Miguel Balparda on Magento

In this first episode of season 2, we're happy to welcome Miguel Balparda of Nexcess to talk about Magento 2.

Miguel is a globe trotting ambassador for Magento and for Nexcess. If you've been to a Magento event, there's at least a 50/50 chance that you've run into Miguel. He lives in Argentina, but is on an airplane traveling the world for Magento most of the year.

We kicked off the podcast by asking Miguel about the changes that he's seen in the Magento community since the purchase by Adobe and - spoiler alert: There've been a lot!  And then we talk about some of the work he does working with the Adobe team to keep Magento going and particularly to develop some of the front facing headless JavaScript based features that are increasingly common with more high profile and more difficult website builds.

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Transcript of Miguel's Episode

  • Steve: Hey and welcome to season two of the OSTraining podcast. I'm Steve Burge and in this season we're going to be doing exactly the same as we did in the last season - just after a quick summer break - we're going to be talking to really interesting people from around the open source world. I'm going to have a co-host for this season. Robbie Adair has been working with OSTraining for 10 years now - and we are just approaching OSTraining's 10th birthday - she's been with us since the beginning. She knows OSTraining really well and she'll be helping me interview some of these open source superstars. This week's guest is Miguel Balparda from Nexcess. Miguel is a globe trotting ambassador for Magento and for Nexcess. If you've been to a Magento event, there's at least a 50/50 chance that you've run into Miguel. He lives in Argentina, but is on an airplane traveling the world for Magento, and one of the reasons we wanted to talk with Miguel to start the season is that there have been a lot of acquisitions, a lot of change in the open source world. Even just in the last month or two, we've seen Acquia sold to an investment company. We've seen Automattic take an enormous investment from Salesforce, and a lot of this got rolling with Magento last year they were sold to Adobe. And so we kicked off the podcast by asking Miguel about the changes that he's seen in the Magento community since the purchase by Adobe and - spoiler alert: There've been a lot! - And then we talk about some of the work he does working with the Adobe team to keep Magento going and particularly to develop some of the front facing headless JavaScript based features that are increasingly common with more high profile and more difficult website builds. We have Robbie. Robbie, you're calling in from Texas?
  • Robbie: Yes, I am Houston, Texas
  • Steve: And I'm in Florida, and we also welcome Miguel as well.
  • Miguel: Hello.
  • Steve: Miguel, what are you calling in from today?
  • Miguel: Today it's going to be from Argentina.
  • Steve: Cool! And Miguel, we had your boss on the podcast last year, right? Do you work for Nexcess who are really big in the magenta world?
  • Miguel: Indeed, I will for Nexcess, I've been here for the last four or five years in different roles, but the, it's a nice company, you know, it's pretty big. They let me travel everywhere I want. They let me do research. I think it's a pretty good company, if you ask me.
  • Steve: So you're based down in Argentina, but you often flying around the world for Magento events.
  • Miguel: That's true. I was born here in Argentina. When I was, I dunno, 19 - 20 I started traveling around the globe and then I joined Nexcess, and I've been doing around 200 days a year for the last, I dunno, four or five years probably. So yeah, I travel a lot.
  • Steve: Wow. That is a lot.
  • Miguel: Oh, I know. I know. Trust me, it's getting old real quick now and I don't like hotels or place anymore. I would rather live in a tent instead of a hotel or a fancy room because I don't like being in the same room a lot of time. But now it's, it's a good job, you know?
  • Steve: Oh, so you're naturally nomadic?
  • Miguel: Exactly. I, I live with my girlfriend. She's also a remote worker, so we get to travel together a lot, which is pretty good because it's not like I'm traveling alone all the time. We get to go, well when she has a conference, we get to go to Taiwan. When I have a conference, we get to go to Indonesia. Maybe. It's, it's really good if you can, if you can balance your life and work really, really good.
