Aaron Holbrook is one of those rare developers who can both explain Version Control in plain English the rest of us can understand, as well as make jokesabout it. He’s a developer based in Chicago who focuses on building custom themes, plugins and even does a bit of design. Aaron is an incredibly proud father, and also mad automator of workflows. Check him out on Twitter @AaronJHolbrook to see what he’s up to.
Aaron has been working with WordPress since 2005, and has been part of the community, organizing meetups since then.
In Aaron’s own words:
Now, onto Aaron’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?
I first became interested (aware, really) of WordPress in 2005 after I had built a CMS from scratch. A friend suggested I check out WordPress; upon installing WordPress I was in love! Granted things were pretty rudimentary back then, but it was the cat’s pajamas in terms of functionality. I have always been a huge fan of how incredibly easy WordPress is for end users.
In 2006 I took a job as a Webmaster for a hospital system, which was both a curse and blessing. As my first job out of college, it was a great experience and introduction into the world of corporate politics. After nearly five years as Webmaster (doing things like managing content and having to do things like create and film videos), I decided that it was time for me to be my own boss and make a career out of building websites using the best CMS in existence.
I’ve been on my own now for about a year and a half and couldn’t be happier. I get to choose what things I want to work on, what people I work with and most importantly I get to see my family more than just after work and on the weekends.
Where do you go first to get your WP news, insights, and updates?
Ryan Imel does an incredible job at keeping up with everything that’s going on and reporting it in a quick and easy to understand format.
Konstantin first helped me understand Custom Post Types and for that I shall ever be grateful. I find he writes content that is on point, incredibly useful and writes it so clearly it’s impossible not to understand the most complex of topics.
What WP consultants deserve more love than they get? Who should we be paying attention to?
The more time I spend involved with the community, the more I am amazed at how friendly and caring everyone is. I think a young up and comer is Wisconsinite by the name of Brad Parbs. He’s a really smart guy who knows his stuff. He’s a great designer and developer as well as a really good friend. Brad enjoys giving back to the community by helping organize WordCamp as well as speaking at WordCamps and Meetups.
Andy Stratton is an amazing developer that loves to tell it like it is. He also cares deeply about the community as is evidenced by his talk at WordCamp Chicago: We Are WordPress. The talk essentially stated the future of WordPress is our future. Whatever we decide to do is what WordPress will do, because We Are WordPress (Check out Mos Def’s Fear Not of Man for a better understanding).
What performance tips would you give to other pros (as related to speed, scalability, security, plugins, backup, etc.)?
Keep it clean – a lot of times I log into a client’s site and see it full of plugins that they’re not even using, which just contributes to the site’s overhead. Also – delete any plugins you’re not using, they’re just taking up room and are potential security threats.
Don’t develop your themes on top of frameworks, especially if its for a site that will see any amount of traffic. Frameworks just add a bunch of overhead that can be completely removed by simply building it yourself.
Learn what WordPress can do on its own; WordPress can do quite a lot.
Confess to us your biggest moment of WP fail?
I had just landed a new client and was updating something via FTP and I accidentally overwrote an empty directory on top of the HTML root of the live site. I about had a heart attack when I realized what had happened. Luckily the hosting company had a backup that I was able to retrieve for a small price.
I’ve since learned my lesson and now make a complete backup before starting work with a new client.
If you were going to spend this weekend creating a plugin that doesn’t exist, what would it be?
What kind of universe is this where I would have that much free time? Haha, are you offering to babysit my kids this weekend? Sweet!! (ED: Absolutely not, unless you want to introduce them to the joys of PBR.)
I’d love to see an event calendar that can actually deal with complex recurring events. I dealt with recurring events in my time as Webmaster; a lot of times events aren’t always every third Monday, but they will vary depending on a lot of external factors. No event plugin that I have ever seen can figure this out and it’s extremely frustrating.
You got me thinking now, I’d also love a very, very simple coming soon plugin that allows you to drop in whatever HTML you want – so I could easily just add in a Mailchimp form or whatever else without having to modify template files and rip out code.
Do you use Themes & Child Themes, Roll your own, or both?
Definitely roll my own! I used to use Starkers all the time, but I started to find that I preferred to do things slightly different from most frameworks- I didn’t want this bit of code here, I wanted something else there. So I ended up building my own skeleton theme which just has the necessities. I find as my development skills improve, its easier to write code than it is to repeatedly strip it out.
