An interview with Mohamed Said, Laravel's first employee.
An interview with Mohamed Said, Laravel's first employee.
Transcription sponsored by LaraJobs
Matt Stauffer: Welcome back to the Laravel podcast. This week, I'm talking with Mohamed Said, Laravel's first employee. But he's also a freediver who lives in what looks like a vacation paradise. Stay tuned to learn more!
Matt Stauffer: All right, welcome back to the Laravel podcast. I'm not even going to be counting these interviews, who knows which number ... Number fifty-trillion, podcast, episode, season 3, words ... I don't even know. I've got Mohamed Said. Mohamed has done quite a few interviews, because it's really special. He's the first employee of Laravel, and Laravel is the most popular PHP framework. It's got a lot going on for it, and it's kind of like a one-man show. There's this idea of the BDFL, the "Benevolent Dictator For Life", being Taylor Orwell. We both have, first of all, the first non-Taylor person working for Laravel, who is Mohamed, but we also have the first idea where you seen an open-source framework, you're comparing to an Angular and an Ember or someone like that, who just kind of has the BDFL, and then hired an employee. Taylor created Laravel LLC, which is a company named Laravel, and that company has an employee.
So, it's a little bit of a different working arrangement, and also, a lot of people hadn't heard of Mohamed when he got hired. He's actually already had an interview on the Laravel News podcast, he's already been interviewed by Stack Overflow. I'm hoping that we're going to be able to cover a little bit more, and a little bit of different things, maybe. I don't want to cover exactly the same territory, but I just wanted to point out -- if you had never heard of Mohamed before, you obviously have never put in an issue or pull request to the Laravel core, because he's really been very active in all those spaces for quite a while, together of course with a team of volunteers. He also writes on Medium, he also develops his own features, he's got a couple of other packages. Mohamed is a man around the Laravel community that has been doing a lot of stuff, so I'm really excited to get to talk to him.
Before I start asking you questions, Mohamed, why don't you say hi and just give us the basic picture of who you are and what you're about, when you first meet someone, how do you tell them what you're about and what you're interested in and what you do, and where you're from and anything else? Say whatever you've got to say, and then we'll go from there.
Mohamed Said: Okay. First, my name is Mohamed Said. I live in Hurghada, Egypt. Hurghada is a small city on the Red Sea. I work as a web developer at Laravel with Taylor Otwell. I've been working with Taylor for the past year or so, and that's pretty much how I describe myself to listeners about Laravel, but one of the things that I usually mention when I speak with anyone -- that I love to dive, to dive into the ocean. If I am a Laravel developer, I am also a free diver, and that's the two parts of me. That's me.
Matt Stauffer: Very cool. I think that when I follow you, the three things I get about you are, I get that you love to dive. I don't know anything about that, so I definitely have some questions for you there. I know that you're married and that you'll often reference your wife. Actually, in one of your interviews, you mention that of the things you tend to do, it's program, dive, and shop with your wife. So I might go somewhere there. Programming, diving, and shopping with your wife. So, you didn't originally live in Hurghada - is Cairo, is that where you were originally, and then once you started working with him you moved to Hurghada, is that how it worked?
Mohamed Said: Yeah, I am originally from Cairo. I lived there all my life until one year ago. Cairo is like a group of four large cities that grew up massively to become one large, huge city. So, you kind of find a huge crowd of people on every corner. It became very crowded, and very noisy, so me and a couple of friends, we tried to think like, other options, if we would like to live in a better place, or so. Each one of us picked one of the cities that we would like to move to, and my choice was Hurghada, because I love being around the sea, I love meeting different kinds of people, and the interesting thing about Hurghada is that it is full of foreigners, like tourists and residents who are not from Egypt. That's very interesting for me, because I get to meet people from different nationalities, and I get to make friends from different point of views, and so on.
That's why I picked Hurghada, and me and my wife, we traveled to Hurghada for two weeks to test the waters. We really liked it so much, and we decided just to move. Maybe that was December 2016, around a year ago.
Matt Stauffer: Okay. I love learning about where people are from, and what they're about. One of the things that I did was I opened up KAYAK for looking up flights, and I just said, you know what, if I were to leave out of Orlando, which is my closest major international airport, and I were to go to Hurghada, what would it take? What it told me was, the affordable option is around one thousand U.S. dollars. That is a multi-stage flight, with going through JFK and, I think, Cairo. It says Hurghada International Airport, but it's obviously not big enough that I could fly directly into it. But, it's a big enough airport that I could basically go out of my next major hub, which is JFK for me, and then over to Cairo, and then over to Hurghada, it would take me about nineteen hours to get there. Have you ever considered -- we'll go lots of different places -- have you ever considered pulling a Michael Durinda and all those other folks, and flying the holy over to U.S. for a Laracon? Is that something that might be in the cards for you one day?
Mohamed Said: Yeah, I'd definitely do it. I tried to do that for the past couple of Laracons, but I couldn't really arrange it for myself to fly to the states. But, I will definitely do it if I get the chance.
Matt Stauffer: Cool. So, Hurghada -- I love getting context about things -- Hurghada is a touristy, beach city, it's right on the Red Sea. Cairo is a big, metropolitan hub. You said it's four cities that have kind of grown up together, and it's really massive. Hurghada, does it feel very big?
Mohamed Said: Hurghada, it's not very big and not very small. You can drive around Hurghada in less than thirty minutes, from the beginning of the city to the end of it, because it's two roads on the sea. If you are driving on the street that is directly on the sea, from the start to the end, you can do it in thirty minutes.
