February 4, 2016

Apply Filters
Episode 54: Carrie Dils on Genesis Theme Development

Welcome to today’s episode and we’d like to thank WPNinjas for supporting us all year and everything they’ve done to help us produce this podcast. We do have an open sponsorship available, check out the website for information on the opportunity.


Carrie Dills is our guest today.  Carrie is currently doing web development with Crowd Favorite by day and dabbling in a variety of things tech by nite. She has been working around computers her whole life, and began freelancing straight out of college. About five years ago was introduced to WordPress and that was the beginning of her present story. She is currently a team lead and software developer at Crowd Favorite.

In today’s episode we’ll will talk about:

  • The challenges of going from an independent contractor to working as part of an enterprise
  • Work/life balance
  • Carrie’s Utility Pro Theme
  • Office Hours FM Podcast
  • Courses offered by Carrie
  • On Genesis…

When Carrie’s being just Carrie she’ll head outdoors to bike or just take a walk. If she happens to land at a craft brewery in town, that would be okay too. A mystery-thriller is a great way to end her day.

You can visit her at carriedils.com or you can find her hanging out at Twitter @cdils.

Resources mentioned in this podcast:

If you’re enjoying the show we sure would appreciate a Review in iTunes.  Thanks!


INTRO: Welcome to Apply Filters, the podcast all about WordPress development. Now here’s your hosts, Pippin Williamson and Brad Touesnard.

PIPPIN: Hello, and welcome to Episode 54 of Apply Filters. This episode is sponsored by the WP Ninjas, the creators of Ninja Forms, Ninja Demo, and a few other plugins. They’ve been exceptionally gracious over the last year and sponsored countless episodes, so we want to thank them for all of the kindness that they’ve given us and help that they’ve provided to help us produce this podcast.

Today is the last episode, for a while, that they’ll be sponsoring, so we do have an open sponsorship. If you’re interested, go ahead and get in touch with us from the sponsorship page. But, again, a most sincere thanks to the WP Ninjas for everything they’ve done to help us produce this podcast.

All right, we’re going to go ahead and dive right in. Today, we have Carrie Dils with us. She is pretty well known throughout the WordPress community, so if you aren’t familiar with Carrie, you can find more information about her on her website and obviously today in this episode. Carrie, do you want to say hello?

CARRIE: Hey, Pippin. How’re you doing?

PIPPIN: I’m doing great. It’s awesome to have you on.

CARRIE: Thanks for having me.

PIPPIN: Well, Carrie, why don’t we go ahead and start by having you just give yourself a quick introduction, tell us briefly what you do, maybe where you work, and anything else you feel like throwing out.

CARRIE: Oh, sure thing. Let’s see. I’m based out of Texas. I am presently doing Web development for a company called Crowd Favorite. We do a lot of enterprise level WordPress projects as well as some other tech, so that’s my day job.

By night, I do lots of other things. I dabble in creating some of my own products and so forth. Anyways, CarrieDils.com is my website, but I’m usually always hanging out on Twitter @CDils if you want to say hello.

PIPPIN: Fantastic. Crowd Favorite is just a small, little, tiny company.

CARRIE: Just a little one.

PIPPIN: Just little. I want to cover a few things. I want to hear more about your work at Crowd Favorite. I want to hear about some of your side projects and some of the other things that you do. Let’s start by diving into a little bit of your back story, maybe how you got into Web development, WordPress, or anything that kind of led up to it. What’s your history?

CARRIE: I grew up around computers. My dad worked for a computer company, so always, from a very young age, I have been interested in computers and that sort of thing. Straight out of college, I began freelancing, just doing really simple, goofy websites and, like, front page, and stuff like that. That was, like, 20 years ago.

Obviously technology has changed, thankfully, since then. I guess it was about five years ago, a fellow I was working with turned me onto WordPress, and it’s been downhill, in a good way, ever since.

PIPPIN: Did you go to college for anything related to Web or computers?

CARRIE: No. I am of an era where they didn’t offer those courses at college yet when I was in school, so my degree is in nothing relevant, not even computer science. Yeah, I just picked it up as a hobby.

PIPPIN: Do you mind if I ask what your degree actually was?

CARRIE: Criminal justice.

PIPPIN: Very cool. Totally different.

CARRIE: Yeah, I call it a degree in nothing useful. It was very, very interesting to study, but is nothing professionally.

PIPPIN: Sure. When you first got into WordPress, what was kind of your path into it? Was it you learned about it and you started building it or using it for your own website? Did you start building client sites on it? How did you get from the introduction of WordPress to what you do now?

