Leo Rodrigues / Development / November 6th, 2013

Expanding Our Development Toolkit Started with WordPress

One of the chief goals of our Race to 3:52 Week was to create projects that activated the different elements of our new brand and expanded the capabilities of our teams. Most teams worked on internal development or marketing projects, but one notable exception was the redesign of the Dallas Chamber Music Society’s (DCMS) website.

Rather than creating something entirely new to promote our brand, we tackled DCMS with the goal of creating a great client solution while also adding new expertise to the company. In this case, we focused on WordPress.

dcms
Early design for the Dallas Chamber Music Society.

So what’s the big deal? Isn’t WordPress everywhere?

That’s true, but 352 has developed in .NET for the better part of a decade, and the PHP behind WordPress has a definite learning curve, even for seasoned developers. So why did we branch out into WordPress, rather than sticking to our guns?

Branching Out

DCMS had an existing WordPress site that functioned well but provided dismal results in messaging, ticket sales and donor acquisition. Design fell flat throughout the site, lacking an elegance that the Society itself exuded. The site’s navigation was incoherent and lacked even simple callouts to assist visitors.

With the short development timeline, we had to determine if building upon the existing WordPress functionality was the most prudent course of action. After identifying the ticket sales and donation gateways, along with responsive design, as the chief needs for the site, WordPress was the best option to stay frugal with the client’s time and budget. Even though it was a bit outside our comfort zone, I was excited to tackle the challenge.

dcms responsiveAs we talked to the client, we realized most of their dissatisfaction with WordPress  came down to training and education. Once we (and they) knew how to perform a desired action, they were no longer issues.

So, we chose not to stamp a .NET solution on them just because ‘that’s how we do things.’ The best approach for the job was to stick with WordPress.

We chose a custom theme and developed visuals to match the sophisticated tone the client was searching for. We also made sure to implement a responsive design that significantly upgraded the look and feel of the content, while also establishing strong navigational elements to help drive site visitors to new artists, DCMS content and to the online box office.

While cosmetic changes were a big part of the project, I was surprised to learn what was going on under the hood with WordPress.

I was under the assumption that the only new challenge would be PHP. I was wrong.

PHP only helps you  understand the inner workings of WordPress faster. Depending on the level of customization you need, you may not have to write PHP at all.

WordPress isn’t a totally new environment; it’s just hacky as all hell. But as the most popular CMS in the industry, hacky clearly works.

Getting Back on the Horse

Once we launched DallasChamberMusic.org, that could have been the end of our WordPress experience, but of course the most important step in learning any new thing is to jump right back into it.

Plus, I had the WordPress bug.

Since we launched DCMS three months ago, I’ve been tinkering my own WordPress sites, gathering a handful of trusty plugins and applying some familiar Microsoft tools for the platform, such as developing in Web Matrix and running the site locally on IIS Express.

I know it can be hard for developers to step outside their comfort zones, but I found there were a few easy steps to take to help yourself be successful.

Evaluate and decide whether you want to learn it. Repeat until you master it. Don’t postpone the parts you find difficult. Find a good mentor or coach to help you ramp up your knowledge (sometimes, a good book or set of videos suffice).

 The Value of Learning New Things

So, we’ve been a .NET shop for a long time, but during the next 6 months, we’ll be transitioning to the MEAN stack to slowly move away from .NET. WordPress isn’t necessarily a part of that, but it was a first step towards growing the knowledge base of our development teams.

In our industry, we are constantly bombarded with new and morphing technologies. Part of being agile is knowing how to cope and adapt to change at that level. When you are exposed to different ways of solving problems, you are able to choose the most appropriate solution when a particular problem is presented. This way we can serve our clients better.

Generally speaking, developers should aim to achieve knowledge and proficiency over a manageable breadth of technologies and skills. For each skill in their tool box, they should go as deep as possible into it over the course of their careers. This approach will help you obtain mastery.

One of the core values at 352 is that team work amplifies our talents. That is very true. Every team member has a value and the resulting work we do is like the multiplication of the values of each member. If you individually work to increase your value, you are increasing the overall team value by a significant amount. Pure math!

Any other thoughts, Leo?

It’s been fun writing. I’m going back to coding now, bye!

  • http://www.roundpeg.biz Roundpeg

    Now that you have played with it for awhile. How do you like WordPress? If you ever want to compare notes on favorite plug ins, give us a call, we will be happy to share some of the ones we found and love.

    • Leonardo Rodrigues

      I like it and I intend to keep it handy in my pocket. It’s appropriate to choose tools based on each job. I might have to take you up on comparing notes sometime. I really appreciate the offer.

    • Leonardo Rodrigues

      I like it and I intend to keep it handy in my pocket. It’s appropriate to choose tools based on each job. I might have to take you up on comparing notes sometime. I really appreciate the offer.

  • Alex Tallitsch

    Out of curiosity, have you evaluated the All in One SEO plugin that makes WordPress so attractive to the novice? If so how does it stack up in your opinion?

    • http://www.bypete.com/ Pete

      We have, we actually are using it here on our main blog too. It really is the defacto seo plugin for WordPress. We haven’t really stacked it up against other plugins that are out there. WordPress SEO by Yoast is also a really well supported plugin as well.

      • Alex Tallitsch

        I have used it for years, and it really has developed and stayed at the top of the game. It’s ability to function, as well as make things understandable for a newer user, really has no equal. I’ve tried a few others, but even theme builders are now adding extensions into their themes to accommodate/accentuate.