I don't really know what gtg does in regards the actual coding of Steem - I only know him from his posts in the witness group as gandalf and his 'steem in a box' system (which repeatedly failed for me and which caused me to lose 5 days attempting to figure out why.. thankfully, tim cliff's manual system worked first time).
I agree, in general it is best to update when advised to - unless there are very specific changes that you totally understand 100% and know 100% will not be a problem to not integrate. Given the ongoing problems with Steemit and the fact that their real causes have not been transparently revealed, I think it is a good idea to do everything possible from a witness position to mitigate that. While I have no specific reason to think that the problems are related to a failure to update or even to anything involved with steem itself - as a 'best practise' for system maintenance and debugging it is usually best to be running the latest version.
I am actually a trained system architect, designer and developer - so I am a bit more like Dan than an average coder and that's part of why I usually leave coding to others who see themselves as more development oriented than as designers/architects.. That said, I do have a few projects on Github for PHP.