CARRIE: Yeah. At that time, I had a client that had been a long-time client, but they were looking at a website redo. Originally for them, I had just done a hand crafted CMS that was pretty crappy. If I would have looked at it now, I would cringe.

When I found out about WordPress, that was really a perfect fit for this client, so I immediately kind of had a project to go to town on and just kind of learning as I went. Most of the work was on the front-end side. Initially, it’s just kind of figuring out how WordPress works, how the data is structured. Even just in the admin area, getting around and getting familiar with the lingo. Yeah, just sort of getting my feet wet. Then, yeah, like I said, mostly on that front-end side, so theme development, not really delving much, not at all custom plugins at that point in time. It was just like iPhone apps. There’s a plugin for that, so just used a lot of other people’s code.

PIPPIN: Cool. That sounds like a pretty familiar experience for a lot of people, myself included. All right, so you now work at Crowd Favorite, and what’s your position there? What’s your day-to-day work? What’s that kind of look like at Crowd Favorite?

CARRIE: Sure. I’m not super big on titles, but they do provide some context. I’m a team lead/software developer. I lead a team of three developers who are actually all incredibly more talented developers than I am, but my role is to sort of sit between them and Chris Lema, who is our CTO, and work across multiple projects where sometimes my team is working as a unit and sometimes my team is disbursed over other projects and dabbling with other teams. Really, it is a lot of communication and a lot of coding. I’d say it’s probably about 50% of each.

PIPPIN: And do you think that you do more development now at Crowd Favorite or when you were working independently?

CARRIE: I would say I’m probably doing less now, but what I am doing is much more interesting than what I was doing independently. I’d kind of gotten in a rut where I was doing basic $5,000 to $10,000 client projects, and it was just sort of the same thing over and over just making some theme tweaks, throwing in a few custom post types and templates and that kind of stuff. They were all very vanilla projects, and I have no complaints because that paid my bills, but I was sort of getting bored with that. Moving into Crowd Favorite and getting the chance to work on much larger scale projects, what’s come with that is just exposure to new tools, new ways of doing things, and just a lot of learning that’s been really fun.

PIPPIN: That’s awesome. What do you think are some of the challenges of transitioning from an independent contractor working, I believe, primarily with yourself, not with additional subcontractors? What are some of the challenges going from that to an enterprise company? Most of Crowd Favorite’s work is all in the enterprise. What’s some of the transitional pains that have come with that?

CARRIE: Sure. Well, one of the biggest ones was just administrative, and that is tracking my time. I’d gotten pretty lax about that as a freelancer, and I did project-based billing, not hourly stuff. And so, going to work for Crowd Favorite, I’m accountable for every bit of my time because it’s billed against either a certain project, an internal cost, or whatever, so just getting in the habit of keeping track of my time and knowing where it’s going.

But I have to say it’s actually been a really good habit. It wouldn’t have hurt me as an independent to know how much time it was actually taking me to do stuff. That was one kind of hurdle to overcome.

Then the other one on the technical side is using Git in a collaborative manner. Before Crowd Favorite, most of my work in Git had not been with other developers, so if I completely do things wrong or just have a really, really messy commit history, it doesn’t matter because it’s just me.

PIPPIN: Right. Suddenly your Git workflow matters a lot more.

CARRIE: Yes, it matters a lot more, and the etiquette. That’s been a little bit of a learning curve, but again a good one.

PIPPIN: Now, you mentioned that you work with or you run a team of three other people, and I would assume that there are numerous teams inside of Crowd Favorite. Is the majority of everybody remote, or is there a centralized office where everybody works from and then a few remote people? I believe you work remotely, don’t you?

CARRIE: I do. Yeah, that’s a great question. Crowd Favorite has, I believe, five or six offices worldwide and headquartered out of Denver. I know there are a handful of people that work in that Denver office. I think our Phoenix office probably has the most staff present on any given day. But, the majority of folks are remote and located all over the globe.

PIPPIN: I really like your comment on how time tracking was both an adjustment, both a little bit of a pain point, but also a good thing. Do you think that by doing that, and by working in this maybe a little bit more controlled or structured environment, that it has made you better at managing your own time, not just in terms of when you’re working on projects or not working on projects, but also when you’re not at work, like when you’re done for the evening or you’re taking a day off or on the weekends? Do you find that there’s a better separation between work and non-work time?

I know that as independent contractors, that is something that most of us struggle with, especially if we work from a home office. Do you think that that kind of structured environment improves that?

CARRIE: I wish it did. I’ll tell you my setup. I have two Mac books. One is my company machine and the other is my personal machine. I have one Thunderbolt display. Most of the day, I’ve got my work laptop plugged into the Thunderbolt display.

