Today we’re talking with one of the more vocal WordPress consultants on Twitter. Jesse Petersen and I will go back and forth about various WordPress things, and while I’m not going to say he is always right, I will say that he’s the type to not miss a small detail and keeps the Community honest. Honestly, as I’ve gotten to know developers, that’s one of the personality traits that I sort for: “Does this person hold themselves, and by default the people around them, to a high standard of precision?” That’s Jesse Petersen.
Jesse is a preferred Genesis developer who got his start with WordPress around 2005 who learned by doing and ultimately became a support person for StudioPress. Like me, Jesse also got a degree in writing, but traded words for CSS and PHP. Jesse’s style is a lot like Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs. If you’re not an NBA fan, Duncan led the Spurs to several NBA Championships for a style of play called, “The Big Fundamental.” Not flashy. Not showy. Tim Duncan, like Jesse, focuses on doing the ordinary things extraordinarily well. That’s rare in an age of social media gurus and internet hype.
In Jesse’s own words:
I’m a straight-shooter and listen to what my clients want, run it through my filters, and come up with what they need. Not a “yes man” by any stretch of the imagination, I don’t consider a project a success unless it serves my client well. I have a “do no harm” policy to protect them from mis-information and trying things I’ve already learned about the hard way.
Now onto Jesse’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?
It took quite a while. When I started using WordPress, 1.5.x had just come out and Pages were brand new. I was just a nerdy gamer blogger in 2007 and 2008. My traffic was on the rise, but something weird started to happen on my site: people started asking me WordPress questions to help them with their blogs. Turned out that I had learned a heck of a lot by blogging and constantly breaking my site (I switched, modified, and eventually broke my theme weekly for many months).
It was like pre-OJT, putting in long hours working for my future self. It started to dawn on me that there were people living off of the new marketplace that WordPress created for themes, support, designers, and coders.
One thing led to another and I was quitting my corporate job for a premium theme support job, which led to me doing the whole show myself 5 months later in February of 2009. My first month, I had 3 clients and 3 completed projects done and I stuck with my experiment of being self-employed.
Where do you go first to get your WP news, insights, and updates?
Twitter. I let my comrades in the community curate content for me to check out and I gladly share what they find that interested me. Every few days, News360 on my Nexus 7 stumbles across a tech article, but rarely anything WordPress-related.
What WP consultants deserve more love than they get? Who should we be paying attention to?
That’s a tough one, because at this point, everyone I know is booked solid. Everyone and their mom wants a WP site now (more on that later). I’d have to say any of the newcomers who are proving themselves helpful and knowledgable in the community.
I think Robert Neu at @realFATmedia is an up-and-comer who will be a big player shortly. I had lunch with him recently and he knows his stuff, so follow him and show him some love. Another newcomer is Jonathan Perez at @SureFireWebServ – he’s recent but showing his WP guns on Twitter and Google+.
What performance tips would you give to other pros (as related to speed, scalability, security, plugins, backup, etc.)?
Besides using WP Engine for their hosting? That’s been the number one improvement to my sanity in the latter half of 2012, hosting 50+ clients and all the security and updating that involves.
I use ManageWP for all of my plugin updates and any backups for clients not hosted at WP Engine (there are a couple of stragglers). It makes quick work of managing items across the board.
I’ve started to get a bit obsessive about speed, and would recommend really paring down your plugins, or at least ensure they behave by loading properly so speed isn’t compromised. It’s a lot of fun to work on efficiency – more people should try it instead of using 50+ plugins.
Confess to us your biggest moment of WP fail?
Ugh. I can’t remember the exact details because it’s little more than a repressed memory now, but I learned a valuable lesson.
I was upgrading WP in the early days when developers who shall remain unnamed still edited the “default” WP theme to create the custom theme. I was still ignorant that other developers could possibly not know what to do to create a custom theme and upgraded their WP, only to have deleted their custom theme by replacing it with a fresh copy of “default” that came with the new version. I’m not exactly sure any more if WP auto-update used to upload the wp-content/themes folder or if I was still in the practice of dragging the entire wordpress/ folder up to the FTP, but I never did that again.
Until that day I dropped the database tables on my live site instead of my dev site… squirrel!!
If you were going to spend this weekend creating a plugin that doesn’t exist, what would it be?
I’ve made some custom social media sprites that I add to WP custom menus using CSS and the CSS classes fields (the cool, hidden feature of custom menus). I keep wanting to create a plugin that reads which menus are in the system and lets you select which menu to add the buttons and links to.
But I just started doing plugins, so that one will have to wait a few more weeks before I wrap my mind around it.
Do you use Themes & Child Themes, Roll your own, or both?
I’m 100% Genesis and have been for about 18 months, using it to streamline my workflow by only dealing with one set of hooks, filters, etc. The reusability of the code between themes and projects is sick, really. I’ve recently started compiling functions I’ve used in client projects so I don’t have to dig for code when a repeat need appears.
On the business side of things, not using Genesis on a new project is a deal-breaker for me and I refer them elsewhere. So far, so good with that choice.
What’s your favorite theme or theme framework? Why?
