“My Advise to WordPress Beginners: Don’t Be Frustrated, Don’t Be in a Rush” – Interview with David Bisset

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We’re feeling inspired to start up a short conversation with a full-time WordPress developer, specialist in BuddyPress sites and applications. A speaker, meetup and conference organizer, freelancer, who does stand-alone PHP work, and a father of three. What more to add? Let’s breathe new life into CMS solutions with David Bisset’s actionable pieces of advice.

As far as we know, you’ve had to wear a number of hats in recent years (Application Developer, Front End Developer, Backend Programmer, Project Manager in a wide variety of web sites, startups and projects). What is the driving force that keeps you motivated for such an ample activity?

The thrill of learning new techniques and technologies I would say is the primary motivator. Prior to going full-time freelance I worked for a travel tech company, and as fun as the people there were to work with… my responsibilities and duties each day didn’t vary. I would start to look forward to taking lunch breaks and leaving the office more than what I was working on or what I was working with. Wearing a number of hats on projects in my freelance career has been partly out of necessity, but it’s kept things fresh and interesting. Lately as there have been more to explore in backend development and front-end coding, I’ve been focused more in those areas – I’m especially motivated to tackle projects that allow me to improve my abilities in these departments.

It’s not a secret that you’re privileged to be an organizer of WordCamp. What difficulties do you usually face while arranging the events? Which lessons do they assist you to learn?

Difficulties for helping to organize conferences like WordCamps can vary, but boil down a lot to trying to prepare for the unknowns. We recently had WordCamp Miami in a new venue in 2015, and learned a few lessons from that in terms of logistics (fortunately we had a lot already in place with advanced scouting and planning). With about 800 in attendance, something always doesn’t go the way you planned or hoped. You try to learn from those events year after year. I think though in the end I’ve learned to take it more easy and be more calm, especially during the event itself. If you must obsess with small details, outsource that detail to an organizer or volunteer… which is another reminder to surround yourself with great, passionate volunteers (which Miami has in great quantities).

The majority of website owners choose WordPress CMS to settle their web projects on. But let’s be objective and not lead away by the mass. What facts speak in favour of this star-CMS? And which specific features of this platform are most preferable for you?

Easy of use, notability, and the flexibility I think are the biggest selling points for me personally – especially with the client projects I take on. Before WordPress, I built simple custom CMS from scratch. That got old REAL fast, and one of the things that attracted me to WordPress. I think it’s admin system which most of my clients (not developers, average people for the most part) can pick up quickly once I’ve given them a brief tour. For me, the extendability for WordPress allows me to not have to switch to other CMS or custom PHP solutions 99% of the time. WordPress can’t (and shouldn’t) do everything, but it’s to be able to know that it can take an advanced and “edge case” projects for startups and other organizations. There’s still an idea that WordPress is really only good “for blogging” or for a blogging site, and I’m glad that I can destroy that mentality in my work.

WordPress has evolved from the blogging platform to one-size-fits-all solution. How this youngster (it’s hardly 12 years old) managed to win over some other much older CMSs?

Other CMSs that I see today haven’t been around THAT much older that WordPress. 12 years in the internet and web world is actually OLD, in my opinion. Other CMSs like Drupal or Joomla still thrive, but asking why WordPress has taken up the huge amount of marketshare is a complex question. Everyone has a different answer to that… but I think of “community” first and foremost when I hear that question asked. I think the PHP community is the most warm and welcome community I’ve ever experienced, but the WordPress community I think takes that to another level. The openness and diversity you see at meetups and WordCamps is simply amazing. I see this first hand with WordCamp Miami then other WordCamps because I’m paying more attention, but every WordCamp is very similar. Most WordCamps have a “happiness bar” or “answer room” where you’re not judged and you can ask practically whatever questions you want. People who run or own competing WordPress businesses enjoying a beer at the same table during an after party. People for the most part treat others in the community as friends, teachers, partners rather than bitter competitors (even if they don’t agree with everything in the WordPress community). That’s the kind of spirit I think has indirectly (or directly?) added to WordPress being a strong and growing solution today.

