Binpress Podcast Episode 13: Andi Gutmans of Zend Technologies
This week we chat with Andi Gutmans, co-creator of PHP and CEO of Zend Technologies, the force behind Zend Framework. Andi covers why he doesn’t consider himself a good PHP developer, why you should approach venture capital like dating and the importance of admitting your mistakes. He also explains why it’s an exciting time to be a PHP developer, what’s next for the language, and his latest creation: Z-Ray.
Alexis: Thank you, Andi, for joining us on the show.
Andi: Thanks for having me.
Alexis: Yeah, not a problem! Now before we get into Zend Framework and Zend Technologies, and even the beginnings of PHP, tell us a bit about your background.
Andi: I’m a software engineer. I studied at the Israel Institute of Technology in Israel. That’s where I started to work on PHP with our cofounder Zeev Suraski. I’ve been working in PHP ever since.
In the middle of that, I also was in the Israeli Army for five and a half years, working on non-web related software projects. I got 15 of 16 fighter planes.
Alexis: Oh, wow!
Andi: Yeah, very different from web and mobile. Zend has been a big part of my life for the past few years.
Alexis: Alright, so how did you get your start in programming?
Andi: I started very early on. I can’t remember the exact age, but I started with a bit of Logo then really got into it with BASIC. Not the nice Visual Basic you have today, but the good old-fashioned BASIC that had line numbers. [Chuckling]
In high school, I got into Pascal and I started to write some compression programs and I really got into some DOS UI applications. Once I got to university, I started to get into C/C++ and that’s also when I started to get involved with PHP.
I’m really a UNIX system programmer. I’m more of a C/C++ guy, with a bit of Assembler. I’m not a web developer. I helped write PHP but I wouldn’t say that I’m a good PHP developer. [Laughter]
Alexis: Oh, the irony! So how did you get involved with PHP?
Andi: I was at university and Zeev and I were trying to do an extra credit project because we were sick of studying for Physics and Math finals, and so we took on a shopping cart project which was back in ’97 was a big deal. Zeev had been working with this language called PHP/FI when he worked for a hosting provider. So we decided to use PHP/FI, I think it was 2.0 back then, for this university project. We really liked the idea behind the language, but we just finished a compiler course. We felt that the language could be a lot more robust and a lot more flexible, and we kind of looked under the hood and we saw that there weren’t any real compiler techniques that were used in how it was built.
So we put our shopping cart project aside. We started to work on really what became the next incarnation of PHP, PHP3, and we started to see some really great results and then we connected with the author of PHP/FI2, Rasmus Lerdorf. He and the community joined the PHP3 project and the rest is history.
PHP3 really took off within about a year, a year and a half, to about one and a half million domains using it. Pretty much after PHP3 came out, Zeev and I looked at what we have done in PHP3, felt it wasn’t good enough, and then started working on PHP4 into Zend Engine. PHP4 took PHP to about 20 million websites, and of course today it’s over 250 million. That, I would say, is the short version of the PHP journey we were on.
Alexis: So this extra credit project has taken on a life of its own. At what point do you do decide “This thing could actually work to sustain us. We could focus on this and build a business around it”?
ANDI: That’s a great question. When we did PHP3 we definitely didn’t have that in mind. It was as we were building up PHP4, we started to see more and more interest by companies around certain aspects of the language like performance and encoding, their scripts and so on and so forth.
So as we were building PHP4 we decided that it was a great time to also create some commercial support for PHP because as more businesses are starting to use it, they are going to need help. They’re going to need support, they’re going to need some services, and they’re going to need some tools. And so in parallel to building up PHP4, we did that; we coined the actual scripting engine, the Zend Engine. In PHP3 we never actually coined the engine anything; in PHP4 we coined it the Zend Engine. Zend stands for Zeev and Andi.
Alexis: Oh. [Chuckles]
Andi: So Zeev got the front seat because his dad came up with the name. [Laughs] I got the back seat, and that’s how we established Zend.
Alexis: Alright. Did you draw any inspiration from other businesses that have been built around open source at the time? Because this was mid to late 90’s when this was happening. This was, I guess, when Red Hat was the biggest name in that kind of monetization model.
Andi: Yeah, we definitely looked around. When Red Hat went public, they gave open source contributors some shares, so we also enjoyed some of those shares. [Laughter] As a student, that was more money than I ever had and it wasn’t that much – it was a few thousand bucks, but I never had that much.
