Laracon AU 2018: Two Days of Learnings and Getting to Know a New Dev Community

A couple weekends back, Matt and I went to our first ever Laracon AU in Sydney.

We were excited to simply be a part of it. Laravel is a relatively new tool for us here at Prospress, so we were keen to make the most of the opportunity to learn from others in the community for our professional development.

But we were also curious to see what the Laravel community was like… compared to WordPress. We tend to go to a lot of WP events, mostly so we can catch up with colleagues, friends, and others in the WP community (hallway track!). But when you’re working with a framework like Laravel and everyone else in your company is working primarily with WordPress, it’s easy to feel a little isolated.

So Laracon AU gave us an opportunity to meet some of the 200 or so developers in attendance who are passionate about building applications with Laravel. It also gave us the chance to catch up with our buddy Bryce Adams, who created Metorik and is a fellow WordPress/WooCommerce/Laravel developer and SaaS builder.

Overall, we had a lot of fun, learned a ton, and made lots of new connections. In this post, I want to share some of our experiences and key takeaways from the event.

Matt and I outside the venue for Laracon AU 2018.
Matt and I outside the venue for Laracon AU 2018.

Wait – You Use Laravel for Robot Ninja?

Yep, we sure do.

We use Lumen, a fast micro-framework by Laravel, to power our backend test services and APIs. From an architecture point of view, we decided early on that whilst we could have built everything in WordPress, it made sense to split out our test functionality into a standalone service/s.

After a bit of research, and because we’re a PHP-based business, we settled on Laravel due to the size of the community, documentation, and speed at which we prototype/build up Robot Ninja, our automated testing SaaS for WooCommerce.

Heading to Sydney for Laracon AU Via the Big Merino

Since Matt lives in Brisbane and I live in Canberra, he flew over to spend a couple of days in the bush capital prior to Laracon AU. It gave us a chance to work together IRL before we jumped in the car for the three-hour drive to Sydney.

We made a quick pit stop along the way in Goulburn to check out the Big Merino.

Matt and the Big Merino in Goulburn.
Matt and the Big Merino in Goulburn.

Our Top Highlights from Laracon AU

Over the two days of the conference, we learned a ton. The speaker lineup was diverse, and it was really valuable seeing how “the experts” solve different development problems with Laravel.

It’s like the old saying goes, “there’s more than one way to peel an orange”—and this was no more apparent than in the presentations.

A few of the talks provided alternative viewpoints on topics ranging from simple development practices to whether a monolithic architecture is preferable to a microservice architecture.

While we found all of the sessions valuable and information, these six really stood out.

Adam Wathan – Resisting Complexity

I love simplicity so the title alone was enough to get me hooked. I enjoyed Adam taking us through some alternative thought patterns and approaches that can be applied during development.

Simon Vrachliotis – A Real-Life Journey into the Opinionated World of “Utility-First” CSS

I spent many years building sites for clients using semantic CSS and then transitioned to using frameworks like Bootstrap (which we use on Robot Ninja). So I was really interested to hear Simon’s thoughts on the benefits of using a utility first framework like Tachyons.

I had honestly never heard of Tachyons before (it’s easy to miss stuff when you need to be across a range of subject areas). After his presentation, I am most certainly going to find some time to investigate this framework.

During Simon’s presentation, he referenced a number of great tweets and I really liked the following one from Nathan C Zakas:

I think this outlook can be applied to many situations in life. I know I’ve certainly felt like I’ve been on both sides of this sort of thinking, especially recently.

Donna Benjamin – Turning Stories into Software

Donna changed things up a bit and spoke around the topics of user stories, personas, and group dynamics. Her session really resonated with us and our own experiences building Robot Ninja.

Kate Kendall – Goodbye, Silicon Valley: The Rise of the Indie Way

Kate spoke about her experiences in the startup world and Silicon Valley, and the rise of the indie movement when it comes to startups.

If you are looking for investors for your product, business, or big idea, a non-equity based accelerator program might be a good option for you.

You can read more about what inspired Kate’s presentation on her website: The rise of the indie way and the role of non-equity accelerators.

