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“PHP 7 has done wonders for the language”, says Stefan Koopmanschap of PHPBenelux

Updated on May 10, 2017

10 Min Read

Stefan is the co-founder of PHPBenelux and speaker of many PHP conference around the world. He has a vast experience of development. He was the community manager of Symfony framework. Stefan is the Zend Certified and have also contributed in Zend Framework. He is the co-founder and trainer at Tech Academy and the podcast host at Dutch Web Alliance.

Interview with Stefan Koopmanschap

In his interview with Cloudways Stefan talks about his career start, share his experience as a speaker. What he contributed in Zend Framework. Comparing NodeJS with PHP 7 and Zend with Symfony. Giving advice to students and telling us which people to follow in PHP community. Enjoy the interview 🙂

Cloudways: Stefan, when did you start your career as a PHP developer? What motivated you to become a developer? Did you have a mentor that helped you in your journey?  

Stefan: I can’t remember exactly when but it was either late 1997 or early 1998. I was doing an internship at a department of my own school and had been building websites with pure HTML, when a colleague at the internship told me “have a look at PHP, it makes building websites so much easier”. I purchased a book, downloaded some open source scripts and starting teaching myself PHP (and programming in general). It wasn’t until I learned doing PHP that I actually started enjoying it, but the more I did it, the more I liked it. It quickly became my major hobby, and not long after I found my first paid job.

Over the years I’ve had lots of mentors. At my first job I had co-workers, and throughout my career I’ve encountered many people that I regard as a mentor either for my development skills or all those skills related to it. The most important ones have been Petra Dreiskämper (I’ve known her since my first paid PHP job and she is still a good friend), Ivo Kendra (lead developer at TomTom during my time there), Lorna Mitchell (both as a co-worker at Ibuildings and in the community), Michelangelo van Dam (who helped me take the step of starting my own business) and also my wife (who’s taught me a lot about a lot of things including such important things as “life”).

Cloudways: How was your experience working with Michelangelo and Lorna? What projects did you work together on?

Stefan: I’ve only professionally worked with Michelangelo for a short while, on a single project at Ibuildings, but it was a pleasure to work with him. I’ve worked for years with him on organizing PHPBenelux user group and PHPBenelux Conference though. I honestly have never understood how Michelangelo manages his life, do all his work, all his community work and have a family life all at the same time. I have so much respect for him.

I’ve had the pleasure to work a bit longer with Lorna on several projects at Ibuildings, as well as speak with Lorna at a conference once. Lorna is a fantastic person to work with, certainly on my list of favorite people to work with.

Cloudways: What was the first conference you attended as a speaker? What were your feelings when you were debuting as a conference speaker? Would you like to share our experience with the readers?

Stefan: My first conference speaking experience was the very first Dutch PHP Conference in Amsterdam. I was at that time one of the few developers using (and specializing in) Symfony framework (this was before the first stable 1.0 was released). It was scary. I had attended conferences at the RAI in Amsterdam before and was really impressed with conferences in general and the experts on stage, so I was scared that I wouldn’t be enough of an expert.

There were quite a few people in the room (I would guess at least 20), but the talk went quite well. I was extremely nervous though. Over the years, I’ve learned to keep my nerves under control a bit more. I am still nervous right before I go on stage to do a talk (I think this is a healthy thing) but now, after a couple of minutes, once I really get into the story, I’m not nervous anymore and things usually just work out.

Looking back, I think I could’ve used a bit more practice. Back then, however, user groups weren’t as common as they are now, so there weren’t a lot of opportunities for practicing talks in front of an audience.

Cloudways: Stefan, you are Zend Certified and have also been a contributor to Zend framework. What was the nature of your contribution?

Stefan: Both my Zend certification and the contributions to Zend Framework are old. I did the certification when working for Ibuildings. They offered the exam to all their employees, and I decided to try it. My first contributions to Zend Framework are even older: Before I started working with Symfony, I was using Zend Framework for some projects and I was in the documentation translation team for the Dutch translation. This was in the very early 0.* stages of Zend Framework. Once I found Symfony, I lost interest in Zend Framework a bit. Years later when Zend Framework moved to Github, I did contribute a few bug fixes, but they were tiny contributions.

