This week we’re going to talk with Jake Goldman, the President and Chief Engineer at 10Up, the firm behind TechCrunch and Hip2Save, the official blog of the Today Show, and many others in their showcase. 10up is one of the premiere WordPress consulting firms, and a go-to company for WordPress VIP-hosted sites and apps.
Jake has been building websites since the mid-90’s, and parlayed his experience building websites into the successful growth of 10up, home to 16 amazing WordPress core contributors, developers, designers, and educators. Jake has not only built websites, he’s created opportunities for talented men and women to build their careers. He also writes for and is on the expert review team for Smashing Magazine. On a personal note, he’s also engaged so next time you see him, make sure you can take him out for a beer to say congratulations and wish him luck on the family he’s starting with his fiancee.
In Jakes’ Own Words:
I have been building websites since the mid-90’s, including solutions for Fortune 500 companies, the U.S. Navy, major universities, and non-profits. I’m also proud to be a WordPress core contributor, and an author of over a dozen plug-ins that have been highly rated by actual users.
Here are Jake’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?
This is actually hard to put my finger on. I first used WordPress back in 2006 to build out the news side of a startup project I was supporting, and was pretty impressed by how well its basic functionality was documented. I had no idea I was scratching the surface of a tool that I would later build a business around.
Before starting 10up, I was the Technology Director at a another web agency in southern New England. When I came on board, before the housing bubble burst, 90% of this shop’s business was in support a proprietary CMS, due to the owner’s special relationship with that CMS company. The other 10%, from what I can remember, was a mix of platforms including WordPress and Ning, that all stemmed from “add on” needs of customers using that proprietary CMS, like a solid blogging module. We pushed that CMS pretty hard, but it was often hard to really get customers to feel enthused, and it always seemed like a massive Achilles’ heal to be so dependent on a largely closed platform, while open source tools like Drupal and WordPress were growing in popularity.
We made a conscious decision to start routing new projects to open source platforms. I dug my heels into WordPress, while the owner primarily focused his attention on Drupal. Building bigger projects on WordPress was a breath of fresh air – documentation, access to source code, a (mostly) smart database schema, incredibly flexible theming. In hindsight, thinking about the days before custom post types and taxonomies and menu management, I’m actually amazed we got by as well as we did.
I think there were two big moments for me. Back at that previous agency, we had an opportunity to build a website for the Rhode Island Green Building Counsel. We basically did a custom post type implementation before there were custom post types, and when custom taxonomies were brand new. The customer loved the platform, and to this day, I don’t think you’d ever guess it was WordPress under the hood. It was a really challenging, yet inspiring project for me. The second moment was attending WordCamp New York City on a whim, in 2009, at the last minute. Having a chance to meet major core contributors, seeing how much passion there was for this product, and even having a brief speaking opportunity to talk about my first plug-in was all very inspiring. Jane Wells, who organized that camp, told me that this was watershed moment for many in our community, and I believe her.
Where do you go first to get your WP news, insights, and updates?
That’s a good question. 95% of the people I follow on Twitter are leaders of some sort in the WordPress community, so relevant news tends to show up there. I subscribe to the WordPress.com VIP Blog in my feed reader – it’s a great resource to see exciting projects by major brands. Finally, I think team 10up is really well plugged in – particularly Helen (as a core team representative) – so news tends to filter “up” to me.
I pay WPCandy’s $20/mo listing fee, mostly as a way to support the idea of WordPress journalism. But I have to say, I find most of the independent “WordPress journalism” really underwhelming. Way too inside baseball, and not incisive enough. Where are the bold editorials challenging our dogmas? What are we doing wrong as a community? Who’s curating and surfacing thought provoking content and ideas from around the web, like the best of WordPress.tv? Why does it feel like every podcast has the same 5 insiders hosting it, and every news release is about the same circle of popular theme and plug-in shops? Who’s covering amazing new websites that have been built with WordPress?
I think CodePoet.com is trying to break this mold, interviewing diverse groups that are very under covered, and its encouraging to see. Honestly, I wish it wasn’t an Automattic project. Let’s face it – Automattic is owned by the WordPress.org project lead (Matt) and has vested business interests in their take on WordPress. It would be like the White House covering the election. I love the company, but wish good journalism was independent on the closest thing our community has to a “mothership.”
What WP consultants deserve more love than they get? Who should we be paying attention to?
Haha, 10up of course. 🙂 There are a lot of freelancers and shops that are doing great work but don’t do a good job of playing the networking game. I’m probably the wrong guy to ask for names of other agencies!
What performance tips would you give to other pros (as related to speed, scalability, security, plugins, backup, etc.)?
Take the time to read about, and really understand, how WordPress’s object cache works, how the WP_Http class works, and how database queries effect load times. So many developers in our community just copy and paste code snippets or follow tutorials without ever stopping to understand the fundamental product or medium.
And if you haven’t read the Data Validation article in the WordPress codex, get on that.
Confess to us your biggest moment of WP fail?
We normally audit any and all third party plug-ins that don’t come from a trusted source before allowing them in a production environment, particularly for high scale customers. In a rush to add some requested last minute, fairly complex functionality a plug-in was added to a site that was not audited. While we are not certain that the plug-in was actually the vector of attack, the site was hacked not long after launch, and cause or not, the plug-in had a vulnerability.
If you were going to spend this weekend creating a plugin that doesn’t exist, what would it be?
Great question. I’ve been trying to finish a plug-in that adds custom post type archives to the menu navigation system. I think it’s actually unbelievable that this doesn’t exist yet in core. I’ve seen some code that adds an archive option to the individual custom post type box on the nav menu screen, but there should be a widget on that screen for all post type archives. Unfortunately, the menu system needs some under the hood love to make these kinds of customizations much easier. Too much hardcoded JS and not enough abstracted API functions or hooks.
