Finely Tuned Consultant: Zach Berke
Today, I’m chatting with Zach Berke, the founder and CEO of Exygy, a design and build agency in San Francisco, and the lead organizer for the San Francisco WordPress Meetup. Exygy specializes in a variety of tech stacks like mobile Android and iOS, but WordPress is one of their favorite platforms, and they do everything from migrations to custom development and design.
In addition to running his business and organizing the San Francisco WordPress Meetup, Zach also is a big family man with a wife and a couple of boys that keep him busy. Living the dream in San Francisco.
In Zach’s own words:
I founded and run a design and build agency in San Francisco called Exygy. I love working with others to shape a vision and build a product. We do strategy, user experience design, visual design, and engineering. WordPress is a very important tool in our engineering chest but we also do a lot with Rails, Django, Node, Backbone, iOS, Android, Appcelerator, and much more. We’re “the right tool for the job” kinda shop — not a one trick pony. My background is in Software Engineering, but I don’t write a lot of code these days — mostly I do strategy work and manage designers and developers on project execution.
When was the first time that you really got excited about WordPress and at what point did you decide to make it your career?
In 2004 my progressive friends and I were upset and frustrated about the things the Bush administration was doing, most notably the invasion of Iraq. We were watching with keen interest the things the Howard Dean campaign was doing on the web and so we decided to start our own blog to experiment with talking about our various political points of view. First I built the blog on Movable Type, but everyone hated it, so we switched to WordPress. I used WordPress on and off for projects when it was a fit until 2007. Starting in 2007 we began to use WordPress more and more at Exygy. Now it accounts for over 50% of our development work.
Where do you go first to get your WP news, insights, and updates?
I hate to suck up too much, but WPEngine’s Facebook feed is a treasure trove. Thanks for doing all that curating so I can be lazy.
What WP consultants deserve more love than they get? Who should we be paying attention to?
Having been a WordPress freelancer myself before I built Exygy, I am partial for the awesome freelancers in San Francisco who I think are doing great work and are part of our San Francisco WordPress Community. Bradley Charbonneau at Likoma, Maiya Holliday of Mangrove Web, Anca Mosoiu of Tech Liminal, etc.
What performance tips would you give to other pros (as related to speed, scalability, security, plugins, backup, etc.)?
These days it’s easy: use WP Engine. Again, I really hate being suck-up, but you guys are pretty rad. For sites that can’t use W PEngine for whatever reason, we like TotalCache, S3 as a simple CDN, Minifying everything, using Sucuri for security and BackupBuddy for Backup. We also like ManageWP to keep all our sites in order, but we’ve heard good things about InfiniteWP and are going to be trying that out soon.
Confess to us your biggest moment of WP fail?
Our current website is a total fail. We have a terrible case of “the cobbler’s kids who wear no shoes”. We’re so focused on our client work, we neglect our own marketing stuff like our website which has been the same shitty thing since 2007. God willing, our new site — for which the design is complete and we’re currently in WordPress production right now — will be up in August.
If you were going to spend this weekend creating a plugin that doesn’t exist, what would it be?
I’d write a plugin that went back in time and taught the early WordPress core contributors about MVC architecture. It’d be so much easier to work with the system if it followed a more sensible design pattern.
Do you use Themes & Child Themes, Roll your own, or both?
We roll our own 99% of the time. If a client comes to us with an existing theme, we’ll take it over.
What’s your favorite theme or theme framework? Why?
We don’t use themes or theme frameworks unless we inherit them on a site we’re taking over. If we did start from scratch with themes, we’d probably use something minimalist like Roots or Bones.
Advanced Custom Fields. Calling it a plugin is almost unfair — it’s a game changer. We use it on absolutely every WordPress App we build and even most of the simple sites. It’s insanely useful and we’re hoping that it will get integrated into WordPress core the same way Drupal integrated CCK.
Least favorite plugin?
All of them. Most of the plugins in the codex are crap. We’re really choosey with which ones we use.
What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever done with Custom Post Types?
Currently we’re working on a project for a client who needs a very large data entry system.
Essentially, we’re converting their complex multi-tab Excel spreadsheet into a web based workflow. Eventually, we’ll build this out in Rails or Django, but when the client came to us, they really didn’t understand their own data architecture, so we needed to do both engineering and discovery work at all once. Our solution was to use ACF + WordPress to create a system for them that allows them to create custom objects, link those objects, and do all their data entry at once.
We built a custom export function so they can get the data back in Excel to check and see if it’s the right format / architecture. They’ve been using it, building their own objects and relationships, and iterating on their data model real time and cost effectively. If we had started out by building in Rails then we would have spent thousands of dollars to just get the data architecture right. With WordPress + ACF we’ve been able to rapidly prototype using WordPress custom post types and custom fields, and when we do eventually rebuild in a framework we’ll be able to do it once, very time and cost effectively. Based on the success of this project we’re looking to do this more: prototype in WordPress, in preparation for a future custom build.
What do you think is the biggest challenge that WP consultants will face in 2012?
Security. WordPress’s success is a mixed blessing: in addition to all the positives, it makes WordPress an attractive target for the naughties.
If you could change one thing today about WP, what would it be?
Allow me to customize the admin more easily.
Where do you see WordPress going in the next 2-3 years?
My hope is that WordPress will continue to evolve as an Application Framework. My fear is that it won’t. I cringe when I see the huge effort that went into custom post formats for 3.6. That’s not a feature that advanced WordPress users want or need. I think that focusing on that type of features vs. working on the things that make WordPress more of an application engine is a short sighted decision. I want to see WordPress competing more head-on with Drupal, and even Rails/Django to be a true application engine.
What’s the biggest misconception you encounter about WordPress, and how do you clear it up for your clients?
Once in a while, we say “we think WordPress would be a good fit for this” and we hear “you mean the Blog?”. Years ago, we’d hear that all the time — every week — but it’s definitely reduced to once a quarter or so as WordPress has gained in popularity and trust. I’m looking forward to the first year when we don’t hear that at all.
If you were interviewing another WordPress developer for a job, what is the first question you would ask and why?
I like to ask: tell me when WordPress is NOT a fit for a project vs. when WordPress is a fit. I like to know that devs understand how to choose the right tool for the job, because that’s a really important first step in every collaboration with our clients.
What did I miss? Here’s your chance to fill in the blanks and add something you want people to know about you!
We’ve launched a WordPress support service called SupportWP. We think there’s a real need for expert retained WordPress support for medium and enterprise size clients. We’re trying to figure out how best to position and price the service and we’d welcome feedback and comments. We’re also really intrigued by what folks at places like HappyTables are doing: building “WordPress Verticals”. Automattic seems to be making a strong play here as well, so we’re trying to figure out what verticals are best to fit ourselves into — again, we welcome a conversation there.
You can check out Exygy’s work to see if they can provide a solution to your business needs!
Join the conversation.
There are 2 comments
Zack’s replies to “If you were going to create a plugin that does not exist, what would it be?” and “Where do you see WordPress going in the next 2-3 years?” are priceless and spot on IMHO.