Cloudways: Stefan, you are a developer of Zend and Symfony both. How would you compare them as frameworks? How are they different from each other?

Stefan: In the early days they were very different. Symfony was a full-stack framework and Zend Framework was very component-based. As time went, Zend Framework started adding more features so that you could use Zend Framework as a full-stack framework as well, and Symfony started componentizing (is that a word?). In those days I preferred to use Symfony as the basis for my projects, and then installed Zend Framework components wherever I needed them.

These days, also thanks to Composer, you can use most of the components of both frameworks completely separately. This is a fantastic development, because now you don’t have to install a full stack anymore to run your project. Instead, you can just pick the components that you need and go with that. While I still regularly use Symfony 3 as a “full stack” for projects, I’ve been creating my own little micro frameworks for some of my projects based on just the functionality I need.

Cloudways: Since Zend has been acquired by Rogue Wave Software, how do you think it will benefit Zend in terms of growth and internal changes?

Stefan: Rogue Wave is a major player in both server-side technology and open source, so the benefit seems obvious. Zend has always been a major player in both of these markets when it comes to PHP, and with Rogue Wave having a strong position in other languages I can see a nice cross-pollination between those.

I do think that it will take a while before we will actually see the effects though. But with PHP7 bringing some great new technology and the acquisition of Zend by Rogue Wave, I think the future of PHP may be very bright.

Cloudways: What are your thoughts about PHP 7? Did it help get the attention of developers who are using HHVM and Node JS?

Stefan: I am unsure how the release of PHP7 will affect either users of HHVM or NodeJS. I think both technologies are (or at least should be) chosen for specific reasons. I also don’t think they are in competition with each other, and they definitely should not be. Especially in a world that is growing to be more and more about API’s and microservices, we should not limit ourselves too much to a single technology.

What PHP7 has done however is make the PHP ecosphere even better. With some nice new features (scalar type hinting for the win!) and an extremely improved performance, PHP7 has proven itself to be still worthy of being one of the important leading web technologies. The downfall of PHP that has been predicted by many “experts” is still not happening and will not be happening for a while.

Cloudways: How do you see the growth of Symfony and Laravel in the recent past as compared to the older Yii and Codeigniter?

Stefan: They are completely different frameworks, all with their own use cases. As with the technologies I mentioned before, I don’t think frameworks should compete. They should focus on their own use cases and do what they do well. Laravel is a great example when it comes to not reinventing the wheel. Instead, they use existing open source components.

I must admit I have not recently worked with Yii and CodeIgniter, so I have no idea what their focus is anymore.

Read: How to install Codeigniter on Cloudways

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?

Stefan: When Github started out, they were doing extremely innovative things both on workflows and tooling. This prompted many tools to start supporting Github, which in turn meant more users for Github. Over the years, the Github workflow has become the de facto workflow for many developers working on web projects (whether you do PHP, javascript/node, python or any other language).

Other similar sites have tried to either copy the Github features or tried to do things differently in the hopes of creating other unique selling points, but (in my humble opinion) nobody has ever even been close to beating Github at this.

These days, not every team uses the Github workflow anymore, but even when they don’t, Github is still the major hub for projects, both open source and private projects. Of course, the fact that people can use different workflows is something to credit Git with, not Github. But the Github software has been built in such a way that you can use different workflows.

Read: Automate Git Deployment Using DeployBOT

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

Stefan: There are a lot of people, I would have to work a day to compile the full list. Let me try to stick to a select few:

  • Chris Hartjes (@grmpyprogrammer): If you’re going to follow a single person who tweets about testing, Chris should be the one.
  • Mike van Riel (@mvriel): A close friend who works for me but aside from that, he is the person behind PHPDocumentor and one of the major technical influences for me right now
  • Liz Naramore (@ElizabethN): A role model for many, myself included. Also a gifted author of sci-fi books.
  • Cal Evans (@CalEvans): Nicknamed “Godfather of the PHP community” he has been a major influence on my professional life, and I don’t foresee that changing any time soon.
  • Khayrattee Wasseem (@7php): Probably the most optimistic person in the PHP community. Somehow I always get a smile on my face when I see a tweet or an e-mail from Khayrattee come in
  • Jenny Wong (@miss_jwo): One of the major driving forces behind the movement to get the WordPress and general PHP community closer to each other.

