In this episode, I talk to Russell Aaron of WebDevStudios who shares his story from originally wanting to become a world-changing journalist and ended up as a WordPress expert.
Russell, who is currently based in Las Vegas, works at Maintainn which forms a part of WebDevStudio and a die-hard WordPress advocate who believes in its power to both transform businesses and lives.
Here are just a few things we talk about:
- The generosity of the WordPress community
- How learning a little bit every day can make a huge difference in the short and long-term
- The reasons on why Russell wants to be a better role model
- The benefits of attending your local WordPress meetups and WordCamps
“Start small. Read one article a day on WPBeginner and another one on Torque. So you’re reading two articles a day. By the end of the week, you’ve read 14 articles and you’ve learnt. Now you know 14 different things about WordPress that you didn’t know when you first started. And when you do that consistently over a month, you will have a really good understanding of how WordPress works. And then two months, three months, four months…” – Russell Aaron
- WebDevStudios: https://webdevstudios.com/
- Personal Blog: https://russellenvy.com/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/enqueue_russ
- What Could Have Been Different in my Life: https://russellenvy.com/what-could-have-been-different-in-my-life/
- WPBeginner: http://www.wpbeginner.com/
- Torque: https://torquemag.io/
And here we go. Welcome to the Ignite Rock Podcast, with me, your host, Ahmed Khalifa. This is episode 10. I’m proud I made it to episode 10 -amazing- and I’m so happy that you guys are here with me today listening to the podcast, I really really appreciate it and I want to thank you.
I am going to be speaking to Russell Aaron. Really really cool guy, I talked to, based all the way in Las Vegas and he’s the guy who’s involved in the WordPress community, quite a bit, not only working in the full time career, helping and support clients. He’s also involved in meet up groups and WordCamps, which is a conference for WordPress and he has been in the WordPress community for many many years, and this is a really really good episode if you want to know how the community really works together and how they help each other, how supportive they are, really had a good chat with Russell, so just sit back, just relax, and enjoy my chat with Russell Aaron.Click Here to Show Transcript
Ahmed: Here we go everyone, I have Russell Aaron here on the line, all the way from Las Vegas, I’m based in Edinburgh, he’s in Las Vegas so you can imagine the time difference is quite big, but we made it work and I’ve mentioned in the intro about what you do Adam, but could you just give us your background on how you got started in your web career, and how did you get to where you are today?
Can you just give us a little story about how you got to where you are today?
Russell: Sure, I started like most people with Myspace, where we were changing our own backgrounds and adding music to profiles and I got into learning how to build pages for bands. I was pretty big into the music scene here in the state of Nevada, but mostly up North in Reno, so I was doing Myspace band layouts and I was blogging, using the Myspace blog about how I couldn’t figure out how to do this, or this graphic was giving me a problem and a buddy of mine suggested that I start a blog, and I go I have a blog, and he goes no you need a real one, and he set me up on WordPress.com, so I started blogging over there, and once I started gaining some traffic, he said you know you can take this … How did he phrase this? He said you could take this on the road as … You could have your own website running on WordPress, and once he showed me that, my mind was kind of blown so I learnt how to set WordPress up on my own domain, and install plugins and themes.
Then I went to college and I wanted to be a journalist, I wanted to write interesting stories, I was going to write the article that ‘Frees Tibet’ you know stuff like that, and the head of the English department walks in and says, if you’re going to be a journalist, you have to write compelling stuff, you cannot just write about janitorial unions, because you have to write for both sides of the story, you can’t be bias.
Number three, you’re going to have your own blog because nobody’s going to hire you unless you have something published online. I said how do you build a blog, and I no longer was interested in journalism. I switched, I started learning programming, and since then it’s been HTML, PHP and WordPress ever since.
Ahmed: Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone you has started their web career through MySpace. I have to ask, do people still use it today? I mean I have to ask…
Russell: So MySpace was fine in the sense of like you could hide your comments and it was just adding a CSS property that says display hidden.
