Matthias Zeis is one of the finest Magento certified developers in Europe. He currently works for the renowned Austrian dev and design agency, LimeSoda. In this interview, I chatted with Matthias about Magento and its future. Plus, he shared tips that can both enhance the security and performance of Magento webstores. So, read away!
Cloudways: Matt, you’ve been involved with Magento & 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?
Matthias Zeis: I got involved with programming long before my professional career started. I wrote my first Basic programs when I was 8 years old and started with HTML, CSS, and PHP at the age of 16.
While programming always was a hobby for me, my biggest challenge was to find out if I really want to make this my profession. After studying communication sciences, I knew it was right for me to go into web programming where I could apply what I had learned both from a technical and social/marketing point of view.
Today, I’m working at the Vienna based agency LimeSoda, spending most of my day with Magento ecommerce projects. Lately, I also got involved with DevOps pretty heavily.
Cloudways: Why, in your opinion, Magento is a popular ecommerce platform? What are some competitive advantages? And, what are its shortcomings?
Matthias Zeis: When Magento was released back in 2008, it was way ahead of ecommerce software competitors in terms of functionality, code architecture, and extensibility. In my opinion, these were the main reasons for Magento becoming popular very quickly and building a big community.
The huge ecosystem around Magento and that it can be adjusted to a great extent are definitely two of the more important competitive advantages. Well known shortcomings are the learning curve of Magento and its performance needs.
Cloudways: As an ecommerce enthusiast and Magento developer for LimeSoda, 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?
Matthias Zeis: Many important questions are not about Magento itself but about doing and living ecommerce in general. How can I drive customers to my store? What do I need to watch out for in a versatile market as the EU? How can I compete with big players, like Amazon? How do I manage and improve the quality of my product or customer data?
Answering these questions leads to requirements for the software. Successful merchants recognize that e-commerce is not about configuring a store and putting the products in once and wait for the money to come in. It’s an ongoing effort. To go big, you have to integrate external software like ERP and CRM software, analytics, payment service providers (PSPs), shipping carriers, test variations of your website, manage multiple languages, currencies, and a load of data. Many of this integrations have to be custom-built or adjusted for specific needs of every client. Plus, you should be able to verify that everything works and stay on top of things.
In my opinion, often this problem stems from merchants entering the e-commerce space for the first time. Of course, you have to learn and gather experience before meeting such challenges. People may connect these problems to Magento because it is their first e-commerce software, but I think that these problems are mostly not Magento-related. It is our duty as the professionals in this area to assist the merchants in identifying the challenges at the earliest and then solve them together.
Magento related problems may be importing or exporting data as needed, getting the shop up to speed, and finding the right way to adjust the store. How to avoid these problems? Experience.
In the past few years, Magento has improved a bit in this regard but even more importantly the solution providers have gathered much experience to solve problem. The community also shares a lot of knowledge, so if you’re in the loop you’re already off to a good start. Magento still has some bugs (every software does) and challenges but it gets much more easy to cope with experience.
Cloudways: Ecommerce is a rapidly growing and developing industry. With open source solutions, like WooCommerce and PrestaShop, and hosted carts, like Shopify and BigCommerce, how would you evaluate the future of Magento? Will it continue to be the most popular solution out there?
Matthias Zeis: Today, there are definitely more good solutions out there than just Magento. It boils down to what your requirements are. No system will fit for every client. Evaluate what you need, then analyse the software out there and find out which solution is the right one for you.
Hosted services, like Shopify, are interesting for small merchants who don’t need too much customization or have a very small budget. For example, I wouldn’t recommend a merchant to go with Magento if he doesn’t want to have a freelancer or an agency for technical assistance or if he can only spend $20 per month.
WooCommerce may be interesting for small shops when you want to host yourself. If you already own a WordPress blog and want to connect it to your shop: all the better. But if you do plan to run bigger or more complex stores, I’d suggest to refer to a specialized e-commerce software, like Magento or PrestaShop.
Having said that, I know after working for more than 5 years with Magento that it is a very powerful platform. Once you know how you have to do it, you can solve almost any problem with Magento. The numbers behind Magento’s market share show that its popularity is still increasing.
Of course, it starts to show its age as the web development landscape is changing rapidly and new technical developments pop up every month. It is time to take the experience from Magento 1 and apply it to create an ever better product. That’s what Magento 2 is for. Even though the development of Magento 2 takes much longer than expected I have high hopes for it. The first years lacked focus and dedication as far as I can tell from the outside. Magento Inc. has improved very much in this regard in the last year. If they can sustain the momentum then we might see a very successful Magento 2.
Cloudways: What do you think about Magento 2 and when it will be available? Did eBay acquisition halt the rapid development in it? What do you think the reasons of delay are?
Matthias Zeis: I hope for Magento 2 to become a great product. The team is working hard for many months now to renew the Core code. From what I see they are on a good way. They already have implemented many changes that were promised for Magento 2. Note that now is the wrong moment to expect new features already. The Core team first has to focus on the architecture before they can get to that.
What I said before is one key aspect you have to understand about Magento 2: It is not about adding some features to make Magento 2 better than Magento 1. It is about re-architecting Magento with the learnings from Magento 1 in order to make this ecommerce platform ready for the future.
