Interview: Marcel Pociot, creator of BotMan

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An interview with Marcel Pociot, creator of BotMan and co-founder of Beyond Code.


Editing sponsored by Larajobs
Transcription sponsored by GoTranscript.com


[music]

Matt Stauffer: Welcome back to the Laravel podcast, today we're talking to Marcel Pociot, the founder of BotMan, the framework agnostic PHP chatbot package. Try saying that two times, 10 times fast. Stay tuned.

[music]

Welcome back to the Laravel podcast. This is season three where we're doing interviews. It's the people you know—getting to know aspects of them you never understood. Or it's also finding some people who you probably have used their tools or you've seen them but you don't actually, necessarily know who they are. Those names who you've been putting in GitHub require or to Composer require for ages but never actually known who the person is. The guy we have in front of us today, I'm actually curious to see what his entire history of working with Laravel is, but the current most present one that's going on right now is connecting Laravel to chatbots and slackbots, and all that kind of stuff, and this is called BotMan but there's a lot more going on here. First of all, we start with the point where I massacre somebody's name and then we move on to the next point where I ask that person to say their name correctly and then introduce themselves a little bit. Marcel Pociot, that's close, not perfect. He's still smiling, so I didn't massacre it too badly. Can you tell us-- and I'm probably ending up calling you just Marcel through this podcast.

Marcel Pociot: Yes, that's fine.

Matt Stauffer: That's because it is easier for me to say. Thank You. Can you tell us a little bit about-- just real quick, you don't have to tell us your whole life story, I'll ask those questions but—who are you? What are you doing? What are you about? What's BotMan? What is your new company? Just give us the basics of what should we know about you.

Marcel Pociot: Okay. Yes, my name is Marcel Pociot. I think that's at least the German pronunciation. I co-founded a company in December last year.

Matt Stauffer: Congratulations.

Marcel Pociot: Thank you. Very fresh still. I think you're one of the first people that I actually tell this in person that's not from my family-

Matt Stauffer: I got the insider track then. [laughter]

Marcel Pociot: -and friends because the website isn't finished yet. Yes. I think I'm quite around in the Laravel community for a bit.

Matt Stauffer: You've been working-- I've known you just generally in the Laravel community, but you're one of those people where I know that I've known you but I don't even know how we originally connected. Now, you mentioned that we spoke together at a conference so that it may have been it, but do you have any early claim to fame in the Laravel community? Were there any packages that you did earlier on it that were more popular or is it just that you've been around for a while that you're known? Do you know?

Marcel Pociot: Well, I did a few. There is one, I think it's called teamwork, for some user/team association package.

Matt Stauffer: I remember that.

Marcel Pociot: But they're all a bit older.

Matt Stauffer: Where did first start using Laravel?

Marcel Pociot: Two and a half years ago, I think. I wasn't doing that much PHP back in the days, at least not with frameworks. At the companies I work with, they were using self-built frameworks which are usually crap. You do this once in your lifetime and never again. Well, I ended up at companies that did it all the time. At one point, we decided that we’d built a SaaS application and we were looking for framework to use. This is pretty much the story I tell everyone when they ask me how I got into Laravel. My boss was really into Zend because of the whole Zend ecosystem, with the Zend Studio and the Zend server. I looked into the Zend framework, I think it was two. I gave it a week, I gave it really my best shot. I even bought a book and to gave it a try. In the meantime, I looked around for other frameworks and discovered Laravel. What I did with Zend framework in a week, I did with Laravel in an hour in the evening on the couch. This was the main motivation to use Laravel then.

Matt Stauffer: Got it. Okay. I do remember that one of the things that, originally I saw, is that you were doing the Laravel notifications thing. Did you help co-manage that?

Marcel Pociot: Yes.

Matt Stauffer: Or manage or-

Marcel Pociot: With Mohamed and Freek, yes.

Matt Stauffer: Okay. Cool. Got it. Stepping back for a second, it's so funny because I try not to go too deep in my own ethnological and linguistic curiosities in the podcasts because nobody else isn't quite as interested as I am, so one of the things I actually ask myself before we were on a call is how was your English so good, we went to that little bit but I must admit that based on your name, it's sounds French to me, but I know that you live in Germany. Are you French origin living in Germany or I'm I just totally?

Marcel Pociot: No. I hear that a lot. I think it's also because of my first name. People try to pronounce it French, like Marcel Pociot or something like that.

Matt Stauffer: That's exactly what I expected you to say when you first told me, yes.

Marcel Pociot: As far as I can tell, the name-- we can't trace it back that much. I think it's just two generations and it's from Eastern Europe, so that's pretty much all I can say.

Matt Stauffer: Okay, but you're German, you live in-- where do you live in Germany?

Marcel Pociot: Near Dusseldorf, which is near Cologne so, yes.

Matt Stauffer: I took a little bit of German in high school and college and probably forgot the majority of it, but just enough that I can read a couple of German story books to my kids and to try to get a little bit of German heritage in for them. My sister was in a little bookstore, a local bookstore and found this-- what's it called? It's like sweet dreams or something like that - Träumt Suss?

