Our recent interview with Derek Jones, who is the CEO of EllisLab, enriched our knowledge about his professional journey, his interest in designing ExpressionEngine, and about his favourite ExpressionEngine plugins. Over the years, Jones’ firm, which is based in the US has contributed tremendously in the field of PHP.
As an ExpressionEngine development firm, we also feel proud for taking the interview of such a phenomenal celebrity.
1. How are you owning the CEO role? Can you tell us about your business journey?
Twelve years ago, I started a video production business after leaving my design job at a promotional products company. I had found pMachine Pro a few years earlier while building a hobby art site, and chose ExpressionEngine for my business’s web site. I loved the product and during some down time had produced some tutorial videos. Rick Ellis, owner of EllisLab (then pMachine) asked if I had time to do some technical support. It sort of just formalized the time I was spending in the ExpressionEngine forums helping others anyway, so I accepted. Within six months I was offered a full-time position as a developer, and accepted. I was promoted to CTO two years later and in 2012 became the CEO.
2. What drew you to design ExpressionEngine?
Mainly its flexibility, but also the culture of the product, which is a reflection of the company’s founder. ExpressionEngine keeps your content separate from your presentation, which means even if aesthetics, technology, or delivery platforms change, you’re ready for them. I fell in love with ExpressionEngine on my business’s web site, and when given the opportunity to be part of the team that made it, I jumped without hesitation.
3. How does ExpressionEngine relate to mobile technologies? (Note: Google is showing more mobile-friendly websites in search results.)
Because of ExpressionEngine’s separation between content and design, ExpressionEngine is a perfect platform to handle industry changes fluidly. Anything your hardware needs ExpressionEngine to output, it can do. Anything Google or anyone else requires of your markup to have higher relevancy, it can do. And it can deliver to all these different platforms using the same content. Content authors don’t have to worry about where or how the development team is going to deliver it. Some native mobile apps even use ExpressionEngine as a back-end data source.
ExpressionEngine is agnostic about what you do with the content. It doesn’t pigeon-hole you into anyone else’s concept of how your content should be structured and presented. Changes in the mobile space haven’t really presented ExpressionEngine with any challenges to adapt.
4. Which are your favourite ExpressionEngine plugins?
My favorite plugins are the simple ones that people build for some niche functionality that only their site needs. Creating a plugin is so easy in ExpressionEngine, that sometimes I find myself creating them when I really don’t need to. Or I look for an excuse to create one. This is a comment I’ve heard from many others as well; writing plugins for ExpressionEngine is somewhat addictive.
As an example, I recently wrote one for estimating the reading time for entries on my blog. The algorithms already exist to calculate that time. But making a plugin in ExpressionEngine for some cool template functionality was dead simple. It’s essentially six lines of code and allows for superb customization in how you can present that information. https://github.com/EllisLab/Reading-Time/
For publicly available add-ons, there are honestly too many to choose from. I don’t have any that I automatically add when building a site with ExpressionEngine, except maybe Snaptcha (https://www.putyourlightson.net/snaptcha). My not having a list of specific favorites is just a symptom of my desire to write my own add-ons.
5. What types of changes can come to ExpressionEngine in near future? Could you discuss your future steps/goals, If possible!
We’ve recently released the public beta for ExpressionEngine 3, so that’s right on the doorstep. The biggest visible change in this new version is the control panel. This is the first time in EllisLab’s history that we’ve not only had an in-house designer, but one with heavyweight skills in UI/UX. Previously someone like me with design experience but not really a designer would build the control panel. Or back end developers would implement designs mocked up by an outside design agency.
The new control panel is a dream to work in. Logging in to an ExpressionEngine 2 web site already feels old to me, even more so than with previous revisions. I can’t wait for our customers to start using it and live inside it.
What’s even more exciting to me is that this isn’t our Chief Creative Officer’s end vision for the control panel, but is just a step. He’s improving it in a way that doesn’t lose the familiar sense of being at home. That makes you productive immediately and prevents a jarring sense of having to learn everything all over again.
I’ll be speaking at the upcoming conference in San Antonio about ExpressionEngine’s future. We will still keep some things tight to our chest, but it’s important for our customers to have a sense of where ExpressionEngine is going. It should be available online after the event for those who can’t make it in October. http://www.expressionengineconference.com
6. Can I have a picture of your workspace?
I work from home on a 27″ iMac Retina 5k with a 27″ Dell secondary display, oriented to 90º. This lets me keep my main desktop for whatever I’m working on, and all communication and utility apps off to the side, but organized and available. Since we all work remotely we rely on email, Slack, GitHub, and Asana for communication. I use a Logitech C615 webcam and Samson C01U microphone for our meetings.
I’m fond of Twelve South’s accessories and use a HiRise under my iMac. Inside the HiRise are my keys, wallet, my iPhone, and a superdrive for those rare occasions. I’m a bit of a fountain pen enthusiast and always have some inked and at the ready with Rhodia notepads for jotting things down. The mug is a special stoneware stein, handmade by a local artist in Bend, Oregon that we have made just for our team.
Applications most commonly launched while working, in alphabetical order:
- Fluid App (to make Asana function more like a desktop app)
- GitHub Desktop
- Hemingway Editor (for writing)
- Kaleidoscope (for merge conflicts)
- Marked (for writing)
- Sequel Pro
- Sublime Text
- Zoom (recently replaced Google Hangouts)
Big thanks to Derek for taking the time to answer our questions.