Finely Tuned Consultant - Myles HarrisToday we’re chatting with Myles Harris, an Australian developer who has been working online since he was a boy on his family’s 36.6k modem. Myles set up his first blog to blog about the links between the internet and automotive, the industry Myles lives in. The ways technology has changed automotive make Myles curious about which other industries are ripe for what he calls “a digital kick up the arse.”

In addition to finding a craft online, Myles also met his lady online. She was in Canada, and so he flew back and forth between the continents for a while until she came down to Australia to make their life together. It’s a cool way that WordPress and the internet can bring folks together.

In Myles’ Own Words:

Digital to me means change. Change from the stuffy old press, the old auto industry, the old retail crowd.. In the end I am a country boy making his life on the digital frontier, excited for the future.

Now onto Myles’ 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?

I remember not being able to do what I wanted to do in Blogspot. It never looked right and was incredibly frustrating to edit and format. My incredibly intelligent sister mentioned WordPress, but being the stubborn older brother I didn’t listen. I tried a blog and I was, well, hooked.

I have started many sites and feel very comfortable in WordPress. I have become and advocate for the ease of use and the reduced costs it can bring. There are way too many have outdated websites simply because of the pain and cost in getting text updated.

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

I am a heavy Twitter user and curate most of my content from there and more so now, Google+. I now find G+ a great way to find quality information.

I really like the diversity of content WP Engine puts out through social media. The topics spread far and wide and I find myself learning a lot.

Another weekly source I subscribe to is StewArt Media’sSEO Blog. Jim Stewartreally helped me get the basics of SEO right, all just by watching his weekly videos.

Which WordPress consultants deserve more love than they get? Who should we be paying attention to?

There are a few local Melbourne ones we work with, who I trust implicitly. Both have been incredibly patient with me as well.

The first is Michael Halligan and the Blog Designers. Mike designed my first WordPress site and held my hand through it all. I am surprised after the number of sites he has done and the changes and modifications I have requested that he still talks to me. We have a great mutual respect. We trade our knowledge. I give him tech setup advice and introduced him to WP Engine. He chats design and code with me.

Mike produces great designs quickly without much fuss. I recommend him constantly for those wanting to get into blogging or start a website. Being the entrepreneur he is, Mike always trying new things and areas.

The second person I use is Wade Quinlan. Wade is a pure design talent and also produces some amazing sites. Wade is one of those rare talents that listens and hits the mark first time.

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

Hosting, hosting, hosting! For way too long I stuck around with sites that went down, backups that failed (or later found out did not exist) and pulling apart damage done by attacks all to save a few bucks. I found out sites going down at all hours is not good for one’s health. Being in Australia we sometimes find out that 24/7 support most of the times isn’t 24/7 at all, so it’s critical to get the hardware and the backbone right.

This is why WP Engine is perfect for us. Hardware, support and backups all without tears or support that doesn’t “do WordPress”. The support we have received is the fastest we have ever had. There are some things we are not comfortable doing in the backend sometimes,

One you have faith (you’ll know what this is when you find it) in your hardware backbone it enables you to do a lot more.

In terms of other tips, I am a speed freak. Test your WordPress site speed and others to see what is holding your site back. Optimize as much as we can.

We even go as far as hosting our and our clients DNS records elsewhere from the registrars. We currently use Cloudflare for this. Every little connection in the connection path must be optimised and not overlooked.

The other is using good frameworks. Woothemes Canvas and Genesis are worth the money. You can fine tune all you like, but if the framework is shoddy, there is only so much you can do.

Last, if you care about speed optimization, get a designer who cares also cares about optimization. We once had a client who had a 3mb background image and a 2mb footer border image asking why his site was slow.

There’s image quality, then there’s making people wait due to ego. Find that balance and always remember the rule, the internet does like to wait.

Confess to us your biggest moment of WordPress fail?

I don’t recall a massive one, but plugin conflicts occasionally rear their head early on.

Early one morning, leftover files from an old plugin required some quick thinking before I had a coffee. I was locked out, site was down, host wasn’t awake. Cold sweats were being had, was rough.

