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Interview With Jeffrey Way

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If you've been reading this site for awhile, then you know who Jeffrey Way is. He's the man, the myth and the legend behind the stellar growth of Nettuts+ and an influential voice in the web development community. And now he's tackling online education full steam via Tuts+.

We wanted to catchup with Jeffrey to see how his next great adventure is going. Let's check it out.


Q Readers want to know, "Where in the world is Jeffrey Way?"

In the last year, much of my energy has been put into the Tuts+ Premium program, and I'm really proud of what we've achieved.

I'm still around! I simply decided to adjust my priorities a bit. After building up and maintaining Nettuts+ for five years, I realized that I’d reached the limits of what I was capable of learning in that job. Staying anywhere too long is rarely a good thing, so I chose to step down as editor, and instead focus my attention on other projects.

In the last year, much of my energy has been put into the Tuts+ Premium program, and I'm really proud of what we've achieved. Though it's been tough, we're now at a point where we're publishing well over 25 new courses every single month. We've released courses on everything from modern WordPress development, to Yeoman, to Ember, to Laravel testing. As I sometimes tease: if you enjoy Dreamweaver, then Lynda.com is a great choice. Otherwise, to instead learn the technologies that working pros use every day, Tuts+ Premium is a really fantastic resource. :)


Q You have one of the biggest fan bases, built on your stellar work on Nettuts+. What prompted the change to Tuts+?

Like I said above, mostly it came down to a personal decision. Life is too short to not experiment with new ideas and roles. So, having managed the site for over five years, the time was right to move on. You have to be careful about falling into a rut, sometimes.

Also, with you and Andrew at the helm, I felt that the site was in perfect hands to reach the next level.


Q The focus of Tuts+ is squarely online courses. How do you see online education complementing and/or disrupting the traditional mediums for education?

The best education on the planet in this sphere is not exclusive to a cold brick building.

What's particularly nice about online education is that it can be anything you want it to be. While traditional schooling has a tendency to force lesson plans (which I've never been a fan of, considering the price tag), when it comes to the online world, you're in charge. You choose the path.

Do platforms like Tuts+ disrupt the traditional medium? I'd say the answer is a big fat yes. As I tweeted not too long ago, at this point, I can't imagine an environment where I'd find myself recommending to my future child that he or she should attend university. Perhaps there are merits to the social aspect of college (questionable, though), but, beyond that, I see it as little more than an excellent way to start your life with masses of debt.

If your goal, specifically, is to develop for the web, then the answer is even more obvious. The best education on the planet in this sphere is not exclusive to a cold brick building. It's widely accessible for free around the web. We're very fortunate that our community (web development) is so incredibly open about documenting their trials and experiments.


Q I've read viewpoints where people, on many occasions, recommend forgoing formal education altogether and encouraging developers to leverage the Internet as their educational resource. Is online education at a point where bypassing a degree in, say, Computer Science is actually viable?

I think we passed that point long ago. Outside of the incredible price tag, the problem with university is the same problem with all forms of traditional schooling: it mandates a "one size fits all" approach to learning. Maybe every eighteen year old doesn't learn best by waking up at eight in the morning, sitting in a 200+ auditorium for ninety minutes, and then taking multiple choice tests. Gasp - maybe there are ways to learn that don't fit some college's rigid curriculum. You are not a bad person if you don't fit this mold.

Really, though, it all comes down to what type of person you are. I was not a fan of my university experience; however, my personality type virtually guaranteed the experience I had. You might be different. If that's the case, and you can afford the price tag of admission, then certainly nothing bad could come from it! In those cases, have at it, and use platforms like Tuts+ as a supplement.


Q There's been some criticism about online education (some valid, some FUD). How do you ensure that the courses you're providing offer real-world knowledge and value to people who take the courses?

Honestly, it can sometimes be a struggle. The key for me has been to leverage the community that I've personally submerged myself in. Twitter is amazing for this. By reaching for the leaders in the community, I can rest assured that they'll bring their experience to the courses and material that I might not personally be as well-versed in.

