Alex Vasquez - WordPress Higher EdToday, I’m talking with Alex Vasquez, who is one of the awesome folks in the Orange County WordPress meetup group. That’s one of the most active groups on Facebook, in terms of supporting each other’s work, etc, and Alex is a cultural leader of the local community. Alex is doing the lion’s share of his work with higher ed, helping those institutions do online employee training, online courses, and publishing content. His company, DigiSavvy is a full service, boutique agency, based in Orange County, and serving clients all over.

Alex is a Pacific Northwest-born dude, who has made his way down to the OC to get out of the rain. He literally picked up and moved away from Oregon 2 weeks after graduating high school. WordPress came into his life, at first as side gigs, but then gradually allowed him to pay all his bills, and then some.

In Alex’s Own Words:

The things that have made me happiest in life were the things that I knew I “belonged” to. Something that I could take ownership of in some way and do good. Community is what I’m talking about. The WordPress community just blows my mind nearly every day with the number of people taking to it, forging their own path and really just supporting one another. Having worked in tech for over a decade, I’ve never seen a community its equal. I’m proud to be a part of this WordPress thingy.

Now, onto Alex’s Answers!

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

Well, I don’t know that I was so much excited as I had an “oh shit” moment. “What are you going to do, Alex?” Is what I’d asked myself. You see, I’d been laid off at the time. I had only just moved in with my girlfriend, and there was also a baby coming. I panicked and I was stressed… I hated what I did, as a Storage Engineer. It made my mind go numb and my eyes bleed. It truly was soul sucking work.

I did WordPress stuff on the side, never fulltime… Then it slowly began to creep into my entire work day; before I knew it I was able to pay actual bills doing what I was doing… Freelancing. I was making a living. On MY terms. When I realized that, I truly began to appreciate WordPress not only as a development platform, but also something changed my life.

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

Torque is a pretty indispensable resource; and any number of the topics there from theme/plugin dev to core discussions. It’s the place to go to stay up to date on the WP ecosystem. Also, chatting with the folks at the Orange County WordPress Facebook Group  – The people there are up on their stuff, always willing to lend a hand and are pretty damn cool. (Ed: The OC Facebook group is one of the most active forums we’re part of.)

What WordPress Consultants deserve more love than they get?

Without a doubt, Jeffrey Zinn and Brandon Dove at PixelJar. I want to be like them when I grow up. They not only work with some awesome clients, and give back to the community, while also making awesome products like AdSanity, but they’re just stand up guys. I truly look up to what they do. They really do inspire me to do more in the community and also to improve my skills.

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

Be aware of what your plugins are doing. A prime example are the plugins that bundle a number of shortcodes together. Often these plugins produce calls to scripts you’re not using, such as a jquery slider (Nivo Slider, for one), and other such things that can cause your site to load just a bit slower.

Get familiar with testing your site’s load times on sites like and be willing to refine, refine, refine. Optimize them images losslessly. Enigma64 is a new tool I recently added to my toolbox. It’s ridiculous how much it optimizes assets within PSD files; the designs I work with primarily are in Photoshop format in the first place.

Confess to us your biggest moment of WP fail.

I pushed an update to a functionality plugin I made for a University and managed to take out all the links on the home page. Each time a link was clicked, it just redirected users to the home page… It sat like that for almost a day. The plugin was responsible for a large number of custom post types. Yeah, I forgot to re-activate it. =-/

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

I like BIG ideas. Since education is something I work closely with these days, I’d want to create a plugin suite that manages parent/student information, provides a method of class progress and manages input of student scores/grades… You know. All in a day’s work. =0

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

For long time, I was a big Genesis Framework user. I still love it, but I’ve been rolling the Underscores Starter theme for my most recent projects. It’s made me more of a control freak. I kinda like it. It’s easy to create a solid base to start from.

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

Even though I use it very little, Headway is pretty amazing in terms of what it can do. It’s about as powerful and intuitive of a drag and drop framework I’ve ever seen. Not that I’ve seen many, but it is, in my opinion, tops that category. Also, as I said, Genesis is tops, too. It’s solid; I don’t feel it suffers from ‘bloat’ and is really easy to customize for any type of project

What’s your favorite WordPress plugin and why?

