The Artisan Files: Jeffrey Way

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I had the honor of interviewing Jeffrey Way in this week’s Artisan Files. If you don’t know him, Jeff is a world class teacher, and he owns and operates Laracasts which is a go to training resource for PHP, Laravel, and other web technologies.

How did you first find Laravel and what was the tipping point for you to convert totally to it?

It’s fair to say that, with just about everything, I am an early adopter. Sometimes, I make a fool of myself (I thought Google Buzz would be big), but, usually, this works out quite well for me. In tech especially, early adopters have a level of familiarity and expertise that’s difficult to compete with. As I run Laracasts, this is a good thing!

In the case of Laravel, I wasn’t there at the beginning. Practically no one was. But, I suppose it’s important to remember that the timespan between Laravel 1 and Laravel 3 is relatively small (eight months or so). I came on board in 2012.

At the time, I was doing more and more work with Ruby on Rails, which I quite like. But – and I mentioned this during my Laracon New York presentation – I had a gut feeling about Laravel. Because Taylor wasn’t burdened by old PHP (the relative atrocities of PHP4), he seemed to approach the framework in a different way than was common at the time. His instincts were simply different. Also, even way back then, I had the distinct impression that he understood something that most framework/library maintainers don’t: at the end of the day, Laravel is a product. This means, while the code is of course most important, developer happiness, ease of use, flexibility, and branding are equally vital. Laravel nails each of those wonderfully. The simple fact was that Laravel made coding fun, regardless of your skill level. Once I realized this, it became clear that the Laravel community was one that I wanted to invest a considerable amount of my time into. And, based on this most recent Laracon (NYC), it’s even more clear that I made the right choice. Taylor was doing some Steve Jobs level presenting on stage. I’m particularly fond of the “Available Now” flashy slide. :)

Laracasts seems to be doing well and it is an invaluable training site. What made you decide to start it and how do you see online training changing over the next five years?

It’s doing better than I ever would have anticipated. Before Laracasts, I was the head of web development courses at Tuts+. Though I absolutely enjoyed my time there (and learned a lot), the company was moving in a different direction than I would have chosen. As Tuts+ continues to branch out to more and more topics, I found myself leaning toward smaller, more dedicated communities. The blogs I read are typically maintained by single developers, or small teams. At this point in my career, that’s where I learn the most.

Now, back to Laracasts: I wanted to create a site that was for people just like me. If you’re into modern PHP and Laravel, then every single Laracast is tailor-made for you. Every forum thread is relevant to you. Every member is someone just like you. I love that!

I’ve been recording little videos for a long time now. Originally, they served no real purpose, other than to serve as a visual journal for myself. I’d finally learn how to do something, and would quickly record a video for myself, to ensure that I didn’t forget! Interestingly – which I didn’t expect – once I uploaded these videos to YouTube, people actually watched them! This was the first time that I truly recognized that there are countless people just like me…trying to figure out all this stuff. Coding is hard!

I think of Laracasts as eight-minute abs: just short bursts of knowledge for you to fit in whenever you have the time.

In reference to where I see online training in five years, I honestly have no idea. Sites like Khan Academy are doing some incredibly innovative stuff related to teaching children in the browser. My audience at Laracasts is a bit different: they’re working professionals (at some level or another), who want to stay up to date on the latest tooling, techniques, and patterns. I think of Laracasts as eight-minute abs: just short bursts of knowledge for you to fit in whenever you have the time.

Laracasts is your full time job, can you share your typical daily routine?

At the time of this writing, I personally manage every ounce of Laracasts. This includes everything from the design (my apologies), to the videos, to the marketing, to feature development. It’s a massive amount of work, but I’ve learned so much in these last six months.

My rule is that there must be a minimum of four new videos on the site each week. Often, there will be more, but this is the baseline. That way, each day, there will be something new to watch. These videos take a considerable amount of time to prepare. And, in many cases, I must first devote any number of hours to first learning the thing in which I’m teaching. The recent series on Laravel Forge is a perfect example of this.

So, while the content of Laracasts takes up much of my day, the remainder is put toward answering questions, responding to support queries, and, of course, actually working on the Laracasts codebase. The wonderful thing about managing Laracasts on my own is that I can push a new feature out at 2:00 in the morning, without needing to have two weeks worth of company discussions.

You are pretty much internet famous. With all your followers do you have to limit your online persona and be careful sharing personal things?

It’s almost like I have two different lives. In real life, I have a small group of friends and family who know nothing about what I do for a living. Explaining PHP or Laravel to my mom is not the easiest task in the world. “So what exactly do you do?” she’ll frequently ask me.

As hard as this industry is, it’s important that we all share what we’ve figured out

But, online, because I’ve been around, somewhat in the public eye, for quite a while now, it’s a very different world. I’m not sure I’d say I’m internet famous, but if that’s true, it’s only because I get excited by new technologies, and love showing others what I’ve learned. As hard as this industry is, it’s important that we all share what we’ve figured out. If Laracasts is successful, it’s only because I, too, am learning new things every day…just like every person who watches a lesson.

On Twitter, yes, I probably censor myself a bit. I treat Twitter almost exclusively as a place to talk code with others like me. In fact, I follow zero friends or family on Twitter. I use Facebook for those purposes. So, typically, that’s where I’ll get into larger discussions that have no relevance to code. As much as people hate Facebook, it’s a really great tool for friendly debates. When else do you have a chance to talk about important issues with folks all over the world – many of whom have vastly different viewpoints than you? On that note, I have no clue if I just used “whom” correctly, but I’m going for it.

I assume web dev is not only your job but also a hobby. Do you have any other hobbies?

No. …Just kidding. Though, I must admit that coding takes up a lot of my times these days. My wife picks at me sometimes, when we’re on vacation, because the book I’ll choose to read will always be one related to code. “Stop working!” she’ll say. It’s difficult to explain that this is relaxation to me…and probably everyone reading this interview right now.

But, sure, I have countless other hobbies. For the longest time, the plan was to become a studio musician. I’ve been playing guitar for as long as I can remember. Beyond that, going to a coffee shop with a friend, and playing a game of chess is something that I very much enjoy. And, naturally, I’m a big movie buff, enjoy video games (Nintendo, give me my dang Metroid Prime 4), and, as is seemingly required for all Laravel devs, watched every episode of Breaking Bad religiously.

Just for fun what are your go to Mac apps you use everyday?

At all times, PHPStorm, Sequel Pro, iTerm, Mac GitHub, Chrome, Twitter, and The Hit List are open. I use Moom for window resizing, Cloud for file/photo sharing, 1Password for password management, and Screenflow for video tutorials. Of course there are others, but these are the core apps I reference each day.

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  1. Photo by Stefan Neubig
Eric L. Barnes photo

Eric is the creator of Laravel News and has been covering Laravel since 2012.

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