The Starship Zend-erprise


Thank you again for submitting a proposal for speaking at the Zend/PHP Conference in October. We have had an overwhelming response to our Call for Papers and, as a result, have had a difficult time in deciding which proposals to accept. After examining your proposal carefully, I am writing to inform you that it was not accepted in the first review cycle. However, we are placing it on a waiting list for further consideration.

Most importantly, thank you for your patience as we investigate expanding the Conference schedule and thank you very much for submitting a proposal to speak at the Conference.

Ahh, the standard rejection letter! But how I got it is anything but standard and that’s what I want to muse about in this article.

Jilted by Zend

I’ve always been partial to local conferences. It saves me a lot of trouble and the conference organizer a lot of money. My first PHP-related conference was PHP{CON West which I only submitted a talk to because it was in San Jose. So when I read about ZendCon being in San Jose, I did remember to go to the website to register to give a talk.

When I got there, they had no online registration available. They mentioned that they’d have an online registration in April. Okay, bookmark it and add a To Do for the future.

April passed, nothing. Then May… Then June… Then they announced the tutorials. Oh well!

In July at OSCON, a Zend representative asked me why I didn’t apply. I gave him the honest answer: “I was waiting for the online registration to go up and then next thing I know you already have speakers.”

I want to pause to let that sink in.

Zend. “The PHP Company” never… put… up… an… online… registration.

In any case, he told me that they were actually still taking submissions via e-mail for the regular sessions and that I should really submit something. Actually, he mentioned this twice that day, which is a sure sign that I should get off my ass. That night, I went back to the hotel room and submitted my eCard Gnomes talk, which, besides possibly being quite entertaining, is all about getting PHP applications to run in non-PHP environments. Perfect for ZendCon. I thought.

Ho ho! How wrong I was.

This whole experience has left a very bad impression. And I’m not just talking about getting the big “REJECTED” from Zend. (That’s personal :-D)

My problem is with their website that pales next to a typical Joomla! install, with how their conference didn’t even have a online registration system, with how they organize their conference, with how they treat their developers and speakers, and with how that implies they may treat their partners and customers.

In other words, my problem is with Zend, the girl in school who begs you to ask her out to the high school dance just so she can turn you down.1.

You see, because Zend bills themselves as the PHP Company. As a PHP developer they’re representin’ me when they sell to their target market: enterprise.

To understand this, I must digress…

The final frontier

Some of you may remember my rant last year in which I footnoted:

What sort of loser came up with the term “enterprise” anyway? No doubt it was some hapless biz-marketing closet trekkie geek. But this rant will be left for another day.

I guess now is the time to open that pandora’s box…

Consider this. Perhaps, “enterprise” really is like Star Trek.

Think about it.


I mean to you and me, businesses that want “enterprise solutions” are like these alien women in Star Trek. And I’m talking about ones in The Original Series, not the crap that followed2—you know the attractive ones wearing miniskirts!

You know how you want the episode is going to play out: Potentially lots of great sex (fun) and potential ($$) to the Federation (PHP world), but they’re dangerous, demanding, and not easy to understand. Plus, you have the Prime Directive to think about (the fact that PHP is successful because it’s a ugly hack and a cheap date).

The Java world has got it. They have Sun, Rational, BEA, ThoughtWorks, and scores of “Red Shirts” to do the dying.

Of course, to the PHP world, these guys are the Klingons. And Zend is trying to show us the way.

You feelin’ me?

A random walk in the Enterprise

Here is the revelation.

Ever read A Random Walk Down Wall Street? In the book, the authors show that mutual funds do worse than picking stocks by throwing darts at a dart board—the “risk averse” nature of the funds end up simply proving that markets are efficient and money is lost in transaction and support costs.

This begs the question. “Why does anyone buy mutual funds?”

Perhaps because it is not that important to “enterprise” businesses. For a company that is built on the web, choosing a slow, expensive, bloating platform can be a “deal killer.” But for a company that simply uses IT to support their core business, what’s a little inefficiency, transaction cost and extra support cost for what these guys really sell to enterprise.

What’s being sold? Go to JavaOne sometime. On one hand, you’ll think it’s one big circle jerk—companies selling “solutions” to companies who in turn sell “solutions” back to people who probably shouldn’t waste their money on it. On the other hand, realize that this one conference makes all the OSCONs put together look like a joke. One conference in one language promoted by one company for enterprise probably outspends all the conferences representing the entirety of open source development.

And when you go there think about these words


Go back and click on the links for Sun Java, IBM Rational, BEA, and ThoughtWorks. You’ll see those words everywhere. Denigrate the Java world all you want but they talk the talk and walk the walk. The image is one of competence and from that competence comes safety.

And is the Random Walk/Mutal Fund thing or the Enterprise IT/Java thing unique? I’d say it is normative. Turn on the television sometime and watch the “analysts” talking about politics, or looks at the losers they interview who they bill as “economists.”3 How many times has a tech journalist opened his mouth and you think to yourself, “That moron is just talking out of his ass.” Be honest.

Ahh, they may be dead wrong, but they pull off those pronouncements with such panache!

Yeah, it sucks to have all these $$ and hot babes (enterprise business), but someone has got to do it. Thanks Sun, IBM, BEA, and ThoughtWorks for “taking one for the team.”

