Jaki Levy - Finely Tuned ConsultantWe’re going to chat with Jaki Levy, the founder of Arrow Root Media, and a WordPress educator from NYC, now living in San Francisco. Jaki teaches WordPress classes in both cities for folks just getting started, as well as more advanced WordPress classes. Arrow Root Media provides WordPress security and migration services, in addition to custom builds for your sites.

Jaki’s portfolio features nonprofits and SMBs as well as individuals. As an agency, Arrow Root does an excellent job of keeping its finger on the pulse of what other agencies are doing, and keeping with a good niche. With WordPress, there are a lot of areas you can be an expert in, and nobody offers exactly the same suite of services. Jaki is an excellent person to look towards if you’re building a site, and also want some help putting your marketing strategy together, from email to social media to WordPress design.

In Jaki’s Own Words:

I love to share. My passion comes from empowering people to express themselves. And the software we’ve got (WordPress) is great for that. And easy to use. I’m passionate about sharing WordPress with a new audience.

When was the first time that you really got excited about WordPress and at what point did you decide to make it your career?

My first ever client was my sister. She does onsite hair and makeup for weddings and started out with a static HTML site. After some time, I moved her to WordPress. The SEO bump was really nice. But it was even nicer that I could work with her to update her site and add larger photos. I still manage her site.

I started working with WordPress more professionally when I was in grad school (2005). We were told to document all our work in all our classes. So I started out posting my code and notes on a site using Blogger. I quickly moved to WordPress after 1 semester.

After struggling with WordPress for a while (I couldn’t figure out how to change the “Just another WordPress site” tagline for weeks!), I setup a site for a dance company, Misnomer Dance Theater, as part of my thesis project.

The work I did with Misnomer was pretty exciting. We were recognized by other many arts organizations, and I was asked to speak at arts conferences, along with Chris Elam, Misnomer’s artistic director. The company eventually won a really big grant for pioneering how arts organizations connect with their audiences. And I started consulting with many other arts organizations.

When people started contacting Misnomer for WordPress help, I knew it was time for me to move on and start my own WordPress company.

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

I actually put together a post about this. My first go to source is my Twitter followers. I’ve got a curated list of folks that I look to for news and updates. Most of these are other WordPress pros, so it’s a little bit of an echo chamber 🙂

In terms of other resources, I look to WPMail.me first (it goes into my inbox). Then, I check out the other blogs on my resources list.

What WP consultants deserve more love than they get? Who should we be paying attention to?

All the folks I work with, of course! Aside from them, I really admire all the community building that particular folks have done.

Dave Bisset (WordCamp Miami organizer) and Scott Basgard (WordSesh Organizer) have done outstanding work this year.

Pippin (from Pippin’s plugins) has done a fantastic job in setting a great example of building community around WordPress plugins and development.

Some lead BuddyPress folks (Boone Gorges, John James Jacoby, Paul Gibbs, and Bowe Frankema) continue to develop a great platform to run and administer these communities.

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

Build awareness and measure continually. Unless you measure where you are, you never know what impact your improvements will make. So before you start changing stuff, invest some time in profiling your site.

Hit the low hanging fruit first.

Confess to us your biggest moment of WordPress fail?

Hmm. Do I have to answer this? Kidding. My biggest fail(s) was not educating my initial clients on how important it was to update their versions of WordPress. That came to bite me in the ass in a big way, years later. In January of 2012, there was a big increase in hacks. Every single site owner that I’d worked with had contacted me that month asking “Why is my site getting hacked?”

But I’m an optimist. I believe that on the other side of every fail, is an opportunity. We learned alot. And so now, we spend time educating every single person we speak to about security, hosting, and ensure they have ongoing support in place. We’ve even have a dedicated helpdesk for this.

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

I’d call it WP-Updater. A plugin that reliably updates all your outdated plugins, themes, and core software. Before it updates things, it backs up your site database and files to an offsite server – you know – just in case.