When I’m done with that, I kind of tease. I talk to my dogs. They’re the only ones around to listen to me, but that I’m going to my next job. I plug in my other laptop and start working off of that one.

I don’t know that that separation is quite there. I still have a ways to go on a great work/life balance.

PIPPIN: Sure. That’s largely because you’re still working on some of those side projects, which actually I think is something I’d like to get into. You have several other things that you do outside of Crowd Favorite, and I believe these are all things that you did before Crowd Favorite as well.

Let’s start with: you have a theme called Utility Pro that you sell. I believe that is a Genesis Theme, correct?

CARRIE: It is. Yep.

PIPPIN: Awesome.

CARRIE: I released the initial version of Utility a couple years back. Then I completely overhauled it and relaunched it as Utility Pro. I’ve been doing active development on that, and that’s been a really fun project.

PIPPIN: What is the main selling point or purpose behind Utility Pro, aside from just another theme? Is there a specific focus for it? Is it meant to be a base theme?


PIPPIN: Give me your quick sales spiel on Utility Pro.

CARRIE: Well, I named it Utility because it is a utilitarian theme, so it’s not specific to any niche. The key selling point or one of the things I’m most proud about is the fact that it’s fully accessible and meets the WCAG 2.0 accessibility standards, which, at the time I released it, it was the first premium Genesis Theme on the market that met that standard.

PIPPIN: That’s fantastic. I don’t think there are actually very many themes at all that can claim that. If we look at the number of themes out there versus the number that can make that claim, it’s a very small number, for sure.

CARRIE: It is a small number. Encouragingly, though, like the amount of free themes in the WordPress repo that meet that standard have increased. I think here were, like, seven as of three years ago. I don’t know what the exact count is now, but it’s exponential.

PIPPIN: Excellent.

CARRIE: Exponential – it’s 90 themes, but still.

PIPPIN: Still significantly more.

CARRIE: Yes. Then the other thing about Utility Pro, while you can just install it, use it out of the box, I was really hoping for it to be kind of a playground for developers. I sell a developer version of the theme that’s based of SaaS and Grunt. I’m about to release or add in Composer support in this next iteration, but really wanted it to be a way for people to stop reinventing, either stop reinventing the wheel with every project, so find a base theme and really settle into it and, number two, stop working on a bajillion different themes.

A lot of people, I think, especially in the Genesis space, because there are so many really nice looking themes to choose from, every project is a different theme, and it’s not very efficient. Like with Utility Pro, I encourage anyone that buys that developer edition to go through, strip out the stuff you don’t want, add in the stuff you do that makes your workflow and your life easier. Yeah, I have it showcased over on the site, and it’s really fun to see how people have used it.

PIPPIN: That’s excellent. I see that you offer a setup service for the theme as well, which is an add-on to the store. Do you find that that’s something that people take you up on that is a nice service that people really enjoy or anything else about it?

CARRIE: That’s pretty much useless, and I should remove it from the website.

PIPPIN: Okay. Why?

CARRIE: It seemed to be par for the course. You look around at what other people are doing and you see, okay, well other people are offering these setup services. I don’t think anybody has ever bought one of the basic site setups. Truthfully, the customer I’m targeting is not the customer that probably even needs that service.


CARRIE: I’m in partnership with Evermore, who is a hosted provider. I just send people to them if they want that.

PIPPIN: Okay. Utility Pro started before Crowd Favorite, and obviously it’s still going while you’re at Crowd Favorite. Is this something that you plan to continue for the long-term?

CARRIE: I hope so. The whole thing is Easy Digital Downloads based, and I’m using the recurring payments plugin.

PIPPIN: That makes me very happy.

CARRIE: Yes. My hope is if people are re-upping their subscriptions, as long as people want to continue using the theme, then I’ll continue to iterate on it and support it.

PIPPIN: Certainly. I think that makes sense. You should check out the preview post that we sent out for recurring payments yesterday. There’s a big update coming.


PIPPIN: But I won’t take your time to talk about that here. Let’s move on quickly to: You have a podcast that you run called Office Hours FM, right?

CARRIE: Yep, live every Thursday at 2:00 p.m. eastern.

PIPPIN: All right, tell me about it.

CARRIE: It started out, I guess, about a year and a half, two years ago. At that point in time, I was doing all work with Genesis, the Genesis framework, and my email box was in bad shape. People would just email me questions all the time, which I’m glad that people saw me as a resource, but it became overwhelming to try and address all those emails.

I thought, okay, why don’t we just do a live show every week where I figuratively open up the doors to my office and people can ask questions. That way multiple people can benefit from the same answer, and it reduces volume in my inbox. That was kind of how it got started.

