Developer Interview with Reuben Walker - OpenLampTech Exclusive
From programming with Symfony and Drupal, to content creation and marketing, Reuben Walker shares insights and more in this in-depth interview for the OpenLampTech audience...
Hi and welcome to this OpenLampTech exclusive developer interview.
Reuben Walker publishes one of my favorite PHP-focussed newsletters, Symfony Station, which I read without fail, each week.
I’ve shared several of Reuben’s stellar articles and his spot-on writing in the OpenLampTech weekly newsletter.
Needless to say, I am super excited to share this text-based interview with Reuben in the OpenLampTech publication. His well-written, crafted responses will resonate - and inspire - developers new and seasoned alike.
And now without any further adieu, on to the interview.
Q: Please tell us about yourself and what you currently do for a living.
Well, for a quick bio, I grew up on a lake in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in Georgia. On a cattle farm, I got to do a lot of chores and enjoy outdoor sports like quail hunting and bass fishing.
I went to the University of Georgia and earned a journalism degree during the glory years of its music scene featuring bands like REM, Pylon, Dreams So Real, and many others. After farm life, it was a welcome and exciting change. Having two females for every male as classmates didn’t hurt either.
After graduating and until today, I have worked in corporate media in a variety of employee and solopreneur roles. I earned a Master's Degree at Georgia State University part-time early in my career.
I received my full-stack developer certification from the University of Central Florida in Orlando, where I currently live.
For Mobile Atom, I handle all aspects of digital content for my clients. That includes administration, strategy, creation, design, and custom coding for various platforms.
Q: What does a typical day look like for you with work?
I have several retainer clients for whom I do social media curation. And, of course, I do the same for Mobile Atom Media and Symfony Station. So I read a lot of articles to find the best ones that my clients’ audiences could benefit from. It’s a 16/7 job.
I put out several email newsletters each week. So I work on curation, writing, design, and coding for those.
I write several articles each week as well. So on any given day, I work on the varied aspects of article creation.
For the remainder of the time, I work on projects. Those could be a WordPress site redesign or creating a new site. I’m working on my first fork of a block-based theme for a redesign at the moment.
So, each day there’s some design work, content creation and optimization, theme development, custom programming, et cetera.
Or it could be online video production, which Mobile Atom Media provides as well.
And like any professional, I have to stay up to date on the latest tech and strategies that are required to maintain my skills and keep me competitive.
Q: Do you think it is essential for developers to learn SQL? Why or why not?
They should certainly be familiar with it and know the basics. Depending on their work, they may have to interact with it more often. In that case, it’s critical. For backend developers, it’s a must.
And with the explosion of data in today’s world, SQL and databases are more important than ever.
Q: With the wide range of programming languages and frameworks available, what about Symfony and Drupal works best for you?
I started Symfony Station to challenge myself on the backend of the “full” stack. And I wanted to do something completely different from WordPress development. The composability of Symfony appealed to me more than the everything plus the kitchen sink approach of Laravel.
Of course, Symfony is not for the faint of heart. I chose to work in Drupal because it’s built with Symfony and is somewhat similar to the WordPress experience. I am gradually mastering Symfony and will work within it a few years down the road.
Q: What's your favorite text editor or IDE, and why?
While in full-stack boot camp, I preferred Atom. Of course, that was recently dropped by Microsoft as it’s a competitor to VS Code. And VSC is ok as a free option.
But I use PhpStorm; its advantages as a PHP-specific IDE make it worth the money. Why make your life complicated when automation can assist you? And it has Symfony, Drupal, and WordPress extensions.
Q: Do you have a blog, newsletter, book, podcast, or another resource you would recommend to other developers that you find valuable? (Can be non-programming related)
I also find the Drupal Association newsletter helpful. And I have to say Laravel News is well done.
If you work in Symfony, SymfonyCasts is a must.
For general programming, Toptal’s Engineering Blog is good.
And of course, this newsletter for SQL!
Q: Recently, you swapped over the Mobile Atom Code site to Drupal from WordPress. Can you elaborate on why you went with Drupal and how that migration went for you?
I have always used my business’s sites to experiment with the cutting-edge of the platforms I use. As I said earlier, Drupal is a bridge between the WordPress and Symfony developer experiences. I want to master it with my business sites so I can offer it to potential Mobile Atom Code clients in the future.
Mobile Atom Code is the digital content development and maintenance sub-division of Mobile Atom Media. Having built Symfony Station from scratch in Drupal with much trial and error, migrating MAC wasn’t too much trouble. I needed a little technical assistance on the operation side from my host, Siteground. And they are great at it.
Having said all that, the Drupal experience is a pain in the ass compared to WordPress. But, it's for large enterprise, education, and government applications and requires a more developer-focused approach. I just wish they would improve the content creation and design experiences more quickly. I hold out forlorn hope for StimulusJS and Gutenberg blocks integration. Luckily, there is a module for the second.
Q: What advice would you give your past self if just starting in programming and development?
My experience, other than Googling and then cutting and pasting of HTML, CSS, and PHP snippets, started with my coding bootcamp.
So, if you are thinking of starting something new, read lots of articles, watch lots of webinars, and take lots of tutorials before starting a formal training regime. No matter how difficult it seems at the beginning. Failure is your friend. This approach will diminish the pain of paid professional training. Which you still need to succeed in the long run.
If you are a high-schooler or going back to college, major in computer science. If you want to be rich, concentrate on big data or cybersecurity, not web programming.
Q: How has the changing WordPress landscape challenged you in any of those projects you're using WordPress with? Any thoughts on Full Site Editing vs. Page Builders?
If you are new to it, most WordPress development is easier than ever.
It’s just that the transition to a block-based system and full-site editing has been a slow and messy process. It’s put a lot of the traditional PHP-focused developers off. And has encouraged lazy approaches like page builders for end users.
Theme developers must completely change the way they approach things. If you don’t want to get with the times, stick to plugin development going forward. Although there will be less need for design-oriented plugins in the future. So concentrate on business logic plugins.
As you might guess, I am not taken with page builders. They are a low code implementation of a system that is low code, to begin with. So there is a lot of unnecessary bloat on top of WordPress’s unnecessary bloat caused by backward compatibility. But, they appeal to designers and individuals working on small business or personal projects.
Q: Any hobbies or other interests outside of programming and development?
I don’t have much time left over, but I enjoy walks with my dog, playing and watching soccer, listening to music, and a good craft beer to go along with all those. And, of course, spending time with my wife. ;) Fortunately, I made my career fit my life, not vice versa. So, I enjoy my work.
Q: Where can readers go to learn more about your work, projects, and services?
There are three sites to explore:
- For content creation and marketing, visit Mobile Atom Media.
- For WordPress and PHP development, visit Mobile Atom Code.
- For Symfony, Drupal, and PHP development visit Symfony Station.
And I have Flipboard Magazines on a wide variety of topics.
On the sites, you can find my social media accounts. I am most active on Twitter at @SymfonyStation and @MobileAtom. Please follow them and sign up for our Symfony Station newsletter. That will keep you covered on the PHP front.
Finally, thanks for the interview, and keep up the excellent work. And the best of luck with the bass fishing. Hopefully, that picks up with the lower temperatures this fall.
Please share this article with others.
Thank you, Reuben Walker, for participating in this interview for the OpenLampTech newsletter! 🙏
Thank you for reading. I hope you have a great rest of your week.
Visit my developer blog, Digital Owl’s Prose, where I write regularly on CodeIgniter, PHP, WordPress, and SQL.
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