  • Steve: I'm curious particularly because we've had a whole bunch of acquisition and investment news. Recently we had Acquia in the Drupal world. Acquia basically got sold to a large investment company. Over in WordPress, they took a, a massive investment from Salesforce. Um, and there's been several other similar acquisitions and investments recently, hundreds of millions, billions of dollars flying around in the open source world. And the trend seems to start, or at least was accelerated last year with Magento getting sold. I know they've got sold a few years ago to an investment company, but the really big headline news was when they got sold to Adobe.
  • Miguel: True.
  • Steve: How has that changed the magenta community, if it has at all?
  • Miguel: Well, it's kind of early tell because it's been, it's really recent, but we've seen many changes lately. Mostly is going up market. We used to call Adobe, well we used to call enterprise builds enterprise. Now that we met Adobe, we really understand what enterprise means. Right now we, we started seeing more and more builds becoming larger and more expensive. I would like their number of like customizations and integrations. So that's probably the biggest change we've seen. Builds are becoming larger and more expensive and it's, it's, it's kinda sad to say, but most of the really big builds we're seeing are, are being done by the biggest partners, like Magento partners, and that's leaving the smaller companies and the smaller agencies with less work because people are starting to use different systems. Magento is not the only alternative out there. That's probably the biggest change.
  • Robbie: Miguel, do you think that the community though with those smaller agencies could actually capitalize on the fact that Magento is now being used for bigger and bigger enterprise level? That they could actually capitalize on that to try and capture more of the smaller business?
  • Steve: I hope, I really hope that because Magento has been built on top of this community, so I wouldn't like people to leave or like companies converting their reason to something else. I would, I would want see these companies trying to, trying to reach it to small, medium businesses and try to catch that kind of deals. But it's becoming increasingly harder mostly because Magento is no longer the only platform out there. So it's, you have to compete with Shopify, Woocommerce, Big Commerce, all those companies, they're doing a really nice job and if Magento wants to go up market, it's going to be hard to compete with these smaller medium deals because mostly, well, we are no longer the only alternative out there, you know?
  • Robbie: Yes.
  • Steve: Yeah. I was doing some, uh, some reading around because I've stepped out of the, the flow of Magento news for a couple of months or so. And I was doing some reading around just before talking to you Miguel. And the first thing I came across was an Adobe press conference where they were breaking down all the different revenue lines and talking about their enormous sales team. Yeah, like you'd get with IBM or Microsoft are very enterprise focused for your sales team focus perhaps a long way away from an original open source community atmosphere.
  • Miguel: Yeah, it's, that's true. They have, well they have different lines or different products. So far we have Magento Open Source, Magento Commerce, and Adobe Commerce. Basically, the main differences you have to pay license for Adobe Commerce and Magento Commerce. But, you can do anything you want with the open source version. It's, it's kinda hard to understand if you are not into it because there aren't many differences between Magento Commerce and Adobe Commerce, but it's, yeah. One of the things I hear the most is people being afraid of Adobe's shutting down the open source initiative. I don't think that's going to happen personally. I'm one of the maintainers of the open source version from github. We are a small external team maintaining Magento 2 with the help of the internal Magento team. But yeah, I don't think that's gonna happen anytime soon. But you never know to be honest. Adobe has this history with open source projects like Phone Gap and Adobe Cordova, which is pretty much the same product - one was the open source version and one was the paid version. So I don't think this is gonna I don't think it's going to be a problem. I don't think things will change, at least not in the short term. But again, you never know with companies these days.
  • Steve: Oh, okay. So there's an actual attention perhaps or sometimes a collaboration between a community team like, like yourself, um, community team members maintaining one version of Magento and an Adobe team maintaining the commercial question?
  • Miguel: Yup, exactly that we are, it's, it's kinda hard to explain, but we are basically gatekeepers on GitHub. We tell Magento what's good and what's not that good. And then they, they take those issues, those pull requests and they, they merge that internally. They analyze that again and they do the testing. But here we are basically telling Magento, Hey, this has potential, this won't work, or we are the first line of response. When people submit the problem or whether they summit code will be like, have you checked this? Can you run the test for that? Do you mind checking the call format into it's, it's a really good way to collaborate within an open source project and a really big company behind that because most of the times I'm the guy traveling and next week I'm going to be in Amsterdam and then in Madrid and then in Tokyo and sometimes Magento doesn't go to those places and people know they can ask me about the issues they have and I'll be bringing those issues internally to Magento or to Adobe and it's for me, it's been really interesting at least for the last two years because I got to see where people are struggling and I get to see what exactly do people need, and where the issues are arising.
