How It Started
When I first discovered WordPress, I wasn’t looking to start a web design business, or build websites for other people at all. That happened many years later. I came into the WordPress-i-verse simply because I needed to build a website for myself.
Back in 2009, I was a freelance illustrator and graphic designer. I was looking for a way to develop a website to showcase my work. In the past I had always created my sites from scratch, using basic HTML and CSS. This time I needed to get a site up and running in just a week or two. I also needed it to look professional and I didn’t want to learn an entirely new language. I wanted to stay as far away from back-end stuff as possible, so I could focus on the front-end design. I also wanted something low-cost and easy to maintain over time.
I know, right? Why didn’t I also ask for a flying car and a Star Trek food generator while I was at it? I knew it was a tall order, but I started hunting the internet anyway.
First, I tried out a couple of different CMS tools like Joomla and Drupal, but I found them too complex for what I needed at that moment. Then, going completely in the other direction, I messed around with uber easy builder platforms like Wix and Weebly. It was fun to design and build on those platforms, but I didn’t like the branded options. I couldn’t be sure that even if I did pay for the non-branded option, the platforms would still be around in the years to come (Spoiler alert: they are. Oh well).
Then, I stumbled upon WordPress.
At first, I thought WordPress would be similar to Drupal so I didn’t get my hopes up. I was completely prepared to keep looking under internet rocks to find a better solution. But like the intrepid little tech monster I am, I went ahead and installed it on my domain. The first thing I noticed was that the dashboard was well-organized and super intuitive. I could quickly get into settings and configure things as I needed. It was also easy to figure out what Themes and Plugins were without expending too much brainpower, which is always very precious in my head.
Because my site was brand new and unknown beyond my home office, I had the luxury of building things and tearing them down again without fear of visitors getting confused (what visitors?). I experimented with different plugins and explored several ways of setting up a gallery of my work. I felt a little like a mad scientist. Rather than wireframe a site and build with a solid plan, I allowed myself to create willy-nilly. I think that’s ultimately what got me hooked on WordPress. I didn’t sit down with a step-by-step manual, I sort of dove in and geeked out on messing things up and failing often.
I had nothing to lose, which sometimes is the best way to explore a new system.
Eventually, I did buckle down and create a more solid layout plan. I also did get into the back-end more than I intended, and it turns out I enjoyed that quite a bit. After a couple of weeks, my site was “ready for prime time” and I started sending out the link to art directors. Periodically – and somewhat randomly – I tweaked things according to what I thought wasn’t working for the visitors I wanted and what might work better.
After that first site, I slowly built more WordPress sites for myself, my family, and my friends. Every time I learned something new and every time I solidified my love for WordPress.
After 12 years using WordPress I’ve gone back to developing a solid plan before creating a new site. Even though I don’t use traditional wireframing for WordPress sites, I still draw up little layout sketches so at least I know where I’m headed. WordPress is so familiar to me now that I no longer spend time experimenting with basic stuff. However, I still enjoy breaking things now and then just to keep my skills sharp.
What I Love About WordPress
It’s hard to choose just one reason that I still love building sites in WordPress. From the intuitive dashboard menu to the thousands of plugins that help me (almost infinitely) expand what I can do with my site, there’s just so much to keep me in the ecosystem.
There’s the global WordPress community that has taught me – and saved me many times – throughout the years. I can’t count how many posts I’ve combed through in the wordpress.org support forums, looking for that one little nugget of information that would fix something I completely borked on the first try. Now that I know more about what I’m doing, I’ve been able to pay it forward by helping others to do the same. There’s also the vast community of WordPress users on Twitter, many with whom I’ve developed solid friendships over the years.
However, if I were tied to a chair and threatened to be devoured by wolverines unless I gave just one answer, it would be that I own my content.
Open-source is fascinating to me. Community-developed tech is always my first choice when it comes to software and hardware. It’s not always a practical choice, because I do have to work with other humans around the globe. So my primary working laptop is a Mac. But using and supporting platforms like WordPress is incredibly important to me because I believe the more we do that the more we retain the ability to own what we create.
There are always the people who will say, “WordPress is dead.” They were saying it in 2009, yet here we still are. I don’t believe WordPress is dying anytime soon, mostly because of the open-source, community-driven nature of the platform.
Is it for everyone? No. There are people I encounter today who I’ll steer towards SquareSpace or Wix. Usually, those are the ones who I get a sense just need things to work without trying very hard and need the kind of tech support you get from a mega-company like Apple or Microsoft. To them, WordPress was probably dead on arrival, but I don’t worry about that. The kind of people who get into using WordPress are the scrappier, “I’m-going-to-figure-this-out-if-it-kills-me” types.
Count me in that category.
How I Use WordPress Now
Over the last couple of years, I’ve expanded my knowledge of PHP, MySQL, and CSS to the point where I can make a WordPress site do pretty much anything I want. I’ve set up WooCommerce stores, photo galleries, membership sites, news feed sites, and business directories. I’ve learned to customize pages using CSS, bending layouts to my will and whimsy.
WordPress, like most software, is always evolving. Some people hate those evolutions, others merely tolerate it, but I love it. I admit that I’m not always thrilled with each change as they’re launched – in fact, sometimes I’m downright dumbfounded – but as a whole I feel that change is good.
For example, when Gutenberg blocks were introduced, I did everything I could, as long as I could, to keep designing and posting using the classic editor. After taking a break developing websites for a few years, I came back to Gutenberg. This time, I chained myself to my desk and forced myself to learn it completely, instead of skimming around the edges. Now I can’t imagine designing without Gutenberg.
I also very recently discovered WP CLI. I’m a bash geek from way back, so when I learned that I could use CLI commands to update my WordPress sites over ssh, I squealed like an 11-year old. I’m currently managing about 20 different sites on one of my host’s servers. I can easily log in remotely using my terminal and update plugins, themes and the core. I’ve found that it’s much faster than clicking around the dashboard and it satisfies some of my command line urges.
It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve started running a business centered around WordPress. I started taking on clients slowly, mostly managing the backend and host issues, as well as updating plugins and themes. I find that I do much less actual design and development than I do consulting and playing Tech Support. I’ve also found a niche in writing about WordPress for media outlets and other developers, which is very satisfying to both my brain and ego – as well as my bank balance.
I’ve spent a lot of time here gushing about WordPress. I do love it, but I also see the flaws and have an extensive list of I wish they would… in my mental notebook. I even – gasp – develop sites without WordPress, even blogs. And though I stray from time to time, I imagine I’ll always come back to WordPress.