Do you use Themes & Child Themes, Roll your own, or both?
Both. We mostly roll our own, and sometimes build child themes for our themes, in multisite instances. We’ll sometimes take on a budget project involving changes to an off the shelf theme, which we do through child themes.
What’s your favorite theme or theme framework? Why?
We so frequently use off the shelf themes that I’m practically ignorant on this front. I can tell you that I trust the stuff that comes out of StudioPress from a reliability and security perspective. I also really like where the Twenty-Twelve theme is going. It makes it very clear from the get go that WordPress isn’t just about building a blog.
In earnest, I tend to avoid frameworks. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the point, but when I look at them, I think of Russian Matryoshka dolls (the nesting dolls). Oh, here’s some code a developer wrote to generate the front end of a site… it wraps around and is dependent upon this framework some other developer built… which is wrapped around and dependent upon this WordPress application some other developers built… which is built on this PHP language…
I think WordPress is a more than capable framework for building front end display on its own. I like reusable classes that simplify or abstract building granular functionality (for example, custom meta fields), but I’m really not fond of this idea that WordPress is so crippled or difficult to build a theme with that we need to have an entire extra intermediary layer between the theme and WordPress core.
Least favorite plugin?
Pods. It’s not that it’s poorly coded or engineered, I just really don’t want to see WordPress turn into Drupal or Joomla, where you have this psuedo-UI for building complex CMS objects and relationship. The tool is completely useless to the average non-techie publisher WordPress core strives to serve, and I think the modest (at best) productivity benefits to power developers don’t justify its overhead. It’s a tool for “developers” who know enough to be dangerous. You don’t really know how to build a post type or meta field in code (you don’t have to be a C++ engineer to figure this out in WordPress), so you can just hack something together with Pods, featuring its own unintuitive conventions and shortcodes (the latter of which will likely confuse any publisher looking at a page). And, of course, the more “meta” you get with not just rendering these objects, but actually building the objects themselves from stored objects, the slower everything becomes.
What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever done with Custom Post Types?
Off the top of my head, our team built UniversalSports.com, all centered around a video custom post type, integrated closely with Brightcove. It was Hulu for Universal Sport’s content, built on WordPress.
What do you think is the biggest challenge that WP consultants will face in 2013?
An expectation that we can do amazing, huge things with WordPress, contrasted with lingering, unrealistic budget expectations. I think 2013 is going to be an explosive year in really big WordPress implementations, and I’m not sure how ready most of our community is to “grow up” from small and medium sized business projects to really huge implementations. That’s the idea that inspired the Enterprise Class WordPress talk I’ve given at a handful of WordCamps. (Ed: Here’s a link to Jake giving this talk at WC Boston)
If you could change one thing today about WP, what would it be?
Our information architecture for taxonomies and terms was badly conceived and it’s really hurting us. It’s actually really crazy that we don’t have “real” term meta in WordPress core, as a result of this. Object meta data is an important characteristic of any fully baked CMS, and this almost gives the haters a kernel of truth when it comes to WordPress’s outer limits.
Where do you see WordPress going in the next 2-3 years?
Its dominance in the CMS space will grow, putting the nail in the “it’s just for blogs and small sites” canard, which will open the door for even more huge institutions to embrace WordPress. Our community is going to struggle with what it does poorly in the enterprise space (e.g. multilingual and document management). I think, when those struggles get amplified, we’re going to have an identity crisis in our community as we strive to serve multiple audiences (blogging, CMS, app engine) without creating a “compromise product” that tries to be all things to all people.
Tell us a story where you saved the WP day for yourself or on a client project. What made the difference for you?
We had a client who would normally average about 80-100,000 visits a day, that would on a planned regular interval, surge as high as 300,000 visits in a 5 minute window. This became an infrastructure management nightmare for them. Unless you use a true distributed cloud platform, you always need to have the most amount of infrastructure you will ever need. Paying for an infrastructure that could sustain 300,000 simultaneous connections would outpace their advertising revenue (dragged down by the typical number of visitors outside of that window), which meant spinning up and down before these surges, and no traditional host seemed to be able to rise to the occasion and stay up under that load (and this was before we brought a Systems Engineer who specialized in infrastructure on board). We moved them to WordPress.com VIP, which does offer a true cloud infrastructure, using some creativity to address their requirement to migrate nearly 100,000 registered users, and it ran like a champ, at an affordable price point.
What’s the biggest misconception you encounter about WordPress, and how do you clear it up for your clients?
“There’s a plug-in for that.”
Many prospects and clients trust in the quality, reliability, and suitability of plug-ins in the repository. More than 80% of the plug-ins in the repo are not at the caliber we’d accept for our customers, and the thought of clients freely installing interesting looking plug-ins after we launch a site is pretty scary. That, and the idea that the 20,000 plug-ins on the repository are going to address an exact client need in a quality way is kind of silly. I think there are, what, 40 times that many apps available for iOS?
We take the time to explain to clients that we’ll leverage plug-ins and existing WordPress functionality where feasible, but we want to ensure that the solution is tailored to their needs and reliability expectations.
If you were interviewing another WordPress developer for a job, what is the first question you would ask and why?
I interview at least a couple of developers every month! I usually start with an overview of their experience, but when I get to the meat, I want to hear about the most challenging or interesting project they did with WordPress, and what made it so.What did I miss?
Here’s your chance to fill in the blanks and add something you want people to know about you!
I think you touched on everything! Thanks!
Those were some insightful and bold answers. Big props to Jake for giving such incisive perspective on WordPress. You all should expect nothing less spectacular and original from his entire team at 10up. Check them out at 10up.com.