This is why I prefer to migrate to WPEngine before taking on a job.

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

A plugin to make any theme and framework go full screen width responsive. I am surprised at Woothemes and other theme creator’s reluctance to adapt to this trend. Maybe they will sometime soon.

Oh and one that keeps my poor potted plants watered every day in the hot Australian summer.

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

My designers do as they please. Sometimes they use a frame, some sites require a ‘roll your own’. We however typically stick to Woothemes frameworks and Genesis.

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

We have found Woothemes and Genesis easy to work with, configure and are dependable. Having a solid base we find have more advantages than wasting time with themes or frameworks that are low quality.

We have one client whose previous site had a free theme and was cycling backlinks to cheap medication, Free “whatevers” etc down the bottom. Hello Google penalty. This is the exact reason why free isn’t always best.

Favorite plugin?

Yoast SEO. There has never been an easier way to get clients interested and engaged in SEO than with this plugin. The traffic lights work very well with those we are working with to blog. The challenge is getting them not to game the keyword just to get a ‘green light’.

Least favorite plugin?

I don’t really like going negative, but for me it’s W3 Total Cache. I haven’t had the best of luck with it and it has tended to be the culprit in a lot of issues for us over the years. It is doing some amazing things for people on other sites and is a great plugin for the majority, especially since it is free. It just hasn’t played nice with me.

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

The biggest challenge is convincing a client why they need a better website (with better hosting) and why they need to utilise it differently to how they ever have before.

The days of the static website still remain in peoples mind and the challenge is to completely change their thinking of what an online space can be used for.

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

I think the settings need an overhaul. I am used to it, but when sitting with a client, the placement of certain features never makes sense. It’s not intuitive to a first timer.

I always have to keep in mind the new eyes of our clients vs my old WordPress eyes.

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

WordPress will keep expanding into the top end of town. By that I mean more corporates on WordPress. WordPress needs to keep gaining and building trust in that market in WordPress is the challenge.

I also (wishfully) see WordPress putting more effort into better supporting ecommerce integration. WordPress shouldn’t have to be a separate installation on a subdomain to Magento. Woocommerce is good, but it’s not slick.

WordPress must keep on the path of making it easy for the majority to create online real estate.

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

We very recently had a new client who had been hacked. The month before some code disappeared and screwed with the formatting. Then the big one happened when most of the pages got deleted.

Initially the webhost required the client to give them a login for each site, username: admin

The client was blamed for not managing the server properly and the host was willingly ignorant about WordPress. They got on their soapbox and gave their ‘elitist’ opinion on WordPress and why they don’t believe in it instead of assisting the client in a time of need.

The old webhost said WordPress being open source was the security issue and then tried to sell them a new non-WordPress website and managed services, before anything was fixed.

The client believed they were paying for backups. Backups failed to implement/make any difference. Mike and I rebuilt the pages from Google cache in a few hours.

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

The usual ‘WordPress is just for blogs’ thing.

This tends to happen with the corporates more. We just show them our designer’s portfolios and it really opens their eyes to the fact that a web space can be whatever one wants it to be. Most do not know what a CMS is to begin with.

Another one I’ve been getting of late is that WordPress is dangerous due to being open source. When we demonstrate the review system of plugins and give them security through WPEngine and their assurances, they tend to have their fears put to rest.

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

The first I would ask is for the portfolio. Is our style similar to their? It’s not a great idea to try to push a designer into a style they don’t click with.

However the main thing is our ability to communicate freely. We can’t really find this out unless our instructions are coming out in the design as well as other things to show that they’ve listened, such as initiative in the design, communicating why something else would work better.

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

Thank you for profiling me and my company. WordPress has allowed my business partner Jeremy Irvine and I to create our own personal brand profiles. WordPress has also enabled us to build a company off a platform that we and our clients can work easily on and that allows us to find and build the content.

It is a platform that’s so powerful it can transform a web novice into a web enthusiast.

WP Engine makes it a safer and pain free journey for all. You certainly did for us.