Matt Stauffer: Wow.
Mohamed Said: So it's not very big and not very small, but it has a lot of different kind of people from different nationalities. That makes it feel even more rich than Cairo. In Cairo, you get to meet a lot of people everywhere, it's very crowded. Hurghada is not as crowded, but with the diversity, it makes it a rich city, not just a small city that you just go and relax. There are a lot of activities, and a lot of people to meet here, and that's why I like it in the first place.
Matt Stauffer: It seems like the best of both worlds, where it's both kind of small. There's only around two hundred and fifty thousand people, which, I complain about how small Gainesville is where I live, and the Gainesville metro area is over two hundred and fifty thousand people, but it's also spread out, so it's not super compact. Also, one of the problems with Gainesville is it's hard to get anywhere, and there's not as much of an international vibe, which you just mentioned. So you're getting a small, easily travelable place where the population density isn't too high, you're meeting people from all over, and ... Anybody who's listening to this, just pause for a second and go Google Hurghada, "H-u-r-g-h-a-d-a", and just go to Google images. It's just luxurious, beautiful blue and teal ocean vista after vista, it's just gorgeous. You can also just follow Mohamed on any social media platform, and you'll know. Pretty much all he's doing is just being in a vacation commercial every single day. Every picture you get is just you diving through the most beautiful water I've ever seen, it's kind of unbelievable.
Mohamed Said: The water here is very amazing.
Matt Stauffer: Hurghada is five hours away from Cairo, so there's a lot of people who are five hours away from just absolutely beautiful vacation destinations. There's a lot of different things that hold us back from doing what you did, pulling up your roots and moving to this beautiful place where you can do these things you want. I want to talk a little bit about some of the things that might have kept you from moving over there. For starters, is your family all still back in Cairo, and if so, has it been hard being so far away from them? Or was that a pretty easy decision to make?
Mohamed Said: No, it wasn't easy, because it took us two years to make that move, because all of the family and friends are living in Cairo. Also, I had to be in Cairo for work purposes. I just started working remotely one year before the move. So, we had a lot of attachments in Cairo, either me and my wife, because she used to work at a teaching assistant in the university in Cairo.
It took us around two years for us to get ready for the move, and I keep telling my friends, I keep encouraging them to get out of Cairo and try to experience other places, but I know how difficult it can be, so I just hope that people give it a chance and try to move there for a limited amount of time, not just to make the final decision. Just to try it for two weeks or three weeks or so before they can feel good about it, and can sacrifice all of the attachments that they have in Cairo and move to a new city, or it just doesn't worth it. I try to convince people to make the move, but it's not easy. I understand that.
Matt Stauffer: When you decided to do that two-week trip -- I think that's a really cool idea, the going somewhere for two weeks to try it out -- were you just living in a hotel, or was it something like an Airbnb, or how were you able to move to a place for a short term?
Mohamed Said: We used Airbnb to find a nice apartment. You mentioned that Hurghada is a luxurious city -- it's not. What you see on the Internet is the photos of the hotels and resorts, but actually the city is like a city in Egypt, and we can like it or not, but Egypt is a Third World country. It's not very clean, and not very well taken-care of, but it's definitely a nice, wild place on the sea. That's how I describe it, it's a wild place on the sea.
When we moved there for two weeks, we tried to pick an apartment at the heart of the city, not in any of the luxurious areas or places that has lots of hotels and lots of resorts, just a place in the middle of the city itself. Just to know the people, just to know how life is in the city, the actual city, not the touristic place. That was wise, wise enough for us, to understand the actual city, not just the luxurious places if we stayed in a hotel or so.
Matt Stauffer: Yeah, and I didn't say Hurghada was beautiful, I said when you look up Google images, it's beautiful, and that's exactly what you pointed out, which is that there's often a difference. The interesting thing is, the more First World it is, the more likely it is that if there is natural beauty, then the cost and also the quality of the places you can live around the beautiful thing, is more necessarily higher. There's not a lot of really, really, really beautiful beaches in the U.S., maybe none, where you can live close enough to the beach that you can walk or maybe drive for five minutes and have a place that you could describe the way you just described Hurghada. Because, if there's a beach, then that means there's -- a beautiful beach, at least -- that means there's incredibly expensive ocean high rises all along the way that are really, really, really, really costly. Anybody who has got access to a beach like that is probably paying quite a premium. I visited Miami very recently, and they're extremely expensive. I'm looking at an Airbnb in Hurghada. Literally the first result that came up, studio with free private beach. It's not a beautiful place, it can fit two people, it's probably a couple hundred square foot. It's seventeen dollars per night. If you compare what that looks like to somewhere in Florida, it's kind of mind-boggling to me.
I told you before we started this call, that you have opportunity to just say, you know what, I don't want to discuss that. I'm not going to ask you how much money you're making, but I do want to ask a broader question of, does working for a U.S-based company, did that make it easier to move somewhere like Hurghada? Did that give you a little bit more financial flexibility because you're getting paid a little bit closer to American rates but living at Egyptian costs, or is the cost of living not so different that that made a big impact?
Mohamed Said: Yeah, it definitely made a huge difference, like before I started working at Laravel, the decision to move to a different city not having any friends or any family around in case I needed any kind of help, that was terrifying, but the financial security that ... It gives you a feeling of security, that's how you can describe it. That you can afford living in a place like Hurghada... Even for an Egyptian having a normal Egyptian salary, Hurghada is not very expensive. What you see in Airbnb, it's like the price or the cost for foreigners.
Matt Stauffer: Got it.
