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Challenges are there, but it’s not easy to build something like a Magento ecosystem, says Tobias Zander

May 10, 2017

8 Min Read

He is an author, an entrepreneur, a blogger, a Magento consultant par excellence, a top class speaker, and an avid tourist. He is none other than Tobias Zander.

Tobias is one of the most celebrated personalities within the Magento community. With more than four years of experience in Magento consulting, he has won the accolades for his dedication, passion, and hard work. He has worked as the Chief Technology Officer at Sitewards GmbH, Germany’s top-notch ecommerce firm.

Tobias zander interview

During this interview with Cloudways, he has shared his candid opinions about the progress of ecommerce industry within Germany, the challenges being faced by the web agencies and developers, and what future holds for Magento 2.0. He also has some good advice for newbies who want to kickstart their career in Magento.

Cloudways: Tobias, you were the CTO at Sitewards GmbH. You have come a long way in this journey. How did you start your career? How did you come across Magento?

Tobias Zander: There is no explicit point in my life where I started my career. I had an Amiga 500 as a child and due to the lack of games and a pre-installed QBasic IDE, I started to modify and write my first lines of code when I was still in the elementary school.

My father had also won a 2.400 baud modem in a lottery when I was 10 years old. So, all those toys ended up being stuffed in my room and I got access to mailboxes before the today’s internet was invented. Based on that I founded my first company when I was 12, building some awesome websites with animated gifs and marquee-texts. I turned to a full-time developer directly after school and skipped the university due to miscellaneous reasons.

One of the most important steps was definitely becoming a freelance consultant in 2007, switching teams, tools and processes regularly, I learned way more than in the time as a web developer for agencies. I joined Sitewards, where they already had a minor Magento portfolio – and as one of our first decisions to narrow our business area, we decided to fully focus on Magento and I got my first experience with it.

the sitewards office

The Sitewards office

Cloudways: In 2014 your book Security in E-Commerce was published. What is the reason behind writing this book? How was the experience? Do you like to write blogs?

Tobias Zander: Writing a book was on my checklist. I was always keen to write about security.

I was giving a lot of talks and writing some articles about these topics in 2013 and 2014, and after some very successful sessions, I got an offer to write this book. So yes, I did it and I believe the content is very valuable, but to be honest I prefer the more compact style of small articles in a print magazine or a blog than writing hundreds of pages. Maybe I’m not eloquent enough for that.

Tobias talking about security in a cinema

Tobias talking about security in a cinema

Cloudways: Magento is the most famous CMS for ecommerce websites. With so much going on within the industry, and the launch of new shopping carts, how do see the future of Magento in the coming years?

Tobias Zander: A CMS? I would label it more as an e-commerce framework. For me, it’s very hard to predict what the future will look like for Magento or the overall e-commerce industry. Challenging the technical aspects is one thing – and competitors are already standing in line, but Magento’s ecosystem is the real force and it won’t be easy to build up something like that on a new platform.

Cloudways: Magento 2.0 beta is now in the market. The developers must be credited for their patience and efforts. What are your expectations from Magento 2.0? It seems like an overhaul of Magento 1.x. How do you think a developer should go about when it comes to Magento 2.0? Do you think owners will move stores to Magento 2.0?

Tobias Zander: I would agree with the term ‘overhaul’. We definitely need some fresh solutions in the old Magento code base. Having said that, I’m not yet convinced that this will be enough.

They’re definitely working towards the right direction, but the competitors are not sleeping and currently it looks like their pace is a bit faster than Magento’s, even when they’re still behind, how long can Magento keep the lead?

Cloudways: There are many professional youngsters, who want to pursue a career in Magento. What advice would you give them?

Tobias Zander: I’m curious about how you use the word ‘career’. I’m just doing my job. But I have one advice for every developer out there, not only Magento people: Connect to the community, attend meetups, hackathons and conferences.

And especially if you’re an introvert, start giving talks. It doesn’t need to be the keynote for the start, just start at a small meetup with five people. You’ll get so much valuable feedback and new contacts that’ll pay you handsomely in the long run.

Cloudways: Let’s put  Magento aside and discuss your personal life 🙂 I follow you on Facebook and I noticed that you have a dog. Actually, I love dogs as well! Does your pet help you relax? And are you a pet lover?

Tobias Zander: My family had a dog when I was a child. After it passed away, I always wanted to have my own. But on the other hand, I already knew how much effort and time it costs to treat a dog really well. It took me over 10 years to find the right time and place so that I could bring Lila (my dog’s name) to the office.

