DE{CODE} 2021 & An Interview with Our WordPress Experts

To celebrate and ramp up the excitement for DE{CODE} 2021, hosted on March 4th, we decided to interview some of our Americaneagle.com WordPress experts and learn about their experience with the platform! First and foremost, let’s dive into what DE{CODE} is and how the event can be beneficial to you.

About DE{CODE} 2021

DE{CODE} is WP Engine’s annual virtual developer-focused event, dedicated to helping developers build better WordPress experiences – but faster. Through this live-streamed event, DE{CODE} is set to feature 15 expert-led sessions on leveraging WordPress for easy setups, fast builds, smooth launches, and effortless maintenance. This is your chance to learn from peers, industry experts, and WordPress community leaders on strategically advancing at the new speed of digital while building better digital experiences. Americaneagle.com is a proud development partner of WordPress and sponsor of the 2021 conference.

If you’re interested in attending DE{CODE} 2021, here’s how you can register: click the link for free registration.

Interview with the Experts

Our WordPress experts were gracious enough to sit down with us and answer a few questions based on their WordPress experience and their thoughts on where the platform is heading. Continue reading below for the interview-style questionnaire.

Introduce Yourself!

Ellis LaMay, WordPress Operations Director I have been building websites since I was in the 6th grade, starting with plain old HTML, long before developers were doing cool things with JavaScript and CSS. One day, I discovered WordPress and from then on, I was hooked. So hooked, in fact, that I began building sites professionally. Today, I like to consider myself an expert. I am the Director of WordPress Operations and work with a team of account and project managers to plan, develop, and implement functionality for clients. My favorite part of the job is solving puzzles, in order to help clients accomplish their business goals.

Sean Blakeley, WordPress Technical Director I created my first website more than 20 years ago & discovered WordPress over a decade ago. For a number of years, I ran a small WordPress agency where I progressively moved further away from the pixel.

Currently, I oversee the WordPress Technical Team at Americaneagle.com helping to provide strategic steering to key enterprise partnerships and managing the technical output. I am responsible for introducing Agile practices into the team, as well as design architecture, data modeling, and technology adoption - often planning deep integrations with pre-existing architecture while managing multiple stakeholder goals with enterprise partners.

Why did you get into IT?

Ellis: Not intentionally. I’ve been tearing things apart and putting them back together again to figure out how they work since I was tall enough to steal tools off my dad’s workbench in the garage. It started with bicycles, small engines, and led to anything with moving parts. In grade school, I took a basic HTML course, and my fascination with how things work from that point onward went from a focus on things with physical components, to conceptual components.

In my private life, I would tinker with code building small websites for friends, family, the occasional small business. Day-to-day, however, I was a mechanic for many years. In my late 20’s I finally realized that what I’d been doing quietly as a hobby for many years was my real passion.

Sean:  I stumbled into IT by accident. I was always interested in creating things and solving problems. When I discovered the internet at university, like many people, I thought it was likely to be the most impactful event of my generation - our moon landing. 

This has definitely been the case. I might not always be happy with the direction the internet has taken, but I still think it is world-changing technology. 

Working with technology, my motivation remains exactly the same - solving problems and creating things to be proud of.

What are you most excited about at the DE{CODE} Conference?

Ellis:  I always enjoy hearing the big thematic perspective on the industry from well-respected guest speakers. Tech moves so fast that anyone who makes a career out of it positively has to be a self-learner and a knowledge seeker. So I enjoy the opportunity to hear talks given by some highly regarded people I look up to in the industry because even when the specific topic might not be something that impacts my day-to-day, they are wonderfully thoughtful people whose wisdom is valuable regardless of the topic.

Sean:  The expertise of our engineers is our product - it is what agencies sell. All the business and operational scaffolding are there to ensure the talent pool - the engineers - are able to achieve their work as efficiently as possible. 

By helping to nurture and grow our engineers, we create a virtuous circle - where the agency benefits from greater skills, the client benefits from better services and the engineer benefits from a wider skillset. 

