retro3

7 Years of Mastering Magento

There’s been more ups & downs than a Tandoori restaurant’s toilet seat over the last seven years as I’ve worked towards mastering Magento. With that in mind I thought I’d share some of the experiences I’ve had over the years and give advice to others who are new to the orange side of life.

2009) The First Encounter

I started working with Magento CE 1.3.2.1 back in 2009 with very little knowledge of PHP, frameworks and modular programming which means my first attempt at Magento customisation would have had enough core hacks to cause Ben Marks a mild stroke. It was overwhelming to go from the relative safety of WordPress themes to the tangled web of layout XML, Zend and Index Management.

Magento suddenly offered tons of possibilities that were simply not possible using our previous (unnamed) e-commerce platform. Things that seem pretty basic right now like rule-based promotions, cross-sells, newsletters, bundle products and reporting opened up previously untouched functionality for merchants.

Magento stood head & shoulders above any other platform available at the time and it was tough a welly on toast

Our first experience of delivering Magento training to clients was a daunting as we were still getting familiar with the admin area ourselves. These days there’s a surplus of videos, guides and material available to familiarise yourself with all aspects of running a Magento store. Use this information, use Google and don’t overwhelm yourself!

All-in-all Magento stood head & shoulders above any other platform available at the time and it was tough as welly on toast – the challenge was not just understanding Magento, it was mastering it.

2010) Blogs and Foxes

It’s fair to say that back in 2009-10 resources for Magento development were a bit thin on the ground. Learning how to do the most basic things required a considerable amount of research for a beginner. I decided to launch a Magento blog on what used to be our e-commerce company website: www.e-commercewebdesign.co.uk (RIP), and there I posted virtually everything I learned on a daily basis. This included topics that shouldn’t even warrant a blog post such as “how to add a mini-cart to the header”. With very little effort the blog started picking up a decent readership and I was getting to know some members of the early Magento community which led to the discovery of other blogs. As a new Magento developer this was making things easier as the community provided the support I needed.

Fellow blogger and Magento developer Rob Kent came on board our Magento blog shortly after and we were churning out blog posts every day, sometimes twice a day. The blog soon had more post than a UPS undelivered mail depot. It may sound a lot but it was contributing positively to a new generation of developers who were embarking on Magento development for the first time.

It was also helping us internally, serving as a resource for ourselves and members of our team before we had training programmes in place. I imagine that other fellow bloggers such as Inchoo and BelVG will testify that sharing with the community not only strengthens your industry profile but it helps your own team just as much.

We weren’t the only ones doing this, blogs were popping up all over place and the community grew.

sharing with the community not only strengthens your industry profile but it helps your own team just as much

In 2010 social media was beginning to explode as a commercial sharing platform and Twitter was at the forefront. I realised that in order to stand out the blog needed its own brand, so we got Magento Fox on Twitter and began promoting our blog. Everyone loves Foxes right? It also helped integrate us into the Magento community and gave us some much needed brand recognition.

Magento itself became more sophisticated as we saw the launch of CE 1.4 – the introduction of the base/default theme and Magento Connect version 2.0. This produced a host of new material that allowed the blog to go from strength to strength.

The key takeaway from all of this was that blogging was great for gaining credibility within the industry and getting traffic to the website through content. Back then it was Google’s vision of the future and it remains a key component to this day.

2011) London Calling

In 2011 Magento held its first annual UK conference, which was called “Meet Magento” at the time. Three members of our team attended the event and we enjoyed our first experience meeting various members of the Magento team for the first time. Magento had held conferences previously (mainly in the US), but this was the first time that the operation was brought to Europe and had been officially presented to a UK audience. Back in those days Magento Founder Roy Rubin and President Bob Schwartz were keynote speakers and the event maintained a very corporate feel.

conferences have proven invaluable to us over the years in terms of getting exposure to the industry

It was clear to us from this point that Magento was becoming a global brand and had bold ambitions. We have since attended every UK Magento event in London and every MageTitans event in Manchester (since its inception in 2014).

Yes, conferences can be expensive and a bit inconvenient if it means taking time away from your day job, but they have proven invaluable to us over the years in terms of getting exposure to the industry and networking with a host of thought leaders.

