Lessons learned from organizing an online conference

Earlier this year we made the tough decision to cancel WeCamp 2020 due to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic. It was not an easy decision but looking back at it now, I think we made the right decision. We honestly could not have justify letting people travel to an island. WeCamp was supposed to have happened last week. We (at Ingewikkeld immediately came up with a new idea however, because we didn't want to sit still and do nothing. One of the things that makes us proud is to facilitate the sharing of knowledge. So we came up with Comference.

Comference took place last week, and organizing the event was very different from WeCamp. As such, I learned a few lessons organizing the event that I hadn't with WeCamp. This blogpost is an attempt to document some of those lessons.

Organizing an online event is still a lot of work

Even if an online event makes a lot less logistical planning than a physical event, it is still a lot of work to organize an online event. Of course, getting sponsors is a lot of work, but that's about the same as for a physical event. But there's so much to do. Some of the things we needed to do was:

  • Figuring out the tech stack for streaming the event
  • Inviting speakers and creating the schedule
  • Thinking of fun activities that you can do online

Especially in a world where physical meetings are just about impossible, the communication for all of this also had to happen 100% online.

Also, since this was our first online event, I kept looking for things I had not considered. Our TODO sometimes kept growing instead of getting smaller because of the things that we thought of at a later point.

Testing has to be realistic

Luckily, most of Comference went pretty smooth, but we had some weird issues, mostly with our audio. This turned out to be due to the (perhaps slightly amateuristic) tech setup we had for our event. As far as we have been able to analyse so far, it had to do with the fact that we used two Elgato HD60 S devices connected through a USB hub to our streaming computer. The device itself is fantastic and works really well, but it seems that if you have two of them connected to the same computer, and you use them for hours on end, either the device or Windows has an issue with that.

Which leads me to the lesson: Yes, we tested the whole setup before the event. We tested all aspects: Local speakers, remote speakers, getting local speakers' slides into the stream, the audio from our local mics, the audio from remote speakers, etc. But we only tested for 10-15 minutes. We did not do a longer test run.

When we first encountered an issue where the audio dropped, we started analysing the problem and could not find it. Big heads up to my son Tomas for helping us out here. He was the one that came up with the idea of disconnecting one of the Elgato devices and connecting it directly to the computer. After that, OBS had input again and we could move on.

I should've known this from my development work, but ah well. It wasn't a major issue (it happened 2 or 3 times and was fixed in a matter of minutes) and our attendees were very forgiving ♥.

A good community tool adds a lot of value to your event

Now, I had learned this lesson at The Online PHP Conference by the awesome people of The PHP.cc already. They combined Zoom with Slack for their conference and that worked really well. During a talk there was a lot of interaction by attendees in the Slack. For us it was mostly a matter of: which of the available tools do we want to use?

Because we were also organizing a game night and a Dungeons & Dragons session, one of our main requirements was to have a system that allowed both text chat and group voice chat. Since Slack only supports group voice chat for their paid plan and Discord is very gamer-oriented we decided to go for Discord. This turned out to be an extra good choice once one of our speakers decided to have break out sessions with smaller groups doing exercises. The voice chat could be used for that as well.

The choice for a good community tool worked out really well. During the talks there were excellent discussions going on, that in some cases lasted until after the talk was already done for some time.

OBS is awesome software

OBS is awesome software. It's as simple as that. It is amazing that the open source community is able to come up with such a professional video streaming tool. I will be sure to make a donation.

Online conferences do work

I have never really been very excited about the idea of online conferences. But in the current situation with no or very little physical conferences in the foreseeable future and with me really liking conferences and learning a lot while attending them, we need to find something that works.

When organized well, online conferences really work well. With enough breaks (we did a 15 minute break between each talk, slightly longer if a speaker didn't use their 60 minute slot fully) you don't get tired that much. With a good community system set up to accommodate both the hallway track and solid discussions on the subject at hand, an extra dimension is added that physical conferences don't even really have (I would consider it rude to start talking to each other while a speaker is on stage ;) ). Now, I'm actually quite excited about the concept of online conferences, and I may attend more in the future, or maybe even organize more in the future...