Marcel Pociot: Susse Träume?

Matt Stauffer: Anyway, it's this cute little blue book so I read it to my son over and over and over again, and my pronunciation was really bad at day one, but over time I got good at it. Then at some point, my wife found the exact same book in English and so now, with both of my kids, I read them both of the books back and forth, but my daughter is understanding enough English right now that when I read the German version to her she's like, "Wait a minute, I don't understand this one". She gets mad at me [laughs] because she prefers the English version. Anyway, cool. I do remember there was another big one, the API documentation generator, tell me a little bit about that project.

Marcel Pociot: Well, it's a tool that you can pull into your Laravel application and it will basically just reads the routes that you define, so you can call it and give it the prefix of the routes that you want documentation for and will scan the routes and create this Stripe like documentation. So that you have the documentation on the left and then code examples how you can interact with the API on the right, and it does it by just pausing the routes and then reading the documentation of the code.

Matt Stauffer: Is it its own thing or is generating like one of the preexisting styles? You know what I mean? Because I've never got to use it, but we are always looking for API documentation generators.

Marcel Pociot: It's a theme that's called slate, so it's using this.

Matt Stauffer: Cool. Very cool. I’ll put links in the show notes. But the main two that I see associated with your name right now are the API doc generator and then, of course, BotMan, which we'll talk about in a minute. Those are the things and then we've got your company. Let's real quick talk about what is BotMan, where did it come from and then also, what's your company and then we're going to dig into the back story. BotMan, what is BotMan? What does it do and where did it come from?

Marcel Pociot: Okay, I'll start with where it came from. It was really just coincidence. Late 2016, Slack announced that they now have a new HTTP based API, it's called event API. Basically, before that when you wanted to react to Slack events, like new messages, you had to connect through web sockets and the new API was basically just webhooks. Whenever a new action appears-- yes. Well, I mean, if you have a large Slack team it will blast a lot of events to your server. When I heard that Slack announced this API, I just thought that it would be cool to have a PHP API that wraps around it and have an elegant API around it, it's sort of what Laravel is all about, then apply this to Slack. Then I did this, I open sourced it. It was called just SlackBot at the time. It lay around there for three or four months, I didn't do anything with it and then, I came up with the idea that it might be cool to connect multiple services to it, not just Slack, but also Telegram and Facebook Messenger. That's the main thing with BotMan. It's one of the only-- maybe it's the only —PHP library that actually allows you to connect to multiple messenger services.

Matt Stauffer: Yes. If it not the only, it's the only one that matters. That's what I think. [laughs]

Marcel Pociot: It allows you to connect to these services with one API and reuse your code.

Matt Stauffer: One of the hardest things for people to think about, chatbots— everyone hears "Chatbot is the cool new thing", whatever and often, it's really difficult to understand in what context would I actually want to use this, what are some--? Some of the simplest ones we've seen are, "Oh well, when I hook into a CodeShip integration, something that already exists but, what are some of the-- either in your personal use of it or in seeing other people use it, what are some of the most compelling uses of chatbots? Whether it's in Slack or Telegram, or whatever else that you've seen to help people's imagination get started a little.

Marcel Pociot: Yes, I think the problem is that people always associate chatbots with these super artificial intelligence systems that understand whatever the user wants. In my opinion, it's just a different interface for your application. It's a conversational interface for your application and what I've seen that was built with BotMan, a lot is like websites, for example, for insurance companies. On their website, they have this chat bubble, that you know maybe from Intercom, and what it does is it guides you through the website. When you click on a button, the chatbot opens and asks you a question related to the action that you triggered when you clicked on the button. That's one-use case and I think-

Matt Stauffer: I want to stop you for a second. When I think of a chatbot, what I think about is something that allows someone to use a preexisting chat system, like Facebook Messenger or something else, to interact with their backend API. What you're describing sounds like an entirely manual process where you just used webhooks to hook in your app, right? Am I missing what you're talking about?

Marcel Pociot: No. That's also possible. With BotMan, it is the web drivers, so you can just connect it to your own API and then you send the message from your user to your own API and reply back.

Matt Stauffer: Okay. Got it.

Marcel Pociot: But in the end, that's what happens with Telegram or Facebook too. Yes.

Matt Stauffer: So really, anything that has to do with sending and receiving messages to your user in a chat-like format.

Marcel Pociot: Yes, right.

Matt Stauffer: Regardless of which chat format they're usbing. Okay. I think the on page one is just so clear of an example. Everyone has used a website with Intercom on it or one of Intercom's competitors at some point. I get that one. I think that's super compelling. I'm happy to know that if I need to build that, still reach for BotMan, that's cool. I wouldn't have known that until you said that. Have you seen people use-- I think the hard thing for me is that when I think about Telegram or when I think about Facebook Messenger, I very infrequently think about interacting with someone who has enough money to have an API. I think of my friends. I'm sending a message to my friend, my friend messages me back. Have you seen or heard of really compelling use cases where people are using traditional chats systems, outside of Slack? We'll talk about Slack in a second, but has anybody done anything interesting that you know of with Telegram or Messenger or are those little more aspirational at this point?

