I’m pleased to present the first of many planned interviews for the phpWomen site. I am starting the series at the beginning. My two victims, er… guests, started the frenzy that has become phpWomen.org.
Ligaya Turmelle and Elizabeth Naramore were talking on the #phpc IRC channel about the number of women in php, and posted an invitation in their blogs for women to stand and be counted. Well, they have and they continue to do so. The current member count is over 50, and growing each day. It’s truly an international organization of people (not just women) united to help each other, as well as help women become more involved with php.
What was your college major?
Lig: My major was Computer Information Systems and a minor in Business- I admit, I didn’t want to do all the math needed for CS. I was very lucky, My university had a number of women professors and the Dean was a woman.
ElizabethN: My degree is in Organizational Behavior, which falls more in the HR/Management category rather than Psychology. It’s basically the study of how people behave in the workplace or in a group.
If you didn’t major in programming, how did you become interested in it?
Lig: While programming was very much a part of my curriculum it wasn’t actually what I originally chose to “specialize” in – DB’s were.
ElizabethN: I’ve always been a computer geek, despite my best efforts to integrate myself into the normal world. I come from a family of computer geeks and you just can’t escape your gene pool. We had PCs growing up in the 80s and when I got my first BASIC program to work, well, it was all downhill from there. Like I said though, I tried to go more mainstream, but programming kept creeping into my life.
How did you get started in php, specifically?
Lig: I was first introduced to PHP my senior year in college. We had to do a senior project that was web based. The language we chose to implement it in was PHP. I look back now and it was actually pretty easy – but at the time it seemed huge.
ElizabethN: I run an e-commerce site that used to be static HTML. In 2001 we saw there was a desperate need to make things dynamic and after a bit of research I chose PHP over ASP. Of course from there came MySQL and Apache as well.
Among other things, you are an admin on another php site, and active in #phpc irc chat. Where do you find the [time][energy]?
Lig: Well – for the #phpc chat – I usually just hang out while online for whatever reason. The channel has been around for quite a while but we were a very small and close group. The people there basically taught me PHP – from answering questions to best practices in coding and theory to being mentors. It is usually the first place I go to when I am online and the last place I leave.
Being the admin on the other site – well that does take up some time, but not as much as you may think. It also has a wonderful community behind it so I mostly do clean up now – though I still try to answer a minimum of 2 questions a day. All in all – I only spend about 3 hours there a week.
ElizabethN: This is an interesting question. I always have a lot on my plate, mostly because I’m not good at saying “no thanks” and I’m great at overextending myself. Besides my PHP Women involvement, I also do freelance writing for International PHP Mag and PHPBuilder, I run my e-commerce site and I do web development and consulting for other clients as well. I recently took over organizing our local users group, and I am an ecommerce teacher at a local adult education center (although I am currently taking a little time off during our ecommerce busy season). For fun, I actively participate in a writing critiquing group and I work as an editor for an up and coming literary magazine. I’m also working on a fiction novel and I enjoy painting and running.
Necessity is definitely the mother of invention and I’ve created some time management tools that work for me. I’m basically a lazy person so if something’s too difficult, as a rule, I generally won’t do it (i.e., sticking to my diet). I budget my time like I do my money, because it really is precious to me. Each week I take a few minutes and look at my upcoming week. I first schedule in family time, because that’s the most important thing to me. Then comes time for me, then work, then extra stuff. It’s amazing what you can fit in. I’ve also gotten really good at multi-tasking and making the most of the little moments throughout the day that would normally be wasted time. I know it sounds like I’m a Type A personality, but anyone who knows me knows I’m actually the opposite – having a schedule lets me not worry about anything else but what I’m currently doing, so it really takes the stress away and it makes getting things done a whole lot easier. And nothing’s ever set in stone – it’s good to just go with the flow. As far as the energy goes, I sleep a lot, about 9-10 hours a night. It’s the only way I can have enough energy to do everything I want to do (and be in a good mood while I’m doing it).
It seems like the phpwomen.org site has really taken off. Did you expect this type of a response when you started?
Lig: Yes it has! And no – I didn’t really think it would have this large a response when we started it. To be perfectly honest – I figured (if I was lucky) to get 20 responses… and yet there are 44 responses to date – with more coming in. I also make sure to send each commentor an email letting them know that we have set up the phpwomen site and where to find it.
And just to let you know – in the 2 weeks phpwomen has been up – we have had over 100,000 hits.
ElizabethN: I’m thrilled that there has been such a great response to the PHPWomen idea! I don’t know about Lig, but I didn’t expect to see it, as I know many programmers don’t actively keep track of the PHP blogosphere. So I’m very encouraged by the response as it tells me that the breadth of female programmers is a lot deeper than it seems.
One of the goals of the site is to help promote programming as a career path for females. What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
Lig: Don’t give up and find a mentor. So many women give it up when they are just learning for various reasons. With a mentor and/or a “comfortable place” to ask questions I think more women will stay at it.
I admit to hating asking questions that I feel are “silly” or “stupid” (even if they aren’t) or just something that I think I should be able to “get” – but don’t. The key is to have that person or place where you don’t mind “looking” like that to find an answer. Hopefully phpw will be that place for some women.
ElizabethN: I spent a long time trying to prove myself to others around me, only to find out that nobody really cares, as everybody else was trying to do the same thing. When I stopped taking myself so seriously, I was able to really relax and enjoy the ups and downs of programming. Males and females both have experienced the thrill of something that ‘just works’ and the agony when it doesn’t, which is really the lowest common denominator for all of us. Having that in common with your programming friends and colleagues makes it much easier to integrate yourself into the programming world, and it takes the pressure off.
