0 comments | Posted: 29 June 08 in Interviews, by Nathan Smith
Nate Klaiber is marketing director at Clear Function, the company behind the content management system Reflect, and finance flow tracking application Pulse. He is also a Zend certified PHP engineer, but these days mainly works in Ruby on Rails. Though he is quite a busy guy, I asked if he would spare some time to answer a few questions for a Godbit interview. Thankfully, he obliged. Here are his thoughts on ministry, business and web development.
You attended Mt. Vernon Nazarene University, and graduated with a degree in Youth Ministries and a minor in Business Administration. How exactly did you get your start as a web developer, and what prompted the change in career focus?
My roommate in college worked at a local church that his brother-in-law started. The worship leader there was active with Christian Endeavor International and was the founder of teamce.com. TeamCE was a resource for youth leaders around the globe and the main office was in Mount Vernon, OH. I was initially hired to help with some small graphical work and doing some photography for some of the marketing materials. This then led into working on their website. I started working on their website right about the time they were re-building it from scratch, so it was good experience to be a part of that process. My passion for the web grew from that point forward.
Your current job title is Marketing Director at Clear Function. Given your programming background, how does this work? Do you still write a fair amount of code, or is it all fancy client lunches and cushy leather sofas?
Clear Function is comprised of three people. Aaron is our interface designer, HTML and CSS guy. Stephen (who I met through my years working at TeamCE) is a programmer and sysadmin/hardware guy. While working at Barbour Publishing, I worked directly with the marketing department to help achieve our business goals. I guess my role there led to my title at Clear Function. However, my real background and passion lies in the programming side of things. I made the transition from PHP to Ruby when I came on board with Clear Function, and fell in love with the language. So, to answer your question – I spend the majority of my time actually writing code. Our fancy lunches consist of Gus’s Chicken and our chairs fall apart most of the time.
What is this Reflect CMS that I keep hearing about? How does it stack up against popular commercial PHP driven systems, such as ExpressionEngine? Also, compare and contrast hosted platforms versus installed content management solutions.
Reflect was built out of our need for something more intuitive. The idea started and blossomed with Stephen and Aaron, and then when I came on board I jumped head first into the project. As a designer, Aaron had tried out many different CMS’s available. It’s not that they are bad CMS’s, they just didn’t fill the need that we had with our client sites. We built it to sort of scratch our own itch and to help streamline our development processes.
PHP CMS’s are in abundance. That is a good thing. There are many that fit a specific content need, and others that extend a little further. I would put ExpressionEngine in the category that goes a little further. Reflect is a niche CMS. It won’t be suited for everyone. We believe we have a solid product with the necessary features to handle things like blogging, photo galleries, video galleries, and even the ability to create your own custom modules. Reflect doesn’t mix different templating options. We use Liquid Markup for our templating language which we feel is very powerful and intuitive to the designer. Aaron needs to spend time on putting the designs and templates together, not figuring out how to make a language work for him – so he has enjoyed working with Liquid as a designer.
As a small team this was sort of a no-brainer for us. The hosted solution is the much better option. When you deal with installed systems, you have to deal with much more maintenance. You have to deal with backwards compatibility. You have to deal with an array of different hardware and software configurations. You have to deal with different versions of whatever language you choose to write the application in. You have to deal with security at a different level.
Being the small team we are, we have to be protective of our time and investment into this project. Going the hosted solution route allows us to avoid the conflicts presented above. We have control of the application and it’s intended use. We have control over the hardware used to run the system. We have control over the software and language used to build the application. We have control over the source code and security mechanisms. It helps us stay on task, and keeps everyone using Reflect on a level playing field.
You are a Zend Certified Engineer, basically a member of the knighthood of PHP gurus. Now that you’re working primarily with Ruby on Rails, how has your experience been? Any scalability issues, or has it all been smooth sailing? Is there anything you miss about PHP?
Working with Ruby has really helped me to become a better PHP programmer. I still enjoy PHP and think it is an incredibly powerful language. I think amidst language wars people miss the point of the languages and what they were created to do. I have yet to see any scalability issues with the Rails apps we have deployed. I think that is attributed to several things. First off is finding a good host that is solid and offers you the flexibility you desire. Second is having the knowledge of how to best deploy the different applications.
Deployment and scaling are things that Stephen takes care of, and I think he does an incredible job of knowing the tools available and utilizing them in the proper context. This goes for any language. PHP can be put on a sub-par host with a poor setup and fail just as fast as a Rails app could when not configured properly. I still consider Ruby to be in its infancy on the web compared to a language like PHP. PHP had to jump through some of the same hoops and solve some problems of their own.
At the end of the day, it is about using the right tools for the job. And, while I enjoy PHP, I can’t say there is much I miss about it. Working with Ruby inspires me to translate some of it’s features to PHP. I think this is where CakePHP stems from, working from the Ruby on Rails model and translating it to PHP.
Having worked for a Christian publishing company in the past, how did you strike a balance between using new media to facilitate the sales of more classical texts? Was there ever tension between the worlds of digital and print?
That balance wasn’t always easy to find. The nature of the web allowed us to be more flexible in accordance with our business goals and needs. We had to be careful in how we utilized different tools, as our target market was not always one on the cutting edge of things. If we tried to stay on the bleeding edge of things, we would have been doing a disservice to our target market.
There were different tensions between the two. That is why it was extremely important to work closely with our marketing department to correlate our online and offline strategies. Even smaller marketing campaigns had to be coordinated effectively with special entry URL’s so we could do our best to track our offline marketing efforts and translate them to our online traffic and website usage.
Please describe how a relationship with Jesus has shaped your life, and describe what you think that might look like in the future.
Without writing a book on the topic, I will say this: I try and live my life with love and care for others. My relationship with Jesus is translated in my relationship with others. This was the example of Jesus in the New Testament. This was the Redemption story. I try not to get hung up on the political and legalistic side of things. That just isn’t me.
While in college I had some great professors/mentors who constantly stretched me philosophically and theologically. Now that I have been out of college, I strive to continually learn and stretch myself. My philosophy of ministry now is drastically different from what it was 5-8 years ago.
I have always been a very passionate person no matter what I was doing. Just as in my professional life, I strive to continually learn and stretch myself. All of this comes from relationships and dialogue with others. It comes from reading. It comes from writing. It comes from listening. What will this look like in the future? I am not sure at this point. I do know that the core of my beliefs stem from solid relationships with people. Really getting to know and understand people. Being able to put myself in other people’s shoes and understand things from a different context. This aspect of my life will never change.
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