That was mind blowing to me, and now it is something that I do every day. But to answer your question I don’t think anybody is using MySpace, or if they are it’s for a minimal SEO boost, like very minimal if any.
Ahmed: Wow. That’s kind of interesting, I think most people would know that Myspace, it’s very popular for the music industry, so it doesn’t surprise me that you said you were building layouts for rock bands and yeah.
I’ve never used Myspace, I’ve heard of it, I’ve seen people use it but I’m going to assume that for the music industry it’s really really popular.
It’s interesting that you said that you quit journalism kind of all because of a blog, all because of WordPress, all because of that. That’s really interesting, it’s such a big change.
Russell: The irony is that WordPress is for bloggers, it’s for journalists, and I switched to learn how to build it.
It’s one of those things where somebody said something and it ignited a spark inside of me and I wanted to learn how do you build this and then I’m one of the types of people that once I learn something, I want to learn another thing and then I want to learn another thing and how to connect it and how I can put all three pieces together.
Once I started on the WordPress path, it’s been that way ever since.
Ahmed: It’s kind of addictive isn’t it? I know what it feels. I’ve mentioned in the intro that you work at WebDevStudios, could you just give a brief explanation to who they are, what they do and what do you do there?
Russell: Sure, so WebDevStudios was one of the very first WordPress companies that I’ve ever heard of. I have a buddy here in Las Vegas who also works at WebDev, his name is John Hawkins, so he started … He introduced me to a bunch of friends, Brad Williams the owner, Brian Messelaner, stuff like that and I kind of got my foot in through that way.
WebDev we do WordPress, BuddyPress, mobile and support for big brands. We have a saying where WebDev wrote the book on WordPress and that’s because a bunch of our people who work at WebDev have actually written the WordPress for dummies and stuff like that.
I feel like we build great things for great clients. We have a lot of big name clients and we do a lot of custom WordPress development and we’re kind of just your WordPress development solution.
I haven’t met anybody at WebDev who cannot solve a problem yet.
Russell: What I do is I’m actually on the other side of the house which is WordPress support and that is under another umbrella called Maintain and so we offer a monthly … I don’t want to say subscription even though that’s kind of what it is. We offer a monthly service where we backup your site every day, we update your plugins and themes once a week, we also put you on a security watch so we’re checking to see for malware or DNS changes or anything that happens suspiciously, that’s what our company Maintain does.
We have six people now who work for Maintain. We’re slowly growing. We have a large pot of clients to manage, and I think that’s one of the best parts about my day.
Ahmed: That’s pretty cool, and it does seem that at that part of the world, because you’re quite far away, it does seem like it’s quite a big WordPress community there in terms brands such as WebDevStudios or the Meetup which you are a part of and WordCamp and so on and so forth.
Am I right in saying that there’s a bit of a community around the state of Nevada or even Las Vegas?
Russell: Yes, so we don’t have the size of like let’s say a San Diego or a Los Angeles or even a Philadelphia, but what’s cool about the WordPress community here in Las Vegas is that we get together every month and it’s growing like crazy. We have a space, they used to give us, I think we had like 40 chairs and now the space that we’re at has over 200 chairs and we’re filling that all the time, so I think we’re going in the right direction, I think we have a solid group of people who want to learn and who are very smart when it comes to blogging and not just blogging about things in general, but we have a guy in our group who blogs just about Las Vegas and he’s getting you know one or two million hits a month.
Russell Aaron: Having people like that in our group who are not just WordPress knowledgeable but they know how marketing works, they know how to get it out and get traffic, having that I think that’s really grown our group.
Ahmed: I think that’s one thing that I always tell people about Meetup, it’s that it’s not just for WordPress fanatics, it’s not just for people in the technical background, it’s for anyone really who can join in and to learn about anything and I can understand what you said about it’s not as big as San Diego and so on because in Edinburgh we have our own Meetup here once a month, we have a few dozen people, consistently at least.
Ahmed: You’re right you get a mix of people in there so you can come with a problem and there’s definitely going to be someone there who can help you fix that problem whether it’s technical content and social and so on and so forth.