Lig, you’ve lived in many places, what are some of the special issues that you have encountered as a female programmer?
I may be unusual for this but I have rarely had problems as a female coder. The only one that comes to mind is in an old job my having to “prove” I knew what I was talking about.
In that case – I was asked a question in front of the group (male coders) on how I would solve a problem they were having. After a few minutes of thinking (and feeling put on the spot), “playing” with the answer on a piece of paper, I solved it – when they couldn’t. You could see the surprise and sudden respect in their eyes as I moved from the “she thinks she knows what she is doing” category to the “she does know what she is doing” category in their mind. Would they have done the same thing for a man – I don’t know… but to me it felt as if I was being judged “worthy” at the time.
ElizabethN, you’ve co-authored several php books. How did you all collaborate? Can you take us through the process a little?
We used Basecamp (http://basecamphq.org) to make things easier, as we were all geographically spread out on each of the books. Basecamp is a great collaboration tool that provides easy access to calendar functions (for chapter due dates), everyone’s contact details, and who was doing what. To start with, we would put together an outline based on what we all thought should be included in the book and then basically divide up the chapters as needed. When each chapter was finished, one of us would tech edit the chapter and then submit it to the editor. From there, the editor would make requests for revisions, the author would revise as needed and send it back to the editor. Any other points that needed further clarification would be sent back to the author, then it would go on to be copy edited (and a different editor) for grammar or other typographical errors. The authors would get one final look at the chapter and were able to make any last minute changes before going to print. The challenging thing was making sure that changes were effectively communicated, as there were many people involved in the process and many versions of the text floating around. The process is exhaustive and tedious, but worth it in the end.
Php5 was a big step forward for oop in php. Have you made the transition, and if so, can you give advice to those on the path now?
Lig: I know the basics of OO from my old Java classes in school so the transition hasn’t been too hard – though I am still just starting it at my new job (my old job dealt primarily with shared hosting so PHP4 was the way to go). Switching thought processes to me is the hardest thing.
I don’t normally do pure OO though. To me – one of PHP’s greatest strengths is the fact that you can mix classes with procedural code. KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) is a methodology I tend to live and code by.
ElizabethN: We’re still in the process of transitioning our main apps, only because we’re limited on resources and doing it on an “as-needed” basis. Anything new that’s added is in PHP5, and we’re expecting some big upgrades on the rest early next year when our busy season slows down. There are many great resources out there on transitioning, from books (“Power PHP5 Programming” by Andi Gutmans and “Upgrading to PHP5″ by Adam Trachtenberg come to mind) to articles and blog posts (http://www.phpbuilder.com/columns/ian_gilfillan20051206.php3 for instance). Other than that, the best advice I can give is to break it down into small chunks and tackle it little by little. Otherwise it can seem overwhelming, and because you’re isolating a piece of your bigger app, if anything breaks, it’s easy to debug.
What do you see in the future for php? Any features that you are anxiously awaiting?
Lig: Growth. I beleive that the internet is still very far from fullfilling it’s potential so PHP still has a lot more to become as the needs arise.
I personally am looking forard to the Unicode support in PHP6. My previous job had me dealing with multiple languages, and getting everything to work correctly coulld be a trial of patience at times.
ElizabethN: I’ve been keeping an eye on the planned changes for PHP6 and I’m excited to see the improvements in Unicode. What I’m most excited about however, is the heightened level of inherent security that will come with PHP6. By deprecating those insecure functions and disallowing some insecure practices, I think we’ll see some of the holes that have been punched in PHP begin to disappear.
Lig, you recently passed your Zend certification. Do you feel it was a good test of your skill as a php programmer?
Lig: Let me make a quick clarification – I passed the PHP4 certification. To make a long story short – yes and no. It definately made me learn things that I don’t normally work with in my day to day job making me a more well rounded coder, but it didn’t test how well I code but how well I understand code and PHP’s quirks. Would I do it again – absolutely (already have a PHP5 testing voucher).
I don’t want to turn this into a “Is certification a good or bad thing” so i will simply say that I am a better coder for going through the learning I felt I needed to pass the test.
ElizabethN, are you Zend certified? If so, comments on the value that you think it adds, if not, care to comment on your thoughts relating to certification?
Oh this has been on my mind for so long, and it comes more from my own test-taking anxiety than anything. I do plan on getting my ZCE, I just need to bite the bullet. I can’t verify that having a ZCE certification will guarantee you a bigger paycheck or a better job, nor do I think it will guarantee an employer that you’re a great coder. But I definitely think it’s a start. I know a lot of programmers who say “I know ‘x’ or I know ‘y’ language”… but really haven’t done squat in it. Having the ZCE at least says you know the language basics. Like a doctor having a license to practice medicine, what you do with it from there is entirely up to you.
One last question. When I google Lig’s name, I get “about 65,300 hits”, and “about 51,800 hits” for ElizabethN…. Ummm I’m almost at a loss here, but… why??!?
Lig: LOL. Well you see I know a few people, who know a few people..
As for why I have so many entries – I talk a lot is all. I have been active on various PHP and MySQL mailing lists, submitted a few phpt tests for the QA team, helped rewrite some of the PHP QA team web pages, had my blog show up a few times on phpdeveloper.org and the devzone on Zend.com lists, the site I help administer has links, various articles, my blog, friends blogs, the PHP thinktank, and the various ircs I lurk in but mostly from the “buzz” created by the creation of phpwomen (this is the main one). With all of the linking between sites – *shrug*.
ElizabethN: It’s the porn I did in my early days. Kidding, of course – I’d say it’s probably because of the books and all the booksellers out there.