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Senior Web Developer Justin Holt Talks About Craft CMS & Managed Hosting Service

Updated on August 26, 2022

5 Min Read

Joining us from the coding community in Charlotte, NC, Justin Holt is a web developer specializing in Craft CMS. Justin helps brands, organizations, and agencies worldwide create award-winning, unique, and effective web & mobile experiences.

Shahzeb: Hello Justin, thank you for taking the time out for this interview. Before we start, how about you tell the readers about yourself?

Justin: I’m an easy going long time web developer (27 years), baseball fan, BBQ pitmaster, and Craft CMS evangelist. I specialize in Craft CMS/Yii development and consulting with various agencies, businesses, and other developers across the world including Solspace, Span Studios, Ebeacon, Osborn Barr Paramore, and Surprise Highway among many others.

I have been specializing exclusively in Craft/Yii for the past 5 years as a full-time contractor. I currently run and do all presenting for the Charlotte Craft CMS Developers meetup group. I am a frequent contributor and responder on the Craft CMS Discord group and aim to share my knowledge and experience to help other developers succeed.

Shahzeb: Interesting! So how did you end up working with Craft CMS?

Justin: While working at an advertising agency in Charlotte, NC, USA (Wray Ward) in 2017, I worked on my first Craft CMS project,, a high-end home community in the Savannah, GA, USA region.

Rich with visuals, complex backend schema structure and several custom plugins, including deep integration with an MLS property API. It was a challenging and fun experience. I really fell in love with Craft CMS based on my experience with that project.

Shahzeb: How has your journey been so far? Was it challenging in the beginning? And how did you overcome those obstacles?

Justin: As with any new framework, you have to jump right into the deep end, run into roadblocks, and face challenges before becoming competent. Moving from a convention-over-configuration mindset (like CodeIgniter, for example), I initially faced some uphill challenges with Yii.

Still, I quickly found myself preferring a configuration-over-convention approach like Yii has and now wouldn’t want to work in anything else. As I always recommend to newcomers, I read a BUNCH of documentation, blog articles, and threads on the Craft Discord channel and watched a bunch of videos on Craft Quest. I also asked a TON of expert questions and found that they were all welcoming and eager to guide me in the right direction.

Shahzeb: You’ve worked on many Craft CMS projects. Which ones, in particular, were your favorite and why?

Justin: One of my favorite Craft websites was developed and is managed by Surprise Highway out of Chicago, IL, USA, Sirken singtons. The brand is fun, colorful, and exciting, and the site showcases all of those ideas with smart structuring and a great user experience.

In 2021 I created, from scratch, the most performant site I have developed yet on Craft CMS through the Clearfire agency out of the midwest USA, Legacy Audio.

I focused on smart content schema management for a great editor experience, best practices on security and SEO, and a superior site speed approach that resulted in lightning-fast page load times and superior measurable and perceivable performance.

Shahzeb: Craft CMS has a significant appeal to developers. What makes it unique from other CMS like WordPress?

Justin: Craft CMS is hands-down the best Content Management System, and Yii, combined with Twig, is the best platform to code upon. I gauge this determination on a balance of developer experience, content manager experience, UI and UX of the CMS, quality and concise documentation, and a vibrant, helpful and welcoming developer community.

Shahzeb: What is your experience with PHP, and how important is it for you? And what’s the go-to web solution for your Craft CMS clients?

I’ve been working with PHP for 15 years now, in frameworks like Yii, CodeIgniter, and Laravel as well as creating my own pseudo-frameworks.

I think a base knowledge of object-oriented PHP is a good leg-up to learning Yii and Craft CMS, as it will help you get a foundational understanding of the best practices in the framework and platform.

Shahzeb: Since you’ve had such an interesting career, what tips would you give those just starting to use Craft CMS?

Justin: Join the Craft CMS Discord channel and read as much documentation as possible. Get an account at, which is an excellent learning resource. Don’t be afraid to ask a bunch of questions; the community is here to help you.

Shahzeb: Which tools do you use during Craft CMS development? And what is your workflow?

I code primarily in VS Code and have been using a bunch of Tailwind lately for front-end work. I also have been using the Github CoPilot add-on, which I’ve enjoyed as it helps expand my autocomplete and is very smart.

For Craft plugins, my go-to list for starting a Craft CMS site is Blitz, Imager-X, SEOMatic, Async-queue, Freeform, and Retour.

I also use debugging tools like Spatie Ray and XDebug. I prefer using DDEV/Docker for the local environment, and I utilize services like Imgix and Cloudflare for excellent site performance. I also like using a GUI for git management, and I love GitKraken for that.

Shahzeb: Which web hosting type would you recommend to your clients or community members? In your opinion, is conventional shared hosting viable for your projects?

Justin: I spoke about Craft CMS hosting recently at my Charlotte Craft CMS Developers group, where I outlined the benefits of managed, cloud-based hosting and other hosting options.

Conventional shared hosting solutions generally are not a good fit for most Craft CMS websites as they usually are more resource intensive since they are more like applications and less so brochure ware or blogs. You can view my presentation about Craft hosting at
Craft CMS Developers Group Charlotte and our entire channel at Craft CMS.

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Shahzeb: What are your thoughts on managed hosting solutions like Cloudways? Do you believe these solutions add value to Craft CMS and PHP-based applications?

Justin: My preference for Craft CMS hosting is always a managed host, as it gives you a great base platform to start a Craft CMS application where you can ensure that all requirements and recommendations of the base layer have been applied and addressed.

A managed host with great support like Cloudways will always have your back regarding server security and updates and will quickly address changes or updates as needed, allowing you to focus on your Craft CMS application instead of server management.

Shahzeb: Let our readers explore the other side of you. What do you like to do in your leisure time or when you’re away from the screen?

Justin: My son, brother, and I run a competition BBQ team, Holt Brothers BBQ, where we compete in BBQ and steak contests across the southeast and mid-Atlantic region.

I also restore vintage late-70s and early-80s BMS bikes and show them at various events in the southeast and mid-Atlantic USA. I am a huge Major League Baseball fan and follow the New York Yankees religiously (I bleed pinstripes!)

Shahzeb: Maintaining a work-life balance isn’t easy these days. What’s your secret to living a contented life?

Justin: Don’t be afraid to step away for a break if you are stuck on a challenge or feel down or burnt out. You will find that a clear mind can help you quickly solve a challenge versus a tired mind. I am lucky that as a contractor, I can generally set my own schedule and take as much vacation as I desire, which helps prevent burnout and helps me gives the most focused value to my clients when I am working hard.

Shahzeb: Who do you think we should interview next, and why?

Justin: One of my favorite people in the Craft CMS community is Ryan Irelan, who runs the educational website. He would be a great guest.

Shahzeb: I’d appreciate it if you could share some snapshots of your office space or your current workstation to inspire our readers. And thank you once again for the interview, Justin.


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Shahzeb Ahmed

Shahzeb is a Digital Marketer with a Software Engineering background, works as a Community Manager — PHP Community at Cloudways. He is growth ambitious and aims to learn & share information about PHP & Laravel Development through practice and experimentation. He loves to travel and explore new ideas whenever he finds time. Get in touch with him at [email protected]


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