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5 From 5 Fold: Alexander Persky

5 From 5 Fold

Five Questions With Alexander Persky, 5 Fold’s WordPress Developer

Welcome to this edition of 5 From 5 Fold. Each month, we’ll ask a different member of the 5 Fold Marketing team five questions about themselves, what their job is like, and what they see as the future of marketing.

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Alexander Persky is the WordPress developer for 5 Fold Marketing. We sat down with him to chat about how he got into development, what changes he’s seen, and what his favorite type of ice cream is.

1. Where did you grow up, and where did you go to college? What did you study there?

“I grew up in Pasadena, California for my entire childhood, with the exception of four years where I lived in New Jersey. And then we moved right back to Pasadena, California.

I went to college at Arizona State University, right here in Tempe. I went there because my brother went there, and he kind of convinced me to follow in his footsteps and go to ASU.

I originally wanted to study business management and international business, but I couldn’t pass statistics and accounting. I took both of those classes three times and just couldn’t pass them. So, I had to change my major. I chose to study African American Studies and later I joined Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.

That same year, the person who managed our chapter’s graphic designs and website graduated. Somebody had to take over. We just stared at each other; we weren’t sure who was going to do it. Finally, I was like: ‘Whatever. I’ll do it.’ I didn’t know anything about it. I went to the library the next day and I just started getting books on graphic design. We had parties coming up, so I needed to make the flyers first. So, I taught myself how to do graphic design. They sucked, but they worked.

The summer session was coming up, so I took classes in graphic design, Photoshop, and web development to wet my appetite. I just kept going the graphic design route. For the next two years, I made all the flyers and anything needed by the Fraternity.

Then came time to finally take over the website. Our graduated Brother managed the website still, but it had expired and he didn’t want to handle it any more. I said fine. I was going to have to learn.

I didn’t know anything about HTML, CSS, or anything, so I got more books through the library, specifically on HTML, CSS, and Javascript. I just started reading these books cover-to-cover. At the time I was working at a group home on the graveyard shift from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. So, I’d go there and after I’d put the kids to sleep, I’d stay up reading the books and practicing in between making my rounds. I must have read four books all the way through before I was confident enough to even attempt to rebuild the chapter’s website. When I finally decided to get started, Bootstrap version one had just come out—coincidentally—about three months earlier, and I just happened to find it online. I read through their entire documentation and was like, ‘Screw it. I’m going to make this website right now.’ I rebuilt the entire website in about five hours.

Every month or so I made my chapter’s website better and better through successive iterations. Eventually, I got good enough to where I was making websites for other people. Word-of-mouth started to spread, and it just went from there.

A few years passed, and I decided I wanted to do this full-time. At that time I was a computer technician for Apple, freelancing on the side, but I was making more money through my freelance work than in the computer gig at Apple so I quit. I went to the Rocket Bootcamp in Tempe and what I learned from it took me to the next level.

I just kept building and building.”

2. What do you think it is that drew you to web development as opposed to graphic design?

“It’s kind of like me. I’m the kind of person where I need to understand how things work. I don’t like just doing stuff. When you learn things, you got to learn by doing.

For some people, it’s enough just to read something. I have to learn by doing and understanding how it actually works.

I was always that little kid who would find my family’s electronic devices and take them apart. I had no idea how to put them back together. The stuff was completely broken when I was done, but I wanted to see what was inside of it. I really want to understand how the technology works and how to put things together from scratch.

WordPress is kind of cool in that you can have a theme that you can plug in, and you can build the website using tools provided to you. But, for me, that’s not enough. What if I don’t have any of that? I need to know how to start from a blank slate and make it work. And that’s the type of person that I am.

So, that’s what keeps me going. With web development, there’s always something new coming out, and there’s always a new way to do something. So, never, ever stop learning.

3. What is the component of web development that has changed the most since you first started?

“I’d say that CSS has changed the most. As far as the front-end, HTML is how everything is laid out to the browser, and how everything is structured. CSS is what controls what that structure actually looks like, and Javascript is how it behaves.

When I first started, CSS was midway through version two. Now, we’re in version three. If you know anything about what it takes for any language to bump up a version, it can take ten years for that to happen.

