John Hawkins owns VegasGeek.com, one of those URLs that is so awesome that I look at and wish I owned. John Hawkins is the prescient geek with the foresight to own the domain and make it his digital home. It doesn’t hurt that John actually lives on the outskirts of Vegas and has earned geek status with a leadership role in the WordPress community, organizing WordCamps, and running 9seeds, a custom WordPress shop.
We like John a bunch.
In his own words:
I’m a long time web developer, WordPress enthusiast, WordCamp speaker and organizer living on the outskirts of Las Vegas with my wife and two teenage children. In 2009, I co-founded 9seeds, a custom WordPress development company. I’m positive I have ADHD and OCD, I’m left-handed, and I’m a long time internet geek.
Now, John Hawkins on WordPress.
When was the first time that you really got excited about WordPress and at what point did you decide to make it your career?
These are really two different questions. Back before WordPress was released, I was writing a blog manually. As in, I was writing flat HTML files and posting them to a site. I then tried out Movable Type and PHP Nuke, both of which sucked in their own special ways. When I was first introduced to WordPress, it had only recently been released. I installed it on my site, converted over my HTML posts and was amazed at how simple it was. That is when I first really got excited about WordPress as an end user.
As for making it a career, after 10 years working in corporate America, I was ready to do something different. By that time I had been developing WordPress plugins and themes for a few years, and people were already asking me for help with their own WordPress blogs. Then, in January of 2009 I organized the first WordCamp here in Las Vegas. It was there that I met Shayne Sanderson for the first time and we hit it off right away. Within a few months we were working on some small projects together and by the end of the summer, our weekend projects started taking up more and more of our time. By then I was hating my current job, so Shayne, Todd Huish (a friend and co-worker at the time) decided we should to hang a shingle and see what happens. Man, I’m glad we did. I love what I do now.
Where do you go first to get your WP news, insights, and updates?
These days there are so many great sources for getting WP news and updates, it’s hard to remember back to when you had to really search for it. I rely heavily on RSS feeds for most of my WP news. I probably follow 25 or 30 WP related blogs. I really like what Ryan Imel is doing over at WPCandy. I also like the posts by Sarah Gooding at WPMU.org. And of course, Twitter.
Confess to us your biggest moment of WP fail?
How much time do you have??? Here’s a couple that stick out.
- Early on I would use the theme editor built in to WordPress to make changes. I’d highlight/copy the style sheet, tweak it in a text editor and then paste it back, hit save and test it out. More than once, I pasted the contents of style.css inside of index.php and hit save. This is only made more painful by the amazing lack of backups I had at the time.
- The second one is easy. Releasing a plugin to the WP repo without adding proper security and then having Nacin point it out. That was a bit of a face->palm moment.
If you were going to spend this weekend creating a plugin that doesn’t exist, what would it be?
I like building mini-applications. Things that do very specific things I need. For example, last year when del.icio.us was about to go away, somebody released a Chrome extension to post bookmarks to a WP site. I took that and build a theme to display them how I wanted. I’ve also built my own CRM and password manager just because. Most of the things I write will never see the light of day because I don’t have the time to polish them up and make them presentable. I don’t need a repeat of the Nacin/Face->Palm incident.
Do you use Themes & Child Themes, Roll your own, or both?
I’m a huge fan of the Genesis framework, and just about every theme I’ve built for the past 18 months has been a Genesis Child Theme. Depending on what the client needs, I’ll either start with one of the existing child themes and tweak it as needed, or I’ll use the skeleton child theme that Bill Erickson released. It’s a great starting point and a huge time saver.
What’s your favorite theme or them framework? Why?
Genesis, hands down. There’s not even a close second. It boils down to a couple things; ease of use, support and documentation. Genesis has all 3 in mass quantities.
I really like Gravity Forms. For a beginner to create a form with dropdowns, checkboxes and even a little conditional logic, it’s super simple. But, as a developer, the flexibility that the plugin has is absolutely amazing. There are also a handful of add-on plugins for Gravity Forms to handle things like Custom Post Types, Freshbooks integration, Paypal integration and user registration. Can you think of anything you could build with that group? Me, too. About 1000 things.
