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I’m not a professional speaker by any stretch of the imagination, but I do tend to make it to a non-negligible number of conferences each year, where I get up on stage for 45 minutes to an hour at a time and try to help people.
Lately, I’ve been trying to pay more attention to newer conference speakers, and trying to offer what little advice I feel qualified enough to give. This post aims to sum up some of the more common points.
Last week, my wife, daughter, in-laws, and I took a week long vacation to the west coast of Michigan. Bookended by two weekends in Grand Rapids (the second of which was centered around WordCamp Grand Rapids), we rented a cottage in Spring Lake, just outside Grand Haven, MI.
The trip started off well enough (I should mention that my in-laws and I get along well, and my father-in-law joined me a couple of years ago on my walk across Columbus), but things got rough once we arrived at the cottage. No, it wasn’t family drama, nor was the toddler to blame (though her “terrible twos” aren’t helping) — the coffee pot in the cottage was on its last leg.
The first morning, the coffee was…okay. I had brought some beans from Upper Cup Coffee (one of my hometown favorites), but the coffee pot had obviously not been well-maintained. The coffee maker itself took about 30min to brew a 12 cup pot (which is way too damn long!), and when we tried to make a second pot the coffee maker decided it’d had enough: the heating element stopped working, and no heat means no hot coffee (and a severe lack of cognitive function on my part).
A WordPress plugin I’ve been working on recently needed to be able to accept configuration in a few different ways: users should be able to define a constant in the
wp-config.php file or fill out a form within a settings screen. If the constant is defined, the setting screen should be aware of that and hide the setting, since the constant should take precedence.
This is a pretty common pattern in WordPress plugins, but it can get rather tricky to test; by design, once a constant is defined in PHP, you shouldn’t be able to change its value. PHPUnit has ways to work around this by running tests that define constants in separate processes, but this can seriously impact the performance of your test suite. Furthermore, the WordPress core test suite is pretty tightly coupled, so it doesn’t like when tests are run separately.
Way back in 2009, PHP 5.3 was released to the world and with it brought support for PHP namespaces — a way of easily separating your code from other developers’ code, which has since become the de facto way of encapsulating functionality across the PHP ecosystem.
With namespaces, multiple packages could use the same class and function names without conflict, because each one would operate in their own PHP namespaces. Unfortunately, many PHP developers who focus on WordPress development may be in the dark on this extremely useful language feature.
This morning, I was scrolling through Twitter as I tried to wake up (as I do most every morning), when I came across a tweet from the wonderful Carrie Dils asking how to customize the WordPress TinyMCE block formats.
“That’s funny,” I thought to myself, “I used to do those customizations on client sites all the time. In fact, some of those customizations are even in my (now-abandoned) WordPress Starter Theme repo on GitHub!”
I was able to throw together a quick gist to demonstrate how to pull off a
<code> block format, but doing so reminded me how much of a struggle it was to figure that all out to begin with. In the interest of helping everyone else configure TinyMCE, here’s a quick breakdown
Last week, I found myself with two consecutive nights where my wife was busy with client work, so I found myself with some time after we put the toddler to bed. I had also had a stressful few weeks at work, where the things I was supposed to be working on kept getting de-prioritized so I could jump in and help other members of my team. Of course, ever-shifting priorities is nothing new for me (considering all but the last year and a half of my career has been in professional services), but it can still get frustrating when you just want to ship something.
A big part of what I do on a day-to-day basis is centered around WordPress. I work on the product team behind Liquid Web’s Managed WordPress and WooCommerce hosting platforms, and even when I’m writing Laravel applications they’re ultimately designed to support WordPress.
The more you work with WordPress, the more you see the same patterns repeating themselves. Registering scripts and styles, nonce verification, and custom meta boxes are things I can do in my sleep. Dig into third-party code and see yet another written using a Singleton pattern. Maybe the plugin author would appreciate if you refactored it to use namespaces, but of course there are no tests.
Sometimes you need a break, to just dig into something small enough that you can knock it out in a night or two but useful enough that you’re not coding for the sake of coding. That’s what I’ve done with two new micro-libraries: WP Cache Remember and One-Time Callbacks.
If you haven’t heard, Liquid Web is now the first company offering Managed WooCommerce hosting, which is a huge step forward in the world of WordPress-oriented e-commerce. As a result, I’ve been spending a lot of time over the last few weeks working on WooCommerce extensions that help improve the experience and performance of WooCommerce.
One of the main WooCommerce extensions I’ve been working on is WooCommerce Custom Orders Table, which takes the WooCommerce 3.x CRUD concept to its next logical point: storing order data in a custom, flat table instead of scattered throughout post meta. Mindsize worked with other members of my team at Liquid Web to build the initial version of the plugin, then I came in to fix a few bugs.
Last year, I decided to put some money towards upgrading to a Roland TD1-KV electric drumset, the entry model to their “VDrum” line. I had outgrown my old Simmons SD Xpress II kit (a Black Friday deal from a few years ago) and was excited to get something closer to “real” drums without the volume of an acoustic kit. I was also dealing with a cracked hi-hat on the old, discontinued kit, so I figured it was time.
The drums are fantastic, but after a few sessions, one thing kept bugging me: the hi-hat — a Roland CY-5 cymbal — kept spinning as I played. Nearly half the cymbal is covered in a rubberized pad, which helps mute the sound, provides a better response, and protects the plastic underneath. When I have to adjust the cymbal half-way through a song, that doesn’t make for the best playing experience.
If you’ve used a Mac in the last decade or so, you’ve likely been prompted to configure Time Machine, macOS’ built-in automated backup solution; simply connect your backup disk (or use certain network attached storage devices) and Time Machine will automatically make incremental backups of your machine. In the event that your computer’s lost/stolen, its hard drive is corrupted, or you simply deleted that super important file, Time Machine makes it easy to restore your computer’s previously healthy state.
Where Time Machine is less convenient is in the case of developers: modern development practices often rely on dependency management tools (e.g. Composer, npm, etc.) to pull in third-party dependencies. Instead of including full copies of external libraries, developers can say “my application relies on package N at version X.Y.Z”, and the dependency manager can download the necessary code as a build step. This is great for keeping third-party assets both versioned and out of version control, but for the developer working on multiple projects it poses a bit of a problem: you end up with a ton of project dependencies on your machine!
In a perfect world, every piece of software would have automated tests. As soon as we change a line, we as developers would know what, if anything, broke in our application and where we need to look to fix it. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world, so we get by doing what we can.
Still, we can look to our image of the perfect world and draw from it, molding and shaping what we do have to closer resemble what we’ve been longing for.