DECODE has a wonderful balance of inspiration and education - from Jason Cohen’s (near) future-gazing session on Headless WordPress to Mike Little’s practical advice for WordPress Engineers. 

The very best conferences inspire us to experiment, challenge our assumptions and provide practical tips we can take back to our IDE’s - I don’t think this year's DECODE will disappoint :)

What draws you to WordPress?

Ellis: It’s accessible. Anyone in the world can download it and begin tinkering with it to see where their exploration leads them. And by virtue of its global accessibility, it is the ultimate free education. Hundreds of thousands of careers have begun and been accelerated by it merely because someone was able to get access to WordPress and begin feeding their technical curiosity. Right now, how many globally available free platforms/tools/systems can you think of that produce good in the world and have no ulterior motive other than to allow people to create?

Sean:  My journey with WordPress started in 2006 - I was trying to solve a problem: looking for easier ways to create websites and enable clients to make changes. For those who remember, this was a time when the majority of sites were static HTML - often with everybody's favorite little flourish - Flash :)

WordPress changed everything for me - it meant clients could make simple edits, whilst I could evolve a more standardized approach. No more handwritten HTML pages!

Over the years I have used WordPress to solve many, many problems - from ecommerce to social networks and the backend for native apps. On the odd occasion I have stepped away from WordPress I have normally regretted the decision - missing core functionality which WordPress makes simple for us.

In the last few years, I have been involved with the continuing evolution of WordPress in the tech stack of Enterprise companies - taking WordPress in another direction. I love the adherence of the WordPress Community to the Innovator's Dilemma - we challenge ourselves to strive and improve the software we love and rely on - the API and Gutenberg are wonderful examples of what we can achieve as a community.

What has been your biggest “aha” moment with WordPress in your career?

Ellis: When I first learned the power of custom post types and custom fields, I felt like I could build literally anything.

Sean:  I’m constantly learning and adapting my understanding of the ever changing technologies we work with. So far, I think there have been at least four seismic shifts within WordPress that were moments of sudden change: 

I’m also a regular speaker at Conferences – including London and Europe’s WordCamps & BrightonSEO.

  1. Custom Post Types changed WordPress forever - it kick-started the transition from blogging platform to true Content Management System - the impact was immense. 

  2. Creating the REST API within WordPress suddenly enabled WordPress to communicate with external services and integrate with frontend frameworks. WordPress was no longer a data blackbox - now, data could flow in and out from external services. The API & the liberation of WordPress data felt like a momentous achievement by Ryan McCue and the core team.

  3. Gutenberg - as it matures, it is incredible to look back and realize we stumbled along for so long with a mixture of shortcodes and ACF fields. Now, the block editor feels like being liberated from the shackles of our previous approaches - an incredible testimony to the core development team for driving through Gutenberg.

  4. Block Patterns - only introduced late last year (2020), we have already changed our approach to Design Systems and UI Components to adopt Block Patterns. We’d be experimenting with composite blocks for a while - Block Patterns feel like a perfect evolution for UI Components.

If I had to choose a single event - I think the implementation of Custom Post Types kick-started this whole journey - I think it has to be the one.

What makes WordPress special, and stand apart from other platforms?

Ellis: The people who support it and make it grow every day. Sitting behind a computer screen all day, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that WordPress is the result of thousands of people coming together to share their mutual passion, and keep it going. Other platforms work hard to find their niche and edge each other out in the tech economy. WordPress just created its own economy.

Sean:  So, so many things make WordPress unique and special - but if I had to choose one thing, it wouldn’t be about the technology at all - it’s about the people.

The WordPress Community is an extraordinarily generous, giving, thoughtful group of people - brought together by the shared goal of making WordPress better. 

To have a shared passion and belief with so many people - each with their own WordPress journey and stories - is an inspiring thing.

Be real – is there anything that drives you crazy about WordPress?

