#540 WP-Tonic Show With Special Guest Ian Reynolds of Zibtek

We Discuss All The Hottest & Latest Technology Trends In Web Development With Ian Reynolds

Founded in 2009, Zibtek is a leading software development consultancy led by industry veterans with the real world experience of starting, building, and exiting multiple companies. Your company’s drive for success in your digital transformation efforts is our core mission.




Johnathan: Welcome back folks to the WP- Tonic Show, it’s episode 540. We’ve got a great guest here; we’ve got Ian Reynolds of Zibtek. I think that’s how you pronounce it, I’m sure you’ll correct me. We haven’t got my cohost Steven, he’s had to go and deal with a major business emergency, but he will be back next week. Actually, if he’s dealt with his emergency, I think he’s probably up to it, isn’t he listeners and viewers? So, Ian, would you like to give us a quick 30 seconds intro about yourself and your company?

Ian: Yeah. Great and great to be here, thanks for having me. My background is very much helped with startups for a long period of time or short period of time. I’ve wanted to get different products and market, went into traditional consulting role after getting the MBA did that for four or five years, I had the opportunity to work on put that sort of enterprise software side, and then ultimately on the transactional finance side and did several billion in transactions. So, it was a lot of fun, felt like I saw everything and I wanted to get back into software. And so, 2017 had the opportunity to acquire half of Zyrtec and continue to improve upon the 10 years of growth that the company has had. And so, we’ve sort of professionalized certain components of what we’re doing and we’re spending much more money on R and D and training and our company like so many others in the software development arena serves other firms that don’t necessarily have an engineering team in house, or they don’t have enough bandwidth or a technical capability in house.

We’re about a hundred employees about 50 contractors on top of that and we serve clients all the way from Google and Adobe to really small startups where somebody has an idea, literally we’ve had people present us sort of napkin ideas that we’ve turned into fully blended products. So, in a nutshell, we are a full-service software development firm. We just do software engineering. We really don’t do anything else.

Johnathan: That’s great. Alright, so we’re in this, we’re going to be discussing what Ian sees that’s has the hottest technologies, which technologies he sees that he thinks they’re going to have a consistent growing demand over the next year, 18 months. Then we’re going to also discuss his experiences of dealing with non-technical founders. What you should know about if you engaged a company as a founder, or if you are a developer and you’re needing the assistance of a company like Ian’s. Should be a fantastic discussion. But before we get into the main part, I want to talk about one of our main sponsors and Kinsta Hosting.

Kinsta has been sponsoring the show now for over two years now, they are a great premium WordPress hosting specialist. If you’ve got a WooCommerce website, if you’ve got a learning management system website, core space website, you’re going to need better hosting than your average hosting provider. These are more like applications then websites, and they need more power, more assistance, more knowledge and that’s what you get from Kinsta. So, if that sounds interesting, go over to Kinsta, have a look at their plans, I suggest that you should buy one for yourself or for your clients. And the main thing is when you do buy is please tell them that you heard about them on the WP-Tonic Show. So, Ian, let’s start off with what do you, what are some of the technologies that have come up in the last couple of years or the last year that you think still get you excited and also you think there’s a lot of growth in the next year and 18 months around them?

Ian: Right. I think actually the thing that’s going to continue quite aggressively is the use of a really sophisticated JavaScript on the front end through a JavaScript framework, like Angular or React. And there are a ton of some of websites that are really simple HTML CSS that you use for many, many things. Shopping, let’s say you’re updating your phone bill, you’re updating these things a lot of these technologies, especially for these enterprise firms, haven’t really moved yet into making use of, sort of these frameworks, these JavaScript frameworks. And the changes are going to be small and incremental, but if you consider in aggregate what those changes are going to do to your engineering landscape and to what your interactions are going to be with most everyday websites, it’s actually going to be a pretty crazy performance increase. And so, far as you’re going to have a lot of things that are going to be what are called modularized. So, where I’m only loading a certain component of the website or only loading a certain component of the application to get refreshed data rather than reload the whole application or whole webpage and get that information that is updated serve back to me. So, I think we’re going to see a greater adoption of those technologies, the web is just so expansive that it takes a long time and I sort of slew things through the pipes, so to speak, but even through the downturn, there has been new lead up and demand for sort of migration to these types of tools.

