PHP Interview With Michael Wallner A Full-Time Core PHP Developer – Try To Understand How Things Work & Why They Work That Way

About This Interview

This is the #37th set of PHP Interview to help aspiring PHP developers and PHP fans alike to get inspired by listening from those PHPeople who are already highly involved into the PHP Ocean and *being there* taming the waves and surfing better than ever to make themselves an Awesome PHP Expert both in their own eyes (for self-accomplishment) and for the PHP Community.

On the other side, this is an opportunity for new PHPers to get to know their “PHP Elders. I hope you will derive as much fun to read my interviews as I’m having by interviewing those awesome PHP people.

A Small Intro..

Michael Wallner A Full-Time Core PHP Developer At SmugMug
Michael Wallner A Full-Time Core PHP Developer At SmugMug

Today I bring you an interview with someone (named Michael Wallner, @_m6w6) who has been hired to work full-time on PHP. Yes you heard it right: this guy is paid to work on The Core of PHP. As you know PHP is open-source, so why would a company hire someone to work full-time on such a free technology? (I let you get the answers from Mike himself). Besides since he is highly involved with PHP and it’s core, it’s a good opportunity to learn from his experience and know-how, so let’s hear from him!

And Now The Interview…

>> Please tell us a bit about yourself

Hi, my full name is Michael Wallner, I live in Austria with my family and work with PHP since 2001.

>> How you started with PHP

I needed to do something dynamic on the server side in a project I had with a mate back then, and IIRC our shared host provided PHP-4.0 and MySQL 3.2x on an IBM or HP monster.

>> Your LAMP stack comprises.. ?

Usually Linux, Apache, Memcache, PHP and PostgreSQL and eventually exchangeable with Unix, Nginx and Redis (and if it is absolutely not avoidable MySQL).

>> How do you find PHP now as compared to when you first started

A quote of the changelog of the PHP version I started with is “Added ‘output_handler’ INI directive (Zeev).” I rewrote output handling for PHP-5.4. It has at least evolved as much as I did.

>> Based on your experience, what are the good and bad parts of PHP

It’s a multi-paradigm, shared-nothing, rapid-results programming language. I think that both fits bad and good 🙂

>> What would be the Top advice to a PHP beginner

Read the fine manual. I literally dug it when I started.

>> To someone who wants to become a better PHP developer..?

Try to understand how things work and why they work that way. If you doubt the documentation or implementation, consult the source code or someone who is familiar with internals.

>> What are some common PHP mistakes you often see beginners make?

Concluding someone invented or designed PHP the way it is today. It has history and heritage.

>> ‘One programming tip that you wish you knew before you..’ – Complete the sentence while answering it.

started programming: That it is highly addictive.

>> The IDE that you use

I’m used to Netbeans when working with PHP and Eclipse when working with C. That’s why I have 32G of RAM. 🙂

>> How do you debug your PHP code?

I debug PHP with Xdebug, of course. Thank you Derick.

Derick Rethans - Father of Xdebug
Derick Rethans – Father of Xdebug

>> Do you recommend using database layers and ORM? If yes, what database “framework” you would recommend?

I usually do NOT recommend DBALs because the gain for owned projects is little compared to what you have to sacrifice. I do like ORMs, though — as long as they provide me with some freedom and do not prioritize abstraction above usability. I know it is sort of schizophrenic, because ORM implementors benefit from a DBALs, but I as an ORM user do not benefit enough from DBAL usage, because I opt for Postgres whenever I can. PHP and Postgres is like the marriage of the elephants 🙂 I love them. So an ORM that exploits the power of Postgres would be my winner 😉

>> One PHP library/Project you really appreciate

I’d go for PhD which was a huge leap forward for the PHP documentation ecosystem. And if I remember correctly, Hannes is already tinkering with the next step of evolution based on Markdown.

>> One PHP person that you admire and what strikes you about him/her

Xinchen Hui, also known as Laruence. He does so much mad stability work in the Engine that I’d highly recommend Zend to hire him!

