Hey y’all, this week I’m talking with my good friend and Austin-based WordPress consultant, Pat Ramsey. Pat is one of the original organizers of CigarCamp Austin, the cigar-themed after-after party for WordCamp Austin. We held it on the roof of the Omni Hotel in Austin, Texas this year. Next year, we’ll probably do it in the State Capitol Building.
Pat is a WordPress consultant who has been working with the Web since 1995. He’s got a background in print photography and journalism, as well as experience with standards-based Web Design and Accessibility.
Pat is alos a leader of the local Austin WordPress Meetup, and is also a co-founder of Cospace, a North Austin coworking space.
In Pat’s own words:
I’m a WordPress consultant, life-long Texan, former sailor and happy family man.
Now onto Pat’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?
2005, I think. Somewhere around there I started using WordPress to power the IT helpdesk website at Southwestern University. We’d built it using Movable Type, but eventually that got to be cumbersome. I’d played with WordPress after learning some basic PHP and found it to be the perfect solution for the problem. It wasn’t long before we saw WordPress as the perfect tool for any number of faculty & staff sites. When I went to work for myself, WordPress consulting was a part of what I offered. Over time, it’s become my primary offering.
Where do you go first to get your WP news, insights, and updates?
Twitter, first and foremost. I follow a variety of WordPress developers, users, and businesses. Almost any news or release will be seen on Twitter first. Github is also becoming more and more of a learning tool. I keep adding projects to watch & people to follow.
What WP consultants deserve more love than they get? Who should we be paying attention to?
One of the ones I recently discovered & who’s work I’m enjoying is Pippin Williamson, who you profiled recently. His Stripe Integration series is outstanding, for example. Jonathan Christopher is another one I learned about this year. Hierarchy is gorgeous in its simplicity and clients have enjoyed using it.
What performance tips would you give to other pros (as related to speed, scalability, security, plugins, backup, etc.)?
Beyond development, if you’re maintaining client sites, then you should look at solid hosting, like what you do at WP Engine, where regular snapshots are done, staging environments exist for testing new code, etc.VaultPress is something you can affordably offer your customers, as well, where they have the peace of mind knowing there’s a remote backup of the site.
Confess to us your biggest moment of WP fail?
Running a function on init to mass-unpublish posts based on their date without any ranges or parameters to make it less-resource heavy. After a few minutes of waiting, I checked the site on a different browser and it was down. The host wasn’t happy about that.
If you were going to spend this weekend creating a plugin that doesn’t exist, what would it be?
I’d like to write one that give users a way to choose Google Webfonts & load them in their theme. There are some out there, the last time I looked, but each was lacking in either a nice interface or in how the fonts were selected from Google. I’d like to replicate some of the functionality Google has on the Web Fonts site: Sort by popularity, number of styles, trending; and load those fonts dynamically so the user gets some customization in their selection pool. The interface would be built using WordPress’s admin designs so it “fits” within WordPress.
Do you use Themes & Child Themes, Roll your own, or both?
Child themes. I build themes using the Genesis framework so it’s child themes, for me. I’ve built my own starter theme, similar to Bill & Jared’s base themes. I looked back through past work and found those functions or styles that I used over and over. Those went into my starter theme so each new project already has the code in place, ready to be used.
Every few projects, I look over the starter theme, make changes, additions, etc., so I can try to optimize things further.
What’s your favorite theme or theme framework? Why?
Genesis. I used to be a big fan of writing an entire theme, standalone, from scratch. You can craft it exactly as you want, down to the last semicolon. Early in 2010, I started using Genesis, after deciding I wanted to try out building child themes and the frameworks were appealing to me because of the hooks they had. It was not long at all, before I found my development time reduced considerably.
The StudioPress Genesis community is wonderful, too. If you’re a developer, you can find tons of tips and example code just by doing a Google search. The StudioPress support forums, whether you’re a user, developer, or anywhere in-between, are also useful. Switching to the Genesis Framework was a great decision in my career.
It’s a tie between Gravity Forms and WP101. Both are invaluable to me, from different angles. Gravity Forms is the most powerful, feature-rich form tool I’ve used. Users absolutely love it. The easy form builder, being able to export form entries, email notifications and the add-ons are just cool. With WP101, I now have a training tool I can pass on to my clients so they can learn at their own pace, in their own office, how to use WordPress, or how to improve how they use WordPress. These changed how I work, without a doubt.
Least favorite plugin?
WishList Member is the one that me swear out loud in a crowded room. I wanted to use it on a client site but I wanted to hook into its widget code so I could better integrate it on the site. The whole thing was encrypted, making it completely not extensible. The developers could learn from other premium plugins who have figured out how to make a profit while still being a part of the community.
What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever done with Custom Post Types?
