Álvaro Gómez – WProfessional of the Month

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Let’s start a new year with enthusiasm and full of energy. And to do that, here is the star section of our blog where we interview interesting personalities related to WordPress. And this time we have the opportunity to chat with Álvaro Gómez, a member of the Spanish WordPress community of Madrid with whom I was able to talk to in the past WordCamp Barcelona 2016. Without further ado, I leave you with his answers:

Tell us a little about your bio and what you do professionally.  For those who do not know you, tell us your relationship with the WordPress community. How do you participate and what do you think of it?

First of all I want to thank you for your interest in interviewing me and also Francisco Torres for nominating me.

My name is Álvaro, I was born in Bilbao and I have lived in Madrid for 10 years with my wife and my daughter Julia. Many people know me as MrFoxTalbot, my nickname on the internet for 15 years (a tribute to one of the parents of photography).

I always liked computers and although I studied law in Bilbao, at that time (1999) I made simple websites using Netscape Composer, Adobe Image Ready, the Photoshop HTML gallery generator and Swish. Between 2000 and 2002 I lived in London, where I studied photography and worked as a laboratory technician. While living abroad I became more interested in the relationship between photography and web design, so that I could be able to share the photos I was taking at that time with people who were far away from me.

Unexpectedly I learned Flash along the way and on my return to Spain I came to Madrid and started to work as a photo retoucher and Flash animator in advertising agencies. In 2009 I started to work on my own, first mainly doing graphic and flash animation for agencies, and gradually on my own with direct clients. To this day I work in a small team of freelances and we are 100% specialized in WordPress.

My first contact with the community was at WordCamp Europe 2014, in Bulgaria. Before that I was not aware of the community that was behind WordPress, so I worked totally alone. So my first contact with the community was not a meetup or even a local WordCamp—I went to the biggest event possible, WordCamp Europe, at my own risk and without knowing anyone. There I went to see the talk of Rocío Valdivia (I remember that coincided with the talk of Mark Jaquith) and when I finished I approached to talk to her. Rocío introduced me to the small group of Spaniards, about 10 or 12, that were there (among almost a thousand people) and with whom I built a beautiful friendship. Attending that WordCamp was undoubtedly one of the best professional and personal decisions I have ever made.

How did you start with WordPress and when did you decide to use it professionally?

The first project in which I worked with WordPress was in 2009, for La Bagatela, a cultural association of several friends and neighbors of the district of Lavapiés in Madrid. When I was told the project I said “you need a web”. At that time I worked professionally with Flash but I was aware that Flash wouldn’t last much longer and therefore it was not the suitable tool for such a project. We uploaded a blog on WordPress.com and within a few months we migrated it to our own installation, which was where I really started to learn how to use it.

From that moment on I started to use WordPress in simple projects, mostly for friends and family. Over time I was learning CSS and PHP to be able to do my own themes. I think it was Helen Hou Sandi who said that WordPress is a “bridge drug” and she’s absolutely right—thanks to WordPress I’ve learned things and I’ve been able to build webs that I think I would have never been able to do all by myself.

Nowadays I work exclusively with WordPress, as a consultant, trainer, and project coordinator. Although I have had to do everything (from frontend to backend, through design, SEO, or Sysadmin) the more I learn the more I realize how little I actually know. So, I prefer to work as much as possible with a team of specialists.

In addition to this, I collaborate with the translation team, I am one of the organizers of the WordPress Meetup Madrid, I have been a volunteer and speaker in WordCamps, and at the moment I am part of the team that’s organizing WordCamp Madrid 2017.

How do you keep up with the latest WordPress news? What resources do you use and who do you read / follow?

Google (read StackOverflow) and Codex. I also recommend a program called DASH as a reference. I am involved in several channels of Slack (almost too many). I subscribed to the WordFence newsletter and I follow WordPress.tv, Post Status, Shop Talk, WPTavern, Smashing Magazine, WPMDEV, the Big Web Show, CSS-Tricks, WordPress Help and, of course, your Blog.

I really like podcasts and I am very happy with the large number of new podcasts in Spanish on WordPress (Joan Boluda, Joan Artés, Fernan Diez, Oscar Abad, and many others).

