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Revisiting Peers Conference 2013

Eric Lamb is the developer of professional and enterprise grade ExpressionEngine add-ons. Founded in 2009 Eric’s company mithra62 aims to be a leader in ExpressionEngine add-on development and has a reputation for stability, usefulness, and being highly configurable. Check out Eric’s popular ExpressionEngine add-on Backup Pro.

I just got back from the first, of what I truly hope will be many, Peers Conference in Chicago a couple days ago and my head is still swimming with all the awesome I absorbed. While everything’s still fresh in my head I wanted to put together a breakdown of my trip, as not only a presenter, but also a huge fan of conferences in general (regardless of my role in them).

If you’re not familiar, Peers Conference isn’t a platform specific conference like the ExpressionEngine Conference or WordCamp; Peers Conference is much more diverse and comprehensive to the web developer at large. It’s put on by the extremely talented and charismatic Jessica D’Amico and it lived up to its name in every sense. Peers felt like the entire conference was full of people I either greatly respect and/or admire who were completely open to sharing their knowledge and experiences.

Peers Conference was held at the Chicago Cultural Center in downtown Chicago from June 26-28. This is one of the most beautiful venues I’ve ever attended a conference at much less visited as a presenter. Words really can’t do it justice; I strongly urge everyone who’s unfamiliar to spend a couple minutes and just click through those 2 links above and absorb the scenery. Simply gorgeous.

After some initial bumps getting into Chicago I checked into my hotel and immediately hoofed it to the speakers dinner (an hour late), held at a really tasty Mexican restaurant called Zocolo. It was exactly what I needed. Good food, wonderful and strong margaritas, and lively conversation among friends. The perfect way to start unwinding from the reality of daily life and into the conference mindset.


The first day of Peers were the workshops. These were essentially classroom style settings where all us attendees heard lectures on the ins and outs of the elegant PHP library Laravel from the creator Taylor Otwell and the new CMS, Craft, from Pixel & Tonic.

As a PHP developer, the Laravel workshop was something I was really looking forward to. I’ve long had a fascination with Laravel but just haven’t had the time to dig into at the level needed to own it as a resource so hearing the gospel straight from Taylor’s mouth was amazing. My head is still running wild with the possibilities this amazing framework offers. Things like unit testing, closures, and other advanced PHP functionality coming back into my life, after a couples years stuck in PHP limbo with CodeIgniter development, has me plain excited. It really is an elegant framework.

The other workshop, “Build a website with Craft”, was put on by Brandon Kelly (with some impressive tech support from Brad Bell) of Pixel & Tonic where he walked everyone through the process of setting up a website with their new content management system Craft. Brandon’s a really good teacher, had assignments and everything, and it was quite easy to follow along and see the beauty in Craft. It’s easy to see that creating sites with Craft is going to be a treat for us and our clients.

After the first days workshops Jess had an amazing treat for everyone; a catered party to an old school video arcade with an open bar called Emporium Arcade Bar (Best. Name. Ever). More though, to ensure the safety of everyone (because drinking and a new city can be a real problem) she worked out a deal with Uber to provide transportation to and from the event. She even added a cherry on top with a sweet idea of having each car setup with a presenter so the attendees and speakers can get to know each other. Very classy in my opinion (though, I was more impressed with my passengers than the other way around).


The second day was when the various tracks, “Developer” and “Business”, started. This is a trend I’m really happy to see become adopted in conferences more and more. The basic crux is that there are more options available to attendees by having a variety of topics running concurrently. So, if you don’t want to hear about X you can always go watch Y or, sometimes, even Z. Really, the only downside is when multiple talks are interesting but scheduled at the same time and you have to make a choice. Peers had that awesome problem.

For example, right off there were 2 talks from 2 amazing speakers. Taylor Otwell was back, talking about Laravel for the CodeIgniter developer, and Chris Newton (from CartThrob) talking about shaking things up for your company.

Since I was there for Taylor’s workshop the day before I had to make the tough call and go watch my buddy Chris drop some knowledge. I’ve seen Chris do a couple presentations and they’re always entertaining and fun and this time was no different. Very funny and full of insights on how to get momentum back in your company when things start going wrong.

After Chris’s presentation I decided to watch Anna Brown talk about her trials dealing with some insane performance issues with a HUGE ExpressionEngine site instead of Alan Branch’s talk titled “Allocating Your Time for More Revenue”. I heard from those that went to Alan’s talk that it was really good but Anna’s talk is right in my wheel house, being about performance and hardware, so I had to check that one out.