Mohamed Said: Everything has two prices, one price for foreigners and other for Egyptians.
Matt Stauffer: That's hilarious. (laughs)
Mohamed Said: That's not fair, but that's how it ...
Matt Stauffer: That's life.
Mohamed Said: Because if I have an apartment in Hurghada, and I want to rent it to someone, if I don't rent it to Egyptians and I only put prices for where foreigners can afford, Egyptians won't ever be able to rent my apartment, and it will be empty for most of the year. So, people put prices for everything, even gifts, even in the shops, they put prices in dollars or euros, or the equivalent in Egyptian pounds, dollars, and euros, but if you're an Egyptian and you go and try to buy something, they give you a different price because they know that you can't afford that high price that they give to foreigners and tourists. Yes, Hurghada is a touristic city, but that kind of separation between foreigners and Egyptians, it made it a bit easier for me to make the decision. Like the financial security that I am having from my current job, it made a big difference, I can't deny.
Matt Stauffer: You talked a little bit in one of your other interviews, and just for anybody who knows, there's two interviews that I'm referencing. He was interviewed on Laravel News podcast, and he was interviewed on the Stack Overflow blog. I'll link both of those in the show notes. Go take a look at those, because I'm not going to try and cover the same stuff that they were covering there. One of the things that you mentioned was that you had done swimming, and then your trainer pushed you a little bit too hard, and you almost had to stop swimming for a while. What was it that got you back into swimming, after you had that negative experience with it?
Mohamed Said: We used to go to the sea every summer, when I was a kid, but seven years or maybe back, my father got sick and he had problems with his business, and he had to shut it down.
Matt Stauffer: I'm sorry.
Mohamed Said: They were tough years, so we didn't get the chance to go to the sea for a few years, but then when I first got engaged to my wife, we had a trip with her family and I joined them. It was in Hurghada here in a hotel on the beach, and we just got into the sea, and I wanted to impress my fiancée. (laughs)
Matt Stauffer: That's awesome.
Mohamed Said: So I tried to swim and look cool while swimming, so that she gets impressed.
Matt Stauffer: Right.
Mohamed Said: That's when I discovered that I need to get back to swimming, and I really like swimming, I really like the sea, and I need to get back to learning how to swim better. That's pretty much how that started.
Matt Stauffer: That's cool. When did you make the switch from swimming to realizing that diving was something you were interested in? What was that like?
Mohamed Said: Again, my wife was the reason, because she likes to collect seashells. I used to swim and try to dive and bring her seashells from two meters or three meters deep, and then I realized that I love diving. Because when you dive, you get closer to the fish, and get closer to the marine life, and I look cool as well.
Matt Stauffer: Yeah, you sure do. That's awesome.
Mohamed Said: That's again because of my wife.
Matt Stauffer: That's very cool. I don't know what made me think about this, but I started wondering about the languages. I don't know what put that in my brain, but I assume that the common language that everyone speaks and everything -- oh, it's because you mentioned putting things in English and U.S. dollars in the windows -- is Arabic. What was learning English like for you? Was that something that you learned in school, or was it an intentional decision that you made? Do you speak English a lot better than the folks you know, or is your level of fluency pretty common?
Mohamed Said: Well, in Egypt everybody learns English in the schools. There are two types of schools, they call the New system or the Experimental system and the Old system. The Old system is Arabic only. They only learn English when they are not very young, but the school I went to, we used to have an English class since I was five or six years old. That really helped a lot. Then, later, I kept watching a lot of T.V. movies, a lot of movies and a lot of T.V. series in English, and listened to music and songs or so. That made me collect a good amount of vocabulary.
I know I have a heavy accent, and I'm not as fluent as I am while I'm writing English. I write better than speaking, because I don't get to practice English a lot. But, I think among my folks, we are all on the same level, because we all get to learn English in schools.
Matt Stauffer: That's cool. Just, for what it's worth, you don't have a heavy accent. You have an accent, but you don't have a heavy accent. Further, I think there's a difference between an accent and fluency. You are extremely fluent, there is nothing that would suggest that you're having any trouble conveying your words. That often is the difference between either a school system that introduces it really early, or someone who's taken extraordinary efforts to learn the language. So that's really cool to hear that there are schools where they're starting it so early and making it so intensive. I've spoken to a lot of people about the impact that many or most programming things being in English has, and I actually asked for a while, to people, would it be worth me building into the CMS that powers my website, the ability to have a translated version into multiple translations for each of my blog posts. Of course the people that follow me are willing to speak English, because otherwise why follow me on Twitter? So I got a little bit of a biased sample because they all said don't worry, you just need to learn English to program.
Have you seen any, or do you have any thoughts, about non-English programming education or anything like that, or are you in the camp that just says, you know what, if you're going to do code, you've got to learn English, that's just a part of the deal?
Mohamed Said: I think that if you're going to do code, you'll have to learn English. That's why I keep telling to everyone around, because the problem is, the content of the tutorials and learning content online is all in English. If you choose not to learn English just because you don't like it or you don't think it's very important, you are missing a lot. I'm not saying that people should learn the language because it's the language of the world, and so on. People have different opinions about that around the world, but if you are a programmer, and if you don't want to learn English, you are missing a lot. The number of programmers, and the number of people who have blogs and post videos online who are willing to translate their content, is not that big. So, you definitely need to learn English to have access to all this content online.