Marcel Pociot: Messenger is used a lot for more marketing kind of services. For example, TechCrunch has this, well, it's a chatbot where you can-- when you sign up you can register for different topics from their RSS feeds.

Matt Stauffer: Intere-- wow.

Marcel Pociot: Then you get-

Matt Stauffer: They are using it to publish information out and people are subscribing.

Marcel Pociot: Yes, every evening-- so you can select topics and then the time. Every evening, I get the top 10 stories from TechCrunch into the Messenger.

Matt Stauffer: You just blew my mind. My son just started a podcast www.stauffersonscience.com, and I have a whole bunch of people who I grew up with, who are completely un-computer savvy and they're all saying, "How do I subscribe to a podcast?", I'm like, "Oh Gosh, how am I going to handle this?". I could build a little light Laravel or Lumen app that subscribes to the RSS feed of the podcast and allows people to enter their-- authenticate their Messenger information and pushes every new episode to their Messenger inbox.

Marcel Pociot: Yes, right.

Matt Stauffer: Holy crap, you just blew my mind. That's amazing. That is so cool, that's so clever. That opens up so many things for people to subscribe because everybody, all your non-tech savvy friends, your mom, your grandma, all of them, they all have Facebook which means they all have Messenger.

Marcel Pociot: Yes. I think even more like the younger generation because they don't have MacBooks or laptops, they just have smartphone and use Messenger to communicate.

Matt Stauffer: Do you know-- I'm sorry I'm just going into the weeds here, but I am so fascinated. If somebody doesn't use Messenger and they send something to a Messenger authenticated thing, does it show up on the web interface in their little messages thing in Facebook website?

Marcel Pociot: You mean if they don't use the Messenger application?

Matt Stauffer: Like if somebody doesn't have an iPhone but they go to facebook.com on their browser every day, can they do Messenger interactions using the little-

Marcel Pociot: Yes.

Matt Stauffer: Okay, so it's the same thing as Facebook. Man, I need to pause for a moment, this is so cool. Okay, broadcasting makes a ton of sense. Broadcasting information, this—in some ways, you have some of the value but a lot more configurability of like an RSS feed through a multiple-medium subscription. That makes a ton of sense and I get that now.

Marcel Pociot: Plus, I think. maybe this will change over time, but right now the click rates are much higher because it's not that overused as e-mail newsletters. For example, with the TechCrunch-

Matt Stauffer: They feel more personal too?

Marcel Pociot: Yes. It feels-- even though you know that you're not actually talking to someone at the company, it feels like you're interacting with the company, well, with its brand. The whole market taking thing is really popular on Facebook, also for artists, they have chatbots that you can ask, "where's the next concert?", and the user feels like they are talking to, I don't know, Beyoncé, whatever.

Matt Stauffer: Interesting. I was just going to ask about questions. That one right there would feel like a little bit of natural language processing. If you can do some of that then you can have like ask questions of our whatever bot, or whatever, and that makes sense too. You imagine that you are working for some big company, like an insurance company maybe, and they say, "You want to ask us a question? Here, hook up to our messenger bot and you can ask--" blah, blah, blah. The messenger bot parses out using some basic natural language processing. So, the messenger bot is basically BotMan hooked in your API. The API, your Laravel app takes the questions tries to process them, tries to look up an answer and then sends the message back to that person. So that BotMan would be the interface layer in between.

Marcel Pociot: Yes, right.

Matt Stauffer: Okay, that makes sense. Slack makes the most sense for our context. I think we're all sitting and using cycle work every day, and it seems like Slack is adding more and more things you can do every time. Buttons at the bottom and stuff like that. What is the most interesting thing that you have built or seen built with Slack integrations on BotMan?

Marcel Pociot: It's also interesting because Slack got-- I think they moved away from the term chatbots a while ago, and I think they just called it application. They even integrated like forms that open up, like select boxes, drop downs. I haven't seen that many slackbots using BotMan. There's one, I forgot the name who built it, but he built a slack game, it's like a dice rolling game, it's called Liar's dice.

Matt Stauffer: I, obviously, could talk about BotMan the whole time. But this isn't actually about BotMan, this is about you. BotMan is amazing, there's all sorts of interesting stuff. You also have given-- do you know if your Laravel EU talk is online? I didn't actually watch those.

Marcel Pociot: Yes, it's online.

Matt Stauffer: Okay, great. I'll put a link up to your BotMan talk which is called From zero to multi-platform Chatbot with BotMan. I'll put the link up to that one as well. Let's move on to you. The first place I always start with everybody is, when did you first get interested in computers? Or when did you first get access to a computer? What did your original kind of exposure to computers?

Marcel Pociot: I think the first memory that I have from a computer was, I was sitting, I might be like 6 or 7, sitting in the living room with my father, and I don't remember what kind of computer it was. But we had a book with games, so if you wanted to play a game that was the source code of the game in the book.

Matt Stauffer: Was it BASIC?

