Daniel Siepmann - Coding is Art

Blog Post

My TYPO3 Journey

Published: , Updated:

Topics: internet, typo3


I'm a professional web developer doing PHP with TYPO3 since 2012. This post covers my journey from the beginning, how I've become a web developer and how I've become a TYPO3 developer and integrator. I'll also cover my experience back in the old days as a beginner and my current experience, covering my own history as well as TYPO3 history.

I hope this will be useful for you, e.g. providing insights in how to become a web developer, how to get started with TYPO3 and how our job and technologies have changed over the years.

I can't cover everything as that would be way too much. I won't cover my time as JavaScript developer when jQuery was available and made JavaScript finally available to everyone. I won't cover my time with Internet Explorer 6 and its unusable developer tools. I won't cover the time before Google Chrome when Mozilla Firefox with Firebug was the only way to debug websites. And I won't cover my journey through all different kind of Editors and IDEs. I'll also not cover my journey from Windows 3.11 over Windows XP, Windows 7, different Mac versions, Gentoo and Ubuntu up to NixOS. I'll focus on the relevant parts of becoming a web developer and TYPO3.


I'm currently employed at Codappix GmbH a small web manufacturer in my home town, that I've founded with some friends and old fellow workers, see the corresponding section on the about me page. I'm mostly focusing on TYPO3 CMS as backend developer and integrator right now, mostly doing PHP and a bit of TypoScript. TypoScript is a specific configuration language developed for TYPO3 itself.

The idea behind TypoScript is that a developer doesn't need to know any PHP or programming. The developer should still be able to build a full-blown website with CSS, JavaScript and HTML. The whole rendering is defined by TypoScript that glues everything together. I won't go into much detail here, but the rendering of a page can look like this, so you can get an idea:

page = PAGE
page {
  config.htmlTag.attributes.class = no-js
  includeCSS.styles = EXT:site_package/Resources/Public/Css/styles.css
  10 {
    file = EXT:site_package/Resources/Private/Templates/Page/Default.html
    variables {
      content < styles.content.get

My main goal is to develop maintainable feature rich websites solving the customer needs and making editing content as smooth as possible. TYPO3 itself is a great piece of software, most of the time, helping me to achieve the goal. It is written in PHP and open sourced, licensed under GNU GPL 2 +. It was developed by a single person back at the end of 90s. The history of the project is available at https://typo3.org/project/history. The old history is one of the main drawbacks of the system. It still has code dating back to the ancient time. But that proves the code worked for more than 20 years already. Still one wouldn't write the code the same with todays knowledge and language possibilities. One needs to remember that PHP 3 was just released, there were no OOP (=object oriented programming) nor namespaces or anything related. We didn't have composer or any other dependency manager. TYPO3 has features dating back to the beginning that are still state of the art (and were way ahead of time back than). A small list of those features:

  • Extendability. The system works much like todays Laravel, Symfony, Ruby on Rails, etc. But it had the extendability back in the 90s. The system itself is build by a set of extensions (Symfony calls it bundles). Developers can create and share own Extensions. TYPO3 itself has an Extension Manager and a central Extension Repository, the TER (=TYPO3 Extension Repository). TYPO3 also supports Composer, allowing you to draw any composer package. Packages with a dedicated type are considered to be TYPO3 extensions and handled in a special way.
  • Configurability. Most parts of the system can be configured. There is most often no need to build an Extension, one can configure stuff, hide inputs, alter existing inputs, change behaviour, etc.
  • Versioning. TYPO3 is a CMS and has versioning of content built into it. Every change made by any user within the TYPO3 Backend is tracked. Users are able to check the history of every single record and can revert changes.
  • Workspaces. TYPO3 provides different workspaces, allowing users to create content in their own workspace. It supports workflows, allowing other users to review the content and publishing content. A preview URL can be created for content within a workspace, allowing to share a draft with foreign visitors, customers, etc.
  • Multilanguage. TYPO3 allows to maintain content in any language, content can be translated, maintained independent of different languages. It offers overviews what parts of a site are lacking a translation, etc.
  • Multisite. TYPO3 has multisite built in. It is possible to manage hundreds of websites within a single installation, sharing users, permissions, and content.
  • Permissions. TYPO3 has a fine grained permission system of users and groups with permissions to different record types, content types, mount points, languages, and way more.
  • Robustness. I only list this cause I've heard from other projects that this issue exists. But TYPO3 has a smooth upgrade path. It is possible to update from an old TYPO3 version 4 to an current TYPO3 version 12 LTS (=Long Term Supported). TYPO3 always provides so-called update wizards that will handle the migration of data to stay compatible. Only rendering is constantly changing, so one might have its own rendering (templates) anyway and might need to do some small adjustments.
  • Image processing. Another one I took for granted, but it looks like many systems don't have it out of the box. TYPO3 allows using any server side supported file formats and will process them. Users can define an area within an image to be rendered on the website, they can crop and resize images.
  • FAL (=File Abstraction Layer). TYPO3 abstracts the file system, which allows to add other drivers like Amazon, Google Drive, Dropbox, etc. It is not necessary to store all files, e.g. images or PDFs, on the same server.
  • TCA (=Table Configuration Array). TYPO3 is like a big improved version of a database tool like Sequel Pro, Sequel Ace, PHPMyadmin, etc. It has a backend with many types of inputs and the TCA is the configuration that TYPO3 reads in order to render the different forms for users to edit content. It allows to rapidly create an interface familiar to users and focus on actual business logic or rendering and features instead of building forms and validation for adding content.