Johnathan: Right. And that’s interesting that you touch that because that’s been for the past couple of years, that’s been on going theme in the WordPress world because the main theme behind WordPress, which is automatic and its founder, Matt Mullenweg, he’s publicly, and he’s been pushing through the page builder, which is Gutenberg, is that a lot more of WordPress is going to be based on react and a lot less on traditional PHB. So, of these frameworks, you mentioned a couple, what are some of the strengths and weaknesses of some of these frameworks based on your experience Ian?

Ian: Yeah, so broadly speaking, there’s kind of three big JavaScript frameworks, so, let’s go through each of those. So, there’s React, like you mentioned, there’s Angular, and then there is Vue.js. So, Angular is put out by Google and the structural advantage to angular is that it is a sort of an opinionated framework there’s kind of a right way and a wrong way to do things, there’s a little bit more structure that’s required and kind of pushed by Google in terms of how they want you to broadly construct your Angular application. It is actually a little bit slower than some of the other technologies it’s not as heavy handed and it initially came out as sort of a design framework, and then people started using it for a much heavier lifting. And so, you have that Angular One and then Google clearly realized like, well, we’ve got to rewrite this thing and put out Angular Two. So, there’s radically different versions between everything after Angular Two, or sorry, everything after Angular One and Angular One, so there’s still a lot of applications actually on Angular One, because it was really, really popular when it came out.

But Angular Two is really kind of more in line with what the traditional framework is. That’s Angular and it’s not going anywhere, Google’s not going anywhere and it would be appropriate technology to use, but again, there’s kind of a more formal structure and it’s typically used in bigger applications. Then there’s React which is actually more popular than Angular. React is put out by Facebook and as you said, WordPress is going to make use of it and structurally one of the advantages of React is it’s more appropriate for things like WordPress, where maybe you have a couple pages here and there it’s much faster actually on a performance basis than Angular, but it is not as opinionated, meaning there’s many ways to skin the proverbial cat, and there’s not really a right way, so to speak to use things. And the result is that you have kind of many flavors and kind of many approaches to solving the same problem. If you have a much larger technology, you have to kind of internally, so to speak, write the rules for how you’re going to do things so everybody’s on the same page and you’re not fighting over each other. But really React and Angular would be comparable and would be appropriate for any large-scale application.

Then there is Vue.js. Vue.js was started by an engineer who either formerly worked for either Facebook or Google or…

Johnathan: I’m sorry to interrupt, but I don’t know too much about it so I’m really interested to see what you’re going say about it. But I was going to say that there’s some really big names in the WordPress community that are respected, that were really pushing that library and I really liked it so I interrupt.

Ian: Yeah, no, you’re right. And so, one last thing about React is it React again, is a little bit faster and it’s especially so for sort of very simple websites and I think that’s why you see so much more adoption because it is just better and quicker for really, really simple websites. So, you’re going to see sort of disproportionate adoption in terms of it’s going to be React and Angular than Vue. Vue has a very loyal base, it’s open source and it’s an independent person that is… group that is sort of supporting and maintaining that as opposed to a large entity like Google and you know, Facebook and it has a lot of advantages. I would say the biggest disadvantage you have Vue is that total user adoption of Vue is very small relative to Angular or React. It’s just a 10th or say, I don’t know if that’s an accurate statistic, but it seems about that, about a 10th of the adoption of each one of those relative technologies. So, while the community is very involved and it’s very, very sort of stylistically can be used for a lot of visual clean applications. It’s very lightweight just from a simple adoption standpoint, there’s not as many people using it and so, it may be harder to find certain libraries and certain things like that, but it’s a very simple, very practical structural way of using JavaScript on the front end.