I’ve had three clients recently who wanted full-screen image backgrounds along with the ability to have some sort of control over what backgrounds are used on certain Pages, or parts of the site. The solution I came up with was to create a “Background” post type and a custom taxonomy so the backgrounds could be grouped. I enabled just the Featured Image (for the actual image), the custom taxonomy (for categorization) and Title (so you can quickly find the background in WordPress.
I wrote a function that queried the backgrounds and output the necessary HTML & CSS to position the background in a div, 100% width, 100% height, and positioned behind the rest of the content. Going the custom post type route made more sense, rather than customize the media library interface. Rather than searching through the Media Library, users can go straight to the Backgrounds menu item and have them all right there, free from clutter and ready to be worked with.
One of the coolest things I did using WordPress was to develop a theme for presentations. Slideshows without having to use slideshow software. I needed to give a talk on WordPress and I got sick of Prezi, I don’t use PowerPoint ,so I was stuck. I knew I could use WordPress for this so I built a theme that uses Posts for slide, Categories for separating Presentations and FlexSlider to handle the transitions and interface. Worked like a charm.
What do you think is the biggest challenge that WP consultants will face in 2012?
I think consultants will face more and more business challenges than before. WordPress has been around for nine years, which is long enough to have had growth in its economy. (How cool is it that WordPress has an economy?) Developers who have been at it for more than a couple of years may be looking to grow. Small shops might now be acquiring others. Look at Woo Themes and Flexslider. We’re maturing and that presents a whole new set of challenges many might never have dealt with.
At the same time, we’ve still got consultants just starting out so we need to be mindful of them and remember that at one point, that was us. Only now, there are millions of installs of WordPress, more plugins than ever before, more themes than ever before, so the new consultant may find it easy to be buried with choices. A little guidance, a well-written blog post, some one-on-one at a WordPress meetup, these are all ways we can give back.
If you could change one thing today about WP, what would it be?
I’d like to see changes in the Media Library. It’s already easy for users to work with images and media in WordPress, but theres room for some improvement. We have built-in taxonomies for Posts, with categories and tags. We can enable custom taxonomies for post types.With Media, everything is in one menu, regardless of media type. PDFs that a client might want to have on hand as a document library, go in the same place as images.
Some improved organization would be good to have. I’d like a function I could hook into. Something like add_theme_options() or register_post_type(). Something like this has to be done the right way, though, so WordPress isn’t altered beyond its powerfully simple interface.
Where do you see WordPress going in the next 2-3 years?
The moon? Maybe Mars? Nasa’s already using WordPress, maybe we can get SpaceX or Virgin to run a WordPress site in orbit? WordPress 3 and 3.1 were such milestones in improving what could be done with the software; they set the bar incredibly high for 3.5 and beyond.
Tell us a story where you saved the WP day for yourself or on a client project. What made the difference for you?
The closest I came to this was deleting a bad redirect someone entered into Redirection. The person had inadvertently redirected the homepage to NULL. Luckily /wp-admin still worked so I could go in and delete that redirect.
What’s the biggest misconception you encounter about WordPress, and how do you clear it up for your clients?
That it’s just for blogs. That it’s not “enterprise” enough. That’s the big misconception. How many of us have heard that over and over again? I point people to some examples I know of, or some of the sites on WordPress VIP and it challenges their preconception.
There’s another issue out there and it’s something I hear all the time. People will tell me that they can recognize a WordPress site just based on the design. “Oh, that’s a WordPress site. It looks like WordPress.” One of my goals is to work with designers who don’t fall into the habit of making everything look like something else. I like designs that break the mold of header, body, sidebar, footer. The more of those that get built, the easier it is for that misconception to go away.
If you were interviewing another WordPress developer for a job, what is the first question you would ask and why?
If I’m talking to him or her, I’ve already seen some example of their work. At this point I want to know about how they approach working with WordPress, are they active in the community, have they published code anywhere. I know you’ve built some things, now I need to know if you’ve got the spark of curiosity to be constantly looking to improve. If you do, then let’s talk.
There’s a reason why so many of us work independently or start our own agencies. We learn, explore and create while we solve problems for people.
What did I miss? Here’s your chance to fill in the blanks and add something you want people to know about you!
I wouldn’t be where I am without the WordPress community and the support of my wife. Kat. She told me for almost a year (I can be stubborn) that I needed to quit my job and work for myself. She was right! I love what I do for a living and that’s pretty cool.
Like I said, the WordPress community is incredible. If you’re not active in it, and you work with WordPress in some fashion, you should be. The Codex, WordPress support forums, Make WordPress, WPCandy,WPTavern, all these are great places where you can participate, learn, and discuss things related to WordPress. Here in Austin we have a very active meetup group. If you’ve not made it to one of our two meetups we hold each month, you should. If there isn’t a meetup group where you live, start one. I’d be happy to help.
Thanks so much, Pat!
Y’all can check out Pat’s work at slash25.com where he is incredibly geeky. And if you’re ever in Austin, tweet @pat_ramsey and stop by to have a cigar and scotch with him. The guy tells stories like you wouldn’t believe!