I agree with that.
Russell: Not only can they help you, but let’s say they cannot help you, there’s usually one or two people in the meetup who at least know what you’re trying to fix so they can tell you of that’s called a taxonomy or this is called a custom post type and they can actually help you find the language to speak to a developer, not that you have to learn anything different but some things are called something different and so they can actually help you get the jargon down to say when you come to a company like WebDev, you can say I have this broken taxonomy help me, and it makes that conversation so much smoother.
What I like about Meetups is that I’ve always wanted to get a group of people together who have common interest. Like we all can go to a bar and we know we like to drink or we can go to a sporting event because we all like whatever the team is but what’s cool about Meetups is it’s like going to many WordCamps every month.
I attend multiple Meetups here in Las Vegas, we have an SEO group, we have a blogger group, we have a podcaster group. Machine learning is really big here, an angular and PHP, we have it all.
I mean there’s really nothing we don’t have in Las Vegas right now, but what’s cool is you go there and you learn interesting things about a community that you have no idea about.
I learnt from some angular developers about how to do something and what they showed me actually helped solve a problem that I was having with a client of ours that really expanded my opportunity to provide better support, so you never know what you’re going to learn, it’s free, it’s a mini WordCamp, and you get to make new friends. There’s not a downside there.
Ahmed: There’s not a downside, I agree with you. It’s just an awesome environment to be in and I try to attend every single month whenever I can. It’s amazing what you get out of it. It is free and people are happy to help you, to talk to you, to go out for social events and so on and so forth.
I always tell people just attend because you’ll be surprised by who are there. I’ve even spoken those who are business owners. Not necessarily heavy member of the WordPress community, they are business owners, they have a website and they want to learn more, that’s the kind of environment that we have, it’s just suitable for everyone so I agree with you.
Russell: There’s a running joke in the WordPress community where a client hires a developer, three months goes by and then that developer leaves, and then leaving the person with the website looking to hire somebody else.
I try to target those people in our group to say we can help you find the developer, but if you don’t want a developer, if you want to do this on your own, come join our group because I’m going to show you how to do this. I might not show you exactly what you need the first month or the second month, but if you keep coming back, if you participate in the group and you ask the questions that you need, we can get you to that place. It’s not going to be a short process, but it’s not going to be ten years either.
We have an open policy in our group where anybody who wants a topic, whether it’s about menus or plugins or hooking up their sites to analytics, they can ask the question and I will find somebody to put a 25 to 30 minute presentation on it.
The other side is if nobody speaks up and says I want you to talk about this, I get to pick what we talk about for that meetup which is always fun.
Ahmed: It’s true that for now and then you have a presentation about a particular topic and then have a … Almost like a debate around that, but that’s the essence of WordPress isn’t it? It’s so community based and there’s so much community helping you and backing you up, that kind of thing wouldn’t you think?
That’s how it works really for WordPress, and I’ve noticed that you’re heavily involved in the community, you know in the meetups and WordCamps and your job and so on and so forth, and I always talk about the community being one of the biggest advantage about WordPress. What is it about the community that makes it what it is right now?
What is it about the community that you love so much?
Russell: I first joined the WordPress community by jumping on the advanced WordPress group on Facebook. I started off with the intention of promotion my business. He’s a group of people with WordPress sites, they’re looking for help, so I jumped on there and I started just answering questions. You know here’s how I would do it or PM me, let’s talk and I was just fixing people’s sites. I wasn’t charging anything, I used that as a learning curve right?
I was helping people, I got to see different ways that people use WordPress because I use WordPress, you use WordPress and we kind of accomplish the same thing, but how we got there are two different processes, and that always fascinates me on how we did the same thing but in two different ways.
What’s cool is when I started doing that with people, when I started helping them, I started learning that there are other people out there like myself who offer support and they were kind of like hey since you’re doing that let me know you what we’re doing and I started meeting a larger audience of people and they were just welcoming.