Matt Stauffer: Speaking of access to the content, I know that one of the things that impacts people's ability to learn programming, especially in our generation where there weren't a lot of resources for programming when we were a little bit younger, is when those resources and the Internet are made available in their country. I think it's a little bit more ubiquitous now than it was ten, twenty years ago. One of the things that you had mentioned was, you'd said something along the lines of, basically, when the internet became widely available in Egypt was when, I think you were twelve or thirteen or something, and you instantly latched onto Flash. You talked a little bit about your journey from Flash to HTML to PHP and WordPress, and so I don't want to double-cover that. What I'm a little more interested in, what was it like culturally to go from what was prior to that -- and I don't know what your level of access to the internet was prior -- to after that. Not even just as a programmer, but just daily life.
What was that shift like, how universal and how abrupt was the shift where you felt like you did not, and then later did, have access to the internet?
Mohamed Said: Well, before that, you just know people, just limited amount of people around you, and you only get to know other people or other thoughts or other experiences from T.V. The thing about T.V. is that it's all managed, it's not natural. You open a channel, and you see what the channel wants you to see. It was a bit limited, and you don't get to choose what idea you need to follow, you just open the T.V., and you see programs that you must watch, that's the only option you can have. You have to watch these programs in this sequence, and so on. After I got exposed to the Internet and I tested it the first time, actually the first few times I had to open the Internet, my father was there with me and I was sitting beside him, and he opened Yahoo! and told me how to search and write a search term, and how to find information ... Back then, I was interested in maybe animals, like I want to know more about giraffes, I want to know more about elephants, and so on. He taught me how to do search and how to find the information I need. I started getting into this world on my own, and tried to find things that I am interested in, and tried to learn more about it.
Back then, there was no YouTube, and not much entertainment as far as I can remember. It wasn't like a tool for entertainment like it is now. It wasn't very, very much full of the videos and the photos like before. All websites were text-based and you just get to know information about a specific topic or so, and that's how I started. But, then I knew about chatting, and I started using Yahoo! Chat, and there was a room for web designers, and I think that this room or this period of my life where I started to chat with people, it made a huge impact on who I am right now. Because when you get to meet people from outside your world or universe, like people from different countries, and they are focused on speaking about a single topic, which is web design. It's not a general chat where everybody's talking about everything, they're just a focused room full of people from different nationalities.
I was maybe thirteen or fourteen years old back then, and getting to chat with people who are much, much older than me and much more experienced, I felt like I am not very ... very amateur. I can discuss topics, and I can get into conversations, and I can have my own opinions, and that gave me a kind of confidence that I think many people, especially here in Egypt, lack. They always feel like they are not valuable enough, or not good enough to contribute or not good enough to be able to discuss a certain topic, because maybe it's their first time to ... I don't know, I can't actually explain why people think like it, but it gave me, interacting with people and speaking with them at this young age, it gave me the confidence I need.
Matt Stauffer: That's really cool to hear. Let's say, whether through you sending this to all your friends or maybe just the natural reach of this podcast, let's say we got a hundred young Egyptian women and men who are hearing you saying this, and they say, I identify with everything that Mohamed just said. I feel like I don't have anything to contribute, or I don't know how to contribute or whatever. That's not how we want them to feel. That's not how you want them to feel, that's not how I want them to feel, I know it's not how Taylor or other members of the community want them to feel. We want them to feel like they, just like anybody in any other country, whether the U.S. or anywhere else, are welcome and have something to contribute.
Is there something you could say to them, or some advice you could give to them, that would help them? That's not just for folks in Egypt, it's for anybody else in a similar country. Let's, for your sake, target people in Egypt, young people in Egypt who feel the same way that you just described. Where they just don't know how to contribute, or that they don't feel like they're good enough or whatever. Can you give them a piece of advice or say something to them, to help them move past that?
Mohamed Said: Well, I think that if you are on an online forum where people discuss web development or the area you are interested in, and you just decided or saw a post where you have an answer, or you have a reply, or you have a point of view, and you just write on your keyboard whatever you have in mind. The problem is the click on the post bottom, that's the problem. That's what's stopping everyone. Many people, I know for sure, that they see something in Laravel or any of the other repositories, and they try to contribute or ask a question or require a change or something, and they go all the way until they even open the pull request, but they just don't publish it. They just keep it, or stop at this level. So, my advice or what I want to say, just keep it out there. Nobody will judge you. Even if you have a question, and you think it's stupid, you just have to go into the forums and see how many stupid questions are out there.
I myself, I post a lot of stupid questions everywhere. The first few times, when I got hired at Laravel, I thought, I can't be an employee at Laravel and just go to the forums and ask questions about Laravel. That will make me look like I was a misfit, or it was a mistake to hire me. But then, I decided that I'll just go ahead and continue whatever I was doing, and I'll just keep posting questions, and some of these questions are really stupid. Some of them, I can really find the answer myself if I look very deep, but it's just how people are compelled to be. We are built to live together and share what we think, and just interact with each other. So, I just post it, and don't feel embarrassed or anything.
Matt Stauffer: That's really great advice, and I really appreciate you sharing that. I think it's an interesting inverse, because I think a lot of people say, well, I don't know what I'm doing, and I don't want to ask a question. But it's funny, because the more your reputation grows, actually, the more you feel you don't have the freedom to ask those questions, just like you mentioned. You felt a lot more free asking questions before you had 'first employee of Laravel' next to your name, and then all of a sudden once you do you now have, 'oh, well I gotta know these things'!
