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Resilient and Talented PHP Maestro Butch Ewing on Development and Creativity

Published on May 10, 2016 - Content Updated on December 2, 2021

8 Min Read

Butch is a full stack web developer as well as a founder of many startups. He has done several projects, including a time project status board for an oil and gas company. He has also launched a social network for concerts. More appropriately, he is an entrepreneur, small business owner, screenwriter and an artist. His areas of expertise are PHP and MYSQL. Butch is associated with an emerging platform, Bill Young Productions. Let’s start his interview without any delay.

Butch Ewing Interview


Cloudways: Butch, you are a full stack PHP-developer. How did you start your career? What was your source of motivation behind entering this field?

Butch: I originally started programming in the early 80’s, when I was six or seven. My dad purchased an Atari 400 quickly followed by an 800XL. He got a book to learn BASIC and wrote a few programs. One in particular, was a math tutor program. I thought it was cool and fun to play. But, there were a few things that I thought should be different. So, I “forked” the repo. By that I mean I printed the source code on a dot matrix printer. Then, I retyped the whole thing in. After that, I went through line-by-line and made some adjustments. I guess that is why I have always been fond of open source.

In the mid 90’s, after getting a degree in Practical Theology, I was introduced to Microsoft Excel. I was working for a large financial corporation and was charged with providing ad hoc reports. After a few weeks I concluded that the amount of reports that I needed to generate each day would take about 15 hours. I knew there must have been a better way. So, I started learning to write formulas, use pivot tables, create maros, and query the company’s data warehouse. Within a few weeks I was able to generate 15 hours worth of reports in 15 minutes. My boss was so impressed that I was able to “do whatever I wanted” for the rest of day. It was then that I started learning HTML. A few years later, I wanted to create a website for a club that I was running. We had bands coming in every weekend and I wanted to both promote the concerts and build a submission form for bands to request to play at my club. It was a huge success.

Then, I joined a rock band and moved to Houston. Without a real plan for money, I decided to start building websites for people. I figured that was the best way to generate income while on the road rocking people’s faces off. I’m no stranger to working remote.

My first “real” web development project was for a chemical equipment company. They wanted a dynamic database driven website that would catalog their inventory in a way that their customers could quickly see what was available. In the initial discovery meeting with the client we went back and forth brainstorming on the features and presentation. We were both getting very excited about the project. Then, the client asked for a price range for this type functionality. He was not expecting the response that I gave. I said, “Oh, I don’t know how to do all of that. That is what I want to do, but I’m just not there yet.” He said, “Well, why don’t you just give it a try.” That was the turning point. The next week, I went to a conference to learn PHP. My mission was to learn everything that I needed to build that website. I asked speakers and vendors lots of questions. I came back from the conference and built the site. I added a full admin section to enable them to add and edit content. They were blown away. Actually, I was too.

Cloudways: You are currently working for Bill Young Productions. Tell us about this company and your job role? On which projects are you working on currently?

Butch: Bill Young Productions is one of the major players in the concert marketing industry. We create all of the radio, television, print, and interactive materials for major label artists concert tours. We work with the biggest names in the industry. My role in all of that is mostly ancillary. I am currently building an order management system. We crank out a very large number of media assets every day. It is important that we are a well oiled machine. This system that I’m building with consolidates close to a dozen systems that we have relied on over the years. In a way, this is a much larger scale task than what I did with the ad hoc reports just out of college. I’m quite excited about this.

I also have my own dev shop called Bruce & Eddy. I created my own CMS because I’m that vain. I work with an SEO company out of Austin. I also have a few startups that I’m working on.

Cloudways: Being a full stack developer, how do you see the future of PHP after the launch of PHP 7?

Butch: I see PHP 7 as being major proponent to revitalize PHP. PHP has fallen out of the social streams but this new version helps put it back in the spotlight. The speed improvements helped to deflate some of the nay-sayers. With companies like Cloudways, lowering the barriers to get up and running with PHP 7, it is even making it even easier and obvious to use. Of course, WordPress helps to keep PHP ubiquitous and Facebook helps the cause. So much of the internet is running on PHP at best, PHP will continue to be a one of a few languages that every web developer will need to know.

Worst case, everybody jumps ship and I’m the lone PHP developer. I’ll then build my riches upon the thousands of PHP systems in the world. Most companies will find it too expensive to change to a new platform and I’ll be able to charge whatever I want. This scenario reminds me of COBOL developers that manage millions of lines of legacy code in the banking industry.

Best case, more and more developers will harness the power of PHP and raise the bar of what we can do with it – better code, better tools, better frameworks, and more collaboration will make this community stand the test of time.