That’s changed the most in that time. LESS, SASS, PostCSS, Stylus and other tools—most that stuff didn’t even exist at that point in time. LESS was still in its infancy. By nature, CSS is not a programmatic language. It is what it is: you just have to write it in its vanilla syntax. But, now, with the tools that are available, you can write it in sub-sets, scripting languages, all kinds of stuff and it all just compiles to plain CSS. This allows you to add all the fun stuff like logic into in it. CSS just very recently started to support native variables, not to mention that now you can code complex layouts and designs that in the past you had to use images, tables, etc. Now, you can do it all using just the plain language itself.

Ever since React came out, now more than ever you have people who don’t even write CSS in CSS anymore. They write CSS strictly in Javascript, and that opens up an entire new breadth of possibilities. So, definitely, CSS has changed the most. And Javascript, a close second. Not so much the language itself, but definitely how we work with it.”

4. More websites today are being built not just to be mobile-friendly, but to be mobile-first. How has this impacted the kind of work that you do?

“I wouldn’t say it has impacted things too much because Bootstrap has always been mobile-first and that’s actually how I got introduced to responsive web design.

Up until that point, web design was more adaptive, and Bootstrap really did a good job of taking it to the next level and making it more popular and more of a defacto way of doing things.

For me, I’ve always learned how to do things mobile-first, and to build responsive websites.

5. How much does security play a role in your work, and what are some of the things that 5 Fold does to make things secure?

“The good thing is that we already use WordPress, so a lot of security precautions are already built in.

But, when you get into Javascript and PHP in the back-end, that’s when you really, really got to start paying attention to the code you write to make sure it’s secure, just because you’re connecting to databases and you’re connecting to APIs and you’re getting data from everywhere.

And not only that, but you’re also allowing all kinds of external scripts and code that you didn’t write—that you have no control over—to be introduced into your codebase. Likewise, other people are allowing your code, which they have no control over, to enter their codebase. So, you always have to make sure that any time you’re accepting anything from a user or external script—especially because we work with WordPress and everything is so plugged into a database—that anything you accept from outside of your website, you got to make sure that you’ve sanitized your inputs. We got to make sure some idiot doesn’t go and try to write a script to submit into our database that will delete the entire database, hack the site, spread on a web server, or whatever.

Using premium themes and plugins as a base in WordPress, a lot of that is already covered for us. But, even still, with the introduction of the child theme that we use, 100% of a child theme code is 100% custom code, so I’ve been going through that to make sure it is up to standards. WordPress is a beast in that there are tons of built in functions built in for almost anything you could need to do security wise, but it is up to the developer to actually use them.

On the flip side too, if you’re taking something from the database and you’re going to be displaying it on the webpage it should be escaped. So, basically, if something did get into the database that’s potentially dangerous, once it gets to the front end, the code is useless. It might look funny being there, but it won’t actually do anything.

That’s a lot better than having a malicious script running on your website. WordPress is updated on as regular a schedule as I’ve ever seen. WordPress is very secure but it’s not perfect. Every program is going to have its little stupid bugs and kinks, but WordPress security patches come out very frequently.

Also, we use WPEngine, which is also—in my opinion—the best-managed WordPress host that you can use, and they have their own set of security features as far as the server is concerned. They spot it and they flag it. Any security patches that come through for WordPress, they automatically update things. So, the websites are always going to be secure.

Plus, you have me. I’ve been doing security audits as part of my monthly maintenance. Any flags that I do see, I fix them.”

Bonus: What is your favorite flavor of ice cream, and why?

“Cookies ‘n Cream. Actually, I have two favorite flavors of ice cream: Cookies ‘n Cream is the first favorite, just because I love Oreos and it reminds me of dipping an Oreo in milk. Cookies ‘n Cream ice cream just makes sense to me.

The super-close second favorite is Rainbow Sherbet, just because when I was a kid, my mom would always take me to Baskin-Robbins to meet up with her godmother. We’d just get ice cream.

I don’t even know why I got Rainbow Sherbet that first time. It was probably just because I liked the colors, but it happened to taste good. I would always get Rainbow Sherbet after that. It tastes good, and it’s sentimental to me.

Now, the other day, I was with my son at Baskin-Robbins and he gets this Rainbow Sherbet but now there is a like a berry version. It’s purple and green and disgusting, but he loves it.

Personally, I always get two scoops: Cookies ‘n Cream and Rainbow Sherbet. Mix them together a little bit so I get both of them in each bite. It’s awesome.”