Rich Staats
Rick, “The Situation,” Staats

This week’s Finely Tuned Consultant is Rich Staats.  And from that picture, even though Rich lives in Vail, Colorado, you can still tell that he’s got New Jersey running through his extremely Italian veins.   Rich happens to be a ridiculously good developer, just check out his work.  And despite his modest self-effacement in the following interview, the work that Rich does with Secret Stache Media group is represented in some fantastic, and well-trafficked WordPress sites.  The dude is good what he does.

In his own words:

“I often refer to myself a “Frankenstein Web Professional,” in the sense that my career has been shaped by the bits and pieces of information I gathered across the open web. I owe everything to the likes of Chris Coyier, Eston Bond, and Darren Hoyt–my earliest mentors…unbeknownst to them, of course. I am most definitely a product of the open source community, and super proud of it!”

And now, onto the questions…

When was the first time that you really got excited about WordPress and at what point did you decide to make it your career?
WordPress fell into my lap. I had made the decision to create a snowboard webzine (back when people called them webzines) and Dreamhost had WordPress as a one click install. I started to get excited when magazine themes surfaced, most notably was Darren Hoyt’s Mimbo. Back then you had to hack custom fields like crazy, but I was so stoked to have a theme that didn’t look like a blog. I only decided to make it a career once the calls started rolling in. I never intended on being a WordPress developer, but small businesses needed websites and I kept getting the referral. I was never the best programmer (I never will be) but I work harder than everyone. Period.

Where do you go first to get your WP news, insights, and updates?
Honestly, I let Twitter push information to me. I always stop my “speed scroll” for Carl Hancock, Jonathan Christopher, Andrea Rennick, Bill Erickson, Brian Garner, Jason Schuller, and Chris Pearson.

Who should we be paying attention to?
Bill Erickson is a baller, but I think everyone knows that. Jonathan Christopher is both a great developer and writer…maybe he’s a little less known.

What performance tips would you give to other pros (as related to speed, scalability, security, plugins, backup, etc.)?
Unless you enjoy server administration, partner with a managed hosting provider. I have no interest in optimizing a server, so I pay WPEngine to do that for me. I’ve slept better ever since. When it comes to plugins, pay for premium. If a plugin doesn’t have a price tag, donate to the author as if it were premium. There is nothing I hate more than WordPress consultants demanding free support to fix client work.

Confess to us your biggest moment of WP fail?
Convincing myself (and a client) that WordPress was the right choice for a larger e-commerce project. It’s not that WordPress can’t handle it, but should it? I’ve always been a strategist and picking the right tool is paramount. WordPress is what I know best, so I want WordPress to be the right choice. This has led to poor judgement in the past. That said, I am very excited to give woo-commerce a run for it’s money.

If you were going to spend this weekend creating a plugin that doesn’t exist, what would it be?
A more sophisticated search widget that lets you filter by Custom Post Type and Taxonomy. I’ve been meaning to do this…

Do you use Themes & Child Themes, Roll your own, or both?
I’ve been building with Child Themes for at least 2 years. I can’t imagine starting from scratch anymore.

What’s your favorite theme or theme framework? Why?
I build with Genesis almost exclusively, and I think it’s because of how thorough the framework gets audited (security, efficiency, SEO). I also love how it gets out of the way of plugins like WordPress SEO by Yoast. And the community surrounding the framework is crazy: go to the plugin repo and type in Genesis to see how many extensions have been built by 3rd parties.

I am also looking forward to Thesis 2.0. Chris Pearson is a mad scientist, and from what he’s shown me, it’s going to be another game changer.

What about your Favorite plugin?
Gravity Forms. Attachments Pro is becoming a consistent second.

Least favorite plugin?
I’m not so sure that plugins should handle custom post types, since you can’t avoid editing templates to get them rolling. It seems like a pandora’s box. So yeah those.

What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever done with Custom Post Types?
I can’t think of anything shockingly awesome, but I do build CPT’s into nearly all projects these days. Most recently I built a “Beer” custom post type for a local Colorado micro-brewery. On the backend we used WPAlchemy to create custom metaboxes for adding it’s “specs.” That was pretty fun.

What do you think is the biggest challenge that WP consultants will face in 2012?
Maybe keeping up with all the competition? It seems likely that as WordPress becomes more accepted as the CMS it is, more Joomla and Drupal devs will jump ship.

If you could change one thing today about WP, what would it be?
WordPress doesn’t handle media elegantly for themes that focus more on images than words….like a portfolio or photography site. I’ve been brainstorming how the backend could adapt when a theme is heavily focused on media, and words are an afterthought. It’s been driving me bananas.

Where do you see WordPress going in the next 2-3 years?
My money is that WordPress will find itself as a framework for lite SaaS applications. It’s a numbers game really…if 20% of the web is already familiar with the WordPress backend, than it seems logical (at least to me) that a web app using the same is smart.

I think we will see more WP managed hosting solutions as well, as the “application hosting” craze starts to mature. It makes total sense to me, and is a wide open market…congrats for being among the first to figure that out.

Tell us a story where you saved the WP day for yourself or on a client project. What made the difference for you?
I have a friend who owns a rock climbing and wilderness medicine business. His site was on Joomla and he paid big bucks for it, but the original programmer was an unresponsive asshole who charged big money for small changes. I wasn’t busy at the time, so I rebuilt his site into WordPress over the weekend and gave it to him as a gift. He’s been rocking WordPress ever since, and one of my best referrers to date.

What’s the biggest misconception you encounter about WordPress, and how do you clear it up for your clients?
The same ol’ – “Can this be built in WordPress.” Chris Coyier always talks about people on asking whether or not jQuery is compatible with WordPress. I always get a good giggle out of that one, but it goes to show that even young front end devs have a hard time rationalizing what WordPress is. For clients, I try to explain that WordPress is just a bunch of code written to take care of some really complicated, but commonly used functionality. Whatever isn’t written by WordPress, can be extended by us (through plugins). So, everything can be built in WordPress. The better question is: Should it?

If you were interviewing another WordPress developer for a job, what is the first question you would ask and why?
Funny you should ask, as I am in the process of hiring an entry level programmer as we speak. My first question would be:

Would you call yourself a PHP programmer or a WordPress developer?
I think that the ideal candidate is CMS agnostic. Someone with strong programming skills will easily devour the inner workings of WordPress, but someone (like me) who learned WordPress first will have to work harder for the same output. As an employer, I need the former to grow a successful business.

Thanks Rich!

Youse guys who want to see Rich’s work, and to hire him can check out, and go ahead and follow the dude on Twitter, @richstaats.