Playing with WSL2

Some time ago I got fed up with the performance of Docker on Mac. Especially with the bigger projects I work on, the performance was getting horrible. After trying Windows for a bit, I switched to Windows because performance was better on Windows.

But as I was using Docker for Windows on a project last year, performance was still horrible. I was sometimes waiting for a page to load for several seconds. While Docker for Windows was performing better, it was still not performing the way I wanted to. After a while I decided to switch to Linux, just for the performance.

Linux and I have a love/hate relationship. Technologically it is far superior, especially for power users such as developers. In terms of UX... I hate it. It's better now than it was 10 years ago, but it's still not good. Especially when things go wrong, too often you have to revert to searching the Internet for a solution that requires executing complex commands and manually editting config files. I understand some people love that, but I've had it with that stuff since, I don't know, ages ago. Basically, since I switched to Mac and stuff "just worked".

So when Microsoft announced WSL2 with a full linux kernel and support for Docker, I was excited! This could mean my perfect setup could finally happen: The UX of Windows but with the Docker performance of Linux.

The update came out end of May, but I was in a big project and didn't have time to play with it. Yesterday, I finally set out to try it.

First impressions

My first impression is quite positive. The installation of WSL2 is easy, the Docker for Windows installer immediately picks up on the fact that WSL2 is available as a backend which makes the setup of my environment a breeze.

So the first thing I did was clone a git repository to my Windows system, head into bash and do docker-compose up -d to start the project. The project builds, executes Composer and runs. But I notice composer install is already quite slow and once the project is up and running, the pages still take quite a long time in the browser. And then it hits me... I checked out the repository on my host system, which means they basically have to go through the Windows -> WSL2 mount to linux, and then to Docker. That might slow things down.

Second try

OK, let's try again, but now let's clone the repository directly in the WSL2 filesystem. After cloning, I again type docker-compose up -d and .... whoa! Hang on, the build is done already? Composer ran incredibly fast. Let's try in the browser... whoa! Again, blazingly fast! This is incredible! This is near Linux performance for Docker.

But now my files are in the WSL2 filesystem, and I want to use PHPStorm and SmartGit to edit the files and commit and push to Gitlab. Is there a way to do that? Why, yes of course there is. The smart people at Microsoft have a solution for everything I want.

It took a bit of searching around, but it is actually quite easy to find the path of the files. As it turns out, in your bash shell you can just type explorer.exe . and it will open a Windows Explorer window in the directory on your WSL2 filesystem. Seriously, the integration between WSL2 and Windows is amazing. The path will look something like this:


But that's not all: When I started PHPStorm and I created a new project from existing files, PHPStorm automatically detected the WSL2 filesystem in the new project window. I can just choose between my C-drive and the WSL filesystem. This is excellent, and so easy to set up.


I don't want to make a major conclusion like "Docker with WSL2 is perfect" because I haven't actually done serious development with it, but so far it is looking very good. The performance is amazing, the integration between WSL2 and the Windows operating system is great, and setting up tools such as PHPStorm and SmartGit is a breeze. Yes, this really, truly looks like a game changer for me.

Cancelling WeCamp 2020

A couple of weeks ago we had an energy-draining meeting with the WeCamp 2020 team. While it was technically possible to organize WeCamp 2020, given the current crisis we had an interesting and lengthy discussion about whether it was the right thing to do. We ended the meeting with a very tough decision: To cancel WeCamp 2020. It is hard to justify the risk of attendees travelling to and from our island in a period where an infection can have such dire consequences.

All attendees should have had an email by now with more information. If you have not, please get in touch with me.

We can't sit still and do nothing

One of the many amazing things of the people of Ingewikkeld is the fact that their passion for sharing knowledge and helping people level up is so strong that we can't just sit still and do nothing. We decided that we'd be doing an online event in the same week as WeCamp. Now, the WeCamp experience as it is can not be translated to an online event, so we decided we should do something different. We're still working on all the details, but expect an event where tech talks are scheduled together with talks on personal development, where relaxation techniques are discussed and you have the opportunity to do a talk yourself as well. We'll most certainly share more details as we confirm them, but for now, we have a name: Comference, the online conference from the comfort of your own home. If you want to stay up-to-date on our announcements, you can subscribe to our mailinglist from our website, and you can follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Oh, and the best thing: Comference will be live streaming for free! So while we can't welcome you to our island in August, we'll be happy to welcome you to our online stream!

