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“PHP conferences are fantastic”, says Matthew Setter, PHP developer, trainer and podcaster

Updated on February 1, 2021

7 Min Read

Matthew Setter is an experienced technical writer who is associated with the software development for a long time. He is an experienced web developer, editor of Master Zend Framework, author for SitePoint, a technical trainer, as well as a podcaster.  Matthew Setter specializes in PHP and the Zend framework. He also creates screencasts, presentations, and coding podcasts for his readers. He also writes the Education Station column for PHP Architect magazine.

Mathew Setter Interview

Cloudways: First of all, tell our audience how you started your journey in this field? What was your source of motivation?

Matthew: For as long as I can remember, I’d always wanted to be a software developer. My first experience of writing software was creating a simple car game for an Apple II/c or II/e when I was about 14.

That experience triggered a love of fiddling and experimenting with computers, and with software, in particular, one which is still with me today.

My start in PHP development came quite by accident. I was working for a small engineering firm, developing Visual Basic applications where the backend data store was Microsoft Access. A client project required a combination of PHP and MySQL.

At the time, I’d only used MySQL and had no experience with PHP. But the boss asked if I was willing to learn PHP and take on the project, and I thought “*why the hell not*”. The rest is history.

I kept on going with PHP primarily, along with learning other languages, such as JavaScript, Node.js, Go, Python, and Ruby. I’ve recently started to re-learn C again; but it’s still early days.

Cloudways: You have been producing technical content for a long time. Tell us how do you extract topics? What exactly is your writing strategy?

Matthew: There’s two ways to answer that question. The first is my method of writing. This is one which a mentor and former editor or mine, Beth Tucker-Long, suggested to me. It works in the following way.

The first draft is always a brain dump. There’s no requirement that it be logical, ordered — even coherent. The essential part is to get the ideas and thoughts down. Then I work through a series of revisions where I ensure it makes sense.

I do this by pruning irrelevant ideas, reorganizing the content so that it’s logical and flows properly, and look at grammar, spelling, and word choice.

In the final draft, before the piece is sent to a client, or directly published, I use a variety of tools, in particular, Grammarly, to further ensure that the quality of the piece is as high as I can make it.

Then there’s my writing strategy. My strategy is to communicate one specific point to the reader. Whether I’m educating, informing, or entertaining the reader, I’m always trying to communicate a specific point.

From experience, I find that a story helps me do this best. I believe that stories work best, because, throughout human history, stories have been the most commonly used medium for exchanging, sharing, and passing along ideas. Given that, we’re wired to be most responsive to information delivered in that way.

Cloudways: You have been writing and developing applications using Zend framework. Tell us what made you choose Zend framework in the presence of so many frameworks?

Matthew: I came to Zend Framework after having built a CMS application from scratch in PHP 4. I wrote every component of the application myself. It was through that experience that I learned the value of using frameworks.

Specifically, I learned that a good framework should provide you with components to handle the day-to-day, repetitive tasks, and free you up to focus on the custom business logic, which is the most important component.

Sure, it was fun doing everything myself. But it was an enormous amount of work, where I wasn’t able to focus on what was most important. After learning that lesson, I went in search of a framework which would take care of the low-level stuff.

I had a simple set of criteria, which included a lively and energetic community, and strong and capable technical leadership.

I only wanted to use a framework which looked like it was going to be around in the long term, and where the developers had years of practical development experience.

There were a number which I considered, but Zend Framework 1 stood out for me. It wasn’t perfect. But I felt that it satisfied all my criteria, and believed that, in time, the rough edges would be removed.

It took time to get to where it is today, which is a truly first-class framework. But it’s been a worthwhile journey. I also enjoy using other frameworks, such as Slim.

Cloudways: Your target audience is a core developer’s community, how do you manage to meet the mindset of developers?

Matthew: I believe I do that by continuing to be a developer, by continuing to stay in touch. I’ve periodically considered becoming a technical writer full-time. But each time I did so, I knew that the quality of my writing would suffer, because I’d be letting my development skills atrophy.

By having a mix of development and writing work, I’m able to stay up to date with modern techniques, practices, and trends. I regularly talk with fellow developers, share their experiences, and stay active in the community.

It’s all about being involved, and staying in touch. This way, I can talk to developers, as a developer — not as an outsider.

Cloudways: What do you think is the importance of being active in PHP community? How do you keep yourself busy in PHP community? Would you like to mention some of your inspirations in PHP community?

