“There is not only one “strong” Ecommerce solution like Magento. We have lots of good, but different Ecommerce systems besides Magento, for example Shopware, OXID eSales etc.” These are the words of an industry veteran.
Alexander Steireif has vast years of experience in Magento. Currently he working in netz98, the biggest Magento partner in Germany. Alexander is an author of three Magento books and he has his own Magento learning blog as well.
In this interview Alexander shares his thoughts about “Magento Growth”. He also shares his candid opinions about the current trends of Magento in the Ecommerce industry and what future he sees in Magento 1.x for developers. Alexander shares his personal life with some exciting moments from his travelling days with our readers. Find out more about Alexander in this interview 🙂
Cloudways: Alexander, currently you work at netz98 new media gmbh. What’s your job role in netz98? How did you start your career with Magento? What challenges did you face in the initial months of your career? Share your job role in netz98 with our readers.
Alexander: Okay let’s start with the beginning of my Magento career: Back in 2006 I founded itabs. Itabs was a company specialized in developing individual web applications written in PHP. Later in 2008 I noticed this cool new software called Magento and we started to use Magento software for all our Ecommerce projects. I guess it was Version 0.8 when I checked out the software. So you can say I started using Magento since the very first versions. At the beginning I worked as kind of a frontend developer and also developed little modules, later I had the job as project manager, requirements engineer and sales guy. All the things you have to do as a CEO of a small company with 12 people 😉
At the beginning when I developed Magento themes and modules it was very hard to work without any documentation or book or something like this. It was trial and error the whole day…By the way because of this situation I started to write a Magento book for the people in Germany.
In December 2015 itabs was closed and our team moved to netz98, the biggest Magento Partner in Germany. Now at netz98 I’m doing similar things. I’m involved in the pre-sales phase when you have to check out if Magento is the right solution and whether you can customize Magento so that it fits the customer’s needs. But I’m also involved in helping the customer developing his business (we call it e-commerce consultancy). So basically my job is helping the customer realize the project and then to support the customer to become more successful.
Cloudways: You wrote three books about Magento for Magento developers who want to get involved in Magento development. What made you write this book series? What are the 3 most viable tips for a newbie who wants to involve themselves in Magento?
Alexander: Oh it’s not only a book for developers. The book is also very helpful for shop administrators and Ecommerce decision makers. People told me that they bought my book to find out whether Magento is the right software or not … So it’s a book for all people working with Magento.
The idea behind the book was to help people with their Magento problems. Especially during the early days of Magento there was no documentation. If you had any questions there was Google, some blog postings … But nothing you could really work with. I wanted to change the situation with writing a book explaining all the features, possibilities and problems of Magento.
I think as a newbie you should know what using Magento really means. It’s not a software like xt:Commerce or WooCommerce in which you just change 3 lines of code to get a result. Using Magento means developing software in a complex but structured way. Therefore, you need time, especially if you are developing modules to get familiar with the Magento way. So don’t get stressed if you need time to get familiar with the systems. Back at itabs we said that a PHP developer without any information about Magento will need 4-6 months to get familiar with the systems. So the first tip is: Don’t get stressed and know that you will need time.
For Ecommerce leaders and shop owners my advice is to “understand” that Magento is a complex software and this means you need time, money and developers with good skills. This also means that Magento is not the solution for every Ecommerce project in the world. It’s not a simple fast little Ecommerce software you just install and after 3 days everything is fine. Magento is an enterprise system which has the benefits but also the disadvantage of any kind of enterprise solution.
And last but not least, my last tip is that if you are not using Magento, you should use Magento. At the moment, especially compared to other solutions in Germany, in my opinion it’s the most powerful open-source Ecommerce platform on the market with the ability to be successful over the next years. Beside all the technical benefits, Magento is also very future oriented so if you start working with Magento now, I’m pretty sure that even in 5 years the company still exists, the community is bigger than today, there are lot of companies needing Magento developers and so on.
Cloudways: Alexander, as an Ecommerce consultant what are the most common queries you faced from your customers? Magento is a very popular Ecommerce platform. How do you see Magento growth in the German Ecommerce industry?
