Interview with WestHost PHP Contest Winner

PHP Web hosting contest winner
The PHP contest has officially closed and the winners have received their prizes; if you didn’t win or are just finding out the contest happened there is still great content and code created to view and use for inspiration on your own PHP projects.
We loved contributing to the greater good of the PHP Web hosting and general PHP community through the contest while interacting with the participants. We recently conducted an interview with the overall winner, Mark Willis, and will be posting good insights from our other winners in the coming posts. Enjoy.

Read below or listed to the actual interview
WH – What does your PHP code snippet do?

  • MW – What is does is take a set of either CSS or java script files, combines them into one file and then compresses it though Yahoo/Java compression software. It’s quite a large improvement for file size and for page loads.

WH – Do you use it yourself? How did you come up with it?

  • MW – I use it on a couple client sites that I run. I came up with the idea of it mainly because I built a couple of pages that used 10-15 sub-style sheets and another 5-10 java script files. What I was finding was the page load was quite long, where its pulling all the files in a couple at a time, so I worked the program to put them all together making it a lot quicker and improving the page load speed.

WH – What was your inspiration for creating it?

  • MW – The problem I was having was the pages and sites I was working on were just taking too long to load especially on busy broadband / dial up connections. It was 20-30 seconds to load a page. As soon as I built this script to remove those two problems of having too many files, the page load time decreased dramatically.

WH – Good timing in lieu of Google changing a few things and taking into considering page load time, we’ve been thinking about that a lot.

  • MW – Yeah it’s an interesting thing. Google kind of controls a lot at the moment, especially with the Panda update that they did, it does kind of force people to keep on top of things. This is just a simple improvement we can make.

WH – Tell us about something exciting you’ve been working on lately.

  • MW – Through work I generally do jQuery plugin type stuff and JavaScript front end. But mainly I do databases and all the back end stuff, data manipulation, coding things like that.

    Out of work I’ve got an open source project that I’m doing at the moment for an online storage company. I’m also studying for university so it does not leave too much time to do other things.
    I am actually studying computer and maths sciences which is taking up all my spare time. I left high schools with a couple of A levels and went straight into work so I thought it would be efficient to get a degree in what I do.

WH – How did you start programming? What was the deciding factor for choosing PHP as a programming language?

  • MW – I actually started when I was in high school. I did an IT course and one of my projects was to build a website which I built with PHP; and that’s when I started learning PHP. I actually sold it to the school after it was finished.

WH – What was the site?

  • MW – It was a calendar system that they used in-house. Which is quite good because I was only 17 at the time.

WH – That’s pretty good to make money on your first project.

  • MW – Yeah, I didn’t moan.

WH – How did you decide to use PHP at that time? Was it just the most fitting for the functionality you were looking for?

  • MW – That was the one at the time really; my teacher showed and guided me into it. I’ve played with ASP and a couple of other languages on that level. PHP seems to be the most diverse because it’s built by an open source community; you constantly get updates and have a world of support.

WH – What advice do you have for someone just starting programming, advice you could have used when you were building your calendaring system in high school?

  • MW – I probably say, now-a-days, to “Google it” that would be the best one. Looking at what other people release and reading what other people have written. I’ve got a stack of books for PHP and MySQL that I’ve read a couple times. What other people write and have coded can definitely help and teach you a way and process of doing things.

WH – That was one of the things we liked about the PHP contest, it is a way for developers like yourself to share code; of course we’ve leaving it there for future reference. It’s been interesting to see the discussion after the contest ended with different snippets of code as well as the traffic we’re getting to the site from it. Very good advice to Google it and see what other people have done.
WH – What’s one thing every website owner should know?

  • MW – If you’re building your own site, or building other peoples sites, it’s always useful to know as much as you can about what you’ve written. Or if you’re using a CMS for example, like Drupal or Joomla, to know as much as you can about how it works and the admin sections.

    I’ve worked on a Drupal site recently which had quite bad page load and after going through the code and understand how it works we’ve managed to increase the speed quite a lot doing simple things. So in that sense it’s quite good to know what you’re doing.
    If you’re a developer making a site for a client then all you need to know is their mobile number.

Who inspires you and why?

  • MW – I’ve thought about this for a while trying to think of who. The one place I seem to spend most of my time when I’m not studying, working or looking after the kids and everything else is on the Facebook engineering site. They release updates for MySQL and PHP and what they’re giving back to the open source community. They release things every couple of weeks, stuff that they build in house and then they release back to the Open Community and MySQL. Things like Hip Hop for PHP which converts PHP code into C++. It’s such a simple idea but when you get a 50% increase in speed it makes sense to do it. That’s the kind of place where I look for ideas.

*If you’d like to download Mark’s PHP code visit his site at