Joomla Ace Tessa Mero shares about PHP, Community, and offers invaluable advice to students

by Ahmed Khan  March 1, 2016

Tessa Mero is Joomla Extension Directory(JED) Assistant Manager and a contributor to different PHP open source projects.  She performs as a speaker in different PHP conferences and she is also an instructor and PACE-IT Mentor at Edmonds Community College. You can also contact her and she can provide you best guidance for your career. In this interview, she talks about her initial career, developers to follow in the PHP community and also gives useful consultancy to students. Hope you enjoy this interview too 🙂

Tessa Mero Interview

Cloudways: Tessa, when did you start your career as a PHP developer? What  motivated you to stick to PHP rather than any other programming language? What were the difficulties that you faced when beginning PHP? What was your first ever project?

Tessa: My first job as a PHP developer happened in an interesting way. I was accepted for a full-time job back in 2011 as an ASP developer. During the interview, I proposed I’d rebuild their 10-year outdated applications in PHP and MySQL using their updated business processes, in which I am very proud to say I accomplished. I was motivated to stick with PHP because it was what I learned in college and didn’t know there were alternatives out there. Well, even if I knew about the alternatives, I’d still rather stick to what I knew initially!

The difficulties I faced were getting the code started on doing complex functions. Having to work out the whole flow of the code is definitely fun, but knowing where to start is always a challenge. My first PHP project was developing an approval system for product engineers to approve each other’s work flow between dozens of departments in 3 different companies around the world on the same product line, approving items to go into pre-production and full-production. There’s actually a LOT more to this, but this is as simple as I can put it. Don’t you want everything to be correct before putting 10,000 of one item worth $500 each into production, right? With an inconsistent workflow, and a messy process mostly via email, things get quite messy. This was my job to fix the big workflow mess!

Cloudways: When did your interest develop in conferences? In your opinion, what are the advantages of attending conferences? What were your feelings when you were debuting as a conference speaker? What experience would you like to share with the readers?

Tessa: My interest in going to conferences was very random. I knew that events existed, since I was going to gaming conferences from 2003 to 2007, I figured there’s a conference for every community. I was at work and finding ways I can get sent to events to increase my understanding of building websites. I had my company send me to a 2 full day class that week I started my first official job. I also had the company send me to my first developer related conference in New York City within 2 months of my job. Oh! by the way, I took a limousine from the airport to my hotel to feel like I was a superstar. Is that okay to do? 😛

Tessa Mero

As a first-time conference speaker back in November 2012, it was rather scary. First off, it was in front of 300+ people at Harvard University. I had ZERO experience speaking in front of a crowd larger than 30 (from teaching classes), and I did an Ignite Presentation, which means the slides auto play every 20 seconds and you have no control of the slides, so I had to rehearse my presentation to match the speed of the slides! After this experience, I knew I’d be able to do it again. The feeling after speaking is beyond amazing!

The advantages of speaking at conferences are really hard to get down in more than one paragraph, so I’ll mention a few points. First off, the ability to share your knowledge with others is an amazing opportunity. You also get exposure and your name out there, which can help with future job opportunities. One of my favorite parts of conferences is networking and making friends. Some people call them “colleagues”, but I’d like to think everyone is a friend of mine! It’s such a great feeling when you are always networking and find someone who is looking for a job, then find someone who is hiring, and connecting the two together!

Cloudways: You have recently visited SunshinePHP as a speaker? What was your best moment there? What are the upcoming conferences you are planning to attend?

Tessa: I actually attended SunshinePHP 2016 as a Sponsor (Joomla.org). I did not submit to speak since when Call for Proposals (CFP’s) was open, I had about 6 other presentations I had to put together for several other conferences, 2 including Keynotes at 2 different world conferences. I was very overwhelmed and put it off. Because SunshinePHP is one of the best conferences to attend in the US, I couldn’t miss this one bit! Adam Culp puts on an amazing event, and even better each year. The best moments there, as a sponsor, was the amount of people starting at 8:00 AM in the morning interested to know more about what sponsors had to offer. I had no expectations how packed it would be in the main sponsor room. I felt it was a very valuable on my end.

Tessa Mero

The next conference I’ll be attending is called “Bsides”, which is a security conference. My dad is a computer security professional at Boeing, and he is introducing me to “the other side” of the computer world. Sounds so dangerous!

Cloudways: Who are some people that you would like to recommend to follow in the PHP community or the people who have influenced you during your journey in the PHP world?

Tessa: A few people I’d suggest to follow in the PHP community are:

Cal Evans – He’s always trying to inspire everyone and assist people in the community to become better

Jeremy Lindblom – He used to be the President of the Seattle PHP User Group before I took over, and he introduced me to all the amazing people in the PHP community and convinced me to start going to PHP conferences in 2014! My first PHP conference was at SkiPHP in Utah January 2014.