DB Migrate Pro. I love this plugin because it makes db migration as simple as clicking a couple buttons and kaboom. You just pushed from local to stage; or pulled from prod. to your local dev. It’s amazing. It’s a great example of doing one thing really super well. Backupbuddy is a great tool that I’ve used on a number of sites, had very few problems with it, but it’s a really more than what I need most times. WB DB Migrate pro is just awesome at the thing it does: Migrate Databases. If you’re a dev and you’re not using this plugin, you’re losing time.

What’s your least favorite plugin?

Up until Jetpack rolled out their Enhanced Distribution feature, I used the Ultimate Facebook Plugin from WPMUDev. I like what it does when it works, but I’ve had so many issues with that plugin. I’d rather play with a sharp stick to the eye.

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

I recently did a project where we created a rolled out a Simple LMS solution for online course managment and test taking. We had posts for tests, courses and the course learming materials. When students passed a test, it updated their progress in the course as to what they had taken already and what still needed to be taken and what their previous scores were. All of this was visible to the course admin. The test meta was handled through custom fields.

What do you think is the biggest challenge that WordPress consultants will face in 2013?

Balance. While true balance doesn’t exist, we need to work harder at it. I talk to many of my fellow consultants and they’re working their asses off, myself included. Day/Night and very little time off for our own things. On one hand it’s a good sign, on the other hand people are going to get burned out. I think them’s the brass tacks of freelancing/running your WordPress biz today.

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

Create installation profiles. WordPress can do so much out of the box. It’s friendly to use, but, man, it can be overwhelming for new users. I’d like to see profiles that really trim out unnecessary items from the Admin and really provide a streamlined experience for people to get “just what they want” and nothing they don’t…

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

I see no signs of slowing down. I really see the platform becoming more adept at providing a mobile integrated solution for publishers. I think we’re going to see a major overhaul in the WordPress mobile strategy. I also hope to see some innovation come from John O’Nolan’s Ghost project surrounding a better Admin UI.

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

I worked with a client that had a static website with declining visits and business to their site. Everything they did was over the phone; they relied on ads and online traffic to get calls.

I switched them over to WordPress, did some basics, such as set them up with WordPress SEO by Yoast, got them blogging their newsletter content and literally within two months, their traffic quadrupled for their keywords and their business slowly began to pickup.

That I could take an open source tool and essentially “save” someone’s business in less than 90 days is pretty f*cking amazing. Suck it Joomla!

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

People that know “enough” about WordPress often complain that all WordPress sites look alike. I often tell people that the look and feel of a WordPress site is up their own imagination and the skill of their designer and developer

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

I’d ask them what WordPress means to them. It’s important for me to know that the community part matters to them. Code standards are the next bit I’d ask about. I don’t expect anyone to be an expert; but I do expect you to know enough to know that you could find different ways to accomplish things, and seek alternate answers or means of doing something.

I think the other thing I’d ask would be to ask them about how they’d solve a particular problem; something that would be particularly difficult to answer right off the bat. I get this from Chris (Don’t call me BrOprah) Lema. Knowing how people approach problems and how they troubleshoot them is also critical.

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

There’s this thing we’re working on in the OCWP group. It’s kind of a big idea. It’s called WordPress For Good. We’re getting the wheels spun up on this project. We’re looking to pull from the community designers, developers, marketers, project managers and more to help local charities, non-profits be more effective in their communities by providing them a robust online presence.

We’re still in the infancy stage here, but this is something near and dear to me. The quote “Nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something” is one of the things that instantly makes me think of the WordPress community. It’s built upon doers, thinkers, creatives, leaders, followers and people with big hearts. It’s inspiring and I want to get people excited about taking WordPress and doing real actual good in the community. Stay tuned, y’all.

Thanks Alex!

Higher education folks should take a look at Alex’s portfolio, DigiSavvy. He’s doing some great work with institutions of higher ed, amongst a few other places. You should definitely work with him.