But we looked around; I think we liked the Red Hat model but we felt that there was an opportunity here to create some additional proprietary value added on top of the open source site. We made this distinction of we want to put as much into open source to make sure we enabled the breadth of adoption, but if a company is really running a business-critical application and needs performance, scalability, management, and then they could afford to pay us some money. So we ended up actually taking a bit of a different route from Red Hat, which was a mixed open source/proprietary model.
At the time, there was not the common open source model. I think we were a bit of a black sheep, because everyone was trying to copy Red Hat. Today, the model that we’re on is pretty much the norm in open source. And also the license, right? We are big believers in the BSD license, Apache-style license, not so much the GPL. I think the majority of open source businesses today are in our model.
Alexis: What’s your monetization model today? What kind of offerings do you have and how has that grown over the past?
Andi: I’d say our key product is Zend Server. Zend Server is an integrated application platform for web and mobile apps. What Zend Server helps customers do is really build out a full DevOps continuous delivery environment. It’s a fully supported stack. It helps them scale; it helps them manage their applications, both on-premise and in the Cloud. It’s really Cloud-embeddable environment; it can run in Docker, VMs, BareMetal, Amazon, Cloud Foundry – you name it.
Companies who purchase Zend Server are typically running Business-Critical Applications. There’s a super cool feature I can talk a bit about later on – Z-Ray – which we just added to Zend Server about 8 weeks ago, that I think is a huge change in how people are going to be developing apps, not only in PHP, I think on web and mobile in general.
That is really the part that we’re focused on and really helping companies build out an end-to-end professional PHP environment. We complement that also with development tools such as Zend Studio. We have some training and services that we help customers with, mainly around just being successful with PHP and our products. And then there are other big open source contributions that we make to really enable those Business-Critical Applications, like Apigility, Zend Framework, and of course our contributions to PHP.
Alexis: Something that a lot of folks typically learn about pricing is “Oh we’ve priced too low.” [Chuckles] Has there ever been any of that or any other lessons that you’ve learned over the past? I guess it’s at, what, 10+ years now that you’ve been at this?
Andi: Yeah, I think pricing is a very difficult topic for any company because it really defines you as a company. It defines who you’re targeting, and we really historically targeted what I would say, the mid-market, so companies between 100 and 1000 employees. Now over time we’ve really seen the big uptake of PHP in the enterprise so we’ve also expanded our lens. But it’s something we constantly talk at Zend, and actually right now we think there are some huge opportunities on pricing in the Cloud.
For example, on Amazon we do capacity-based pricing, which means that even small shops who are just running a few small apps, can actually afford these enterprise capabilities, because it’s capacity per hour pricing. So there are some huge opportunities for companies including us, and we’re taking full advantage of it. To leverage Cloud and Cloud-pricing is the way to reach a much broader audience and really make sure that you are serving a big part of the market in the most appropriate manner.
Alexis: Tell us a bit more about Z-Ray.
Andi: Z-Ray is, I would say, one of the most exciting things that we’ve talked about, I think, in the past couple of years. We put a huge focus as a company on continuous delivery and how we really help companies optimize end-to-end application deliveries from the CI stage to Release Automation, Infrastructure Automation and Management.
But we felt there was something missing; we felt there was something else that could be done around continuous delivery that no one else has been doing, which is, what if we shift a bit left in the continuous delivery cycle and make sure that before the code even hits the CI environment, when the developers are writing the code, we ensure the code is a lot higher quality and developers are more productive. If we can achieve that, then we’re removing a lot of the friction out of the whole DevOps continuous delivery process.
It took quite some time for us to really get our heads around how can we change the game for developers without having them change their workflow. Because developers don’t want to change the way they work: they write code, they hit save, they hit refresh in the browser 400 times a day. And so we said, “Look, if we can give developers x-ray vision around their code, but they don’t have to change how they work, they don’t have to change their IDE tool or do anything different, then we’ve got the killer tool.”
So what we did was, with Z-Ray, we basically automatically inject all the information about the request that the developer is working on into the browser. So it’s super cool. Basically you can just put a generic Magento application on Zend Server, we inject a little toolbar in the bottom; because we inject it into the app, it’s completely cross browser, it can run on an iPhone, an iPad, Firefox, Chrome, whatever.
Alexis: Oh wow.
Andi: And within that, we deliver an amazing amount of information. We show you all the SQL queries, the bottlenecks in your code. You get profiling information every time you hit refresh in the browser. We show you the changes in the sessions that have happened.
