As Trongate continues to grow in popularity, one of the things that I’ve struggled to come to terms with is the idea that it’s okay for people to say negative things about Trongate. Indeed, not only is it okay – I think that negative criticism is an inevitable part of success generally. If people are saying bad things about you or your work, it probably means that you’re having some kind of an impact. I think it’s important for successful people to be comfortable with negative criticism. Personally speaking, I try hard to disengage whenever I find nay-sayers saying bad things about Trongate online. It’s not easy but I’m trying my very best and I like to think that I’m getting quite good at it. The trouble comes when somebody who was once a hero decides to launch a vicious attack, entirely out of the blue. That’s what happened yesterday when Phil Sturgeon posted a tweet that said, “The most interesting thing about the Trongate PHP framework is how that mess got 784 stars.” So, apparently, he thinks that Trongate is a mess. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t bother with a comment like that. Trongate is a radically different framework from the rest of the crowd. It does attract controversy and – for better or for worse – the framework constantly attracts comments that are far more venomous than that. What makes this comment particularly disappointing, for me, is who it came from. So, I’m going to take the rare step of discussing this rather short tweet in some detail and then putting it in the context where I think it belongs.

Who is Phil Sturgeon?

Cast your mind back to the year 2011. Back then, the top PHP frameworks would have probably been Zend Framework (the first version), CodeIgniter and CakePHP – in that order. This was the golden age of PHP. It’s hard to think in these terms today but back then the leading PHP frameworks occupied the same space in web development that technologies like React, Angular and Vue occupy today. Back then PHP was hip. PHP was exciting. PHP meant innovation. The leading frameworks all appeared to be radically different from one another, with each one bringing something new to the table. There was no Composer Dot Phar, no PHP FIG and nobody on Earth was selling PHP certificates. There were also no middle aged men parading about on stage telling the rest of us, “If you’re not doing things my way then you’re not doing it right.” It was a great time to be a PHP developer. It was around that time when I decided to make the switch from pure PHP to using frameworks. I had been using pure PHP since 2003, however, I was extremely impressed with CodeIgniter and eventually I decided to abandon my own PHP libraries so that I could become a CodeIgniter developer. Back then, a young developer by the name of Phil Sturgeon was a key contributor of the CodeIgniter framework. I had never met him or interacted with him. However I was a huge fan of his work. I considered him to be a sort of web development hero and I think it’s reasonable to speculate that – for a while – Sturgeon would have certainly been in the top fifty list of most influential PHP developers in the world. But something happened. In 2012, a new generation of PHP frameworks emerged and the PHP landscape changed forever. This moment in time sometimes gets referred to as “the PHP Renaissance”. Some developers refer to this as being the time when PHP became a “grown up” programming language. Most PHP developers welcomed the PHP Renaissance and saw it as a good thing. However, a small but significant proportion of PHP developers – particularly from the CodeIgniter community – had an alternative opinion. We (and I consider myself to be part of this group of rebels) had concerns about things like; rewrite culture, bureaucracy and over-engineering. Today, many PHP developers sometimes consider things like the so-called "Standards" to now be an integral part of the foundations of PHP, it’s important to appreciate that it wasn’t always like that. During this “golden age of PHP” nobody knew for sure what direction things were going to go in. What turned out to be, frankly, astonishing was the eagerness with which Phil Sturgeon – a pillar of the CodeIgniter community – suddenly abandoned CodeIgniter and went fully on board with “the new PHP”. For reasons that I never quite understood, in late 2012, Sturgeon wrote an article that appeared to be attacking the very framework that he had invested massive amounts of time working on. His “5 Things CodeIgniter Cannot Do (without a rewrite)” was a demand for things like “unit testing” and “namespaces”. Whilst I never agreed with his demands, I would accept that it was a legitimate technical wish list. What seemed even more important than his wish list – to me, at least – was the thought that the CodeIgniter community was losing one of its rock star developers. At that time I had a sense of dread. I knew that it would be a huge blow to CodeIgniter if they lost Sturgeon. I was also concerned about the general direction that PHP was going in. Sure enough, it didn’t take long until Sturgeon abandoned CodeIgniter completely and went fully onboard with “The Renaissance”. This was a crushing blow for the CodeIgniter community. I can remember trying to reach out to him to ask him some questions but unfortunately the contact form on his website was broken. The last time I saw or heard from Phil Sturgeon, he was teaching (what I would call) “How to do PHP like a moron”. This was a YouTube series teaching – of all things – “PHP standards”. His presentation is still on YouTube and here’s a sample video:
As you can see, his demeanour is stiff, awkward, formal and very different from his usual, relaxed state. When I first saw this series, it signified to me that Sturgeon had now capitulated completely to the new PHP Establishment. For some CodeIgniter developers, this was the moment when Anakin finally became Lord Vader. As far as I can tell, post-CodeIgniter Sturgeon managed to land some gigs speaking at web development events. There’s no question that his suckage to the self-appointed afficionados of PHP would have been welcomed by them. Inevitably, however, his "PHP for Morons" training never quite got the kind of traction that some would have surely expected. Whilst by my own standards (I have a struggling YouTube channel) his view count was excellent, by his standards the reaction to his training would have almost certainly qualified for the word “flop”. Having played the conferences circuit, published the “moron” training and drank the afficionado cool aid, Sturgeon played his part in setting up the new PHP Establishment. He helped pave the way for paid certification, frequent and often pointless rewrites along with the bizarre practice of endorsing technologies that nobody needs (e.g., templating engines for a templating engine!). For me, Phil Sturgeon fell off the radar shortly after 2012. My speculation is that after having pledged his allegiance to “The Empire”, they would have used him and then discarded him. I think it’s reasonable to speculate that the invites to the conferences and the attention that would have been bestowed upon him initially would have quickly dried up. Regardless of whether or not my speculation is accurate, the fact of the matter is, he now appears to be no longer actively involved in web development. In his Twitter biography he goes by the name of “Tree Sturgeon” and describes himself as an “ex-Techie”. In what must be another humiliation for one of PHP’s past heavyweight champions, Sturgeon has not only ejected himself from web development - he has also removed himself from the marketplace. These days he is an ecowarrior and is the founder of a registered charity (yawn). Sturgeon’s ability to technically take Trongate apart is not in question. As I write, I have a sense of dread because I know about one or two things to do with the framework that are not entirely perfect (yet!). Trongate might never be perfect and perhaps that will always be the case. If there's one person out there who has the skills to do a demolition job on Trongate then it's probably Phil Sturgeon. Do you know what? It doesn't matter. What does matter is that change is in the air. I know for a fact that business owners are tired of getting ripped off by Laravel developers who charge clients for pointless and endless framework rewrites. I even know one business who’s on the verge of firing their entire IT team because they’re tired of PHP framework rewrites. That business – who shall remain safely anonymous – are switching to Trongate. Change is in the air. A sort of web development revolution is happening right now. When Trongate becomes a top three PHP framework, based on GitHub stars, it’ll be one of the most electrifying events in the history of PHP. The real tragedy is, Phil Sturgeon should be here. He should be right here with us RIGHT NOW. He and I should be batting on the same side. Heaven knows, we could use his help! But instead of coming on board, he has decided to post angry, jealous little tweets from the side-lines. So, I’ll close by exercising my degree in “Stating the Bleeding Obvious”. Sturgeon backed the wrong side. By cosying up to the self-appointed code police who damn near ruined PHP, Sturgeon made the transition from “rock star developer” to “irrelevant Twitter troll”. Even if he tried to become involved with the PHP Establishment today then I think he'd be left standing out in the rain with his nose pressed up against the window. That's because PHP is now flooded with people who are eager to suck up to the self-appointed afficionados. His competition (in the speaker circuit, for instance) would come from people like Adam Culp - in other words, people who are in with the bricks. There's a lesson here for all of us. Never back a technology or an organisation that you don't believe in! Regardless of whether or not Trongate is a mess, one thing is for sure. Just like the old song says: We're gonna do it anyway! DC