Ryan Cowles - WordPress Consultant

Today, we’re hanging out with Ryan Cowles, (that’s Mr. Ryan Cowles to YOU). Ryan is a front-end developer based out of Los Angeles, California. He’s been working with websites since around his 10th birthday, and was a “marquee master” back in the days of awful HTML code gimmicks. His first professional web work was at his first job out of high school at a print shop, where he worked his way through the major CMS-es, leaving Joomla and Drupal along the roadside in favor of WordPress.

Ryan specializes in front end work, but in our conversations over email, he continued to come back to security as a primary concern building WordPress sites. Now, he manages the web department at a TV and production company in LA (go figure), and builds all their sites on WordPress (of course!).

In Ryan’s own words

“My name is Ryan Cowles. I grew up on the East Coast, but in 2010 I moved across the country with my girlfriend to the area where she grew up – Los Angeles, California. I love WordPress, and If you’re reading this, I’m sure you’re already aware that one of the best things about WordPress is the community of amazing developers and content producers.”

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’ve had multiple “first time” excitements with WordPress, and it still continues to provide those moments to this day. With that said, I remember getting my first traffic spike on a hiphop blog that I ran with a friend, and thinking, “Wow, all these people viewed OUR site! Awesome!” The spike was only a couple thousand visitors in a day, but at that point in time it was new and exciting.

Years later, when I moved to the West Coast, I was the sole developer at a small creative studio. I rolled a custom theme for our company website – the first completely custom theme that I built that wasn’t based off a framework. At that point I realized that I could actually make a living off of developing sites using WordPress. Ever since then I’ve been building things with WordPress, and I still continue to learn something new on a daily basis.

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

I follow a lot of other WordPress developers on Twitter, and will check my feed throughout the day to see what’s happening. I also check /r/WordPress on reddit, WordPress Answers on Stack Exchange, and the WordPress.org forums from time to time.

Personally, I find newsletters to be a great way to stay on top of what’s happening, too. I subscribe to Code PoetWP Daily, various feeds from Make.WordPress.org, and wpMail.me. They’re delivered right to my inbox, so it’s a good reminder to stay current.

Krogsgard also recently launched Post Status, which seems like it could be a pretty cool resource. It’s brand new and has some growing to do, but I think it could become a great resource. In my opinion, what makes it stand out from other similar site models is the fact that the content is moderated by a respected member of the WordPress community. I’m excited to see where it goes.

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

It’s difficult to keep this list short, as so many people not only do great work, but have also given me help and advice. A few people that I try to keep up with are the teams over at 10up, Range, Curtis McHale, and Peter Butler (who recently joined the Automattic team). The list could go on… I think I’m kind of a WordPress groupie… If you’re looking to follow other developers and contributors on Twitter, here’s a list of some that I follow: https://twitter.com/MrRyanCowles/WordPress

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

We have a print by our door that says, “Don’t F*ck It Up.” I see it every day when I walk out the door to work, and I think it’s pretty solid advice.

All joking aside, I think the best advice that I can give is to work with other people and ask questions. When I first started working with other developers I was scared that they would be better than me, and people would find out I was some sort of fraud. Instead, I found working with other people is one of the best ways to improve your own skill set. And they will appreciate your work and opinion as well.

If you run into a problem, odds are that someone else has had a similar experience. If you reach out and ask questions on Twitter, the WordPress.org forums, WordPress Answers, or ask another developer, then you can usually not only find a solution to the issue, but also learn something valuable in doing so.

Confess to us your biggest moment of WP fail?

Oh man… Unfortunately, I happen to have the perfect story for this. I was working on a website for a company that was going public. I can’t mention the name, but it was a pretty big event. Their press conference was syndicated nationwide on all the major news stations and all that fun stuff. At that point in time it was one of the largest projects that I had worked on to date. A couple days before the announcement, we had to change hosts and make a lot of last minute changes. In that chaos, I neglected to block access to /feed/ on the production site. I know. I’m still kicking myself. So, someone discovered that /feed/ was open and shared it on Reddit. The client was not too pleased about that.

To make matters even worse, my parents were in town visiting, and when I received that phone call we were about an hour into a four hour drive. I had to play damage control, walk a coworker through the steps to fix the situation over the phone, and try to keep my four letter words to a minimum in front of my folks, haha.

Man… this happened awhile ago but it still makes me cringe.

