What You Can Learn from @LoopConf, the WordPress Developers Conference

What is LoopConf?

LoopConf was the first ever WordPress developer conference held May 6-8, 2015, in Henderson, Nevada, at the beautiful Westin Lake Las Vegas. The hotel sits on a picturesque lake with palm trees, swimming pools, a small beach, kayaks, and cozy fires at night. A true oasis and retreat in the middle of the desert.

LoopConf, WordPress Developers Conference, Westin, Henderson Nevada, May 2015

This is a LoopConf digest for aspiring developers, non-developers, and anyone else who uses WordPress to build sites for others.

Official website: https://loopconf.io/

WP Engine WordCamp t-shirt

Click photo to see full model of Dan Beil
(@add_action_dan) sporting this WP Engine collector's t-shirt.

Instead of targeting the overall WordPress community, LoopConf catered just to developers, ran on a much larger scale than any other event, and went deep under the hood of WordPress development.

As a front-end coder and designer, I was not the target market. However, I wanted to go to a conference that was slightly above (and in some cases way over) my head, so I could get a greater sense of the business use of WordPress and possibilities I had never considered. I was quite surprised by the many off-label uses for WordPress, such as using only meta data (no pages or posts) to create an interface for trade show booth attendees. Cool!

I learned something from all the sessions—even the ones I barely understood. And I learned just as much in interactions with fellow attendees between sessions. I met several amazing women who do cool stuff with code and who encouraged me to learn more and do more, such as learn Sass (which I’ve come to understand is the gateway drug for designers who want to code  — yeah, what happens in Vegas maybe should stay in Vegas).

Below are highlights from the sessions I found to be most accessible to a wide-range of WordPress professionals and users. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

1 – WordPress Unleashed

For the first workshop day, I learned how the new WordPress API (application programming interface) can be used to build mobile apps and other single-page application interfaces.

How does this work? Put in very simple terms, the API separates your content from the WordPress application allowing developers to use this data in anyway they want. WordPress then is no longer involved with displaying content to users. Instead, a completely custom app (on a phone or other device) displays the content. Cool!

What does this mean for the fledgling developer? A whole lot of possibility. If you want to learn Javascript and start building apps for a living, you can use WordPress to drive your content. This would be great for magazine apps, private networks (like your own private Facebook-style social platform using BuddyPress), user registration interfaces, e-commerce, photo sharing, and more!

WordPress API & App Resources

  • WordPress plugin to see your data in JSON: https://wordpress.org/plugins/json-rest-api/
  • ionicframework.com — An incredible framework for building mobile apps that uses Angular JS (a pain in the butt at first, but fast). It’s limited, can’t use Gravity Forms, and can’t access meta data in posts without authentication, but this will change as the API is developed.
  • reactor.apppressor.com – A service that overcomes some of the API challenges allowing more novice developers to rapidly build apps. It can be used with BuddyPress, WooCommerce, and Gravity Forms. Check it out! @scottbolinger

Building Javascript Apps with the WordPress JSON API by Jake Spurlock with Wired Magazine @whyisjake

Watch this smart and witty video, and you’ll learn something you didn’t know about the industry. His presentation also spans the next topic of empathy in development.

The conventional seams between the disciplines are fraying, and the set of skills necessary to succeed are broader and more nebulous than they’ve been before. These days, you’ve gotta be a real polymath to get ahead; you’ve got to be a full-stack employee.

You can’t even be a developer anymore. You have to be an employee…you can’t just write code. But you also have to go to business strategy meetings. You have to be able to talk about high-level SEO discussions. You can’t just say, ‘I’m going to sit in the dark and write code because that’s what I like to do in my underwear.’ You have to be responsible and stuff. ~ Jake Spurlock

2 – Empathy in WordPress Development

Showing empathy for site visitors, end users of your application, other developers who may use your code, and beginner developers was mentioned in several different talks during the conference. Having empathy isn’t typically associated with software development, and it can be hard for people who are developers to truly grasp. I understand empathy as I teach other people how to build or use their WordPress websites. I have to put myself in the shoes of my students and try to remember that I forget what I know that others may not.

Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you known nothing about. Be kind. Always. ~ Wendy Mass, The Candymakers

Throughout LoopConf the mission of democratizing publishing on the Web along with design for the majority was repeated many times.

Tips for empathetic coding:

1 – Empathetic code should be readable (using naming conventions, comments, and spacing), reusable, and backwards compatible.

2  – Products should be accessible for people with disabilities as well as others, such as older people, people in rural areas with slow Internet access, and people in developing countries who may primarily use their phones to access websites or sit in hot, sweaty, public Internet cafes on a 1-2kbps connection.

3 – Code should be internationalized. There are more Spanish speakers in the world than English speakers. WordPress is used by a global audience, the open source community is diverse, and we need to reflect that in our sites.

4 – Developers are leaders in their fields and should provide good coding examples. When posting code publicly, it may be copied and used repeatedly by people who don’t know how it works.


Empathy in Web Development for the 80 Percent by Steven Word @stevenkword

This talk is a must listen. It’s super inspiring no matter your skill level.

People may use your code in ways you yet know nothing about.

Empathic code should be easy for someone who has never touched it to jump in and get started. It’s easy to forget what you know. The person straight out of college is not less smart, but is less experienced. Your code needs to be friendly.


A Commitment to Backwards Compatibility by Pippin Williamson @pippinsplugins

This was a very fun and interesting presentation on what it means to be backward compatible and not break things in new versions. The talk will help validate the times when you’ve updated a plugin and had everything break because the developer fundamentally changed stuff between versions, such as functions, filenames, and HTML.

Make a commitment to backward compatibility. Once you know what that problem is, the syntax is easy. If you know someone who is very determined… they say they will figure out a way to do it.

Templates files: you better marry them because they will be there forever!


Building a Responsive Web by Corey Ellis @zzramesses

This  refers to mobile responsiveness, but also responsiveness in the bigger sense of the word, such as being truly responsive to the different types of people visiting your site with disabilities or from developing countries.

20 percent of the people of the world have some mental or physical impairment that makes what we do on the web challenging for them. But, we spend so much time on the less than 1 percent of users that are on IE 8.

3 – Get yourself out there!

In several presentations, high level developers evangelized overcoming imposter syndrome and getting yourself out there. All of these talks are inspiring for all levels of users and even business owners in general. I highly recommend listening to all of them, even if you don’t use WordPress. They’re that awesome!


Perfection is a Curse by Syed Balkhi @SyedBalkhi

Syed talks about how to set reasonable timelines and goals, and build a minimum viable product and launch with a base set of features. He advocates for Master Mind groups and other forms of accountability to get you to follow through with your goals.

I don’t entirely agree with Syed’s less-than-perfect approach. However, I do think he has good points about creating goals that are measurable and can be accomplished reasonably, so you can get yourself out there. It did inspire me to get over some of my perfection seeking. I probably would have never become a WordPress instructor or even started this blog if it weren’t for friends who encouraged me to just do it.

When was the last time you woke up and said to yourself, ‘Today, I’m going to produce something half-assed.’

Done is better than perfect.

You cannot GROW if you don’t EXIST!


You are not your code, how to share your work without fear by Rachel Carden @bamadesigner

I want to listen to this talk every day! Rachel is big sister, mentor, life coach, and BFF all in one. I’m so happy I got to see her in person. She’s definitely going on my Women in WordPress list.

Imposter Syndrome: feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy, that you do not deserve any access you achieve, feeling like you are a fraud and will be ‘found out.’

Rachel says people dealing with imposter syndrome need to:

Be Honest with yourself and stand up for your self against yourself. The worst thing for people dealing with imposter syndrome is that they can’t get out of their heads…embrace these anxieties and fears and don’t let them control you. Call yourself out.

You are valuable, and you are unique. And we all have individual insight and experience, and know how and the way we look at things, and the way we think about things. We all can bring these different things to the table. Stand up for that, and be proud of what you do.

4 – Test and Secure Your Code

Many talks were focused on developing efficiently, testing and securing your code, and evaluating site performance. Although these talks were pretty technically deep, there were many presented at a high enough level that novice developers could gain much wisdom and insight.