Marcel Pociot: Yes, it was. You had to type it in and then you got the game. What I remember, maybe that's also the reason why I remembered it is, my father was sitting there and typing everything in, and I just came at the power adapter and the whole thing crashed. [laughter] He was frustrated.

Matt Stauffer: Yes, I believe it. I assume that was like one of those black and green old-- those boxes. Very cool.

Marcel Pociot: This is the first memory of sitting in front of a computer.

Matt Stauffer: I try not to call at people's ages too much, but I think that you're around my age, around 33, is that right?

Marcel Pociot: Yes. 32 and in April 33.

Matt Stauffer: We're almost exactly the same age. In our generation it was not all that common, at least in the US, I don't know about Germany, for people to have a home computer when we were that young. Since your father was the one doing this. Was your father-- was he a geek or is he a programmer?

Marcel Pociot: Not at all, no. He was always interested in it, but well not so much that he really wanted to write more code than there was in the book. [laughs]

Matt Stauffer: At what point did your interaction with the computer go from pulling out the plug from your dad typing in BASIC program to you creating things on your own?

Marcel Pociot: I think it was-- in school we had, at the programming class, we wrote Turbo Pascal.

Matt Stauffer: Wait, what age of school are you talking about?

Marcel Pociot: I think this is seventh grade, so I must have been like 12, 13.

Matt Stauffer: You had programming class when you were 13 years old?

Marcel Pociot: Yes.

Matt Stauffer: That's fascinating. When I was in seventh grade, we had typing class and I-

Marcel Pociot: With typewriters or--?

Matt Stauffer: They were on Macs, but they were old Macs and we'd all sit around and I would finish the Mavis Beacon thing in five minutes and then I'd go try to learn Applescript and write programs that would infect all the other computers in the network and shut them all down at the same time without the teacher noticing, but there's no formal programming education even in high school. The best we had was an engineering class where the teacher would let us go hack around and stuff, but certainly, nothing formal. So, you learned Turbo Pascal in seventh grade?

Marcel Pociot: Yes, pretty much and then-

Matt Stauffer: How did that go?

Marcel Pociot: Well, I think we moved quite fast from there to Delphi where also-- in the class, there were a handful of people that were always very fast with all the tasks and, just as you said, had a lot of time. We developed like a Trojan, a Trojan Horse [laughter] to open the CD trays from the other computers and stuff like that.

Matt Stauffer: Exactly. That's exactly what I was trying to do. That's awesome. Okay, early on you were deep in the computers, you were writing code, you were hacking at it. When did you first get into the web?

Marcel Pociot: I don't really remember what age I was, but it was like the Geocities sites. All this crappy--

Matt Stauffer: Yes, man. I still remember, mine was MA slash 1984. My first two letters in my name and then the birth year. [laughter] What was your first Geocities site, you remember?

Marcel Pociot: No, I just remember that I had this cool hacker name.

Matt Stauffer: What? Like 1337 speak??

Marcel Pociot: Yes.

Matt Stauffer: One, three, three, seven, four, four, whatever.

Marcel Pociot: It was Delta2K, I don't know.

Matt Stauffer: Nice.

Marcel Pociot: It sounded cool.

Matt Stauffer: Yes, of course, with 2k especially. Okay, it's funny because it seems like I'm either picking people to interview who are old head PHP dorks or there's something consistent about folks who are helping lead in our community that a lot of us are from similar generation. I'm curious to see where that goes, but-- you were doing that, you were playing around with it at the side, what did you study? Did you study that in university or--?

Marcel Pociot: No. Here in Germany after you finish school, you can either go to a university or you can do training. You go to a company and then you have three years at the company and besides working at the company, you also go to school.

Matt Stauffer: Is it a school provided by the government or provided by the company?

Marcel Pociot: No, it's just a public school for learning the-

Matt Stauffer: For that specific career?

Marcel Pociot: -specific profession. Yes.

Matt Stauffer: Got it, okay.

Marcel Pociot: I did that to become a software engineer and I ended up in a company in Bochum, here in Germany, and-

Matt Stauffer: I don't even know how to spell that. I’ll put that down on the show notes [laughs]. Okay, cool.

Marcel Pociot: Yes, that's what I did. I wasn't that much into liking school that much back in the days. So pretty early on, I decided to skip the school part and rather work five days a week, so that I can hack on some code. That's what I did and then just did the tasks on my own and learned from them on my own.

Matt Stauffer: Got it. You have a pretty straight line from being a little kid watching your dad enter QBASIC programs in. Through learning in school and doing your own Geocities stuff, to being a software engineer and going straight in the industry. Have you at any point felt like, "Oh my gosh, this is not what I want to do"? Or is it just been pretty clear since early on-

Marcel Pociot: Yes, it's been really clear since early on.

Matt Stauffer: - "I'm a programmer, this is my thing"?

Marcel Pociot: That's always what I wanted to do. It's always a bit funny when I talk to people that don't really know what they want to do with their lives and what direction they want to go because it was always really clear for me that I want to go to that direction.

