One of the biggest problems I have with WordPress is one of visualization and the amount of opportunity it provides. Repeatedly, I have people come to me and present me with web development problems and ideas and every time, in my head, I balance the problems against my total knowledge of WordPress and usually, within 30 minutes or less I can visualize the solution using WordPress. I don’t want to come across as some sort of WordPress fanboy, but the truth is that I’m continuously impressed and even amazed at how flexible a product WordPress is and how it can be used for so many applications.
Let me give you an example, this week I’m heading over to the headquarters of an well-known international organization (it is so big and important that I’m sure you know of it and at this very moment could find it in the news.) I’ve been hired to do a small job for them. The job is only worth a couple hundred dollars, but for me, the value it adds to my portfolio as a developer is immense since I’ll forevermore be able to say this organization was my client. First, I’ll tell you a little about the job, about what it means to me and how it all relates to pushing the limits of WordPress.
Just a little tweak for a big presentation
The job is a simple one, at least for a WordPress developer. The organization has started using WordPress to power an internal newsletter website to make announcements and share information to staff across the headquarters campus. The front page of the site has an image slider and the rest of the page just looks like a blog/news site. In the main lobby of the HQ building, they have the site displayed on a large TV monitor for staff to see as they come and go. It exposes the staff to an automatically sliding presentation of news to keep them informed and which they can look up later on their workstation. This is an excellent implementation of internal communications; however, because the TV monitor is displaying the entire website homepage, it actually looks pretty bad.
I’m being hired to modify the website so that the automated presentation is clean and professional. Remember, this is a world-class organization, this stuff needs to look good. Without knowing who the client was, I was contacted by a member of the organization through a freelancer’s website. Based on the way they wrote the job posting, they had some preconceived notions about how the job should be done. Their solution was about hacking and reprogramming some of the site’s theme files, which could get complicated. After some back and forth I was sent a photo of the TV monitor and a better description of what they wanted. There was enough information in the photo for me to understand who I was dealing with. More importantly, in reviewing the image and the job, I realized that hacking the theme files was going to be the worst and least efficient solution to this. Their website is a working one that staff view on their workstations every day. Hacking the home page to change the display for a single application possibly meant messing up that user experience, it also meant an overly complex solution to a simple problem.
Using a WordPress solution
That night, not long after receiving the photograph, I spun up a new WordPress installation, added the theme they were using and went to work. In short order, I had a solution and it was a WordPress solution. The display was ready to be installed on their internal website and they responded quickly to my demonstration. It doesn’t interfere with the day-to-day use of the site and it not only rotates through the posts automatically, it also refreshes periodically on its own to ensure the latest posts are being displayed.
The solution was visualized before I even began and then validated through easy testing and implementation. I used a premium plugin to do the heavy lifting, added two smaller ones that I combined together into one along with some custom code, which I felt made it elegant. I didn’t want to hack the theme files because the issue here is one of functionality, not aggregate presentation. Hacking the theme files would have taken a lot longer and made the job larger and more complicated. And that, is why we use WordPress. We use WordPress because, when you can see WordPress beyond the single piece of software that it is, and can visualize it through the lens of experience, knowledge and the vast array of supporting software, you realize that solutions are often easy, fast and flexible.
The problem with visualization
Here is where I have my little problem, though you’ll see that it really isn’t a problem (I just call it that), but a fun mix of WordPress experience and knowledge combined with my own ambition. That organization has another longer-term job contract available. A big one. Enterprise level. I plan on sending in my bid for it. I want it, somewhat badly.
They have a website they want rebuilt from the ground up. It is a site that is primarily used internally, but in this case globally. It has a registration wall. I’ve looked at it and it is in bad shape. It’s a poor example and presentation of what this organization represents. It is really horrible. It uses an old Content Management System and looks like it was the website that they just forgot about.
This is where that problem that I have comes in. I’ve examined the site, I’ve looked at the source code, and because of that visualization problem, I’ve already seen the solution. This is where I risk sounding like a fanboy. Since I know what WordPress can do, regardless of what type of content they use behind the registration wall, I know that I have the knowledge, skills and abilities to wrangle WordPress into handling it. Even with my rudimentary knowledge of the goings-on at the organization (I know many people who work there) and my unique background from years past, I can guess the type of content presented there, and none of it would ever make WordPress break a sweat. Even here at this world-class enterprise level.
In my head, I’ve already seen various options of design and layout, development issues, hosting concerns, security and hardening, user experience and an understanding of the possible types of content that will need support and management. That is the trouble with visualization. When you do it and can see not only a possible end solution, but also parts of the path needed to get there, it does something to you. It ignites the fire of ambition and the need to create and make it happen. It burns even more when the client is one like this, not only because the pay is magnificent, but because it gives you a sense of scale about yourself and puts in a position to be part of something much, much bigger than you while taking on an obscure, but important, role for that organization.
The bidding is sealed envelope and they, like other organizations of their type, will give the contract to the lowest bidder who can meet the technical specs of the job. They haven’t published the official bid request, just the initial announcement. The contracting officer will be sending me the whole packet later this month. I’m looking forward to getting the packet and preparing my bid. I have no idea who the actual competition is going to be, but I know of several agencies in my area that I’m sure will bid. The contracting officer seemed completely non-plussed that I’m an independent freelancer. I hope that it doesn’t matter.
I’ve never done anything like this before, but it feels like it is coming at the right time, from the right place. My development skills have advanced tremendously over the last couple years and I want to take on a complex project like this, I want something big and difficult.
So, here I am, soliciting help and advice for bidding on big, enterprise-level jobs. If anyone has ever felt that ambition and desire, tell me about it, tell me about your experience, I’d love to hear it.