The Artisan Files / updated: September 05, 2014

The Artisan Files: Lori Berkowitz

berkowitz-lori

This week I’m happy to interview Lori Berkowitz in the Artisan files series. I meet Lori at the first Laracon in DC and again in NYC. She is a business owner, developer, Laravel meetup organizer, and a super nice lady.

Can you tell us a little about yourself? How’d you get into development?

I am one of those shy developers hiding in the corner wearing a hoodie, but I also like people, so occasionally venture out to socialize with friends  and meet with clients. I also love attending tech conferences and meetups where I get to meet people who get excited about the same things that I do. I’ve been a freelance web developer for almost 20 years and currently live in Baltimore (MD, US) with Karen, my awesome wife, who has graciously accompanied me to the last two US Laracons.

My first experience with programming was in high school. My dad had an Apple IIe and my school had a Commodore 64 and VIC-20. I learned BASIC, and later in college, Pascal. I didn’t program again until about 10 years later when I got a Compaq mini-tower with a 100MHz processor and 8MB RAM. It came with Front Page Express pre-installed and I loved to make web pages in the visual editor and then see what the code looked like (not very pretty by today’s standards). I eventually switched to Dreamweaver, and later a text editor (I think it was Notepad++). I learned CSS from Eric Meyer’s books and an online class that covered the entire CSS 2.1 spec, and in 2002 got obsessed with tweaking open source PHP/MySQL CMSs and frameworks while testing a new reseller platform for iPowerWeb. Somewhere along the way, I picked up enough JavaScript to be productive (and a little dangerous) and learned PHP in a more OOP way than working with the CMSs had taught me. Since most of my work is back-end and I am not an awesome graphic designer, I also have a mild obsession with front-end frameworks and JavaScript libraries.

When did you first find Laravel, and what made you start using it? 

I first started using Laravel at version 3. I learn best by watching screencasts, and especially love Jeffrey Way’s screencasts. I first learned about Laravel from him on Tuts+. I started playing around with it and loved it. I had tried other frameworks like Ruby on Rails, CodeIgniter, and Kohana, but never really got excited about them like I did about Laravel. Now it is my first choice for projects that cannot be done easily with WordPress or Drupal. Laravel was very refreshing after spending so many years working with CMSs. I think WordPress and Drupal are awesome, especially in their newest beta versions, but by design, neither is as flexible as Laravel.

Discovering the Laravel community was also pretty huge. I came for the code, but stayed for the community. Most popular frameworks have some kind of community built around them, and Laravel’s is one of the best I have found. There are so many smart and generous people who have shared their knowledge, created amazing resources, and who always seem happy to help each other out. In a way, the community is just as important as the code. I have stopped using some great software due to the ‘Read-the-source-code’ nature of the community attached to it. Nothing against reading the source code, but that approach can be very alienating to people who are new to your software, and especially alienating to folks who are new to programming in general. 

You also started a Baltimore Laravel meetup. Can you tell us more about it? 

I started the Baltimore Laravel meetup in February 2013 hoping to meet other local Laravel developers so that we could learn from each other, teach each other, and talk shop. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find many locals interested in Laravel, so the meetup has not caught on much. Currently, I am trying to find a co-organizer for the group to help with finding speakers and attracting new members. If anyone reading this interview is in Baltimore and wants to know more about Laravel, look us up at http://www.meetup.com/Baltimore-Laravel/

One good thing about Laravel being so awesome and gaining in popularity so quickly is that now, 18 months since I started the meetup, other people in the local PHP/dev community have started hearing about Laravel. Hoping that more people will become curious about it and join the group.

You run BeeDragon is that a full time job? 

I have been running BeeDragon since 1995 and it has been my full time job since 2004 when I officially registered it as a business. I do web development, hosting, consulting, and occasional design work. Most of my work is custom WordPress development. I work mostly with small to medium sized businesses and non-profit organizations. Hoping to someday find a business partner who can take care of the business and project management side of things.

What is your typical day like? 

My typical day starts at around 7:30am. I drink coffee, eat breakfast, and attempt to answer my never-ending stack of email. Between 8:30am and 5pm, my day mostly consists of coding, client emails, phone/Skype appointments, and assorted distractions. My favorite distractions are watching Laracasts, playing Diablo III, and doing karate. I also try to keep up with all of the latest tools of the trade by watching screencasts and reading ebooks and blog posts by people who are kind enough to share their knowledge with the entire internet.

Can you share some information about your local environment?

LB-Desktop

I do all of my work on a 15” Macbook Pro. For local Laravel development, I use Homestead, and for most other local development, I use MAMP Pro. Apps that I keep open all day are PHPStorm, iTerm 2 with zsh, Chrome, Transmit, Mail, and OmniFocus. There are also some mac utilities that I use everyday to speed up work and make my life easier. I use 1Password, BusyCal, TapForms for storing/finding client web access information, PathFinder as a Finder replacement, TextExpander for text shortcuts, URLs, and code snippets, and Alfred for quick app launch, contact lookups, and opening files and folders. I use Dropbox to backup my working project files, and CrashPlan+ for offsite backups of my user folder. When working on multiple projects at once, I use Komodo IDE for secondary projects. Komodo was my editor/IDE of choice for many years before switching to PHPStorm last year.

If you had all the money in the world what is the first thing you would buy? 

World peace? Is that for sale? First thing I would do is pay for long term assisted living for my in-laws. After that, a trip to Amsterdam with my wife :)

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