I remember when I signed a contract with O'Reilly to write Laravel: Up & Running, the first or one of the first Laravel books with a major tech publisher, I instantly had this feeling that, well, now I gotta do everything on my own, because I can't be seen asking these questions. And it's totally true. I think that not only the best learning, but even some of the best teaching to other people, requires us to start from a place of assuming that where we are is okay, and revealing that that's where we are is not going to hurt us. Because, often, you're ... Not even just learn, you're not capable of teaching something to other people until you reveal the fact that that's something that you just learned. Sometimes you're scared to teach something to someone, because what if they say, oh, duh, everybody knows that! Well, then, you don't share that thing.
So, it doesn't just limit you from learning it, it even limits you from helping other people. You mentioned that with the pull requests and stuff. I totally affirm what Mohamed just said, which is we really welcome people to be where they are, and that's okay. I think the biggest thing, if you end up going into the Larachat Slack or Laravel IRC or the GitHub issues, or anything else like that, you'll notice that people with the simplest of questions who are kind and respectful are just helped like crazy, and people with really complicated questions who are trying to show off how much they know, who are disrespectful or unkind, aren't helped so much. It's very much like, if you treat people the way you want to be treated, as long as you're kind and as long as you're respectful, I don't think there's any such thing as a bad question in that context.
Let's do a quick break before we change topics. Your Twitter handle. I have always read it as "The M Said", like "The ... M ... Said". Is that actually what it is? What is your Twitter handle and your GitHub handle actually representing?
Mohamed Said: Well, my name is Mohamed Said. When I was young, I used to have all my usernames everywhere as "m-s-a-i-d", as "msaid". Then, I don't remember what happened, but for like a year or so, I stopped being interested in the Internet and stuff and I remember closing my accounts or just ignoring them until they got deactivated on their own, and then when I came back again, I tried to register accounts from the start, and the username "msaid" wasn't available, so the second option ...
Matt Stauffer: Ah, the worst.
Mohamed Said: Yeah! So the second option was "the-M-Said", but I pronounce it as "them-said".
Matt Stauffer: That's what I was wondering. (laughs)
That was my next question, was, now that I know the source of it, how do you pronounce it? So you pronounce it like it was "them".
Mohamed Said: Yeah, "them-said". It's easier this way.
Matt Stauffer: Yeah, that's funny. All right. So, again, I don't want to dig too far down this direction, but one of the things that I had mentioned to you before was that when there was a time, probably three to six months prior to when you got hired by Laravel, where you came out of nowhere. Nobody had really heard your name, at least not folks in the U.S. All of a sudden, you were making pull request after pull request after pull request, you were communicating extremely well, you were writing good code, they were extremely useful pull requests. We just kind of said, who is this guy, and where is he coming from? I remember that when Taylor started hiring for the first Laravel employee, one of the things I said was, this Mohamed guy is someone you want to take a look at. It wasn't my recommendation that got you the job or anything like that, but I definitely put a vote in your favor because I was so impressed with how useful your pull requests were, and how good your code was, and how well you were writing them.
The way I've kind of thought about it was that you were at a job, you were using Laravel, and I think it was something about collections or paginates or something where you just had a very specific set of needs, and you just ran into situations, and you kind of have the mind to say, well, it doesn't do what I want, so I'm going to write them. Do I have the right story in my head? Is that where all that came from? You basically jumped into a new code-base that was Laravel, you found missing things, and you pull-requested them?
Mohamed Said: Yeah, it was basically in the Validator, and I was working on a project where I had to do a lot of array validation, and I just discovered this tiny bug in an edge case, and I thought to myself that I can fix it, I know what went wrong, and I know how the code works internally, so I can fix it. I tried to just make the changes on my vendor's folder, just not doing anything pull requests or something, and I got it to work. I tested it on my code, and it was working. The next step, I saw that it might be useful that these changes, or these fixes that I did, to be published on Laravel so that everyone else can use them, and I just opened GitHub and read about how to open a pull request, and that's how I got my first pull request opened. It was rejected, because it was fixing something, but it was breaking another thing.
Matt Stauffer: Right.
Mohamed Said: After some time, I opened another pull request maybe the next day, and that one got merged. That's how it started.
Matt Stauffer: So those pagination pull requests that you put in, that I watched happen, those weren't just your first pull requests to Laravel. They were your first open source GitHub pull requests ever?
Mohamed Said: Yeah, I never contributed to open source before. Laravel is my first project.
Matt Stauffer: All right, so there's an example of someone who had never contributed to open source before, never done a GitHub pull request before. From that to working as the first employee of Laravel within under a year if I remember correctly, and if not under a year, very close to it. There's a validation for what Mohamed was saying earlier, about just go do it, because ... Not saying that could be every person listening, but that could be!
That could potentially be, you, young listener, who has never contributed to open source, who feels like you don't have the ability to do that. That's a story that could be a part of your story, whether with Laravel or with somebody else, but you need to make that first pull request before that happens.
Mohamed Said: I would just go and say, if you have something, or if you have an opinion, if you have an idea, just don't be scared to share it. If you keep it to yourself, nobody is benefited. But if you just share it, it might be useful for someone else. Just let it out there.
Matt Stauffer: Yeah, I like that. All right, so we're going to talk a little bit about your work, and your work with Laravel, and all that kind of stuff. A couple easy questions first that a few folks from Titan wanted me to ask you. The first one was, what is your editor of choice?
Mohamed Said: PhpStorm.
Matt Stauffer: All right. Did you do a transition, like a lot of folks do, where you go Sublime Text to PhpStorm, or was that just how you got started when you started writing PHP?
Mohamed Said: Well, I started writing PHP on Front Page, it was Microsoft Front Page.
Matt Stauffer: Yes! Oh my gosh, Microsoft Front Page! That's a throwback.