Why hot alien chicks don’t go for PHP

Perhaps I should have titled this section with the converse “Why Java and dotNet get all the rich, hot “alien babes”.

Have you ever thought that maybe they’ve earned them? Because these rich, hot “alien babes” are attracted to them for, god-forbid, a reason?

Let me put it this way. Read Paul Graham’s rant on why nerds are unpopular. His basic premise is that nerds are unpopular because they refuse to play the game of High School and are playing a higher game, which he calls the “real world.”

As an unabashed nerd in high school, I have to ask: If a nerd was so smart, maybe if he devoted 10% of his brainpower trying to figure out High School, he’d have not have been so tormented.

The PHP world is like those nerds.

And now we’re grown up in the “real world” as Paul Graham puts it and we’re reliving the unpopularity contest all over. Paul is reliving the “how can I prove I didn’t just get fucking lucky during the boom and am not really still the dweeb I’ve always been”; PHP is reliving the “why is Java getting all the chicks?”

We’re talking about PHP: the #1 web language on the internet; the language that powers the front end of Yahoo!, Wikipedia, every WordPress blog, and a bunch of back-end CRMs. And like Rodney Dangerfield, we get no respect.

Zend is saying, if we just hang out with their clique, we’d be “in” with all the chicks. Oh yeah, and Zend seems like its spending like 3% of it’s brainpower on figuring that out. Honestly, Zend isn’t even attractive to me, let alone those hot alien chicks.

Workout! Get some attitude! Improve your image! And for god sake, stop wearing that underwear with your name stitched on the inside. (I recommend 2Xist. And no, ZFramework is not going to cut it.)

I’m not trying to be a playa hatah. I want Zend to be a player. I’m saying if Zend wants to be a player, at least do it right. Never putting up a submission website and then begging people to submit talks through back channels is simply not attractive—it smacks too much of high school.

(I’m really harshing on Zend here so I’ll mention that Zend is one of the few companies in the PHP world that’s actually trying to offer enterprise solutions. How many of us even try? We need to think about that before we whine about why we don’t get the $$ and babes.)

Selling pick-axes

I read that Zend got 20 million in investment recently. Good for them. Now how to spend it?

I’m going to make my case for the “You better spend it wisely!” crowd.

I think I like Om Malik’s take on it, but not in the way he thinks. Here is the money quote:

Only the very brave can pick winners amongst the current crop of Web 2.0 start-ups, social networks and other sundry services. And whatever the outcome might be, it is safe to say that the popularity of open source database MySQL and programming language PHP will only increase.

That should explain why Zend Technologies, a Cupertino-based start-up closely tied to the PHP language and community, managed to raise $20 million in Series D funding.

Hmm, this reminds me after the crash in 2000, everyone was investing in Cisco (routers), Corning (fiber optic), and JDS Uniphase (lasers). The conventional wisdom was: “Why bother finding out which Internet startup will survive? Invest in infrastructure because they’re selling the pick axes during the gold rush.”

I wonder how that “wisdom” worked out for them?

Some investors are investing in Zend because they don’t want to do the homework to figure out which of these Web 2.0 companies will survive the the Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads.

Fine. But remember playing risk averse without getting real insurance will just end up causing you to be another case study in a future edition of A Random Walk Through Wall Street.

My point

Effectively, Zend is saying: “Someone has got to get with all these hot alien chicks, might as well be us.”

To which I respond: “Yeah, but you’re no James T. Kirk.” You have to be a leader that people are willing to follow. You aren’t going to get there from here if your website can’t even handle a simple conference submission over the web; if you are going to beg developers to submit talks and then reject them; if you don’t convey an image of safety and competence all the time and to everyone.

Want to play with the adults? Stop acting like this is junior high.

The same goes for the rest of us in the PHP Community.

1 The analogy should have an asterisk: (*) “If somehow the guy I’m going to the dance with breaks a leg, or I’m allowed to bring more than one guy, or you ask really nicely then maybe I’ll considering letting you take me to the dance.” Those of you who know the full text of the rejection letter, know what I mean. 😀
2 Okay, I’ll admit that Seven of Nine held my attention for a couple episodes. Kudos to casting.
3 If you are one of the losers who quotes Freakonomics in front of me, prepare to be schooled. Or take this simple SAT answer: Steven Levitt:economics::Rob Enderle:technology.

10 thoughts on “The Starship Zend-erprise

  1. Pingback:
  2. As linked above, PHPDeveloper has picked this article up. Here are my comments of my own article on their selection of quotes:

    Hmm, It seems that my article comes out a bit too harsh. I encourage you to read it, because I’m really not angry that Zend “jilted” me, I’m more worried what that means for Zend and hopeful that they change their ways.

    As for my harshness on Zend, I want to emphasize again, like I did in the article, that it is one of the few companies in the PHP world actually TRYING to sell to enterprises, which is a good thing. For instance, I think things like Zend Suite, Zend Certification, and Zend Con are good things, but the execution doesn’t make me feel that a whole lot of professionalism is behind them.

    For example, Compare the release of Zend Framework to the release of SDO for PHP or the i18n support IBM added to Dojo Toolkit. Ignore the merits, and just concentrate on the three things I mentioned that I feel are important for enterprise adoption: image, competence, safety.

    I hope that makes sense.

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