Cloudways: Steven, thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule. From an idea to a successful ecommerce development agency, how did you and your teammates manage to grow R & W Media over these years? Would you please share some highlights of your journey.
Steven: R & W Media was founded back in 2012. My business partner Craig Randall and I started it. At the time, we were both looking to leave our current employment and go off and start our own venture. It felt natural to work with Craig, who is a creative genius. He now heads the design department, and with my technical expertise, I manage the development department. Both our skills complemented each other.
In the first year, we were working from home and hiring friends and outside staff to help us with projects. But as time went past, we needed to grow our own team. Later in the year, we started to recruit our first full-time staff of designers and developers.
The second year, we moved into our own London offices. It was much more convenient meeting our clients, who are mostly in the London area.
As we grew our team, we became more and more busier, we were taking on more extensive and more massive Magento projects, and we started to work with Magento Enterprise Edition for some of our global clients.
To help strengthen our business and allow us to focus on the core business of delivering user-friendly and technically driven ecommerce sites, we started partnering with some of the industry-leading partners. We’re now partners of UK’s leading hosting companies. We work closely with top payment gateways including PayPal and Sage Pay. We also partnered with industry-leading extension providers including Aheadworks, Amasty, Ebizmarts, and ShipperHQ.
Over the years, with our strong team of creative designers, we’ve had the honor to work with well-known brands including Star Wars, Avengers, to Jamie Oliver, NHS, Trickers, Pulsin, and Wiley, just to name a few.
Cloudways: When did you start working on Magento? As we all know, working on Magento requires versatility and proficient skills, what were the challenging parts and how did you tackle them?
Steven: I personally started with Magento years back on version 1.4. At the time, there weren’t many reliable or extensive ecommerce platforms available. The ones that were available were somewhat limited, and you had to hack them to implement a solution. But with Magento extending, the platform was much more versatile.
The only challenge working with Magento is the steep learning curve required to master it entirely. In the beginning, I remember when I worked on Magento, it understood that Magento requires a much deeper level of understanding and forces you to write code in the best way possible. You couldn’t just be a vanilla PHP developer; you had to understand how the Magento architecture works.
It forced us to adopt smarter coding practice with unit testing, setting up multiple environments, deployment tools and other key practices that we use today for better code management.
What is excellent about Magento, is not the platform itself but the community it lives in. Their development community is so supportive, and there are so many tools and documentation online to help you become a better Magento developer. This has helped our team grow in knowledge, further develop skills in building better ecommerce sites and finally becoming masters of Magento.
Cloudways: How do you plan a Magento project? Also, what technologies do you make use of when accomplishing Magento related tasks.
Steven: Once the project scope has been finalized, we take the functionality list and see what requires a custom solution. Our project manager will identify which resources will be needed for the project. Whether it is a UX designer, front-end developer, backend developer, or QA. All this is managed through Active Collab, our project management software.
Our designers will start wireframing the website and then come up with the visual aspect. Our developers will look at the functionality list and go away and break them down into small manageable pieces and start developing them. Our developers use PHPStorm as their IDE and composer and git to manage the code repository.
We don’t like to reinvent the wheel. So for any custom solutions, we sometimes source commercial extensions from our trusted partners. However, we don’t like to rely on too many extensions, so we try to custom build our own extensions as long as there is enough time and budget.
We use a variety of tools and follow the best practices. So we implement a continuous integration method using Atlassian’s Bamboo, for building, unit testing, and deployment.
Cloudways: Magento 2 is making waves with its amazing features. What are your thoughts on the transformed version of the platform?
Steven: We’re really enjoying working with Magento 2. Previously, working with Magento 1 was frustrating at times, but we found that Magento has made many improvements that have helped us develop better and provide better features for our clients.
A godsend of Magento 2 is the significant improvement in the performance of the platform. Previously with Magento 1, we saw sluggish speed and had performance problems. But with Magento 2, we see page loads 50% faster than it’s predecessor. It can now handle more traffic and take on 50,000 orders per hour.