What is the work, development or contribution you have done with WordPress that you feel most proud of?

At the development level I know quite well the system of templates and the information architecture of WordPress and, because of my lack of technical training, I know many plugins and tricks to be able to do almost anything without knowing how to code. However, I think that what I am most proud of is the people I have taught to use WordPress and who have been able to manage their own webs without my help. The spirit of “Democratizing web publishing” is something I sincerely believe in.

It is not always possible to attain glory. Confess any “epic fail” you have suffered related to WordPress.

Indeed, being self-taught often means learning on the basis of fails. A classic that happened to me was forgetting to remove the non-index of a web when publishing it and to discover after two months that Google was not indexing it.

Another classic for noobs is to migrate a web and forget to change the paths of the images, files, and internal links in the_content. The funny thing is that as the development web was still live the images were loaded from there and we did not realize until we dropped it a few weeks later and the production site suddenly ran out of images 😦

And recently, the other day I overwritten a wp-config without realizing that the production copy had been overwritten by a plugin (iThemes Security) that had changed the routes of the wp-content. That’s how I broke the whole website in just a click!

Finally, every time that one of my webs has been hacked and I couldn’t figure out why, I consider that to be an epic fail too.

Do you design your own themes or do you prefer to use third party themes? If you create them, what is your favorite theme or framework? If you use third-party themes, where and how do you acquire them?

It depends on the project. If it is something simple without much budget or big need for scalability sometimes I use third-party themes that I can simply install and tweak. In general I prefer to use themes from the WordPress.org repository, but if someone comes with a commercial theme, as long as it is not very terrible, I have no problem in using it. In the last years the standards have improved considerably and lately I have found commercial themes that already make an excellent use of the Customizer.

For intermediate projects I use as a base some of the default themes (I’ve used a lot TwentyTwelve and recently also TwentySixteen) or Storefront if it’s a WooCommerce. For more demanding projects I use _underscores.

Tell us which plugins are essential for you and which ones you would never recommend.

First and foremost, use a backup plugin and a security plugin. I personally use UpDraft for backups and Wordfence or iThemes Security for security.

For forms I like Contact Form 7 because it is simple to use and has many extensions.

For postmeta I have used several different plugins, but I especially like Advanced Custom Fields, which is very well done and very well documented. Nonetheless, I have been also  investigating PODS lately and I like it a lot because it also includes Post Types and Taxonomies management and, unlike ACF, does not create an intermediate postmeta to manage the Custom Fields.

To develop themes I use What the File, Developer, P3 Profiler, and Query Monitor. I also use WP Migrate Database to export the database and do a serialized search / replace in one go.

And once we have everything ready, a cache plugin like WP Super Cache, because it only needs to be installed and activated to make your page much faster and help you to save a lot of resources.

Other interesting plugins are:

  • WPIDE. You should not edit the files of your themes and plugins from the WordPress backend itself, but if you must do it for some reason, this is the best plugin to do so. It has syntax highlighting, autocomplete functions (with links to the code), validation, backups of files to edit, reverts…
  • CPT UI. It is an interface for creating Custom Post Types and Custom Taxonomies. Once created it gives you the option to export them to PHP to be able to add them to your functions or to a plugin.
  • CODE SNIPPETS. It helps you to add small pieces of code without having to touch the files of the theme or add a plugin. Useful if you do not have FTP access and what you want to do is simple (a hook, a filter …). It allows you to specify where to run it (front, back, or both) and the last version has added validation before saving and an option to export to PHP.
  • CUSTOM CONTENT SHORTCODE. It generates post loops from shortcodes. The idea is simple and there are other plugins that also do this, but this one is very well thought out and gives you a lot of options for filtering (by post type, terms, authors, containing a certain postmeta value …) and sorting (date, alphabetical, sticky, offset). Once you have the loop created you can display any post information you need very simply. It also comes with a metashortcodes option to be able to create simplified versions and even use parameters. A good introduction to the WordPress loop for non-technical users.
  • ADMINIZE. is a phpMyAdmin equivalent right inside WordPress. If your hosting does not offer that and you do not have FTP access, this plugin can save your life.

