finely tuned consultant chris coyierToday, I’m really excited to be able to feature a WordPress luminary that I’ve looked up to for a little while. Many of you know Chris Coyier, who designs at CodePen, and writes at the amazing CSS-Tricks. He’s also one of the folks behind Digging Into WP, and also was an early person at Wufoo, which was acquired by SurveyMonkey.

Chris now lives in Milwaukee, where he works full-time on CodePen, a browser tool to edit HTML, CSS, and JavaScript that provides instant previews of the code as you write it. Chris is both a designer and a coder who blogs prolifically. His creative streak started early, and you can see it in his degree program that focused on graphic design and ceramics.

In Chris’s Own Words:

Hello! Thank for having me Austin. My name is Chris Coyier and I write about all thing web at CSS-Tricks, talk about all things web at conferences around the world and on my podcast ShopTalk (with Dave Rupert), and I’m the co-founder the web coding playground CodePen.

Now onto Chris’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?

WordPress was my entry point to the web. The first websites I created and really got into were WordPress-powered sites. This is 2005-2006. I learned about front end web design through altering themes to fit my liking at the time. I made a personal site, a site for the band I was in at the time, and a silly lists site that is sadly lost to the ages.

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

I used to know quite a few folks working for Automattic in various capacities. That number has shrunk a little bit but I still know enough folks that I feel like I stay in tune with what’s going on through them pretty well. Largely by following them on Twitter. I used to subscribe to some blogs and listen to some podcasts that were WordPress-specific, but it seems those kind of ebb and flow whether they are being updated or not. Poking around http://make.wordpress.org/ is fun sometimes too.

Which WordPress consultants deserve more love than they get? Who should we be paying attention to?

There has been a lot of WordPress folks who have been very nice and helpful to me over the years. Lately Justin Sainton has helped me with some custom WordPress work so shout out to him.

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

WP Total Cache helps (ED: if you aren’t on WP Engine) with speed by serving a static HTML page instead of having to run PHP and hit the database and stuff. It integrates with CDNs as well, like MaxCDN, for serving your assets from servers that are built specifically for doing that quickly. Remember most speed concerns are front-end related though, so make sure to do all this stuff, at a minimum.

For security, there are plugins you can find in the plugin repository for checking all the stuff you should have set, like file permissions and .htaccess directives and such. But most importantly you should have backups of your files and database, which VaultPress is great for (ED: Like caching, WP Engine takes care of backups as well). VaultPress also does security scanning. And don’t forget the classic security trick of using strong passwords. I use 1Password to generate/store them.

Confess to us your biggest moment of WordPress fail?

Ha! So, so many. I’m embarrassed to admin how many years I went commando on working on WordPress sites. I was using Coda and I’d just log into the server directly and edit themes. No record of what was changing. No protection from wrecking the site. No way to know for sure you weren’t overwriting someone else’s changes. That’s no way to work kids. I’m sure most of my biggest site fails were from working that way. I’m much happier and safer now that I version control everything and use proper deployment.

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

I have ideas come to me all the time. I actually commission them from time to time because hardcore WordPress development isn’t my strong suite. Most good WordPress devs can build in a weekend what would take me a month to do poorly.

One thing I’d really like is that when I click “spam” on an email notification email, I wish it would just spam the comment, not take me to a page where I then have to click again. I think it may be a security thing, but it’s a bit annoying for me since I spend quite a bit of time doing comment moderation.

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

I always make my own themes. WordPress is really great for theming in how easy they make it. I’ve never felt inclined to just yank a theme off the shelf and use that. Or if I have, it’s likely because my involvement with the site was trivial.

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

See above πŸ™‚

Favorite plugin?

VaultPress. Real time backups of the most important data in my career? Yes please.

Least favorite plugin?

Hello, Dolly, I think. I’m all for whimsy and fun in websites, but this is a weird one to hold on to for so long.

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

The first time I used them where I thought it was super effective was when I created a custom post type for the panels of a slider. It was for an artist friend of mine’s site. We wanted to put his art front and center on the site, show it big, and put enough of it there people could swipe through and see plenty of stuff. So each one of those pieces of art is a custom post type.

I used Advanced Custom Fields to customize that CPT to only have the relevant fields on it. Then another plugin that allows for re-ordering of posts which works with custom post types. So now Jeff has total control over that slider right from the admin.

What do you think is the biggest challenge that WordPress consultants will face in 2014?

I’m sure the hot topic of web design will remain “how do I make this site look and work great on any device?” for a long time.

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

It’s really hard to pick on anything. I have plugins to fix anything I don’t like or fill in functionality I need. This list of plugins I use is pretty much what I’m using on most sites – including plugins to send nicer comment notification emails and add Markdown support.

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

It seems to me WordPress has been chugging along at a solid steady pace for many many years now. I suspect it will just keep doing that. Everything is in place to allow that to be the case.

WordPress.com is a big profitable site, which is powered by the open source WordPress software. So all the incentive is there to keep a full time staff on it. And the community is so enormous there will be legs behind it for a very long time to come.

What’s awesome is there is no awful scenario for WordPress. That’s one of the best parts of open source. If everybody who worked on WordPress suddenly went evil or disappeared, people would just fork it and keep on.

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

I’ve had experiences where sites have been pretty much totally destroyed through a security breach and then been able to recover super quickly. I think that’s a strength of WordPress and the tooling around it.

For instance, a hacker gets into the site and messes up the theme. Well, your site is probably version controlled so you can just re-upload the theme and clean it out. And you can always re-install WordPress to clean it up if core files get compromised.

Then you probably have some database backup strategy whether it is some third-party plugin or VaultPress or something you do on your own. If the database was compromised, nuke it and use the backup.

You should spend some time tightening up security around the site (another thing plugins can help with), but a full site recovery should be pretty easy.

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

I can think of three that I hear pretty often:

  1. It’s PHP. Gross. WordPress isn’t “modern” enough. Reaction: don’t care, works great, easy to work with, next.
  2. It’s bloated. I don’t need all the stuff WordPress does. Reaction: you don’t think you do now, but having a world of options open to you at any time is nice.
  3. It’s slow. WordPress sites can’t handle traffic. Reaction: a little caching goes a long way. Performance is largely a front-end thing, so after you have caching going, speed is on you in your theme.

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

I’m sure by the time I was interviewing them I’d already vetted that they know how to do WordPress development. Probably by seeing work they have done, open source projects they have, and things they have written.

At the interview stage I’d be interested in learning about who they are, what they think, how they think, if they seem like good people, etc. Plus soft skills, like the ability to write a perfectly understandable email, are priceless.

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

If you’re a front-end developer, check out CodePen. It’s really growing up into a nice community. It’s a place to share your code, try things out, save snippets, work collaboratively, teach things, create useful bug reports, and way more.

Thanks Chris!

Check out CodePen and CSS-Tricks to see the work that ChrisΒ is producing, and to see how you can become an even better front-end developer and designer!