Today, we’re chatting with David Decker, founder of Deckerweb who hails from Burkhardtsdorf, Germany a small village about 300 kilometers south of Berlin. David has been building websites since 2000, when he was still a student. In 2007, David switched from straight HTML docs over to WordPress, and then became a Genesis developer in 2010.
David is one of the big representatives of Genesis in Europe, and helps organize a community on Google+ for developers. He’s a major plugin author, and has over 30 plugins available for download in the repository. And when David isn’t working on WordPress, he’s experimenting with Android or Linux, and of course spending time with his wife and daughter.
In David’s Own Words:
Being from Germany, I belong to a (growing) “minority” of Europeans in the world wide Genesis community. I founded the – organically growing – Google+ community for Genesis. I work with a diverse set of clients, often small businesses, non-profit organizations (so-called “Vereine” in German), churches, political parties, and the like.”
When was the first time that you really got excited about WordPress and at what point did you decide to make it your career?
In 2003 I was on longer search for a “more dynamic system” to replace my static HTML sites. It was the time when blogging began, so I tried “Blogger” and lots of other simple CMS systems. I was unsatisfied with most of them. Then I remember coming to a blog about the big Tsunami Disaster in 2004/2005 in Asia. That blog from an Aussie and was running on WordPress. I took a look and the platform just clicked with me! I jumped in headfirst, but I failed to install WordPress successfully numerous times (today I guess it was the cheap hosting I had then…).
In summer of 2006 I managed my first successful install of WordPress (I guess it was version 2.0.2) and I was really blown away of that system. The next weeks and months I abandoned everything else to play with WordPress, before building my first website completely with WordPress for a church youth group. That was really fun, and I learned so much about WordPress and how flexible it was (and is)! Then, at the end of 2006, I made a bold decision after this single WordPress website: To switch all my freelance work over to WordPress. With that, my search for good themes began…
Where do you go first to get your WordPress news, insights, and updates?
Twitter, Google+ Communities and my feed reader. I have my special Twitter list as an extra stream in Hootsuite that is on all day, so I get the most stuff there in real time. Via my reader I get deeper into some of the well known WordPress blogs and sites, as well as some personal blogs like the ones from Chris Lema, Brian Gardner and so on.
As you might guess, I am bilingual, so I follow both German and international/English sources. It’s quite nice to follow different presentations, discussions and mentalities… WordPress is a big community!
What WP consultants deserve more love than they get? Who should we be paying attention to?
Sergej Müller (Germany) – he is a developer who brings real innovation to the German and world wide WordPress community. He created the “AntiSpam Bee” plugin, a free spam-fighting plugin that is also free from tracking & privacy issues. It’s quite popular, almost every WordPress site in Germany runs with it. He also has other awesome plugins like “Cachify” (easiest & best caching), “Optmius” (think like WP Smushit on stereoids) and “Statusboard” among others. A premium plugin from him is “wpSEO” which is a premium competitor to Yoast’s famous plugin but is equal, if not better in some areas. Take for example the superior admin UI!
Remkus de Vries (Netherlands) – he is a real pioneer in his field! Remkus is one of the guys behind WordCamp Europe (ED: WP Engine will attend WCEU this year) and for years works on bringing the WordPress community in Europe really together. Furthermore, he helps a lot of well-known developers and development shops to improve their work with internationalization (i18n). He is owner/co-founder of the ForSite Media agency.
Thomas Griffin (U.S.A.) – he has brought real innovation to the WordPress ecosystem with the TGM Plugin Activation Class (together with Gary Jones). This enables themes & plugins to offer installation of dependent plugins. It is the first real implementation (and most popular to date) of its kind and helps especially theme developers solve problems for their end users in a very elegant way. (Even “ThemeForest” marketplace now recommends that piece of software for their new WordPress theming guidelines.) Also, he created the “Soliloquy Slider” plugin which really lives up to its slogan, being the best-coded responsive slider solution for WordPress. This plugin amazes me every time I use it on a project.
