I was once told that "the only reason you're successful is that you were at the right place at the right time." Other than the word "only" in that declaration, the accuser was mostly right. The reason I'm [moderately] successful is that I was at the right place at the right time. The subtlety in the second statement is in the reason I was at the right place at the magical time.
I firmly believe that my technical skills are only part of my value, career-wise. Looking back on my career so far, I can definitely see opportunities that arose because of being at the right place. What wasn't considered in the flippant statement was why I was there, when I was.
To me, it's clear: I've taken measures to put myself in the right place, when it was beneficial to do so. I've been doing this for years, and it's paid off.
Want to know how I became the Editor-in-Chief of php|architect magazine, a Web Architect at OmniTI, and was put into contact with my co-founder for Gimme Bar? Sure, my abilities to build web stuff played into all of those roles, but the way I found myself in all of those positions was by asking. Yes, asking.
Was I in the right place at the right time when I noticed Marco commenting about having to edit the current issue of php|architect, and I chimed in "hey, I kind of actually like that sort of thing," half a decade ago? Definitely, but it's more complicated than "luck."
Similarly, when I approached Chris Shiflett about working with OmniTI, his immediate reaction was "Of course there's room on my team for you; we'll just need to work out the details." Am I that good, when it comes to coding, architecting large deployments, and managing a team? Definitely not—even less so back then.
The real question is why was I hanging out on IRC when Marco was venting, or how was it so easy for me to have Chris's ear? The answer is simple: I'd established myself as part of the PHP community, and had a standing with those guys, even without having ever worked with them, directly (I had written for php|architect before, but it wasn't under Marco's direct supervision).
I assume that many of you readers are already members of the community in some way. That could be as simple as participating on mailing lists or forums, helping reproduce bugs, or fixing grammatical errors in the manual. One of the best ways I've found to connect with the community, though, is in person.
Nearly everyone I know and have had a long-term relationship with, in the PHP community, I met at a conference. Sure, I'd often "known" someone from their online persona, but it's hard to really "know" someone until you've spent some face time with them, preferably with a beer or two between you.
This is one of the main reasons that I think that the PHP Community Conference in Nashville, in just about a month, is important, and why I think you should go. I have no personal stake in this (in fact, since it's run by the community, the only stake to be had is a potential loss by the organizers; there is no profit to be had), I just think it's going to be a great event, and a wonderful opportunity for attendees—and not just from a career perspective, but I expect everyone who attends will become more valuable to their current employers, too, based simply on knowledge gained and connections made. (There's a huge amount of value in being able to fire off a friendly email to the author of (e.g.) the memcached extension, when you get stuck, and to already be on a first-name basis.)
I'm also speaking, there, on Gimme Bar. It won't be a pitch. It will be more of a show-and-tell session on which technologies we use, how we've built what we have so far, what I think we've done right, and a frank discussion on the mistakes we've made (so far (-: ).
If you can, you should make it to the PHP Community Conference, and be in the right place at the right time, whether it's Nashville on April 21 and 22, or sometime in your future.