Musings on php development as a career path

I was at a TedXBoulder preparty last night.  Ran into some really interesting folks–the usual tech folks, but also Charles, a high flying audio engineer (we’re talking Wembley stadium), Emily, a money manager bizdev lady ($30 million, minimum, please) and Donna, an engineer on leave from a big aerospace firm who is interested in entrepreneurialism.  Really looking forward to the talks on Saturday (tickets apparently still available).  I also ran into an old friend, roommate and colleague.

We chatted about a wide variety of topics, but one stuck out in my mind.  His brother is getting back into software development, and is starting out doing a lot of php.  Fair enough–it’s a great language, I’ve done a fair bit of it, and one can write good, maintainable, fase code with it.  But last night, we agreed that if you don’t want to be competing against, how do I say this politely, the lowest common denominator, it is wise to develop your software dev skills elsewhere, into one of three paths.  I thought it’d make a good blog post.  As I see it, the three options are

  • a compiled language–C#, Java, c, erlang: these tend to be used by large companies
  • a sexy dynamic language–Ruby, javascript (especially server side), groovy, python, clojure, lisp: my feeling is that these are more used by startups
  • particular packages in php–magento, drupal: these are often more configuration than coding, but can be customized to produce astonishingly powerful applications

The end goal, to be clear, is not to avoid php, but just to avoid competing against developers who are likely to undercut you.  For example, I knew of someone, in the US, who was doing contract php work for $18/hr a few years ago.  I just don’t think that’s someone with whom you want to be competing for business (I certainly don’t!).  Following one of the above career development paths will help you avoid that.  I personally have followed the first and third paths, with some dabbling in the second.

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