Then, over time, I realized that nobody was asking me technical questions. There were curiosities about, like, what tools do I use or whatnot, but it’s not like they were coming on and asking questions about how does this function work, or this broke, blah-blah-blah. They were curious about the business aspect of running a WordPress business.

I shifted gears, and now it’s about the business of WordPress. My guests are all people that have had success, which, by the way, I need you two guys to come on the show. We’re going to book that right after we finish this podcast.

PIPPIN: I think we’d be happy to come on.

CARRIE: But yeah, it’s for folks to hopefully learn and improve their business skills and be more successful.

PIPPIN: Cool. I love that. Every now and then, we try to get a business episode in here on Apply Filters. Maybe we’ll do a few development episodes and then one that’s a little bit more related to the business development. It’s a great topic, I think, and it’s a great subject area for discussion, especially when you can bring in people that either have struggled or found success, or somewhere in between.

There are definitely a lot of people that are interested in it, and it looks like you’re doing very well on it. You just did, what, Episode 90, or that’s the one coming up, I think? Nope, 89, according to your website.

CARRIE: Yeah. My following is very modest, but it is a very engaged group of listeners, which is cool.

PIPPIN: I’m impressed. You do it, it looks like, every single week.


PIPPIN: And you’re up to 89 episodes, so props there.

CARRIE: Thank you.

PIPPIN: That’s a lot of work.

CARRIE: I did take some time off over the holidays. It was nice.

PIPPIN: Oh, good. We all need that. According to your website, you also have some development courses that you’ve done, including WordPress development workflow up and running with the Genesis framework and a few others. These are courses that you do on Lynda, right?

CARRIE: All of them except for that first one you mentioned, the WordPress development workflow. I’m an instructor with Lynda.com. Not as an employee. I’m now a contractor with LinkedIn, since LinkedIn purchased Lynda last year.

PIPPIN: Right.

CARRIE: Anyhow, so they brought me on originally to do some Genesis courses, and now I’m doing still some Genesis stuff, and then other just WordPress related courses. Morten Rand-Hendriksen, who is the fabulous voice of WordPress over at Lynda.com, he’s got some company now – company in me.

PIPPIN: That’s great. Tell me a little bit more about these or just the courses, in general. How did these get started? Are these still things that you’re actively working on? What can you tell us about the courses?

CARRIE: As far as the Lynda stuff goes, once the course is published, I don’t want to say it’s a done deal, but the bulk of the work is over. A viewer might ask a question and, six months after I filmed the video, I’ll have to answer a question or something, but those are pretty much just as-is. Once they’re out there, they’re out there.

The development workflow course was actually a webinar series, my first webinar series and, to date, my last webinar series, although I do hope to or I’d really like to do some more. But, that was a really fun course that I done with Mika Epstein from DreamHost. We basically worked through what a professional developer’s workflow would look like.

For somebody that had never ever cracked open a Grunt file or was intimidated by GitHub, this was meant to be sort of the 30,000-foot overview of what those possibilities are and how all those tools kind of work in conjunction with each other. I still post new resources, as I come across them, to the site because the webinars are available for replay. But, other than that, it’s not really active development, I guess.

PIPPIN: Sure. Well, cool. Definitely, looking over the courses there, all the ones you have are tremendous resources, even if eventually they get a little bit outdated. The nice thing about these kinds of courses, having done quite a few of them, they’re pretty relevant for a long time. For anybody who is interested, definitely go check them out.

Okay, Carrie. I have one more thing for you.

CARRIE: Bring it on.

PIPPIN: Then we’ll let you go. All right, tell me about Carrie outside of WordPress. Outside of work, what do you do? What do you enjoy? When you’re sick of work and you don’t want to look at code, what do you do

CARRIE: When I’m sick of work and I don’t want to look at code, if it’s a pretty day like it is today, I’m going to be finding myself heading outdoors either to catch a little ride on the bike or just take a walk. I also, if, at the end of that walk or bike ride, happen to land at one of our craft breweries in town, that would be okay.

I love craft beer. I love seeing how that industry is growing and changed, especially in Texas, who is a little late to the part on the craft beer scene. My husband home brews, just like you, Pippin. We have enjoyed some pints together.

PIPPIN: Looking forward to the next one too.

CARRIE: Yes, and read. I’m kind of a big book nerd.

PIPPIN: Awesome. What do you like to read?

CARRIE: Primarily fiction, just like your basic literary fiction. Then, every once in a while, I love a little mystery thriller.

PIPPIN: I actually have one more follow-up.

CARRIE: Nope. Nope. We’re done here.

