Magento evangelist Ben Marks interview

Hello there, Amasty blog readers! Today we want to share a nice talk with one of the guys who are the driving force of the Magento community. Please welcome: Ben Marks, Magento evangelist, an experienced Magento developer and teacher, a visitor of almost all Magento events all over the world and a man who’s excited about Magento.

We were lucky to catch him at Meet Magento Russia a couple of weeks ago. Val, Amasty CEO, spoke to Ben about his journey with Magento, the people of the community and the real meaning of Meet Magento events.

— As I know, you’re a professional drummer. What do you like more – drumming or being a Magento evangelist?

Well, I’ve traveled a lot more with Magento, than I have with drumming. They’re both fun for different reasons! But being Magento evangelist, being able to connect with people all over the world is pretty amazing.

— Did you try to type code on your laptop with drum sticks?

There were days when I wanted to use a baseball bat…

— Was it the first day when you saw Magento? 🙂

It could be :). It’s the experience that a lot of developers have. When they first open Magento, they think they’re good developers, but then they look into the code base, and it just doesn’t make sense.

— Still, many people change their minds about Magento when they dig deeper into the platform.

It’s kind of a matter of pride, when you think you know it all, then you get in and deal with someone else’s ideas. Also, it’s e-commerce, it’s not just a unique framework. Commerce is a big domain and it’s difficult to understand.

— You also visit a lot of events that are not directly related to Magento. Were you engaged into arguments or debates with representatives of other e-commerce platforms?

Well, it was never argumentative, especially when it comes to such companies as Shopware and Prestashop. I was in Hong Kong on a Rackspace event, and someone from Hybris went on stage. We all know we’re in the same business of solving the e-commerce challenge in the way that works best for the merchants and their customers, right?

Sometimes it’s a very clear choice, and sometimes one platform is way more appropriate than the other. The question is: what is going to bring the biggest benefit? I do want to have more of such conversations with other companies, that’s really interesting. It correlates with the Magento open approach.

Keeping up the relation to the Magento community, keeping the dialogue going is extremely important, people need to know they are being heard and their opinion matters.

– Ben Marks | Tweet this

— Do you think Magento 2 emerging will help to dominate the market of e-commerce in 2016? Will the market shares change significantly?

I don’t know! We have people in our company who look at trends, and they’re good at forecasting, they may know. Just because I don’t know, it doesn’t mean that they don’t know.

I do know that it’s going to take a lot of continuous effort. We released 2.0, but that’s not enough, we need to continue building more and more features, and we’ve also got to continue encouraging extension vendors to update their extensions and provide functionality.

That’s one of the reasons why Magento succeeds. Well, I’m sorry, that’s THE reason why Magento succeeds: we can’t just put it out there. No one will use it then. People need partners to help them implement, they need extension functionality.

All of this ends up being very local, which is why we have to work with so many partners all over the world. This is the only way Magento remains a viable option.

— When you travel all over the world, do you see people as enthusiastic as you about Magento 2?

Yeah! We’ve got a lot of good feedback. There was a Magento hackathon in Zurich at Meet Magento Switzerland last weekend, a lot of people were hacking on Magento 2. It  was rough for some of us to get going, to get the actual instance set up, but there were some very experienced Magento developers, they were just saying – ‘this is really, really cool about what you’re able to do’.

Another interesting thing was that people were making side projects, they would just sit and build a perfect install for Magento 2. They would just do this! And the fact that they can do it is a lot about how Magento functions.

But it’s on us to make sure that we have the right kind of messaging, and that we’re continuing not to just tell people stuff, but also listening. That’s going to help us decide which features to implement and how to grow the framework, making sure that we focus our energy on the best stuff that makes the most difference.

— Your team has done a lot of work for Magento 2, you’ve updated the technology stack and so on, and I know you’re very enthusiastic about the new version. However what would you change in it if you could?

To be honest, I would change my level of knowledge of Magento 2. A lot of concepts are similar between 1 and 2 versions, but there are a lot of changes. I was at Blue Acorn for so many years, using Magento and building things on it for clients, solving problems and stuff.

I need to know Magento 2 in the same way, but it’s a challenge for me to do that, because I’m not actually building commercial sites any more.

So I get myself little projects to work on, it forces me to get in and understand how things work. For example, the grids that I was talking about before are awesome, I can see how they were made developer friendly, but I need to make sure that I understand it, that we have the documentation ready.

Good developers always look at the source code. The code should always be a fantastic reference.

– Ben Marks | Tweet this

— In your personal opinion, is there a bigger learning curve for Magento 2 than for Magento 1?

It’s an important question, and we will probably continue to ask ourselves about it. One of the goals of Magento 2 was to make it easier for developers to understand how to work with it. There’s a couple of ways to do that. You can just make something very simple, or just too simple that it can’t really do anything. And that’s not an option.

