Experience is the best teacher. Every one of us has a life changing experience that teaches us some valuable lessons that guide us throughout our lives. Some of the distinguished individuals are destined to have a future as awe-inspiring and glorious as their past.
His journey started at a small radio station. With hands-on-experience in web design, he decided to redesign their website. Then came a new opportunity, and he found himself working in one of the most influential, and the largest technology conglomerate—Microsoft. Again, his experience there, taught him the very concept of working with a diversified team that practiced a wholly global culture.
His restless soul would not let him stop here. Influenced and guided by his experience, articulate vision, and unrelenting passion, he decided to take a step further – a step in the right direction – a step that has led him to be one of most celebrated Magento developers of his age. He is none other than Josh Dallyn, the E-commerce Strategist, Magento Developer, and Consultant of MageBuild.
At Cloudways, we are extremely happy and overwhelmed by his enthusiasm; he has shown in his detailed responses for the interview questions posed at him. Hope you will find this interview an enjoyable read.
Cloudways: Josh, you’ve been involved with ecommerce for a quite long period of time. Take us back to the beginning: How did your career start? What were the biggest challenges along the way? What are you currently working at?
Josh Dallyn: I actually got my start in radio. I worked at a smaller market active rock radio station in Tacoma, Washington and the station had very little budget for the website. With my graphic design background, I took on the challenge of re-designing the site.
I quickly found I was in over my head as my coding skills were fairly limited back. At that point, I started learning as much as I could, as fast as I could about web design and development. Long story short, the site turned out great and I’ve been coding ever since.
The biggest challenges I find are more often communication related than code related. Truly understanding the client’s goals, brand, business workflow, manufacturing, and/or distribution processes in place, etc. before starting with a project is extremely important.
Being thorough and taking the time to set the correct expectations for the client and then delivering on those expectations is critical. Magento is extremely flexible, so the first step (at MageBuild) is to have effective dialog with the client, vendors, or any other third parties involved to identify any potential challenges or bottlenecks. This way we can usually plan for and develop a solution. The challenge is identifying potential pitfalls early on, so you are not working backwards.
Currently, I’m consulting on a Magento project for a container and plastics packaging manufacturer which is set to launch in 2015. We’re currently looking at developing an ecommerce solution for them that integrates with their existing systems using Magento, SAGE 100 ERP, and WordPress.
Cloudways: Why, in your opinion, Magento is a popular ecommerce platform? What are some competitive advantages?
Josh Dallyn: Personally, I think the sheer amount of customization possible is a huge factor. I think businesses appreciate the fact that they can fine tune Magento to fit their business model, instead of the other way around. The amount of third party extensions available and the massive support community I think also play a vital role. I don’t think I’ve ever launched a Magento storefront without integrating at least 2-3 quality third-party extensions that made sense for the client. It’s all about customizing the right solution, and Magento has really made that possible.
Cloudways: As they say,”Nobody’s perfect”. Can you outline the shortcomings of Magento, if any? Are there any must have features that Magento lacks?
Josh Dallyn: Yeah, I’d have to agree. Documentation is a big one. However, Magento seems to be improving with this in mind. A lot of what was lacking previously has been addressed and we hope to see a wealth of improvements with Magento 2. I’m looking forward to seeing some of what’s been publicized, such as the new architecture, directory structure, performance improvement, more web API support, and jQuery as the default JS library, among other things.
Cloudways: eCommerce is a rapidly growing and developing industry. With open source solutions like WooCommerce and PrestaShop, hosted carts like Shopify and BigCommerce and a lot of others, how would you evaluate the future of Magento? Will it continue to be the most popular solution out there or loose the competition?
Josh Dallyn: This is an interesting time as far as innovation and there are clearly some contenders out there. I think Magento definitely has a strong future. Especially when you examine the Magento Enterprise customer base, there are some very successful companies there that have an inherent investment in the future of Magento.
I think a couple areas where other solutions excel, however, they are user-friendly documentation and ease of use. For example, I can easily see a business owner gravitating toward a user friendly WordPress extension like WooCommerce as a viable solution to get up and running quickly and easily. Though, don’t expect the feature set or customization options of Magento. Shopify and BigCommerce offer value to that end as well. These solutions have taking care of many of the technical considerations as a hosted solution, while offering a strong feature set including third party apps to extend functionality.
At MageBuild, we usually perform a discovery (exercise) with the client and then look at a number of ecommerce solutions based on their requirements. Most of the time we’ll end up going with Magento as there is some usually some level of customization required for the client that Magento particularly fits the bill for.
Cloudways: As an ecommerce strategist and Magento developer for MageBuild, you definitely know what are the most common questions among Magento users? What are the main issues in managing Magento store? Why do these problems typically arise and how to avoid them?
Josh Dallyn: The questions I get from clients with production sites usually deal with importing product feeds, layout design, marketing and promotions, and also adding more functionality via extensions. For example, how to integrate various product data feeds or drop shipping feeds, setting up custom child theme layouts for various holidays or promotions, adding a brands slider or featured slider to category pages, creating various newsletter templates for remarketing campaigns, creating and adding widgets to the homepage or CMS pages, adding AJAX features like AJAX login, AJAX quick view, One Page Checkout, etc.. Those all seem to be fairly common questions or requests that come up at some point.
