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Samantha Quiñones shares insights on APIs, Elasticsearch and R-Language Programming

Updated on December 14, 2021

5 Min Read

Samantha Quiñones is the principal software engineer at AOL, organizer of DC PHP user group and a speaker. She is a certified R-programmer with vast experience in developing REST APIs. In her interview with Cloudways she talks about  the early years of her career, her experience as a speaker and in the end gives advice on who to follow in the PHP community.

Enjoy the interview 🙂

Samantha Quinoes interivew

Cloudways: Samantha, when did you start your career as a PHP developer? Who motivates you and from whom were you inspired?

Samantha: I’ve been programming from a pretty young age, and had my first paid programming job around 1987. I started doing this job full time in 1997, working with mainframes in languages like C, Rexx, and COBOL. I first started working with PHP in 2005, right in the midst of the big push to switch from PHP 4 to PHP 5 and I’ve worked with it on and off ever since.

A lot of my early programming heroes were people in the IRC and text-based online gaming world, folks like Robey Pointer, Matthew Green, T. Alexander Popiel, and Shawn Wagner. I have always been fascinated with the idea of modeling complex systems, and it was through these worlds that I really got my first taste of “real” programming and the open source world.

There are many people who motivate me today and it’s impossible to give a list without leaving out a ton of important people. To name just one person, Michelangelo van Dam inspires me every day. His sayings such as “to always remember to put others first and that the good you put into the world comes back to you ten-fold” give me a lot of inspiration.

Cloudways: Since you are a specialist in creating APIs, which is your most preferred core PHP or non-core PHP framework to create APIs?

Samantha: I am a big believer in minimalist frameworks and building applications by composing libraries. Most of the API work that I’ve done in PHP has been with Silex, the design and architecture of which very closely mirror my preference for small, extensible routing frameworks that mostly just get out of the way. Lately, I’ve been focusing a lot on asynchronous functional applications, mostly on Node.js. I’m very eager to work more with things like ReactPHP and Icicle in the PHP ecosystem.

Cloudways: When did you start your career as a speaker? Who motivates you to take part in conferences? What are the upcoming conferences in which you are participating?

Samantha: I’ve been speaking since 2013, starting at my local PHP usergroup (DCPHP). I have to say my biggest direct inspiration as a speaker was Sara Golemon who I first saw giving a talk at php[tek] a few years ago. In just a few years, speaking has become an incredibly important outlet for me. I’m really blessed to work with fascinating and unique technologies during my career, and I absolutely love having the chance to share my experiences and thoughts with other people within the community.

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Over the next month or so, I’ll be speaking at Midwest PHP in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and at NationJS in my hometown of Washington, DC.

Cloudways: What are your key responsibilities as a Software Engineer at AOL?

Samantha: My team is responsible for the AOL Media Platform, which drives a lot of different brands like Engadget and Moviefone. In addition to working on our custom CMS and rendering stack, I mostly work on the systems we use to collect and analyze metrics data from our application and our users, and I do a lot of search engineering.

Cloudways: Why do you prefer Elasticsearch the most useful tool for search? How would you compare it with the default search provided by the PHP frameworks? What are the features of Elasticsearch you like the most?

Samantha: Elasticsearch is an incredibly powerful tool for both search and analytics, which happen to be among my primary areas of responsibility in my job, so I spend a huge amount of time with it. It’s really unfair to compare it to application-level searching (like you might find in a framework) since Elasticsearch is really a very highly optimized full-text search engine. One of Elasticsearch’s most interesting features, in my opinion, is its huge suite of analytical aggregations. The ability to facet out data based on geographic location, lexical term, date, or statistical grouping makes it a really invaluable tool for data analysis.

Cloudways: You are a certified in R-Language programming. Have you developed any statistical projects?

Samantha: Nothing that I’ve published yet, though I recently did a somewhat unscientific study of speakers which I’m working on the results for. I will likely publish that data, along with an R package for replicating my work, when it’s ready.

Cloudways: Samantha, you have been a Security Software Developer at Saint. What lack of security do you find on sites through which malicious attacks happen?

Samantha: Having had a chance to work in the security industry really opened my eyes in many ways. I think as an industry, we must get better at protecting our users and we must get better quickly. Almost every day I encounter applications with questionable password policies and finding sites that allow cross-site scripting and request forgeries are terrifyingly uncommon. As developers, it’s our responsibility to at least understand what the OWASP top 10 vulnerabilities are and how to protect against them, and to advocate on behalf of our users for safe and sensible password and other sensitive data management policies.

Cloudways: You are an avid user of GitHub. Why is it that GitHub has become such an important tool for developers. How does it help in workflows and working with larger teams?

Samantha: Git itself is an amazing tool, and GitHub just makes it so much more useful. I think the fact that the Github fork-and-PR model is so simple has really helped it become a standard in the development world and over time, GitHub has really become THE place where developers come together to communicate and collaborate.

Cloudways: How do you spend your time when you are not working at all?

Samantha: I love to hike and travel. I have a dog, and we go on adventures together.

Cloudways: Who are some people that you would like to recommend to follow in the PHP community, or the people who have influenced you during your journey in the PHP world?

Samantha: It’s hard to name people because there are so many amazing individuals who are doing great work in this community. Any attempt to list people is going to leave out so many who continue to influence me as both a person and a programmer and without whom my life would be so much poorer. I’d say that Cal Evans is really the beating heart of the community, so following him gives you a very good window into what’s happening in general. He’s also a dear, dear human being.

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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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