PHP and the DigitalOcean MySQL cluster

One of the weak points in our Rancher 1 cluster has always been the database. Because databases and docker (due to the persistence issues) has always been an issue, we solved that by installing a MySQL server on the same droplet that our Rancher server was running on. While it worked fine, it was always a bit of a weak spot: If that single MySQL server would crash, all our applications would go down. And since we work mostly on customer projects and don't have a dedicated ops person, we wouldn't always been able to immediately respond to such a crisis.

So when DigitalOcean announced their managed MySQL cluster, I was quickly excited about this new project. It took a while for them to launch it publicly and roll it out to "our" region (AMS3), but they did so just over a month ago, so I decided to go for a testdrive.

Creating my first database

Creating a database wasn't all that hard. DigitalOcean has an interface for this. It is literally filling in your database name and clicking a button to set up your database. The same goes for creating a user. This interface is quite limited though: You can not input any configurations (such as the authentication method for users), which can cause issues (as you will later see). But in all its simplicity, it does what it is supposed to do. Create a database. Create a user.

Migrating the database

Migrating the database was actually quite easy. Dump the database from the old MySQL server, import it on the new server. I used MySQL Workbench to do this, and that worked fine.

Mind you: The first application I did this one had a very simple schema. DigitalOcean managed MySQL uses MySQL 8, so in more complex databases I can imagine there might be issues due to backwards compatibility breaks. YMMV.

Configuring my application

I had a very simple issue to solve on my application: My configuration did not allow me to set the port for the DSN, and since DigitalOcean sets a custom MySQL port, this meant I had to make a very simple code change so I could configure the port that was used. A simple one line change solved that issue. No problem so far.

When I deployed a new version of my application with this fix however, I ran into a bigger issue:

Fatal error: Uncaught PDOException: PDO::__construct(): The server requested authentication method unknown to the client [caching_sha2_password] in /var/www/web/index.php

Oops! Yes, MySQL now defaults to a new authentication method, caching_sha2_password. This is not supported by PHP yet.

This is where I come back to my earlier mention of how the simplistic user management of DigitalOcean is causing problems: We can't switch to another authentication method! Fortunately, we can execute a query to actually switch back to the old authentication method. So let's do that:

ALTER USER 'myuser'@'%' IDENTIFIED WITH mysql_native_password BY 's3cr3t_p@ssw0rd';

After doing this, my application worked again. Yay, my application is now running on the new managed MySQL cluster!

About caching_sha2_password

Jaap and I did some digging to figure out why this new MySQL 8 authentication method is not yet supported by PHP. Because really, MySQL is the main database engine used by PHP developers, so why would it not be supported? It turns out, it was! If you use PHP 7.2.9 (at least the docker image for that), you can actually use the new caching_sha2_password method. Your application works fine. However, after that change, a bug was reported after which the support for the new authentication method was reverted. As it looks right now, the changes for the authentication method are back in the master branch, which would mean PHP 8 will support the new authentication method. Until then, we'll have to switch back to mysql_native_password for our PHP applications (or use the PHP 7.2.9 docker image, which I would advice against).

The verdict

Migrating to the new database cluster was easier than I expected and, with one minor work-around, it is easy to get your application up and running with the new DigitalOcean MySQL cluster. We will surely be migrating all application to this new platform. It's up to DigitalOcean to extend their application a bit more, for instance to be able to configure the authentication method for a user or default character set of the database. So far, I'm a happy user of this new DigitalOcean product.

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. I am not affiliated with DigitalOcean other than that I am a happy customer.

Excluding generated files in your project

So here's one of those things that I need to document, or I'll forget. One of those blogposts that I'll find through a search engine in a year ;)

A project I'm working on is using Symfony with Encore, and while running Encore I kept getting some weird errors that javascript couldn't find a file that was actually there. After some debugging I found out that this was related to the fact that the generated file was located in the volume that ensured my local files were available in the container.