A more complete list is available at https://typo3.org/cms/features.

I'm really happy that we have customers like https://werkraum-media.de/ that live open source the same way we and TYPO3 do. That's why we have some open source TYPO3 extensions available: https://packagist.org/packages/werkraummedia/.

I'm also nowadays very active within the TYPO3 community, since some years. I've listed all my activities at the TYPO3 section on the about me page.

The meantime

I've already worked at two agencies and for one freelancer before I've joined the efforts of my friends to start our own company. One reason we started our own company and that we don't call it an agency is that we hate how most agencies seem to work in web development here in Germany. There is a lot of stress, time pressure, bad decisions, bad leadership and foremost bad technical decisions. There is no time to do things right and think about your work. We had to spend extra hours fixing stuff, altering implementations to follow ever-changing requirements. It is a nightmare. Still in Germany everyone talks about “Fachkräftemangel”, we lack well-educated people on our business. But most companies don't provide an environment that allows to work as expected. There are so many companies, do your self a favour if you can and don't stop looking for the right company. Settle down once you find it and be happy. Or become a freelancer or found your own, as we did.

We still always tried to become better. We checked solutions like https://www.selenium.dev/ to automate end to end website tests. Furthermore, we started to use automated deployments and continues integrations including static code analysis, code style checks and a lot more. We always tried to get used to testing. Things that we take for granted nowadays, but it was a hard time back then. The first deployment I established was more an accident. It was during my apprenticeship. We wanted to relaunch a huge website and had multiple different staging systems in order to test different features in parallel. I still used windows and wanted to test out shell scripting. I installed Cygwin on Windows and tried very small scripts. I then had the job to update all the different staging systems. Furthermore, I needed to sync content between them and update the code. That's when I started to build my first deployment via shell scripts on Windows. We then had a day when our boss asked when we could go productive and how the procedure would look like. I said that the script should work fine for production as well, and we had a deployment. The bad thing was that it was running on my machine, and a colleague and I always hat to set up and test it on his machine every time I went on holidays. They moved the deployment into a virtual machine when I left the company.

That was the time when I got deeper knowledge of TYPO3. I was only a backend developer back then, now knowing much about integration or features provided by TYPO3 except for developing extensions. But not knowing the features of TYPO3 itself, or the interface is a big drawback. You don't know how users will actually use TYPO3 and can't integrate solutions into the system. You most likely, like I did, always start from scratch and build your own stuff that you will add to the system, not playing nice with the existing system. E.g. you will build custom modules for the TYPO3 backend to get things done, instead of using existing modules with a bit of configuration and small modifications.