Matt Stauffer: Interesting. If you today-- and I know that you just started your own company in December, so hopefully this is really fresh in your head. If you today were to be able to pick exactly what you were doing day to day, if your company was successful in exactly all the ways you want it to be, what would you be doing with your time?

Marcel Pociot: Right now, I would say I would still love to write code. I heard that you talked about this also with a few other people, what to do when you're 40 or 50 years old. Well, right now, I would say that I hope that I still want to write code at that time

Matt Stauffer: If you found yourself in a situation where your company just-- and we will talk about you company in a second, but you just took off and it's going really well. You decide to hire five people and all the sudden, you're spending all your time doing administrative work. At that point, you think you might say, "I gotta fix this, I got to get back into the code"? Is that your sense of it right now?

Marcel Pociot: Right now, it is, yes, but I'm just so refreshed and I'm really just coming from a lead developer role.

Matt Stauffer: Yes. Okay. All right. Tell me about your company. You went right into that internship, what's your work history look like? You don't have to tell me every company, but what kind of stuff you've been doing. Have you been working primarily for software firms or have you've been working for non-software companies as a software programmer?

Marcel Pociot: No. I just worked for agencies, like web agencies.

Matt Stauffer: Got it.

Marcel Pociot: The first one was very small, four people when I started there which was very cool because I got to do everything. I had to talk to customers and the clients. We had-- it was very small so we had to do things like setting up e-mail accounts for them. They called if they couldn't set up the email account on their mobile phone. Then they would come in with their phone and stuff like that. Yes, the second company was also a bigger agency but still an agency, where I did-- At the first one, I did PHP and then I got a lot into Appcelerator Titanium.

Matt Stauffer: That's why I thought you'd done Titanium. Let's talk about Titanium for a second. Titanium, I feel like was one of the first used JavaScript to write multi-platform apps. How is it different and similar from something like Ionic?

Marcel Pociot: The main difference is that while Ionic is just html that gets executed on the phone in the browser, or in the web view, Titanium used the JavaScript code that you wrote and they had proxies for the native languages for java or Objective C. Then the JavaScript code would call the native proxy objects that would then execute native code. When you wanted [crosstalk]-

Matt Stauffer: It is more of like a predecessor of React Native.

Marcel Pociot: Yes, right. It's like-

Matt Stauffer: Okay. Got it. Is it still around?

Marcel Pociot: It is. The company got acquired and they still develop it but the time Facebook announced React Native, the community just ran away and went to Facebook, yes.

Matt Stauffer: Got it. Okay. I'm sorry, I interrupted. You were doing that at that company and then--? Continue.

Marcel Pociot: Yes. Titanium was also my main motivation to work on open source in the first place. I haven't done that before and I started developing Titanium modules. Just small user interfaces-

Matt Stauffer: Like packages.

Marcel Pociot: Yes. Right. User interface libraries to share and I put them open source and I think I did Titanium for, maybe, one and a half years. Mostly Titanium and then also some Java and Objective C to work on some native modules. During that time, I got bit away from PHP because also, at the time, there was no Composer. The whole ecosystem wasn't as stable as it is right now.

Matt Stauffer: Yes. What brought you back?

Marcel Pociot: Well, I think it was just a client project. [laughs]

Matt Stauffer: Okay. Did they say PHP or it was a web and you had to pick and you just pick PHP because you knew it?

Marcel Pociot: Yes, because I knew it and also because of React Native. When React Native was announced, Titanium just pretty much died.

Matt Stauffer: Yes. But that was pretty recently, right?

Marcel Pociot: Well--

Matt Stauffer: Like a year [crosstalk]

Marcel Pociot: No. Native is more around more than a year, I think.

Matt Stauffer: Is that real? I believe you, I don't actually know. Okay. Yes, let's say, it may be as long time as 2015 but-- because a lot of times when I hear people talk about "I stepped away from PHP--", blah, blah, blah, "and I finally came back", and they are in the Laravel community. A lot of them came back right around the time when Laravel 4 came out. Maybe I just got the timeline on that wrong in my head. When did Laravel 4 come out?

Marcel Pociot: When I started working with their Laravel, 5 came out. I think I worked with 4 for about a month.

Matt Stauffer: That is what I was expecting then. Okay.

Marcel Pociot: Yes. We started this SaaS product at our company and we chose to use Laravel 5 because-- I think the main reason was the form requests, which just blew my mind. I thought they were super cool to validate stuff and then we decided to pick up, there Laravel 5 during the development with the beta, there was no good decision.

Matt Stauffer: I didn't say and it was also bad decision.

Marcel Pociot: We had to fix several things every day and at some point we just pinned the dependency to one specific commit, so we knew, “okay, this is working”

Matt Stauffer: And you built against that commit until you released it until and then deal with all the fixes at once.

Marcel Pociot: And then it stays that way for a long time

Matt Stauffer: It's funny. This timeline does line up here is what I have seen, as four came out in 2013, five came out in 2015 and React Native was announced probably at some point in 2015. So you were deep in titanium, you were off in that world and interestingly you were doing a lot of other mobile stuff. You talked about getting into Java, getting into objective C a little bit it, so it was both Titanium, which is JavaScript but then also the adapter worlds, which means you got to know a little bit of Java from Android, a little objective C for Apple and then you all of a sudden come and jump back into PHP and it was Laravel 5, things were modern and Composer all that kind of stuff, were you still working for that same consultancy at that point?