Mohamed Said: Yeah. And then I moved to Dreamweaver, to Sublime, and from Sublime to NetBeans to Sublime again, and then to PhpStorm. Currently I use PhpStorm on a regular basis, but I have Sublime opened, I use it for taking screen shots, because the theme there looks cool.
Matt Stauffer: (laughs) I love it. So, what is your favorite thing about PhpStorm that makes it more useful to you than Sublime?
Mohamed Said: Well, I tried a lot of IDEs before, and I think PhpStorm is the fastest. If you are coming from a background where you are using Sublime for a lot of time, you think that PhpStorm is slow, but it's not. I think it's very fast, and it makes writing good easier with auto completion, and with the many helpers that the software has. I like it because it's fast. It is fast, compared to other IDEs. Don't compare it to Sublime but compare it to other IDEs, and you will find it very fast.
Matt Stauffer: Right. So once you've decided you're going to use an IDE, then it becomes the best option.
Mohamed Said: Yeah.
Matt Stauffer: What is the most important or impactful thing you've learned from working together with Taylor?
Mohamed Said: Well, there is something that I didn't learn yet, but I wish at some point I'll start to understand how he works. Being someone like Taylor Otwell, he's very successful in what he does. He did a lot of very interesting projects helping millions of people, and the two projects or the three projects that are getting him income are very successful, and he is doing really great. But, at the same time, he didn't lose motivation. It's very amazing for me.
I feel like at some point, if I get a kind of success that I am recognized by a lot of people, and that my projects are being used by a lot of people, and I am doing very well financially, by this time, I think that I will start losing motivation in building other stuff. Like, I'll start just to relax and having something like an early retirement, but Taylor is constantly motivated to do other things. He wants to build other packages, he wants to enhance the existing packages, and he just keeps searching for ideas like new packages and how to enhance the current ones nonstop. That's something I really wish to learn.
The thing that I really admire about Taylor and that currently I think I started to learn, is how important is details. Everyone writes code, but Taylor, he doesn't only write code, he writes beautiful code. Something that when you look at, it looks nice, it looks beautiful, it looks readable. These are the details, and he is very, very focused on details as much as he is focused on the core of the thing he is building or the thing he is working on.
Matt Stauffer: Yeah, that's a really great point. One of the things that we mentioned working with Taylor, working for Laravel, has allowed you to do, was it made the move to Hurghada a little bit easier. Are there other things that working with Laravel has allowed you to do, either now or maybe that you look forward to in the future, that you think you might not have been able to do had you stayed working for the company you were before?
Mohamed Said: Well, basically right now, I think, as I shared, I am most secure financially, in terms of money. But, one of the other perks that I get when I work for Laravel, is that I know a lot of people right now in different countries, so I have that plan with my wife that at some point, when we get a chance, we would love to visit a lot of countries around the world. Now I meet a lot of friends around the world, so it would be really amazing to meet all of these people in person, and get to know their life, and just not to go to the country as a tourist but knowing someone in the country gives you the chance to know the actual life of the country, not the side that tourists see. That's one thing that I find very useful.
Matt Stauffer: That's very cool. If, let's say, and God forbid, let's say for some reason, in five years, you didn't work for Laravel. For whatever reason, good or bad. What would be your dream to do, if you were spun off, you were financially stable, let's say you had some savings. Are you the sort where you would want to start a consultancy, would you want to start a product? Would you just say, you know what, I hope that I would be financially stable enough that I could just retire? Outside of the job you have right now, which is really good and I don't want to suggest you leaving or anything. Let's say there was some circumstance that led you to not be working there anymore. What would be the thing that you would pursue, or do you even have anything in mind?
Mohamed Said: Well, during the past few months I've been speaking with my wife regarding something like that. Before working at Laravel, I used to consider myself as a mid-level developer. I am not a professional developer, I never worked for a big company or a successful company. All my past employers were small start-ups or companies that have two or three developers or so. So, I always thought that my next level is to try to apply to bigger companies, and try to enhance myself and become a professional developer, or a senior-level developer, and then maybe a team leader. Just the regular ladder of web developer or programmer. But then, suddenly, I find myself working for Laravel, and I always thought that that's something I will reach when I am, maybe over my forties or something. To work for a big name as big as Laravel itself. So, it kind of made me a little bit confused for some time, that what's next for me? What's the next step?
I am twenty-eight years old, and I don't really see myself stopping working with Laravel because I love my job very much, and I love being around with all these people. Speaking with them and interacting with them, trying to help and trying to find other ways to add to the community, so on and so forth. I don't see myself leaving this job anytime soon, but the next step, which I hope will be not before at least ten years or so, I think that I am going to try a different profession. Not even programming.
The thing is, I love programming, and I've been doing it since I was very young, but moving to a city where a lot of foreigners live, I met a lot of people who just decide for like, two years, I am not going to work. I am going to live on my savings. I've met a couple of these people who just decide for a year or two, just to relax or to enjoy or to experience something different. That idea, at first, was very strange to me. If you are successful at your job and you are moving forward in your career, why would you stop and do something different in the middle of your very fruitful years? But I realized that people, when they do this, when they pause, when they get a break, when they try something different -- when they get back, they are more rich. They think of things in a different way. So, my plan is if at some point, I have to stop working for Laravel, I think that I will try to become a professional free diver.
Matt Stauffer: Tell me more about that. Is that instruction? Is it competition? What does it look like to be a professional?
