A few years ago, I made a big life altering decision to move back from Ruby on Rails development to WordPress development. The first real programming language I learned was PHP. I started with WordPress back in 2005 but shortly after that I abandoned it for Ruby on Rails. It was popular and not a lot of people were using it just yet. So I thought it would be a great community to get involved with and one that I would stay in for years. I actually had a job in DC at a big university doing Ruby on Rails work, but as you would know it, life got in the way and made me return back to Michigan where I was born.
The Ruby on Rails Years
During the few years I was doing Ruby on Rails work, I saw a couple of things. The biggest one is that every project whether it was something I was doing for my day job or any freelance work I picked up required you to pretty much start from scratch. This meant that I had to build a login system, an user management system, and on and on. This wasn’t too big of a deal because some project had different requirements like user accounts had to work with a LDAP server, or some other system. There was the possibility of using code between projects in some cases, but not all. This meant that I had to build reusable libraries or find open source ones that I could utilize. Again, this wasn’t a big deal. As the Rails community was still new, there was a lot of people doing the same thing, so everyone contributed to some of the same projects/libraries and this provided everyone in the community a way to develop faster. As life happened and forced me to move back to Michigan, I found a job I wasn’t necessarily happy with, but took because I knew of the economy outlook in Michigan, so I was grateful just to find something in the software development field.
While working my day job, I started a freelance web design/development company. I tried to have it focus with small businesses and wanted to keep doing Ruby on Rails development. It turned out that no one in Michigan really wanted to pay the price and time that it took build a Ruby on Rails app with 1 developer. Sure some rails developers will say that you could use one of the many open source CMS projects out there, and yes, I did. I used RadiantCMS. But that only got me about half way there. I still needed a good reliable host, some custom code so that RadiantCMS would work for the client, and then design it. Needless to say everything that I needed to do and charge for, I couldn’t get clients.
The Breaking Point
It was around this time that I decided I needed to find something that was closer to being done. I had a couple of requirements. It needed to be open-source. It needed to be something that could be customized for each client. And it needed to be something that I was familiar with or could get familiar with. I decided to look at three open-source projects, WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla. I had used all three in previous projects and was using WordPress for my blogging platform of choice. Each project had it’s differences and were all good choices, but in the end I went with WordPress. I was already used to how plugins and themes worked, or at least had a general idea of how they worked since I was using it as a blog platform. I had also worked with it before previously and so I didn’t have a big problem getting back into it.
Quality vs quantity
WordPress is a great tool not only to put your blog on but you can put your small business web presence on. It enables you to do everything I was trying to achieve with RadiantCMS but at half the price. I can not only find hosts that work with WordPress very well, but they were more cost effective for people that were wanting a couple site on the same account. It was also easier for the clients to semi-manage, whereas Rails apps pretty much required maintenance contracts.
WordPress was working out great. I was able to still use projects (plugins) the were open-source, I could create my own projects if need be, and I could easily build reusable code. I didn’t have to worry about building in security into the app/website, it was already built in to WordPress.
WordPress has endless options and so at the end of the day I felt more comfortable giving my clients a site designed and developed on top of WordPress, then I did with RadiantCMS. It wasn’t because I knew I would have job security or that I would constantly have work from clients because I had they had a site built on Rails. I also felt better because the WordPress development community was bigger than the Rails community, so I could hire freelancers for projects when I needed the extra help a little easier than I could with someone from the Rails community.
I also felt that people from the Rails community were a little snobbish (not everyone, but some freelancers I tried working with). They always had higher hourly rates and had too many demands. At the end of the day, that was cutting into my bottom line. Remember that I am gearing my freelance business towards small businesses in Michigan, that don’t have thousands and thousands of dollars to spend on a website and hosting. The WordPress community on the other hand was much larger (it’s a pretty popular piece of software) and so I had the ability to pick and choose the freelancers I worked with. It also meant that because there were so many of them, I could also get a cheaper hourly work (quality of the work was the same) and that meant that my bottom line wasn’t cut into as much.
Where does it end?
This is where my story ends for now. I have been working with WordPress non-stop since the middle of 2009 and can say that without a doubt it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made. I’ve been able to make a living off of WordPress. Not only do I do custom design and development, but I also work for an amazing theme company, Headway Themes. I can say for the first time in my life that I’m completely happy with what I’m doing for a job. I’m making enough money to pay my bills and have a little financial freedom. I plan to continue this post in a part two where I will talk about how I came find Headway Themes, why I ended up picking that as a theme I was going to invest my time in, and how I started to work for Headway Themes. So stay tuned for another post this week.