PHP and me

PHP has just reached an incredible milestone, it’s 20 years old! On the 8th June, 1995, Rasmus Lerdorf released PHP 1.0. Now, 20 years later, PHP 7 is on the brink of being released and the language is stronger than its ever been before. With all the #20yearsofPHP stories around the internet I thought I’d add my own experiences and thoughts on how PHP has affected me.

I first came to the web around 1995 when I started teaching myself HTML while studying English Literature at university. I worked part-time at the computing centre, the old Sinclair Building off Mill Road in Cambridge, which gave me the opportunity to experiment with web development.

My first experience of dynamic web development was Apache server-side includes (SSI). I remember the joy of being able to include headers and footers and start to organise my code. Around 1998/1999 this was followed by an intro book on PHP from an author I sadly can’t remember. I thought wow, what possibilities! Though I still thought in terms of templates and remember naively emailing the US author asking whether PHP had similar functionality to SSI includes! I remember the author kindly replying and pointing me in the direction of where to find out more. This was my first experience with the friendly and open PHP community which I think is primarily responsible for the language’s extraordinary success.

Years passed. I designed and developed the university website, worked on the first online UK student newspaper, taught web design to university students and started my own agency Studio 24. I came across amazing online resources such as the Yale Web Style Guide, the ever wonderful Webmonkey and the ground-breaking A List Apart. I read books such as Designing with Web Standards and Web Design in a Nutshell. Thus began my interest in accessibility and web standards and building a web that works properly.

At Studio 24 we grew from strength to strength. With an excellent and enthusiastic team we have developed custom PHP web applications, CMSs, E-Commerce systems and built on top of community projects such as WordPress and Drupal for our client sites.

My skills in PHP programming have moved on considerably as PHP has developed. Since my first web industry conference @media in 2005, I’ve attended many web standards and PHP conferences meeting many fascinating and friendly people from the community. I’ve even hired a few of them to run training at Studio 24!

In 2006 I contributed to Zend Framework 1. In 2007 I got involved with the local web community group Refresh Cambridge. In 2010 I contributed to the Web Standards Project to produce a small website aimed at businesses hiring web agencies. In 2013 I started the local user group PHP Cambridge. Earlier this year I contributed my first patch to Drupal.

My opinion of PHP is very high these days. The advances in the language have completely eclipsed the “bad PHP” press it had a few years back and it has evolved into a very powerful web programming language. With the regular development of core PHP, the rise of high quality modern web frameworks, the PHP-FIG movement to standardise and help applications like Drupal make best use of other PHP projects, and tools like Composer, PHP web development has never been better.

Although the rise of JavaScript is threatening its dominance, PHP just seems to continually re-invent itself and I have no doubt it will be here for many years to come. The fact is PHP runs the majority of the web and powers industry heavyweights such as Facebook and WordPress and is used by 100s of thousands of web developers around the globe.

From my encounters with the PHP and web community I’m always impressed by how open, friendly and sharing it is. Of course, without openness the web wouldn’t exist at all. If Tim Berners-Lee had decided to commercialise his invention instead of set it free, the chances are the web wouldn’t exist in the form we find it today.

So Happy Birthday PHP and congratulations to the excellent web community it has inspired!