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Meet Andy Miller - founder of Rockettheme.com

Meet Andy Miller - founder of Rockettheme.com - 5.0 out of 5 based on 6 votes

Hey guys, it's been a while since I wrote my last post in the Blog. I was quite busy with learning and contributing to the Gantry5 project the last few months. Also, me and my new partners are working hard on a quite interesting new project which we hope will launch in November :) Like our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter and stay tuned!

Anyway, by getting involved in the Gantry5 project I had the chance to meet the Rockettheme team, to talk with them and learn many new things! Today I have the pleasure to meet you with Andy Miller - the founder of Rockettheme.com :)

Find out more about Andy, Rockettheme, Gantry5 and the Grav CMS below!

Tell us a bit more about yourself. How did you come to Joomla? What is your background?

I’ve always been passionate about computers, ever since I badgered my parents into buying me a Sinclair ZX81 in the early 1980s. As a kid, I was always trying to write my own games and playing with computer graphics. After high school, I went to the University of Florida and got my degree in Computer Engineering. During my time at university, I got involved in the earliest beginnings of internet development, and I even had a part time job at university developing interactive web training software. After school, I worked at a very large corporation as their global webmaster and firewall administrator, but I yearned for a faster moving, and more dynamic work environment. I moved on to a few consulting and startup companies after that, broadening my skills and beefing up my portfolio.

After a few years I was doing some part time web development and building sites from scratch each time with PHP and Postgres or MySQL. I started looking into open source CMS systems to help speed up development and provide a better interface for my clients. I eventually found Mambo, which had an attractive interface, was relatively easy to develop for, and had a vibrant community around it.

I have always been passionate about design, and UI as well as software development, so I started doing some themes for Mambo and eventually joined the Mambo core team. I then started a template business called “MamboDev” but after the Mambo-Joomla “spork”, I renamed the company to RocketTheme.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I have to get up at 7:15 on the dot to take the dog out! She’s just a puppy and has a built in atomic clock or something because she’s replaced my alarm clock. After she does her ablutions, I start by checking email, reading my RSS feeds, GitHub issues, Twitter, etc. Then after that I reply to any urgent email, Twitter, Gitter.im, and forum questions. Then I grab some tea and toast before heading back on the computer to touch base with the RocketTheme team and catch up. I usually have to reply to some of them concerning questions on task or other issues that need my attention.

After that I usually start fixing some bugs or helping some people out who have questions or issues they can’t solve. Right now I’m putting quite a lot of effort into Grav, our flat-file CMS that we built, so a lot of my day revolves around that.

Once everyone that needs my help has received it, I usually start working on adding some new functionality, documenting something, developing something I want to work on like a new Grav theme or plugin. All during this time I’m responding to emails, HipChat, Gitter, GitHub, Twitter, etc. This process usually repeats through out the day until about 6 or 7 pm. Then I usually take a break and eat dinner. Often I am back online for another hour or two before bed.

Tell us a bit more about Rockettheme. What is it like to be in charge of one of the biggest companies in the industry?

It’s a lot of work! I spend a huge portion of my time simply talking with people in our virtual world that mainly consists of HipChat and Gitter.im right now. Our private chats are on HipChat, and our public chats for Gantry5 and Grav are on Gitter and GitHub. Responding quickly and with useful information is quite time consuming too. I’m also constantly talking with 3rd party companies and services that we use or are partnered with.

Because I’m not really a manager type at heart, I do still love getting my hands dirty and working on code and design. So in between all this “management stuff”, and “support stuff”, I’m knee deep “coding and design stuff”.

The cool thing about RocketTheme is that being a totally virtual company, the entirety of the business is built by a fantastic team that are at the top of their game. They really are like an extended family because we spend so much time chatting together. We joke around, chat about things going on in our lives, it’s not really like working at standard 9-5 job.

This easy working relationship really helps things to run smoothly.

We work hard, but we can play hard too. I was huge into “Quake 3” many years ago, and we continue that tradition by firing up a server and playing some Quake 4 together.

Gantry5 was officially released in the middle of July. It is a revolutionary theming framework and I truly love it! Tell us more about it. How did you decide to re-write it from the ground up? What do you think about Gantry5 in comparison to the other frameworks available out there?

We were a bit late to the Joomla template framework game originally because we wanted to be sure to develop a solid solution and not some half-hearted marketing tool. Gantry was the first Joomla framework to be released as open source, and it was the first true framework, not just some base theme with a bunch of helper functions. The quality of our original framework is self evident in that it was improved upon for 5 years, all while still maintaining backwards compatibility!

However, Gantry 4, which was the last iteration of that venerable platform, had really been taken as far as it could go. The things we wanted to build next required big breaking changes. Because of this, we just decided to go the whole-hog, and build it from scratch and build it based on all the great experience we had garnered during the years of developing Gantry 1 through Gantry 4.

Gantry 5 is really a game-changer framework. It is built on many of the modern technologies we used in Grav, namely YAML for configuration, Twig for templating, and other great PHP libraries where appropriate. It uses extensive caching and is performance-focused from the start. Also it was built to be platform agnostic to ensure that it could be ported to run on a variety of platforms with a minimal amount of fuss.

Even though it’s quite radically different, we have improved upon Gantry 4 in almost every way imaginable. Gantry 4, was probably the most flexible and extensible template framework for Joomla or WordPress, but we really upped the ante with Gantry 5. It is now by far the best framework for building functionality on top of Joomla or WordPress. I am quite biased in this opinion though :)

Gantry5 is licensed under a dual license system (MIT or GPL version 2 or later). Would you be happy to see other template clubs start utilizing it for their designs?