So the feedback has really been phenomenal and nothing like this exists. You’ve had all sorts of toolbars that have been – like Chrome extensions and so on – but this is very, very different. It’s in context, and the developer doesn’t have to change the way they work and they don’t have to change what they do, so we’re super excited about that. We released the first version 8 weeks ago. We have another big version coming up in October that’s going to be even nicer.
So far, I think it’s really changing the game for developers. The interest level has been super high. We just announced its availability on Amazon, with Amazon, on an hourly pricing. We just announced a partnership with PhpStorm two days ago, where we did much better integration between PhpStorm IDE and Z-Ray. It’s getting a lot of attention and there are some more announcements to come over the next 2-3 months.
Alexis: That’s always something that I’m interested in – developers build something, and how do they get eyeballs on it? It’s an interesting question I ask folks who are behind companies that are now celebrities among the development world. And you tend to assume that “Oh I’ve got a big name behind a new product so it’ll be fairly easy for them to gain traction while I” – again it’s one of those ‘it looks easy from the outside but from the inside there’s a lot more work going behind it.’
What are some strategies that you have to take, even nowadays, to spread the word and awareness of new products and services that you come up with?
Andi: First, I think that’s a great question. And I always say internally, “All overnight successes take some time.” [Chuckling]
Andi: You always see the successes when they’re successful, but people work pretty hard to get to that point. And it’s never one thing. I’d say there’s a lot of heavy lifting that happens.
First of all, we really try and build a beachhead of folks who know what it is, to get the word-of-mouth going. So we’re giving it away to all 10,000 Zend-certified engineers out there; everyone can just come and get Z-Ray for free. We have some other free programs for open source, contributing source and start-ups. So that’s one strategy to really build a beachhead audience that we care about, that we want to support, and they can of course get the value of the products but then also tell friends.
There’s a lot of work we’re doing on social media. There is also advertisement dollars that we spend. We’re try to go to user groups; we’re doing webinars. It’s a huge list of things, and even though Zend has a very broad reach in the PHP market, the reality is most people are busy doing their day-to-day, and you have to work hard. You have to work hard to make sure that they realize that they’ve got this new thing. Even companies who’ve already bought Zend Server, it takes a bit of time to make sure that they know that they got this new thing for free.
Andi: They’re in the subscription so everything that comes out they get for free. But even then, you’ve got to make sure that they know that they’ve just gotten this new tool that they can use.
Alexis: We sort of skipped over this a little bit – the birth of Zend Framework itself. So you started Zend to support yourself and support the PHP community. What was the impetus for Zend Framework?
Andi: Around 2004-2005, we realized that PHP had really gotten amazing adoption rights, and running a huge part of the web workload. But we still felt that there was a gap between where PHP was and really making sure that enterprises could adopt PHP to scale. One of those gaps was providing codified best practices and methodology.
Companies really needed to have a very standardized way of building apps in an enterprise-grade way. At the time, there were really no frameworks out there. There were some cache libraries like PHPLIB which probably no one except for me, remembers. [Laughter]
But you didn’t have Zend Framework, you didn’t have Symfony, you didn’t have Kick PHP – you didn’t have all these frameworks out there. It was less about Zend actually, it was more about PHP. We said, “Look, if it doesn’t exist, we got to just get a framework started and we have to create the best practice.” And so Zend Framework, when we introduced it, really took off. We got some great partners and great community help in building it out.
Frankly, today there are 10-20 or more frameworks out there, and it really doesn’t matter to us as a company which framework you’re using. Zend Server delivers value to all the frameworks. But we achieved our goal. Our goal was to enable enterprise-grade PHP development and that’s what we’re seeing today.
Alexis: You mentioned that you don’t really care what other PHP networks are out there because you have the Zend Server that can shoulder all of them.
I asked Mark Shuttleworth two, three episodes ago, what features of other OSs he was jealous of. So I have to ask you a similar question: What features – or use cases I guess, even – of other frameworks and other languages are you jealous of, that you’d like to see in Zend Framework?
Andi: Great question. I don’t think there’s anything specific that I’m jealous of in other frameworks, and I probably don’t know all the frameworks by heart. But I do think that we’re constantly learning from other frameworks. There are certain areas that we’re – we’re always looking around, not only in the PHP space, also outside, on what are the best practices, where things are going, what we could do better.