Yes, it helps very much to relax and to consider all the daily problems you face with a new perspective and understanding, when you’re connected to the nature and see your dog jumping happily through the grass.

Cloudways: How do you spend your vacations with your wife Nici Zander? I noticed that you both love traveling 🙂 Share your best experience from your New York and other trips with our readers.

Tobias Zander: I don’t know if there is any best experience. We used to travel a lot around the world, but that changed two years ago when we got Lila. We didn’t want to leave her alone. Therefore, we bought a camping bus early this year, and now we’re driving regularly through Europe. I have also developed a blogging website (www.travelling-developer.com) where I share valuable information about our travelling experiences.

Tobias Travelling in spain

Tobias in Spain

Cloudways: You participated in Magento Imagine 2015 and Meet Magento Germany. What was the best moment from Meet Magento Germany you’d like to share with our readers? What do you believe are the benefits of such events for the Magento Community?

Tobias Zander: The biggest advantage is getting connected to all these great people out there. Not just because they all have their own backgrounds and interesting stories, but also because they’re experts in their own right.

And you come to know about whom to ask when you have a problem is a very valuable resource. That’s also the reason why I always try to speak at these events. It’s not about the business leads,  but it’s for the new people whom I meet, who are interested in the same topic as I am.

Some of the attendees even noticed that I didn’t have a “who am I and what am I selling” slide in this year’s presentation.

Tobias talking at imagine

Tobias talking at imagine

Cloudways: You are a Magento Certified Developer. What are some of the major issues that Magento developers face? How has the CMS industry fared in the German economic landscape?

Tobias Zander: The biggest issue for Magento developers is still caching. For developing modules as well as for production, and I don’t see any good changes in that for Magento 2.0 as yet. We’re talking about e-commerce industry, right? CMS is a totally different market in Germany and very separated as compared to e-commerce.

Besides Magento, we have two very German e-commerce systems, built exclusively by Germans and almost unknown outside the country.

Oxid has been quite big, and has enjoyed a good position. But at present, there is nothing going special except for some gossip news.

And then there’s Shopware, a young dynamic team, with some great ideas, and a very open communication culture. The plans are big and they put also a lot of effort into marketing to grow the ecosystem around the technology. Let’s see if they can bring that on a real international level and also get rid of some legacies they still have.

Cloudways: Most of the online customers want to access shopping sites in less than two seconds. Speed matters a lot for Magento web stores. How can we improve the speed of a Magento-based website?

Tobias Zander: That depends very much on the use-case. What data do you want to display on which page? Which data might change by time or location or is even customer-specific?

At Sitewards, we have built a number of B2B systems where it’s really hard to cache a lot, because every individual customer quotes its own prices. Yes, you can handle a lot by throwing a lot of cash into hardware, which is in the beginning even cheaper than hiring expensive developers, but at some point you’ll need to investigate your bottlenecks and optimize the user workflow and loading process.

Cloudways: Everyone has some inspiration behind their success. Name eight people from the Magento community who have inspired you the most?

Tobias Zander: First of all, there is Vinai Kopp, who not only taught me the first lines of Magento code, but was always very helpful and welcomed me with open arms.

I’m also very impressed with the work of Fabian Blechschmidt, Damian Luszczymak, Karl Spies and Rouven Rieker, who have been, for me, the persons behind the Firegento Hackathons. They all have been spending days and nights relentlessly and even taking financial risks to build a series of events, which has been unmatched in the developers’ community for me so far.

Tim Bezhashvyly is one of the great inspirations for me. He’s a very direct person, with his opinions. Even if I don’t agree with all of his thoughts, it’s very interesting to listen to him.

Without the blog posts by Alan Storm, I would have been lost. I didn’t have the chance to meet him in person as yet, but owe him a lot of respect. For me, it’s very easy to understand his direct writing style.

Last but not the least, I have to mention David Manners. I have worked very closely with him over the last four years and it has been always good to discuss ideas and get some honest feedback. Not forgetting all the other great people in the office, but if we talk about Magento community, he’s the most active one. 🙂

Cloudways: We offer 1-click Magento hosting platform with New Relic. I would like you to test the platform. Share your opinion about the platform. How we can improve on it to make it even better?

Tobias Zander: Oh! I love New Relic. I was even a fan of it before Cloudways. It helps so much to find technical bottlenecks and monitor production performance.

But one of the biggest problems for agencies is the deployment – as Magento projects are always very complex – and also each Magento project is different in the way it’s deployed.

CDN, Varnish, Memcache, S3 or not, Redis, there are so many things to consider. Anything which helps to unify the processes is a big benefit.


 

You can follow Tobias Zander on Twitter at (@airbone42)

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