That was also the time when I wanted to give something back. I understood that this system, being open source, offered with no fees, was great and enabled me to work and earn money. I joined TYPO3 Bar Camps and User groups. Check the Wikipedia page if you don't know what a Bar Camp is. That way I encountered the great community. It was hard for me at the beginning. I'm not that extrovert at the beginning in foreign environments with unknown people. I visited different sessions and listened, but didn't talk to anyone. Nowadays, the community feels like a big family for me. There were stories where people help a community member to build a ramp because she is now bound to a wheelchair. People ask whether everything is okay and everyone is happy if we meet. It is way more than exchanging experience, knowledge. It is about the same mindset, being open source, sharing ideas and concepts, becoming motivated.

The beginning

My dad was a programming for banks doing Cobol all the time. He taught me the dual system when I was pretty young and forced me to watch movies in English. I didn't like anything of that. But I also was able to buy his old PC when I was in ground school, it was a Dos 6.22 with Windows 3.11. I only used it to play around, using everything that was installed on the PC. There were games like Settlers and software like Word for Windows, a tool to draw diagrams and another tool to build any kind of prints, like business cards. I also bought his old printer. That way I already had a business card when I wasn't even able to write “computer” but wrote “compjuter” on it. I never thought I would become a programmer. But my Dad also was curious about the Internet. We had ISDN and I got a 56k Modem. My dad had his own website www.srui.de. This was when I was around 13 years old. I read his book about HTML 4 which I still own. I used some editor and build my first websites which I couldn't host anywhere but could view them via Netscape on my own local PC. Still I had no idea what I would become. I thought I'd work in a library or book store, where I did my first two internships each two weeks.

We than had IT at school in class 10, and I asked the teacher whether I could do the teaching about HTML and JavaScript. That was the time when JavaScript was used to do stupid animations like eyes following the mouse, stupid alerts and scrolling status bars (Yes browser once had a status bar with a loading bar and infos about links, etc.). Still I didn't think about a job as programmer. I didn't finish school that good, because I was way too lazy. I ended in another school after class 10, there I were additional 3 years becoming a “Staatlich geprüfter kaufmännischer Assistent mit Fachrichtung Informationsverarbeitung”. That means I, at least in theory, know the business side and could support a CEO. But the focus was on IT again. And we learend about database normalization, programming and debugging. All using Windows tools like Excel and Visual Basic as well as Microsoft Access. The school forced us to do two internships, one six and another four weeks long. I travelled to our industrial area and walked from door to door looking for a business where I could do my internship. I visited a company doing lightning and sound for events, and many IT companies. I settled for the one where a tall man with long hair was sitting in front of two monitors, reminding me of Neo from Matrix. This company allowed me to do an internship without any further questions. All other companies wanted to know details, I should write a letter, provide certificates, etc. I was lazy and did a six-week internship at that web agency, mostly doing image processing within Photoshop. Cause I thought I was too dumb for programming, but I could repeat what someone will show me within an image processing program. But one frontend guy also introduced me into HTML and CSS, nice technics how to build layouts with div Tags and floats, how to use a 1px image with repeat as background.

I finished off the school and knew I won't do anything related to business. I had some months until my social service started, and I asked the old company whether it would be possible to help them out for five months, again mostly doing image processing within Photoshop. Once finished with social services I still had no plan, so I asked whether I could work at that company again. But my parents wanted me to do another education and that's why I did another three years education within the company. It was a hard decision, but I decided that I won't do image processing but would like to finally learn programming. I settled, and the company didn't do a great job. My first task was a very long-running project without much help and way ahead of what I could do. I needed to program a web interface allowing citizens of our home town to apply for becoming a company. Including the frontend forms, the editing interface for the city, all data crypted within the database. The city already had a TYPO3, but everyone told me to just program, and they would integrate the result into the website. I really thought I would abort the education at least three or five times within the first one and a half year. I constantly got bad feedback but way to less help. And I constantly needed to do the same things, building web forms to insert data that would be stored within a database and representing it to website visitors.

I then thought that this TYPO3 CMS we were using must be good for something and took a first look into the docs. I discovered the TCA (=Table Configuration Array) which would allow me to configure the forms. That was the first time I got positive feedback and other employees asked me for help, because no one ever had a look at the features and docs of the software. That was the turning point.


This blog post was made for @array@fosstodon.org as he requested the post at https://fosstodon.org/@array/110701165059012368. I hope you liked the post. Feel free to contact me and request other blog post.

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