Bill Erickson is one of the top WordPress Developers, living in Georgetown, TX (North of Austin). He has been contributing to the WordPress community since 2006 by using his tremendous skills. He is a prolific plugin developer, popular WordPress events speaker, a mentor who shares his knowledge openly in the form of code snippets and tutorials. He is also the tinkerman and core contributor to Genesis Framework and WordPress Core.
His more contributions can be found on his official blog.
In his interview with Cloudways, Bill talked about WordPress plugins, optimization, security, Genesis, WordCamps and future of WordPress. He also talked about his personal life.
Cloudways: Bill, tell our readers a bit about yourself. When did you discover WordPress? You were a web designer at Aesthetic Studios. What was the reason you started thinking to start your career as a developer too?
Bill: I had been experimenting with Photoshop for a few years. During a summer in high school, I did an unpaid internship at a print shop because I was interested in more real-world experience to see if this is something I’d want to do long-term. We designed business cards, brochures, posters… everything except websites.
I found my first web design clients there and partnered with a developer friend of mine who built them as static HTML/CSS sites. We called our company Aesthetic Studios, and throughout high school I designed and he coded many websites. At some point in the process, I started doing the HTML/CSS myself and found I was much better with code than design.
I went to college at Texas A&M (Finance major), and a department in the business school hired me to redesign their website. They wanted to manage the site themselves going forward and the business school’s webmaster recommended WordPress. They hired me as a student worker and I learned WordPress “on the job”. Once the site was complete, the business school’s webmaster hired me to help him convert more internal websites to WordPress.
This was mid-2006, so in a few months, I will have been working with WordPress for 10 years.
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Cloudways: There are lots of CMS on the market, what were the reasons you decided to become a WordPress developer? If there was no WordPress, which other CMS would you have used?
Bill: I used WordPress for two key reasons: its ease of use for users, and the low barrier to entry for developers. I built these websites to be managed by non-technical people, usually, student workers who changed every year or two. If it wasn’t easy to use, it wouldn’t get used.
And as someone self-taught and just learning to code, WordPress’ procedural structure made it much easier to learn.
Cloudways: You’ve written lots of tutorials on WordPress. Can you please guide our readers about how one can learn WordPress from scratch to an advanced level?
Bill: The best way to learn is through real-world experience. Start by tweaking existing themes and seeing how those themes work. Then move into building your own custom themes and plugins.
I also recommend starting a blog to document what you learn. Having to sit down and write through your thinking process and approach allows you to refine it. You learn best by teaching. I still write tutorials so that I can refine my approach and document what I learned on a project so I don’t forget.
Cloudways: The WordPress core is lesser known for its speed. What would you suggest to optimize a WordPress website?
Bill: Caching is very important. For a standard site that is serving the same content to all visitors, there’s no reason to query the database multiple times to assemble the page for each visitor. Do this once, cache it, then serve the cached version to visitors until it changes. WP Rocket is a great and simple caching plugin.
Cloudways: WordPress security is always an issue. Other than plugins, what are the key points one should follow to secure a WordPress site? And which is your favorite plugin for security?
Bill: Start with a secure base, which means a high-quality host and an up-to-date WordPress install. Only use plugins that serve a specific need and are fairly popular. If you’re going to use an existing theme to build with, make sure it is secure and fast to start with (Genesis gets security audited by WordPress lead developer Mark Jaquith). Follow WordPress best practices by escaping outputs ( ex: esc_url() for URLs) and using core WP functions. Finally, use Sucuri for ongoing security monitoring and remediation.
Cloudways: You’ve attended many WordPress meetups including WordCamps since 2010. You’ve spoken there. How was the experience? Please tell our readers how such meetups are beneficial for WordPress Communities?
Bill: WordCamps are a lot of fun! It’s a great way to connect with others in your local WordPress community, be exposed to topics you wouldn’t have thought to look into, and meet people you’ve only known online. As with most conferences, the greatest value is usually in the hallway conversations.
They are also the most affordable conference you can attend. They are typical $15-20/day, and that includes lunch and a T-Shirt. Whether you’ve just started learning WordPress or you’ve been building with it for 10 years, I highly recommend attending a few WordCamps in the next year.
If you’re a WordPress developer or business owner, I also recommend researching the non-Camp conferences in this space: Pressnomics, LoopConf, WooConf, and Prestige Conference. Also, look for your local WordPress meetup group.
Cloudways: Besides WordPress development, you’re an entrepreneur. What would you suggest to become a successful entrepreneur?
Bill: There’s more to running a web development business than coding. I’d argue that how well you run your business is much more important than how well you code. Clients can’t tell the quality of your code, but they appreciate clear communication and know if you’ve actually identified and solved their problems.