Gary Jones (United Kingdom) – last but not least, as Gary has helped me to start implement inline documentation in my own code. I thought that this was not necessary, but he convinced me to try it, and having it has helped me improve as a developer. Gary helps so many people, he’s a real contributor, especially for the Genesis Framework and its ecosystem. He submits lots of patches, and offers code audits for other developers and all that stuff.
What performance tips would you give to other pros (as related to speed, scalability, security, plugins, backup, etc.)?
Try to cut down the HTTP requests. That means stop some plugins from enqueing their scripts and styles on every admin or frontend page. Yes, also some better plugins still do this, but as a general rule, you should avoid it.
Also, lately I use the Cachify plugin a lot, one of the more simpler and more lightweight plugins in the caching section but it does an awesome job! It supports saving on server or even database and also the PHP APC module. This comes in handy if you have existing client projects that are on “not-so-good” hosting environments. (ED: You do not need caching plugins on WP Engine‘s managed hosting platform. We handle cachcing for you.)
The most important tip is to review the used plugins an existing client has before you get started. A lot of times, this means code review! In a lot of cases you are able to find replacements for plugins that have better code, are better maintained or are more lightweight in thee way they load code. I’ve found that the number of plugins isn’t as important, it all comes down to the quality of the code!
Confess to us your biggest moment of WP fail?
Like a lot of other colleagues I had some “backup failures”… nothing too dramatic but it sharpens the senses to take this field really serious.
Once, I made a little site for a non-profit organization and handed it over to their webmaster. Only to find out later it was infected with Malware. His computer was overrun by a virus so his site account acted like the front door for the virus… Plus, I had forgotten to change back some folder permissions from some last minute changes. It took me hours to clean the site and make it work again.
All those bad things always seem to happen when there are holidays, you are on vacation, on the go with the family or such… 🙂 A few years back, a close friend called me on Christmas Day(!) because his site was unavailable. To my surprise, I could reach the phone support at the web hosting company (a local German provider), and they fixed that immediately (issue was on their end).
If you were going to spend this weekend creating a plugin that doesn’t exist, what would it be?
A plugin for plugin developers and sellers. That would include: managing of all your plugins (I currently have 34 on WordPress.org) on your own site with proper resources like install instructions, FAQ section, screenshot gallery, knowledge base, repo and support channel integration and more. Think of it like a WordPress.org plugin page but bigger, better, more flexible and integrated with other services. I guess you could achieve that also with the combination of some existing plugins but I really want an integrated solution. Maybe, I should really think of starting it myself at one point…
Do you use Themes & Child Themes, Roll your own, or both?
For some years now, I only use child themes with the Genesis Framework. I also recommend the use of child themes to anyone, Genesis or non-Genesis users alike. Beyond plugins, which should do most of the functionality work, the child theme concept is really the best way of starting to customize the theme, in the light of presentation and design.
What’s your favorite theme or theme framework? Why?
There are many reasons for that. First one is, Genesis turned my business around, it ended the search for the right theme for every project and it accelerated my development process tremendously. Those were the obvious reasons I could feel immediately after my purchase.
Now, over two years later, I know Genesis inside out and have written over a dozen (public) plugins for it. It’s one of the fastest, most lightweight and best inline documented framework available. It has high abstraction of markup, which cuts the number of template files to maintain. Like WordPress itself, Genesis breathes hooks and filters, that most awesome concept that promotes flexibility.
The best thing about Genesis is its world wide community of users and developers. We’re like a bunch of friends helping each other and learning step by step, almost forgetting most of us are also competitors in some way. And yes, it was Genesis and its developers that got me – who thought I could not learn to program – into starting with PHP :).
Gravity Forms. It’s such an amazing plugin. Just think about all the add-ons that are available – official and third-party. I still can’t understand how some people don’t get that plugin/ecosystem.