It’s like hey I need a place to crash, oh come sleep with us. It’s kind of like that where it’s like hey I need something to do and they’re like hey we have a WordPress job over here, join in. We’ll get you signed up on GitHub and you can start pushing all your commits.
What I like is that this community of WordPress fine individuals. I haven’t met anybody yet that hasn’t said I know how to do that, let me show you. When you ask for help, somebody will help you, maybe not the person you wanted to help you but somebody will help you. I think that’s a huge advantage. When you look at something like the sales industry right. When you figure out a sales pitch and you’re making a hundred sales a month, you don’t share that information with another sales person, that’s how you stay on top.
What’s cool about WordPress is somebody figures out hey here’s how you write a filter to do this cool thing with titles, and they share that on their blog and now I know how to do that as well. It’s not an industry where secrets are being kept hidden, it’s something where you can learn WordPress on a grand scale rather quickly just by reading people’s blogs.
Ahmed: Very true and it’s kind of when you go on the internet, you google whatever problem related to WordPress, the amount of content out there that people find out themselves, a solution to and they give it to you for free is insane. It’s really really cool.
Russell: What I also like about it too is a lot of … The problem I have with WordPress is not with WordPress itself but with SEO, so you might find an article which says here’s how to do it but that article was written in like 1912, and maybe they’re using a function that’s been depreciated or maybe they’re doing this thing where a plugin wasn’t invented around that time so what I wish people did was say hey we wrote this three years ago and here’s the version of WordPress I was using when I wrote this article.
I think that’ll be more helpful when I see oh they were using 3.6 I’m on 4.72. Maybe I’m going to read this but maybe let’s see if they have anything with newer take on it. Even though WordPress is backwards compatible, I kind of feel like we should be labelling … I wrote this blog post for this version you know?
Ahmed: That makes sense actually, and I think I can understand what you’re saying about … Because my background, part of it is SEO, I can understand what you’re saying, like any article that you write, maybe five years ago, ten years ago, you can question whether is it relevant today or not, will it work today or not, is it outdated is it not? You don’t know and it’s hard to really say whether it works ten years ago or not, just depends on scenario so …
Russell Aaron: Well we have a lot of people that come to our meetup group that said oh I did this thing and they showed us this article and the article says oh you want to switch to colour of your links, you need to buy a new theme, when that’s not the case you now, you can update CSS, and you can change the colour of your links.
Russell Aaron: Before that was really big, WordPress had this way of just change the theme out, you can have this new look, and now things are getting so robust that it’s not just as simple as changing a theme any more so. The only problem I have is just … Whether you write an article or you’re speaking at a WordCamp or something along those lines, just let people know what version of WordPress or when you discovered this and make sure it’s relevant to them.
Ahmed: Okay, that’s a good tip. Very very good tip. I think going back to what you said about the community giving so much, I remember a story that one of the member of a meetup in Edinburgh, her name is Heather and she said when she went to Barcelona, I believe there was a WordCamp in Barcelona at that time, I’m not sure what it was, but she was there and she had everything stolen unfortunately, in terms of her wallets, passports everything and she didn’t have any cash left so she had to wait for a few days to get everything back. As soon as people heard about it in the WordPress community, they all rallied around and said come over to us, you can stay at our place, come over to us, join us for dinner, come over to us we can help you out all that kind of thing, and it’s just so so typical of WordPress, of how it works. People just help each other out and she wasn’t exactly saying can you? They just offered themselves so it’s pretty cool about WordPress like that.
Russell: I feel pretty safe at a WordCamp. I mean I don’t just leave my things laying around but I’ve gotten up from my stuff to go drink a water and come back and stuff is still there.
I’ve never felt like oh I need to watch my stuff and I mean I’ve gone to WordCamps in Detroit where it’s probably not the best city in the world but I still felt rather safe and that’s what I like about WordCamps, is that everybody’s there to learn, nobody wants to have a problem, but to have a good time. I think that’s one of those things where when you go to a WordCamp, we’re all in some kind of agreement is saying we’re going to have a good time, don’t be mean to people right?