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

Both!

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

I love the work that the leaders in our field have done. Graph Paper Press, Theme Foundry, Theme Trust, StudioPress, and Headway are leaders in our field. Many people can write solid code. But providing great support is another matter all together. Here’s a big fat hat tip to all the folks providing solid support to millions of WordPress.

As far as favorite theme framework? I like giving my clients the flexibility to change stuff on the backend. My clients tend to prefer to work with the WooThemes dashboard. But most of my clients don’t want to touch that stuff, so a streamlined version Theme Options dashboard is often better. In that case, I love working with the code from Graph Paper Press, Theme Foundry, or StudioPress’ Genesis Framework.

Favorite plugin?

Gravity Forms is definitely pretty sweet. But I’m sure that’s a pretty common answer now. Any self-hosted site that’s not running Gravity Forms should be. Aside from that, I really like working with the Events Pro Calendar plugin. The folks at Tri.be have done a fantastic job in building a great product.

Least favorite plugin?

I’ve got a few. Typically, it’s the plugins that will bloat databases. Yet Another Related Posts plugin has been a key culprit. There are a few other plugins, and they’re all listed in WP Engine’s disallowed plugins.

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

We’ve worked on a few film festivals. My favorite is still a site we did in 2011 for the Museum of Modern Art and the Film Society of Lincoln Center. We essentially built the functionality so they could have a mini-IMDB for all the films they’ve ever screened. We were able to take that knowledge and apply it to another film festival – the Dance on Camera Festival.

By creating custom post types for films, cast members, directors, and film festival years, we were able to help build an archive that will continually get updated for a long time to come.

What do you think is the biggest challenge that WP consultants will face in 2013?

Security and maintenance is probably the biggest challenge that we see. The web is running millions of fresh WordPress sites. It’s even more important that these sites are maintained for security.

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

The update process. It’s horrible! It’s not often that sites break on updates, but when they do . . . well, it’s no wonder there’s a rising group of people offering “we’ll keep your WordPress plugins, themes, and core software updated” kind of services.

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

Apps. Every WordCamp I’ve been to, developers and speakers are talking about the “app” eco system. WordPress started out as a blogging system, but now it’s much more.

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

Ah – it had to be when I saved a client from a total hack job. I developed a plugin that the client was using. But the plugin was broken on this site. It simply didn’t work. Then I realized they were running a very old version of WordPress (2.6.2). That version of WordPress is more than 3 years old. I was able to clean out their site, upgrade them to the most recent version of WordPress, give them a backup of their site, and get the plugin working. Score!

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

The biggest misconceptions I see are: “WordPress is free. Why do I have to pay for it?” and “WordPress doesn’t seem secure. It keeps getting hacked.” The second one (WordPress is not secure) was addressed very nicely in one of your recent blog posts.

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

Jake Goldman from 10up gave a nice talk at WordSesh about this. I really like the “What’s your favorite WordPress function?” question. It gives me a nice sense of who they are as a person. But it also ensures me that they’re familiar with WordPress. I also like to see their activity on WordPress.org , or other communities they’re involved with (GitHub).

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

A: Well – I think it’s only appropriate to end this with a love letter to WordPress. May 27th was the 10th anniversary of WordPress. That’s a long time for free software to stick around. Why has WordPress stuck around for so long?

At the heart of WordPress is the philosophy that sharing is caring. And I love to share. My passion comes from empowering people to express themselves. And the WordPress “software” is great for that. And easy to use. But so is Rdio, Spotify, and iTunes. I think the difference here is the community. Central to every successful open source project is community. And the “community” consists of so many types of people – not only developers. I’m continually amazed at how critical non-developers are to this project. Thank you! I love you, WordPress. As long as you’re around, I’ll continue to help people use you.

Thanks Jaki!

Please check out Jaki’s work at Arrow Root Media, and attend one of his classes!