Ptah Dunbar is a self-taught digital architect, internationally renowned speaker, educator and serial entrepreneur with over a decade of experience creating software and contributing to open source. Ptah speaks 10 languages, teaches students how to code, and is on a mission to create software that empowers a trillion people over the next decade.
Where do you work, what is your current role?
I’m the founder and CEO of PirateSchool—an organization aimed at addressing issues of inequality and inclusion in tech through people development, social impact and upward (social-economic) mobility.
How do you use PHP professionally?
I started developing with PHP in the 5.1 days when I first ventured into dynamic web applications and learned from many popular libraries and frameworks at the time (Joomla, Drupal, phpBB, WordPress, and a bunch of freely available scripts online).
Coming from ActionScript 2.0 and Macromedia Flash, I used PHP to enhance static applications with database and XML support.
Fast-forward to PHP 7, I mostly use it under a WordPress setup to power websites and apps running highly available at scale. I also found it relatively easy introducing my students to coding via PHP (along with Laravel and friends) as a de-facto starting point to backend web development as PHP has really matured over the years without overly complicating the learning curve (in spite of its quirks).
How and when did you get involved speaking or writing in the community?
I wrote my first blog post in December of 2006 where I talked about my experiences pursuing my career goals—documenting my successes and failures throughout that process. Then my first speaking engagement took place at BarCamp Miami 2009 where I presented about an open source PHP framework I authored, it’s benefits, example use cases and announced its general availability.
What’s your best conference memory?
The best conference moment I experienced was OSCON 2018 in Portland where I connected with over a dozen black engineers from all walks of life, in the same space, with similar goals, challenges, and backgrounds I could relate to. We instantly connected with each other. We felt at ease being around each other for the first time and ended up vibing out the rest of the conference together having a blast. That moment made me double take on all previous conferences I attended or spoken at to reflect on why this experience wasn’t felt before and how that might change. I left OSCON feeling overwhelmed by all the content and takeaways from the sessions but empowered and invigorated seeing other leaders who look like me doing amazing things in their zip codes and beyond.
What advice do you have for someone going to their first conference?
TLDR: Bring your A-game or walk the plank with missed connections and opportunities.
Do your prep work thoroughly. Make a list of interesting talks that could help you and the people in your community in the short and long term. Get to know the speakers beforehand then prepare targeted questions for them (when you get the chance to meet them during their talk, 1-on-1 or around the hallway track). Have a fast way (notepad, or an app) to pull up and write down notes, connections, and insights. You’ll be experiencing (seeing, hearing, feeling) a lot of uncharted territories and information overload so don’t forget to take deep breaths and drink plenty of water. Make an attempt to connect with new people and be a bridge for others in your community. Write up and publish your experience about the conf and keep sharing the good word with your friends.
What’s your primary OS: Windows, Mac, or Linux?
Mac daddy retina display with hotkeys to virtualize into your favorite Linux distro.
What makes PHP a great fit for writing back-end APIs?
Launch an API in 15 minutes or less.
Deploying scalable APIs in the cloud is a cake walk in PHP userland. It’s as simple as typing out a few CLI commands and tweaking config files for the environment.
You can beat the ease of going from nothing to something cause having no background—’tis not a problem.
Let’s not forget the vast online support of resources (GitHub, composer, packagist, etc.) in userland that provides a comprehensive body of integrations with most third-party APIs you’ll ever need. And writing custom code ain’t as hard as you’d believe. Shout outs to Laravel and all the frameworks and libraries for making it fun and enjoyable for the rest.
And when you can’t figure it out on your own, the PHP community has your back with amazingly supportive user groups, conferences, and commercial players.
Will serverless kill APIs?
Serverless?! Are you referring to the concept or the application of serverless? And are we talking about APIs in general or REST APIs specifically? Is serverless in my API or is that something that could replace it entirely? What are the major risks to serverless? What about the potential overhead and learning curve? Is it more cost effective? Will it positively influence any business or technical metrics? I recommend a first-principles approach to systems analysis and architecture to ground your team into the real economic benefits of a particular technology choice.
What’s one lesser-known feature of PHP that you use a lot or appreciate?
Going public on my localhost: php -S localhost:8000 -t public
What’s the most frustrating/challenging thing when building an API?
Deciding what’s what and who’s a resource. Then wrapping responses back to the browser in various formats. Should I take a REST or am I gonna graph some Qs and Ls? It all depends…
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