Alexander: Compared to other countries e.g. the USA, the German Ecommerce market is much more differentiated. There is not only one “strong” solution like Magento. We have lots of good, but different, Ecommerce systems beside Magento, for example Shopware, OXID eSales etc. So as a customer you first have to pick one of all those really good systems and figure out which software fits more.
Because of this situation Magento isn’t seen as the “one and only” Ecommerce solution you have to choose if you start to build an online-shop. Beside this strong competition in Germany I also think that Magento, especially because of the release of Magento 2, has good chances to still be successful in the German market. Compared to the other Ecommerce solutions I mentioned, Magento has a bit different focus and target audience.
In my opinion Magento is something like a framework. You can use this framework to build the Ecommerce solution you need and customize everything so it fits your needs. There is no limit and you can do everything you need to do to be successful in the Ecommerce. However other solutions are more like finished systems you can use but you have problems to customize everything. And this is why Magento is used in complex Ecommerce projects in which you cannot only use some basic software but rather you have to develop lots of customizations.
And especially for this case Magento is also the preferred system in Germany and will still be successful like in the past years. And as I said, Magento 2 will help to confirm this situation.
Cloudways: What are some useful features in Magento 1.x for developers?
Alexander: Let’s talk about frontend development, because at the beginning of my career I was responsible for converting cool Photoshop design in Magento templates ;-). The way you can build designs is awesome, especially in Magento 1. I like the structure with the XML layout files, because it’s a very charming way to “build” the layout like what element is on which page and which position. Compared to other systems I worked with, for example Shopware, you have a clean structure. It’s not only putting everything in a few PHP or template files, it’s a more structured way to create your own design. So this is one benefit I liked most, the structure of theme developing. Besides this there are lots of other pretty cool features, the frontend hints, inline editing. Stuff that saves you time when developing customizations.
But I guess this is not only some frontend development point. This was also the feedback I received from our backend developers, I mean that Magento is very structured and you can develop customizations in a clean way without destroying half part of the software.
Cloudways: Extensions are very useful. Which extensions do you recommend for speeding up Magento 1.x? Or do you recommend coding your own extensions? What is your highly recommended advice for developers and merchants for speeding up Magento websites?
Alexander: It depends on the situation and the project. In most cases it’s definitely the better solution to develop your own extensions. I can understand that customers say “why do you want to develop the extension by your own, this costs 5000 Euros and on this page I found an extension for 50 Euros”. In the first moments it looks like buying an extension is the cheapest way of solving problems. But in fact you have to integrate the extension, if it’s not working you have to fix code that is not developed by your team or yourself, often customers want to extend the extensions functionality and so on. In those cases, it will get more expensive that the custom solution fits your needs, besides there are factors like code quality of extensions you buy.
My advice is to be careful. There are a few good extensions you can use but the most extensions are not recommended and the integration will create more problems than you solve by using the extensions.
In my opinion most Aheadworks extensions are okay, there are also some to speed up Magento. But this also depends on the extension you want to use. But in the past, every time I integrated some Aheadworks extension the integration worked and the code was also okay.
Cloudways: Magento 2 is on the market. What’s your suggested platform for new developers who want to make their skills stronger on Magento 2? What functionality do you like the most in Magento 2?
Alexander: Magento 2 will change the way developers have to develop their extensions in a big way. At the beginning of the year we had lots of trainings for our frontend and backend developer at netz98, so that they get familiar with Magento 2 and know how to develop customizations and how everything works. I also talked to my colleagues because at the moment I also know Magento 2 from the “business side”. The system is much more complex, you will need more time to develop customizations but on the other hand you will have a stronger platform and system like in Magento 1. Because of the massive changes in Magento 2 I’m sure that especially developers will need some time and some projects to get familiar with everything. I mean it’s like in the past when Magento 1 was released. To understand everything, you needed some projects and you started with trial & error. The good thing, compared to Magento 1, is the fact that there is some kind of documentation for Magento 2, this will help a lot.
Cloudways: Magento has a vast community and really helpful members. How do you connect yourself in the community? Which social network do you prefer to connect yourself with the community?
Alexander: At the beginning of Magento and the first version I liked the official Magento Forum and also took part in the discussions. But during the last years I couldn’t spend the time anymore to be active in this way. Also the Magento forum was crap (Sorry I have to say that 😉 ), but after the release of the new one at magento.com it’s much better and I started with giving some help and feedback.
