In this week’s edition of 8 Questions, Pagely was fortunate enough to interview one of the most talented WordPress plugin developers around, Pippin Williamson.
For those of you unfamiliar with Pippin, where have you been? Pippin is best known as the founder of Pippins Plugins, but he can reel off a huge list of well-respected plugins. These include all-in-one solutions for digital eCommerce (Easy Digital Downloads), membership sites (Restrict Content Pro), and affiliate scheme management (AffiliateWP). Despite his busy schedule, he also manages to stay active on Twitter — follow him @pippinsplugins.
With this in mind, we’re very lucky to talk to him today, as Pippin gives advice to new WordPress users, helps you avoid common mistakes, and also shares how his own career has developed so far.
An enormous thanks to Pippin for providing some of the most honest and insightful answers we’ve had so far. Here’s what he had to say.
Full Disclosure. Pippin is a customer of Pagely and one of our featured Brand Ambassadors.
For readers less familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself and your WordPress background?
Computers and the internet have always been an active part of my life. My father has been a computer programmer for more than 30 years so we always had computers in the house. If I recall, we were one of the very first houses in our area to get dial up internet when it was first becoming available in the early 1990s. The prevalence of computers and other tech gadgets gave me an easy (and perhaps obvious) route into an internet-oriented career.
I began programming in in my early teens and was working as a freelance web developer by 18 or 19. Some of my first programming experience came from a language called NCQ (Not Quite C) that was used for programming robots built with Lego Mindstorms. That led me into C, C++, and then on to web languages such as PHP, which came during my introduction into WordPress phase.
As much as I’ve always been a tech fanboy, however, my heart and soul are really in the outdoors and working with my hands. There is a level of satisfaction that comes with crafting something with your own muscles and nerve endings that simply cannot be equaled in the digital world.
You’ve been in the WordPress community for several years now, but could you tell us how you first became involved with WordPress?
I began getting interested in WordPress around 2008 while building some of my first websites for clients. This was when I was in my first few years at the University of Kansas and web development served as an after-school side project for me. It mostly funded my coffee shelf. Over the course of perhaps six months, I slowly acquainted myself with plugin development and started building small plugins that I released both commercially and for free on WordPress.org.
The first plugin I built became a very slippery slope for me. Today I’ve written over 200 distinct plugins and run three separate companies all funded entirely from commercial plugin sales.
During your time in the community, what different areas have you been involved with?
I began as a theme developer (terrifying thought considering my utter lack of any design skills). Mostly I built custom themes for client projects but I did at one point release a free theme that was available for a few years before being discontinued.
After learning the ropes through theme development, I moved on to building plugins, which is where I have kept my focus ever since.
As part of my plugin development focus, I also became involved with the plugin review team for WordPress.org, meaning I help manage the plugins that are submitted to the repository. Today there are nearly 40,000 plugins in the repository and somewhere between 20-50 new ones requested every single day.
Outside of plugin development, I’m an active attendee, speaker, and sponsor at WordCamps around the country (going global in September!).
While it does not happen as frequently as I would like, I also contribute to WordPress core by writing and testing patches for bugs and new improvements.
What has been the best thing about working with WordPress for you?
The opportunity to make lifelong friends with people around the world.
There have been so many other great things but truly what matters is people. The people I’ve had the opportunity to connect with through working with WordPress is simply astounding. While we tend to focus more on the bad, ugly, and dramatic events, the relationships we build day to day are the ones that really shape our lives for years to come.
I could choose to leave WordPress tomorrow, but I wouldn’t be leaving the people I’ve met along the way behind.
How has the WordPress community changed since you started?
It has matured a lot. Every community will have tough times and every community will have periods of strife, but in general I think we have grown substantially, in many ways. We have obviously grown in size as WordPress continues to eat up more and more of the web’s market share, but we have also developed into a more mature platform that people can feel safe building their businesses on. Three years ago, I would have been reluctant to hire a team of support technicians and developers to help me run my plugin company, but today that’s the reality, and it’s the reality for a lot of companies throughout the WordPress world.
I believe we have also begun doing a much better job at branching outside of the WordPress community. Most days we live in a bubble–a comfortable one (usually), but a bubble nonetheless. There is still a long ways to go, but I do believe we are getting there.
What advice would you give to anyone getting started with WordPress? Which direction would you yourself go if you were starting over again?
It really depends on what area they’re going into, but the first piece that applies to everyone is to follow your own path. Just because one person says to do something one way does not mean you have to. Just because one team is successful on one way does not mean that you must follow their lead to also be successful.
If I were to start over, I would try and hire team members sooner. I spent a year of my life really struggling to make it through each day because I was so overloaded with work. My business was thriving but my personal happiness and mental health were seriously deteriorating. Bringing on other people to help share the load is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
What do you think the biggest mistakes WordPress website owners are making?
I have a two part answer to this:
- Not updating WordPress and plugins on their site leaving them open to vulnerabilities and bugs. This is exacerbated anytime site owners experience upgrade problems due to poorly built plugin updates. Site owners have a fear of updating, but it’s not their fault.
- To alleviate update fears, plugin developers absolutely must take backwards compatibility as a critical objective. If plugin developers continue to push out updates to make breaking changes or cause problems with sites, the site owners will never, ever get comfortable enough to trust updates.
What do you think the future of WordPress holds? What would you like to see?
I expect we will see a much tighter integration with 3rd party services and even external devices. There is no reason WordPress should be confined to your computer’s web browser. Over the next few years, I fully expect to see a slew of mobile apps make their way into the WordPress ecosystem that bring an additional level of integration between the software that runs our websites and the devices we use to consume and produce information.
Once again, a big thank you to Pippin for providing us with a great set of answers.
Pippin makes an interesting point about expanding your team. Although it’s normal to think that you can do everything yourself, beyond a certain point, working alone actually restricts your business’s growth — not to mention the side effects from working too hard.
Remember: Expanding your team is a fundamental part of being in business. Relinquishing control is difficult, but with plenty of talented developers out there, your business will still be in good hands. If you feel like your business has plateaued, perhaps it’s time to inject some new blood into your business — it could be just what you need to take it to the next level.
If you’ve enjoyed reading Pippin’s answers, be sure to check out his plugin collection — you can find links to all his plugins over on the PippinsPlugins website. I also recommend following him on Twitter, @PippinsPlugins.
Thanks for reading, we’ll be back with another interview next week!
I wonder how he explains these parts together though:
“This was when I was in my first few years at the University of Kansas and web development served as an after-school side project for me. It mostly funded my coffee shelf.”
“If I were to start over, I would try and hire team members sooner. I spent a year of my life really struggling to make it through each day because I was so overloaded with work. My business was thriving but my personal happiness and mental health were seriously deteriorating. Bringing on other people to help share the load is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”
It’s the dilemma that all the beginners face, right?
Ed, that’s a difficult dilemma for sure.
I wouldn’t go back to day 1 and hire employees, but I would go back to when first starting big projects (Easy Digital Downloads, Restrict Content Pro, AffiliateWP etc) and work on establishing a team and/or partnerships from the beginning of those projects.