Alex Lüneburg and Richard Wyke – Building a Complex Product While Scaling a Team and a Business on Laravel

Alex and Richard from Figured, a company that develops financial software for farms, stepped us through some of the tools and techniques they’ve used to help manage the growth of their product and business.

For us, the most interesting and useful tips were not the technical ones, but those more around their process. Their use of “Tech Debt Weeks” and Architectural Decision Records (ADRs) were just two little gems we took away from their talk, giving us a lot to think about. I’m hoping to investigate these tools more seriously and (hopefully) incorporate into the development of Robot Ninja, and possibly Prospress more broadly.

Tech Debt Weeks

The devs at Figured set aside the first week of every month (they tend to use monthly development cycles) to work on reducing the technical debt within their product.

Three weeks of each month, they focus on developing features and fixing bugs. But during this one “Tech Debt Week,” they work on maintenance-type things that would otherwise fall by the wayside and be forgotten.

This has helped them keep their code base clean. They made an interesting point that they don’t do clean up for the sake of cleaning up during this period—their developers have been surprisingly good at still picking up tasks during this one-week period, which in the end benefit their business and customers.

Architectural Decision Records (ADRs)

Figured document/record decisions around their code base so that when new developers join their team they can quickly understand why and how certain decisions were made. They’ve even found that doing this has helped existing team members—when they’ve returned to work on code that they’ve previously worked on, ADRs have helped them remember why things were done a certain way.

Taylor Otwell – Telescope 🔭

Taylor previewed the yet to be released Laravel Telescope, a new application debugging assistant for Laravel. It’s open source, free on GitHub, and will be released any day now.

It looks like an amazing tool to complement and help with debugging during development. We won’t be rushing out to implement it in the production of Robot Ninja until it’s been used a little more in the real world. But it is a very exciting addition to the Laravel family.

Really, it was just great to see and hear from Taylor, the creator Laravel, and see him working live within a Laravel application.

Laracon AU 2018

Another takeaway from the conference (well, more of a reminder) was that the ecosystem around this web framework is much bigger than Laravel core and Lumen. There are a number of helpful tools in the Laravel family of products that we could potentially use for Robot Ninja, such as Laravel Horizon, Laravel Nova, as well as Laravel Telescope.

There are also upgrade tools and services like Laravel Shift that could help us perform Laravel upgrades, which we’d never heard about before.

Catching up with Bryce Adams From Metorik

Catching up with Bryce Adams from Metorik.
Catching up with Bryce Adams from Metorik.

Without a doubt, the most interesting discussions we had were over meals and coffees with Bryce. He has an amazing product in Metorik and is far more experienced with Laravel than we are. So it was extremely useful to see demonstrations of things he has built and how Metorik works behind the scenes.

If you’re not already familiar with Metorik, it’s a dashboard for WooCommerce that offers real-time reports, product insights, email automation, abandoned cart tracking and unifies your store’s orders, customers, subscriptions and more.

He offered plenty of friendly advice and feedback on things we could do with Robot Ninja and we greatly appreciated his time. We’re excited to say that we are now making use of Metorik!

The After Party

Conference after parties are always a lot of fun, and Laracon AU was no exception. The tenpin bowling-themed event was held on the waterfront in Darling Harbour and gave us a chance to wind down and recap the day’s talks over a strike or two.

I won the night with a score of 177 and got a single 10 pin and an iPad Pro!


The first slide of Day 2 of the conference was (embarrassingly!) this photo of me from the after party:

Laravel kingpin Jason Conroy.
Laravel kingpin?

Until Next Year, Laracon AU

It’s safe to say we’re not feeling so isolated now! After meeting a bunch of awesome people at Laracon AU, getting the chance to hang out with Bryce from Metorik, and learning a ton from the presentations, we’ve got our work cut out for us making Robot Ninja bigger and better.

A big thank you to Laracon AU’s sponsors, Laravel, and organizer Michael Dyrynda who made it all happen. We’re looking forward to seeing the Laravel community grow (and thrive) in the years to come and being a part of it.