Right now we’re looking at certain things, like better componentization of our components. We obviously built all the API capabilities around Apigility, which frankly is probably more of an innovation than copying, because I don’t think there were a lot of frameworks that were doing that.
But I would say we’re constantly borrowing ideas from other languages and other frameworks if they make sense. The goal here is to deliver a great solution to the customer. It doesn’t matter really where it comes from. The fact is that all frameworks are borrowing from each other. They’re all pretty similar at the end of the day. [Chuckles]
Andi: There’s actually one thing we started to look on more concretely, just on the micro-frameworks that are out there, and there’s some work that we’ve been doing around – showing some micro-framework patterns within Framework 2.0 so people actually could more incrementally adopt Zend Framework versus having to adopt the whole thing.
Alexis: PHP has a huge community, and so does Zend Framework. Now how has that community changed over the years?
Andi: I think the main way it’s changed over the years is that I don’t think its one community. I think PHP today is just so huge – it runs over 50% of the web – that you have many, many communities out there. You have your WordPress community, and your Drupal community, and your Magento, and your Zend Framework, and your Symfony.
So what’s really happening is, at the end of the day they’re all part of the greater PHP ecosystem, but I think within it you have some amazing vibrant communities that in themselves represent 10, 20, 30% of the web workload, so that’s one of the nice things that we see. Obviously as a commercial company that’s both an opportunity and a challenge because you actually have to spend time, right? There’s not a generic way to reach everyone.
Andi: A guy who’s doing Drupal cares about different things than a guy who’s doing Magento. So, we focus a lot on just making sure we target and we’re able to deliver value to each of these communities in the best possible way.
Alexis: What lessons have you learned from interacting with the community that might help folks with their own projects, whether they have large communities or they’re just beginning to grow. What could they do to foster that?
Andi: I think the best thing is to be very clear with what you’re trying to create. Put a vision out there; put a direction. People want to be led and people want to know where you’re going, and people want to be able to participate.
And today it’s so much easier than it was when we started. Today you have GitHub and it’s very clear how to start an open source project. The infrastructure for collaboration exists today. You don’t have any fuss anymore these days with things that contribute to license agreements that you had back in the day because open source is just so pervasive and so accepted.
So I think it’s making sure that you’re clear, honest, transparent, you provide a vision, and you ensure that you are posting your projects somewhere that really enables collaboration.
Alexis: How long did it take before you looked for venture capital for Zend?
Andi: So we started looking for venture capital I would say in the late ‘99 or early 2000 – so probably about two and a half years after we got involved in PHP.
Alexis: What changed that made you look for venture capital?
Andi: We started to build PHP4, we started to build a couple of products around it, and we were on the fence of “Should we just do this as a side project, as a hobby, and just put up a website and a little online store and sell some tools, or can this be something bigger?” So there are a lot of conversations we had, Zeev and I, on what direction we wanted to go.
Ultimately we felt that the language had so much momentum and there were so many companies that were coming to us that had a need, that it was really better, I think, also for the language itself, that there was a Red Hat-like company established that is truly there to support the language growth. In order to do that, you need to be able to not only create your products from monetization, you also need to have the resources to contribute back and continue to fuel the growth of the open source side.
In able to do both of those, we make huge contributions right to open source today – PHP, Eclipse, Zend Framework, Apigility – and at the same time also invest in a business, we felt that venture capital money could help us achieve both of those goals in a much better way.
Alexis: What advice would you give to other devs, when it comes to venture capital?
Andi: I think you just got to be very well educated on what it means to take venture capital. It’s not your company anymore; you share your vision and your goals with someone else.
I was incredibly fortunate that I think our venture capitalists are great and they’ve always supported us in going after the bigger vision around what we can do here. It’s like dating and getting married. [Laughter] Don’t jump into bed too quickly and make sure that you really find the right partner. And the right partner may not give you as good of a valuation as the wrong partner, right? So don’t just go for the numbers. Really make sure that there’s a true fit between your goals and the venture capitalist.
Alexis: I swear that the line, “Hey baby, what do you think my valuation is?” did not come to my mind. Not at all. [Chuckles]
So going back to community for a moment: events – that’s something that’s often done to promote community, and also to figure out direction, or to communicate direction, of projects to the community at large. You’re coming up with ten years of ZendCon. Do you have any advice on logistics or planning events?
