Finely Tuned Consultant: Clark Wimberly

Clark Wimberly's FaceToday, I’m getting to talk with Clark Wimberly, aka @clarklab, aka the mad scientist of gamification behind AndroidandMe. I first met Clark at the Austin WordPress meetup group. He’s basically always there to help folks get started on their first sites, and to help the pros tweak their development chops. Clark builds some of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in WordPress (Ask him about his SXSW Game), and he’s just a great person to be around. If I had to come up with a gripe, I’d say it’s that in his twitter avatar and that photo there, he looks like an enormous hipster.

But that’s not enough reason to hate anybody. Clark is just awesome. I love how anyone can get away with being goofy and still make a decent living in the WordPress community.

In Clark’s own words

I try to make things that are awesome. I live and work in Austin with my wife Angie. We run Android and Me and a handful of other stuff.

Now, Clark answers my questions!

When was the first time that you really got excited about WordPress and at what point did you decide to make it your career?

I was a third-year student enrolled at Texas State and hatching a plan drop out. I was already making decent money on the web, doing design and static HTML/CSS, but knew I’d need to step things up to turn it into a career. At the time, WordPress was only one in a handful of markets showing promise, and for about a year I was a Movable Type guy. I gave WordPress a try on a whim, so overall I guess I just got lucky deciding to hitch my wagon to WordPress when I did.

Where do you go first to get your WP news, insights, and updates?

Don’t really have a go-to source right now. I sometimes cruise the blogs, but mostly I follow individual developers (on their blogs, Twitter, and forums). I also go to the Austin WordPress Meetup twice a month, which always serves up a healthy dose of community chatter.

What WP consultants deserve more love than they get? Who should we be paying attention to?

The ones that share code. The ones that talk at meetups. There are too many to list here, just go find someone contributing to the community and say thanks.

What performance tips would you give to other pros (as related to speed, scalability, security, plugins, backup, etc.)?

Write your own code. Of course, study every example you can find, and make sure to follow best practices, but I always have the best luck with code that’s hand-crafted. When you do need to use a plugin, do some research and make sure it’s written by someone that knows more than you do. Using bad (or simply untested) plugins can lead to major problems, often at a point when it’s too late to save face.

Confess to us your biggest moment of WP fail?

It’s a collection of small moments, which I find any time I refactor my old code. Since I’m constantly learning how to “really do things,” I’m just as often discovering old code that’s simply hideous. It’s a hilarious moving target- working when today’s triumphs are tomorrow’s rolled eyes.

If you were going to spend this weekend creating a plugin that doesn’t exist, what would it be?

My main project, Android and Me, uses a slew of tiny plugins and custom code to manage user creation, profiles, reputation points, content creation, etc- all from the front-end templates. I’m in the process of rewriting and combining all these plugins into a single, user-centric plugin. It’s more work than a weekend can hold, but I’m slowly moving forward.

Do you use Themes & Child Themes, Roll your own, or both?

I do a little of both. Recently I’ve been using _s (aka Underscores) by the Automattic team. It’s the base theme that Automattic actually uses when building every single new theme, which is good enough for me.

What’s your favorite theme or theme framework? Why?

I’m not sure it qualifies as a framework, but Underscores is totally rad. They actually discourage creating child themes, which is something I’ve always avoided anyway. Before I was using Underscores, I was using Bones, which comes in some awesome varieties (like fully responsive or Genesis-ready).

Favorite plugin?

Even though I’m in the process of shifting away from it, I’d have to say that Cubepoints is the plugin that’s helped my game the most. It’s a really flexible gamification system, which at the core is a handful of simple user point functions. You can create hooks to give points for just about any action, and using and extending the plugin over the past year has taught me all sorts of things.

Least favorite plugin?

During a major rebuild of Android and Me, I rolled in a related post plugin, called YARPP (Yet Another Related Posts Plugin). I’ve since learned that a bunch of related posts plugins are resource hogs, but at the time I was blissfully unaware as I relaunched my new build with the faulty plugin included. Within minutes, the site slowed to a crawl, then dropped offline. We rebooted the server and tried again. Another crawl and crash. By the time I located the culprit, I’d spent a stress-filled hour pushing and pulling and investigating files from production and staging. Not a fun time.

I guess I should also take this time to mention that was “back in the day,” before I ran with WP Engine with full staging and checkpoints (not to mention a plugin blacklist which includes most related posts plugins). Nowadays, that issue would’ve been quickly dealt with.

What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever done with Custom Post Types?

It’d be easier to list the things I’ve haven’t done with Custom Post Types. Virtually every project I’ve launched in the past few years have made use of them in some way, from events to products to user content. If I had to pick just one, I’d say that #SXSWrpg was my favorite project to date. It automatically scrapes Twitter for #SXSWrpg tweets and archives everything, saving the tweets as a custom post type and creating a user account automatically for all tweeters. The system matches tweeters for battle, keeps track of location, and even lets users level up- all on top of WordPress and Twitter, two systems not particularly built for games.

What do you think is the biggest challenge that WP consultants will face in 2012?

Other WP consultants. I know that sounds elitist, but in the past few years the field has been getting increasingly crowded and lately I’m having a hard time dechiphering the kings and queens from the pretenders. A skilled consultant is increasingly going to need to do more to prove their skills in a cloudy landscape.

If you could change one thing today about WP, what would it be?

Overall I’m pretty dang happy. Most of the stuff I run into nowadays is so fringe that it would be silly to include it in core. If anything needs improving, it’s my PHP skills as I venture into uncharted territory (which I’m happy to do).

Where do you see WordPress going in the next 2-3 years?

I know this is the tune we’ve been singing for years now, but WordPress is for more than blogging, and people are finally starting to believe it. More than even “just websites,” people are using WordPress to make full applications or web services. It’s a perfect fit, with a ton of the user and content structure already in place. We’re now going beyond even the “WordPress as a CMS” discussion, which is good for everybody.

Tell us a story where you saved the WP day for yourself or on a client project. What made the difference for you?

We traded a website for our venue when getting married. The wife (then fiance) and I really liked a museum and garden downtown, but it was just a touch out of our price range. We noticed they had a fairly terrible website and the rest was history.

Oh, you actually want to hear it? We showed up with a couple homepage mockups and presented them to the museum coordinator and staff. They loved the looks and ideas, especially the fact that it would be built on WordPress and easily updated by anyone in the office. A couple meetings later we exchanged a finished website and $1 (tax reasons) for an entire day’s venue rental. The location was perfect, and even better, it was a great way to score points with the new in-laws.

What’s the biggest misconception you encounter about WordPress, and how do you clear it up for your clients?

I haven’t had many lately, but that’s probably because I haven’t been taking much client work. When I do, the rough patches are far smoother than they used to be, so I’d say the general perception of WordPress might finally be evening out a bit.

If you were interviewing another WordPress developer for a job, what is the first question you would ask and why?

I’d ask about his or her development practices, maybe for a list of their favorite functions and how they use them. Talking about specific functions and creative ways to use them is a great way to uncover the way someone thinks and codes.

What did I miss? Here’s your chance to fill in the blanks and add something you want people to know about you!

I’ve got a big announcement coming soon, but I’m not quite ready to share it just yet. If you work with WordPress for a living, you might want to keep an eye on my site for an announcement. Sorry for the cop-out.

No worries, Clark. We’ll look forward to the announcement when the cop-out expires ;-)

Y’all can check out Clark’s projects at clarklab.com, Android and Me and #SXSWrpg.

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