This site’s just plain crazy. Tons of complicated data sets stored in an ExpressionEngine site and a client who just wouldn’t let up on the edge cases and WTF scenarios. Frankly, it’s a wonder she’s still sane. She’s clearly a resource to utilize if you have ExpressionEngine issues. Also, EngineHosting appears to be just bad ass at hosting these types of sites and keeping them up.

The Statamic workshop came after Anna’s talk. This was just like the other workshops in format (devs show how to use their tool) though obviously about the CMS Statamic and given by those developers. (BTW, how cool is it that every workshop at Peers was given by the developers?)

Unfortunately, I had some weird biases against Statamic (that I’ve since learned weren’t accurate) so I didn’t attend. I did get to talk shop with both Fred and Jack (name dropping!) afterwards though and can’t wait to dive into it in the next couple weeks.

The last event of the day was the “Roundtable Discussions & Peer Review”. This was essentially an event where attendees could work 1 on 1 with another developer and talk about anything. Seriously. ANYTHING. It had started out as a pretty formal “schedule a time” style thing but ended up being much more informal and social (though still focused on problem solving tech issues). I think with a little more announcement this could be a real treat at the next Peers Conference. Still, lots of fun even listening to others problems and solutions.


Whoooo! Blackhawks!!! Whoooooo!!!1! Hockey Rulze!!!! Whooooo!!

That was Friday morning in Chicago. Not. Bad.

Having grown up in Los Angeles, where the sports celebrations are heavily regulated and regimented (read: boring), this was a sight to see. Literally millions of people out on the streets of Chicago showing their support and love for their home hockey team. Yes, it made getting to the venue first thing in the morning frustrating, but that was a small price to pay to see something like that in my opinion (and looking back on it from home).

The first talk on Friday (and last day of Peers) was probably one of the most profoundly touching and moving presentations I’ve ever witnessed at a technology conference. Greg Baugues, of Table XI, talked about the elephant in the room of technologists with his presentation titled “Devs and Depression”.

As the title suggests, Greg’s talk was all about his experiences dealing with depression (personally and professionally) and how it is truly a problem in our industry more than most. The similarities between his experiences and others in the industry were striking and really hit me right in the feels. Depression and metal illness is something we should all be aware of and he really made a great case. It’s unfortunate that, with the parade, not everyone was able to see it but, hopefully, he’ll continue giving it at other conferences.

After Greg’s talk I had to start preparing for my talk so I sat the next few sessions out. Being a programmer, design does not come naturally to me so I obsess over things like my slides a bit more than I should. There’s a lesson there I think…

I’m pretty of disappointed I missed them though since they were all developer centric and really interesting topics. Greg Ferrell talking about building a Craft add-on and Phil Sturgeon discussing Composer would have been especially useful to me specifically but, considering my front end and Git skills aren’t as pro as they should be, Rob Sanchez’s and Trevor Davis’s talks would probably have earned me more money in the end.

My talk went over pretty well I think; had my slides all done with pictures and words (in English even!) and everything. Can’t really be subjective about it though so you’ll have to hear from others about quality or usefulness. Still, the overall theme was to be aware of the problems inherent in our choices. Use a CMS, know what performance bottlenecks you’ve setup so when issues happen you’re not caught unawares. Build a patchwork system; better know the issues you’ve laid out for yourself. Etc.

After my presentation, Angie Herrera had her presentation about finding balance in our professional lives. Not something that comes easy to most of us. I had never watched Angie speak before but she’s quite charming and clearly put a lot of thought into how to stay happy while working. Of course, I had to miss Adrienne Travis talking about Stash and all the usefulness that offers.

Lodewijk Schutte (Low) closed out Peers Conference with a really good “think talk” asking why we work and what we work for. Very thought provoking and interesting idea: what are we doing all this for and why?

Overall, Peers Conference was a wonderful experience with tons of notable speakers and topics. I walked away energized and ready to attack the challenges of this neat little industry we live and work in. I can’t wait for the next one.

Posted on Jul 02, 2013 by Eric Lamb

Filed Under: Conferences, Life as a Web Professional

jackmcdade13:01 on 07.02.2013

Eric! (Now *I’m* name dropping) It was great to meet you too. I was glad we had a chance to have some beers (with peers) and chat Statamic (as well as everything else). Looking forward to chatting more on the interwebs smile

Paul Wenzel13:26 on 07.02.2013

High fives on this writeup. I too had a great time at Peers and hope there will be more events like it!