PIPPIN: Ah, bummer. It’s a quick one. It’s actually a quick one that could lead into a completely long discussion that could go forever.


PIPPIN: We have a community within a community with WordPress. I want to ask you this because you’ve always been a pretty good representative of the Genesis community for a lot of good reasons. Give me a couple of comments, anything you want, about either the relationship, the interaction, or anything unique about the Genesis community within the WordPress community.

We have, for example, like, there are communities built around WooCommerce, around other plugins, around different things, but there’s really only one big community around theme-ing, and that is in Genesis. Tell me something.

CARRIE: Well, I’m going to reveal a secret for the first time on your podcast. Genesis is a cult.

I’m just kidding.

PIPPIN: [Laughter]

CARRIE: [Laughter] Wow! That was awkward dead air there.

PIPPIN: Oh, that’s awesome.

CARRIE: First, I’ll answer your question by saying how I got involved with Genesis in the first place. When I first started working with WordPress, the amount of information available was overwhelming. I don’t know if that’s the result of being an open-source software, so lots of different people are writing tutorials. You can go watch, do training at Lynda or Treehouse, or you could just DYI and sort through all these blogs and tutorials you find, but it’s an overwhelming amount of information to sort through.

When I stumbled on Genesis, I actually liked the product. But, then I saw that, just like Brian Gardner and Jess Commons of StudioPress, they were very active and engaged on Twitter, on Facebook, and just easy to approach. And Andrea Rennick, I’ll throw her into that mix too.

Anyways, for me, Genesis was a manageable subset of information that I could consume and sort of sink my teeth into. Then the bonus of that was that there were some really cool people that also worked with Genesis. It didn’t have so much to do with the fact that they worked with Genesis. They were just cool people.

Then, over time, it has grown to be somewhat cult-like. People are serious about loving their Genesis framework. I don’t quite know why, but it is an extremely active community. I don’t know. Maybe people like myself find it sort of a manageable step into working with WordPress.

PIPPIN: I think you nailed something that I have actually never heard before and never considered. I’ve always looked at Genesis as this is obviously a great product, but I’ve always thought it was fascinating that people who are Genesis developers tend to only be Genesis developers. Not only, not as in that’s the only thing they can do, but that’s what they choose to do, and that’s what they choose to focus on.

But, I think you’ve kind of nailed it where the WordPress world, just like many other development worlds, is extremely vast and can be really difficult to navigate for somebody who is new to it. By focusing in one little section, it becomes much more manageable. Genesis is a nice intro to that that also just happens to be extensive enough that you can stay there, as opposed to being required to move beyond it because it’s too limited.

CARRIE: Yeah, exactly what you said. I would say, for anyone that’s listening that does love Genesis, I would encourage them to also understand WordPress without Genesis because Genesis is a great piece of software, but it’s not open source. It’s GPL, but the code base is not open, publicly maintained. I’m not making any predictions here. This is no insider baseball. This is just observation that it’s good to understand WordPress beyond just a single piece of the puzzle in the event that that piece of the puzzle is not always there.

PIPPIN: Certainly. I think that applies to really any project. Just as an example, let’s extend it out a little bit further and say it’s probably a good idea for WordPress developers to understand the greater world of PHP or other systems outside of WordPress. Not necessarily because it’s going to die in the near future, slowly decline, or anything like that, but it is a favor to yourself that you will probably never regret.

CARRIE: Absolutely because software development really transcends whatever particular platform, like WordPress or whatever platform you choose to use. It’s the fundamentals. Yeah, you can take that anywhere.

PIPPIN: Absolutely. All right, well, Carrie, it’s been an absolute pleasure to have you on. I think we’re about out of time now, and so we’ll let you get on with the rest of your day. Is there anything else that you’d like to throw out really quickly to the people listening?

CARRIE: Just thanks for tuning in. I appreciate you having me on and basically just letting me talk about myself for a half hour. Who wouldn’t like that?

PIPPIN: It’s great. Where can people find you?

CARRIE: Hit me up on Twitter @CDils, over at CarrieDils.com, yeah.

PIPPIN: Awesome. Thank you so much.

For everybody listening, we put up a small survey on the site today. If you’re interested, it’s at ApplyFilters.fm/survey. It’s super simple. It’s name and email are optional, and then just tell us a quick thing that you like. Would you like more business development, advanced development topics, intermediate, beginner, something else, any comments for us, et cetera? We’re just looking for a little bit of feedback, just as we progress with Apply Filters in 2016. If you have anything that you would like to tell us, any comments, any suggestions, et cetera, let us know at ApplyFilters.fm/survey.

Thanks, everyone. Catch you next time.

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