Do you remember the first experience with WP? What’s was the further way of your WordPress journey? When did you realize that this CMS might become a significant part of your life?

My first experience with WP was when 1.5 was just released, or close to that time. I was testing other CMS solutions at the time and honestly the low barrier to entry to get a site up and running with WordPress is what made me fall in love with it. At the time, I was barely one year into PHP. And the fact I didn’t need to focus on creating a backend or admin system for each client I think was when I realized I made the right choice for the foreseeable future.

What were the main difficulties that you faced at that time? What can you advise to WP beginners? Specify some WP tips and tricks allowing turn a beginner into guru?

My difficulties are – and to some extent to this day – still trying to develop “the right way” or at least according to good WordPress practices. A good developer is always learning better ways to enhance their code, and a good WordPress developer is not different. My advise to WordPress beginners: don’t be frustrated, don’t be in a rush. Take advantage of the community and many of the free or inexpensive resources that are available today for those wanting to learn WordPress. Be active in your WordPress community. Attend a meetup, or start one. You don’t have to be a core contributor to do these things, or be someone that is a “super ninja” expert. Fight imposter syndrome, which is starting to be discussed openly during WordCamps now. If you have the willingness to learn while being humble and supportive, you can learn a lot and make great friends in the process.

If WordPress didn’t exist, what alternative CMS would you choose and why?

If I had to choose today – probably Drupal. Although very tempted to try a smaller open-source CMS (PHP or Rails based) or build my own.

Looking back in the prospect of these 12 years, in which way WP has changed over the time? What perspectives are upcoming for the next 2-3 years and further future?

WordPress is transitioning towards a stronger CMS solution, but more importantly an actual platform. With the REST API and products like Apppresser, the most impressive things that I see WordPress doing in the next few years are for projects in the mobile or web app space… and you won’t even know from looking at these that WordPress powers them.

There are plenty of plugins available at WordPress, and this platform is definitely known as the most expandable CMS. As WP developer, what are the top 5 plugins that you can’t afford to miss installing on every WordPress site?

I’m a BuddyPress developer, but let’s ignore that plugin. 🙂

Every WordPress site? That’s tough. I would recommend a backup plugin like Backup Buddy or VaultPress for starters. I would also recommend some sort of security plugin, depending on your needs. iThemes Security, Wordfence, and Sucuri Security are good choices to have. I wouldn’t automatically recommend a caching plugin – sometimes if you don’t know how to configure them you can cause more harm than good. MANY times I install Gravity Forms (and use it for more than simple forms), Advanced Custom Fields (I do a lot of custom development, but this plugin allows some clients the knowledge to make adjustments), and Google Analytics by Yoast. Every once in a blue moon, I install Jetpack. 🙂

WP is currently recognized as one of the most popular and trusted CMS with more and more people willing to migrate their sites to this platform. Do you have the experience of a website conversion?

I haven’t done A LOT of conversions, but when I have they are mostly from custom CMS that nobody has heard of or custom setups that a developer (who has long since moved on and unreachable OF COURSE) built when Clinton was still in office.

What are your suggestions / recommendations on making the migration process successful and safe? What’s your view on using automated converter like aisite?

It would be foolish not to consider an automated converter like aisite if it fits what you need. Believe me, very few developers wake up in morning saying “I want to do a migration today”. At least not many developers I know. 🙂

Do you think that it’s of crucial importance to keep the same design when migrating across CMS solutions?

That’s up to the client. I let the client make that call. I think WordPress has some great features (front and backend) that would require more fine-tuning and development, depending on where you’re migrating from. I would say it’s of fairly good importance.

A million thanks for accepting our interview invitation. To conclude – what are 3 non-work related facts about yourself?

  1. Big Star Trek fan. Meh on Star Wars.
  2. My nickname in high school was “Weird Science”. Long story.
  3. Horrible at making lists of non-work related facts about myself

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