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Ryan Hellyer Talks About WordPress Plugin Development, WordPress Community and How Goals Help in Coding Projects

Updated on March 4, 2020

6 Min Read

Ryan Hellyer is a very well known WordPress obsessed Kiwi and a  former scientist, who used to live in Canada, then Norway and now Berlin. He has been contributing to WordPress communities for a long time. He is a prolific plugin developer, a mentor who shares his knowledge openly in the form of code snippets and tutorials. In this interview with Cloudways, he talks about WordPress and his personal life. He also shares his experience about AWS Nightmare.

ryan hellyer interview

Cloudways: Hello Ryan, tell our readers a bit about yourself. When did you first discover WordPress? There are many CMS in market. What were the main reasons of pursuing a career as a WordPress developer?

Ryan: I discovered WordPress around version 2.3. I originally had a career as a chemist, but as soon as I realised I could make a living from WordPress, I jumped ship from my original career path and hopped onto the WordPress bandwagon. The ability to work from anywhere felt very liberating and was something I always dreamed of doing.

Cloudways: You’ve developed many plugins for WordPress. Can you please highlight your most used plugins?

Ryan: My most used plugins are some of my worst. Instead, I’ll highlight my favourite plugins 😉

My Unique Headers plugin is a handy way to implement a custom header for each page/post. It came about because a client wanted this functionality, but did not have sufficient budget, so I simply made it in my spare time and gave it to them as a gift.

My Spam Destroyer plugin is designed as a dead simple way to kill spam dead in it’s tracks; you can simply activate it on your site, and the spam should simply stop. No configuration is required and users won’t notice anything different about your site.

My Disable Emoji’s plugin was one which became unexpectedly popular. There were a lot of grumpy developers complaining after extra code bloat was added to WordPress, to accommodate emoji’s in older browsers. This forced a bunch of unwanted JavaScript onto every WordPress site, and so my plugin was a very simple fix to get rid of that extra bloat. Hat tip to Otto, who provided an improved version of the main function, which I accommodated into the plugin.

Cloudways: I have checked out your blogs about WordPress, is writing your hobby or you do it as part of your job?

Ryan: Writing is purely a hobby for me. My personal blog is mostly just a log of my life, and my geek blog is where I jot down any code snippets or information that I might like to use in future. I try to write as many blog posts as possible, but time always gets in the way.

Cloudways: We’ve read your story about AWS Nightmare and we felt sorry for you. But, what was the lesson you learned and what would you advice to be safe from such incidents?

Ryan: I don’t really have much advice relating to that. I made two mistakes which led to that issue arising. I didn’t realise there was an old temporary file sitting in my root directory, and I used the root keys for AWS. So don’t use the root keys for AWS and watch out for temporary files which may contain unintended configuration data and you should be fine.

Cloudways: Ryan, you’re an active member of WordPress Community. Keeping yourself focused on different things can become tough at times. Suggest us with some of your lifehacks that keep you focused on work?

Ryan: Having goals helps. I always try to set goals for my coding projects, even if they aren’t very lofty. My goal for 2015 was actually to reduce the amount of code I was maintaining, as I’d mounted up too many personal projects over the years.

Cloudways: Ryan, you’ve attended many WordCamps. Please tell our readers how these WordCamps are beneficial for WordPress Community?

Ryan: WordCamp’s are a great way to meet other members of the community in person, and to create real-life relationships with people you may otherwise only know in the virtual world.

Cloudways: WordPress 4.5 has been released. What are the features you liked the most?

Ryan: wp_add_inline_script()  looks like a great way to add inline JS to projects; adding inline JS in WordPress previously was not very elegant.

The upgrades to wp_upload_dir()  are great. I love seeing any changes which involve improving an existing feature, rather than adding more bloat to the core of WordPress.

I shudder whenever I read through the feature list for new versions of WordPress. I wish less junk would be added, but it seems that most people want more features, not less. I miss the simplicity of earlier versions of WordPress.

Cloudways: WordPress was lesser known for its speed and security. Do you think with the latest release of WordPress 4.5 it has been reduced?

Ryan: Not really. I don’t think WordPress will ever be known for being fast. It’s just not built with performance in mind. Security wise it will probably never have a good reputation either, as it has an enormous amount of legacy code piled into it, and it has a rather odd structure which makes things messy. Legacy and messy code tend to lead to security flaws. Having said that, WordPress does have a rather good track record security wise, despite what the knockers may say.

Cloudways: With the release of Calypso and shift to Node.js of, do you think it will be welcomed by the larger Community?

Ryan: No. I don’t think Calypso itself has much direct bearing on the broader community. I think the significance of Calypso is that it demonstrates that it is now (almost) totally viable to replace the entire WordPress admin panel with a custom system, whereas before that would have been prohibitively complex to implement.

Cloudways: Who do you consider your best buddies within the WordPress community ?

Ryan: Ronald Huereca who I shared an apartment with for a year, and Kaspars Dambis who I somehow convinced to move to Norway to work alongside me.

Cloudways: We know, it’s hard to take out time from a busy schedule, but everyone takes a few hours out for themselves. What do you do in your free time ?

Ryan: I do a lot of hiking and cycling. I actually ended up involved in WordPress due to playing ice hockey, as my local hockey club needed a website built, and so I sat down and figured out how to do it. After a few iterations, I eventually found WordPress, and the rest is history. I also help run a Facebook group called Free Advice Berlin; we have over 20,000 members and are growing rapidly, so keeping on top of admin tasks for the group takes a bit of my time each day. Aside from that, I recently started learning German, and I’ll be assigning more of my free time to that in the coming months.

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Cloudways: You’re a WordPress Developer. You know how important a hosting is when it comes to host a WordPress site. How will you compare traditional hostings with Managed WordPress Cloud hosting like Cloudways that has advanced server side cache technologies like NGINX, Varnish, Memcached and Redis that will ultimately boost page load performance?

Ryan: By traditional, I assume you mean a stereotypical cPanel type setup with a very crude setup. Those services are usually cheap, but severely lacking in performance. I actually run my own VPS, so I get all of the technical benefits of a managed service already, but what I am missing is the technical support. So I see three main options, cheap slow services with technical support, cheap super fast VPS’s with minimal technical support, or expensive but fast managed services which also come with significant technical support. Which of those options suits you, will depend on what you are looking for. Some people can make do with simply using a cheap shared host and shoving Cloudflare in front of it, some will be happy managing their own server like me, and others will want the benefits of their own server, without the hassles of running it. I think all three of those options are acceptable, depending on the individual’s requirements.

Just to humor our readers, can you please send us an image how does your desk or workspace look like? 🙂

Desk? I usually work from a cafe, in which case my desk is often my lap. This photo is of me co-working at a little cafe called Herman Schulz in Berlin, Germany.

Herman Schulz in Berlin, Germany

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Mustaasam Saleem

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.


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