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Interview With Magento Certified Solution Specialist & Front End Developer Simon Sprankel

Updated on May 10, 2017

7 Min Read

“Actions speak louder than words.”

This proverb fits Simon Sprankel right. At only 25, he is one of the most sought-after Magento developers in the industry. Just last week, he became a Magento Certified Front End Developer, a certification that shows his grip over the world’s most used ecommerce CMS. He previously completed as a Magento Certified Solution Specialist.

His interview is one of the most candid ones that I have conducted here at Cloudways. I hope the readers will find some inspiration or wise advice from this.

Interview-Banner-with-Simon-Sprankel

Cloudways: Simon, you are only 25 and you have already made a name for yourself. How did you kick-start your career? Was it all planned or was it just a giant leap towards the career you loved the most?

Simon Sprankel: Good question. I would say that it simply happened like that. I am interested in Computer Science since I was a teenager. At first, of course, games were the most interesting and most important thing, but I quickly became interested in the inner workings of computers. I always wanted to be able to develop something myself. So I started to learn programming, took Computer Science as one of my advanced courses at school and also studied Computer Science at the university.

But that does not answer yet why I work with Magento. During my time at school, I worked at a badminton, table tennis and squash shop. The boss finally decided that they definitely need an online shop, so my task was quite clear. At that time, xt:Commerce was still rather common and we started with it. As Magento became bigger and better and xt:Commerce started to fade away, we decided to migrate to Magento. That was when my whole Magento life actually started. At the beginning, it was quite hard, but in the meantime it has become a really nice field to work in.

Cloudways: You have been providing Magento consultancy services for quite some time now. Share with us the idea, that triggered your passion to devote your life to Magento development. What are some of the most important benefits of using Magento? How do you compare Magento with Woocommerce, Prestashop, and other ecommerce platforms?

Simon Sprankel: Magento is quite a big system which can be used on an enterprise level. Hence, it is not suited for really small shops or customers who want to have a simple solution. In these cases, hosted solutions may be a better idea. If customers want a simple solution, want to host their shop themselves and already use WordPress, WooCommerce may also be an alternative. But, if customers need a professional, scalable, and customizable solution, I always recommend Magento.

Even if there are alternatives which may also be a good solution in certain cases like OXID, Shopware, PrestaShop or something alike, people usually do not go wrong when choosing Magento. Magento is customizable in a clean way, because it is technically on a good basis. Additionally, the community is a huge plus. There are tons of extensions and solutions to common problems available. And if this is not the case, there is still a friendly community which is ready to help.

Cloudways: Simon, you have been writing for Coderblog. When did you start blogging? What is the main reason behind your blogging logic?

Simon Sprankel: Coderblog was a collaborative project that was initiated with a friendly colleague started back in 2010. In the meantime, it has become more and more my own project. Unfortunately, I write rather rarely, but I guess there are still interesting posts which are worth checking out.

My main  motivation for blogging is information exchange. As a computer scientist, one often solves problems which others also have. If we all share more of our solutions, we can all learn more from each other, find more nice stuff on the internet and have home time earlier 🙂

Cloudways: You also have the experience of developing Magento extensions. What are the extensions that you have developed? How these extensions work?  

Simon Sprankel: Of course I have developed a bunch of custom extensions for customers. I have also published some community extensions or extended some existing ones. For instance, I am one of the main contributors of FireGento_Pdf, an extension which provides configurable, nice-looking and extendable Magento PDFs.

Some of the readers may know my extension Spranks_ConfigurableTierPrices. It enables tier prices for configurable products. Assume that you buy shirts in different colours, which normally cost $20, but cost only $18 if you buy two or more. If you buy two red ones, Magento will give you the cheaper tier price and all is good. But if you buy one red and one blue t-shirt, Magento will still charge you $20. With my extension, you will only be charged $18.

There are also some other free extensions like a simple store pickup extension on GitHub. But my tier price extension is currently the only one which is also available on Magento Connect. Furthermore, I may publish some paid Magento extensions soon.

Cloudways: Magento has a great repository for its extensions and modules. Name 5 of the most important extensions that you deem necessary for every Magento user?

Simon Sprankel: There are tons of great extensions for different use cases, but I will try to name only those which are really necessary or extremely helpful for all Magento users.

Lesti FPC  is an awesome free full page cache which makes your site fly. No or only a little bit of configuration is required, and your page is tremendously faster. It is no secret that a faster page increases your conversion rate, so this one may directly boost your sales.

Magento Enhanced Admin Grids is a great extension which lets you customize nearly all admin grids. Especially useful is the possibility to show more or other columns in the product and order grid. It is even possible to edit many of the values directly in the grid. For example, you can change the product inventory directly from the grid – a real time saver!