2012) The Training Years

On the surface e-commerce is actually a very simple concept: “people buy stuff from you”. Under the hood though most e-commerce websites will contain many levels of complexity, and Magento was no different. Fellow developers, frontend developers, designers, solution specialists, business development managers, clients, marketers…. these are just some of the people that needed to understand different aspects of Magento for different reasons.

never underestimate the amount of training required when bringing a new product like Magento to market

As would be the case in most organisations it became necessary to train people on all aspects of Magento. Its capabilities, the extension marketplace, how to theme, how to build modules, the list goes on… We compiled a number of internal training modules and experimented with different ways of selling the product. I’m yet to see two different agencies offering the same package, it’s basically an open book.

My advice is to never underestimate the amount of training required when bringing a new product like Magento to market. Everybody must be skilled enough to deliver the product to the same standards. There are plenty of classes that run across the country that train various aspects of the Magento platform. Senior developers should also share their knowledge across the team by holding regular, mini training sessions. Investment in training and R&D is essential to keep yourselves at the forefront of this business.

2013) Back to School

I wanted the experience of going back to taking exams like a hippo wants drought, but it was totally worth it in the end. Having (at the time) worked with Magento for 4 years we were well overdue some Magento certifications within the business, so we decided to enter for the Magento Certified Developer exam (lack of EE experience meant we weren’t equipped to go for Dev+). With just the study guide, a copy of Magento CE 1.7 and a deadline tighter than a string on a two-dollar banjo we held 2-3 study sessions a week until we were ready to pass the exam.

For Magento, certifications were a fantastic way to motivate developers to better themselves and stand out from the crowd. We’ve seen other PHP frameworks offer certifications for their own codebase’s and it was 100% the right decision for Magento to do the same.

It was a great feeling to pass and certainly helped me personally to legitimise the work I had done as a Magento developer. It gives you confidence in yourself and also makes you more passionate about doing things ‘the right way’.

I wanted the experience of going back to taking exams like a hippo wants drought, but it was totally worth it in the end.

I recommend to all developers and solution specialists that they take the various certification exams that Magento has made available. The badge not only adds creditability to your business but the lessons learned from hours of study will better your product offering and increase your skill set internally.

2014) Giving Back

Towards the end of 2013 and 2014 we had a small catalogue of free community edition extensions available of Magento Connect including our biggest extension to date CreareSEO, which was launched in early 2014. We found that extension development was a great way of learning how to make modules reusable and it this proved to be very beneficial to our team. A greater outcome of this was that we were able to give a little something back to the community that gave us so much over the years.

CreareSEO caught fire and achieved a hight number of downloads very quickly on Magento Connect. We then made it available on GitHub for collaboration. I’d personally like to see all free CE extensions on GitHub as we’ve had some great input from other developers since CreareSEO was added. At the height of CreareSEO’s popularity the extension was nominated in the Best Software category in the 2014 Search Awards.

we were able to give a little something back to the community that gave us so much over the years

This experience had opened up the possibility of our SEO/Web agency entering the extension marketplace in more of a commercial context. One of the things I was able to appreciate about Magento over the years was the way it has enabled a whole new market sector for extension development, a new market in which many a small business has been able to thrive.

2015) The Birth of Magento 2

2015 saw the unsurprising demise of Magento Go as well as the long, long awaited general availability release of Magento 2. The sequel introduced an overhaul of Magento 1’s architecture in favour of component-based packages and much-needed dependency management. This made the platform more robust than ever. Learning Magento 2 was a far easier experience than learning Magento 1 due to the improved documentation and a thriving community of bloggers who were all keen to be there first. The fact that Magento 2 adopted Composer for the dependency management of its packages was great news as the platform has now been brought in line with other leading open source platforms within the industry.

2015 saw the unsurprising demise of Magento Go as well as the long, long awaited general availability release of Magento 2.

As 2016 rolls on I’m looking forward to seeing how we master Magento 2, meanwhile Magento 1 should solidfy as we file away the remaining rough edges.

So what’s the point of this tale I hear you ask? Does it take 7 years to master Magento? Of course not, but the biggest key to Mage mastery is to enjoy the ride.