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“The Power of Magento, In My Opinion, Comes With Its Awesome Community of Smart People.” -Interview With Tobias Hartmann

Mubashir Ahmed Nov 04, 2016
tobias-hartmann

Tobias is a designer/developer and a Magento enthusiast. He is currently working as a Magento Front-end developer at Sitewards. In this interview, Tobias shared his valuable insights regarding Magento and development practices. On a casual note, he even told us about the best places he has visited and shared his passion about hiking and trekking. So, let’s get to know him more and start with the interview:

Arpatech:  Tobias, you are a front end developer of Magento. What is the best thing about front end development of Magento 2 version when compared with version 1?

Tobias: I would see myself as a front end developer who is currently working with Magento. For me, this is because I’m more into CSS, SASS, LESS, HTML, JavaScript and not so into XML and other Magento specific templating.

The best thing about Magento 2 Frontend… well, that’s a hard question, and we should see it from different angles. If we see it as the Magento System, compared to Magento 1, Magento 2 made the Framework very complete by adding “modern” front-end techniques like LESS processing, RequireJs, a Grunt workflow and some more interesting additions. By that, we could say the way how Magento 2 works with LESS is a quite interesting approach, and by integrating RequireJs and Jquery in the framework they did a great job. For the Magento ecosystem, a complete framework or environment can also be considered as a very good thing, I guess.

If we now see it as a front end developer who already worked with the newest technology like SASS, post CSS, etc., maybe within Magento 1 and had an established framework like foundation or bootstrap, there is no such best thing. Magento 2 kind of reinvented the wheel by building its own complex framework, using older technology like LESS and added additional complexity on top of the common workflows.

For me, what I also discussed in my talk on Meet Magento Netherlands this year, the Magento 2 framework is a very interesting one with all that additional complexity. But it seems not ready yet, not shaped enough to become a framework people love to work with. There are a lot of smart ideas behind its complex workflows and with the power of the community, this could become a very very powerful.

The only Problem, in my opinion, the community will most likely not go deeper into it, since we frontend devs already have a lot of complex things running and particularly want to get rid of them if you see nowadays discussions on tooling and the front end workflows.

Means, the one “best thing” is not yet there but together, the community and Magento, could build a more attractive, modern tool chain for front-end developers.

Arpatech: Magento happens to be the most popular ecommerce platform. What guidelines will you give to a newbie of Magento about front end development?

Tobias: Can I say, try something different then Magento? Ok, just kidding. 🙂

The power of Magento, in my opinion, comes with its awesome community of smart people. So what I did and would do again is, first get your hands dirty by hacking into the system and make everything wrong you can, then take one of the Magento trainings to learn how to do it right and third, register in the slack channels, visit Magento Unconferences, find the people on twitter and start to communicate. Be a part of the Magento world and you’ll have superpowers for your work with Magento and for yourself as a developer.

Arpatech: What is the best project you have been engaged with so far? What motivated you to choose Magento as a career?

Tobias: I don’t have a single “best project” but a couple have stood out to me. To me these were the most interesting and helped me to learn a lot about coding for e-commerce and Magento and were mind blowing.

One of these was a configurator for a scooter, based on Magento. The first challenge was how we were going to realize this since the product types within Magento did not reflect everything that we needed. There were core parts to the scooter but also additional parts, colors, sticker and insurance. So we made a plan on how to fit all these into the Magento available products.

After we sorted the product type the decision was made to use a complete javascript configurator front end. We wrapped our minds on how to build a flexible but performant API from Magento to the javascript configurator  and a fast and animated front end. This consisted of Requirejs, Backbonejs and Marionettejs. For me this was a great combination of interesting techniques with a nice and flexible result.

Can we choose Magento as a career? I didn’t do so, I have chosen e-commerce, frontend development and public speaking as career and Magento as the framework I stick to. But thinking about, what would make me choosing Magento as the career, I would say the community. The community of a framework is such a big motivation driver.

Within the Magento community, there is a lot of potential for frontend developers. What I really enjoy is that it is a very open minded friendly community with a lot of very great people. I might repeat myself on that topic over and over again but a community is one of the most important parts, it decides if a framework will stay alive or will die and it is by far, in my opinion, one of the biggest motivators for a developer to stay with a certain technology or framework.         

Arpatech: You have a vast experience in Magento development.Can you recommend the top 5 free themes and extension available for Magento 2 and Magento 1.9 respectively to our newbie developer?

Tobias: As we did not play that much with Magento 2 I can’t point you to extensions but what I really like is the SASS Theme from Snowdog (https://github.com/SnowdogApps/magento2-theme-blank-sass). So if you start with Magento 2 either take that SASS Theme in the beginning or take some time to investigate deeply how Magento 2 frontend framework works.

For Magento 1 there are a lot of cool and helpful extensions out there, so I give less direct extensions but more of an advice where to search.