The solution was actually pretty simple. Create an unmapped volume inside the mapped volume:

            - ../project:/var/www/html/project:cached
            - /var/www/html/project/web/js

Now when I ran Encore, I had no more errors and everything worked as it should.

The Next Step

Nearly 9 years ago Marjolein and I started Ingewikkeld together. It was mostly a joint freelance business, we weren't planning on having people work for us. My main focus was PHP development, and I wanted to help customers with their PHP-related problems, whether that was architecture, development, training. Anything related to PHP, really.

When we started, I really only focussed on my freelance PHP work, but at some point there was so much work, and I had to say no to so many potential clients, that we hired people. It started out as an interesting idea, but as soon as Jelrik was on the job market, things went quickly. Only 2 months later, Mike joined as well.

Jelrik has since moved on, but Mike (who I've been friends with even before Ingewikkeld was started) stuck around. He's still with Ingewikkeld. And over the years, Mike turned out to really complement my chaotic nature. And this has triggered a change at Ingewikkeld.

Some time ago already we started preparations for several changes to the Ingewikkeld company structure. I'm happy to announce today that we've set the first step, by adding Mike to the Ingewikkeld leadership. The new Ingewikkeld leadership will be:

  • Stefan Koopmanschap: Business director
  • Marjolein van Elteren: Creative director
  • Mike van Riel: Technical Director

I am really happy with this first step. And it's not the last. More things will change in the coming time, to make Ingewikkeld an even more solid business delivering even more quality services.

Sorting select fields in EasyAdminBundle

I'm currently working on an application using Symfony and their EasyAdminBundle. The experience has been great overall, although there are lots of details and specific usecases that are hard to figure out.

For instance when using relations in your entities and creating the related forms. Select fields for related entities are by default sorted by the key (usually the ID of the related entity), however you'd usually want to sort it alphabetically by the name of the entity. My initial thought was to use the @OrderBy annotation, however that only works for the actual OneToMany relations on the other side of the relation, not on the selectbox for the ManyToOne side of the relation. So that was quickly discarded.

Next up I found that you can do it in Symfony by specifying a query_builder parameter to your form configuration. The downside here is that by default, EasyAdminBundle works with a yaml configuration for your form so that makes it a lot harder to do this. I could do this in an extended AdminController, but that would mess with my form field order.

Eventually, however, I found this comment on Github that gave me the solution. Instead of specifying an anonymous function, you can also specify a static method to be called to fetch the values. And so, my solution was now easily implemented.

In my YAML file, I could now specify the query_builder parameter:

- { property: supplier, label: 'Leverancier', type_options: { 'query_builder': 'App\Repository\SupplierRepository::getSuppliersForSelect' } }

In said repository, I added the specified static method:

    static public function getSuppliersForSelect(EntityRepository $entityRepository)
        return $entityRepository
            ->orderBy('s.name', 'ASC');

and now my select field has a nicely alphabetically sorted list of suppliers.

Take care of non-technical skills

Full disclosure: I am one of the founders and current organizers of WeCamp, an event that has a focus on not just technical skills but also personal skills.

In my 20+ years of professional experience in the PHP/software development world, I've worked at many companies and been into many companies as a consultant or freelance developer. Many of the companies I've come in touch with had programs set up for training of their developers. Most of those programs focused on improving technical skills. This makes a lot of sense, because in the current tech world, things change so fast that you need continuous learning to improve. And there is nothing wrong with that.

In recent years, I've seen the focus of training shift a bit from mostly PHP-related subjects to the whole ecosphere of software and tooling around PHP. This is a great shift, because PHP developers don't just write PHP. They use tools like ElasticSearch and memcache, Git and continuous integration, AWS and Azure, and numerous other products that you don't instantly know how to use. Performance, security, quality, it's topics that get more and more attention and rightfully so.

With a few exceptions, however, I've found that many companies still seem to ignore another important part: personal development. I'm talking about things like communication skills, planning skills, a focus on personal happiness. About knowing where you want to go in your life and what to focus on. The human side of the developer. Because, despite what many recruiters would like you to think, a developer is more than just a resource. Developers are just like humans.

