Earlier this month, two of us from GRAYBOX attended the EE2013 conference here in Portland, Oregon USA.
With a packed schedule of 46 sessions with 34 speakers, the two days of the event went by very quickly. It was a great opportunity to meet and share with other developers, add-on creators, hosting vendors and EllisLab, the makers of Expression Engine, themselves. The conference was excellently executed and provided a solid foundation to deliver excellent training and connection with the EE community.
Gremlins in the Gears: Troubleshooting tips and tricks from EL's own
One of the first sessions I attended was the Troubleshooting Tips and Tricks from EllisLab's Tech Support Team. Dan Decker and Robin Sowell did most of the leading of this session. We learned some great information about big-picture troubleshooting techniques used by the leaders in tech support for Expression Engine. Robin shared some interesting stories of extra challenging problems presented by customers, and how they tracked down the culprits. Some key pieces of advice:
Whittle the problem down to the core basics of the issue. Strip down the code, and remove anything that could cause confusion. Use the tools. Expression Engine has several built-in debugging tools that, when used properly, give a wealth of details.
Q & A Session with EllisLab
After this, I attended was the Question and Answer Hour with the EllisLab team. I was first struck by confusion by the company hierarchy. Derek Jones is the leader of the company - the new EllisLab CEO - but has taken the title of "Chief Maker". I appreciate his commitment and focus that —...everyone, even the CEO, should be capable of contributing directly to the software— but with these made-up titles, I was unsure if he was the lead developer, the head of sales or in charge of the company.
In general, the session was a series of questions like, "When should we expect to see a feature such as _____" and EllisLab staff playing coy and responding with, "that may or may not be on our production schedule, you will have to wait and see".
One of the most interesting Questions to me was regarding EllisLab and their relationship with Code Igniter (CI), the framework they built which is the foundation of Expression Engine (beginning with EE version 2). They are looking for a home for CI with another development company, giving them time to focus on the core of their flagship product, Expression Engine. Interestingly, it seems that EE will continue to be developed using a variant of CI, and not follow the development of the framework as it moves forward.
EE VS Drupal VS WordPress - How to Sell Against Your Competition
This session, lead by Marcus Neto, was a great leveling of the playing field of CMSs and did some point-by-point comparisons of the differences and similarities. I'm a big EE fan, but I also know to only use the right tool for the right job. Marcus showed us how to keep technology out of the discussion with the client (honestly, they rarely care what the tool is… they just want to know that it is the right tool, and it will be easy for them to use). Marcus also detailed differences in scalability, support provided, and big picture advantages of one platform over another.
ExpressionEngine API - Build Seamless Apps That Connect
I have to admit, this was my favorite session. Patrick Pohler made an engaging, funny, interesting and very practical session about building APIs within Expression Engine. The methods discussed also helped me learn about some ingenious implementations of Extensions and how to "bypass" the ugly /?ACT=99 syntax used by modules to employ different actions. By extending the freely available add-on "Open API" by Ben Croker (who was in attendance in the session), Pat gave us some ways to create a robust and easy-to-use API for our applications.
I highly recommend that anyone who works closely with Expression Engine, whether they are a developer, designer, production manager or in sales, to attend the Expression Engine conference. The wide variety of session topics, and direct access to other developers and industry professions is worth it. They have not announced the location for 2014, but hints were given that it would be on the East Coast of the United States - I will see you there.