Shoot, it looks like I should have read this before rambling on about Genesis. The community around Genesis developers can’t be matched. Not a day goes by on Twitter, GitHub, or e-mail where fellow Genesis devs aren’t contributing code to a project, theme, plugin, or even WP core.
Truth be told, I’m a lightweight programmer compared to most of my fellow “pure” developers who dream in PHP. They’ve been instrumental in helping me complete complex problems clients bring to the table and have pushed me to really dig into learning more about what developers do.
Gravity Forms. Definitely. Yeah. Gravity Forms. I hate contact form spam. I hate forms that don’t migrate, upgrade, or look good. I want my clients to be able to change simple things and I want to be able to do wicked-cool stuff using the add-ons and CPTs. It’s the first plugin I upload to every new install, without exception, even if we haven’t even discussed the contact page or if we are importing an existing form.
Runner up: Limit Login Attempts. Who wants people brute-force trying to get into their dashboard?
Least favorite plugin?
Wishlist Member. It’s a bloated pile of a headache when it’s used to its fullest extent. You can’t tell where one part’s function ends and another begins. I’ve got many more that I dislike, but that’s one that I avoid to avoid messes down the road when a new mini-project happens (scope creep, anyone?) and it blows up in everyone’s face.
What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever done with Custom Post Types?
I did some really cool stuff for an entertainment magazine’s local events. It’s since gone offline with personnel issues in their organization, but it was pretty sweet while it was working.
Visitors could browse all of the local events happening by category up to the date the event was over, so no one ever saw an event that they couldn’t attend. Who wants to know about 4th of July fireworks on the 5th anyway?
On the planner side of that, event planners and organizers could submit their event, along with a photo and all the time, parking, directions, costs, etc.
My standard fare for CPTs are sliders, portfolios, testimonials, etc. I’m pretty new to using CPTs for projects, but now that I’m getting deeper into them every month, I’m noticing them in the wild more and will soon do something better than I’ve done to date.
What do you think is the biggest challenge that WP consultants will face in 2013?
I think it will be more difficult to determine early enough in early conversations and communication with clients to know if they are a quality client. WP is becoming so mainstream now, the entire spectrum of society is getting their site going on their own and then there will be a battle to be the cheapest WP studio, which no one should really want the title to because that’s a volume of business you don’t want.
I’ve already seen an influx of people requesting sites or site updates that would never have considered using WordPress for their business website before now. When WP.org becomes the new Facebook and Blogger, quality clients and quality developers will become a hot commodity amongst the mess.
If you could change one thing today about WP, what would it be?
I pretty much go with the flow, roll with the punches. Most days, I’m too busy to think about my future, let alone about someone else’s future developments. So far, I’ve yet to encounter something WP doesn’t do that my clients need, so I don’t have a WP dream list… yet. Maybe some day I will.
Where do you see WordPress going in the next 2-3 years?
Super mobile. Everyone is learning about responsive design and we’re going to see developers get tapped every time a casual user tries to modify a responsive design and destroy it in one or more viewports.
The marketplace for responsive design is just getting started, but it takes just enough skill that doing moderate customizations will be outside most casual coders’ skill set for longer than it takes for responsive themes to saturate the market.
Tell us a story where you saved the WP day for yourself or on a client project. What made the difference for you?
My memory is quite literally too poor to recall any stories. Next question? (Ed: Nice modesty, buddy)
What’s the biggest misconception you encounter about WordPress, and how do you clear it up for your clients?
Aside from the usual “WP is for blogging, Dreamweaver is for websites” notion, I have heard several times that people think WordPress is inherently insecure. I have to walk them through poor hosting choices, poor file permissions, not using one-click installers, etc.
A bank vault isn’t very secure if you leave the door open, use a crappy combination, or have a dirt floor without securing underneath/above. WordPress is only as secure as you leave it vulnerable. That could be right at the top level with the hosting and all the way down to a junk login to your dashboard (“admin,” anyone?).
If you were interviewing another WordPress developer for a job, what is the first question you would ask and why?
I would have already Googled their name and checked to see what their Web presence is via social media and their website – is it even indexed high enough to find?
The first thing I’d ask is what tools they use and what their workflow looks like. As we learn to develop and hone our skills, there is a track we all take to get to accomplish certain levels of development prowess. I’d like to see where they are in the workflow process.
I’ve still got plenty of room to grow, but it would be a good indicator on whether I’m hiring a rookie or someone with experience. Besides, the best businesses hire people who are better than they are at certain skills.
What did I miss? Here’s your chance to fill in the blanks and add something you want people to know about you!
Thanks for asking, Austin. I actually just released my first WP plugin a little over a week ago with the help of some more seasoned programmers. It’s been an awesome experience, so anyone who’s using Minimum 2.0 for Genesis can use it – it’s called Genesis Minimum Images Extended (GMIE) in the repository.
It illustrates how I’d like to help the community by finding a need and solving it. In this case, it adds the ability to upload a banner image to posts/pages that is separate from the WP featured image that is used by the rest of the theme and social networks as the post’s image.
Y’all can mosey on over to Jesse’s site Petersen Media Group if you’re looking for an amazing Genesis site to be created! He’s got a growing list of customers that can tell you how happy they are with the final product.