First Meetup - WordPress Naperville

Mar 21, 2017

Tonight’s experience brings me out to my first gathering. The group, WordPress Naperville, has been together since January of 2013, gathering enthusiasts and professionals alike to talk about what they’ve built, share WordPress tips, and learn from one another. Their experience ranges from web design and development, to SEO, graphic design, email marketing and includes industries from NGOs, security, photography and more.

Topics covered appeal to both the beginner and advanced user, changing month to month to ensure the broader base is covered and provied options as their experience grows, and new members settle in. My starting experience with the group puts me in a series of workshops where they guide members on how to build a WordPress site from scratch. I come in at step 3, ‘Front-End Theme Building.’ The group has already gone through steps 1 and 2 (Planning and Design), and the attendees seem to be ready for more. The group, a solid 25 or so, begins with introductions. Folks of varying backgrounds seem eager to get started. There’s a WordPress developer for a major media outlet, a person who has just started their small business focused on WordPress installations, updates and migrations, a brother/sister duo keen on updating their skillsets, an owner of a local small business looking for tips to get his website off the ground, hobbyists that love tinkering, the token “my site is 60 days out” guy, and me, the guy who’s just looking to network at this point and absorb all the information and inspiration he can get.

We start out easy with a brief introduction to the concepts of ‘Frontend’ vs. ‘Backend’ development. As this session is all about Themes – how to choose them, migrate from one to another, add your own flair, etc. – so we’ll be sticking to the frontend. A WordPress theme controls all aspect of design: colors, fonts, layout and responsiveness, post types, meta tags and widgets. But attendees also get a lesson on what themes shouldn’t do, like control of site functionality, which should reside within its plug-ins. One thing that seems to resonate with the crowd, however, is the aspect of premium themes and the subsequent need for a developer.

Often times, the presenter notes, a client will bring her a WordPress site and beautifully complex theme with plenty of content and make her aware that this should work, but it doesn’t do everything the client wants. Many people, my WordPress newbie self included, figure you pay for a theme and you get all the customization support needed. On the contrary, a premium theme will likely only get you theme related support to get the functionality working as intended and nothing more. You get the design, the chance to talk to someone to get it working, and a good luck. This is where the bevy of WordPress developers (frontend designers and backend data gurus) come into play. Throughout the conversation, attendees pepper in anecdotes of their own run-ins with themes and developers, and a collective nod is typically shared during and after each one. As a budding web developer, this makes me a bit more confident in my path.

My ideal situation has me as a digital nomad – a freelancer picking up jobs I find both interesting and rewarding (either monetarily or intellectually; ideally both). Hearing the small group discuss, among their varied experience and backgrounds, the amount of times they have had to call upon hired help for their projects gives me a jolt of reassurance I was beginning to worry about. As web development has grown over the last few years, so has its prospect base. With so many lures, the industry is bound to find plenty of fish to snap on the bait of promised challenges and work-life balance. Listening to the challenges set forth and solutionised provides a foundation to work with. Where there is a project to work on, a foundation to build, a method to tinker with, there will always be work. It will be up to us to carve out our desired nooks within the plentiful ecosystems that arise from the firestorm of digital creation we’re experiencing.

The meeting is brought to a close with another developer, a former freelancer turned WordPress guru turned frontend designer/developer. Her presentation is a live demo of making changes within WordPress, and the various uses of tools and plug-ins available for the platform. There is far too much information shared here for me to type about, as I was more engrossed with understanding the method of planning and tinkering to see how I could relate them to my experiences thus far. I was also trying, not very successfully, to translate in real time the PHP within some of the code. Strinkingly similar to the bits of Javascript I’ve been exposed to thus far during my Bloc curriculum, my eyes dart back and forth from screen to screen as I watch the magic unfold.

Inspired, and brain-drained from all of the new methodology, I begin to make my way out of the room. The man I sat next to, one of the proverbial “my site will launch in 60 days” stereotypes the meetup is known for, begins to chat me up about the presentations that we just watched. Lots of info; complicated stuff; I have a lot to learn, etc. He’s been interested in launching his own site for some time now and has been running into road blocks with his former platform. The site seems basic enough. I provide him with some ideas and pointers for how to get started, but he seems to be a bit abraisive at the thoughts, stating he’s tried to no avail some of the suggestions I put forth. He then casually mentions how he may need to just hire someone to take care of it for him. I smile and nod, agreeing with his assessment, and make my way out of the room (it’s 9PM, I’m kinda hungry too…).

Arriving at home, my girlfriend asks me how it goes. I describe in similar detail to the above post how the past 3 hours went. How I was nervous, then relaxed, then engaged, then inspired, then tired, but how wonderful it all felt to be among people with similar passions, and people to learn from. As I wrap up my description of the man at the end, she asks me plainly, “Did you say that you’ll do it for him?”


It didn’t even occur to me that I should, or even that I could. “This is what you’ll be doing for the near term of your life. Make some business cards, keep them on you if you think what he said would have been easy. You could have had your first client there.” How right she was… Time to order those cards less I miss another opportunity.