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Interview with Magento Evangelist, Ben Marks

Karthik Chidambaram
February 9, 2017 |

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Ben Marks is one of the outstanding personalities of Magento Inc. He has extensive experience developing, educating and as a member of the community.

He has traveled around the world sharing his experience with Magento users as The Official Magento Evangelist™.Ben has been developing in PHP since the days of osCommerce in 2003. He has been developing, educating, and evangelizing Magento since 2008.

Karthik Chidambaram , Founder, and CEO of DCKAP , caught up with him on the sidelines of Magento Live Australia 2016 for a quick interview.

Karthik Chidambaram (KC) – With me is Ben Marks. Ben, Thank you for joining us and thanks for taking your time to interview with DCKAP. This is going to be a Non- Magento interview. I am not going to ask you any Magento questions at all.

Ben Marks (BM)(Laughing) What it is there to talk about?

KC(Laughing) I have something interesting right. I know you travel a lot. How many days a year do you travel?

BM – I think I’m home, probably about, well, this year (2016) it’s been about two or between two and three months, I was actually home.  So, i’ve been on the road since most of the time.

KC – That’s amazing. How does it work with family and all that? That’s a question a lot of people have?

BM – I’m lucky. I mean my wife was a mother early on.  So, we’ve got, he’s twenty-two,in college, and fortunately our situation, socially-financially is strong enough that she is able to travel with me, a lot of the time, otherwise, I would not be gone that long.  It’s tough for me. It’s tough for her.  So it’s also great to work for a company that just trusts that I’m doing my job and she’s actually a great support when she is on the road as well.  

KC – That’s awesome. Another question is, how do you take care of your health. You keep traveling and how do you manage that?

BM –  I actually was home for a couple days and decided to get a physical which I hadn’t done in a couple years, and when the blood work came back it was like ‘Yeh, everything’s great except we need to put you on statins immediately”. So, it is tough. It is tough when you’re living out of suitcases and your food options aren’t always up to you. The thing is it’s all a matter of convenience. You eat at the buffet or eat whatever you got on the plane.  It really is just like anything else in life, it’s a matter of choice.  And so, being almost forty years old, I took this news and said “You know I really do have to, if I’m doing this job well, I am taking care of myself as part of it”, because the older you get your body just doesn’t compensate as well and there are plenty of people who die way before they should or you know just don’t don’t live as comfortable a life as they should because they don’t take care themselves.  So I’m doing that actually, started out last week. I already feel substantially better.  So I’ll be continuing that and hopefully, we will see a nice svelte then here and in another month or so.

KC –  Do you work out? Do you run while you travel?

BM – Well, I certainly haven’t been as much as I should have. It’s a matter of prioritization. I’ve had no problem.  I got in early yesterday morning after about twenty-six to twenty-eight hours of flying and layovers and the first thing I did was just, you know, I had all my running gear set up as when I got in a run.  I got up early this morning, got in a workout. I am already planning on a run tomorrow before I leave for Germany.

KC –  How do you track your trips? Do you have travel tracker?

BM – Actually, just for visibility sake, I chose a Google doc that just has the relevant pieces of information – the event linked to the event dates, my intended arrival, and departure. I do a lot of obviously consecutive trips where I’m just going from one of them to the next.  So I can just have a heads-up display of where I’ll be when and I can look at events as they come in. It allows me and people in the team to see where I am and it allows me to quickly look and say. “Oh well, you know, I’ve got two extra days here let me try to find a meetup”, especially in Europe, it’s so easy, I can just see if there’s a meet-up.  Or I can actually recruit trying to get a meet up happening just so you know add a little more value to the travel expense and get some kind of hands-on with a few more people because right now, feedback is paramount to the success of them too.  Maybe even more than ever since working so much on the framework itself.

KC – Let’s say, for example, two years ago, if I wanted to find out where you were, can you find that immediately? How is it setup?

BM – No. There’s nothing. I don’t think I have set up externally.  I know someone was talking about that. You know there was like Marius from Stack Exchange.  I tweet enough, that you could probably find out where I am. I think, most of the time, I take location off the tweets.  But, something I’ve toyed with is publishing. I do have a blog and I did it for a little while and started to publish where I would be. I think it is actually more important to know where I’ll be in the future as opposed to where I am today.  That gives just more opportunity to connect with other people. Yes, maybe, I should work on that, so that, you know, that suppose I’m still a developer, I could figure that out.

KC –   Let’s say you are traveling to a place, do you have a list of people you have written down whom you need to meet? How do you manage that?

BM – Yeah it’s I mean literally thousands of people a year and it is tough to remember who is where but in general, I would say, it is fairly ad-hoc for me but generally when I’m going to a place I know who I know there and I try and at least post, “Yeah I’m on the way to Sydney or I’m on my way to Germany”. I don’t do a lot of outbound stuff because my time is usually fully booked before I even step on a plane to go somewhere and I just encounter people as I encounter them. If I can, for example, in the morning, if I get in early or if I just, have done an event the night before and I’ve got to wait to get out on a flight, I will try to stop by my partner just to just ask how things are going ,especially with Magento 2, just to give them another little touch of Magento because you know we’re this, I think, what, six hundred or seven hundred of us.  And that’s just not enough people for the immense size of our community.

