Episode 34 – How Angelo Mandato, a PHP developer, founded a podcast hosting startup

Where does your passion lie? The world of technology has much to offer and many paths to choose from.  Is it possible to begin your career in one area only to later discover a new area that you are better suited for? Our sources say “yes” and our next special guest has done just that. Meet Angelo Mandato, PHP guru extraordinaire.

Angelo went from software developing to becoming a founder and CIO of a podcasting technology and community. After spending some time working with C++ and discovering the many benefits that PHP has to offer, Angelo changed gears and the rest soon became history. As with most of our podcasts, Arsalan and Angelo discuss how he entered the field, his training, and many experiences and revelations along the way.  Listen in to Mentoring Developers episode 32 for more information.

Angelo’s Bio:

Angelo is the founder and CIO of Raw Voice, an Internet media company including subsidiaries blubrry.com podcasting community, techpodcasts.com technology podcast network, and subscribeonandroid.com, simple One Click subscribe links for all Android podcast applications to utilize. He is passionate about WordPress theme and plugin development and has created many themes and plugins for clients and wordpress.org, including the PowerPress podcasting plugin. Angelo is a seasoned developer experienced with PHP, MySQL, HTML5/CSS/bootstrap/jQuery, Android, iOS, Roku and other SmartTV development, and Ubuntu Apache/Nginx web server administration. His free time is spent with family, friends and restoring a 1981 Trans Am.

Episode Highlights and Show Notes:

Arsalan: Today we have a special guest, Angelo Mandato. How are you?

Angelo: Great.

Arsalan: I know a little bit about you. I’ve known you for a little while and I know that you’re doing some really cool stuff. So tell us about it. How do you see yourself?

Angelo: Today I see myself as an expert in the podcasting development space. It’s kind of been a long road to get there. I kind of just fell into it by being exposed to a lot of the web type technology throughout the year 2000.

Arsalan: I know that your developer and that you’re involved in developing podcast hosting. Are you a founder of Raw Voice or are you one of the early employees?

Angelo: Yes, I’m one of the co-founders. There were five of us that created the company, virtually, and everyone was just spread out throughout the country. So we just used tools of the time to create the company with Skype, GoToMeeting, phone calls, chat, and you name it.

Arsalan: What does the company do again?

Angelo: We provide podcasting services.

Arsalan: All right. Well, I’m a customer. I wanted everybody to know that it’s a good service.

Angelo: When we first started we were originally focused on the monetizing in podcasting with advertising. We started our first network which was Podcaster News. The idea was a podcast. This could create up to five-minute audio recordings of whatever news topics they preferred and give their new show their own name all on our website. Then, we could do a 70/30 with them. They would get 70% of the revenue and we would get 30%. Within the first few months, we quickly discovered there was a bigger market to do more than just news. We launched the Blueberry in the summer of 2006 to be an all-encompassing network for podcasts, not just limited to news. That became our mainstay and our original business model fell off the wayside for just specifically focusing on news for podcasting. Now we’re here today strictly doing services, mainly.

Arsalan: You have been coding for a while, right? How long have you been coding?

Angelo: As a career, since 2000.

Arsalan: Okay, so that’s been 15 to 16 years. Do you remember how you encountered programming for the first time?

Angelo: Yes. I had a roommate who was studying mechanical engineering during my college years and another roommate who is taking computer engineering and he was doing some coding back in about 1996. He was doing some coding to solve some problems with Perl. He was also real big on setting up servers and, I don’t want to call it hacking, but, getting computers to do things they weren’t intended to do. That was kind of the cool thing back in the 90s. I was exposed to a lot of this stuff from him and it just got me kind of excited to where I wanted to change my career and I went into computer science.

Arsalan: So, you didn’t feel the need to study computer science to actually get formal training? You just decided you were going to learn it and do it?

Angelo: No, I actually switched my major to computer science.

Arsalan: Okay, so you got a bachelor’s degree in computer science?

Angelo: Yes.

Arsalan: Do you think that was really helpful and give you confidence in a lot of skills that you wouldn’t have had otherwise?