Don’t expect to click an update button and get your store updated to Magento 2. Think about it more like a re-platforming, moving from software A to software B. As Magento 1 and 2 are from the same company you can expect some tools to help with adjusting your store for the upgrade but it still will be a big effort.
In my opinion that’s okay. If you want to create a new store, use Magento 2 once it’s out. If you already have a Magento 1.x store, you can happily stay on it for another few years after Magento 2 is out. Every successful e-commerce website will have to re-platform after 5 to 10 years. That re-platform may happen between any two software so it may as well be Magento 1 to Magento 2.
When it will be available? I only can tell you about the official timeline. 😉 Q1 2015 is planned for a developer beta. After this, the developer framework (i.e. the non e-commerce related part of the code) should be stable. Afterwards, there will be a merchant beta. I expect that this will be the first time where we really can hope for new features. At the end of 2015 we will get Magento 2 if everything stays on track. I’ll tip my hat if they achieve it because it is always difficult to hit the deadline.
I’m not involved with the Core development of Magento so I can’t tell what the problem was. I’m not even sure if there was “rapid development” for Magento 2 before eBay came in. And, I can only imagine how much work it is to integrate an already rapidly growing company into a huge one like eBay. Probably, the acquisition didn’t help the speed of the development but I can’t point my finger on anybody.
I guess one big reason for the delay also was the missing pressure from outside. If your business is growing other than your competitors, then there’s not a huge need to innovate. See Microsoft and Internet Explorer example.
Cloudways: IMAGINE—the flagship Magento event—along with other Magento specific events has been successfully organized in Germany, Poland and other European countries. Have you attended any? How was the experience?
Matthias Zeis: I’ve never been to Imagine (that’s the official conference) but I’ve have been to several Meet Magento conferences (which you may refer to). Meet Magento is organised by the community. I just love it because you get to meet so many members of the community. There is always so much to learn, so much to talk. I can only recommend you to join an event when you’re near the next time!
Cloudways: Magento’s backend is powered by PHP. With the introduction of PHP 5.5, the latest version, what improvement do you expect in the performance of the websites developed on Magento?
Matthias Zeis: Given that Magento installations are CPU bound and not database bound you can expect quite some improvements. The numbers vary and you have to test it with your own installation but plan with 5-10% improvements over PHP 5.4 with an Opcode cache like APC. Magento is not yet compatible to PHP 5.5 officially. (Editor’s note: Compatibility was not announced at the time of publication of this interview.)
Cloudways: Speeding up Magento is a daunting task. What will be your 5 tips to speed up Magento and to enhance overall performance?
Matthias Zeis: My five tips are here:
- Use the most current version of PHP supported by Magento (use PHP 5.4 instead of 5.3). If you’ve got the resources, check your installation and make it work with PHP 5.5, 5.6 or—beware—even HHVM.
- Use a byte-code cache.
- Use a fast cache backend like Redis.
- Profile your code base for slow code (database operations in loops and the like). Always watch out for third-party extensions.
- Use caching. Magento has a built in block cache. Use it. If you have the resources make your shop work with FPC. Set proper expire headers for static files to leverage browser caching.
Cloudways: I have noticed on your Twitter profile that you love Italian food. Plus, you travel a lot. You are a keen photographer also. Apart from your professional responsibilities as a Magento developer at LimeSoda, how do you manage to take out some time for all these extra activities? Isn’t that tough to maintain a work-life balance these days?
Matthias Zeis: That’s a good question. I’m in the happy position to have an employer who values work-life balance very much. That’s a great help. The rest is prioritization. As programming Magento also is my hobby and my passion, I would like to do much more than I’m capable to do within my time budget. On the other side, I know that it’s important to have an offline life and enjoy other things.
Cloudways: We all know that most of ecommerce websites are prone to security threats, such as identity theft, credit card misuse, hack attacks, etc. Is there any remedial solution already in place? What would you suggest to change in Magento’s functionality so that the sites become more secure and foolproof?
Matthias Zeis: Besides typical measurements to secure your servers:
- Never store sensitive data like credit card details on your server. (Let your payment service providers do that.)
- Use more secure methods to generate password hashes (e.g. PBKDF2).
- Closely follow important people (like the ones I’ve mentioned at the end of the interview) as well as official channels to be informed early when security threats get released.
- Use non-standard admin user names and use passwords with high complexity.
- Check the code of third-party extensions.
- Use HTTPS.
- Use a custom Admin path.
- Protect your Admin Panel by IP, if viable.
That’s only a part of possible measurements but they should already help.
Cloudways: Lastly, every one of us loves to follow some industry influencers. Name any five of the most influential people or bloggers, whom you follow and like to interact with about Magento?
Matthias Zeis: In no particular order:
- Fabrizio Branca (@fbrnc)
- Alan Storm (@alanstorm)
- Cyrill Schumacher (@schumacherfm)
- Vinai Kopp (@vinaikopp)
- Alan Kent (@akent99)
There at least 5 more who are equally important to me. If you follow these 5 great guys, you’ll get to learn everything interesting about Magento.
You can follow Matthias Zeis (@mzeis) on Twitter.
Muhammad Saad Khan is a Director of Product Marketing at Cloudways (by DigitalOcean), a Growth Hacker extraordinaire, and a force to be reckoned with on the table tennis court. He's spent a decade building innovative customer-led growth strategies that helped Cloudways grow from 0 to 89,000 customers & is a regular at WordCamp events worldwide.