KC – Not just Magento, outside of Magento. Let’s say, you go to Germany and you have some family there and you want to catch up with them, do you do that?

BM – I don’t understand what you mean outside of Magento. Is their world outside of Magento? No idea. Yeah.  So, I do have contacts in different places where those from college or people I went to school with that have moved into some of these far off lands.  So I’ll look on Facebook or something and I’ll try and just say “I’m going to be here and may or may not have time and if you would hang out with me, you might end up talking about this e-commerce platform that has nothing to do with your life” but I try and combine.I celebrate.  I celebrate, just knowing people. We are a social animal and it is a privilege to be able to visit with so many people in so many places whether I knew them beforehand or not.

KC – That’s a very interesting perspective. Another question lot of people have is who pays for your trip?

BM – Who pays for my trip?

KC – Yeah.

BM – Sure as hell ain’t me. This for me is a dream job. I enjoy travel. I enjoy being out there. I really love the Magento brand. I love our mission and I’m so lucky to work for a company that values having someone out there to connect with all of these people. For a long time, even to this day, for a lot of people, I am the first person, actually from Magento, they will meet. That’s a privilege for me. I try and make sure that it is as positive and effective meeting as it can be. and yeah, let me see…

KC – So, Magento pays for these trips.

BM – So the short, answer, of course, Magento pays for the trips. Yeah, I could not afford to fund this myself and from what I can tell, Magento is happy to pay for that. Now, there is a lot of unglamorous stuff, I mean, staying in some little hotel with a thin bedspread and flying on to grab one a rickshaw to get there but it’s above all it’s a privilege to be able to connect with people and the company supports me.

KC – Is there someone managing your travel or is it all yourself, like booking a hotel etc?

BM –  I wouldn’t trust a person on this planet to book me and part of the reason is because my bookings are quite cost effective.  I have a lot of latitude because of my continuous trips. There’s a lot of tricks you can do like if you have ever looked for a one-way ticket, sometimes they can be more expensive than even a roundtrip ticket.  I’m able to do a lot of like, I’m in the middle of three trips, right now, technically, because they’re spaced out by months. You know I know I’ve got to be in Amsterdam, like a month ago, so I flew over there and then I booked a return from when I have to be in Amsterdam next year that ends up saving a lot of money and if you have a travel agency and you say I need to be here on this date,I mean, they don’t care about the rest of your schedule,they’re just going to book it and they are going to book probably the most convenient thing which very often isn’t the most cost-effective.  So, I do a lot of like 1 AM flights and 4 AM flights and but that just means that I’m able to spend more time in places doing more.  

KC – Why do you do that? Why do you want to take a 1 AM flight may be as opposed to a 9 AM flight? Is it just the cost?

BM –  Cost is a lot of it.  I get a sales report every day, I see revenues coming in.  You know and people work very hard for that and these dollars have to get shared from everybody in the company.It is important for me to do my part, to make sure I’m delivering as much value as I can for the money that’s being spent. I feel some sense of control when I’m able to find just this amazingly cheap deal and I’ve had some crazy itineraries that I had to call our travel agency and argue with them and they had to call the airline to actually get it to be ticketed and actually go through and they’re shocked like “I can’t believe you just got this three destination flight for two thousand dollars”, but that’s me. It is just part of the value that I’m able to bring to the company, just as cost effective connection with the world.

KC –  I am glad you value that, It’s phenomenal. One last question – If you were to give three travel tips to business travelers, what would you give?

BM – You’ve got to prioritize, health.  Absolutely, prioritize health. It not only does it give you a longer life, it makes you more effective when you’re working.

Two, these days business traveler is empowered to check out, empowered with information, you can check out Google flights.  I use that site at least once a day just looking at itineraries, maybe you can get there a day early and save twenty percent on the ticket cost and which can be offset by a hotel stay. So, use the information at hand even if you have to book through corporate portal or book with a corporate agent, you can still find those deals and take that information to those people.

Third and final thing – I have to recommend the travel products that are out there these days.  And if you want to get down and dirty- ex-officio underwear is now absolutely amazing.  It’s constructed for frequent business travel. It just ticks and it’s a quick dry.So, I do spend probably about ten to twenty minutes every other day at least washing clothes or when I wife is with me, she very graciously will wash clothes in the sink, save more money because I don’t like paying twenty dollars for someone to wash underwear for me. So, use the data.

Take care of yourself and buy good travel gears, worth it.

KC – Thank you so much, Ben. Appreciate all these great insights.

BM – Yep, I’ll see you soon, at another event, I know.

KC –   Sure.  

BM – All right, cool

KC – Cool.

Karthik Chidambaram

Karthik Chidambaram is the Founder & CEO of DCKAP. He bootstrapped the company from his small apartment in Chicago, Illinois. DCKAP simplifies commerce for distributors. DCKAP was started with 2 people, 2 computers and 2 desks and is now a global and distributed team. Karthik reckons industry setbacks and renders solid & practical solutions to organizations. He holds a Master’s Degree in Computer Engineering from Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago. You can read more about him on his personal blog here.

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