On the other hand I would not dare to criticize any plugins except those that are not done following good practices and create conflicts or introduce security problems. For example I am in favor of using page templates and postmeta instead of visual composers, but I understand that every plugin has its niche. If I should recommend one, it’d probably be SiteOrigin’s Page Builder, because it’s the lightest of all I have tried and reasonably easy to use.

I’m also not a fan of sliders and I usually advise my clients not to use them but, when I have no other choice, I use Meta Slider, which is also simple to use and pretty lightweight. I used to use Revolution Slider but in recent iterations it has become too complicated to be handled by the average user.

In the debate Jetpack yes or Jetpack no I personally do not use it just because the module system does not convince me and I rarely need all the functionalities it brings.

Without being exactly plugins, there are three tools that I use on a daily basis and I want to recommend, especially to those who work remotely:

  • The first is Toggl, to keep a record of on where I invest my hours. It helps me to be focused and the reports that generates are perfect to budget my projects.
  • Appear.in is a web application for making videoconferences. It’s similar to Skype or Hangouts but it has the advantage that you just share a URL with the people you want to talk to.
  • Screencastify is an addon for Chrome that captures screen and microphone. I use it to make simple video tutorials. The advantage is that as soon as you click STOP you have the option to upload it directly to Youtube.

If you had to create a plugin that does not exist or that you ever needed but did not find, what plugin would it be?

A good integration with Flickr that allows complex searches, correctly displays the metadata of the photo and has authentication. I have more than 50K photos in Flickr (pretty well labeled) but the flickr.com interface is cumbersome and full of bugs… I can’t access half of the information available from the API!

I’d redesign and simplify the interface and options of WordFence (especially the notification system). Also I would change some of the default values: Why doesn’t it compare your plugins and themes with those of the repository by default? It’s one of the best features that has and is deactivated!

Do you think it is possible to earn a living with WordPress? Are there any market opportunities left?

Definitely. And there are many different profiles that are needed: Systems administrators, developers, designers, marketing people, journalists… It’s a good time if you have something to say (or if you can help others do it). Internet in general and WordPress in particular are growing at an incredible rate.

I do not think it is difficult to earn a living with WordPress as long as we are good professionals and do not lose sight of the real needs of our users and customers. In your particular case (Nelio) I consider it a great success that you use your own plugins daily.

What advice would you give to a WP beginner who wants to start with WordPress but does not know where to go or where to start? Any resources to recommend?

The most important advice I can give you is to participate in the community, both through forums or Slack and attending your local meetup and WordCamps. And above all, do not miss the Contributors Day when you attend a WordCamp—it is probably the most important and where you can learn the most.

If you don’t care too much about the technical side, concentrate on creating good content for your website and thinking about how you present those texts and images and how the user interacts with them. Depending on the type of content I usually recommend starting at WordPress.com for being simple, stable and inexpensive. From there a little bit of CSS will allow you to customize the theme you are using.

And to the one who has previous technical knowledge,  I would recommend investigating the information structure of WordPress starting with posts, postmeta and taxonomies. Then understand the widgets / menus, hooks / filters and shortcodes. And then learn how to use the template hierarchy to display those posts (archive, page, single and others).

For a novice WordPress developer it may be tempting to write your own functions or make queries to the database “directly” but it is fundamental to become familiar with the native functions. Before writing a function from scratch do a search to see if it already exists.

And in addition to this I would recommend learning about the Permalinks, the structure of the database, and basic security and escalation measures. Codex and WordPress.tv are good places to start.

How do you see the future of WordPress within 2-3 years? What challenges should WordPress professionals face?

I think it was at WCEU 2015 in Seville that Matt Mullenweg said that WordPress is already a mature technology and that the bottleneck at the moment is in users. There is a lot of work to do to make it easier and more intuitive to add content and configure themes, widgets, menus, and so on.

I also think that some of us will need to learn more JavaScript to take advantage of the REST API and Customizer, which I believe are the future.

Another important point is to start taking security more seriously. Hosting providers are the first ones interested in avoiding WordPress hacks and could help a lot by improving the install wizards they use. Also related to security, but at another level, you have to rethink how plugin repository and core updates work, because 27% of the internet is too juicy and there are a lot of eyes watching.