  • Robbie: And does the Adobe internal team, they also commit back out into the open source their changes too.
  • Miguel: Yup.
  • Robbie: Awesome.
  • Miguel: Yeah, that's, that's the most important part because while there are some Commercial-only features like Page Builder, there are features like Elastic Search for the entire searches that were ported from Magento Commerce to Magento Open S ource. And that was a really nice addition from Adobe to the open source version if you ask me.
  • Robbie: That's nice. And speaking of new features, you actually recently wrote a blog posts for OSTraining's blog about the progressive web apps, which progressive web apps for our listeners, if they don't know, are basically Javascript applications that run in the browser. So instead of having to be processed on the server and then, and then sent to the browser, they actually run in the browser. And in that article, you mentioned that if Magento, would incorporate some other advanced technologies, you think it'll make it even better, like graphQL, you think that'll increase load times and such. So, what can you tell us, why do you like that so much and where the progressive web apps, something that came from the internal team or the open source world?
  • Miguel: Yeah. So I'm going to say this first. I'm not a frontend developer. I know about Javascript and I know about pwas, but I haven't built one and that's really important to tell. I've been trying to introduce this Nexcess for over two years now. When I was, when I still was the guy traveling, I used to do research and development and two years ago I came with this idea to try to support this view crazy tech called PWA until we were looking at me like, Hey, you're crazy. What's that? It's never going to work. And I'm like, dude trust me on this one. And they were like, Nope, it's not something we were interested. Interesting. Two years now, two years later here we are talking about PWAs. So basically what I like about this technology the most is that the frontend we have rendering Magento 2 is not that good and it's not that easy to extend. And by introducing PWA capabilities to Magento 2 I think we are going to be having more robust stores in the frontend and probably a better user experience and user interface. You know, I do like the introduction of graphQL. It is, it has been introduced in 2.1 or 2.2 if I recall that correctly. But right now it's not. We can't cover everything we need with graphQL. So we are also using REST and graphs we use right now for magenta 2 in pwas. But I think the graphQL coverage is increasing and it's going to be a new release in Magento Live Europe next week. Uh, one of the things that are really interesting about this project is that there's an official PWA project coming from Magento, but there are also many third party integrations that are really complete like DD or Vue Storefront. One is based in Vue JS and the other one is based on React. But it's, I really like to see different options so people don't have to be like, no, I, I'm required to use this because it's the only option out there. I think we're going to be seeing more and more pwa implementations. But so far it's becoming, it's, it's being really slow mostly because people don't get to understand or don't get to fully understand what PWA is and there are companies selling things that are not entirely PWA. We are sitting in that time between like the vast world and the real implementations. But I think we'll get there eventually.
  • Steve: So Miguel, will you humor me for just a couple of minutes? I'm on a good day, I'm probably about 20% of a good coder on Friday afternoon. Like today, I'm probably about 5% of a good coder. So in practical terms, a pwa basically involves taking a Magento site, maybe avoiding the, perhaps the slightly clumsy PHP template files, taking the Magento site and exporting the data through the rest API or through graphQL and then putting a, perhaps a JavaScript frontend on it to display the output.
  • Miguel: Yeah, it's exactly that. It's basically, well, we used to call these headless before PWA was a thing. So it's basically cutting the head out of Magento and using their APIs to consume the information that's stored in the database. You still have the administration panel on the backend, you still have, well probably the checkout because nobody wants to touch the checkout in Magento 2. But it's basically what you said, trying to consume that information using JavaScript, which is quite faster in the frontend. Mostly because it's stored in the client. So yeah, it's pretty much what you said. Yeah.
  • Steve: Well, you know what, I maybe four or five years ago, I wrote a post about headless Drupal and the name had been coined by someone else and there was a, an image going around that was like the movie with the headless horseman, the guy on a horse riding around with like a drupal head hanging. And that must've been like half a dozen comments on my blog posts saying headless is a terrible term. It's kinda disgusting. It's gross. Why don't we come up with a more corporate sounding term that we can sell to our clients. And so I guess that's what PWA is.