Matthew: Like most professions, software development is a very social endeavor. The idea that people code all alone, to me, is either a complete fallacy or an overblown myth; one perpetuated by big-budget Hollywood movies.

The majority of developers I know are very social. We talk about what we’re working on, ask others what they’re working on, and help others with what they’re working on. To do that effectively you have to be active in the community. Through doing so, you get to know what’s going on. You get to know who’s created interesting and invaluable new projects. You get to keep making new friends.

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All of these things help you continue to grow both professionally and personally. I don’t believe I’m  one of the people at the forefront of the community. To me, people like Cal Evans, Matthew Weier O’Phinney, Taylor Otwell, and Tessa Mero embody that far better than I do.

These are people who are very visible, and give enormous amounts of their time to help the community grow. Having said that, I endeavor to live up to their levels of commitment via my blog  and my podcast.

Cloudways: Would you like to mention some events which you have been a part of related to PHP? Please share some of your memories and experiences?

Matthew: Some of the best events I’ve been involved with are conferences.  Specifically, I’ve been a part of, whether as an attendee or speaker, are PHPUK Conference in London, PHP South Coast in Portsmouth, England, and PHP World in Washington D.C.

Conferences give you the opportunity to get up close and personal with people who make the community what it is. They help you to learn new concepts extremely quickly from the people who are behind them.

You get to mingle and shake hands with your peers. You get to make friendships which can last a lifetime. If not for these experiences, I doubt that I’d be here today, talking with you.

Cloudways: How was your journey of being a developer and then a writer? How do you enjoy the combo?

Matthew: I love it! I started out just being a developer. Writing came later, through a chance encounter, when I was working at iBuildings (now Inviqa) in the UK.

They were offering £200 per/article, for high-quality articles about PHP-specific content. I’ve always enjoyed writing and communicating, so I saw it as an opportunity to improve my skills, share what I knew, and make some money on the side. It was too good to pass up.

As it turned out, I did indeed make all three. I enjoyed the process so much that I started to make more time for writing (as well as public speaking, screencasts, and courses).

This combination lets me look at development from a variety of perspectives. It let’s me have a broader, richer career, and learn a wider variety of skills. It also gives me a tremendous amount of variety.

By doing a variety of different things, I feel that I stay motivated, and stay fresh.

Cloudways: Apart, from your professional life, what are your hobbies and interests?

Matthew: My hobbies aren’t large in number, but I’m passionate about the ones which I have. When I’m not coding or writing, I’m an active member of the local Toastmasters group here in Nuremberg.

This has rewarded me with wonderful friendships, greater confidence when speaking in public and helped me improve the quality of my speaking.

I also love traveling, learning languages, and soaking up different cultures. I’ve recently come back from a trip to France where I celebrated my 40th birthday. It was a wonderful experience.

I got to be a guest in another country, got to see how they look at life, got to experience their cultural norms, and so much more. I can’t say enough just how enriching that experience was.

Aside from these things, I love spending time with my family, and good friends. Life’s too short for bad relationships.

Cloudways: I would appreciate if you can share your workplace picture. It would be great to share with the community the productive environment in which you work?

Matthew: I’m happy to. In this photo, you can see my, I’d like to think, humble home office. The older I get, the more simplistic I work. I don’t like clutter or anything which might distract me from the work which I need to do.

I have a simple desk, with plenty of space to stretch out. I have a new 27” Dell monitor, which gives me plenty of space for using PhpStorm to the full, or any variety and combination of other windows.

Mathew Setter Workstation

It’s all powered by a reasonably new Macbook Pro. You can see the MXL990 mic and Focusrite mixer — a combination I highly recommend — which gives me the sound for my podcasts.

Other than that, I just have some pens, a good set of speakers, and the odd supplies. The KISS, or Keep It Simple Silly, principle is what I believe in.

Cloudways: What is your opinion about cloud hosting? Which type of hosting you prefer or recommend? Cloudways is a managed cloud hosting platform which provides PHP cloud hosting as well. Will you please share the experience of the platform?

Matthew: I love cloud hosting, as it’s so flexible and accommodating. With it you can access a virtually unlimited amount of storage and capabilities.

I’ve used some providers in the past, each with pros and cons. I’ll be honest with you, though, I’ve not used Cloudways that much, so I am not in a position to provide a truly informed opinion. However, I’ll do my best to experiment further over the coming months.

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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.


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