Nor should we be afraid of change, what I did 5 years ago does not have much to do with what I do today, which I’m sure will be different from what I’ll be doing in 5 years. The important thing is to try to do things well and learn as much as you can—you never know what you might need or where you’ll have to apply it.

If you could change one thing today about WordPress, what would it be? What do you think WordPress lacks?

I understand that it is not exactly easy to solve, but it has always surprised me that the paths in WordPress have to be absolute. In Joomla you can move a web folder and it works perfectly :/

Overall I would try to make life easier for the non-technical user trying to set up his WordPress for the first time. I have started to see very interesting applications of the Customizer in that aspect like translation of static texts, for example.

Recently, the 4.7 version of WordPress was released with the new default theme TwentySeventeen, which already makes a very interesting use of the Customizer. In fact, by adding this plugin, we can even manage posts and pages without having to access the backend.

I would improve the repository of wp.org plugins (I really like the feature of having your favorite plugins—but it is not enough, I would need taxonomies, tags or some system to organize it). I have to say that I am not convinced by the latest redesign—I miss the tabs.

I would also improve the multimedia library—there are plugins to add taxonomies, for example, but in general everything is still in diapers.

Another detail that I would make different would be the management of avatars. It does not make sense that today the management of user images can only be done through an external service. There are many situations in which we cannot or do not want to connect to Gravatar and there should be an option to do it natively from the core without plugins. In fact Gravatar should be a plugin and when we disable it we should be able to manage the images locally. I would also add to the kernel the option of modifying the base and permalinks slugs of authors

If you had to interview a WordPress developer for a job, what is the first question you would ask and why? What profiles are you interested in?

The first thing I would ask you is if you have contributed in any way to the community (even if it is only giving support in forums or doing translations), if you have participated in a WordCamp and if you attend your local meetup.

I would mention common problems / errors to see if you know how to solve them or at least what steps it takes to investigate them—conflicts between plugins, problems with permalinks… i.e. troubleshooting in general. I think that kind of details can only be learned by using WordPress, and so knowing them shows real experience.

Then I would show you a design and ask how you would manage it with WordPress (CPTs, post meta, taxonomies, term meta…) and how you would display it in the theme (template hierarchy).

I would also ask about internationalization of themes and plugins.

Finally I would ask how he does to fortify his installations and what measures he takes for WPO and scaling.

Have I forgot anything? This is your chance to add something you want people to know about you and we have not asked you.

I think you did not leave anything. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the members of the community who contribute in some way—developers, translators, designers, event organizers, trainers… if I make a living with WordPress it’s because of the work of other people—”nobody can do it alone”.

That’s why I want to encourage people who are starting to use WordPress—all help is welcome and all projects have their place. Do not think that you cannot contribute because you do not know how to program, there is much more to do. And do not be afraid to ask for help or to ask “silly” questions in the forums or in slack—the worst question is the one that is not asked.

Finally, what 3 professionals would you like us to interview here and why?

Isis Baulig – Although he lives in Berlin and we have only met in person twice, I consider him a good friend. He knows the unspeakable of JavaScript and is a true optimization psychopath.

Fernando Puente – Seeing how calm he is going through life you would never guess that he is responsible for one of the biggest sport portals managed with WordPress in Spain. He knows a lot about scaling with WordPress.

Mauricio Gelves – Not so long ago that he left the catacombs of .net and maybe that’s why he knows how to value the importance of the GPL and the community. He’s a generous guy, very meticulous with his work,and a great showman on the scene.

Thank you very much Álvaro for finding the time to give us this interesting interview. Without doubt one of the best interviews we have been able to do with high quality answers.

Stay tuned to this section of the blog, because this year we will continue to bring here very interesting people.

Featured image by Ramiro T. in WordCamp Barcelona 2016.

by

Antonio obtained his PhD in Computer Science at UPC. He has several publications in the field of data mining and information retrieval applied to conceptual modeling and health informatics. He specialized in the design, development, and integration of web services and cloud applications. He's an active contributor to the WordPress community and participates in meetups, seminars and WordCamps.

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