Carrie Dils is a freelance WordPress developer, Lynda.com teacher, podcaster, blogger, dog lover, and still not sure what she wants to be when she grows up. Phew, it’s nice to know that most of us are feeling lost and we can all agree that finding yourself is no easy task. However, it’s the journey that matters and Carrie has had an exciting one of those. Carrie talks to us about how she started WordPress developing, why she chooses to work on the Genesis theme framework, as well as why giving back to the WordPress community is important to her.
You built your first website in 1997. I know a lot has changed over time, the WordPress community has grown and generally online business has flourished. Do you think it would be easier for you to get started now? Or do you find you had an advantage starting out when the community was smaller and not everyone was “on it”?
I think it’s absolutely easier to get started now than even 10 years ago. There are so many online resources for both technical and business learning that didn’t exist then. As for competitive advantage, I don’t know that I had that, but certainly having a technical background helped shortcut my WordPress learning curve.
Before WordPress, what was your career path? A lot of people ask you how you got into WordPress (that is my next question 🙂 ), but were you always into coding or did you have something else in mind?
I didn’t have a career path when I graduated from college – my early years of freelancing and employment were mostly just paying the bills as I tried to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up (I still don’t know, by the way).
As a kid I’d dreamed of owning a restaurant and that was sort of re-kindled in my mid-20’s in the form of wanting to open a coffee shop. I knew zero about that business or industry, so I took an entry-level position at Starbucks to learn.
I continued to do freelance web work during that period until my responsibilities at Starbucks didn’t leave time for that (I was managing a store at that point). After almost 9 years with Starbucks I knew definitively that I did not want to open a coffee shop. 🙂 With no other career path in mind, I fell back onto what I knew best: freelance web work.
So, how did you get started with WordPress, and have you looked back since?
It was actually a friend at Starbucks who introduced me to WordPress (he also moonlighted building websites). Compared to the tech I’d worked with in the past, WordPress was a massive improvement. I started working with WordPress and looked back once.
I think that there are too many people out there who forget, or don’t find it important to share their knowledge with the community. I love WordPress, because it encourages sharing, and you in particular are an advocate of this. Tell us a bit more.
One of the things I noticed about WordPress immediately was the availability of online tutorials and the friendliness of other “WordPressers” I met online (primarily via Twitter trolling the #wordpress hashtag). So many people were willing to share their knowledge to help me learn.
I don’t know if that friendly knowledge share is the result of being in an open-source community or not, but I realized that I had a responsibility to give back to others in the same way that others had given to me.
How did you get started with your Podcast (officehours.fm), and what was your main aim? It feels like you are just loving giving back to WordPress.
The podcast started as a way to alleviate pressure on my inbox. People would email asking for help and it was overwhelming. I figured if I opened up an “office hours”, I could still help, but control exactly when, where, and for how long I’d be helpful.
I brought guests on to make the show more chatty (it was awkward talking by myself on live video). Almost immediately it was clear to me that people didn’t want answers to WordPress problems so much as simply to hear the conversations with my guests.
I changed the show format to interview-style before I’d hit the 5th episode and have gone that direction since.
Genesis. What made you choose it? What makes it a great theme development framework?
When I started with WordPress, the number of themes and frameworks available was overwhelming – I tried a lot of different ones before coming across Genesis. The code base made the most sense to me out of what I’d seen so far and I liked narrowing down the field of themes to a manageable subset of Genesis themes.
Genesis heavily utilizes action hooks and filters, which makes child theme creation more about moving or modifying via those hooks/filters versus a more traditional template approach. Once you get the hang of it, it makes customizing child themes a relatively simple process.
Of course there are other great frameworks, or starting points for themes available, but I’ve primarily stuck with Genesis out of familiarity.
Utility Pro, your theme has gotten a lot of love. What I find great is that you are providing theme support in all of your packages. What inspired you to do this?
Thanks! I think that if you’re charging money for a product, some level of support is just good business. Also, because of some of the “special” features of the theme (accessibility, internationalization, a developer version), I wanted to provide a support outlet for customers to understand and fully utilize the theme.
What type of support questions do you get asked the most? And how are you managing answering all of the support questions with developing further? I can imagine it’s a careful balancing act between the two.
Support questions are a great way of seeing how good your documentation is. When we get questions about the theme that aren’t answered in the documentation, we update it. Outside of questions about theme setup, most are probably related to “how do I do XYZ” with Utility Pro.
As for managing support, last year I hired someone to help me. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made for my business – bringing on external help. She takes care of 90% and I just jump in occasionally to help out.
I read your blog, and it’s great. You share some very useful tips for just about any WordPress fan, where do you get the inspiration for your post topics?
Inspiration comes from a couple of sources.
The first is just whatever’s on my mind, be it a business issue or a code problem. Documenting these helps me cement the lesson and (hopefully) offers some assistance to others. Seriously – when it comes to code issues, nothing drives the learning home like trying to write a tutorial teaching it to others.
The other primary source is questions or discussions I see online. If someone asks a question that falls within my typical blog topics and I know the answer, I’ll write about it.
What’s the best part of being a WordPress developer?
Hmm…it’s hard to pick a “best part?” I love being a WordPress developer because that means I’m part of the WP community. I love being a WordPress developer because that means I get opportunities to solve real-world problems with code. I love being a WordPress developer because that means there’s a never-ending stream of things I can learn and improve on.
When you are not developing or sharing your knowledge with the WordPress community, what do you like to do in your spare time?
I love getting outdoors when the weather is sunny to walk, swim, run, bike, or just sit and read a book. Speaking of books…I’m an avid reader. Sometimes I’ll unwind with TV, but books are my true escape.
I also enjoy just “doing nothing” around the house with my husband and our dogs. If I “do nothing” for too long though, I fall asleep. And sleeping is my favorite activity of all. 🙂
Apart from making me want to get two Labradors straightaway, Carrie has taught me that you can end up doing just about anything and you should never give up on learning. When it comes to learning the WordPress community is there with all the help you can imagine. So, if you find yourself a bit lost and you decide that WordPress is for you, you have thousands of people out there waiting to help you learn, including Carrie.