I dislike using Child Themes as a development method because you inevitably have to do more work. For example, adding a link to the footer suddenly becomes a lot more complicated in a Child Theme. We have to first find the right hook, create a function and then finally export the link. How is that better than simply opening up footer.php and dropping the link in the HTML? I think there are definite uses for Child Themes, but I don’t think it should be the go to method for theme development.
What’s your favorite theme or theme framework? Why?
I enjoy using my own skeleton theme, but I’ve been dying to check out underscores. I think my next project would be a good excuse to do so 😛
My favorite plugin is WooCommerce for its ability to handle something as complex as e-commerce so effectively. I especially like the open source nature of the plugin, and love that any developer can create an extension to fill a need and make it available for everyone.
Least favorite plugin?
The worst experience I’ve ever had using a plugin was Event Espresso. It tries to do everything, and in doing so makes it extremely difficult for end users to use.
What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever done with Custom Post Types?
I once built an enterprise site with a physician directory, location directory, event calendar and newsroom. I truly believe that Custom Post Types changed the face of WordPress for all time. Being able to manage any type of content easily is my definition of a great CMS.
What do you think is the biggest challenge that WP consultants will face in 2013?
I think the biggest challenge in our industry at the moment is tackling large corporate and enterprise clients. There’s an extreme disconnect between the expectations of small businesses and large businesses with what types of software is ok to use and what kind of companies they should work with.
Enterprise-type companies expect to spend upwards of $250,000 on a website build. When small development shops like myself tell them, “That’ll be $10,000” they get scared and they think something’s wrong. There is also this misconception that open source is somehow less secure or not as high of quality as closed source solutions.
We as an industry need to not only demonstrate that WordPress is THE best CMS in the world, but that it can easily handle their needs as well.
I think we as a community need to start approaching enterprise clients and giving them the hard sell. WordPress is awesome and until more large companies start to use WordPress, others will jump on board. I think the WordPress VIP program is a fantastic venture, but I think there needs to be much more pressure all over to make this a reality.
If you could change one thing today about WP, what would it be?
I would change the perception that WordPress is not a CMS, or that it is primarily for blogging. While it started as a great blogging engine, it has evolved into so much more and is capable of everything I’ve been able to come up with.
Where do you see WordPress going in the next 2-3 years?
I see it becoming even more powerful and more capable than it is today! I would really love to see it gear itself to be a full content management system and get better media management, better default roles and better internal link management. I would absolutely love to see WordPress being used by large enterprises around the world!
What’s the biggest misconception you encounter about WordPress, and how do you clear it up for your clients?
By far the biggest misconception I hear all the time is about how WordPress is either
A) Not secure because it gets hacked all the time, like in the news
B) Isn’t WordPress just for blogs?
I clear it up by telling them that
A) WordPress is as secure as we can make it and as soon as vulnerabilities are discovered you need to update your installation- that increases your security!
B) WordPress is a fantastic CMS that used to be primarily for blogging.
If you were interviewing another WordPress developer for a job, what is the first question you would ask and why?
What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever done with WordPress? What’s the coolest thing you can think of doing with WordPress? Not only would it give me a good clue as to their ability, it would help to inform me of their level of passion and overall knowledge of WordPress’s capabilities. I like to work with people that think outside the box and that constantly challenge me to do better.
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 support of my awesome wife Julie. She’s incredibly supportive and understanding when I need to take that late night phone call or be gone two weekends in a row speaking at conferences.
I’ve always been really into refining and improving existing processes and workflows. I recently built a tool called WordPress Builder that automates setting up new WordPress installations. I think it’s pretty cool, I mean it even has ASCII art built in 😛
Last thing of note would be to mention that Heather Acton (this year’s WordCamp Chicago organizer) has convinced me to take the reigns for next year’s WordCamp Chicago! Woo! Free laptops and bottomless margaritas for all!*
* Offer not valid at all, in any sense, at any time, ever. However if you do run across an offer like this make sure to hit me up on twitter: @aaronjholbrook
Thanks Aaron! If you guys want to check out Aaron’s work, and see about hiring him for your next project, check him out at A7web.com