Ben Edmunds – He was the first person who talked to me at my first PHP conference. I always give huge props to the first person who makes me feel comfortable and welcomed in a community. It always starts from there. 🙂

Margaret Staples – She is always empowering EVERYONE in the community and constantly making us feel awesome. If you want to follow a very positive and lovely lady, Margaret is the one to follow!

Michelle Sanver– She is the most lovely person you’ll ever meet. Michelle is the person always making everyone feel welcome, no matter what. If you are a new community member, Michelle will swoop you up and make you feel part of the crowd 🙂

Michelangelo van Dam – Every single word that comes out of this person’s mouth is the most inspiring and educational words you’ll ever hear. He has really helped uplift me out of my ridiculous spiraling emotional rollercoasters. After an hour or two chatting with Michelangelo, you’ll feel much more positive and powerful. He’s full of life lessons and eager to share his knowledge to everyone who walks by his path!

“If I could, I’d list everyone in the entire PHP community to follow, as they are all equally amazing!”

Cloudways: Tessa, I see you are into Joomla. What is the reason that Joomla usage is not increasing, if we compare it to WordPress? How would you compare Joomla with WordPress and Drupal? How is Joomla different from them?

Tessa: Joomla has been undergoing a lot of changes in the last year and most likely in the next year. Not only do we have organization structural changes occurring, but we have been in debate with the direction of where our CMS is going, our mission, and where our organization will be heading. This is something we are finally getting set in stone with major decisions, and I predict after a year, things will be moving forward at a faster rate.

I would never really compare Joomla to WordPress or Drupal, as they are all open source softwares that have it’s own pro’s and con’s, so it really depends on which content management system (CMS) you are comfortable working with and what fits best for your project. WordPress, no matter what, will always be the most used and known CMS. It’s much more lightweight and works quickly right out of the box for a simple blogging platform, especially for a brand new CMS user, although it can do much more than that. (Okay, not going any further with that since it now sounds like I’m marketing WordPress!) 😉 I try to speak highly of other alternatives rather than stomping on other communities who work very hard to brand their image. We are all here to help each other, not bring each other down.

Cloudways: Tessa, you have been JED Assistant Manager for 3 years, what are the best extensions for Joomla that you think are essential for every Joomla website?

Tessa: Wow, 3 years? I’d say I’m going on 4 years now, and it is a lot of work! I work aside with the JED Manager, who is the big guy for the Joomla Extensions Directory (JED). He makes all the final decisions, and I help with hiring and managing the sub-managers in a team of 33 people.

Cloudways: Being a college instructor, what advice will you give to the students who are planning to start their career as a software engineer? What do you think is the key to success in this career?

Tessa: The BIGGEST advice I give to students is to believe in themselves. Often a student comes close to becoming certified or graduating, and tells me that they feel they are not good enough to have a career in software engineering/web development. They get very discouraged reading the job descriptions of junior level jobs. This is how I became very passionate about mentoring people for career success. With 30 minutes of my time, I can make a difference in an individual. 🙂

Cloudways: You proclaim yourself as a MySQL guru. What were the projects that helped you to claim this title?

Tessa: My self-proclaimed guru title is not from reading books or taking courses on MySQL, it was from many nights of not being able to sleep because I’m trying to debug a query that isn’t pulling the correct data. After 3 years of mostly generating very complex queries for reporting pages that goes to management/CEO of the company, you tend to really learn a lot, and how to do it quickly. Also, as a side job for many years, I worked with data migration between different extensions and different versions where table structures are completely different. When I view a database, I feel at home and very comfortable. I’ve broken so many databases my first year doing this, that I can now guarantee I won’t break anything. You also learn the importance of backups. I backup data before every single change. 😛

Cloudways: Lastly, how do you spend your time when you are free from your work?

Tessa: When I’m not working, I’m working on contributing to open source projects. It’s an addiction that I’m trying to figure out how to minimize and spend more time with my children, which is extremely difficult. I absolutely love my children and they are the world to me. I also really love being on the mountains and snowboarding. Sometimes I wish it was free and closer to me so I could go more often!

Cloudways: We at Cloudways are providing one click installation for Joomla and different PHP frameworks. I would like you to check it yourself and share your opinion about the platform. What can we do further to improve the outlook and performance of the platform?

Tessa: With 1 click installations, make sure you always offer the latest version of Joomla. When I see a hosting platform offer an outdated version of Joomla, instantly I’ll never ever recommend anyone to use them for life. Also, the default PHP version is pretty important too. Too many hosts fail at providing this.

Thank you so much!

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About 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 ahmed.khan@cloudways.com

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