We want to make sure that we have the documentation, and we’re building things in a standard way. If you look at how one grid is created in Magento 1, and you look at an almost identical grid for another entity – the code underneath can be very different. And good developers always look at the source code.

We want to do this more consistently in Magento 2. The code should always be a fantastic reference.

— Sure, I couldn’t agree more. You are very popular in Magento community – they’ve even created an icon of you at Meet Magento Poland! How do you feel about the fame?

It’s such a strange celebrity that I enjoy… I think it happens a lot because I was the one who was filmed teaching these classes for so long, I get to meet people all over the world, who know who I am and there is this sort of cult of Ben, that’s come up and this is all funny! But I am NOT the story.

— But you also connect people who are the story.

That’s good to hear. It means a lot to know that I was able to make a difference.

That was probably the reason why I joined Magento. I enjoy working with very smart and talented people. You know, people are saying: ‘since you’ve been there, Magento is much more open and accessible’. But it has a little bit to do with me, actually.

When I go back into the company and say ’ hey, someone tweeted this, someone told me this’, they jump on it, and everyone in the company is very committed to being good stewards of the community. Magento couldn’t be the way it is now just by my effect. I’m not that smart as a business person and I’m not the head of the company either!

— Quite many people blame eBay for slow Magento 2 development. What do you think?

Well, you know… In a few weeks I can say whatever I want about eBay. Right now I can’t 🙂

— Should we skip this question? 🙂

  No, I’m kidding, it’s fine. If we talk seriously, there were some product decisions early on, in 2011, it was a neat idea and it just didn’t work out… However no matter what happened, Magento always rose to the top.

EBay put a tremendous amount of resources – time, money, logistics, people into building Magento 2. There was a lot of stuff provided by eBay to make sure that Magento 2 was getting built.

To answer your question directly, Magento 2 was announced back in 2010 informally, but there was another focus at eBay that kept Magento 2 from going live, and once the team was there to create it, it got built very quickly.

No matter what happened, Magento always rose to the top.

– Ben Marks | Tweet this

— In one of your previous interviews you mentioned that you’ll never be able to say that you’ve succeeded. How is it for you to be working on something that can’t be measured exactly?

Well, again, I’m lucky to have people in the organization, who understand that it’s not just like this: oh, I shipped this many lines of code this week, so I’m doing my job right, I’ve built these features on time and on budget.

I can always do my job better, but I know other people in my position in other companies have left these positions because their coworkers didn’t really understand what they were doing, and there wasn’t any direct value.

For me the good thing is that my company understands: keeping up the relation to the community, keeping the dialogue going is extremely important, people need to know they are being heard and their opinion matters.

Also, for me it’s important to be able to do something like going on a six week tour (which is not even possible without the support of my wife as well). Even though the content here is in Russian so I can’t participate with it directly, it matters that someone from Magento is here. That may make the difference for someone, who is deciding ‘Should I get out of Magento business or not’. And if I can influence that in a positive way, I’ll do it.

— The number of events you visit is very close to the number of the days in the year! The next one is a leap year. What are you going to do with the extra day? Finally have a day off?

I might even turn off Twitter! I may also just go out on a boat… Or maybe someone will schedule an event and I will go there and it’ll be fun.

— You travel all over the world, maybe except Antarctic, so …

Oh, I’m waiting for someone to schedule an event there.

The best information comes from what they call a hallway track, when people sit down like we are doing now, having conversation and learning from each other.

– Ben Marks | Tweet this

— What’s the best part of this job? What do you like most about it?

Definitely the people! Some people say (maybe joking, but still) that I’m doing this for the glamour of travel. I would love those people to be with me at 3 AM last night, when I was arriving and knowing that I will be leaving in 24 hours to go back home.

I went from Romania to Brazil for a night and then I came back to Greece.  I was actually travelling longer than I was in Brazil!

It’s fine, it’s my job, but I can’t just go and sit there and talk about things I don’t care about with people I don’t know. I wouldn’t be able to do it. But even as tired as I might be – when I show up and the Magento community is there, I’m just instantly energized, I’m reminded that I’m there to do my job. I’ve got to make sure I’m representing the company the right way and keeping the dialog up.

— We all see that Meet Magento events are becoming much more about people, than just content.

Yes, that why it’s actually MEET Magento. It started at the early days of the company when Magento didn’t have resources to set up events outside the USA.

Of course, content is a nice focal point, the same goes for other events like PHP conferences. However the best information comes from what they call a hallway track, when people sit down like we are doing know, having conversation and learning from each other.

And the hackathons are just great! It’s not only about the goal to make something, it’s also about watching how other people work, how the strongest representatives of the Magento community actually do it, how they write code and approach problems.

— Ben, thank you very much for your time! We wish you the best of luck in your Magento journey. See you at Meet Magento events soon!