I could go on and on and on and on. Despite some trouble in the PHP community every once in a while, there are so many inspiring and wonderful people that I honestly can’t list them all.

Cloudways: How do you spend your time when you are not working at all? Every PHP developer has an elephant. Do you have one? Would you share a picture of that with us?

Stefan: I try to spend a lot of time with my family. We love playing games or going to concerts and festivals together. I also like to read, and music has a very important place in my life. I used to make music (although I don’t really do that a lot anymore), I have been a house DJ (I sometimes still do some mixes) and am a radio DJ at online radio station IndieXL, where I have a show every Thursday night from 8PM to 10PM. Beside that, I listen to a lot of music, either on vinyl or digitally using iTunes, Spotify or our Sonos system.

As for elePHPants: Yes, I have a lot of them. I am only missing a few. Some of them are very hard to get. Or, in the case of the pink elePHPant, I have one, but my daughter has confiscated it. Here’s a picture of my with my elePHPants.


Cloudways: You have been a DJ in On Air Radio. How has your experience been? Which music you love to play a lot?

Stefan: Radio has been one of my favorite things for years and years. When I was young, I always wanted to become a radio DJ. A poor choice left me not being able to study journalism, and that’s when I basically gave up on that dream.

It was by accident that I came in touch with On Air Radio, a Dutch radio station playing pop and dance music. The owner had a PHP question, and a mutual follower pointed him to me. I asked whether they were looking for DJs, and within a matter of weeks I had a radio show. When I was doing my show at On Air Radio I played mostly pop and dance with a slight focus on more alternative styles of music. Early 2015 I quit deejaying at On Air Radio because the pop and dance wasn’t really my thing anymore, and joined the more alternative and indie-station, IndieXL. I’m not just a DJ there. I’m also the secretary for the non-profit foundation behind the radio station, and I help manage its playout server. At IndieXL, my focus is more on alternative and indie music with a special focus on Dutch music.

To me, radio is an important hobby. When I started doing PHP I spent just about all of my time working on a computer, programming, learning. Back then, I thought this was very good, but over the years I’ve found that focussing just on work, even when you love doing PHP, is not a good thing. You need some other stuff that can take your mind off of programming for a while. I’ve seen Elizabeth Naramore doing awesome stuff with writing sci-fi novels, Chris Cornutt is doing some amazing work with painting, and for me it’s making radio.

Cloudways: Just to acknowledge our readers, can you please send us an image of what your workstation looks like? 🙂

Stefan: This is how I work: A 13” MacBook Pro with a Roost laptop stand and a Packed Pixels external screen, with an Apple bluetooth keyboard and trackpad. I have Philips bluetooth headphones for my music.

Stefan Workstation

Cloudways: What advice would like to give to beginners who are starting their career as developers?

Stefan: There’s two major things that were a huge help for me when I was starting out:

  • Find a mentor. When I started developing, I invented a lot of things that someone else already invented long before me. I only found out later that they weren’t new concepts but already proven (or disproven) approaches to software development. Working with an experienced mentor greatly accelerated my development expertise. There is so much value in having someone who can tell you things have been done before or who can encourage you to find out about things when you are about to give up.
  • Get involved in the PHP community. Go to your local user group, go to a conference. It is so much easier to learn new stuff with the global PHP knowledge of the community to help you out. Don’t be scared: Every single person in the PHP community was a new developer once, and most people in the community would gladly help you out and welcome you to the family. And that is what the PHP community feels like to me: a family. There’s the odd cousin, the weird uncle, and the many awesome (and sometimes annoying) brothers and sisters. But most of all, all these people are there for the good stuff but also for the bad stuff. They’ll have your back when you need the support and they’ll be there in the good times to share in the fun.
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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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