Wern Ancheta

Adventures in Web Development.

Things I Learned on My Third Job

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Its been 3 months since I joined Islick Media, a Web Development shop based in Palm Desert, California. Just like with my previous jobs I work for them as a remote worker. In this blog post I’ll be sharing some of the things I’ve learned on the job.


Synxis is a reservation system. Its a pain in the neck to work with this one. Any code which has something to do with their reservation features are not accessible. At most you can only update the HTML for the header and footer part of the page. Uploading new files is also painful as you either have to install Java so you can run their image uploader or suck it up and upload files one by one.

Wordpress Theme Customization API

I’ve worked with the Wordpress Theme Customization API on my first project on the company. I’ve used it to give the users of the Wordpress theme that I’ve created a simple way of customizing the look and feel of the theme. Things like customizing the color of links, header and background images can go a long way in making your Wordpress theme easily customizable to non-programmers.


Roots is a starter theme for Wordpress. Its useful when creating new Wordpress themes as you don’t have to write boilerplate code from scratch. It also supports Grunt task runner which makes processing front-end code easier.


Zillow is a home and real estate marketplace dedicated to helping homeowners, home buyers, sellers, renters, real estate agents, mortgage professionals, landlords and property managers find and share vital information about homes, real estate, mortgages and home improvement. I’ve used their API in providing zestimates (zillow estimates) for real properties.


This is not the first time that I’ve learned about Laravel. Its some sort of a reacquaintance since I first used it in the year 2012 where it was only newly released. Fast-forward to 2014 there’s already a bunch of stuff that has changed and improved. Some of my previous knowledge were still of use but I also had to learn new stuff and new way of doing things. I’ve learned about the IoC container, and how to make use of external classes the laravel way. I also learned about the authentication class which makes writing the login functionality for your app a breeze.

Mailing Services

Mandrill and Mailgun are mailing services that I’ve used for sending out emails for my projects. Yes you can pretty much use the built-in mailing server on the server where your app is hosted. But the main advantage of using a mailing service over the built-in mailing server is authentication. With mailing services such as Mandrill or Mailgun you get the benefit of having your email come from a reputable server. This leads to a higher rate of the emails actually making it into your customers inbox and not the spam.


SPF and DKIM is a way to authenticate mailing services such as Mandrill and Mailgun to send on behalf of your server. So you can get a cool looking email like: awesomeness@coolness.com to work and actually make it to your customers inbox.

Amazon EC2

Short for Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud. Its basically a cloud computing platform. You can use it to host web applications and scaling is already taken care of. You can start with a fairly low performance and storage capacity server instance. And once you’ve met a certain point where the current instance is no longer performing well. You can just upgrade your current instance and all your stuff would still be in there.


Stripe is a company that provides a set of APIs for enabling businesses to accept and manage online payments. They have SDKs (Software Development Kit) available for different programming languages. Which is nice since no matter what programming language you’re using to write your app you can use the SDK to easily talk with the Stripe API. Stripe uses credit card for payments. One time payment and subscription based payments are automatically handled for you.


Twilio is a cloud communications company. They allow developers to provide SMS and Voice functionality to websites. I used twilio in my second project (Vmonial) with the company. Vmonial is an app that allows businesses to accept voice testimonials from their clients. I used the Twilio Voice API on the project. You can basically control the flow using XML files (TwiML) which uses tags like <Say>, <Record>, <Play>, <Gather> and <Response>.


WHM is sort of the big mama of cpanel. This is where you can manage cpanel instances, users, third party extensions, and lots of other stuff for managing a server.

Elastic Search

Elastic search is an open source, distributed and RESTful search engine. Its like Apache Solr which I’ve written about a few times in this blog. Lots of people says really good things about Elastic Search that’s why I gave it a try on my third project (Roof99) to handle the search. MySQL was not a choice since its a database and it would be terribly slow for searching. Elastic search on the other hand is a search index. Documents are stored in JSON format and querying can be done by using REST (Representational state transfer) calls.

Prediction IO

Prediction IO is an open source machine learning server. You can use it for creating personalized applications. With Prediction IO you can predict your users behavior, offer personalized content (E.g news, ads, jobs), help them discover things that they might like. All of this can be done by having the server silently record the users activity within your app such as viewing, liking, disliking, and rating something.


I’ve also learned about queues. Specifically I’ve used Beanstalkd in my projects, an open-source queue system. Basically queues allows you to delay the execution of a specific task. A common example is when sending confirmation emails upon user registration. Normally you wouldn’t want to send the email immediately once the uer clicks on the sign up button because that would mean they would have to wait for the email to be sent before they can move on. What you would want is to push this task into the queue system and let it do the work for you.