  • Miguel: Yeah, it's, it's, yeah, it's not exactly the same buddy I gave you. What you mean and the internet is it's kind of complex in times like that when they don't like the way we name things, but it's an evolution to say it in a way because we started with headless and then we introduce, well everybody found out about JavaScript and how easy is to write JavaScript. So that's, that's one of the reasons people just started using this PWA acronym, but it's just using a different word if you ask me and it's, I still have to see what's the best way to implement this because everybody is doing what they want and there is no real standard out there. So that worries me a little bit because we need to, we need to normalize what do we send to our customers. And having a customer doing anything they want or like this customer doing this and that customer doing something completely different, it's going to cost us time and resources. So it's, it's kinda hard on that side. If you asked me
  • Steve: Is there anything that's even close to becoming a frontend standard. You take the data from Magento, you pass it through graphQL. What are people using to build the front end of the Magento sites these days?
  • Miguel: Required JS is basically a new Javascript framework, but it's mostly what people is using nowadays is HTML, JavaScript and CSS. You see what Magento created as their frontend framework and it's not very popular and it's not really extensible because we have this thing called UI resources and it's, it's really, really, really hard to extend and people don't like to work with it and that's, that's why PWA is becoming more and more popular these days mostly because the experiment they did with Magento 2 frontend. It didn't work out that well. You know it's, it's okay it works, but it's not really that performance and it's not that easy to implement and extent and that's what people is looking for - different alternatives to that.
  • Robbie: Do you think that a lot of the reason why though that the PWAs are growing on eCommerce side of things in particular is because of mobile and purchasing on mobile?
  • Miguel: Probably yes. It's becoming increasingly harder and expensive to buy a native mobile application and people is trying to cut the cost and create a PWA application where they can actually install that from the browser because one of the things about PWA is that you can install that from the router and have this icon on your desktop from your phone, from your computer and execute that like an app. So I think one of the reasons is becoming mobile first and a different reason or probably the second reason is the cost, the added cost of building three different apps, one for windows, one for iPhone and one for Android where you can just buy or create a PWA that work in the three operating systems.
  • Robbie: And you also then get the benefit of being searched on Google because a PWA is going to show up in search results, whereas a native app on a phone is not.
  • Miguel: That's true. And, it's kinda, it's complicated mostly because people don't do SEO right when they do PWAs, but it's just like I always say, you really need to find the right firm for the right job. There are a couple of agencies out there doing a really good SEO work, but most of the implementations we see are are, are missing that key feature, and it's, it's kinda hard because Magento 2 has a really good SEO out of the box, but it's when you, when you put the front end on top of it, you have to do it by yourself and it's causing some people issues, it's not a general thing, but it's one of the things I, I tell developers, you need to watch your SEO when you are doing pwa apps, that's a must.
  • Robbie: So the SEO that you naturally get out of the box with Magento, you are having to recreate with a PWA. I didn't think about that issue.
  • Miguel: Yup. It's a real problem. Yeah, that's true.
  • Steve: Well, my experience in this is mostly on the, on the Drupal side of things. And I've seen it probably go for about four or five years now. And it's interesting that quite a lot of the people that adopted headless, we'll say, being the Drupal word actually started to move away from him recently because they realized it wasn't a particularly good fit for really simple sites like some of them did their company websites or personal sites, fairly basic brochure sites and in headless and they realize that there's a lot of work to do to maintain the front end. It was heavy lifting.
  • Miguel: Yeah, no, we've seen that too, I keep hearing people say Magento is the best option for anything and PWA is what do you need to be doing. But for me the answer is always, it depends on the work. You know, there's no need to create a company website using PWA because one of the things that are really interesting about PWA is that it says state full way of doing things. So when it's, when something changes, the application changes. But nothing changes in a company website. You know, it's just you, me, our pictures and what we do. So you don't need to have a state for that. You don't need a PWA just for showing our pictures and the job description, you know, so probably those people you mentioned that are moving away from a headless approach. Most probably didn't need it in the first place, you know and someone came and sold them to that, but they were, that's not why they, they needed, actually.