Marcel Pociot: Yes, must have been sort of at the same time that I switched jobs, yes. And I didn't do that-- I always did PHP in the afternoon on the couch

Matt Stauffer: Got it. It was still always like your fun time favorite language because I know a lot of people would say they left, they're like "oh well, I got tired of PHP I left for rails, I got tired of PHP and I left for .NET or whatever, so you still had a soft spot in your heart for PHP the whole time.

Marcel Pociot: Yes right, but not with the framework at the time.

Matt Stauffer: You ever rolled your own? You said your company rolled their own,

Marcel Pociot: Yes, of course.

Matt Stauffer: Does it have a name?

Marcel Pociot: No, it didn't really have a name, no.

Matt Stauffer: Never got that far?

Marcel Pociot: No.

Matt Stauffer: Okay. You got a pretty classic story here, obviously everyone's different but a lot of us left at some point a lot of us came back at some point but it's interesting for the amount of impact you have made with BotMan you came up to Laravel pretty recently and BotMan isn't really a Laravel framework either. I feel like it was tied to Laravel at some point, is it basically just a PHP framework that does it even have a Laravel convenience layer on top of it right now?

Marcel Pociot: Yes it does. It is framework agnostic but there's a piece that's called BotMan Studio which is basically a blank Laravel 5.5 installation with some additional BotMan service provider and additional commands, a Tinker page to play around with it but it's not tied to Laravel.

Matt Stauffer: Got it. Okay we've caught up, you switched consultancies, you got in Laravel 5, you built BotMan, you talked about how you built BotMan so let's talk about your company. We chatted on and off about it but let's pretend that we haven't chatted at all. In December you formed your own company, you went out on your own. Tell me about it, what's your motivation, what's your goal, what's your desire; what made you want to get out of working for other consultancies and start your own thing and what is your own thing?

Marcel Pociot: Okay. I'm not doing this alone, I'm doing this with a former colleague, he has been a freelancer for a year now already and already a year ago when he left the company, we were already thinking about doing something on our own and I think the main motivation was- when we started this SaaS application at our company, we thought about turning it into its own company, which they eventually did. I ended up sitting in a new office with my now business partner and the CEO from this new company and we basically sat together for 2 years, just the two of us working on the product and we just knew that the CEO back at the time was a sales person and- how can I put it, a sales person as the CEO of a software product is difficult. This was like the main motivation because we had a different idea of the product, the way we wanted to get with it and it didn't turn out into that direction so we thought that, well if we do something on our own, we can give it our best shot.

Matt Stauffer: Okay. Is it a similar product to what you originally planned but since it didn't go the way you originally planned you're going to go build, are you doing product work then?

Marcel Pociot: Right now the company is called Beyond Code and we are, it's sort of a split. We have, on the one hand, we do projects, project work mostly we try to do it for Chatbots obviously.

Matt Stauffer: Your consultancy that builds Chatbots for people as a part of what you're doing.

Marcel Pociot: Yes, right. On the other hand, we have BotMan as the library and we want to focus around building a whole product ecosystem around it so that it becomes easier for people to pick it up and use it like analytics, bot building systems.

Matt Stauffer: So Beyond Code GMBH, what does that stand for by the way? I've never known that. GMBH. I assume it means limited liability corporation but the Germany version.

Marcel Pociot: Yes.

Matt Stauffer: Let's test my German. Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung.

Marcel Pociot: Yes, that's quite good.

Matt Stauffer: All right. I did okay. All right. Beyond Code is a consultancy that builds primarily applications that have Chatbots on them and also uses the finances that come from that to further build the ecosystem around BotMan which is a PHP framework agnostic library to make it easy to build the type of applications that Beyond Code is building for people. Right?

Marcel Pociot: Right. Exactly.

Matt Stauffer: It makes sense. It's like that, not quite, like the Discourse model where like hey, there's a free or then Wordpress model. There's a free piece of software, there's also the way to pay us to do it, the money that you pay us to do it makes the free piece software better. Everything fits and everything else. Okay. That totally makes sense. All right, that's going forward. A success for the next couple years of your life would mean that the work that you're doing or consultancy work, the work you're doing for clients basically allows you to make BotMan better, is that the general?

Marcel Pociot: Yes.

Matt Stauffer: You mentioned analytics, you mention understanding what's going on. Are there any other big next goals or features or things that you want that you feel like you can share with us that aren't the secret sauce?

Marcel Pociot: No. Not that I can share them. No.

Matt Stauffer: Okay, cool. But you've got big plans, it's not just sitting where it is, it is something you want to grow.

Marcel Pociot: Yes.