Andi: No, I don’t have any real advice. Planning events is hard. You definitely should look for someone who’s done it before, if you want to do good events. The amount of detail that has to be dealt with from what people eat, and when they eat, and where you have the booze, and how you get sponsorship, how do you make sure people actually know, how do you get speakers to your event, how do you make sure people know about your event – there’s just so much that goes into it.
Frankly, I don’t think I would be able to put on my own event if I had to do it. We’re fortunate we have a person at Zend who’s incredibly good at it, has a lot of experience, and she really puts together great events. At the end of the day, it also takes a lot of time. It’s not only one person’s time – the whole company has to be behind it and has to be contributing on content and ideas, and supporting the event.
Doing an event always has a high stress level involved with it, but I’ve always found it to be incredibly valuable. The amount of feedback you get and the engagement and your ability to truly interact is just second to none.
Alexis: Speaking of having the right person for the job, in terms of looking for somebody that has planned events and has those skills to pull such a large event off, Torstein Hønsi of Highsoft Highcharts – when it came to his first hire, he decided “You know what I’m going to hire a CEO as a very first person, not another developer.”
So I’m curious, what were your first hires when Zend was first starting out?
Andi: Our first hire was a CEO. [Chuckles] So Zeev and I definitely didn’t have enough aspiration to be a CEO at the time, and we were looking for someone with more experience. So we hired a CEO, and then of course other people were also hired in parallel. And then afterwards, we started to really build a team both from an engineering side and marketing and sales. But I would say that first hire was really the CEO.
Alexis: So what are some qualities that you look for when you hire?
Andi: I think you’re looking for athletes. I think the most important thing is finding people who are smart, can do a lot of different things, because they’re not necessarily going to do only what they were hired for over time. So you want smart people, athletes, right energy, high integrity, and just folks who are both fun to work with but have high aspirations and have a good cultural fit with the company. You can get very smart people, but if they don’t have a good cultural fit, it can be a disaster.
Andi: So those are always things you got to look out for. It’s always hard to know ahead of time; you can try and tease out as much as you can, but you have to take some bets. I’d say the most important thing is that if it doesn’t work out, take action quickly. Because the negative impact – on the company, on the person, and on employees – of not taking action, is worse.
Alexis: You weren’t CEO in the very beginning, but now you are. What changed over time to make you think, “I am finally ready”?
Andi: It was a phone call I got from the board and that was quite a few years later after I had got a lot of experiences both in business development and marketing, and engineering of course. So I’d say my experience level grew, but I still didn’t really have the aspiration to do it. But I got a call from my board and they basically said, “Look, we really think it’s time to have you take the reign, the leadership.”
There were a lot of transitions we wanted to go through as a company and they felt having the founder who really has a good understanding of the market and the direction, was the best thing to do at the time.
I was a bit surprised, because I wasn’t exactly longing for this job. [Laughter] I put some thought into it and I came to the conclusion that they were right, that for where we were as a company, what we’re trying to do, that really was the right decision.
I think in hindsight, I do think it was because we made some big transitions as a company and we were really able to balance driving open source and PHP growth, and then also strengthening the core value proposition around our application platform in parallel, and transform the business from what I would say an early open source company to a company that can truly serve enterprise needs.
To be frank, given the amount of changes that are happening in the market, if you don’t have that instinct of where the market is going to go, and you don’t prepare yourself early enough, you’re dead. And I think we were fortunate that we constantly reinvented parts of our value prop and PHP in the frameworks, that not only helped us stay relevant, but I think PHP today is more relevant than it’s ever been.
That didn’t happen by chance. There were a lot of things that happened on that path where we decided to make some big investments. We talked about Zend Framework, but then there’s Apigility, there’s Eclipse, that work with it – with IBM, Oracle and Microsoft. There’s PHP work we’ve done on the runtime side. So a lot of things have to happen for solutions to continue to grow and thrive and accelerate the growth.
Alexis: You’ve given me a question that I can’t not ask: where do you think PHP is going?
Andi: We think we’re in probably one of the most exciting stages for PHP ever. You’re seeing a market that is – mobile and web are just this thing that has to be done, and enterprises are still struggling to get to mobile fast enough. They’re struggling and they’re realizing that Java is just not the most productive language to do that in, and so are embracing dynamic languages. So for us this is a very, very exciting time because if you look at the macro-dynamics, the macro-changes, they’re pushing companies towards dynamic languages.