I also like how the official developers of Gravity Forms engage with its user community: so for example I maintain the German translations and they are open to offer these for download on their site. This is so far beyond the engagement some other commercial plugin/ theme shops offer. I hope other companies take Gravity’s example as a role model.
That’s just one example, there are many others I like – and invest in them with my purchases – but Gravity Forms really stands out in my opinion.
Least favorite plugin?
Jetpack. Not, that I would say, Jetpack is written poorly. The code is great. It’s more about that this is not a role model plugin for other developers. A lot of things Jetpack does do not follow the standards that are promoted to the WordPress plugin/ theme developers each and every day. Take for example the admin UI, which is confusing for so many users. Its settings for modules are scattered among so many of WordPress’ admin pages which is really confusing and distracting. Then a lot of modules are auto-activated even if the client never wanted that certain module to be active. This results in doubled efforts of work which could have been avoided. One thing a lot of users/clients really dislike is the required connection to WordPress.com for features where it’s absolutely not needed. Beyond all that, this plugin has privacy issues. There are very strict privacy laws in Germany and the European Union, so I cannot recommend or use any plugins that overstep those boundaries with many of my clients.
Yes, I sometimes make bold statements about Jetpack, but don’t get me wrong, I am not a “hater”, I created a German language pack plugin for Jetpack to make sure it had a very accurate set of translations. Thee average blogger can still have a benefit of this plugin suite and every one is happy in the end.
Yes, I do speak out very clearly what I don’t like, but I am also doing lots of things to really help the community and help improve on some things.
What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever done with Custom Post Types?
To be honest, I do not so much with custom post types these days. In the fields where a lot of my clients work we can do most stuff with regular posts and pages.
One thing I did, was make a plugin for “WP Document Revisions” (awesome plugin btw!), which is an incredible use of a custom post type, and made an add-on for it to use it as a simple downloads solution. I really love the way, how WordPress hooks & filter system allows for adding to existing things and tweak it.
I particularly like the ability to hook into existing post types and tweak output or other things. I also created a bridge plugin for Genesis and Easy Digital Downloads and currently working on one for “Sensei”. So yes, I might do cool things with custom post types but from a different perspective.
What do you think is the biggest challenge that WordPress consultants will face in 2013?
WordPress developers are so popular these days, it’s really incredible. It seems to be the same everywhere — here in Germany, all over Europe, just worldwide — everyone wants us WordPress developers! This is awesome in its own way but leads to another problem a lot of us face: burning out. We need to manage work/life balance in better ways (At least, I do sometimes). Also, we need to get better in our “soft skills” and to grow in all things that have to to with running a business.
I have one piece of advice for you: follow and read Chris Lema’s blog on a daily basis and also watch the videos of Matt Report. Chris and Matt have both a lot to say to us developers/ specialists. Their work has really helped to make more bold decisions for myself and my business. If some of us are failing, then not because we weren’t good at WordPress. Those of us who fail do because they neglected work/life balance, their family, business skills in general.
Another thing, we’re facing these days, is Software as a Service (SaaS) becoming more and more relevant. That means, REST APIs, endpoints, integrations and all these things will have a more central place in our work, and to keep up, we have to keep learning in order to keep up.
If you could change one thing today about WordPress, what would it be?
The search functionality needs to be improved. Even with plugins it’s sometimes a challenge to tweak the search feature in a way it’s needed. The fact that lots of WordPress powered sites use Google custom search as their search engine instead of WordPress’ own says a lot. If I want to own my data – and that becomes more and more important in the days of PRISM and NSA sniffing whole countries – I don’t want this data to be on other services. What I mean here are especially closed sites, membership and the like, that are not public but have no proper search function because WordPress lacks here. (ED: Swiftype is an amazing WordPress search plugin)
Another thing that has been neglected for years, is the PO/MO management in WordPress. AN internationalized version of WordPress has much worse performance than one without any translation files loading. This is punishing international users for speaking their native tongue. A lot of international developers have submitted patches and suggestions over the years, only to find out that most of it is ignored constantly by the core dev team. This really annoys me.
