PHP Developers at SpareFoot Work on ‘Really Cool Tech That Really Matters’

By    March 4, 2014

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Look around the development team at SpareFoot, and you’ll see a bunch of smart techies who drive our self-storage search engine.

Without our developers, you wouldn’t be reading this blog post right now. Or you wouldn’t be able to shop for a storage unit on SpareFoot. Or, most importantly to SpareFoot, you wouldn’t be able to book a storage unit online—that’s how we make our money.

Someone like me who has a journalism background and steers clear of math and tech can’t pretend to fully grasp what our development team does. So I asked Patrick Mizer, lead developer at SpareFoot, to provide some insight into our development sphere.

What contributions does the development team make at SpareFoot? How does the development team support SpareFoot’s growth?

1. We build the core products. This enables storage facility client growth and consumer traffic growth and, ultimately, financial growth.

2. We build and maintain the systems that support the increases in web traffic load. We’ve more than doubled our traffic year over year since I’ve been at SpareFoot. This requires writing code and laying out systems architecture that is scalable.

3. We support internal tools used by various departments at SpareFoot. For example, we maintain an internal tool that our award winning Amazing Customer Experience (ACE) Team uses to assist consumers who call in.

Patrick Mizer

Patrick Mizer, lead developer at SpareFoot

Which programming languages do SpareFoot developers use?

We write the majority of our web application code and middleware in PHP. We use Java for some of the heavy lifting on the back end and where high concurrency is required.

What advantages does PHP have over other languages?

PHP is mature. It has a long proven track record powering production environments.

Why does SpareFoot use PHP?

When I joined SpareFoot in 2009, the original site was written in PHP. When you have three months of runway, you roll with what you’ve got. That said, PHP has worked well for us for a few reasons:

1. PHP is mature and robust.

2. There are tons of reusable PHP libraries out there. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel, and PHP’s composer makes libraries easy to bootstrap and start using.

3. PHP is a c-style language. Anyone with a computer science background will be able to pick it up.

Which big-name companies use PHP?

A lot of high-traffic sites are built on PHP, like Facebook, Flickr and Wikipedia.

Facebook

Facebook is among the companies that use PHP.

Which languages compete with PHP?

A few competing languages are Python, Ruby and Java.

Is PHP considered “cool”?

I’m not sure that anyone has ever said that PHP is “cool,” per se. PHP is just a tool; the developer is on the hook for producing “cool” things with it.

Technology has its own fads and is kind of funny in that sense. PHP is rarely listed in the “sexy”’ category, even though it powers a healthy swath of the Internet.

What makes a good PHP developer?

There’s no distinction between a good PHP developer and any other kind of developer. Good developers are passionate, curious and meticulous.

What are a couple of examples of projects that the SpareFoot development team has worked on that would be obvious to self-storage renters and SpareFoot’s facility clients?

We replaced our legacy search service with a faster Apache Solr solution. The immediate win was substantially faster search results, but this new service also lays the groundwork for additional functionality that wasn’t previously possible. Search is central to our business, and a fast, efficient search is extremely important for both renters and facility clients.

twilio

SpareFoot developers have worked with Twilio on telecommunications apps.

We’ve also done a lot of really cool work with the Twilio platform. Twilio is a service that allows developers to write telecommunications applications. Our Tenant Connect product uses the Twilio platform to initiate a phone conversation between the facility client and the consumer shortly after a booking occurs on SpareFoot. Our research has found that facilitating this conversation greatly increases the likelihood that the consumer moves into the client’s facility without issue, as any questions can be answered by the on-premises facility manager.

We are looking to hire a dozen PHP developers. Why should a PHP developer come to work for SpareFoot?

We work on really cool tech that really matters. A few cool things that we built recently are:

  • A feature flag and A/B testing framework.
  • A Solr-based search algorithm framework.
  • A site-performance instrumentation tool.
  • An end-to-end Twilio-based interactive voice response solution.
  • Session-based phone number tracking.

What drew you to PHP development?

I started writing BASIC when I was 8 years old. The realization that I can think up an idea, sit at a computer for a few hours and make it reality was incredible. I was instantly hooked and knew that development was what I wanted to do.

I picked up some PHP while I was in college. In my first development job, I worked 80 percent in Java and 20 percent in PHP. I liked that PHP as a language was straightforward and made it easy to get things prototyped.

Want to join the development team at SpareFoot? Check out our job posting!

Photo of Patrick Mizer by Matt Stites

John is editor of The SpareFoot Blog. He first moved to Austin in 1999, when downtown Austin wasn't nearly as lively as it is today. John's loves include pizza, University of Kansas basketball and puns.

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