  • Steve: I think quite a few of these were agencies that maybe used it as a learning experience and then they came to realize that the best fit for it was those larger projects. Projects where you have maybe an app, maybe an Android and an Apple app. You have a website, you have multiple different outlets for your data. The more complex projects.
  • Miguel: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, we, this is an eCommerce space, so most of the people will ask me for a web app, a web page and mobile app and we can solve them all with a PWA application. So it's, it's pretty good in some cases and in some cases it doesn't work out.
  • Robbie: So Miguel, both Apple Pay and Amazon Pay have been really marketing heavily to web devs out there. And Magento does have plugins for both of those. Have you been seeing an increase in demand of using Apple Pay and Amazon Pay?
  • Miguel: I've seen an increase in Apple Pay and Amazon Pay, but it's mostly like Northern countries, Europe and the States. This is a, Magento is a global company and it has business in a lot of countries. And it really depends on how widespread the Apple Pay or Amazon Pay technologies in that country in particular because we, we keep seeing people that doesn't want to put their credit cards in the sites because they're afraid because they think something bad's going to happen. But that usually happens in countries that don't have a really good or really long history of buying online. So ya, I've seen an increase, but it really depends on the countries.
  • Robbie: What do you think is kind of the still the most viable to cover internationally?
  • Miguel: Yeah. In Europe it's going to be Klarna or Agent. They are really good payment providers.
  • Robbie: Okay. So let's talk about Magento events. There's a couple of a Magento events coming up. Magento Live Europe in 2019 in October of this year I should say. And then we've got the Magento Imagine at the Adobe Summit. So it's paired up with the Adobe Summit there in March of 2020. What can you tell us about the events and are you going to be at either of them?
  • Miguel: I'm going to be next week in Amsterdam for my Magento Live Europe. I'm going to be leading two round tables. One is about remote working and the other one is about Magento in Spanish in the Spanish market, but yes, before I was a product manager at Nexis, I used to be the guy traveling. I will, I still travel around 200 days a year. And mostly what I do is events, Magento events. This year I did the Adobe Summit. And then Magento Imagine, And, as you said, both events are now Adobe Summit in Vegas in April. But it's, I don't know, I really like going to events mostly because I get to see the people I've met online. I know it a privilege for me to get to do that. But it's really funny, you know, because it's not that I don't like doing business only on the internet, only in my computer. I really like seeing people and meeting them in person and go for a beer maybe or for a coffee. And that's, that's one of the reasons I like the most about traveling. I didn't travel a lot. I'd seen places I wouldn't have seen without a job like this. Like last year I visited the Taj Mahal, the Colosseum in Rome and the pyramids in like four months. And that's like mind blown for me. But the only reason I was able to do that was because I traveled for work, you know? And I was traveling for work in those countries and I was doing events in those countries. But then I spent some times in tourism and that made me so happy.
  • Robbie: It makes a difference with you actually getting to meet those people that you're working with online face to face. Correct. I mean that's part of the community that builds up with going to these events
  • Miguel: Exactly. And again, I know it's a privilege, mostly because not everybody can travel to these events. It costs money and it's expensive, and I'm happy to have Nexcess paying for most of these. But when you get to meet these people and then you meet them at the next event and you meet them like five years in a row in their home city, Romania, maybe you get to, you get to know these people in person, you know? And it's not like we're just coding together. We are just using the same software to do eCommerce. It's more like a personal relationship and that's, and that's what we call the community, you know?
  • Robbie: Absolutely.
  • Miguel: Yeah. That relationship we've built over time in different places because there are people I see more than my own family, you know, with this many days travel. I'd like to see my mom that much and I get to see these people way more. The ones that are traveling regularly, I get to see them way more than my own family and I consider them as relatives. You know?
  • Robbie: Magento family.
  • Miguel: Absolutely. Yes. Magento family.