MagicZoomPlus is an excellent extension for a better product image display. It lets the customers zoom the images in a nice way and also lets them enlarge them. The only image extension that you need for Magento!

Magebay Menupro is one of the best menu creator extensions in the market. It does not only let you create beautiful, complex menus in a nice and simple manner, it is also quite fast due to the included caching mechanism.

TSDesigns ProductCreator is a must-have extension if you need to create a lot of configurable products, which many shop owners have to. It lets you create a large number of configurable products at once.

For German stores, which I mostly work with, there are definitely three more must-have extensions. The Community Translation by Rico Neitzel , FireGento_MageSetup which makes your shop ready for German market, and FireGento_Pdf which optimises your PDFs, so that they comply with German laws.

Cloudways: Magento supports customization of ecommerce websites. What’s your opinion about customization? What are some of the most common errors that Magento developers encounter while customizing a Magento-based web store?

Simon Sprankel: Customization is of course very important for many customers. Especially bigger customers have special wishes they want to have. In this case, Magento is a great platform, because it allows nice and flexible customizations. But sometimes, I have the feeling that consultants think you need to customize a store so much that you can no longer see which platform is used. This may be reasonable in certain cases and is always impressive, but it is often not needed.

It is certainly possible to set up a Magento store with some default theme and some default extensions, so that it is rather cheap in the beginning. There is nothing wrong with that approach. It is still just a platform where the customer should be able to buy your products. No need to reinvent the wheel every time.

The most common issue I encounter while customizing a Magento store, is that it has been customized in a bad way by someone else before. The problem I dislike the most is when there is no separation of the customization and the core code and if there is no version control.

Every shop should use tools like modman or composer to separate customizations from core code and a decent version control like git. The next common problem is of course bad customization. Many times, themes and extensions are not developed properly. Hence, when writing a quote for a new customer, I always plan some time in order to “fix” the existing shop.

Cloudways: Tell our readers about your interests. Do you like music or sports etc?

Simon Sprankel: If I am not in front of my computer, I indeed love playing sports. I play a lot of table tennis and I am also active in the organization and in the youth work of my table tennis club. From time to time, I also play badminton or squash.

Cloudways: Simon you have expertise in using jQuery and JavaScript. What is the best way to integrate jQuery and JavaScript in Magento? Will this integration help improve the performance of Magento e-store?

Simon Sprankel: The best way to integrate jQuery in Magento is to not integrate it. Period. Magento is (currently) based on the Prototype JavaScript framework and although I also like jQuery a whole lot better, one should use the JavaScript framework which is already included. Integrating another framework always leads to many conflicts and to a slower site. So integrating jQuery in Magento should really be the last resort. But, Magento 2.0 for the win, Prototype will slowly be replaced with jQuery, so there is hope for us jQuery lovers 🙂

Cloudways: The latest version of Magento 2.0 Beta has been released recently. Did you report any bug or issue? What are your expectations with the new Magento version. Will it completely change the overall Magento functionality and infrastructure?

Simon Sprankel: I created two pull requests for Magento 2 which were both finally merged. It is so nice to see that pull requests are now really processed on GitHub, so that contributing to Magento is so much easier now.

I believe that with this change, the platform will become even better and more accurate. Until now, I only had a rough view on Magento 2, but I do not think that the functionality will change much with the first release. I think the focus is on upgrading the underlying architecture to state-of-the-art technologies. Hence, many things will change for us developers, but the changes for customers will probably be less dramatic at first. There will of course be cosmetic and usability changes, but the main principles will remain the same.

Cloudways: Every one of us likes to follow some influencers. From whom do you get inspiration? Name 5 top Magento influencers who have inspired you.

Simon Sprankel: It is really hard to only name five of them. If you have a look at the people I follow on Twitter, you get a good overview of my influencers. But I also follow lots of great blogs and MageHero (http://magehero.com/) could also become a really good Magento resource. Anyway, if I need to name just five of my top Magento influencers, here you go (no particular order):

  • Vinai Kopp as an extremely friendly and open-minded Magento expert.
  • Marius Strajeru as Mister Magento StackExchange himself.
  • Fabrizio Branca as a highly pleasant Magento expert who creates great stuff. (Do look at his GitHub profile!)
  • Alan Kent as the Magento 2 chief architect who makes the Magento 2 dream come true. 😉
  • Ben Marks as the Magento community evangelist who makes the Magento community collaboration dream come true. 🙂

To know more about Simon, check out his website.

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Abdur Rahman

Abdur Rahman is the Magento whizz at Cloudways. He is growth ambitious, and aims to learn & share information about Ecommerce & Magento 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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