To get information there is no better way than reading blogs. It’s also the way I want to share my Magento knowledge. When I discover some cool new extension or Magento feature, I write a blog post and hope that this will also help other people. If you blog frequently, you also get connected to other people because they are sending you emails with questions, you start to talk and so on. This was also the point why I started to do ecommerce interviews and publish them on my blog. I talked to various shop owners because they send me Magento questions or Ecommerce questions in general and because of this connection I asked them some interesting questions to also help other shop owners.
Cloudways: Meet Magento, Mage Titan, Magento hackathon are the best platforms for people who want to connect with the Magento Community. What’s your advice for amatuer developers who want to involve themselves in the Magento Community? Have you attended any Magento conference? If yes, share your best experience with our readers 🙂
Alexander: Now I’m getting the feeling, that I’m really old 😉 Because I took part at the first Meet Magento events here in Germany. It has to be 2009 I guess when the first conference was held in Leipzig. I really liked the Meet Magento events because of the audience. Frontend developers, backend developers, agencies, freelancers and shop owners. The whole Magento “ecosystem” was at this conference and the conference got bigger year by year. I can remember how small the first location was and years later, hundreds of people took part at the Meet Magento. So this was my preferred conference all over the last years.
If you are only interested in developing Magento Extensions I think you have to connect with Firegento e.V. Firegento is a nonprofit organization developing solutions like Mage Setup and they are also organizing hackathons and events like this.
The good thing with Magento, especially here in Germany, is the fact that there are so many developers and companies doing Magento stuff, so you will have events, interesting blogs, active community members and people helping you if you have any questions.
Cloudways: Alexander, let’s put Magento aside and talk about your personal interests :). I follow you on Facebook, and I see you like traveling. What’s your favourite place and how many international trips have you taken so far?
Alexander: Travelling is a good compensation for the daily stress you have when you are working in an Ecommerce agency ;-). My most favorite place on earth I like to travel to is definitely London. It’s the city where I had the first holiday trip with my fiancée, the city where I made the proposal of marriage and (if everything works like expected) where I will have my marriage.
But besides London I also like Asia. I have visited Thailand 2 times and was in Indonesia last year. I can’t say Asia is “better” than London or Britain but of course the weather is 😉
Cloudways: There are always some individuals who stand out in the crowd. Name some people that inspired and influenced you in the Magento world?
Alexander: The question is tricky but when I think about it the first name my brain puts out is Vinai Kopp. I don’t have some special connection with him even if I met him at a few Magento events, but I think Vinai did a lot for the German Magento community. He developed some really cool Magento Extensions, trained a lot of agencies and Magento developers and “pushed” the system in Germany.
Apart from one special person I was definitely inspired by other Magento agencies, especially it was about the development of Magento projects, deployment strategies and code quality things. One of those inspiring companies is netz98 and this was also some part of the decision when I switched from itabs to netz98. They are doing a really great job when it’s about technical solutions. You talked to Christian Münch, also working at netz98, some weeks ago and you know that he’s a really smart guy ;-).
Cloudways: You are aware of our platform and know what we do at Cloudways. How did you find it? Share your views about Cloudways and our 1-click Magento hosting.
Alexander: Hosting and infrastructure is one of the most important Magento topics. I can remember the days when shop owners paid some Euros a month for the cheapest webspace they found on the internet and then told me that Magento is such a slow system and it takes minutes to load etc. Yes, this happens when you choose the wrong infrastructure for your business and just spend some Euros a month for nothing. Because of this the decision which hosting platform you choose is so important.
The cool thing about Cloudways is that the people working at Cloudways know the applications, like Magento, WordPress, SugarCRM and so on. So they know how to optimize the infrastructure for using those applications. Also they have a scalable platform so I can start spending less money but if I want more performance, I can easily scale. And this is the most important thing because if you are now starting an online business, you can’t know how successful you will be in 3-4 months. 100 orders a day, 500 orders a day, 1000 orders a day? Nobody can tell you the future. Therefore, it’s important that the infrastructure can grow like your business and at Cloudways exactly this is possible. Last but not least, you also have the one click installation that saves a lot of time if you just want to install some application for testing or developing extensions.