Matt Stauffer: Okay, that's cool. I think that the ability to compellingly get someone excited about the possibilities with a Chatbot obviously is going to be a big part of your doing. I'm glad we had the opportunity for that. Like I said, I'm literally going to get off this call and go see how fast I can hack together something to send that one woman who went church with me growing up. Facebook Messenger notifications when my son's podcast goes out. I'm super geeked about that. Okay, let's see. What else, what do you do in your free time? One of the things is that you have such a straight line through programming that I think that I want to know more about what is not programming you. What motivates you? I know you've got a family, I know you've got one kid?

Marcel Pociot: Yes, one kid.

Matt Stauffer: One kid. How old is your kid?

Marcel Pociot: Four.

Matt Stauffer: Four. Okay. Obviously spending time with your family is significant but whether with your family or on your own, what do you do outside of coding? What motivates you? What excites you? What do you do when you're away from the computer?

Marcel Pociot: I think I have to re-calibrate myself a bit because when I was working at the consultancy, what I was doing in the afternoon was BotMan and now I'm doing this during the day job.

Matt Stauffer: Actually I got to stop you for a second. You keep mentioning the afternoon as your free time, what does your schedule look like?

Marcel Pociot: It's mostly nine to five.

Matt Stauffer: When you say in the afternoon, do you mean after five?

Marcel Pociot: Yes, right. Sorry, in the evening.

Matt Stauffer: In the evening. Got it. Okay. What you mean is basically your free time, hacking time in your old job you're doing consultancy during the day and then BotMan stuff at night but now the BotMan is your day job. How do you reorient?

Marcel Pociot: Yes, I still have to figure that out myself. I'm not that much of like a sports person or anything. I think really my main motivation was to program still.

Matt Stauffer: You just love coding.

Marcel Pociot: Yes. Well and other than that it's mostly, beside my family of course, playing some video games but- yes.

Matt Stauffer: Yes. I'm not a gamer but I gotta ask what kind of games are, I don't even know what questions gamers ask, is it a PC or console that the question they would ask what game you are into?

Marcel Pociot: No, it is console but also it's funny and also a bit sad that I just realized that I'm getting old because I'm no longer good at these games. I no longer can play these games longer. I have always liked these big games that pull you in like big RPGs but now with a kid, I don't really have the time to do that.

Matt Stauffer: You don't have much time.

Marcel Pociot: I don't want to play for five consecutive hours and if I come back after a few days, I don't want an hour to find out where was I or what I'm supposed to do.

Matt Stauffer: That's why I loved Nintendo, that's one of many reasons why I love Nintendo. Because for people with families, Nintendo is good. A, because there's games that you can play with your kids, and also user interfaces you can play with the kids, but B, there's games that are like you can dip in and out.

Marcel Pociot: Yes, you can just pick them up and then play for half an hour and then your're done.

Matt Stauffer: Even Zelda as an extremely immersive game. You can still pick it up for 20 minutes here or there.

Marcel Pociot: That is also too big for me.

Matt Stauffer: Zelda is. I mean I can understand it. I've played more video games when I played through-- I'm not done with Zelda, but I played more video games when I first got the Switch and Zelda than I have in years. And even so, it was 20 minutes here and there. Because of the Switch, I just put it down and it just pauses it, but I hear you. Super Mario Odyssey is pretty small. And of course, Mario Kart I play with my son nearly every day.

Marcel Pociot: Yes, [laughs] me too, yes.

Matt Stauffer: Nice.

Marcel Pociot: So now we have this rule that we play every other day. [laughter].

Matt Stauffer: Yes, yes. Every night became a problem, so I was like, "You need to get off." The good thing is my son is super, super active. I was a lazy kid, I didn't want to do anything, I just wanted to sit around. My kid, if I let him, we would be outside running around every day, I don't don't have any problems.

Marcel Pociot: Yes, my son too. Yes, when I came home from work, usually the first thing that he would tell me was, "Okay, you can leave your shoes on, we go out and play some soccer." [laughter]

Matt Stauffer: I love it, that's very cool. Yes, I think my biggest bummer about the neighborhood we live in right now is that-- the best thing about it is the houses are really close and everybody gets to know each other very well, so he's got tons of friends. But the bummer is the yards are so small that there's nowhere for us to play without getting in the car and driving somewhere. Like, play soccer or baseball or something like that. But what we end up doing is just running around in the house like crazy people anyway.

Marcel Pociot: [laughs].

Matt Stauffer: It's his favorite game right now.

Marcel Pociot: We have people living underneath so we can't do this all the time.

Matt Stauffer: My son's favorite game right now is turn on some music really loud, some really hype pop music or something like that, and then run around and chase each other and throw bouncy balls at each other or try to tickle each other or something like that while the music plays really loud. I'm like, "Okay."

Marcel Pociot: [laughs]. Yes, haven't done that in a while.

Matt Stauffer: What keeps you from getting stuck when you're coding? Or what tools do you use, or what book or what languages. How do you keep either on a single problem, or on a single framework, or single language? What broadens your perspectives? Whether it's in the programming world, like some other programming language, or whether it's something about your family or your life. What helps you keep your brain out of just the really narrow focus of, "I work in one language, one package, all day long." What gives you inspiration?

