Meeting Markus Staab: Crafting a more performant Open Source landscape with Blackfire

By Thomas di Luccio, on Jun 28, 2023

Not all superheroes wear capes. Some write code. In our digital age, the heroes are the architects behind the code that shapes our world, crafting a better tomorrow with every thoughtful commit. Their quest is a silent one, often unnoticed, yet profoundly transformative, rendering our online experiences smoother and more efficient.

In the series “People of Blackfire”, we aim to shine a light on the developers making a significant impact on the performance of Open Source software (OSS). Today, we are thrilled to tell the story of Markus Staab, who tirelessly works on making OSS more performant.

Meeting Markus Staab

Markus defines himself as an Open Source enthusiast since 2008. He is the core developer and contributor to multiple projects, with his current focus being on static analysis and performance analysis. He regularly contributes to PHPStan, Rector, and maintains some Open Source tooling he built around this ecosystem–we mentioned his work on Symfony 6.3 performance improvement a few weeks ago.

We were already very familiar with Markus Staab’s work and contributions long before having the chance to meet him for this piece. Having seen countless tweets and blog posts about him discussing optimizations he has made to multiple Open Source projects with Blackfire.

Markus even pulled the numbers together in a recent tweet–a whooping 416 pull requests of his were merged into Open Source projects for 2023 alone. And we were only at the end of May, at the time of writing. How impressive!

A digital craftsman:

He started his journey in the tech industry and web development with an apprenticeship as an infrastructure engineer in 1999. He then built his first web interfaces– some of which are still used today.

Like most, Markus started with a classical web stack using PHP, HTML, CSS, and Javascript. Being a web artisan at heart, he learned how to build things on his own right from his early days in web development. Therefore he did not use anything besides self-written tools and libs at the start of his career.

The depth of knowledge we can acquire by getting our hands dirty is truly remarkable. We learn so much by creating something from the ground up or delving into the internals of an existing project, and Markus is a prime example of that. Markus started his Open Source journey with REDAXO CMS in 2004. He built websites at night with it while studying information technology during the day. Not only was it paying the rent, but it was also the foundation of his professional journey.

A prolific Open Source contributor

One of his very first Open Source contributions was to this CMS–and it’s a significant one. Markus designed the extension point concept in REDAXO CMS. An event-driven abstraction layer allows add-ons to be plugged into the CMS core and customize certain aspects.

Later in 2007, Markus embarked on an exploratory journey with the first version of a novel framework: Symfony. Concurrently, he broadened his horizons by becoming a core contributor of Propel ORM.

Being curious and inherently an explorer, Markus loves nothing more than trying new things and discovering new tools and technology. While getting used to these projects, he started contributing to open discussions, which helped to better understand the software at hand and the core ideas. This helps him collect a belt of tools that occasionally find their way into his primary job. 

Charting unexplored tech territories:

As he familiarizes himself with these projects, his active contributions and conversation with other contributors pave the way for a deeper understanding of the underlying software and its core principles.

This process enriches his intellectual arsenal and equips him with a diverse toolkit that often proves valuable in his professional pursuits. His thirst for discovery extends beyond personal growth, influencing and enhancing his primary work engagements.

Markus works for Complex IT, a German firm specializing in tailor-made e-commerce solutions. Operating as an agile organization, the company employs interdisciplinary product teams for a more holistic approach.

A facilitator in an Agile company

In his capacity as a guild lead, Markus provides guidance to all PHP developers within these product teams. He aids in streamlining the development, build, and deployment processes, optimizing tooling, and serving as a knowledgeable source for architectural and design queries. His job involves finding the best possible development environment and tooling for the developers he works with, so they can get their job done easily and efficiently.

His penchant for problem-solving led him to design an array of tools, one of the most notable being their custom continuous deployment process. This bespoke system seamlessly integrates issue management, source versioning, and production monitoring, providing a comprehensive solution significantly enhancing its operational workflow.