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

I would probably try to reverse engineer WP Engine’s One-Click Staging site function, haha. Ideally I would take it to the next level, and allow users to push changes on the staging site back to the production site. (Ed: Hmmm, that might be something we should do very soon…*wink*)

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

It depends on the situation. I love rolling my own custom themes, but there are some great starter themes out there. Sometimes it makes sense to take advantage of those to save time or stick within a budget.

On the other side of things, some projects need something completely custom. For example, I freelance with a design agency (Pastilla Institute of Design) fairly often. Their web projects tend to have very innovative features, and in order to achieve the functionality and pixel perfect design it’s better to roll our own theme. It can be a challenge, but I love working on those creative projects and layouts.

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

I’ve been playing around with Automattic’s _s (Underscores) theme for quite some time now, and I love it. It’s clean and well documented. It can do a lot out of the box, but is not bloated. It seems to be the perfect starter theme for me. And if it wasn’t easy enough already, Underscores.me makes getting started absolutely painless.

I also use the Genesis framework from time to time. Like _s, it acts as a solid foundation without being excessive.

Favorite plugin?

It’s impossible to choose just one, so I’ll just pick one that I discovered recently. Mark Jaquith’s WP Help. When I first started building WordPress sites for clients, I would include a link or a PDF showing them how to manage their site. While that worked, it was never the ideal solution. WP Help lets you create internal documentation for your administrators, editors, authors, and contributors. Instead of sending clients and/or authors PDF’s or external links, I can now simply direct them to the proper section in the WordPress Dashboard. You can even sync your documentation from one WordPress install to another.

Least favorite plugin?

Hm… I can’t think of anything specific. There are a lot of poorly coded and bloated ones out there, but as long as you do your research beforehand then you can just skip over them.

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

It seems like I use Custom Post Types on damn near every WordPress project that I work on. And it’s because they are awesome. I’ve used them to create everything from easy to manage Portfolio sections for clients, to information directories that contain thousands of pieces of content.

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

The fact that there are only 24 hours in a day, and 365 days in a year. I know for myself I am constantly taking on new projects, and also working on my own personal projects. I don’t think that I am alone in this. I see more and more people using WordPress and looking for experienced WordPress developers. Overall, it’s not a bad problem to have…

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

That’s a tough question, and I think the answer will vary depending upon when you ask me. I am currently working on a project that calls for multiple content areas on the same page. I would love to see the native post editor allow for multiple content areas that are easy for a client to use. For now, I’ve found two plugins that offer a couple of different solutions. They are Content Parts by Ben Huson and Secondary HTML Content by Jake Goldman.

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

I see it continuing on the same path that it is now. It will evolve to not only be the “go-to” solution for websites, but also full web applications and onto mobile. It’s already on its way there.

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

The weekend before I started working at my current job, one of our WordPress sites got hacked via the old TimThumb vulnerability. There were no backups of the site, and everything on the server had been compromised. I ended up recovering everything, and fixing the vulnerability. It wasn’t the ideal way to start a new position, but it also provided me with a way to make a good first impression.

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

I still hear the, “WordPress is a blogging platform, not a CMS” argument fairly often. If things keep going the way they are, and WordPress continues to evolve as it is, I think this tired argument will finally fade out. Let’s hope.

I think the best way to clear up that misconception is simply to provide examples. Looking at the list of companies that use WordPress at and showing what they do as an example is usually a good starting point.

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

To be honest, I would probably refer back to this questionnaire, haha.

I would probably ask what their most memorable positive experience with WordPress has been, what they did, and why it was so memorable. When people talk about something they are passionate about, you can get a good idea of what makes them tick.

I’d then followup with what their least favorite or worst experience with WordPress was, and why. If they show they can learn from their mistakes, that’s extremely valuable to me.

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

First, thank you for the opportunity to be featured on your blog. Looking at the other consultants you have featured is humbling.

And to anyone else who is reading this, feel free to say hi – online or in person. I’m not as mean as I look, and if you catch me in person I might even buy you a beer. If you’re looking for me in the wild I can usually be found in the Los Angeles area. I’m always down for a good conversation, whether it be about WordPress, classic hiphop, or dirty punk rock.

Thanks Ryan!

Ryan has an awesome list of contract work that he has done on his portfolio so you can see about hiring him on a project. I promise you won’t have to call him “Mr.” He lives in LA, after all…