Impact Analysis Made Easy by Chris Lema @chrislema

This presentation explains how to say no to a client by having clarity about how change will impact the entire project. While Chris is talking about a pretty large scale project, the impacts of change effect all of us. The main takeaway is that a change order from a client is not about money, it’s about risk management and just how very wrong things can go if you allow change. Chris has some great tips on how developers can create acceptance tests that work: Check out: http://codeception.com/quickstart


Performance Guide Rail by Ilya Grigorik @igrigorik

Ilya’s talk was definitely a brain teaser along the lines of RadioLab. He talked about how to optimize for perceived performance rather than actual performance. He helps developers of all levels understand what you should focus on when there is an overwhelming number of metrics to consider.

There are too many metrics, and the question becomes ‘What do you care about?’ When there are so many things to care about, nothing is important. If I claim that everything is important, you have no idea what to focus on.


Securing Your Code: WordPress Security for Developers by Chris Wiegman @ChrisWiegman

While this presentation is for developers, it addresses the top 10 Web application security risks that novice WordPress developers need to know about. They are both simple and straight forward, yet easy to forget and not know to do.

Anyone aspiring to dabble in PHP or curious about how easy it is to go wrong with security will find this presentation fascinating.

Don’t assume the function you’re using is handling security for you.


Anatomy of a Critical Security Bug by Andy Nacin @nacin

If you use WordPress or build sites for clients, you are probably well aware of the various security vulnerabilities that have been drawing FBI warnings and an alarming number of hacks of WordPress sites. Andy walks us through the underbelly of a huge vulnerability and how security has to be balanced with usability to prevent things from breaking in a very very bad way.

About the 4.2 security release rolled out in the wp-db.php file:

When we were doing this, we told everyone it was for emoji. Surprise! Which means the code for the security release was actually in trunk for awhile—since January before we released this a few weeks ago. No one had any idea what it did because it was like a thousand lines of the database abstraction layer to just remove invalid characters…so we snuck this in under the guise of emoji. So emoji is important in 4.2? All a ruse. It exists. It’s in WordPress 4.2. But it was entirely for security. We spent an entire year of this for security.

5 – Learning, growing, and contributing


The Economics of Open Source by John O’Nolan @JohnONolan

Watching this video will give you warm fuzzy feelings about the WordPress community and how you can both give back and benefit from the open source ecosystem. He says contributing to WordPress core helped him be a success.

Every person, developer, business, should be trying to give back about 5 percent of their resources to the WordPress core.


Getting Better at WordPress by Getting to Know WordPress: by Helen Hou-Sandí @helenhousandi

Helen talks about information literacy and pitfalls of copypasta canon (copying and pasting code from others like the WordPress codex). If you want to get under the hood of WordPress, Helen provides a nice introduction to encourage you to take a peak. Another woman to add to the Women in WordPress list.

I feel like I should get this printed on pillows and hand them out: ‘Get Curious. Stay Curious.


Making the Case for Learning Driven Development in WordPress by Naomi C. Bush @NaomiCBush

Frosted flakes, orange juice, and learning to love the journey as you learn to develop in WordPress. Naomi’s talk is dynamic and inspirational. Be prepared to get fired up.

Say it with me:

LOVE THE JOURNEY

Bacon Ipsum
With the creator of Bacon Ipsum, Pete Nelson, at the LoopConf After Party

Watch All LoopConf Videos on YouTube

You can watch all the LoopConf sessions on YouTube (see link below). But, if you attend in person next year, you’ll get cool free stuff, like a selfie stick, a portable phone charger, and a blue Nalgene bottle. Not to mention that you’ll have a chance to meet amazing WordPress developers, plugin creators, core gurus, and more. I got to meet the man behind Bacon Ipsum (@GunGeekATX). How cool is that?
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCAwOVsWiMdlz6snWRF2HdSQ

Angela Bowman

Front-end WordPress developer since 2007 building highly custom websites for nonprofits and small businesses. Experienced in nonprofit administration, grant writing, and technical writing. Love high altitude hiking and backyard chickens.

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