“My Ethos is “Just Do It!” – Interview with Viktor Vogel

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We are here again with a CMS expert talking about his work, life, ideas and insights. This time the man of the day is Viktor Vogel, the guy seizing every single moment, developing qualitative, free extensions for Joomla! CMS, Joomla! PLT member and a very witty interviewee. Enjoy reading.

A huge thanks for agreeing to this interview, Viktor. You’ve definitely got a very interesting Joomla! story. On your road from Mechanical Engineering to Joomla!, how did you turn from the support forum member to developer? What was the decisive point that changed your life so upside-down?

It’s my pleasure to take the time to speak with you. Thank you for this opportunity and your interest in my story. Yes, I would never have believed that Joomla! would change my life so significantly. I started my studies in Mechanical Engineering but I quickly realized that programming was more fun for me, especially developing Web applications. When I started with Joomla! back in 2005, I was very active in support forums and took a special interest in requests from users who were looking to modify the behavior of extensions. I started to dig deep into the coding, taking time to understand it. The more I understood, the more I wanted to create my own solutions for the community. After some time, I started publishing modifications and my own extensions on my private website. I just enjoyed developing and enhancing the Joomla! user experience (UX) – making users happy. At that point, I made the decision that Mechanical Engineering would not give me the same level of satisfaction in my life. So, I switched my field of studies to Computer Science and never looked back with any regrets.

In around 2009 you’ve created the website project “Kubik-Rubik Joomla! Extensions”, worked as a freelancer, switched your field of study to Computer Science and once successfully finished, got a great well-paid job offer by 1&1 Internet SE to be their Joomla! Specialist. What is the driving force that made you dig into the code of the extensions?

I’ve always been interested and curious in understanding how things work. I think it’s important to be inquisitive if you want to be successful. The step from supporting to developing extensions was a logical and natural move in my case. In the beginning I just made small changes in the output, then changed and added new functionalities to the extensions. It’s important to start with feasible tasks and to improve the skills steadily. Set realistic goals and achieve them! One of the great things about working with Joomla! is that you can learn new things every day. My ethos is “just do it!”

Your first Joomla! conference was the JoomlaDay Germany in Berlin in 2012. As you once said, this was the first time you felt the spirit and power of the community, met great people you knew before many years only from writing in the Internet. Could you share what this spirit is like? Are there any common features uniting you all in the Joomla! group?

It’s a great feeling to be together with the people that are as passionate as you are about a particular subject. I love to meet open-minded people and share my knowledge with them. I already said it several times but I would like to repeat myself: it doesn’t matter whether you use Joomla!, WordPress, Drupal or whatever, go to community events and meet people in real life! It helps you to improve and enrich your life. Since my first JoomlaDay I’ve been to many conferences and met a lot of people, some of whom became true friends. This is my personal treasure and nobody can take it away from me. My life has been enriched by it, I don’t want to miss a single moment!

You always tried to devote as many time as possible to the Joomla! project. Started from fixing bugs at JoomlaCode/GitHub, getting into the Bug Squash Team and developing all of your extensions, what could you recommend to Joomla! users to set up once they joined in?

If you want to get into coding and contributing to the core, it’s best to take your time to understand how Joomla! works internally. The easiest way to go through the whole process is to use a debugger. Going through the code step-by-step with a debugger will help you significantly and improve your coding skills. I recommend using an Integrated Development Environment (IDE) which offers debugger functionality, such as PhpStorm. Obviously, to write stable, secure code, you should have a thorough knowledge of the relevant languages. For Joomla! (and some other Open Source CMS’) you should learn PHP, JavaScript (jQuery), CSS (LESS) and HTML. Be open to constructive criticism and learn from other developers. Listen to the needs of your users. Some more hints: Learn to use Git and work with GitHub. Write automated tests for your extensions. Develop on a local environment. Use build-tools like Phing. Don’t hold on your code, refactor it regularly. Use the API and remember that there is no need to reinvent the wheel!

Some of your most notable contributions include the EasyCalcCheck Plus (ECC+), Simple Image Gallery Extended (SIGE), and Easy Frontend SEO (EFSEO), as well as developing over 30 other helpful extensions (components, plugins, and modules) that are available for free – that’s quite a huge work. Where do you take your ideas from? Does it happen intentionally or the decisions tend to be more spontaneous?