Johnathan: So, over past five years or longer really, time flies really doesn’t it? especially in the technology area, we had this constant battle between, do I need that app that works on iOS and Android, or do I invest more in the website? I’m talking about medium to larger companies. I think that the app was the in thing for a few years, you must have app, you must, must, must. I sense over the past 18 months, two years, that’s dying down to some extent. And the love affair with apps has died a bit and people re-focusing on their web properties and the web in general. Am I talking to a load of rubbish or would you agree there?

Ian: No, I I’d agree with you. So, I think you’re right, there’s a bit of market saturation in terms of apps. So, there’s four or 5 million apps on the app store or something silly number so, getting visibility in terms of your application relative to your competition, it’s not a way to get any sort of marketing lead anymore, whereas several years ago, because there wasn’t as there weren’t as many applications. I could basically put out an app and get a little more visibility to my company and these sorts of things and people assumed that there was this new practical use case for things, whereas you know, not necessarily true. So, now there are technologies like progressive web applications where I can build a web app and make it so it’s downloadable on my phone without even going through the apps for and effectively get all of the features that I would have by downloading the app through the app store, if I just visit the website on my mobile device via the browser.

So, it’s not as necessary to build a core app, I think for most companies and have that on their site. Now that be said, I do think that there’s still apps that are coming to market, I know for a fact, as a result of what my company does, that there’s still apps coming to market that are really intuitive, they add a tremendous amount of value, they are very much sort of groundbreaking and revolutionary in what they’re doing but I would say that the fever pitch, so to speak for apps has died down a little bit. So, oftentimes when we’re building something new or building a core web application, and then we are pairing that with a mobile app and the mobile app is typically the second or third consideration in what it is that we’re building. And I would say generally speaking too that, because of some of the frameworks that you’re able to use when building a web application, you’re able to build something that lets you have to be pretty mobile responsive out of the gate.

Johnathan: Yeah, I’m enjoying this conversation, we’re having a real tech feast here. Let’s ask this question and then we go for our break. It’s amazing how the time goes quick. I’ve also been aware, it’s always been really important, but I sense in my own consciousness and dealing with clients, we specialize in helping entrepreneurs and larger organizations with online training and building learning management systems. That’s our specialty, but I’ve known is that UX design has become more and more important and, in some ways, WordPress, the actual backend interface and how you integrate [inaudible 14:57] major plugins. There’s murmurings and I have a lot of contacts with a lot of plugin developers and they’re very satisfied with the UX and how it’s become a bit old fashioned. What’s your feelings about UX design? How important is it in the bigger picture basically?

Ian: Yeah, I think that there’s a bit of a problem with UI UX in that it is often an afterthought, whereas it should be in many respects, sort of the first thing that you think about, because if I am designing something, so here I’ll give an example. We have a client who’s got an old application built in the eighties and they needed to rewrite it and it has, say something like 4,000 screens, four or 5,000 screens in this application, it’s huge. And the reality is that if we were going to rewrite that we could probably get it down to less than a couple hundred with proper UI UX, because you’re not reloading every single component of the application or going to a hundred percent a new screen, it’s just reloading an element of that screen. And they want to just start doing engineering immediately and we’re saying, well, we’ve got to know what we’re building first otherwise we’re going to be changing things and that those changes are going to add to the time they’re going to add to the cost and then we are not going to be able to accomplish your objectives of rebuilding this thing, keeping your capital preserved and being efficient. And so, I think that there is a tendency to just sort of push UI UX off to the side, not think about it, but at the end of the day, what’s your building is actually a device that’s going to interface with human beings and so you have to think about the design piece first in many respects.

Johnathan: It’s the same thing with usability. It’s still frustrating that they are in the WordPress world, they aren’t tools that can help more effectively with usability earlier stage. It’s still… and actually using React, a lot of… because I’m no longer front-end developer, I’m just the principal of the agency, but I don’t actually develop anymore, but I know a lot of people are very frustrated. Because actually WordPress going down the reacts, they feel as [inaudible 17:33] going down Gutenberg, which is the front end of this movement going down the react, as made usability even worse. Is usability… because obviously you’re dealing with medium to large companies, does the question of usability also come up for people that are suffering from visual and other disabilities? Obviously, we also facing an older population, but I’m going to leave that question in your mind and we’re going to go for our break and we will be back in a few moments. See you soon folks.