Mohamed Said: Well, I think being in competitions is on the map, but I think that I still have a long way to go before I can go to competitions, because it's a very difficult sport and it requires a lot of training. For a free diver to be able to reach to the competition level, he have to be full time training, every day, for a long, long time. Not just ...
Matt Stauffer: Wow.
Mohamed Said: I go free dive once a week. That's not enough for me to reach a level where I can compete. But definitely, at some point I'd love to get certified and teach people free diving, because I like to teach people stuff. I like to see someone who is not familiar with something and I help him, and in a few months I see him doing great in the area that I try to help him with. I like that feeling, I feel like that's something that everybody likes. I think it's not something special about me. Everyone likes to see the impact of what he does on other people. I think that my next experiment would be something related to free diving. That's pretty much what it ...
Matt Stauffer: That's cool. That makes a ton of sense. I mean, a lot of us, even Taylor and Jeffrey and me and Ed, a lot of us have said, what do I want to be doing when I'm forty or when I'm fifty? Do I want to be sitting down writing code? I don't know the answer. For some folks, the answer is yes. Some folks, the answer is no. Some folks, we don't know. Jeffrey and I have often joked about being goat farmers (laughs). Someday down the road.
I think a lot of people who are programmers really focus on having ... And they have a higher focus than a lot of other people on having a physically creative hobby. A lot of them do carpentry or woodworking or whatever, because what we do is so much in the mind, it has so little actually practical, concrete application in the physical world, that sometimes we just feel like, I just want to go do something with my hands, and just see the result. Yours isn't exactly that, but it definitely is, it's a real-world, physical, tangible thing that you already love doing, that lines up with your desires of teaching, and stuff like that. I empathize with that so much. I don't live close enough to the water for that to be a thing, and I don't know that I'm as interested in free diving as you are, but the idea of being able to spend every day in the sea sounds pretty great to me. That makes a lot of sense.
I got a couple more questions, but we're nearing the end of the interview. One of the things I wanted to ask was, we've talked a little bit about some of the different aspects of what it would look like for people's confidence level of being a programmer in Egypt. We talked a little bit about how coming up into programming might have been a little bit different, coming up into open source, about how some of your international exposure through chatrooms have changed the way you see yourself and see the world a little bit. Are there any things we haven't covered where you can say, here are some factors that make it unique to be a programmer in Egypt, that are different from what you perceive from other folks in the Laravel community, that you would want to share with us?
Mohamed Said: I'm sorry, can you rephrase that question?
Matt Stauffer: Yeah, yeah. Is there anything we haven't already talked about that is an interesting way that being a programmer in Egypt is different from being a programmer elsewhere, as you kind of see from the people you know?
Mohamed Said: Well, I can pretty much say that before 2011, the programming scene in Egypt, it wasn't very fruitful. A lot of people, they favored other professions than programming, but after 2011, the Egyptian Revolution, a lot of changes in the country and one of the things that made programming pretty popular is that a lot of start-ups started in Egypt. And because there was cheap labor, like programmers in Egypt, their salaries were not as high as programmers in Europe -- a lot of companies in Europe, they started companies in Egypt to control the amount of expense they have to pay.
So, programming became one of the professions that people look forward to, and everyone is trying to become a programmer. But, then after a few years, the curve changed and the mood changed. Because of the political instability and economic instability, a lot of companies shut down and they just left, and a lot of developers who are really good, they left their country and are now working in Europe or the States. So that leaves the scene here in Egypt as if it was like the past maybe, seven or six years, weren't there. People are starting from the beginning right now.
I think that for everyone who was an Egyptian programmer who was looking forward to try to learn more and become a better programmer, I think the lessons learned from people who started early in 2010, 2011, they all have blogs online, and they have blog posts, and they talk about everything. You can just go there and read about. You will find a lot of information on these blog posts that will help you go through the journey even faster. I'm not sure that answers your question or not.
Matt Stauffer: Yeah, that's a fantastic answer. Since that change has happened, where it feels like a lot of those companies, and even a lot of the more talented programmers, have left, are you in a place where you have any other programmers in town? Are there even any meet-ups that you can go to, or are you kind of getting all of your community online?
Mohamed Said: Well, that might sound depressing, but all my friends during the past seven years, everyone I ever worked with who was a developer, he already left the country.
Matt Stauffer: Wow.
Mohamed Said: I am the only one from my group of friends who are still in Egypt. It's pretty much very, very rough now. The scene right now is like how it was before that start-up movement appeared in Egypt.
Matt Stauffer: Right. That does sound a little depressing. The good thing is, you're living in that beautiful place with your wife, and getting to dive all the time. You have this great online community. I don't want to project this on you, but do you have a priority of seeing Egypt grow back in that direction, or is it like, well if it does, it does, and if it doesn't, it doesn't, and it's not too much of a bother?
Mohamed Said: Well, I have mixed thoughts about that. I wake up and I think that I want to help, I want to speak with developers in Egypt and try to... Actually, most of the developers, they don't know me, they don't know I work for Laravel. They are not on Twitter, so I am not that popular here. I wake up and I think that I want to help, I want to speak with people, I want to try to make a meet-up and teach people what I know, and try to start a community, but the next day I wake up and I think that maybe it's something good, but maybe it's not someone like me who can do that. It requires a lot of energy. Yes, a lot of energy. I see Prosper and Neo and what they are doing in Nigeria, it's incredible. These guys are heroes, they are real heroes. It takes a lot of energy for you to speak with people and gather them, and try to start a community. I'm not sure if I can do it, but I definitely help anyone who is willing to do it. I can help them in any way.