Least favorite plugin?
I won’t narrow it down to one, but, my least favorite group of plugins are the ones that try to do too much. If you plan to build a build a plugin with a ton of functionality, see if you can group that functionality together and release a set of plugins that would allow the users to only turn on the elements they want.
What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever done with Custom Post Types?
As I mentioned earlier, I like building one-off projects just for my own use. Mostly I do them to practice certain techniques, but sometimes they end up being useful.
I built a “Wheel ‘o Meal” a while back that I used to store all the different meal types my family liked to eat. You’d enter ‘Steak” as the CPT and then you could connect all the different side dishes that went with it as Taxonomies (one for salads/fruits and one for sides like potatoes, etc). It had a front end page that would show you a week’s worth of meals all planned out. The whole goal was to stop the question, “What should we have for dinner tonight?”
I’m not sure how ‘cool’ that is, but it was a fun little project.
If you could change one thing today about WP, what would it be?
I’d change the admin dashboard. I’d scrap the entire thing and tackle it from a totally different angle.
Here’s the thing, if you work with something long enough, you become so familiar with it that no matter how many options it might have, you’d likely describe it as easy to use, or easy to learn. But, I can’t even tell you how many clients have told me how confused they are by the dashboard. There are at least 100 buttons, links or settings to mess with, and that’s before you install any plugins. New and infrequent users need way less options.
Where do you see WordPress going in the next 2-3 years?
I think we’re going to see more and more application level themes hitting the market. And an explosion in services built on WordPress to cater to specific niches.
Tell us a story where you saved the WP day for yourself or on a client project. What made the difference for you?
I don’t think I have any stories of exact situations where I saved the day. I have way more stories about saving clients money. One of my strengths has always been listening to what somebody says they want and then building them what they need. We’ve had clients come to us with huge project plans that overcomplicate the goal and when we break it down and show them how it could be done in a leaner more efficient way, the cost of the project goes down, the client gets what they needed and they go away happy.
What’s the biggest misconception you encounter about WordPress, and how do you clear it up for your clients?
The standard answer to this question has to be that “WordPress is just for blogs.” Since we advertise ourselves as a company that works exclusively on the WordPress platform, we don’t tend to hear that one as much these days. But when we do here it, there are so many great examples to show people where WP is being used in new and exciting ways.
Going back to my statement about the admin area being confusing, one way that we clear that up for clients is by creating walk-through videos for each client showing them exactly how to modify content on their site. There are a ton of generic ‘how-to’ videos out there, but when you show a client a video that has their menus, their date, their widgets and you show them exactly how to modify it, it removes all the guesswork for them and they really appreciate it. It doesn’t take more than 15 to do and the amount of positive feedback we’ve received about the videos tells me it’s well worth the effort.
If you were interviewing another WordPress developer for a job, what is the first question you would ask and why?
“Can I buy you a beer?”
At my previous job, before any developer was even brought in for an interview, they were sent a code challenge. They had a limited amount of time to come up with a solution for a problem and submit their code. The team would then review the code and if that passed muster, they brought them in for an interview. I think that approach only works for larger companies. For a small company like ours, I’m much more interested in making sure the person is going to be a good fit. Besides, by the time we got to the interview stage, I would have already checked out any public code they had released, trac tickets, blog posts, twitter, facebook, etc…
What did I miss? Here’s your chance to fill in the blanks and add something you want people to know about you!
Back when I was 18, I took a cross-country trip with my grandparents in a motorhome. We started in Los Angles and drove to Key West Florida and back. On the way there we passed through New Orleans and, of course, we went to the French Quarter. When we stopped for lunch I found out that the legal drinking age was 18. So there I was, having lunch with my grandparents and drinking my first “legal” beer.
That trip had some amazing moments, but none as cool as drinking a beer with my grandpa.