Angelo: Initially, when I graduated, I didn’t feel like I knew anything. There was a good year there where I felt that I just needed experience. I think everyone who comes out of their education in that industry kind of feels the same way. It almost feels like being thrown into the industry and the school didn’t prepare you well enough for it. But after about a year into my career that completely switched. I found that the school gave me a lot of problem-solving education rather than just knowing specific platforms or software or languages. That was actually more valuable long-term than short-term.

Arsalan: On the problem-solving, is it because you studied computer science or is it just college? I know that if you’re a mechanical engineer you solve a lot more problems than if you’re a computer science graduate, but it’s a different set of problems. Do you think that it matters that you studied computer science?

Angelo: At the time when I graduated I thought that it was just a degree that was helping me get my foot in the door, but I would almost disagree with you on the problem-solving. Everything that you do every day, it’s solving a problem and doing it very efficiently. My college education gave me the ability to understand how to attack a problem.

Arsalan: I think that’s a really good point. Specific languages, technologies, and frameworks keep changing and your knowledge is definitely going to be stale after a while. But the concepts don’t change, and what’s behind the technologies doesn’t change. So it gives you a good bearing in knowing where to look. I think that’s a very fair point.

Arsalan: So, you got into college, and you were learning computer science. When you were studying during your college years, did you work somewhere? Did someone pay you to do programming?

Angelo: No, I did not have the luxury or opportunity to do internships, but I was still working somewhat in the industry. So, while I was at school. I also worked on the residential network. This happened during the late 90s, a time when students were just beginning to afford the ability to have a desktop computer to take to school. So it was the popular thing for the college to provide networking services to the get a network card put into these computers so that the kids could network in their dorms. I was kind of in the right place at the right time and did a lot of networking and hardware work. The last summer before I graduated I went and got A+ certified and worked one summer at CompUSA as a computer repair tech.

Arsalan: Good old CompUSA. I used to go there a lot and then obviously it disappeared. Okay, so after you graduated and had a little bit of money from working on the side, how long did it take for you to work as a software engineer professionally after you graduated? I’m assuming you didn’t go to graduate school, is that true?

Angelo: I had a job lined up before I graduated, but I kind of regret not taking a week or two and just relaxing. I needed to work right away, though, because I was also paying all of my loans and stuff. I was ready to have a job just so I could finally have some cash in my wallet. I think it took about a year before I could say that I was a programmer and could solve problems on my own. It didn’t take long for me to feel that I was contributing, though.

Angelo: The employer I was working for was using C++ to program everything and I stumbled upon PHP and learned that what it took me to program in four days using C++, I could do the same in PHP in about a day. When I told my manager he decided we would switch everything over the PHP.

Arsalan: Now you’re a PHP guru. You’ve been in PHP for how long now?

Angelo: It’s been since December 2000 when I really started digging into it. Yet, I remember getting a book on it that fall. There’s always a buildup time. I remember getting a book and reading the first chapter and letting it sit for about a month. But once I really started digging into it I realized that it was going to work and how much it was going to save time. All these things kept running through my mind and then everything just kind of snowballed. We had all the CGI apps that I wrote converted over within a month while also working on their other projects at the same time.

Arsalan: That’s incredible. PHP is not the most popular language in the world in some ways, but in other ways it is. It is an incredible language because it allows you to build web pages and websites quickly. It’s very efficient, but it has some quirks that some people don’t like.

Angelo: some of the quirks probably make it ideal for the solutions that it’s for which is for the web. In Perl or C++ you have to add a library in order to parse and deal the Git and post and cookies, and all these web-based pieces of data that need to process and convert to what you’re trying to do in your application. PHP natively makes all of these variables already available and also handles conversion of decoding the URL into what you need its actual value to be.

Arsalan: I’m wondering about keeping up with PHP development and web development in general. I know that I’ve had to work really hard in my career to keep ahead of whatever technologies or techniques come out. It’s a constant process of learning. I don’t know much about PHP. So, from your point of view is it something that evolves or changes a lot and that you have to keep up with it? I know that PHP has its own frameworks as well. Is it a bit of a struggle or is it easier than other programming languages?

