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Interview: Ben Marks as Developer Evangelist

ben marks - magento imagine 2014 hackathon

Close to 30 days after Ben Marks his appointment as Developer Evangelist at Magento Imagine, we got to speak with the man himself. What does he think about his role and what are we in for?

On the off-chance our audience doesn’t know who you are, can you introduce yourself in a line or two?

I’m a 6-year veteran of Magento development with 3 years and over 1500 hours spent teaching and consulting for Magento U. I have ten years’ experience in PHP development and was a professional drummer for several years.

(…) we have to be brilliant when interacting with business owners and stakeholders

So how does one become a developer evangelist for the Magento platform?

Well, to do it for Magento, Inc., first Magento had to create the job! Actually, we have many evangelists already. These are the people out there making Magento fit for their clients. Anyone can be an evangelist as long as they understand the benefits and the limitations of the platform.

Being an evangelist means knowing when Magento is the right solution or when it can be extended reasonably to meet a requirement. Evangelists have to be good when interacting with developers, but we have to be brilliant when interacting with business owners and stakeholders. That’s a rare combination.

Was there a job opening you replied to or were you personally contacted?

Magento Inc. posted the job online in January and then I believe re-opened it later on. After I had a heartfelt conversation with Kevin Eichelberger (owner of Blue Acorn) and received his blessing I submitted my application. I was fortunate to have been part of an organization which helped me grow and then fly away on my own wings, and I’ve forever indebted to Kevin and all of the great people at Blue Acorn for their guidance and friendship.

Did you have any competition?

Yes. I heard from a couple of my friends that they had applied when the job was first posted. I imagine that there would be several others interested in the position as well.

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Developer Evangelist“; isn’t that some sort of buzzword?

It’s a newer position in the tech world; perhaps there’s an analogue in other industries and at other times. Ultimately the answer comes down to how enabled the position is by the company. My experience thus far tells me that I am quite empowered in this role – I am able to find my own path under amazing guidance from my peers and managers.

eBay is by no means a fast-paced startup anymore. Are you foreseeing any bureaucratic difficulties with your role?

Let’s say that I’ve been pleasantly surprised. In my opinion (a few weeks into the job), Magento, Inc. has retained its startup tenacity & exuberance to get things done. I also see how access to the resources and experience of eBay Enterprise and eBay Inc. helps us to get things done.

That said, when certain things seem to move slowly, it’s often because nothing is done in a vacuum within the Magento organization. We have to coordinate efforts across many departments and even organizations.

Ultimately the large eBay family allows us to offer a lot of features, but this can take a little more time. One of the things which I can help to do though is make sure the community is informed about the reasoning for our timelines.

What do you fear will be difficulties as a Developer Evangelist for the Magento platform?

It’s a big, big role (we have a large community), and it’s difficult to measure success. Fortunately there are several successful developer relations people in our organization (in particular Jonathan LeBlanc and John Lunn from PayPal). I’ve been in touch with them and with developer relations folks from other companies. Fortunately everyone I’ve spoken with is genuinely interested in my success.

In the short time span between your appointment and now, we have already heard of great things to come (i.e. a new bug tracker, moving more code to Github). When do you consider your efforts to be a success?

there will always be room for improvement, especially as times, markets, and technology change

Boy, I wish I could take credit for the bug tracker, as the previous one drove me so crazy that I stopped using it. This change was a long time in the making, and full credit to the teams that made it happen, as the JIRA integration will help make submitters be more informed.

This is just one example of how so many people in the Magento organization have had the exact same ideas and opinions as the community. It just takes someone like me to help us justify how we spend our precious developer and project management resources.

Above all, I know that I’ll never reach a moment when I get to say, “I’ve succeeded.” Part of my job is to help to improve the channels of communication headed into and going out of the company. I doubt that this job will ever be “done” – there will always be room for improvement, especially as times, markets, and technology change.

Is there anything you would like to say before we wish you the best of luck with your future endeavors?

I realize that I am one of the most fortunate people in the world. I get to interact with people all over the world, talking about and helping to improve a platform that I love. I expect to always be held accountable by the community to move things forward. Without a community, there is no Magento – and I’m in a position to make a difference.

We are thankful for Ben Mark’s time and honesty. Our personal believe is that he’s a good fit for his current role in the Magento ecosphere. In case you want to get in touch, he’s easily reachable on Twitter or by email at his first dot lastname at magento.com.

Upcoming Thursday (12th of June), Ben will take part in an “ask-me-anything”-chat on the Magento subreddit – more details will follow.

Header image: Ben Marks during the Magento Imagine 2014 Hackathon. Via Flickr.

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