Twenty years ago, Rasmus Lerdorf, announced the first public release of PHP, at a time when the web was considered a fairly new and unfamiliar place. So in celebration of this special event here's my story of how I started with PHP and some free words of wisdom I've picked up along the way...
In all honesty, I was late to the PHP scene. It was only mid-way through PHP's life that I even stumbled into this remarkable community. Some time in the summer of 2005, I decided to dive into the world of web development. Prior to that I was only doing desktop development for Windows. I quickly realized the world was moving to the web and I was missing out. I knew very little about developing software for the web, at the time. I understood some basic protocols like TCP/IP, HTTP, and SMTP, but not enough to build anything useful. So I decided to dive in head-first. From there my world, as I knew it, had changed forever.
My first attempts steered me towards Perl. I quickly learned that testing software you're developing for the web and testing software you're developing for the desktop were two totally different worlds. I was slow to learn. I had to setup my own linux box, figure out how to compile and install the Apache httpd web server, learn to deal with the command line (something Windows did not help me grow accustomed to) and that's where I discovered PHP. At first sight, PHP was just easier to get up and running with Apache httpd and simpler to build basic HTML templates with. As I was learning HTML I started writing small snippets for specific pages I wanted on my site. PHP just made sticking in the dynamic parts so much simpler as I could just add code directly to my existing HTML rather than have to stick my HTML into code (as with Perl). It just made so much more sense and something clicked!
After all of the barriers to entry I had faced up until that point (from having to learn an entirely new operating system to learning new languages across the stack) I finally felt like I was starting to make real progress with PHP. I could take an idea in my head from inception to a working prototype in a matter of minutes, not hours or days (as I was used to in traditional desktop development). This was like magic!
A few years, a lot of humility, millions of lines of code, and many smarts later I managed to make a lot of strides on the web because of PHP. PHP is also what helped me wrap my head around the power of open source. So I began contributing to the PHP project one small piece at a time. At first it was just bug reports and contributing simple fixes to the documentation like typos and better examples. Later I taught myself C and contributed some of my own patches to the PHP source code. I also spent a lot of time over the years helping others learn PHP through IRC, StackOverflow, and other various community forums. I even gave a few of my own talks about PHP and mentored others.
Over the last 10 years PHP has afforded me the opportunity to develop new skills, experience the joy of helping others materialize their ideas into working code, and even land some jobs working on some of the world's largest web sites. It has also brought me a lot of pain, but a lot more pleasure. If it was not for the efforts of people like Rasmus, that started PHP, and the many more after him that continued that effort of innovating, knowledge-sharing, collaborating, and inspiring people like me, I would not be here today writing this "ode" to PHP.
So thank you to everyone that has helped me get here. Whether you know it or not, and whether I even know your real names or have met you in real life, I truly thank you for all of your hard work in keeping this great community around for two decades. I am humbled and honored to be a part of such a wonderful experience.
And for those that have only just begun their journey into PHP, as I have many years ago, I would like to thank you in advance, for all that you will do in the next 20 years if you stay the course. It can be quite stressful to venture into a new language, deal with a community that predates your ways, and becoming a part of something bigger than yourselves. However, I am confident that if you take the good that comes of all of that and discard the bad, you will likely feel the way that I do many years from now. PHP has brought us all so many wonderful web sites, frameworks, and jobs from which millions continually benefit every day. I am proud to be but a blip on that canvas!