Angelo: I find that it’s easier when the core basics of it haven’t changed much since around 2000 or since version 4. The functions have come and gone. It used to be that you could split and join a raise to strings and now you have to implode and explode them. But, it’s more of a function name change than anything else.

Angelo: Now, libraries for frameworks have come and gone and that’s one that you really do have to keep up on. Let’s take word press, for example. If you’re a plug-in developer, then you really think of word press as a kind of framework. If you’re a theme developer, then you think of it a little differently. In that regard, it’s a constant struggle to keep up with the function names and the libraries and hooks and actions. Other than that, it’s not that hard to keep up with the basics.

Angelo: The code itself has not changed in structure. There have been some changes in the way that classes have been implemented, which is a good thing. PHP is getting closer to the way that classes and objects work in Java or C++. So, that’s a really good thing.

Arsalan: is PHP object oriented?

Angelo: it can be either or. It’s very similar to C++ where you can still write some functions in C style. If you wanted to, or you can create classes and create objects from those classes.

Arsalan: Well, it’s definitely a very interesting language just because it has a lot of adoption and because of that we cannot ignore it. There are some people who don’t like the syntax and the mixing of presentation logic with business logic and database and all that. But, it works and it gets you to a finished state pretty quickly, which is why it’s popular. Any language that lets you build a framework like WordPress, I can’t argue with.

Angelo: That reminds me of some of the different things that I’ve been exposed to over the years. I was originally writing code for Windows applications at the same job with C++ platform called Power ++, and hopefully, no one knows what I’m talking about. But, Power ++ was ahead of its time in the fact that you developed your application based on what you wanted it to do and then you right-clicked on the graphical view of your application as you’re building the skeleton. It was very powerful at the time and inspired a lot of other languages to adopt that same kind of model.

Arsalan: Let me ask you about the trajectory of your career. One of the questions that I think a lot of people have when they’re first starting out is should they really pick the best job as their first job? What was the approach that you used and how did it work for you?

Angelo: I always kept my opportunities open because you never know what might come next year or what might change. Don’t make a plan and limit yourself because something might change and you might change with that and that’s always a good thing. Don’t limit yourself to thinking that you have to work for a specific type of company. When you interview at a company don’t think of it in terms of “this is Google.” Think of it as a company that doesn’t have a known name, but what potential you have while you’re there to have an influence on what is going on.

Arsalan: That’s a good point. You worked at a company that didn’t have 100 developers. They were a small company and a small IT shop which means that one person had to wear different hats and do different things. That gave you the opportunity to learn all these different things. So, working for small startups or small established companies with a small IT department will give you the opportunity to work in different areas.

Arsalan: What’s your best advice for people looking to hire new developers?

Angelo: the first thing I like to do is find out if the person you’re interviewing has taken any initiative to do things on their own. If they’re doing anything open source outside of school or work, that tells me they are passionate about their career and that they’re able to solve problems and create things without having to have a team there and can work independently.

Arsalan: What’s your advice for people looking to get hired and land their first job?

Angelo: Don’t limit yourself to any one particular thing. Be open to anything and don’t pigeonhole yourself into only doing one particular thing because the industry changes and you will have to change with it.

Arsalan: I want to talk about the work that you do. Tell me a little bit about your company and the services it provides and why we should care.

Angelo: we provide pretty much the gamut of everything that you would need for podcasting from the hosting of the media files, the publishing, and the tools to easily publish those, integration into Word press so that you can do everything from your own WordPress site, and subscribe and player tools as well. We also do podcast download measurement and play measurement, and help podcast managers monetize their content.

Arsalan: So, the bottom line is if you’re thinking about starting a podcast, Angelo is a great person to talk to because he can help you. He’s helped me and without his help, I wouldn’t be able to produce the show.

Arsalan: I think it’s coming to the end of the show and I’m so excited that I was finally able to get you here. How can anyone get in touch with you if they wanted to?

Angelo: The easiest way would be through my personal site, www.angelomendato.com. I think I have contact information over there as well if you wanted to email me.

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