Holy Moley. If I told you to hire the crazy Brit wearing the beaver skull-cap, would you think I was nuts?
Well, aside from the fact that my sanity might be in question, the developer over there on the right is a baller, and you should seriously consider hiring him. Today, we’re talking to Dave Clements, a Brit-born, and now US-based WordPress developer, and author of the book, Do It with WP. And you might think that Dave just submitted a single weird photo because he’s a “cheeky git” or something else that only British people can be, but if you look at his Twitter photo, you may start to wonder if the guy is such a talented dev in order to make up for the fact that he can’t take a good picture to save his life.
Dave has been building WordPress sites since 2001, when he got into photography and needed a place to display his work (turns out he met his wife via deviantART), and moved over to WordPress in 2008. In addition to Do it With WP, with is all about WordPress tutorials, Dave also runs The WP Butler, which is a service to keep a WordPress expert on-hand all the time so you are never without a bit of technical help.
In Dave’s Own Words:
WordPress is incredible, not just for what you can do with it, but for the community that surrounds it. It never fails to amaze me just how giving the community can be. I try and give back by sharing what I know with the wider world. Most of my tutorials stem from applying the techniques to my clients’ sites. I take pride in my work and my integrity is my greatest asset: making every client walk away a happy (and repeat) customer is my first goal.
Now, onto Dave’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?
I got really excited about WordPress the very first time I used it. Having come from using Joomla, WordPress was so much cleaner, simpler and the user interface was much more intuitive than Joomla was. I was sold instantly. I spent about a year working with it for personal use, before deciding that I was quite good at what I was doing and started The UK Edge in 2010.
Where do you go first to get your WordPress news, insights, and updates?
I’m not sure that I instantly fell in love with a particular news source, but that’s part of what made working with WordPress so cool: the community was so helpful that a quick search on Google usually yielded the answer I was looking for, as people were always sharing their knowledge with the rest of the world so freely, and better yet, were engaged with their readers, so you could always approach them if you had questions about something in particular.
What WP consultants deserve more love than they get? Who should we be paying attention to?
Pippin Williamson is an incredibly talented and generous developer: he is on the plugin review team at wordpress.org now and is often found contributing to other people’s plugins, just because he can. I also admire Tom McFarlin for his technical capability, thoughtful insights into the world of development and his sense of humour. Lastly, I have to mention Kevin Chard, who is highly competent and humble and is always helping me out, and Dustin Hartzler for running a great podcast, which is aimed more at site owners than developers, but provides a nice insight into what people are working on in WordPress at the moment.
What performance tips would you give to other pros (as related to speed, scalability, security, plugins, backup, etc.)?
I guess I’d start by saying that each site is unique and there is no such thing as a blanket approach. Learn the fundamentals and recognise how each site would benefit from different performance improvement techniques. Secondly, don’t go overboard: if you start trying to cover every little performance issue, then if you don’t know what you’re doing, you’ll probably induce more overhead and end up causing more problems. Lastly, if you don’t know what you’re doing, you can really mess things up in a hurry. Ditch your ego and call in some help. There’s plenty that I still don’t know, and admitting that and being humble enough to ask, and even pay, for help will reap huge rewards.
Confess to us your biggest moment of WordPress fail?
Gosh, where to start!? There’s plenty of things that I can think of that I used to do that make me cringe now, like hard-coding URLs into themes and plugins, using query_posts instead of get_posts, hardcoding scripts and stylesheets into header.php, modifying plugins on live sites and breaking the whole site… the list goes on! BUT, it’s by trying, and making these mistakes that you learn to be better, usually at the gentle nudging of someone in the community pointing out your errors. So don’t be afraid to try things and make mistakes: just try and make sure you’re on a dev site first!
If you were going to spend this weekend creating a plugin that doesn’t exist, what would it be?
I’d actually love to create an informational plugin that would create a dashboard widget on my clients’ sites, where I can notify them of important information and make them aware if backups weren’t being created, or if there’s updates that they need to take care of. I haven’t thought it all out yet, but the skeleton is there.
Do you use Themes & Child Themes, Roll your own, or both?
It usually depends on how much the client has to spend. If the budget is limited, then I’ll suggest they find a theme that is close to what they want and then I’ll modify it accordingly. If their budget is a bit more forgiving, then I’ll build a custom theme, but I haven’t built one from scratch in about a year: I tend to start most sites using the _s framework, which is phenomenal and should be in every developer’s toolkit.
What’s your favorite theme or theme framework? Why?
Ditto! _s is my single favourite theme. Moulding it into what you need takes just a few hours, and you’re already using current WP standards, HTML5 and all that other good stuff. If you start out with _s, it should be hard to go wrong.
What your favorite plugin?
It would have to be WordPress SEO by the infamous Yoast. It’s helped to remove the wizardry from SEO and helps me (and other devs) to explain to my clients how simple SEO really is, and to encourage them not overthink it. A great example of a well-coded plugin, with an intuitive UI that has improved the WordPress ecosystem by watering down the impact of similar plugins that do such a terrible job of bringing SEO options into the hands of people who don’t understand them. And I’d be remiss for not mentioning Gravity Forms of course…
Least favorite plugin?
