Miriam Schwab - Illuminea WordPress ConsultantToday I’m really excited to feature Miriam Schwab, one of the leading WordPress developers from Israel. Miriam and I have had an on-going Twitter chat going on about WordPress, and once I took a look at her company Illuminea (Miriam is the CEO), and saw that she was not only running a killer WordPress shop, but that Illuminea was a full-service agency with customers across multiple continents. Miriam is living the dream. She started her business soon after having her fourth kid in 2007 (the family has kept growing), and now the company has 6 staff. Miriam took advantage of the opportunities WordPress provided her to run her own business and integrate it with her life and family on her terms. Fantastic.

To find WordPress, Miriam ran the CMS gauntlet to find the right one. She loved the Pages and Posts formats, and the way her clients could update a paragraph on their homepage without calling her to change a static website. The Community won Miriam over as well, and she continues to give back by organizing WordCamps (WC Israel was yesterday!) and Meetups.

In almost any other point in history, a woman like myself with a busy home life would have had a very difficult time founding and running a business. But living in the age of the Internet has opened up so many opportunities. Now, I’m the Friendly CEO of illuminea, a full-service agency located in Jerusalem, Israel. It’s been an exciting journey!

And now onto Miriam’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?

When I first started out in the world of website building, I was building static websites. I really wanted to give my clients a CMS, so I started doing research. As I got into the WordPress Codex, I became really excited by the WordPress template tag system. It was so simple, yet so flexible and robust! And then when I installed WordPress and saw the simplicity and elegance of the admin, I became really interested. But it was when I started modifying themes, and seeing the changes go live, that I was really sold.

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

I used to subscribe to zillions of RSS feeds, but then I found I spent most of my days reading, and not getting work done. So I kind of rely on others to choose what I should read. For example, I have a bunch of Google Alerts set up for WordPress terms, like WordPress, WordPress plugins, etc. WPmail is an excellent resource. And finally, I use Zite, which magically serves up articles that really interest me, including about WordPress.

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

There are a few Israeli consultants who are fantastic and kind of hidden: Rami Yushuvaev from wp-tricks.co.il, Ohad Raz from Bainternet, and our very own Rebecca Markowitz, who has lived the WordPress journey with me from the beginning, and has a great head for putting together usable, user-friendly WordPress sites.

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

Unfortunately, I don’t feel like we at illuminea have reached the holy grail of these issues. For speed, we try to optimize our code and use fewer PHP calls where possible. We’ve found that caching plugins are not always a great solution. As for security, we’ve found that if you do the basics, you’re 95% of the way there: keep core and plugins updated, don’t use cheapo shared hosting, use strong passwords and usernames. Limit Login Attempts has stopped hackers cold too.

Confess to us your biggest moment of WP fail?

Oh my goodness, there are a few 🙂 But one that sticks out in my mind as one of the most stressful moments of my life was when I used a backup plugin that also clones sites to accidentally restore a really old version of a site rather than back it up. It was ridiculous, and frightening, and I thought I had lost the site forever.

I was using a plugin that allows you to backup and restore sites easily. It was a while ago, so I don’t remember all the details (though I do remember that I was actually shaking and thought I would throw up!). I wanted to back up the site, and somehow I ended up importing an empty backup into the site instead – I mixed up the files or something. One major lesson I learned from this: don’t do ANYTHING to your sites that could potentially have terrible consequences late at night! Leave it till the morning, your brain works better then.

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

It would be a plugin that allows you to link images in the native WP gallery to a custom URL. This would make the gallery useful for listing products, for example, and having each product image link to that product’s page.

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

Not a fan of child themes for custom sites. By the time we finish, we’ve modified all the PHP files, so what was the point? We use a different base theme for almost every custom site, always in search of the perfect one. We really should roll our own already.

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

Justin Tadlock’s Hybrid Core. I find that whatever Tadlock builds is well-coded, useful and great. I like that he really pays attention to creating clean, efficient code, without fluff or nonsense.

Favorite plugin?

Yoast’s WordPress SEO, hands down. I’m constantly evangelizing about this plugin. Yoast is always one step ahead of the online marketing scene – I mean, his plugin even has twitter cards built in when most people don’t even know what that is, so I’ll tell you: It’s twitter’s own semantic tagging system, like Facebook Open Graph and schema.org. The idea is that it tags content on your site as certain types of content: a picture, a video. It also connects your post to a twitter profile you specify. Then, when people share your content on twitter, you’ve got more control over what appears, like an image, and the related twitter profile automatically appears in the tweet, which is pretty cool. I think that people aren’t aware of the power of that plugin.

Least favorite plugin?

W3 Total Cache. It’s not so much that I don’t like it, the point of it is really useful, but can be aggressive in a scary way if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing. It creates massive cached files, which can take up tons of disk space and cause problems when backing up the site. Also, with one wrong configuration it can over-cache, and that can make it hard to make changes to a site etc. We’ve also seen it conflict with plugins, more than other plugins, but I think the developer tries to keep on top of that and resolve conflicts. People should be pretty sure of what they’re doing if they plan on using it, in my opinion.

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

We recently developed a site that has a Partners custom post type, and a Testimonials CPT, and they are linked in a pretty cool way.

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

On the one hand, the market is finally requesting WordPress, even for serious corporate sites. So the market is more promising than ever for WP consultants. On the other hand, the web dev market is so commoditized, with tons of WP shops competing on price. The challenge is for all of us to get clients to understand why a WP site costs more than they expected, when they’ve read it’s “free.”

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

I’m concerned that with all the (awesome) features being added to WP with every version, its moving far away from the elegant simplicity that defined it in the beginning. I’m not saying we’re there yet, but I think it could get there easily.

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

I see it powering 30% of the web. It really is the best solution out there for most online needs, in my humble and not-so-objective opinion.

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

It’s hard for me to think of one specific situation, but in general we’ve had quite a lot of clients come to us after having their sites built elsewhere to fix up the mess. People often come to us with crappy WP sites that don’t work, and we swoop in, clean them up, add some features like making text editable that wasn’t previously, or adding WP native menus (recently we had someone come to us with hard-coded menus. Hard-coded! For goodness sake.) After we do our stuff, they can finally use their sites to their full potential.

What’s the biggest misconception you encounter about WordPress, and how do you clear it up for your clients?
The issue I mentioned above, about how WordPress is free, so shouldn’t a WP site be really cheap? We explain backwards, forwards, up and down that what we’re really building for clients is a web application, that creating a custom, well-coded theme takes a lot of time, that we invest a ton of time in adding features to all sites that are important, QAing, etc. But I find that what I’m saying still falls on deaf ears due to many stigmas that exist about what is involved in developing a good website (“my nephew can build me a site”), and I don’t know how to overcome it.

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

Have you developed custom themes? Can I see them and the code? Ok, that’s two questions, but they go 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 love that the Internet in general, and WordPress specifically, has given me the flexibility to build a business with no capital, while raising a family. In Judaism, there is a teaching that there are various levels of charity that are more ideal and less ideal. For example, giving charity where the receiver knows who you are is the lowest level. Giving someone a loan or grant so that they can support themselves is the highest level. Matt Mullenweg and the WordPress community have created a way for thousands of people around the world to make a living. I really really appreciate the opportunity their work has given us, and think they deserve a lot of credit…and brownie points 🙂