We’re coming back, we’ve had a feast of geekiness. Ian seems up to it, he’s not shocked by any of ridiculously broad questions yet. I’m sorry Ian, I’m notorious for it, that’s why I have a co-host to keep me under control, but unfortunately, he’s done a runner. No, he’s actually dealing with an urgent problem. So, before you answer my question in the first half, I want to mention one of our great sponsors and that’s Groundhogg. Now, if you’re looking for a native CRM system, that’s something that does something like Active Campaign or Drip, there’s a lot of external SAS based CRMs out there. But you’re looking for a native solution, which definitely has strengths and benefits, there wasn’t much to choose from and then Groundhogg came on the scene over a year ago and obviously the founder of Groundhogg, Adrian, there has been a cohost of mine, but unfortunately he had to leave because he’s been busy upgrading his own platform, but it’s a superb products.

Now, I suggest that you should really look at it because there’s substantial savings, monthly savings for yourself or for your clients by going to a native solution. So, go over to Groundhogg, have a look, what they got to offer. I suggest that you should buy one of their packages to try it out yourself or buy it for your clients. And the main thing is, tell them that you heard about ground talk on the WP- Tonic Show. So, Ian, I gave you a massive question before the break. Would you like to delve into that?

Ian: Yeah, let’s jump. So, the question was broadly what do you do if you’re a large application where you know you need to move towards a technology and then you’re forming the user experience or the usability of the application. I think in WordPress’ case, the technology has been around forever, I saw some statistic where WordPress accounts for anywhere from 60 to 70% of the web and it makes sense. It’s a powerful user interface, powerful CMS. We’ve done work in WordPress and we we’ve used it, we understand the value it can bring, especially out of the box. And the challenge they face is that as I stated previously, that some of these technologies are so powerful and so efficient and ultimately a much better user experience and they have so many customers using WordPress that they couldn’t just sort of rip a pull cord on the parachute, so to speak and switch everybody over because it would, it would just break too many things. So, likely they are forced into small incremental changes that they have to push on the user base, which creates lots of pain at large scale over a small period of time and they can’t just, as I said, sort of pull the rip cord. So, I think that those changes are going to come, the challenge, I think that folks that WordPress have is how to go faster as it relates to implementing those changes.

Johnathan: Yeah. I think you’re spot on there, Ian, very insightful.

Ian: Yeah, right. How do we do this quickly and rip the band aid off, so to speak and then for companies using WordPress, it really is, okay, well, how do I understand that these changes are coming? And then structure, as I sort of planned the redevelopment and adjustments to my website, my marketing efforts knowing these changes are coming so I’m not too far ahead of the curve or too far behind it. And the simple answer in our business is in most cases, people are just rewriting things from scratch because it’s faster to just rewrite fully and then just migrate all the users over and just say, we’re going to do some training, here you go, because of the performance differences you’re going to get between legacy software versus what you get out of some of these new applications. But I think for most people, especially folks using WordPress and these things, I don’t know that they’re going to have that luxury of just doing a full rewrite and going to one of these other web applications.

Johnathan: There was some big voices in the WordPress community that were saying, that’s what should be done. It was the opportunity to rewrite the database, how that was structured, do a really fundamental overall modernization of the whole platform and take that opportunity and break backward compatibility saying that you’re going to support the old system and give a roadmap, but saying that this is the new system and other open source website development platforms have chosen that path. I think Drupal have chosen that and maybe Expression Engine to some extent which is not as a hybrid, isn’t it? So, I think you’re going to stay on for some bonus content then we can go back to the technical feasts that we’ve just said, but let’s move on to your experiences of working with decision makers that don’t have the kind of technical knowledge that you so clearly ever shown in your answering my very vague questions. So, what are some of your experiences and some of the tips and insights that you might be able to give to the listeners and viewers?