In terms of choosing which courses to publish and what constitutes "real-world knowledge," well that simply comes down to experience, I think. Generally speaking, I can often refer to the technologies that I, myself, am interested in learning more about. This includes everything from Ember to AngularJS (yes, both), to architecture, and everything in between. At that point, it simply translates to a process of choosing which developer is most qualified to teach those subjects.


Q I recently wrote on the challenges of staying up-to-date with technology. What are your thoughts on how developers can manage the fast and constant changes for the evolving web development space?

Ahh, yes, I've written about these challenges myself many times, as well. There's no denying that ours is an incredibly difficult industry. I've often noted that, if I knew how deep the rabbit hole went at the beginning of my development career, I'm not sure that I would do it again. I guess, from that perspective, my naivety was absolutely working in my favor back then!

I certainly don't want to dissuade the newcomers in the audience. Instead, I'd simply recommend that they be prepared for the long-haul. Development isn't something that you knuckle down and learn in six months (despite what some infomercials may say). It's a non-stop battle, not too dissimilar from an RPG. Little by little, your skills level-up. But it's a slow process. The key is to love it, and to never stop...even when you're overwhelmed with frustration and confusion.


Q You've become one of the biggest advocates for Laravel. What makes Laravel so special to invoke such a passionate dedication to the framework?

If you want to talk about sheer joy of development, I'll happily put Laravel up against any framework.

Because Laravel makes PHP development fun! There was a period of time, not too long ago, when PHP and its community were, for lack of better words, hated. Seemingly, the headline joke of every day was one that related to how terrible PHP was. Let's see, what new PHP-slamming blog article will be posted today? While some of these complaints are certainly valid, the truth of the matter is that much of what people hate about PHP has little effect on your average developer's day-to-day workflow. In fact, most of that vitriol is rooted in the days of PHP 4. The language and community have come so far since then. It's unfair to continue painting it with that brush.

If you want to talk about sheer joy of development, I'll happily put Laravel up against any framework. Rails, Django, Express, you name it. Laravel has it all, too. Migrations, Active-Record implementation, clean syntax, testing facilities, elegant routing, etc. Every Laravel developer knows that feeling of realizing that a seemingly difficult task has been reduced to a single method call.

Need to cache a database query to improve performance? You can do that in one line of code. Want to work with queues, without the hassle of a background daemon? Laravel hooks up flawlessly with Iron.io's push queues. No framework in existence makes it easier. What about things like writing a console command to deploy your application? Yep, with Laravel, we can arrange that in seconds, using custom Artisan commands and the remote component.

The reason why I'm such a cheerleader of Laravel is because I'm continually impressed by its capabilities. It never fails.


Q It seems like Laravel and Symfony have taken the PHP world by storm. How does this impact existing applications based on other frameworks like CodeIgniter? Will we be seeing a developer knowledge gap soon?

I suppose one argument is that it doesn't affect those applications at all. Projects built upon CodeIgniter may freely stay that way. There's no mandate that all applications must be upgraded to their nearest modern framework base! But, naturally, we'll continue to see the decline of CodeIgniter. This is a certainty, and is specifically why I've stopped commissioning new CI courses for Tuts+ Premium. We're interested in modern development; not technologies of 2008. While CodeIgniter was fantastic in its own right, the simple truth is that its time has come to an end.

Symfony and Laravel are the PHP frameworks of the new generation.


Q Along those same lines, how does PHP fit into the picture when so many web developers are preaching the virtues of Node.js, Ruby on Rails and Python with Django? Is PHP adapting to modern needs?

Pick one that feels right to you, and start building things. That's all that matters.

Perhaps the question could instead be phrased, like so: "Despite the fact that many developers champion newer languages and frameworks, why does PHP continue to dominate, to the point of 80% market share?" Certainly, something must have been done right, yes?

What this all boils down to is that PHP has been around for a long time. It's not "the new hotness." It's not overly sexy. But we get stuff done. I've never been more excited for what's in store for the community and language than today.

But, sure, those other technologies are excellent, too. Pick one that feels right to you, and start building things. That's all that matters. People focus too much on "us vs. them."


Q Last question. What would you like to tell your many fans that miss your presence on Nettuts+?

I'm still here! Let's stay in touch on Twitter. My username is @jeffrey_way.


In Conclusion

Thank you very much Jeffrey, for taking time to do this interview.

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