Five years ago, enterprise was still not accepting of dynamic languages. Today, it is fully accepted. I go even further – when we started the company, 5% of development was web; open source wasn’t accepted, PHP wasn’t accepted. Now you’re at the point where no one even talks about open source acceptance anymore, 99% of development is web, and enterprise has been running very, very big workloads on PHP.
So I think we’re in a very different place from a market point of view. I think PHP as a community has had a huge renaissance in the past couple of years, around things like Composer, the runtimes, API work, the frameworks, the applications like the Drupals of the world, Magento and so on. So you’re seeing an ecosystem today around PHP that is just incredible, and you can see the proof points also from outside of Zend, when you look at Platform as a Service providers that are putting huge investments into acquiring PHP workloads.
Alexis: You’ve mentioned partnerships quite a few times already: Eclipse, Microsoft, and IBM, I believe. It seems that as companies grow, partnerships become more and more important. You have any pearls of wisdom to share on your thoughts about partnerships, how valuable they may be, or advice in general about them?
Andi: Yeah I think there are two kinds of partnerships. The first one is, especially as you’re early on, if you’re trying to make your project or your product enterprise-grade and relevant, partnerships can help you get past that hump and make sure that you get the stamp of approval and to get the interoperability that is needed to really address a broader market.
So I think that’s the first stage; it’s a bit more of a technology partnership than a business partnership that is around making sure that your solution is really ready for primetime. Because it’s one thing of having a product that works, there’s another thing of having a product that can actually fit in a customer’s environment and actually deliver the full value, and I think that’s where a partnership’s stage one is very important.
The second stage are go-to-market partnerships. We have been fortunate to have some very good ones. On the go-to-market partnerships, they can take a lot of your time; they can take a lot of your focus. They can be incredibly lucrative, but you also have to be very careful as a company, especially as a small company, not to over-commit yourself. Really focus on the ones that you think are going to be lucrative.
So it’s not just about the name of the company, if it’s in IBM or Microsoft or so on. You have to believe that it with what you’re going to bring to the table, what the partner’s going to bring to the table, you feel like there’s a really clear market you’re going after, a very good value proposition that you can deliver to that market, and that both companies are pulling their weight, and usually in a disporportional way because a small company has very limited resources to really make that happen.
Alexis: PHP is now 50% of the Internet – did you ever fathom that would happen?
Andi: Definitely not, no. We were just trying to get distracted from our Physics and Math exams, so we never at any point in time thought about how big this could be until quite a bit later on. We did it for fun; we did because we felt we could improve, and we had a pleasant surprise on the other side.
Alexis: PHP 6 versus 7. Where do you stand on the whole thing? Even though it’s now settled on – it’s 7, right?
Andi: Yeah, yeah. In the next version, the next major version is going to be PHP7. I was very much in favor of PHP7 and not PHP6 for really just simple pragmatic reasons, no philosophical reasons. I just felt that if someone searches for PHP6, I didn’t want them to go and find the PHP6 that was talked about a few years ago, and then create a lot of confusion in the market. So we felt that just calling it PHP7 is the best. That way there’s a clean start and when people look for PHP7, they find what they need.
Alexis: Now as a Django developer I can tell you that as soon as Django Unchained came out, my life changed. Quentin Tarantino changed my entire search results. [Laughter]
Andi: Yeah. We’re having something very similar with Z-Ray. I think there is some popstar or something [chuckling] that tends to get quite a lot of the tweets. It’s in a different space, but you definitely see the same with any name that you choose.
Alexis: Say, I’m a PHP developer. What should I be looking out on, for the future, to make sure I’m on top of things?
Andi: Well first of all, if you’re a Django developer, you should look at PHP. [Laughter] Because PHP has more jobs, gets the job done better, it’s a bigger ecosystem, and we have much better tools [laughter]. We can get you a free version of Z-Ray so you can start your PHP code. [Chuckles]
Alexis: I can still be rehabilitated.
Andi: Yeah, exactly.
Alexis: Also, Binpress is built on Zend Framework.
Andi: Oh? Excellent, excellent!
Alexis: I’m just the rogue.
Andi: So look, I think on a more serious note, if you’re a PHP developer, these are really exciting times. I’ve been definitely looking at some of the evolution of the frameworks – and I don’t want to do an advertisement for Zend Framework because I think all the other frameworks are pretty good too – where you start to look at what’s the right framework for you, what’s the right choice.
