This week, we’re chatting with Brad Williams, one of the “WordPress OGs,” and one of the Co-Founders of WebDevStudios. Brad is the kid you grew up with who was programming a Commodore 64 when he was 8 years old, and he joined the Internet in 1994 with AOL 2.0. He honed his typing skills the same way that most of us did: AOL Chatrooms. The first website he created was with Mac Homepage, and hosted on Angel FireMuch more motivating than typing programs! Brad also was a coder in the Marine Corps, which explains his mason-jar choice in hairstyle. The Corps was where he developed his taste for “high-pressure coding,” when he had to do some programming in a gas mask while being shot at. OG For real.
Brad’s company, WebDevStudios is growing quickly, adding Ryan Duff to the team shortly. The company specializes in large-scale WordPress deployments for well-known organizations like MSNBC, Kasperky Lab (a top 3 Information Security firm), Time Magazine, and Wharton, to name a few. They’re also excellent with BuddyPress customization as well, and can help your organization develop an online community.
I’m somewhat of a WordPress addict 🙂 I love horror movies, football, video games, and technology. My favorite holiday is Halloween (surprise!).
Now onto Brad’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?
That’s a great question. I remember back when WordPress 2.7 was released at the end of 2008. Earlier that year I picked up my entire life in Indiana and moved to New Jersey to pursue WebDevStudios full time. I left my cushy position at a major e-commerce website, sold my house, and moved my entire life to the east coast. It was easily the biggest, and riskiest, decision I’ve ever made in my life. I was working on updating client sites to WordPress 2.7 and really admiring the admin dashboard design updates. At that point I realized how awesome it was that I would be working with WordPress, and in this amazing dashboard, every single day. For some reason that moment justified the entire reason why I made the big decision to leave my home state and pursue my passion.
Where do you go first to get your WP news, insights, and updates?
Twitter of course! In my opinion the best way to stay informed on any specific topic is to create a Twitter list with the most influential people in that space. I have a really solid WordPress Twitter list that I get 95% of my news from.
There’s also this amazing podcast out there called WP Late Night. It’s the most popular WordPress podcast on the market and is always fun to listen to: http://wplatenight.com </shamelessplug> 😉
What WP consultants deserve more love than they get? Who should we be paying attention to?
Justin Sternberg (@jtsternberg). He’s been a WordPress Rockstar this year and not just at WDS. Justin built an Instagram to WordPress importer plugin, before it was cool to leave Instagram. He’s also a contributor to the Ad Code Manager WordPress.com plugin and contributed some awesome updates to WordPress 3.5. Keep your eyes on the Sternbergenator in 2013.
What performance tips would you give to other pros (as related to speed, scalability, security, plugins, backup, etc.)?
Invest in a good WordPress host. So many people come to WDS with site speed issues and the majority of the time they are on a shared hosting about paying around $5-$10/month for hosting. If your site is important to you show it and invest in a solid host for your website.
We had a client recently that had a really big one day event coming up. They knew there would be a huge spike in traffic and have had site stability issues the past few years. I talked the client into hosting on WP Engine this year and it couldn’t have gone better. The site received 384,000 hits in a single day, up from around an 8,000 average, and it didn’t even blink. If you are serious about your website, prove it and use a quality host.
Confess to us your biggest moment of WP fail?
Questions like this are always fun. Lets see, should I mention the time I dropped an entire production DB? Or maybe the time I wiped out 100K+ of media files on a site. Or even the time…..you know what, lets just say I’ve had my fair share of WordPress fails. That’s why I always stress BACKUP! Even if you don’t think you should, you really should. When in doubt, take five backups.
If you were going to spend this weekend creating a plugin that doesn’t exist, what would it be?
This might sound strange, but I always thought it would be fun to develop a plugin that lets you change the WordPress admin dashboard design to an older version of WordPress. For example you could switch the dashboard back to WordPress 2.6. Why do I want to build this plugin? I have no idea to be honest, but always thought it would be pretty awesome.
Do you use Themes & Child Themes, Roll your own, or both?
I typically use child themes when developing a new site. Using a solid framework can save you a ton of time when creating new WordPress websites. I’ve always been a big fan of the Genesis theme framework and we’ve launched many sites using it. Recently my company acquired the StartBox theme framework. We plan to really ramp up the development of the framework to create a solid foundation for any site we are building.
What’s your favorite theme or theme framework? Why?
>At WDS we generally use StartBox or Genesis as the framework for all sites we create. We’ve also been known to use Twenty Ten (WebDevStudios.com is a Twenty Ten child theme) and am anxious to start using Twenty Twelve more.