Thank you for mentioning my extensions. Yes, it’s a lot of work; I cannot even count the hours that I’ve spent developing and supporting the extensions. It’s all worth it because, for me, it’s important to give something back to the community. That’s why all of my (over 30) extensions can be used for free without any restrictions and I encourage everyone to try them. My life was enriched greatly by this software and the community around it, my contributions to the Joomla! project are my way to say thank you! To answer your question, some of my extensions were improvements of existing extensions and others were created based on demands from members of the community. Over time and working closely with Joomla!, you get a good feeling of what is missing and what could help to make using the base system more comfortable. Many of my ideas are stemmed from users of my extensions. Incorporating feedback from users who value the quality of my extensions is very important. I also have some sponsored extensions in my portfolio. While their development was privately funded for specific projects, but my customers allow me to share the extensions with the whole community! Honestly, I have many more ideas for great extensions, I just don’t have the time to develop them.

The Joomla! Project is 10 years old this year. Could you tell us some interesting facts that are behind the creation of the CMS? Looking back and forwards, what are the most prominent platform’s breakthroughs over all this time and what your team is still planning to achieve?

10 years! Wow, that is a long time. It’s pleasing to see how far we have come
and I look forward to the next 10 (at the least) years. We have a modern, stable platform that allows users to publish content and collaborate digitally. Significant improvements have been integrated in the past years (such as mobile-ready output outof-the-box, the fine granular ACL settings or better automated tests) which make it possible to use Joomla! for almost every purpose that you can think of. Since I follow the development of the next major release (Joomla! 4.0) closely, due to my voluntary involvement, I’m confident that we also will have a reliable and successful CMS with Joomla!. The Joomla! 4 Working Group is doing a great job and making significant progress. We are working hard to improve the user experience and make the administration and update processes as easy as possible. There is a long list of planned changes. If you are interested in the progress of the working group, then read this article.

If “Joomla! is about people not just software”, in what particular way the global community is working together to build something better? Are there any guiding principles of the CMS’s members?

Joomla! relies on an active global community to progress. From supporting users to fixing bugs and developing new features, contributing to Joomla! is a very rewarding experience. It’s important to help each other in the community, this is what the community idea is about. Joomla! users without coding experience can take a more knowledge-sharing role and participate based on their strongest skillset, like providing writing or updating the documentation. Every user can report bugs that will be fixed by the developers. Developers who want to contribute code to the core can easily do it at GitHub where we store all the code of the project. GitHub is a collaboration platform that allows us to work together across the globe. If you are experienced and can invest some time in the project, then it is possible to apply to become a member of a specialized, official Joomla! team. All the involvement and support we receive for the improvement of Joomla! is greatly appreciated. To become a Joomla! contributor, first check out what assistance is needed and then join this working group.

Regardless the achievements, everything has it’s back side and Joomla’s certainly not an exception. When it comes to the drawbacks, what are the challenges in using it? Do you know any ways to overcome the ones you faced?

Of course, no system is perfect and you will have to deal with the drawbacks. In general, I’m really happy to see that many open source systems have great communities and are improved steadily. Like all great efforts in life, sometimes it is difficult and time consuming to tackle the challenges but it is a great feeling that is extremely rewarding once you overcome them.

Providing migration services, we witness that there’s a growing trend to leave other CMS platforms in favor of Joomla! Have you ever faced the problem of website migration? What do you think about the automated method of website migration? Is it vitally crucial to convert design?

Since I also work as a Freelancer, alongside my employment at 1&1 Internet SE, I am involved in a number of jobs that consist of migrating complete websites from other Content Management Systems to Joomla!. If a website is not complex and has just a few pages, it is easy to manually copy the content. But I have also completed migrations that were really tough to manage and required complex database transformations. I’m pretty sure that an automated method would have helped me greatly here. From experience, people tend to keep their old designs which make such a design conversion very useful. On the other hand, many end-users are also open to modern, more user friendly designs. So, for me this feature would be helpful but not vitally crucial.

As long as we know, you’re looking forward for at least another 10 years with Joomla! Could you please share with any of your further work and personal goals? What are your next upcoming destinations?

I will continue to be actively involved in a number of the official Joomla! teams and groups – which is a lot of fun and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to help improve the project. I will continue to work and share my knowledge in areas where I’m needed. If you are interested in seeing how I’m involved in the official Joomla! project, then you can check the list on the Joomla! Volunteers Portal. Of course, I will push my private Joomla! project (Kubik-Rubik Joomla! Extensions) forward and add cool features for the users. Additionally, I’m thinking of creating some extensions for other systems too. In my daily work at 1&1 Internet SE, I will continue to enhance the Joomla! environment and strive to provide a great user experience for 1&1’s customers. I have a lot of ideas and energy, so plenty of things to keep me busy over the 10 years at least! I would like to end by thanking you once again for this interview opportunity. I wish all users a great time with Joomla! – just make it happen!

We want to thank Viktor Vogel for finding time to share his knowledge, insights and cherished memories with our readers.

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