You need to efficiently manage your pipeline. If you focus 100% on work and ignore your email and marketing efforts, when you finish this project you won’t have anything else to work on. On the flip side, if you’re spending 5 hours a day speaking with prospective clients you won’t have time to do any actual, paid work.
Cloudways: Bill, you’ve developed many plugins. Which are your most popular plugins? What are the key points you suggest if someone wants to develop a plugin?
Bill: My most popular user-focused plugin is Display Posts Shortcode. It allows anyone to do a WordPress query without writing any code, just use a shortcode. I developed it for a client who wrote thousands of posts and wanted to include auto-updating lists of posts based on specific categories and tags. It’s grown a lot since then, and now has 230,000 downloads and is running on WordPress.com.
A few years back, a few developers and I collaborated on a developer tool for creating meta boxes, called CMB. It has since evolved into CMB2 and is actively maintained by another developer. Since it is hosted on GitHub and is used inside of plugins it’s hard to get accurate stats on usage, but it is definitely one of the top tools for creating meta boxes.
Cloudways: You’re a contributor to the WordPress core and Genesis framework. What are your recent contributions in WordPress and Genesis framework? WordPress 4.5 is about to release. What are the features you’re excited for in the new WordPress version?
Bill: It’s been a while since a patch of mine has been accepted into the WordPress core. I don’t actively seek out contributions to WP, but if I find an issue while working on a project I’ll report it and submit a patch if I can. I added the get_page_template_slug() function for determining the page template of a page based on its post ID. I worked on adding custom taxonomy support to the previous/next post links (previously you could only filter using the ‘category’ taxonomy).
I’m more active in Genesis contributions since most of the sites I build to use Genesis. I’ve been contributing since Genesis 1.7, and have made dozens of contributions. Some are listed here, but I haven’t updated that list in a while.
There are a ton of great features in WordPress 4.5. One I’m particularly excited about is the performance improvements to the menu manager. I’m actually using 4.5 beta on a site under development now due to how large their menus are (about 80 menu items). In 4.4 we couldn’t even save a menu with that many items.
Cloudways: What is the reason that the Genesis framework has become so popular among WordPress designers and developers?
Bill: There’s a lot of reasons Genesis is so popular. StudioPress offers a great selection of child themes, so many people save a lot of development time by simply customizing one of those. Genesis uses a hook and filter system that works just like WordPress core, so once you know the filters it’s a very powerful structure for customization.
Since all Genesis child themes use the same codebase, you can easily reuse code across projects. I maintain a list of code snippets which save me time in development. You can also build Genesis-specific plugins with functionality not possible in a plugin targeting all themes, like Genesis Title Toggle and Genesis Grid.
Finally, by separating the core Genesis from the styling (child theme), Genesis itself can be updated without affecting your site. This ensures your site doesn’t get stale and can benefit from SEO changes and new functionality.
Cloudways: With the release of Calypso and shift to Node.js of WordPress.com, do you think it will be welcomed by the larger WordPress Community for WordPress.org too?
Cloudways: Where do you see WordPress in the next few years?
Bill: More of the same. Expanding market share, more great features developed as plugins, expanded enterprise presence, and more companies moving into the WordPress space with products and services.
Cloudways: Bill, who do you consider your best buddies in the WordPress Community?
Bill: Jared Atchison is one of my closest friends. You’ll see us at conferences together, our families vacation together, and he’s the godfather to my daughter. He just launched WPForms, the simplest way to create a contact form in WordPress.
Cloudways: We know it’s hard to take out time from a busy schedule, but everyone wants to be relaxed. What do you do in your free time?
Bill: I try to read as much as I can. I also enjoy cooking, gardening, and winemaking.
Cloudways: Finding a good host for WordPress is very important. How do you compare traditional hostings with managed, highly optimized, 1-click application installer having advance cached technologies like NGNIX, Varnish and Memcached hostings like Cloudways?
Bill: There really isn’t much of a comparison. If you care about your website, you’ll use high-quality hosting. With a traditional host, you’ll have to do a ton of customization and setting up on your own, while a managed host takes care of all that for you.
Just to humor our readers, can you please send us an image of what your desk or workspace look like? 🙂
I’m using a Veridesk which can be a sit or standing desk. I’ll usually sit in the morning while doing emails, then stand when it’s time for actual work.
Mustaasam is the WordPress Community Manager at Cloudways. Where he actively works and loves sharing his knowledge with the WordPress Community. When he is not working, you can find him playing squash with his friends, or defending in Football, and listening to music.