Tammy Hart - WordPress Consultant

This week, I’m talking with one of the top developers in WordPress, Tammy Hart, one of the excellent design engineers at 10up. Tammy is a pro from the backend systems side, to front-end development, to programming, which is one of the reasons she works at 10up, known for being a top full-service agency that specializes in WordPress engineering.

Tammy is one of the awesome folks leading the charge in Birmingham, Alabama. Birmingham is one of those creative cities that has become a mecca for talented tech folks like Tammy. She’s a developer who is obsessed with clean code and intuitive design, and believes in creating a user experience that’s good for end users as well as developers.

In Tammy’s own Words:

I get to flex all my muscles at 10up, working with some of the most talented people in our industry, and some of the coolest projects and clients too! I love being a part of the WordPress community and getting to design and build things that people can enjoy looking at, using, and telling others about.

When was the first time that you really got excited about WordPress and at what point did you decide to make it your career?

Back in 2005, a client of mine asked me if I could build his next site using WordPress as a CMS. I was already familiar with basic PHP and templating so I said sure, I’ll give it a shot. The project was a success and the lightbulb was on. WordPress made it easier and faster for me to build websites that were easier and faster to maintain. I was on the WordPress bandwagon and never looked back.

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

I’m subscribed to several blogs, but a couple that I regularly skim through and read are WPMail.me and then the newer WPDaily.co is also fairly promising. Mostly though, I keep an eye on Twitter, go to meetups and camps, and then having a couple core contributors on my team doesn’t hurt either!

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

Zack Tollman is a name that comes to mind. He is brilliant with caching and transients and WordPress in general. He’s also very particular about how his code is written. Also look up Christopher Reding. He has such a great go-getter attitude and hasn’t found an API he can’t bend to his will yet. He has been a huge inspiration to me.

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

The afore mentioned transients are something every WordPress developer should be familiar with. If there’s no reason to do something over and over again, or if it’s something that could have a set lifespan, use transients to store captured requests and queries. Documenting your code and keeping it clean will also make YOU faster and more secure which is always helpful.

Confess to us your biggest moment of WP fail?

Probably something that happened to me just today. I whipped together some updates to a plugin, thought I tested them thoroughly enough, released the new version to the repo and whammy! Reports of broken stuff came flooding in. It’s tough to be able to test against all the parameters, but it’s great that there’s an understanding community out there that can send over a screenshot and a hypothesis or two to help things along. Thankfully, I was able to roll back my stable version number while I get the kinks worked out.

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

I’ve been wanting to throw out a few quick little ones. I’ve made a plugin that I’m using on a personal project for adding subtitles and although there are a few out there that do this already, I just think mine looks and works prettier. I also had an idea for adding “updates” to posts for things like, “Warning, this tutorial is old, go here to find better code” or, “This news item has this x, y, and z update since our original report”.

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

I basically roll my own, but my latest skeleton theme is based heavily on the theme team’s _s theme. We sell a premium product to our clients, and trying to base code off of someone else’s is like leasing a room in a building and then subletting that to the client and hoping your landlord supports you as well as you want to support your client. I just like to do my own job from the ground up.

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

I recommend _s to anyone building a custom theme from scratch. Most of what I do is so custom; there’s no need to use a framework which oftentimes just comes with more baggage than benefits. _s has been pared down to nothing, just the basics to get you started. I added my own stylesheet so that I at least have a structure to look at.

Favorite plugin?

Debug bar all the things! I have nearly every debug bar extension plugin running when I develop. It gives me quick access to what’s going on under the hood at all times.

Least favorite plugin?

NextGen Gallery. I prefer to just work with media the way WordPress does it and not muck around where plugins don’t belong.

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

We recently launched a project called Techonomy that has a few custom post types that interact with each other. Participants are linked back and forth with Conferences and Articles as speakers, panelists, and just attendees. There’s a few monster meta boxes that handles all kind of data and on the front end it appears that you’re looking at a subsite of the main site when you visit a conference page. Each conference has multiple sections that are all handled with custom rewrite rules and template filtering. It has been challenging, but exhilarating to make all the moving parts work

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

Possibly over saturation of the market. It’s a booming industry and it’s becoming harder and harder to stand out. The cool thing is that jobs are being created that didn’t exist before. So on that note, the biggest challenge may be, where do you want to work?

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

The admin design. I know we see a lot of little changes here and there every now and then and they have all been great as of late, but I’m a little tired of the shades and shades of grey. But hey, I shouldn’t complain, I should contribute! And I hope to do just that this year. Everyone at 10up contributes as they are able and I’d like to give some time in the area of design.

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

I see it continuing to grow as a CMS. I believe the core team knows how important it is to make sure there is balance for the two main user types, (bloggers and content managers), but I also think they are keenly aware of some of the things that WordPress lacks to be a true CMS.

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

So on the Techonomy project I had the opportunity to really improve my Reusable Meta Box class and it has been a huge help in making that project successful. But then this week, I was able to take the work that I had done there and simply drop it into a new project, instatiate the class as needed, and I was good to go. No hours pouring over escaping form attributes and sanitizing data, just plug it in and go.

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

“WordPress is Easy”. Of course, I know it’s easy because I understand it, but I think clients sometimes expect custom things to be as simple as a few buttons to push, a couple knobs to turn, and somehow functionality pops out. At 10up, we hold a really high standard for how clean and bug free our code is and we build time for things like code audits into our budgets. So while I wouldn’t ever tell someone that WordPress is hard, but I would say that it is complex.

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

I would start with the same theme question you posed earlier. Knowing how a developer starts their code is a good window into their comfort level and experience with making WordPress sing your song.

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

Although I considering myself to be an above average programmer, my passion is actually in design engineering! I’m a designer and front-end developer as well and I am super picky about my pixels. Mobile first, responsive layouts, HTML5, CSS3, all things that I focus on on a daily basis and also focus on learning more of. This is all, of course, centered around WordPress and making it as beautiful to look at as it is in the engine room.

Thanks so much, Tammy!

Those of you interested in seeing what a “Triple Threat” technologist like Tammy can do for your sites, you can check out her work at Tammy Hart Designs, and at 10up.com!