I can’t single one out, but there’s plenty that commit cardinal sins such as leaving tables in the database upon uninstallation, flushing rewrite rules on init and not validating/sanitising data. If I see any of these (or a number of other) issues, I don’t even hang around to see how good it is: if you can’t get the basics down, I can’t trust you with my data, or more importantly, that of my clients!
What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever done with Custom Post Types?
I’ve built a couple of nice order tracking systems with it, where my clients could enter all of their orders on their site, and then push order updates, such as shipping notifications, straight to the recipient and representative. The things that you can do with CPTs seem quite simple, but with good implementation, they can really transform the way a company does business.
What do you think is the biggest challenge that WP consultants will face in 2013?
I think valuing your time and your skills. Too many people sell themselves short trying to win work, but you need to rest in the confidence that you’re good at what you do and you can deliver, not just a final product, but the execution of that product, with excellence. Along with that, you need to set boundaries: since most of us are self-employed, it can be hard to draw the line between work and home, but it’s essential to being successful both professionally and personally (not necessarily a tip just for 2013, but it seemed to fit into what I was saying!). I also see devs having to get a lot more familiar with responsive design and CSS preprocessors: those are things I’m actively learning about now.
If you could change one thing today about WordPress, what would it be?
I’d hop on the 3.6 development team and make sure that the Post Formats functionality (that recently got pulled) got implemented in some shape or form. The trouble with its current implementation is that there are no standards for how to add the metadata to a post, so everyone’s doing it their own way, and it’s a nightmare for trying to figure out how each theme does it and then teach that to your clients. There needs to be some standardisation there.
Where do you see WordPress going in the next 2-3 years?
A lot more mobile. It seems only natural, given how much people are now relying on their phones to do business on the go (myself included!). The mobile apps aren’t bad, but they’re far from great. I think that at the very least, all core admin functionality needs to be easily accessed and performed from a mobile, but better than that would be creating an API which plugins could tap into to add elements to the new post screen (such as adding information for WordPress SEO in the New Post screen in WordPress for iOS).
Tell us a story where you saved the WordPress day for yourself or on a client project. What made the difference for you?
One of the sites where I had used custom post types to build an ordering system for one of my clients was one of my greatest successes. This guy used to spend 90% of his working day on the phone, fielding calls from clients about the status of their orders. When I revealed the system to him, he couldn’t believe how simple it was and how much it was going to free him up to actually develop his business. He now enters all of the information online, and his clients get automatic updates and are free to check their orders at will, and the only time he’s on the phone is to drum up new business. That’s a pretty cool feeling.
What’s the biggest misconception you encounter about WordPress, and how do you clear it up for your clients?
There’s a few, and I’m going to use this opportunity to get on my soapbox!
- The number of plugins installed on your site does not impact performance: the quality of the plugins does. You can easily have a site with 200 plugins running far better than a site with just 20 plugins. It’s all about quality. (Ed: Truth.)
- WordPress is secure out of the box, assuming that you implement it correctly. You can have the most secure vault in the world, but if you leave the code on the vault door on a Post-it note, then don’t expect it to do its job.
- You get what you pay for. Yes, WordPress is free, and yes, you can get hosting for pennies, and yes, you can hire “WordPress experts” for a few dollars, but if you want anything half-decent, then stop being a cheapskate: pay a little extra and get the product/developer that can stand behind his work. It’ll pay huge dividends in the long run. (Ed: Free as in beer, or free as in speech?)
If you were interviewing another WordPress developer for a job, what is the first question you would ask and why?
First of all, I want to get a feel for their character: I like people who know their shit, but don’t try and blow smoke up your arse. They have to be good at what they claim to be good at, but also know their limits. Secondly, I want them to show me their work: talk is cheap, but the quality of someone’s work quickly becomes apparent when you lay eyes on it.
What did I miss? Here’s your chance to fill in the blanks and add something you want people to know about you!
By the time this is published, I will probably be a proud father to my first child, a beautiful daughter. I’ll be stepping back from my WordPress duties a little bit to spend as much time as possible with her, but I couldn’t imagine dropping it altogether, because I love it so much: both the projects and the people. It’ll mean having to say ‘no’ to a lot more people, but I’m OK with that, because it means saying yes to my daughter and my wife, which reaps great rewards.
For those who don’t really know me, I’m a British guy married to the love of my life. I was educated as a civil engineer, and I have an unhealthy love of proper grammar and spelling, cider, efficiency, WordPress, manners, hummus and justice. I try to be a good citizen of humanity, treating everyone with love and respect, eating vegan as much as I can, helping out those in need, buying local and teaching others what I know. I tend to think of myself as a modern-day hippy, maybe something like Mahatma Gandhi with a Macbook. And a British accent. Maybe.
If you all want to hop on over to Dave’s site, you can see more about the work he does, the tutorials he writes, and how you can hire him!