble. Here was this expert on TV saying that every site that ends in .php is probably a phishing website or a virus. You can imagine how many mothers out there now thought their dear sons were virus developers, but all kidding aside, this was very bad for the overall image of PHP, especially in a market where .NET and Java still have a big hold of corporations. I was not watching the live broadcast, but it was all over twitter instantly, as well as in video on the news company website.

I felt i needed to do something, so after a few tweets correcting the sentence and pinging the expert and the news company I also put up a detailed blog post to try and explain PHP and the misunderstanding, trying to do “damage control”. This blog post along with the #phpvirus hashtag (this could have been done better) quickly made the trending topics in Brazil with the sheer support of the community looking out for its “dear language”. A few hours later we had the first signs that the news agency had understood the problem, removing the wrong parts of the article and removing the video. To me this was already a victory, we had moved enough people to be heard by a major news company and had at least stopped propagation of the error.

We were then taken completely by surprise the very next day, when at the same time slot the agency put up a “mea culpa”, explaining the mistake and what PHP was. It had actually worked, we had made a giant organization feel enough pressure to look into the mistake and correct it. I was very happy with the outcome, but I was even more amazed at the movement behind it, so many developers acting towards a common goal and actually coming out victorious.

So why the tale? Well this is what being a PHP Developer is to me, its more then just being a member, its like a family. And like any family you need to be there for the bad and the good, and watch out for each other. That means you must really embrace the language, learn about it. The outcome is positive in many ways, at the very least you will become a better developer. Every boss wants to have a developer who knows the twists and turns of the language, how to overcome problems or just plain when to avoid them. Its very easy to know all this about PHP when you involve yourself in it.

Everyone is very accessible around here, you can talk to a core developer or a framework leader just as you speak to your co-worker, its all very open and welcoming. Ok, there are bad moments, but they are still far surpassed by the great moments. Talk to these people, understand why the language is what it is today, how it came to grow in that direction. Note that you do not need to agree with it, but knowledge is power and its gonna make a difference in your professional life.

Most of us veteran developers have seen more then one PHP bashing go around the internet, its almost like a cycle. And yes, PHP does have flaws, some things could be better, but there are reasons behind it, and knowing those reasons is as important as knowing its functions. PHP is “a ball of nails”, as Terry Chay once put it, but that does not mean you should swing it at every problem. That is part of your role, to tell people when to choose PHP and when to just walk away from it. We are all mature developers and that means owning up to a few problems and choices. We are the ones that drive PHP adoption and best practices, not the language, the community.

So, if I may do a “call for action”, get out there, participate, chat, learn and start making a difference, you career will thank you and so will all of us. Let’s take PHP further, teach people about it, make our code better, and one day we will be collecting the “rewards” for this.

Go. Share and Learn.

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