Twenty years ago today, Rasmus Lerdorf, the creator of PHP announced to the world the release of a collection of scripts to help developers build web pages that do more than HMTL can do on its own. Here we are, 20 years later and PHP is running something like 80% of the web. That’s pretty impressive! I’ve been working with PHP for most of that time but haven’t ever written down how that came to be. I started working on PHP back in the late 90’s, probably 1998 based on what I remember. I’ve thought it was 1997 but based on the timeframe, I don’t think that is right. I remember working with PHP 3 and then shortly afterwards upgrading to PHP 4.
My start with PHP happened back in college. One of my professors had some NSF (National Science Foundation) money for the ACM-W (Association of Computing Machinery’s Women in Computing) to build something that would allow you to more easily find articles about women in computing/technology. At this time, Google was basically a twinkle in the eye of Page and Brin. So I did some research about how I could get something on the web. I think ASP was there but that came with licensing. I stumbled on PHP and a few tutorials from WebMonkey.com. I’m certain this was not great code and the site I produced was likely jammed full of SQL injection and XSS issues and some terrible database design (model tables after Excel spreadsheets anyone?). But we had a working interactive site that allowed users to search and find articles about women in tech and computing. You could search by author, title, publication, year, etc. It was AMAZING. Much of it was extremely procedural and definitely mixed PHP with HTML. I built, ran and tested it on a server called OmniHTTP because it was available for free on windows and I could hook PHP into it.
The site was up and running until a few years ago (yikes!) and allowed users to also submit articles which would be moderated and approved to help prevent spam.
From there I introduced many of my friends to the language, usually by throwing together a quick application with PHP and MySQL that would allow them to track their ski trips. It was pretty impressive at the time to be able to build something that would allow you interact easily with a database from a web page. Today, not as much, but since PHP was built with the web in mind, it worked great.
After I graduated, I worked for a company doing C/C++ on the iSeries platform. During my downtime (there was a lot) I built little tools with PHP to do things like keeping track of how many free sodas we were drinking (not a small number). I was one of the first people to get PHP working on the iSeries (AS/400 back then) and ended up writing a couple of magazine articles for IBM’s eServer magazine, introducing PHP to AS/400 developers. Today PHP support appears to be key to iSeries and it looks like it’s much much easier to get going. Back in the day, we had to compile binaries on AIX and then move them over and do some other fiddling on PASE to make it work. After about 6 years of that, with some side work building sites, I got a full-time job working on PHP for a cell phone company. I learned a ton there and was able to build some really cool software that made and saved the company millions of dollars.
While there I found (after almost 8 years of searching) a local PHP group and started attending. A few months later, I ended up running for and being elected president of the group which I ran for about 4.5 years. I passed it off to another leader a bit over a year ago and it has since been handed over again and I’m back involved with that again.
At this point, I’m in charge of a bunch of developers building all sorts of PHP applications. It was at my current company that I was able to start attending PHP conferences. I started submitting talks and eventually got a few accepted. I’ve now spoken at a decent number of conferences, nothing crazy, but usually 2-4 per year. With that I’ve been able to meet and become friends with many of the elite of the PHP community that I’d been following, in some cases, for over a decade. I’ve recorded videos to help others learn PHP and web development, written for PHP Architect (I’ve got a column in there this year ) and enjoy hanging out with other PHPeople on IRC.
PHP was the first language that I feel like I really ‘grokked’ and I’ve really enjoyed the 16 or 17 years I’ve been involved in learning the language, building applications and sites, and teaching others how to become better developers. Here’s to the next 20.