Getting familiar with Composer, because with Composer more and more frameworks are actually starting to componentize, which means that you can actually drag into applications different components from different frameworks. I believe within a year or two you’re not going to be using Zend Framework or Symfony; you’re going to be using a few pieces of Symfony, a few pieces of Zend Framework and then some of your homegrown componentry. And Composer’s going to actually help folks bring all those things together.
I firmly believe that you have to build in an API-centric manner. I think HTML-centric applications are a thing of the past. If you want to be ready for mobile multichannel Cloud services and really future-proof your development, you have to build in an API-first manner. You have to separate client and server code.
That’s why we started Apigility. Apigility is completely open source. If you’re a PHP developer, I would highly recommend to look it up. It’s a project that we built on top of Zend Framework, and it helped solve all the really difficult problems around API development. API development is hard. We make it incredibly easy and it’s completely open source and free, so you guys can get it, you don’t have to pay Zend anything for it.
So I think those are some of the big things that I would look at. I don’t want to do an advertisement here but I really do think Z-Ray is a game-changer in how people develop. Some of the reactions we’re getting are: “I can’t believe how I developed without this.” So it’s definitely something to check out. You can get it for like 3 cents an hour on Amazon. [Chuckling]
Alexis: Oh wow, yeah.
Andi: So it’s not very cost-prohibitive and we did that on purpose. We really wanted to make sure we get it to the broad market.
I think it’s a very, very exciting time to be a PHP developer. Also, my partner Zeev Suraski just posted a really nice blog about 3-4 weeks ago, around PHPNG – the next generation of PHP Runtime that’s going to make it into PHP7 – and that just talks a bit about performance and where the Runtime is going, so that’s also another interesting thing to check out.
Alexis: In your 15 years with Zend Technologies, what’s one mistake you’d rather not repeat?
Andi: Wow. I’ve got a lot of mistakes that I don’t want to repeat.
You know, I’m not sure that I can think of anything very specific right now without thinking about it.
Alexis: Without throwing somebody under the bus, yeah?
Andi: Yeah, I think there were certain technology decisions we made at different points in time. I think we made more right decisions than wrong decisions, but there’s definitely some decisions we made – and I don’t want to go into specifics [chuckles].
Alexis: That’s alright.
Andi: Years ago, where we probably could have made decisions somewhat differently, I would say we’ve always corrected though. I think one of the things we’ve always been good at as a company is when we made a mistake, we admitted and changed; we didn’t just keep on going because of inertia. And I’d say today, the company, I’m really, really happy with where we are at, both from the technology and the product perspective. I think we’ve made a lot more right decisions over the past four years or so, that have really put us in a very different place.
Alexis: I think you might have just answered my next question, which is, on the flip side, which one decision that you’re particularly proud of?
Andi: Yeah, just about the recent division on Z-Ray. We had a product management off-site and we said, “Look, we’re doing all this continuous delivery work, but there’s something missing here. What if we can change the game for development?” And we sat there said, “Okay, what could we do that will really change a developer’s life?” and we came up with a pretty good idea. It wasn’t what we finally shipped, but it was in the right direction. We then started to continue to cook in that idea and I would say within about 3 weeks, the game-changer came up, which was Z-Ray.
Then while we were developing it, we really involved a lot of customers in early access versions, so we got feedback and the product became much better as a result. And we started to see the feedback was very, very strong, and so the decision we made was – we basically scratched our whole H1 roadmap and said, “You know, instead of doing a bit of Z-Ray and doing some other things that we really need to do, let’s only do this for six months.”
Alexis: Oh wow.
Andi: So that’s a good example of – we took a pretty tough decision, because I think some of the other things were things that our customers really wanted and needed. But we thought that this was going to be so valuable to our customers, that at the end of the day, they would appreciate getting a better version of it.
So we took some big decisions. It wasn’t easy, and we basically completely stopped everything and only did this for, I would say, six months or so. And I think when you make those decisions that are nonarbitrary, they’re incremental, and you start to see the feedback and then you change your roadmap in a very clear way, those are really good decisions to make, because you’re listening to your customers and you’re focusing.
Alexis: Are there any open source projects that you have your eye on, that have maybe caught your interest recently?
Andi: We’ve definitely been looking at Docker quite a bit. We like it. We’ve had a lot of experience with doing Zend Developer Cloud, with Linux Containers and so on. So we’ve actually done a lot of the things that Docker helps democratize, we’ve had experience with as a company, so we really appreciate the fact that all that stuff that we had to do manually now exists for easy consumption for the masses.