Matt Stauffer: That's cool. I really want to affirm what you just said, which is you can believe that the thing should happen, and still decide that you're not the person to do it. I feel that sometimes we feel the pressure that, well, it's not happening, and I value it, so maybe I should have to do it. I think that's a recipe for overcommitment and burnout. So, I applaud your wisdom in being able to recognize that even though you want that to happen, you are not necessarily the one who is supposed to be actually running it.
Okay, Mohamed, I have one last question for you. As somebody who watches all the issues, all the pull requests, all the documentation, everything else that come into Laravel, is there something, maybe a technical something, but maybe just how to interact with people, that you wish people would know? Is there one main thing that you say, as I watch the issues and pull requests that come into Laravel, I wish everybody knew this one thing?
Mohamed Said: I wish everybody reads the full documentation before they even start to call. A lot of people, they open issues and they try to ask questions while everything is already answered in the documentation. The thing is, people don't believe the documentation because they are used to documentation of other projects where things are not very clear, so it's easier to just ask the question on the forums or on the repository. But, for Laravel, the documentation is very, very clear. If you read the documentation, you will find a lot of gems, a lot of great stuff that you can use in your project.
I advise everyone to read the documentation from page one to the last page, and they will find themselves knowing a lot of stuff that, even if you are following Laracast, even if you already read Matt Stauffer's book, the documentation is necessary. It's important because it gets updated nearly every week with new features and even warnings about edge cases and no-fixes, things that we are unable to fix. So it's important that people should follow documentation, should read it every once in a while to make sure they are on the same page with the rest of the community.
Matt Stauffer: I like that. That's a very good one. I second that too. Not only are the docs always good, but Taylor has done several rounds of extensive review to make them better, clearer, more robust and easier to understand. There's as much work put into documentation, if not more, than into the actual code itself.
All right, so we're basically out of time, but before we go I want to ask, are there any things that you wish we had had time to cover, whether it's technical, about Laravel, or things about you that you wish people knew or just that are interesting, that we didn't have the chance to talk about?
Mohamed Said: Well, I won't feel tired for hours speaking about free diving. Maybe next time we speak on a podcast, or we meet in person, we speak about free diving a little bit more.
Matt Stauffer: It's funny, because every single podcast that I've had, I tried to stop saying it so that's why I've said it a million times, but I think in my head, I could talk about this one subject for hours! I think that several times during each of these interviews, and that was one of them. I do want to ask you one question about that. You put a lot of energy, a lot of time into free diving. Now granted, there are some easy, obvious wins. You're in the sea, it's beautiful, you're seeing ocean life and all this kind of stuff, but I want to hear from your brain, what is the main aspect of free diving that makes it so compelling to you?
Mohamed Said: The freedom. What I feel at the top, when you are not in the ocean, there are a lot of rules. You have to take care of how you look in front of people, how you speak, how you move, and sometimes how we think. But down under when you are into the sea, you go blank. Your mind just stop thinking, and you enjoy the freedom that you can. You don't care how you look, you don't care how you move. Even if you are swimming wrong, no one will be there to judge or tell you that you are wrong, and you can pretty much do whatever you want. There's something I really do, if I am upset or I am mad, or I don't feel quite happy. When I dive, I just go down there, maybe ten meters down, and I scream. I let it all out, until there is no air in my lungs any more, and that's the time I come up, but that feeling of being able to do whatever you want, it's freedom. That's the most incredible thing I love about free diving.
Matt Stauffer: That's amazing. I'm really glad we at least went five minutes in, because like I said, I agree with you, I'd love to go for hours like that, but I don't know if I would have even begun to understand that that is a part of it because you mention that, and I've never done free diving but I've swum in the ocean, and I remember one time I went lobster hunting and it was just me, digging around and diving around, and you're right, I had no thoughts whatsoever about other people looking at me, or my gait, or my dress, or my anything. Pure focus was on what was around me. You're really right to point that there's not a lot of contexts where that's the case. I think it's probably true at least a little bit anytime we're out in nature, it's one of the reasons why people love mountains and oceans and stuff. That's really fascinating. Thanks for sharing that.
Mohamed Said: Yeah, I love it so much. I'd keep speaking about it for hours.
Matt Stauffer: Yeah, next time we will do that.
Mohamed Said: Okay.
Matt Stauffer: So, if people are going to follow you, you are on Medium, you are on GitHub, you are on website, on Twitter, and GitHub, and they're all basically, you said, "them-said" is how you say it. So, "t-h-e-m-s-a-i-d", and pretty much on all those contexts you're there. Are there any other ways people should follow you, or any other projects or anything that you want to shout out?
Mohamed Said: Well I am on Twitter, and I like to speak with people, I like to get to know people, so just drop me a line and I'd love to speak with you on any topic. That's the message I want to tell everyone.
Matt Stauffer: I love it, that's great. Well, I could talk for hours, but we're definitely hitting time now, so ... Mohamed, thank you so much. Thank you for your time today, thank you for sharing all this stuff with us, thank you for the hard work you put in for the Laravel community. Not just as work, but as your love for helping and teaching people, thank you for contributing that and for being a part of making the Laravel community a better place.
Mohamed Said: Thank you Matt for having me, and thank you for this season three of the podcast. I've heard the past three episodes, and they were really amazing. The questions you ask and how people answer, it makes you get to know people themselves, not people as programmers, the persons. So, thank you for this.
Matt Stauffer: Well, I'm overjoyed to hear that, and I look forward to hearing when everybody gets to learn about you as well. Mohamed, thank you, it was great talking to you, and I'll talk to you later.
Mohamed Said: See you later, Matt.