I've heard managers complain about developers not having good communication skills, but I've hardly ever seen those same managers look for ways to improve those skills for their developers. I've heard managers complain about the lack of planning skills, or the fact that their developers have a hard time structuring their work day, but I've often seen those same managers only consider technical training for those same developers. And yet, the first non-sponsored link when I search the web for planning skills training is an effective planning skills training. Same for searching for communication skills training. The first result is a learning tree training. And that's just the first results. Go down the results and you'll find a lot more.

One way to focus on more than just technology

As mentioned in my full disclosure at the start, I am one of the founders and current organizers of WeCamp, a 5-day event focussing on improving both technical and non-technical skills that are essential to software development. We've received a lot of positive feedback on the key take-aways of the event being more than just technical skills. I am very proud of that. When we get feedback such as:

To developers, I'd say that the experience is unrivalled by anything in the market today. The coach's focus on your personal development is guaranteed to push you on exactly the points that need improving.

this means we've done our job. We push people to reflect their current position and where they're heading. We push them to evaluate if their current heading is what they really want. But we also help them set goals and achieve those goals. Whether this is about new tech they want to learn or non-tech skills they want to improve. Actually, when we asked what was the best thing about WeCamp 2017 in the evaluation questionnaire, one of the attendees responded with:

The blend of technical and personal development.

In that same questionnaire, when asked about why people would recommend WeCamp, we got things like:

Great learning and life experience and pushes you to get out of your comfort zone in a positive way.

I know I am biased because I'm very much involved in this event, but I really believe that by creating the safe space that we create for people to reflect on their life and career and by getting developers our of their comfort zone, we add a value that not many other events could.


If you or your developers are interested in WeCamp, please check out our website. If you have any questions, please do feel free to contact me.

WordPress and HTTPS-terminating proxies

A blog I am writing for was looking for a new place to host their website. Since we have a nice cluster with Rancher up and running, I offered to host the site. It's WordPress, so PHP, so how hard could it be, right?

I spent quite a few hours migrating everything. The initial migration to Docker was not that hard. There is a great official WordPress image for Docker, which makes it extremely easy to set up a new WordPress site in Docker.

The next thing is handling file uploads. Using the do-spaces-sync plugin this was easily set up to use DigitalOcean Spaces. It took a while to upload all images from the old wp-content/uploads to Spaces, but once that was done, I had it working immediately after setting it up. So far, this whole migration was a breeze.

Until I flipped the switch on the DNS and pointed it to our new hosting. I immediately got caught in an infinite redirect loop, and I had no idea why. I've spent hours turning off plugins, turning them on again. Debugging everything, watching logs. I could not figure it out. In the headers I did find a header saying that the redirect came from WordPress:

X-Redirect-By: WordPress

Eventually, I tried explaining the problem in the #wordpress channel in the PHPNL slack and as I'm typing my explanation something dawns on me...

Our Rancher setup has a load balancer that terminates the HTTPS then forwards an internal request to the container using http. But in WordPress, I have configured the siteurl to be https://. So WordPress gets a request using http, figures out it should be using https, and redirects. This causes the infinite redirect loop!

Of course, I wasn't the first to encounter this problem. Once I know what the problem was, searching the Internet quickly gave me the solution. In Wordpress Codex of course. The only thing I needed to do was add a single line to my .htaccess file:

SetEnvIf X-Forwarded-Proto https HTTPS

Once I did that, rebuilt my containers and deployed them to Rancher, the problem was solved. All of a sudden, everything worked.

New domain

I've had the domain leftontheweb.com for ages. It's been with me since 2004. However, since I recently got a brand new .dev domain, I decided it was time for a change. Since I can't even remember how I came up with the old name, it's time for a change. A new name that is easy to recognize, easy to remember and easy to link to me.

The new domain name for this blog is:


It only makes sense to switch to this domain. Skoop has been my nickname for as long as I have access to the Internet. And since my main occupation is still development, this switch makes sense.

Now, to find interesting topics to blog about again...