Marcel Pociot: Recently, when we had in mind that we're going to start the company, I focused a lot on the organizational things and on how to get this even up and running. During that time I was not that much focused on code, or on frameworks, or anything else, because it also meant for me just to get out of the comfort zone and start a company, and not have the safety as an employee. What I'm trying to tell is that, during this time, I sort of stepped away from being too close to the coding world a bit, and now I'm just catching up again. But I think it's mostly just talking to other people and exchanging with my business partner, things like that. It's not that I use other languages and look into them specifically to see new things, so it's not that I really have the plan on how to broaden my view. I don't know, I think it just happens this way. And if I'm stuck at a specific problem, I just try to go out for a bit and [chuckle] step away from the code.

Matt Stauffer: Yes. All right. I feel like I promised every time that I'm not going to say I could talk for hours and then I do it every time anyway. Oh well, I failed, I did it.

Marcel Pociot: [laughs].

Matt Stauffer: We are nearing time, so I don't want to start anything new and big. Are there any other big parts of you, your life, your motivation or your work that you feel like we haven't got a chance to cover?

Marcel Pociot: No, I think we covered the important parts, most of all, yes.

Matt Stauffer: Okay, I like it. What's your favorite candy?

Marcel Pociot: Candy? [laughs]. After the whole Christmas candy mess-- we set ourselves as a family goal to not eat any candy for a week.

Matt Stauffer: I like that.

Marcel Pociot: My son is doing great.

Matt Stauffer: [laughs]. He's doing better than you, huh?

Marcel Pociot: Yes, right. [laughter]

Marcel Pociot: I cheated but he doesn't know.

Matt Stauffer: All right. Well, hopefully, he doesn't listen to this.

Marcel Pociot: Well, he doesn't understand English. So--

Matt Stauffer: There you go, that's the way to do it. Reveal your secrets in the other language.

Marcel Pociot: [laughs]. Yes.

Marcel Pociot: But other than that-- favorite candy-- I'm mostly into some sour candy.

Matt Stauffer: Like what?

Marcel Pociot: Skittles in sour, they're pretty good.

Matt Stauffer: Really? Skittle Sour-- I had no idea.

Marcel Pociot: Yes.

Matt Stauffer: All right, Skittle Sour, favorite candy.

Marcel Pociot: How about you?

Matt Stauffer: I ask this question to people all the time and I don't know if I know the answer. The first thing that came to my mind was Snickers. I think that I like candies with chocolate, and I think if it's chocolate plus some things that rounded it out, those are high in my list. I mean I really like Almond Joys, and Mounds as well. But I think Snickers is probably my top one.

Marcel Pociot: We all like bread with Nutella, but is it really candy?

Matt Stauffer: Yes, but I mean, it's basically candy.

Marcel Pociot: Yes. [laughs]. Yes.

Matt Stauffer: Yes. It's funny, my wife likes to put Nutella on sweet things. I'm like, "No, no, no, the Nutella is the sweet, I want it on bread or toast.", just plain piece of multi-grain bread, put some Nutella on top of it, good to go.

Marcel Pociot: And peanut butter, and then you basically have Snickers.

Matt Stauffer: Wait, do you put peanut butter and Nutella on the same thing?

Marcel Pociot: Sure. That's literally Snickers, right?

Matt Stauffer: Oh my god [whispers]. I had never thought of that. Alright last story and then I got to let you go. My dad worked for a German company when I was growing up, and he was the president of the US distributor of a German-based company. So he would fly over to Germany pretty frequently, and he would bring Levi's jeans and peanut butter to Germany, because it was hard for them to get, and he'd bring back German chocolate and Nutella, because it was hard for us to get. You can get Nutella in the grocery stores now, but back then you couldn't. And so, every time dad came home, we would get Nutella and we tried to keep these couple of jars of Nutella to last until the next time he went to Germany.

Marcel Pociot: Okay. Next time I see you, can you get some Nutella?

Matt Stauffer: Yes, I mean, we've got a lot of Nutella here, so you have to pick something up to trade with.

Marcel Pociot: But not the German one. [laughs].

Matt Stauffer: Yes, it's true, it's true. All right, Marcel, this was a ton of fun talking to you. Thanks for taking some time. Thank you for BotMan, I'm seriously going to go distribute my son's podcasts using it. So you can expect me to bother you with requests for help sometime soon.

Marcel Pociot: No problem. Thank you for inviting me.

Matt Stauffer: How can people follow you? And, I guess, go start BotMan. What is following after you look like?

Marcel Pociot: Well I think the easiest way to connect with me is on Twitter.

Matt Stauffer: All right. I'll make sure your handle is linked to the show notes.

Marcel Pociot: Okay. Or, if people want to talk about BotMan, I have the Slack team of BotMan where you can join, I think we're nearly 500 people in there.

Matt Stauffer: All right, we'll link that in the show notes too. Got it.

Marcel Pociot: Yes.

Matt Stauffer: Cool. All right, well thanks for your time, was a pleasure talking to you. Until next time everyone. See you later.

Marcel Pociot: Bye.

121 episodes available. A new episode about every 28 days averaging 44 mins duration .