  • Steve: So Miguel, I'm interested in what you're seeing from the Nexcess point-of-view. Okay, I'll preface this by saying please feel free not to answer if it's privileged information. So I'm interested from the Nexcess point-of-view because you guys are a company that does quite a few things. You've got your fingers in Magento and WooCommerce. You guys sponsored our WooCommerce book and videos, also in Expression Engine and multiple different platforms. From the Nexcess point-of-view are you guys seeing the marketplace change at all? I know you just did a big partnership with LiquidWeb in the WordPress space. This market moves fast. Are you seeing any, any big changes or, or shifts in platforms in the moment?
  • Miguel: Well, we were acquired by LiquidWeb this year and it's been a really fun ride because I have never seen a company that big and I have never been a part of a company that big. So it's you get to see a lot of things and yes I believe the market is changing. I've been doing this for the last 10 years maybe and when I started Magento was the only self-hosted platform you could use to create your e-commerce store and now there are many options. So there's definitely a shift from only one option to multiple options. And in my opinion it's really important to get your requirements right when you are building an eCommerce store because there are a lot of options out there where you can choose. And, if you need, I don't know, B2B or you need something particular you shouldn't be doing Magento or maybe you shouldn't be doing Shopify before consulting with anybody who knows how to do an e-commerce store. It's the main, the main change I see is yeah, more options out there for sure.
  • Steve: So perhaps to some extent being acquired by Adobe may be a good thing? In a world with so many options, Magento is taken under the wing of a very big brand with a big sales team, a big marketing team. It might be the kind of thing the Magento needs to survive and thrive in the long term?
  • Miguel: I hope that. One of the things that I keep seeing in these really huge enterprise Adobe builds is that Magento is just a really, really tiny part of a bigger implementation with many, many integrations with different systems. I was used to be the center of the show, basically when I was coding Magento, mostly because we weren't doing integrations or that many integrations. But now we, we became just a tiny part of a bigger approach. So, I don't know how that's gonna work out for Magento, but I hope Adobe doesn't kill the project by doing that. It's kind of hard to tell
  • Steve: By more integrations. Do you mean Adobe analytics, Adobe marketing cloud, Adobe, Adobe, Adobe everything else.
  • Miguel: Yeah.
  • Steve: Those are the integrations you're saying?
  • Miguel: Yeah, exactly that. But I'm also meaning integrations with external ERPs, Marketo, that kind of stuff and not the e-commerce store as a center of the operation because that's no longer the case in big enterprise builds, you know?
  • Robbie: I think actually Miguel, what you're saying is not only happening at the enterprise level, I think we're actually starting to see an open source world. Even with your medium builds that, you know, CMSs and e-commerce tools out there are having to integrate with all of these other tools because even the medium size businesses are using many of those tools. You mentioned, you know, CRM over here and some analytics over here, and they want whatever tool they use to integrate with everything.
  • Miguel: That's exactly what I'm saying. Exactly that.
  • Steve: Thank you so much Miguel. Where can people follow you and your work? You're probably on social media as much as you're actually in one physical place and you have a Twitter or other socials that people can follow?
  • Miguel: Yeah, you can. You can find me on Twitter at @mbalparda. The first set of my name and my last name, I'm usually there, or you can find me on person. I don't know. Somewhere. Maybe, never know.
  • Steve: If you're traveling 250 days a year, they're probably going to find you somewhere near them.
  • Steve: Yeah, no, sometimes that's true. I'll go visit your place sooner than you'll find me on Twitter. Probably.
  • Robbie: How funny, and we'll also put links to your contact information below.
  • Miguel: Perfect.
  • Robbie: All right, well thank you, Miguel.
  • Miguel: Okay. Thank very much for your time.

About the author

Robbie started her career in corporate training until starting her own custom training and media company almost seventeen years ago. In 2010, she began doing classroom training for OSTraining while running Media A-Team. She is often presenting about various tech topics such as Joomla, Fabrik, Web Development, Social Media, and Augmented Reality. She loves seeing that "ah-ha" moment in peoples eyes in her sessions and workshops. She lives in Houston, Texas, but enjoys all the travel for client work and speaking gigs.