From Scratch

Apr 18, 2017

We build WordPress sites.  Lots of ’em.  Nearly every time we engage a new client we are asked the question of whether or not we use off-the-shelf software to build our sites.  That could reference using third-party plugins or free or premium off-the-shelf WordPress themes.  And while, in a lot of circles, the term “off-the-shelf” has become akin to cut-and-paste coding or plagiarizing content, the answer is, well, kind of.  In today’s technologically-driven world, we are no longer wandering down hardly recognizable paths in the woods, looking for outlets from problems or new routes to brighter tomorrows.  The roads have been trodden and paved and widened and plastered with billboards and road signs and neon lights and all too many distractions.  Conversely to our predecessors, these days developers spend their time charting their way through the mess we have given ourselves, rather than forging new paths.

What I’m trying to say is that it’s difficult these days to find a client who makes a request that isn’t at least vaguely similar to something I’ve either built before or something I’ve seen done.  And that’s not to say that all websites are carbon copies of one another; far from it.  It’s more to say that working formulas have been poured over for long enough that winning combinations have emerged and are recognizable to our user base, and that in and of itself has become highly desirable.

Key Ingredients

Let’s look at an example to help out here.  Something that comes up quite often is an events calendar.  Clients often have a need to show off what is going on in their corner of the world.  How that calendar works and how users are allowed to interact with it tend to change from client to client, but the calendar itself remains the same.  Could I build a standalone calendar to support a single client, or even one that could support all of our clients?  Sure, I’ve got spare time.  But it seems a heck of a lot easier to leverage something else that another developer, or in this case, team of developers, have spent years engineering.  So we use an off-the-shelf solution to handle our clients’ events.  The common misconception of going down this road is that we are now pigeonholed into this one calendar and can never stray nor grow if needed.  Remember those billboards and distractions?  Well, they’re on this road too.  The most important thing in leveraging third-party software is vetting to be sure of a few very important things.

1) Support: Is it currently being used in the wild and being supported, or is this something that was written 4 years ago and since forgotten?

2) Scalability: Does the software allow for external growth? Meaning can you build upon it without actually altering the pre-existing code?

3) Stability: Does it work by itself and can it work within our current ecosystem?

4) Security: Where are the potential holes and how were previous breaches handled (if any) in the past?

Being Agile

There are many important things to our clients when it comes to building them a brand new website, but chief among them are quality and cost.  As we all know, it’s hard to have both a superior quality and a low cost.  For Stout Heart to get close to that model, we need be able to work quickly and confidently.  Third party software allows us to do this.  We vet all the plugins and libraries we install vigorously so that they not only work for our clients but so that they can continue to work for them in the future.  And while we employ the use of child and parent theming, the parent comes from a homegrown, proprietary infrastructure that took years to fully develop and is constantly being tweaked and improved.

I often liken the system to baking. We may not have foraged for the berries or harvested the ingredients from anywhere other than our local grocery store, but still, everything we bake is from scratch.  We’re picky when it comes to the ingredients and we’re damn sure about the process before anything goes into the oven.  And *ahem* it’s a good recipe.  😉  Using WordPress already gives us access to hundreds of thousands of libraries, plugins and add-ons, and our custom core provides a solid foundation for each and every site we build.