Cloudways: What do you say about the neverending PHP 7 vs Node.js debate? Will popularity of Node.js among developers lead to the disappearance of PHP from the internet?

Butch: I love Node.js. I have built several applications with it. I have become a better developer by learning more than just PHP. Node.js is new and sexy, but PHP is tried and true. There are so many companies that have PHP applications that it would take too much money and time to just switch them with Node.js. Not to mention they would have to change the development staff and/or teach them another language. The larger the scale the less likely that will happen.

Cloudways: Which PHP framework is of your preferred choice? What do you actually prefer when it comes to developing a PHP website?

Butch: Several years ago, I had the privilege to meet Rasmus Lerdorf. He said that he hates all of the PHP frameworks, but (at that time) CodeIgniter was the one that he hated the least. So, I started with that one. That was my first introduction to MVC OOP. That not only made me a better developer, but it also opened up a whole new way to organize reusable code. It was very exciting. I have since used Laravel and really appreciate the caliber of quality that it achieves. I have used several others like Zend, Yii, and Slim – I like Slim a lot. However, for the most part, I use my own home-grown framework. Yeah, I’m that vain.

Cloudways: What are your views about the support from the PHP development community? When it comes to the PHP community, which persons do you think are doing great job for community?

Butch: I have always been impressed with that support from the PHP community. It has grown considerably since I started in 2003. I used to know several guys by name, but now it’s just “the community.” I’m not sure if that’s better or worse.

Cloudways: How do you see PHP conferences? What do you think is the importance of conferences in the web development community?

Butch: Conferences are important to really get a sense of the community. There is something about us all coming together that is magical. You can go from zero to developer in a single conference if you do it right.

Cloudways: You have a very unique website. How did that idea come up in your mind?

Butch: Ha! I built that in an afternoon as a joke. It was kind of an anti-pattern. I was tired of building normal websites. I wanted something that looked more like what I see everyday, the command line. I probably should do a better job of representing myself. I mostly enjoy websites that are minimal. I appreciate the ability to do less. It is a difficult thing to do simple. I have been building websites for so long that it is rare that I find something “cool.” But, I think it’s cool anytime someone builds something that is not trendy.

Cloudways: As a web developer, what are the 5 tools that you cannot live without?

Butch: Only 5? iTerm, Brackets, Bitbucket, Google, and Cloudways (of course). iTerm because I live in the command line and it’s way better than Terminal. Brackets because I like a simple text editor with some basic features and then get out of my way. Bitbucket because I have had at least one hard drive crash. Proper backups and code repos are a must and with unlimited private repos for free – Bitbucket is my pick. It’s super quick and easy to spin up a server and not have to worry about the devops at all. Google well, let’s face it, we are all imposters just stealing code from the internet. A real developer just knows how to implement it. Cloudways, duh.

Cloudways: I noticed while learning about you that you are a cancer survivor. Tell us about your courageous story on how you beat cancer and what would you advise to all the people who are suffering with this deadly disease?

Butch: Yes, thanks for asking. I was diagnosed with Ocular Melanoma in 2008. It is a rare form of cancer in the eye. I have undergone countless surgeries and procedures to kill this beast. So far, I’m the victor. But, my eyesight in the affected eye is next to none. I wear an eye patch because I get headaches with my eye trying to focus with the little sight that remains. Plus, it makes me look tough. I have been involved in the Melanoma Research Foundation and that has helped a great deal to not feel alone.

Cloudways: I just got to see your website and I was overwhelmed to see your talent. You are a musician, artist, comedian and what not. How do you do all these things while being a nerdy web developer?

Butch: Oh, thank you. They’re all really more related than not. Being a developer, you are using the same analytical and creative parts of your brain that are needed in music. Every developer knows that code is art.

Cloudways: You are a Cloudways customer. How did you first find us? What are the 5 things that you like about us in comparison to other managed hosting companies? What improvements do you want to see in our platform? Why would you prefer Cloudways over any other cloud hosting provider?

Butch: I found Cloudways from a Google search. I was looking for a managed DigitalOcean solution. I really enjoy the git pull feature. I love that Cloudways makes it very easy for me to support multiple applications for my clients. I would love to see Node.js support. I would also love to see a way to push applications to other servers as well as to other Cloudways accounts. This would enable me to move an application to my clients account if they wanted to leave me. I would also like to be able to distribute an application over multiple servers to allow for horizontal scaling.

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Ahmed Khan

Ahmed was a PHP community expert at Cloudways - A Managed PHP Hosting Cloud Platform. He is a software engineer with extensive knowledge in PHP and SEO. He loves watching Game of Thrones is his free time. Follow Ahmed on Twitter to stay updated with his works. You can email him at [email protected]


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