Ellis:  I don’t like the assumption many people make when they say that WordPress is “cheap” in regard to the effort of building a website. All too often I hear commentary about organizations wanting to build their site on WordPress because it’s cheaper than XYZ platform. Sure, license costs are a factor there, I get that. But in terms of the craftsmanship required to build a thoughtful and integral website – that comes from the ingenuity of human beings using WordPress as a tool – not from the platform itself.

Sean:  If I’m honest, it’s page builders. Adding proprietary software on top of WordPress - so your content is now locked into that specific tool - feels wrong on every level. A page builder might benefit 2-3 content creators - making their lives a little more intuitive and easy - but it is to the detriment of the rest of the 7.8 billion potential end-users. 

When you compare the performance of Gutenberg verse popular page builders, Gutenberg wins hands down. 

Staying close to core to benefit from future enhancements, keeping things simple, not introducing unnecessary dependencies and prioritizing the end user experience. 

Sticking to these principles I have never, ever found a reason to use page builders.

What do you want to accomplish with WordPress in the future at AE, and Personally?

Ellis:  I am eager to see what our teams does with headless implementations in the short and long term. I think that as new services become available that make headless more understandable and attainable for organizations, headless will eventually become the new standard. I want to see Americaneagle.com building cutting-edge headless applications that retain high levels of admin usability for people like marketers, and content creators.

Sean:  As an agency, AE is transitioning to Gutenberg. There’s a lot that sits behind that - as we help our engineers adopt modern JavaScript, React then Gutenberg. But beyond Gutenberg, we’re increasingly looking at headless WordPress and exploring integrations with other technologies.

For most of our bigger clients, WordPress is just one part of a larger digital estate - increasingly, I expect we’ll lean on headless, platform agnostic technologies like React - so WordPress is one of a collection of CMS and services.

In what ways has our WordPress practice changed that we did not forecast or expect?

Ellis: This is more a reflection of our customer base and how their expectations have caused our business to adapt, but I’ve noticed that many customers are becoming more aware of WordPress’ capabilities and true advantages. What’s great about this is that we are engaging in conversations with our customers in more precise and thoughtful ways rather than the historical conversation about it being “cheap.”

Sean:  Within 6 months, we have become an agile, Gutenberg-first development team. To be honest, I expected the transition to be more painful and challenging. It is a testament to the quality of our core engineering team and the passion for WordPress.

How are we going to keep growing our WP practice?

Ellis: Through experimentation, education, and enablement. My story at the beginning of this regarding being a mechanic is only one story amongst many here at Americaneagle.com and outside its walls. And the underlying skills, aptitudes, and fascinations of other people who encounter WordPress and experiment with it, is what keeps the innovation moving forward.

We’ve got an excellent team of people here that all come from different backgrounds, and that have different skills, not to mention hidden skills they might even know they have yet until an opportunity casts a spotlight on it. We’re going to focus on educating and challenging each other with different approaches and ideas, and ways of doing things. And above all, we’re going to keep the passion for creation burning bright.

Sean:  We will continue to focus on providing excellence services to our clients - exceeding their expectations and helping their businesses to attain greater success.

We focus on solving clients’ problems - taking their pain away. Sometimes we do it with technology, sometimes we do it with ideas. The key is that we share the goals of our clients - and work in partnership together to achieve greater success. 

Without being too reductive **spoiler alert** - everything else is incidental - this is how you achieve sustainable growth in an agency practice.

Americaneagle.com’s Unparalleled WordPress Expertise

As a Word Press partner for over three years, Americaneagle.com proudly invests in the most innovative technologies and digital services all while offering Word Press consulting and implementation services to clients of all industry and size ranges.

Americaneagle.com's experienced WordPress development and consulting teams will guide your organization with a roadmap to success, while utilizing all of the platform’s capabilities. We take a hands-on approach and are equipped to support your business throughout the entire website design and development process. We offering a full-cycle of customer support services including digital marketing, theme overhauling, custom plugin builds, headless development, and more!


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