Moreover, Markus wears the hat of a DevOps specialist, meticulously examining production environments for potential performance bottlenecks and other areas requiring monitoring. His keen insights, derived from these observations, are looped back into the development process, enhancing their products’ overall quality and efficiency.

Championing web performance

Markus has an aversion to sluggish software. He isn’t one to primarily focus on end-user features, rather, he aims at meticulously measuring and intricately piecing elements together, making them fast and efficient.

Upon embarking on his current role at Complex IT, his initial months were dedicated to enhancing application performance in response to surfacing stability issues.

This was the beginning of a journey aiming at designing a professional process to identify the necessary tools and processes and gain a comprehensive understanding of where to begin and which steps to follow.

As an early adopter of Symfony, and an enthusiast always on the lookout for emerging tools, Markus was introduced to Blackfire through a tweet from Fabien Potencier. Among many other things, Fabien is the founder of Symfony, Blackfire, and the Chief Product Officer (CPO) of

Blackfire early adopter

The compelling visualization that Blackfire offered immediately captured his interest, and he has been a dedicated user of the tool ever since. Simple and efficient visualization of complex processes helps understand tricky situations and spot the root cause of bugs and performance issues.

Moreover, Blackfire can be safely used in production environments–not causing any overhead when not used and has a limited impact when observability data is collected. This enables real-world load profiling using actual data and traffic, serving as a valuable asset in his toolkit.

Being an explorer and a maker, Markus has been managing a fork of XH Prof for several years, giving him an intimate understanding of the complexities of crafting an effective performance tool. He appreciates Blackfire for delivering useful, accurate, and reliable information.

Fostering learning through shared best practices

A significant advantage of Blackfire, as Markus sees it, lies in its user-friendly nature, which facilitates an easy learning curve for his team members – a factor that notably enhances its value. More than simply fixing bugs, it’s about getting a better understanding of your coding practices. 

Optimization begins with understanding. Greater awareness of the implications of chosen coding patterns enables more refined enhancements in both code and processes. In the realm of web development, shared knowledge isn’t just power—it’s a major key to success

Over the years, Markus has cultivated a robust understanding of elements that can contribute to the sluggishness or inefficiency of a PHP-based project. The performance optimization process often leads to surprising outcomes, where after extensive time spent refining the changes, many pull requests lead to considerable performance improvements consisting of only a few lines of code.

It’s the performance optimization version of that joke wondering how many engineers are needed to change a lightbulb. It’s funny because it’s true. We frequently spent a couple of days figuring out a mind-bugging problem that, once clearly identified with the proper tool, would be resolved by tweaking only a couple of lines.

On the forefront of performance in OSS

Performance is an integral component of any project. Once the features are in place, the focus should pivot to stability and performance. The value of being mindful of your project’s bottlenecks and understanding how to address them appropriately cannot be overstated.

We are immensely grateful that Markus has chosen to champion performance and uphold best practices in the realm of widely-used Open Source projects. His dedication and contributions impact many, setting a precedent of excellence in the industry. 

More importantly, his work has the potential to instigate a transformative shift in the way developers and Open Source contributors operate. Markus’s journey underscores the profound influence that one individual’s commitment to excellence can have on the broader tech community.

Supporting Markus work and open-source

We encourage you to support Markus’s dedication and groundbreaking work by sponsoring him. Your sponsorship will fuel his ongoing contributions to Open Source projects and performance optimization and inspire many others in our community.

We are glad to support Markus, and many other Open Source maintainers throughout our Open Source program. Learn more and apply on our websites today:

Join the conversation on Open Source and performance optimization across our Slack, Twitter, and Reddit communities. Whether you’re an experienced developer, a newcomer to the field, or simply passionate about technology–your perspective is valuable. 

Your unique perspective could spark the next big idea, solve a challenging problem, or inspire someone in our community. Don’t hold back—let’s connect, collaborate, and drive the future of Open Source and performance optimization together.

Happy Performance Optimization!

Thomas di Luccio

Thomas is a Developer Relations Engineer at for He likes nothing more than understanding the users' needs and helping them find practical and empowering solutions. He’ll support you as a day-to-day user.