How Hello Dolly Helped Me Appreciate Developers (Even More)

The Hello Beautiful plugin header with abstract shapes overlayed

Every new WordPress website I’ve ever created came with Hello Dolly already installed. It was usually the first thing I deactivated and deleted, too. Although there really isn’t any bloat with that plugin, it didn’t really serve a purpose for me, either. Until this year.

Earlier this year I saw a tweet from @lemonadcodegirl where she repurposed the Hello Dolly plugin to display Hamilton lyrics instead. Her father had retweeted it saying how proud he was and how Hello Dolly was one of the first plugins made by Matt Mullenweg. A little more digging, and I discovered that one of the primary purposes of Hello Dolly is to educate about code and how to make your own plugin.

Challenge accepted.

I’m not a developer. I’ve never claimed to be. And I never intend to pivot to a career in development; however, I do appreciate what developers do, especially our developers at GiveWP! I wanted to learn more. I also realize that diving into Hello Dolly is a shallow swim in the development field; an introduction. Exactly what I was looking for.

Hello Beautiful: My First Plugin

Back in July I was in New Jersey for two weeks while a friend was training for a new job. I was working from a hotel room, and it was during the pandemic, so I pretty much stayed in the whole time. I decided to use my lunch hour to see if I could rewrite Hello Dolly and create a new plugin from it.

But what would I change the lyrics to, and what would I name it? Then it came to me. I’d call it “Hello Beautiful” and replace the lyrics with positive reinforcement.

It went like this:

  • I downloaded Hello Dolly from github. 
  • I unzipped it.
  • I stared at it with a moment of panic.
  • I opened the php file in Sublime.
  • I stared at it with more panic.
  • I took a deep breath.
  • Then I started to unpack it.

The first thing I did was look at what seemed to be the “guts” of the thing. I could see where the lyrics were stored, and how they were listed. Changing those out was the easy part. Figuring out the rest took a little effort, but I was determined, and up for the task.

Changing the Hello Dolly Code

I wrote down the parts I thought needed to be changed in the tiny little notebook I had with me. Luckily, there wasn’t much that needed to be swapped out. You can see my notes here:

Handwritten notes about how to change the Hello Dolly plugin show which words were switched out to create the Hello Beautiful Plugin
Michelle’s handwritten notes to swap out the Hello Dolly code.

Naturally, the most fun part was thinking of the positive reinforcement sayings that would replace Hello Dolly’s lyrics. So I made myself wait until the end to add those as a way to capstone the work and reward myself with some fun. (The marketer in me was excited about this part.)

So I set to work swapping out my information where Matt Mullenweg’s had been. (Seen here is version 1.1, with some new lines and font updates.)

The top of the beautiful.php file shows the package and version number 1.1 of hello beautiful along with the meta information about the plugin.
The “Hello Beautiful” plugin header.

I quickly realized that although PHP code seemed like a foreign language at first, there is order and syntax that makes sense. The pieces are connected. Like the English language has nouns and verbs and then pronouns and adverbs, the way that PHP coding language works is very similar. You have to use words throughout to connect the pieces.

So that’s what I did. I swapped out “Dolly” for “Beautiful” throughout the file. Then, I used my CSS knowledge to change a few things and even add to the file. (I felt pretty badass at already knowing this part.)

Lastly, I made a list of positive sayings to replace the Hello Dolly lyrics:

  • Hello, Beautiful
  • Well, hello, Beautiful
  • It’s so nice to see you
  • You look amazing today
  • You’re an amazing web designer
  • This site you built is gorgeous
  • Have I told you lately that I love you
  • Every time you log in, I smile
  • How have you been beautiful
  • There’s a word for you, it’s ‘Splendiforous’
  • Please come back soon, my dear
  • You should win awards for the amazing work you do
  • The only thing better than this website is YOU

Testing the Hello Beautiful Plugin

Once I had completed the code, I updated the “Read Me” text file, and zipped them together. I then uploaded it to my dev site, crossed my fingers, and activated it. Imagine my surprise when it worked on the first try! I grinned like an idiot.

The WordPress admin header navigation with a quote that says "Other people build websites, you build works of art."
“Hello Beautiful” works beautifully!

Although I don’t expect many to use “Hello Beautiful,” I’ve added it to a few of my own sites both for testing, and because I can always use a bit of positive reinforcement, too. And to feel even more legitimate, I uploaded it to my Github account.

I also tweeted about it:

What I Learned from this Exercise

  1. Coding can be hard. While I was successful, I still don’t know WHY it works. I didn’t really learn to write code, but I did learn more about how it’s assembled, and how to make things connect within the file.
  2. Coding is doable. Especially if you have a passion for it, enjoy analytical processes, and love to see immediate cause and effect in your work. 
  3. The outcome is immediate. In marketing we do the work and then we wait (sometimes quite awhile) to see the fruits of our efforts. When you code, you test it and it either works or doesn’t – in real time. Immediate reward (when it does work).
  4. You’re never too old to learn something new. As a 51-year old woman in WordPress, I didn’t ever think I’d get around to learning more technology. I surprised myself not only by doing it, but also by understanding more than I thought I would.
  5. I have a new appreciation for code. Not that I’ve ever really taken it for granted, but spending some time in an exercise like this helped me have a greater appreciation for my developer friends. I also look at each plugin and theme with a more keen and appreciative eye.

You Can Test the Dev Waters, Too!

If you’ve ever wondered about development, what goes into it, and whether you’d like it, I highly recommend undertaking an exercise like I did. Download a piece of software, dissect it, rebuild it, and see how it feels. It’s kind of like test-driving a new car. Kick the wheels. See how the seats feel. How’s the grip on the steering wheel? If it feels exciting, you might have found a new career.

Lastly, never take for granted the things that we use daily. That theme on your site? Someone spent hours developing that. The plugin that you found does exactly what you need? Developers spent a lot of time making that for you to use. Another example: our developers at Impress spent a lot of time making sure that GiveWP helps you succeed in fundraising. Especially if the user experience is easy and understandable, give props to the developers. Or buy them a cup of coffee, or support them with your donations or buy their premium products. Any way you can tell developers their work is valuable to you is welcome and appreciated. 

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