>> Which was the worst programming mistake you did?

You probably have to be Austrian or know Krocha to understand the original, but I presented the following silly headline to 50% of visitors on a high-traffic landing-page: “Gulli heißt das Loch, drück die Spülung. Bamm oida!” probably translatable to: “Yo dawg! Gully is the hole, now flush.”

>> Things that you’ve learned from being part of The PHP Community

Do not take yourself too seriously.

>> If you could change one thing with PHP, that would be…?

I want Jani back.

>> How do you time manage all the stuffs that you do, coupled with your personal life?

I actually have no idea, it’s a total chaos 🙂

Michael Wallner & SmugMug & PHP full time

=> You have been hired to work full-time on the core of PHP by SmugMug, Inc.

>> First of all could you tell us a bit about SmugMug and its relationship with PHP?

SmugMug is a small family-owned company with great people aboard. PHP is one of SmugMugs core technologies and thus they are naturally interested in a robust, healthy and enabling platform.

>> How has the response of The PHP Community been so far with this?

Overwhelmingly positive! By the way: Thank you all, you’re awesome!

>> When we say the “core of PHP”, what does that actually mean and what is it comprised of?

At least everything in the official PHP git repositories, particularly php-src.git, also know as “the core.” 🙂

>> How does working full time on the core of PHP differs from working part-time or on your spare time?

Usually one concentrates on things that make fun or one is particularly interested in at the moment and can be done in a reasonable short period of time, because one is spending spare time, wants to have fun and success. Working full-time on PHP enables you to dig deeper like spending a lot more time with nasty opaque bugs, or to have bigger pictures in mind when developing features.

>> What are the challenges you are facing or will be facing?

Getting things done besides following 3 feature RFCs per week with 100+ messages on the mailing lists.

>> Being a full-timer, does it mean you are now accountable for all your time spent on PHP?

I’m a full-time employee of SmugMug Inc, not a contractor.

>> Is the expectation huge now? How are you coping with it?

I don’t know of any expectations, low or high. I’ll just continue to do how I did in the past, which has proven to be successful. Maybe I have just been lucky all the time 🙂

>> Will you be doing only fixing bugs? Tell us a bit what your job consists of..

Well, maintenance is a big part of my job and it’s not only about oneself fixing bugs, but also helping others to fix bugs. But it’s of course also about improving PHP with either enhanced features or better usability, higher performance or less memory usage. It’s about discussing features or ways how to fix issues. Communication on politics consume a lot of time in a community driven project like PHP, you have to fight the occasional troll, which population seems to have increased vastly lately, or help the occasional contributor to get his tiny (or not so) improvement committed. And last but not least I’m still an employee of SmugMug, so when there are problems with the platform PHP, I can be a direct source of enlightenment. 🙂

>> If someone wants to see all your php-related activities, where would you direct them?

That’s probably not possible, but considering solely past code changes to “the core”, then probably the git log:

>> Are you more motivated being a full-timer? What are the inspirations and how this experience is going on so far?

I’m excited! I spent more than the last 10 years of my work time and lots of my free time with PHP or related surroundings and that just feels natural.

>> Now for many people, including me, this is quite a tricky part – why would a company hire someone to work full time on an open-source project like PHP? How does SmugMug benefit from this?
>> Can you give us some more examples of companies which hired or is hiring full time PHP guys like yourself?

Like I said above, they are interested that PHP is stable, fast and powerful. It is a shame, but I do not know any companies which devote full-time developers to PHP. Oracle has quite some people working on PHP, but I do not know to what extent. There have been other times when e.g. Yahoo had employed a load of PHP core developers. Nowadays, Facebook or the like mostly cook their own soup.

>> What are the parts of PHP that you think need revamping or need more focus on?

HTTP. It’s kind of an obsession. PHP is named web language and made it very easy to rapidly create web applications, but sophisticated HTTP support has only been important the latest time.

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