For building a bootstrap based boilerplate theme I recommend the Webcomm Bootstrap Boilerplate. A lot of good and helpful extensions are from firegento, so check their GitHub repositories. People involved in the firegento group also have a lot useful extension, which you should check. It is also very beneficial to check out some Agencies with love for Magento, for example, IntegerNet who developed a Solr extension as an example, or AOE and Firebear Studio, who do a lot of extensions and have helpful Articles. And for sure you should check out Lizards & Pumpkins for the catalog.

Arpatech: We all have some mentors and inspirations in our lives. Can you name some people in Magento community who inspired you or whom you admire?

Tobias: Yeah, let’s start with Ben Marks, I really like to hear him talking on stage and I think he’s a very great and inspiring speaker. Since I started now with talks as a topic, I want to name David Manners too, who gives, the funniest and impressing talks also, he is a great developer with a very nice pragmatism on how to solve problems. So if you want interesting talks which drive you crazy (in a good way) and keeps you thinking, then you should talk to David. I also gain a lot of motivation and inspiration from Fabian Blechschmidt, who counts for me to all those great persons on Stage, too.

Since the Magento community mostly consists of PHP developers, don’t judge me on that, I can’t tell names about inspiration on coding. Here I have to go out of the Magento community and name people like Harry Roberts for CSS coding, Gregor Martynus for JS-Coding and community work; I just realize that I can name a lot of people here because there are so many who can inspire in so many different ways.

Just keep your eyes open and you’ll find inspiration and motivation everywhere.

Arpatech: Since you are a front end developer, can you give details of some useful front end features of Magento 2? Please guide our readers about the best practices to follow while working as a front end developer.

Tobias: The Magento 2 framework has a build in living documentation on its stylesheet components, unfortunately, this applies not to changes made within themes, but at least there is something for all the base components and for the base theme.

I don’t know if it is useful in the current state of implementation but also the override less file technique can give a lot of power and flexibility, on the other hand, it makes the standard less process very complex. When It comes to less, the use of guard methods can help a lot, which was a good move to make the components better adjustable. The way we deal with the media queries is also an interesting idea, although, I don’t like the actual implementation. Depending on media queries and guard functions, there are several CSS files created, such a styles-m and styles-l where we have screen size dependent sheets, which should make loading the page a lot better. One of the problems currently is, that all small styles go together with styles marked as common into the mobile stylesheet, so at the end, the mobile stylesheet is the heavy one, which doesn’t make much sense.

But anyway a really nice idea for modularizing things and only load them if necessary.

Since I did not work on a project with Magento 2, and for me, the front end feels not ready, I can’t suggest the best practice yet. I’m watching how the system advances and there are already a lot of changes in it currently, so everything I say might be already too old. The only I could tell is something general, so if you work with a new huge framework like Magento 2, make sure that you know your tools. The best practice is either to use the framework completely and its powers or deactivate it, don’t try to just blindly make override files or try to build a theme, based on the Magento 2 given themes, without knowing what and how to do, there is no such thing then simply changing variables.      

Arpatech: Since I follow you on twitter, I have noticed that beside your professional career, you happen to love climbing. What are the best places you have been for climbing expeditions? Also, do you love hiking? What else do you prefer to do in your free time?

Tobias: I love hiking nearly the same as much as climbing because you can explore most beautiful areas which you otherwise never would see. Besides that, there is nearly no way to climb outside without hiking since Mountains are mostly unreachable directly from a street or parking place.

The best places so far were in Mallorca, Austria and Croatia.

Mallorca is so awesome for hiking and climbing, you would never expect that this tourist overcrowded party island can be such a nice place.

For example, pack your things for deep water, solo climbing and head out to Cala Sa Nau. You can hike along the south-east cost to that wonderful place, it is a small beach with great but not very hard climbing routes, starting directly from the beach. In evening hours, there might be a DJ on the beach pub, playing electronic sounds while you climb along the coast. It’s so amazing, especially in the evening hours.

If you’re interested into pictures about those places continue following me on twitter or better on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/toh_82), a couple of days ago I posted some views from Lake Garda Italy.

My other free time is usually spent on sports like functional and crossfit training, hanging out with friends, chasing the best Beer and Coffee in town or while playing blizzard’s Overwatch. So, if you’re in Frankfurt or I’m near you, just drop me a message, I’m always in for Beer or Coffee.

Mubashir Ahmed

Mubashir Ahmed

Magento Community Manager at Arpatech
Mubashir has served many clients in the domain of Web Development. He loves to work in Business Intelligence and Data-warehousing. He is engaged in latest eCommerce trends and also loves to Travel. You can follow him on Twitter @m_ahmdd or e.mail mubashir.ahmad[at]arpatech.com
Mubashir Ahmed