Building a Career Around WordPress Web Development With Chris Burgess
MalCare was recently fortunate enough to chat with Chris Burgess about his experience in the WordPress space. Chris is a web technology consultant from Melbourne Australia and a leading voice in the WordPress community there. Without further ado, let’s jump into the interview!
1. Hi Chris and thank you for taking the time to chat with our audience about your experiences in the WordPress development space. Why don’t you jumpstart this session by telling us a little bit about how you first got introduced WordPress and how that propelled you to where you are today.
In 2004, a few local web developers and I started up the Melbourne PHP User Group. We met regularly and it provided the opportunity for us to share and learn from each other. Content management systems were a popular topic. I had a few personal websites I built using basic PHP, but I also started using tools like WordPress, Drupal, and Mambo (later renamed to Joomla). I liked working with all of them, but over time, I leaned more towards WordPress. Even though I prefer WordPress, I always like to point out the similarities in these various Open Source projects. They have far more in common than differences.
WordPress evolved and continued to be the most suitable platform for many of my websites. Today, I help run a digital marketing and development agency called Clickify and we work with WordPress for the majority of our web projects. The main reason for this is because we find it the most flexible, scalable and easy to use platform for our clients. It also helps that it’s the most widely supported Open Source CMS, powering just over a third of the web.
2. You worked in the Information Technology sector for about 8 years before you decided to switch and move to WordPress in 2014. What was it specifically that pulled you in this direction?
Part of my day job was to look after networks and servers, as well as web applications and websites. I could see the potential for web technology (and the move towards cloud/SaaS) in business and thought WordPress had a place as a powerful publishing platform far beyond blogging. The DevOps movement was also in full swing, and I saw how important it was to break down silos and barriers between different tech disciplines. I also had a number of my own personal websites that I ran in my spare time and found WordPress was the logical choice.
The light bulb moment for me was when I saw my colleagues using the websites that I had built. There were people without much experience using the web, that we’re able to publish and manage content after a few basic lessons. I liked the power it could bring to everyday users, not just web developers. The WordPress mission of “democratizing publishing” really struck a chord with me.
I also saw the community start to grow and gain momentum and I was inspired by the work that was being done in the space.
3. What was the switch from IT (networks / servers) to web development like for you personally? Web development is a totally different beast. What were some of your biggest obstacles during the early part of your career switch, and how did you get past them?
I was lucky enough to have web development as part of my role, but I did have to prove to my managers the value of WordPress (and Open Source) as there was, and still is, stigma in some environments. I did this by working after hours on my own personal projects so I had good examples to showcase, and by going to lots of Meetups, conferences, and events. I still go to a lot of events, on all different topics, it helps me keep updated and forces me outside my comfort zone. As anyone in the industry knows, things change at such a fast pace and you need to constantly upskill and adapt. I wouldn’t call myself a networker, the fact that I meet new people is a great side effect.
4. On your website, you mention that your goal is to continue learning while helping empower others to get the most out of technology. What inspires you to keep pushing in this direction?
I know it sounds corny, but helping people is part of my work that I enjoy the most. That could be a client, colleague or newcomers at a Meetup. Most of us focus on learning the latest and greatest skills, and we take it for granted that we know how to use technology. It doesn’t take much to help people, and it’s important to give back to the community whenever possible. Even if it’s just welcoming newcomers to a Meetup, or offering to help a beginner that is stuck on a simple problem. I’ve been lucky enough to learn from many talented people throughout my working life, so where possible I like to try and help others and pay it forward.
5. You were involved with SitePoint for a few years working as their WordPress editor. What was it like being part of one of the biggest online communities of web professionals during that time?
SitePoint HQ is based in Melbourne, so I’d known a few of the team members from various local events. They were looking for someone that worked with WordPress to help with their WordPress channel so I thought it would be fun and an interesting challenge for me. I got to meet lots of people in and outside of the WordPress community that I wouldn’t have had the chance to otherwise. Immersing myself in WordPress also gave me a better appreciation for the ins and outs of the WordPress ecosystem.
6. You’ve written for many companies such as Microsoft and GoDaddy talking on topics ranging from WordPress, site performance, WordPress hardening and security and SEO, to name only a few examples. You’re also active within the Melbourne WordPress Meetup group and also engage in many other tech-related events. You really put yourself out there as both a teacher and a student. What strategies do you use to help ensure your skillset remains up to date and relevant?
I’m interested in such a broad range of technology topics, so I try and be very selective on who I follow to reduce the noise. I’m committed to dedicating a good portion of my day to reading (whether that be articles, books, newsletters, etc.) to help keep myself up to date. I often watch conference recordings on YouTube or WordPress.tv, and of course, going along to Meetups and events also helps keep in the loop.
7. You co-founded the company Clickify back in 2012, which is a digital agency that offers marketing, SEO, SEM and web development services. Having worked in the field of IT for more than two decades, how does your experience translate in helping manage this company? How much of a boost has your knowledge on online marketing been in helping it grow?
We started the agency back in 2012, as we saw an opportunity to provide clients with an integrated approach to website development and digital marketing, to help them get found online. I was confident that we had a unique set of skills that we could use together to help clients to achieve their business goals. The best work happens when you’ve got a great team of people working together, and more importantly who actually care about what they do. We continually learn from each other, this makes managing the business a much easier task. Being in the industry certainly helps you to establish the business, however, as with any industry, your reputation is everything. Having an amazing team to work with, who cares about getting results and offering great customer service has helped us to retain and attract new clients.
8. Information Security is in the spotlight around the world. WordPress sites are a big target for hackers. This is part of the reason why so many people find their way to our site at MalCare. Either they need someone to help them remove malware, or they want to use our WordPress security plugin as a preventative measure. How do you see many of the companies you work with handle today’s cyber threats as they relate to WordPress specifically?
Education is definitely lacking in this area. Unfortunately, security isn’t always a priority for some businesses. Given the popularity of WordPress, it’s a popular target, so there’s still a lot of work to do to educate and demonstrate the importance of good security practices to developers, users, and clients. It’s great that it’s easy for someone to set up a WordPress site, but there’s also a responsibility to be aware of the risks and do what you can to proactively manage those risks.
How companies treat information security varies greatly. Some will invest more in it than others. Personally, I always try to discuss security practices with our clients to help them understand the risks and the options available. If you treat security seriously, this can be an important selling point, and as time goes on, I firmly believe many more companies are going to expect it.
9. Lastly, what three pieces of advice would you give to fresh talent entering the WordPress development community today?
Get involved. Join in the community (Meetups, WordPress.org, Open Source Projects).
Get building with WordPress and focus on quality rather than quantity. Practice on your own sites so you can learn and experiment. This also helps you to build out your portfolio.
Be prepared to adapt. Things do change. The playing field gets leveled quite often with new technologies, so being able to stay ahead and adapt will help you stand out and give you an edge.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with us today about your experiences in the WordPress space. To our blog readers, if you’d like to learn more about Chris and his work over at Clickify you can follow him on Twitter here.
Springzo is a WordPress enthusiast, and enjoys sharing their experience with fellow enthusiasts. On the MalCare blog, Springzo distils the wisdom gained from building plugins to solve security issues that admins face.