Managing Data is a big one with regards to store management, especially when a project involves multiple vendors or drop-shippers and you’ve got various product feeds in different formats. Finding solutions to automate the data as much as possible I think is important. There are a lot of tools & third-party services available to do that, and you can write your own solution as well. A lot of times I’ll come into an existing project and I’ll see all these manual processes taking place – which we can find ways to automate for the client resulting in a much greater level of accuracy & efficiency.
Cloudways: Magento 2 is one of the most awaited shopping carts for the last few years. eCommerce world expects a complete overhaul of a source code. Do you think 2015 will be the year of Magento 2 release and total domination over ecommerce?
Josh Dallyn: It’s definitely highly anticipated. From what I’ve heard we should see significant changes across the board. Are we going to see the beta in December? According to the official roadmap released at Imagine this year, yes. So we’ll see. Let’s just say I look forward to the stable release in 2015.
Cloudways: What are some of your most popular extensions or plugins and how have they can help ecommerce business owners?
Josh Dallyn: Most popular extensions:
- Dependent Custom Options (bundle) and (gallery) are great. Highly useful dependent custom option extensions with great support.
- Fooman Speedster by Fooman – Minification/compression/caching extension.
- Pulse Storm Launcher by Pulse Storm – Awesome backend admin tool.
- Follow up email by Aheadwords – great remarketing tool when configured correctly.
- Mage Monkey by ebizmarts – Mailchimp Integration for email campaigns
- Magento-WordPress Integration by FishPig & Blog by aheadWorks – 2 useful blog extensions for relevant content generation.
- CMS Ideas has some useful AJAX extensions also – I tend to use a lot of AJAX extensions to improve user experience.
Cloudways: As you have a great background in marketing, how have you gone about marketing your Magento extensions and increasing sales?
Josh Dallyn: We haven’t officially released any extensions for sale yet. We do have a few in the pipeline being developed, but nothing released. As far as marketing I highly recommend video and tutorial walkthroughs as an effective marketing medium. We do a lot of video marketing and remarketing that is effective for clients that way.
Cloudways: Could you give us a short prediction on how ecommerce will develop in the coming year? Some trends, ideas and your thoughts?
Josh Dallyn: I see a growing trend of UX/UI innovation in the startup space and I think a lot of that will trickle into ecommerce. It’s already prominent in high fashion and apparel websites and I hope to see more of it. I love going on Codepen.io and exploring the creative side of design, and I think that gives us a glimpse of what’s to come in the future: More creativity, more interactivity, and more ways to connect with customers. Mobile commerce is certainly on the rise and I think with that we’ll see even more innovative payment options and ways to manage your accounts and security. This is definitely evident with the announcement of Apple Pay.
Cloudways: Let’s put Magento and ecommerce on the side for a moment. I saw that you have worked with Microsoft. How was your time there? What were you working on? Give any five lessons that you have learnt working at the one of the biggest software companies in the world.
Josh Dallyn: I was a Technical Advisor for Microsoft. I had a great team and Microsoft is a great company to work for. It has an extremely diverse culture. I was in business solutions and we did a lot of events and trainings. I presented a lot of PPT (Powerpoint) decks. Ultimately, I wanted to get back into ecommerce and focus more on web development and another opportunity arose.
Cloudways: Last and an important question, Magento has now become an integral part of Ebay. What are your thoughts about Ebay’s acquisition of Magento? Will it help Magento and its community, or does it spell Magento’s downfall?
Josh Dallyn: Honestly so far for me personally I’ve seen positive results with Magento as far as the acquisition (is concerned). I never used Magento Go or recommended it to any clients, so I’m not too concerned about it shutting down early next year. I’m not exactly surprised as it never seemed to fit the needs of a project. Customers seem to want flexibility and the ability to customize and tweak as the needs arise. Magento Go was a bit limited in my opinion.
I remember thinking with the acquisition happened: “Oh great. Here we go.” But after watching the video of Roy and Yoav explaining the WHY and the reasoning behind it, I understood. And thus far, it appears to have panned out. I think a lot is riding on Magento 2 also, so we may see further testing and possibly an extended release timeframe to ensure it is successful. However, I hope that’s not the case as I’d definitely like to get my hands on it sooner rather than later!
Cloudways: It is a fact that speed matters a lot when it comes to hosting an ecommerce website. And as we know that Magento is a very complex and heavy application, we would love you if you can test our Cloudways platform that is built to increase the overall speed of the application. Do let us know how you find overall performance.
Josh Dallyn: Definitely. I’m very curious to test out the platform and I have 2 upcoming projects that I want to test it out with: a Magento site and a WordPress re-design. I like the fact that there is a San Francisco data center with the DigitalOcean plans as I have a lot of southern California clients that want to specifically target the West Coast. I’m hoping we can tweak the performance and get it dialed in as the prospect of cloning stacks in the cloud is very appealing.
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