Ian: Yeah, I think the vast majority of companies going forward are going to get created are going to be tech enabled companies, meaning they’re going to have some component of technology, be it your website, be it an online store, be it maybe a mobile app or something to that effect. And we’ve run into a lot of people who, for obvious reasons they have skill-sets elsewhere and they doubled tripled down on those skillsets, but they do need to make use of technology to help their business be better. And the problem that I think a lot of entrepreneurs face a lot of business owners face is that they need to make sure that they’re not getting ripped off, or if they’re not going to get in trouble or something’s not going to break, and they’re not going be able to figure out who they know to, or be able to pull a resource to fix things. And this simple analogy that we use internally, because the technology landscape is huge, I mean, we have, again, 150 people that are basically on staff and we don’t know everything. I mean, we know a lot of stuff, but we don’t know everything. And the way we solve for that is we take a really simple approach where we say, well, what is the biggest and best technology? Okay, well for CMS, it’s WordPress, and down. Okay, what is the biggest and best technology in this other thing? What is not going to go away? What is not going to change? So, we encourage business owners to get familiar with the large technologies and just put aside some of these things on the periphery, because ultimately what you need as a business owner is stability.

What you need is not things that are necessarily going to be rapidly change unless you’re trying to innovate, you’re really focused on things that are going to work for you over a long period of time. And we just pushed this idea of like, look when you’re building software, when you’re buying software, think like you’re acquiring a fleet of Toyotas. You need to put 300,000 miles on those cars, you need to be able to take them to any mechanic, you need to be able to make sure that you don’t have specialist parts you got to wait if factory in Germany goes down you know, you don’t have to replace that auxiliary fan that’s going cost you $800, you need to be nimble. And now that doesn’t apply to a hundred percent of every case, but taking that sort of thinking, taking this sort of mentality, and then applying it to your software acquisition, your software development processes, ultimately results in a solution that’s a little bit more maintainable and not so hard to get your arms around and as a business owner.

Johnathan: Yeah, Ian I totally agree with you. It’s a balancing, just don’t go with the most popular next great thing and just kind of always be moving and changing. You want a more stable attitude about this and a plan. So, do you kind of do a lot of white label work? Because basically, the people that are listening to this podcast, they are either freelancers, agency owners, marketing professionals. We have a very diverse and growing, I like to say growing audience, our audience figures have grown quite substantially recently. So, do you do any kind of white laboring work with people?

Ian: We do. We have folks who come to us and they have a core application or a core app, or they’re providing maybe services on behalf of someone else and they need us to backend them because they need a deeper team or a bigger team and we sort of serve as their team. So, we’ve done that for actually a number of enterprise firms as well, where in many cases where you think you’re talking to some very large fortune 500, so you’re actually talking to us as it relates to some of these technical solutions and that’s structurally sort of who we are. We like solving very, very complex challenges and making them simple and that’s really sort of our bread and butter.

Johnathan: That’s fantastic. So, what’s the best way to learn more about you and the company really. And hopefully you’re going to stay on for some bonus content, maybe 10, 15 minutes because I like to go back into our techie dive that we had did the first half.

Ian: You bet, you bet. So, the best way to get ahold of us, just go to zibtek.com and check out our about page, check out our process page, see how we work and see how we think about delivering solutions for our clients. We have a ton of free content on our blog that’s very in depth very, very thoughtful gets thousands thousand views, et cetera on a daily basis. And then if you want to reach out, hello@zibtek.com is probably the best way to reach me and I respond to those and there’s also always our contact form if you want to speak to sales.

Johnathan: That’s great. Well, thanks again, the half hour just kind of blew away, didn’t it? It kind of did. He’s going to stay on for some bonus content. You’ll be able to see the whole interview plus the bonus content on our YouTube channel, which is WP- Tonic so go over to YouTube and subscribe to that. There’s a number of tutorials interviews with experts like Ian on the channel, so subscribe today. If you also would really want to support the show, give us a review on iTunes, it’s a little bit painful to do it, but it does really help the show and it helps me get fantastic guests like Ian on the show, which I’ve enjoyed the discussion so far, it’s definitely like a good technology feast. We’ll be back next week with my co-host, hopefully, and another great like Ian. We’ll see you soon folks.

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