Andi: So that’s the part that’s been really interesting for us. We’re starting to work on Docker images, and we’re pretty excited about that.
There are a number of things that we’re looking at. Some are within the PHP language space or in the infrastructure space, and then other projects that are outside the PHP space but we think could be potentially valuable within the PHP world. There’s a couple of other frameworks we’re looking at that are actually not within PHP, where we’re looking at borrowing some ideas and bringing them to the PHP world.
Alexis: What do you think currently is the biggest opportunity in open source?
Andi: Wow, that’s a great question. I think open source in itself is the biggest opportunity because when you’re looking at Cloud and where the market is going, most of the market is now building on a open source foundation. I think no matter where you look at, whether it’s the infrastructure layer, the virtual machine, the Infrastructure as a Service, the componentization of containers, management, languages, frameworks, applications – all of that now, have very strong credible open source components.
So I think there are opportunities everywhere. I think it really boils down to where do you think you can add enough value, right? Because the whole IT industry is going through this open source transformation, so opportunities really are at every level. It’s more about where you think you can deliver the most amount of value: is it the big data side, is it the language, Platform as a Service, is it networking? Billions of dollars or more are being transformed into open source, so there’s a lot of opportunity out there.
Alexis: What’s the best way – before I say that, I know each open source project is different, but what is the best way in your opinion to support and sustain open source projects?
Andi: I think as I said before, the best way is to make sure they’re open, transparent, and you reward people that are contributing – and a reward doesn’t mean reward necessarily by money, but making sure that folks who are contributing are highlighted and really are getting something out of their contributions. Another line in their resume, some exposure – anything you can do to give back. That’s also one of the reasons why we try and make sure that some things that we do, we give out for free to open source contributors who will try and enable people to do that.
Alexis: Is there anything I missed that I should have asked or something that you’d like to get across to the listeners?
Andi: No, not really. I think this whole conversation that we just had summarizes one big piece which is, it’s a very, very exciting time to be a PHP developer, in my opinion. I think there’s so much that’s happening.
Sometimes people ask me “Hey, don’t you get bored? You’ve been doing this for quite some time!” I say, “You know, I haven’t, because it just continues to be so different at every point in time.”
I think we’re at a point today with mobile and Cloud, big data, social – all these different pieces coming together where the world that PHP lives in and the world that PHP’s contributing to is completely different, and the PHP ecosystem is completely different. PHP today is not the language it was 10 years ago. I like what I did 10 years ago, but the reality is that what we have today is a completely different language. It’s so much more powerful, so much more robust, and that’s a very exciting place to be.
Alexis: I have one final question that I’d like to ask everybody. What is your text editor of choice?
Andi: So I don’t do a lot of text editors anymore, but I would say most of the time I used to use Vim when I was a C/C++ developer. I did like to use Visual Studio back in the day but obviously I haven’t used it for many years.
Andi: For ad hoc text editing now I use Sublime on Mac.
Alexis: Yet another check for the Sublime Text column. [Laughter]
Alright. If folks want to learn more about Z-Ray and APIgility or Apigility – what’s the correct pronunciation of that?
Andi: I say Apigility. I hope that’s the right way. [Chuckling]
Alexis: Where should they go?
Andi: Apigility.org is where they should go for that. And Z-Ray, the best place is to go to Zend.com and just look for the Zend Server page and you have Z-Ray. It’s pretty easy to find.
Alexis: And say for example, we’re interested in finding out what you’re having for lunch, or what soccer team or whatever you’re rooting for, where can we find you on Twitter?
Andi: You can find me on twitter.com/AndiGutman.
Alexis: And as for us, you can find us @Binpress and myself, @alexissantos.
And to the listeners, thank you for listening, and please remember to go to iTunes and rate us. Five stars would be nice, but you can be honest. And also, tell your friends about the podcast. We’d love to have more listeners and we always try to crowdsource some questions and that in fact, is something I forgot to add to my question list. So you escaped the crowdsource questions, sir.
Andi: Okay, great!
Alexis: They were going to put you under the spotlight there, you’re going to start sweating. [Laughter]
Andi: I’m always happy to come back and do a crowdsourced Q&A.
Alexis: Alright. So thanks again, Andi. I really appreciate it.
Andi: Thanks for having me. Take care!
Author: Alexis Santos