Like all the Gantry releases, we made Gantry 5 open source. The difference is this time we are using a dual licensing setup because we want to ensure it is not limited to only GPL platforms. We want to bring Gantry 5 to a variety of platforms, even those with alternative open source licenses like the MIT licensed Grav CMS.

We have always been receptive to other companies using Gantry to build themes. We think that the more developers that use Gantry, the better it will become. We even took the extra step of putting Gantry 5 and the default “Hydrogen” theme up on GitHub to encourage collaboration and hopefully promote contributions to making it even better.

The Gantry Framework has always been one of the most popular Joomla frameworks. Do you think that Gantry5 might become one of the most popular WordPress frameworks as well?

There definitely has been a lot of focus on ensuring the WordPress version of Gantry is as good as the Joomla version. I think that the term “template/theme framework” is bandied about a lot in development circles, but really Gantry is one of the very few platforms out there that is a true framework that is built for 2 distinct user types: Developers and End Users. We focus equally on both of these user groups, not just one or the other.

Only time will tell if the WordPress community appreciates the fact that Gantry is more than just a pretty face :)

And could you tell us a bit more about Grav? How did you decide to start the project? Also, what are your plans and ambitions for it?

For the past several years I had been noticing a trend the web was taking that moved it away from larger sites, and towards simpler more focused sites. This is clearly evident in the web design trends over the past few years, and the more minimal approaches that has pervaded our industry. This move towards simpler, faster sites meant that often Joomla and even WordPress have become overkill for many development scenarios, and there was room for a simpler, faster, and a more fun-to-develop-on platform.

I started by looking for an existing platform that would fill my requirements, but after spending weeks trying every open source CMS platform out there, I came to the conclusion that nothing fit all my criteria I was looking for exactly.

This is how Grav was born. You can read bit more about it in detail in the original Grav Beta blog post.

I didn’t really have any overarching ambitions when I started Grav, but over the past year or so I’ve started to realize that Grav can accomplish far more than I ever expected it could. I don’t think it will replace Joomla or WordPress any time soon, but I think it could definitely be a viable alternative if you're looking for a faster and more flexible development process.

Do you expect to see Grav template clubs emerging once the CMS is out of beta? How would you feel about that?

Yes, we hope to bring Gantry 5 and then RocketTheme premium themes to Grav. The great thing is that you will be able to easily transition from one platform to another if you are already used to developing with Gantry 5. I can’t say if other companies will join us in this effort, but if it becomes popular enough It could happen. I’m sure you know the saying: “if you build it, t(he)y will come…” :)

What do you think about Themeforest.net? Some well-known Joomla! Template providers have already joined it.

Envato has done a fantastic job with Themeforest, who could of guess it would become so huge! I really don’t think it’s a good fit for RocketTheme though. We pride ourselves on our community forum and our ‘club’ packages. We would be forced to follow the Themeforest rules and use their systems if we wanted to join them. I feel like it would destroy the very essence that makes RocketTheme so unique.

What would be your advice for the template developers that are just starting in the industry? Do you think it is better to sell exclusively on a marketplace or do you think it is better to start an independent template club?

It’s definitely not an easy business. Things are very different than they were when I started. People expect so much more for so much less money. They expect support and even custom development help. Also it’s much more competitive, especially on the WordPress side. You really have to commit to going the extra mile if you want to do well.

These days it’s probably not worth putting the effort in building the infrastructure required for hosting and selling yourselves, you can take advantage of a marketplace that provides you everything you need, and just chalk up their take of the profits to the cost of that infrastructure.

What do you think about the future of Joomla? How do you see the CMS in 5 years from now? Do you think we can experience another “golden era” with Joomla 4, as it was in 2008-2010?

I am really not that involved in the inner workings of Joomla any more, so I’m not really even sure what they have planned down the line. I do hope however that they focus on modernizing the platform and bringing it up to par with newer alternative platforms out there like Grav, Bolt, PageKit, etc.

I still feel like there is a place for a full featured CMS platform that Joomla and Drupal have traditionally filled. Drupal is very close to releasing their revolutionary version 8 which is coincidentally uses a lot of the same technologies as Grav and Gantry. Also there are other alternatives that Joomla will have to compete with going forward such as PageKit.

I think Joomla will need to make some radical development decisions in order to stay relevant in the years to come. There’s a great community there, and lots of experience, so if they put in a concerted effort, it could be done, but it will not be easy.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I just want to say if you have tried Gantry in the past, or have never even heard of it, give Gantry 5 a shot. I think you will be impressed with the speed, flexibility and power it provides. If you're a theme developer or a web developer doing custom development work, it will make you look like a rock star! And who doesn’t want that?

Basically the same goes for Grav, it’s a modern flat-file CMS that is built for speed, flexibility, and it’s really fast and fun to develop on. It takes the “chore” out of web development work and let’s you do things that would require lots of custom development to do with a traditional CMS. So if you have not looked at it, try it out! It’s open source and the community is fantastic. It’s going to be a fun ride!

Thank you very much for this interview Andy! I'm sure it will be very interesting for all our readers and for all Rockettheme, Gantry and Grav fans out there :)

Ivo Valkov

I'm a front end developer. I love creating things, playing football, snowboarding and so on. I also hope you like all our stuff. We started using Gantry for our projects and honestly, we love it!

Website: joomfx.com