>I love plugins that expose advanced features to normal users. My most popular plugin, Custom Post Type UI, is a great example of this. It really shows regular users the power of custom post types and how easily you can extend your WordPress websites to be amazing things.
I also love premium plugins. I have absolutely no problem paying for quality software. Gravity Forms, Backup Buddy, Soliloquy, and Events Calendar Pro to name a few are amazing plugins. The cost of these is easily justifiable and saves me and my team hundreds, if not thousands, of development hours.
Least favorite plugin?
Every contact form plugin that isn’t Gravity Forms (and they aren’t paying me to say that, but seriously, you should be Carl 😛 ). There is nothing that is even in the same universe as Gravity Forms when it comes to contact form plugins. The best part is contact forms are one of the features I use the least. The fact that I can create posts from form entries is a HUGE time saver. If you don’t own it, you should.
What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever done with Custom Post Types?
I’ve used custom post types for so many amazing things. I’ve used them for error logs, car dealership inventory, custom galleries, rotators, business directories, custom CRMs, etc, etc, etc. Custom post types are absolutely amazing and something I use almost daily.
What do you think is the biggest challenge that WP consultants will face in 2013?
Keeping up with demand. Every single WordPress consultant and company I know is absolutely slammed with work and new leads. We are literally all sending referral jobs to each other because we’re so busy. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a really good problem to have, but the demand for quality WordPress developers and designers is absolutely insane right now.
If you could change one thing today about WP, what would it be?
I would love to see a plugin like Scribu’s Posts 2 Posts rolled in to core. There is no “official” way to make relationships between post types in WordPress, but this plugin makes it super easy. Not only does it make relationships between posts easy to manage, but it also makes querying large amounts of data relationships much faster using it’s own custom table. The other method is using post meta, which many developers are doing, but when you have hundreds of thousands of records you’re querying against, it just doesn’t work well.
Where do you see WordPress going in the next 2-3 years?
Application Framework. When WordPress first launched it was blogging software. Over the years it evolved into a content management system (CMS). The future of WordPress is utilizing WordPress as an application framework to build more than just websites with it. At WebDevStudios, we built a WordPress powered Facebook application for Hewlitt-Packard over 2 years ago. At the time there weren’t many devs out there doing what we were doing. That has changed recently and many devs are starting to understand the power of WordPress to power any type of online application.
Tell us a story where you saved the WP day for yourself or on a client project. What made the difference for you?
When someone comes to us in a panic because their site is down and based on their description of the issue we know exactly what the problem is. For example, we’ve had people contact us because their WordPress update failed and on every page the message “Briefly unavailable for scheduled maintenance. Check back in a minute” appears. To a normal user this is very scary, but we knew this was caused by a .maintenance file in their WordPress root directory. Deleting the file resolved the issue immediately.
What’s the biggest misconception you encounter about WordPress, and how do you clear it up for your clients?
There are a lot of misconceptions around WordPress and open source in general. I would say the biggest one I hear pretty regularly is “WordPress can’t do that, it’s for blogging.” Nothing will get a WordPress developer fired up quicker than uttering that sentence to them. People still believe that WordPress can only be used for blogs. It generally takes me about 5 minutes demoing sites we’ve built in WordPress to shatter this misconception, but it still comes up again and again.
If you were interviewing another WordPress developer for a job, what is the first question you would ask and why?
I would ask to see their website. If I’m interviewing anyone for a job, one of the first things I check (besides social media profiles) is their personal website. Do they have one? Is it powered by WordPress? Do they post often? If so, what about? I’m honestly surprised how many people apply for a job position and have a Gmail or Yahoo email account. If your job is in the web development industry, you should at least have a personal website of your own with an email account.
What did I miss? Here’s your chance to fill in the blanks and add something you want people to know about you!
I’d love to see more WordPress devs and designers using WordPress as an application framework. WordPress is a great fit for almost any type of online application. Out of the box you have users, with roles and capabilities, various content types with taxonomies, media management, and the list goes on and on. There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel when developing applications.
Of course I also need to get a plug in for my new book: Professional WordPress Second Edition! The book was just released a few days ago and is jam packed with awesome WordPress knowledge. Every single chapter has been updated, and we even added completely new chapters for Multisite and custom post types. If you are serious about learning how to develop and design around WordPress, Professional WordPress is the book for you!
WebDevStudios has a reputation that speaks for itself, but if you’re a larger organization that is about to build a new presence with WordPress, whether it’s a blog, a marketing project, or a full-scale app, chat with Brad Williams and his team. They’ll take awesome care of you.