Full page caching is now available with Magento 2, where previously it was exclusive to Magento Enterprise Edition. On top of that, it now natively supports Varnish. In the past, we had to add Varnish support to Magento 1 manually.
It’s great to see Magento pushing technology. Magento 2 has been redesigned from the ground up with an entirely new architecture that better conforms with best practices. It has distinction among application layers and all built on PHP 7. It’s great to use Composer for module installation and management.
With all these development improvements, there is still a steep learning curve for both newcomers and experienced developers. We’ve been working with Magento 2 for a year now, so we’re very proficient in developing on it, and we’ve been releasing more and more Magento 2 sites. We successfully released another Magento 2 store last month, and our client is extremely happy with it.
Cloudways: How do you see the growth of your company? What is your vision for the future?
Steven: We’re looking to expand and are looking to move to a larger office. A few of our team members work remotely at times; it would be great to bring everyone in-house so we can share and collaborate more easily. Besides a new office, we’ll be looking to recruit more developers and designers to add to the roster.
Besides physical company growth, our true vision for the future is to become a leading enterprise Magento agency, so we can continue to support large businesses through development.
Cloudways: I think you might find this tricky, but what would be your choice: Magento 1 or Magento 2? And why?
Steven: Definitely Magento 2. At first, learning Magento 2 was daunting. But now that we use it almost every day, it’s all becoming the standard for us.
It’s not just the significant improvements that they’ve made in Magento 2; our clients are also enjoying it a lot more. The whole Magento admin interface has been entirely redesigned. The UI is now much more user-friendly and intuitive, whereas previously the admin panel was always very clunky and messy.
Besides the UI improvements and better performance, in terms of development, we can now use more command-line tools. With bin/magento we can now install Magento, reindex, compile and so much more. Making deployment a breeze.
Previously, modules were spread all over the codebase and sometimes it was hard to keep track. But now everything related to a module is within the module’s directory. These advantages have made us better developers and saved a lot of time.
Cloudways: What would be your advice for our readers who are willing to be the future leaders?
Steven: Invest in technology. Seeing how the ecommerce has grown in the last few years shows there’s no sign of stopping it. If you want to be the future pioneers, I suggest investing in technology. This can be hardware, software, or developing or expanding on existing applications, but there is no doubt the power comes from a killer platform that a business can utilize for growth.
Cloudways: What do you love the most about your work environment? How do you like to keep your workplace? Could you please share a picture?
Steven: I like to keep my workspace clean and tidy. I’m always out and about at meetings, so I like how I’ve set up my desk to attach my MacBook to the large monitor when I’m at the desk. Very much like hot desking.
Cloudways: We’re sure that finding spare time is hard for a person of your responsibilities. What are your hobbies and how do you invest your free time?
Steven: Being a busy person, running my own Magento agency, I try to balance my work and personal life. I avoid working on weekends, so my brain doesn’t implode.
I really enjoy climbing. So I regularly go climbing on the weekends with my friends. I’ve also taken up gymnastics recently, so I like to work on the rings. During the week after work, I head to the gym to workout and come home to relax and watch my favorite shows on Netflix.
I’ve taken up a lot of reading recently, especially enjoying Stephen King’s books.
Cloudways: Cloudways provides 1-Click Magento installation with impressive speed and top-tier cloud infrastructures embedded within the platform. Would you prefer shared hosting for Magento stores or a managed cloud hosting environment like Cloudways?
Steven: Definitely managed hosting! We would never recommend shared hosting to our clients. Magento is a feature rich ecommerce platform. Being such a large application, it is also very resource hungry. We’ve seen significant performance problems when a Magento site is hosted on a shared server. Another major drawback using shared hosting is when another store on the same server gets a spike in traffic your own store is profoundly affected without any control.
We would only recommend Magento hosted on a cloud platform or dedicated server. It’s much more secure, faster, scalable and reliable.
For the peace of mind, you definitely want a managed solution. No more pointless monitoring and backups. You want to focus on your business and not having to think about tedious IT tasks on managing your own server, especially when things go wrong. That is why we would work with industry leaders when it comes to Magento hosting.