I could drop caching plugins from a lot of my client’s sites if WordPress would have improved internal translation loading and PO/MO management.
The last thing that also really annoys me are the official mobile clients. These are good for some aside notes and some image blogging but that’s it. For a highly customized site you just cannot use them other but comment moderation. I really hope there will be some improvements here soon.
Where do you see WordPress going in the next 2-3 years?
I see WordPress more and more becoming an application platform. This is a good direction. I hope it will be also improved and tweaked for a “mobile first” experience. Take for example the whole admin on mobile devices. Overall, I see it (and hope) more and more improvements for “user first” experience. WordPress is known for being easy to use, but that is not entirely true. This “label” has to be earned by hard work. There are lots of details what we need to take care of more and more.
Tell us a story where you saved the WP day for yourself or on a client project. What made the difference for you?
At the end of 2008, a friend called me for help because he wanted to start his website – I should say, he wanted to start blogging! At that time he worked at a press agency and one of their web developers installed him Typo3. Long story short, my friend was so shocked and confused by that backend that he ran away screaming! I showed him WordPress and told him what he could do with all that flexibility. He wouldn’t even believe me… Then in January of 2009 I set him up with a full WordPress website. He’s was so happy, he began to promote me everywhere! Today, he maintains two WordPress sites and publishes a few hundred posts a year! And note, my friend is in his late 50s!
Another story was last fall when I made a little event website for a German non-profit organization for students. I convinced them to use WordPress rather than Typo3. Then they still wanted to implement their whole RSVP form (planned for several thousand participants) via a form script in an iframe. In the last minute before launch they begged me to install the form with my “WordPress stuff.” So, in a few late night hours I hacked together four forms using Gravity Forms. The next morning, I called their leader, and she was so happy. She could export all the entries by form and date, she almost hugged and kissed me over the phone… In the years before with their old scripts they had students come in and enter all data manually from regular emails, all this over some days or weeks. WordPress with Gravity Forms did an awesome job for them, saving them hours of monotonous work. So, this year they started a full-blown WordPress blog for their student volunteers. Mission accomplished I would say :).
What’s the biggest misconception you encounter about WordPress, and how do you clear it up for your clients?
What I hear still way too often: “WordPress is only for small sites, and for bigger projects you would need Drupal, Typo3 or whatever…” That’s just not true! I think 90% of websites that are done with Typo3 or Drupal could be done with WordPress, but done much better, more flexibly, and at lower costs.
I try to let the facts speak for itself. I don’t come in to my clients and then say bad words about other – open source – software. That would be even worse! No, I come in and give them a list of all benefits and advantages of WordPress. Then, together we open the dashboard and publish a little news/blog post or a testing page.
If you were interviewing another WordPress developer for a job, what is the first question you would ask and why?
“Why do you use WordPress and not any other CMS?” — Especially in Germany, there’s still much discussion about what’s the best (open source) CMS software. So, I really want to know what a developer knows about WordPress and why it is her/ his choice.
Also, next question would probably about be hooks and filter system, because I love this concept. What I am interested in the most, are experiences, stories and of course code of plugins and themes.
So, in the end, we need a common foundation of knowledge and values to build projects together.
What did I miss? Here’s your chance to fill in the blanks and add something you want people to know about you!
I see mostly only Apple Macs used by WordPress developers. That is a great OS and great hardware, however, I am on Ubuntu Linux and that is also really well suited for development work. I develop free software with (mostly) free software, how cool is that? — I try to walk my talk. I switched all my computers over to Linux from 2009 on and that was really an eye-opener for me (by the way, it also saved license fees). Nowadays, the linux kernel is almost everywhere but people mostly do not know about that fact. WordPress and Linux even share the GPL License. So it really fits. I just would love to see more WordPress developers on Linux. Would be cool, hey!
You can check out David’s work and profile at Deckerweb.de.