What do PHP developers do?
"Personal Home Page" started off as a simple tool to let Internet users publish information to the Web. Over the past decade, this programming language has morphed into "PHP: Hypertext Processor," one of the Web's most popular and powerful software development platforms. PHP developers master the code that connects end users with highly scalable online databases.
The platform quartet dubbed LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) exploded in popularity as colleges, startup companies and hobbyists raced to populate websites with dynamic information. In contrast to the expensive tools sold by established hardware vendors and software publishers, the low-cost LAMP solution gained traction quickly. Linux vendor Red Hat estimates that two-thirds of the Internet relies on LAMP solutions.
PHP developers don't just work on small projects, however. Some of the Web's most influential projects started as pieces of PHP code. Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook using PHP. Members of Facebook's engineering team now donate time to write and publish free PHP enhancements. Many top blogs run on Wordpress, a PHP-driven publishing tool. And one of the Web's most recent blockbusters, Groupon, used PHP's low barrier to entry as a way to take on more established rivals from the direct marketing industry.
What is the job outlook for PHP developers?
Although government analysts celebrate faster than average job growth for computer programmers, PHP developers face a few hurdles to long-term job security:
- Narrow niche: Few large employers use PHP for major projects, despite the sudden growth of Web application companies that built their businesses on PHP code. Most PHP developers market themselves as experts on the databases their code manipulates.
- Free code: PHP's growth through the open source movement changes the employment equation for programmers who want to become PHP developers. Stock code modules can be found for free or cheap online, leaving employers fewer reasons to hire developers to write code from scratch.
- Freelance tendencies: Many companies require PHP developers only in short bursts, relying on teams of freelancers and outside service providers instead of on in-house talent.
- Offshore challenges: Some employers use in-house PHP developers as project managers and architects, farming out original code to inexpensive teams in places like India, Romania and the Philippines.
PHP developers enjoy a meritocracy hard to match in the IT profession. With most PHP code "in the open" for peers and potential employers to review, solid code acts as both a calling card and a performance evaluation.
What is the salary for PHP developers?
PHP developers often get lumped into the broader categories of computer programmers and software engineers for the purposes of government salary surveys. Analysts at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report that median annual salary for computer programmers is $70,940 per year. Developers working at colleges and universities often trade salary for benefits, settling for a mean annual income of just $60,840. The BLS suggests that developers working in publishing companies that resell PHP code enjoy significant salary premiums, represented by the average annual salary of $85,510 in that niche.
Salary surveys and reports on popular IT industry job sites suggest that many PHP developers, lacking some of the formal training and certification common among other types of programmers, earn just a little less than the government's suggested average. According to postings on salary tracking site Glassdoor.com, entry-level PHP coders can earn $35,000 per year in full-time positions. Higher-paid jobs, often involving project management duties, can pay as much as $88,000.
What training and/or certification is needed to become a PHP developer?
PHP developers' careers often mimic the rise of the programming language itself: scrappy, driven and reliant on social proof. Project managers usually recruit coders based on the skill and the potential in their published code.
Unlike other programming languages, PHP lacks a single, centralized certification body. Therefore, most PHP certifications actually measure familiarity with commercial frameworks, like the Zend Engine that helps power PHP version 5. Two of PHP's creators founded Zend, a company that finds commercial applications for this open-source tool. With revenue from enhancements it sells to PHP for enterprise clients, Zend helps maintain two key certifications:
- Zend PHP Certification: Zend coordinates the creation of a formal PHP exam by a community-driven advisory board. The certification measures a PHP developer's ability to solve common workday problems using the platform's standard tools and the community's best practices.
- Zend Framework Certification: Many large PHP installations rely on the fee-based Zend framework for extra reliability and functionality. This certification tests an applicant's ability to make the best use of these advanced tools in a commercial production environment.
A programmer who wants to become a PHP developer often starts by reviewing sample code from the PHP.net website, reading numerous tutorials on the language, and sharing code with peers. Programmers with experience in other software platforms can often pick up PHP quickly, especially if they have exposure to MySQL and other database tools. Even non-programmers who immerse themselves in the large, supportive PHP community can build connections, partnerships and exposure necessary to become a PHP developer.