Phonegap / Cordova

Phonegap allows developers for creating mobile apps using web technologies (HTML, CSS, JavaScript). Installing stuff for compiling those HTML, CSS, and JavaScript files is really a pain. Sometimes you get an error that takes hours to solve. Thankfully there’s the Phonegap build service by Adobe that allows you to upload your source files and then after a second or two you can readily download the app installers for devices that you support. This is pretty neat since all you have to do is to write HTML, CSS, and JavaScript code like you always do, upload it to Phonegap build and boom! you now have an installer for every mobile app that you support. A QR code is also generated every time you update the source code of your app. You can then just use your phone or tablet’s QR code reader and it will directly download the installer provided you’re connected to the internet. There’s also hydration which allows you to easily update already installed apps. So if you upload a new version of your app on Phonegap build, and then you open up the app on the mobile device hydration will detect the updates and then it will ask you to update the app or not. So no more need to re-install the app every time a new version is uploaded. Lastly there’s also debugging tools provided that allows you to debug the current instance of the app on your mobile device from the browser. This is all really sweet and awesome but we still need to think about performance, app permissions, and writing the code in such a way that it will be easily maintainable. There’s also this mobile development mindset that you have to get into. What I’m saying is that you shouldn’t really write Phonegap apps the way you write web applications. Because the environment is different. In a browser environment clicking on the link will load up a new page but in an app what it will do is open up the browser and then navigate to that link. So basically most of the things that you need to perform in the server side will have to be done using AJAX requests. Updating the UI can be done by using templates and so on.

Node JS

I was also able to re-aquaint with Node JS which I’ve already used before in some of my personal projects. What has changed is that I’ve started to look for existing packages that might be helpful to the thing I’m trying to accomplish. Because before I tried to implement everything from scratch. And the solution that I come up with is mostly suboptimal.

Fabric JS

Fabric JS is a JavaScript library that can be used for generating images. Pretty much like MS Paint, Photoshop or GIMP. You can do things like insert text, shapes into a canvas which you can then export into an image.

Social API’s

I’ve also learned how to interact with various Social API’s, such as Facebook’s Graph API, Twitter API, and LinkedIn Sharing API. It was hard at first especially Facebook’s API because there’s no quality documentation available. And most of the resources you will find on the web refers to the previous versions of the API which isn’t really that useful.

Youtube and Vimeo API

There’s also this project in which needs to interact with the Youtube and Vimeo API. I’ve had a bit of a trouble using the Youtube API because the API key that I was using didn’t seem to work. The solution I came up with is to just delete the existing API key and create a new one. Another gotcha is that the type of key should be browser instead of server even if the request is actually made on the server. As for the Vimeo API its a bit easier, they have Simple and Advanced API. The Simple API is pretty simple and you don’t need application keys in order to make a request to it. The Advanced API is a bit more complex, but it was made simple because there’s already an existing PHP library that made making requests to the API easier.

Yahoo Finance API

Yahoo Finance API is what I used to get the most recent stocks information about various companies from NYSE and NASDAQ. I used it on my StockSwitch project.


Ionic is a framework for developing hybrid mobile apps. This utilizes Phonegap’s web view to render HTML and CSS and use JavaScript for interaction. Ionic comes with a pretty good looking UI, command line utilities and JavaScript APIs for various UI elements such as modals, tabs, pop-ups, scroll bars, and many others.


Angular comes in tandem with Ionic so there wasn’t really much of a choice but to learn Angular as well when I picked Ionic for the job. Angular is a JavaScript framework from Google. Which allows us to easily structure our JavaScript code and to extend HTML through the use of directives.

Amazon S3

Amazon S3 is the file storage service that I use for storing file uploads for the apps that I built. Files can be stored into what they call “buckets”. These buckets are then assigned a unique URL which can be used to access the file. By default the files stored in each bucket are private. Which means only you the one who uploaded it can view it. If you want to make the file accessible to anyone then you have to make it public. I’ve also used it together with Amazon Cloudfront, Amazon’s content delivery web service. CDN for short.

Amazon Cloudfront

Amazon Cloudfront is Amazon’s CDN. It can be used together with Amazon S3 to optimize the speed of delivery of the files which you have on an S3 bucket. One lesson I learned using Amazon Cloudfront is that its not supposed to be used when you’re still developing the app which utilizes it. Because you often have to manually invalidate a file when you upload a new version of it on s3.

Database Migrations

Database migrations is what you use the first time you build your database. It is also what you use when you need to make changes to the database. Such as changing the data type of a specific column, renaming a column, or deleting it. Its a great way to keep track of the changes that you make on your database schema and share it with your team mates through version control. Its a good thing Laravel, my framework of choice when building web apps, already has database migration functionalities baked into it. All I have to do is create a new migration, write the code which will make the changes and also the corresponding code that will be executed when I rollback. After that I’ll just execute php artisan migrate to commit the changes to the database.

Google APIs

There’s a bunch of Google APIs available. If you can count the number of services that Google currently offers, that’s almost the same number of APIs they’ve got. So far I only had the chance to work with their Google+ login API and Google Calendar API. I used their Calendar API in my Bookr project. And the login API with all the apps that needed social login integration.

That’s it! In the coming months I’ll be updating this post and share some more of the things I’ve learned on my current job.