Ahmed: That is WordCamp, I know what you mean. WordCamp, the few that I’ve been to in the UK anyway, yeah you feel safe, you feel really safe, you feel really happy, you’re really enjoying it you learn a lot and it’s really good fun, so if anybody gets a chance, you should always try to attend a WordCamp in your local area. There’s always one going on somewhere around the world.
Russell: Oh yeah.
Ahmed: I’ve noticed about one of your projects, and I’ve been looking at your site, and you’ve said one of your bigger projects is about bettering yourself, about becoming the best role model possible for your meetup group in particular, but obviously in general as well.
Can you tell me about that? I mean why is this one of your projects and what is it that you do about how to become a better role model for other people?
Russell: When I first started our meetup group here in Las Vegas, I was kind of that guy who showed up and knew it all. There was nobody that could tell me anything, I know everything about WordPress, and then I met a guy by the name of John Hawkins who actually ran the WordPress meetup who was that guy. He actually knew all the answers and if he didn’t he could figure out relatively quickly, so when I first started our meetup group, I would be the heckler right? Somebody would say something and I would make a joke, and throw them off their game or whatever. I kind of slowly have that reputation for awhile and in 2015, John Hawkins wanted to take a break from running the meetup group and from running WordCamp and he asked if anybody wanted to run the group. I raised my hand and he said have at it, and it was at that point where I could no longer be the heckler right?
I could no longer be the person who just showed up and did whatever they want, because when you run a meetup group, every question is directed to you even though it might not be directed to you.
What I mean by that is somebody might raise their hand and say hey Jessica, I have a question for you, when you’re doing this thing with WordPress, and essentially what I’m saying is even though two people are having a conversation, as you run a meetup group, you need to be listening to A the question that the person’s asking, and B the answer that the person’s giving, just in case they’re giving wrong advice, or just in case they say something that was true but is not true now.
Once I realised that very question’s being directed to me whether it’s actually asked to me or not, I had to stop and I had to recount my chickens and gather everything up and start fresh and say this is what we’re going to do in our group. I could no longer just be that heckler and it’s one of those things that I struggled with for awhile.
I love comedy, I love making jokes and I love coming up with funny things about WordPress and stuff but when you run a meetup group and people look to you to have the answers, you cannot have both. You cannot have the funny joke guy and the serious guy so I decided to meet somewhere in the middle and this is the first time that I’m going to be, when I run a WordPress meetup.
Part of becoming a better role model was actually going and getting a job with WordPress. I headed my own support company; I did that for a little bit, sold that. I had a plugin that styled gravity forums, I did that and sold that. I worked for a mortgage company where I did some rather interesting stuff with WordPress, in the mortgage space which not a lot of people are doing, which I’m still writing new plugins for, because that’s actually one of the spaces of WordPress that are kind of less traffic right?
Like SEO, those are the words that nobody’s really going after. Mortgage is kind of one of those things … The point I’m getting at is I wasn’t taking myself and WordPress seriously because I was kind of doing it. I didn’t have a WordPress job, I had a mortgage job where I was doing WordPress, so I thought you know I want to walk into that meetup and have my WebDev sweater on or have a WordPress sweater on and say I work for a WordPress company, you can trust what I’m going to say, and that’s all part of being a better role model right?
Ahmed: That’s really cool I feel, the way you described it, and you know that’s really really interesting and it does sound like correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like once you took on that responsibility, then you knew you had to kind of pivot yourself and knew you had to kind of adjust your image toward other people. Really, with great power comes great responsibility kind of thing, really, so it’s that kind of idea.
Russell: Well that’s what it was so to give you an example, you know when somebody says would you use WordPress to do XYZ, and my answer used to be oh yeah totally because WordPress is great. My answer is still that, but when somebody asks me that question now, I have a couple follow ups like what do you plan to do in five years, how do you plan to actually do this specific part of your site, because that’s going to determine if WordPress is the right decision for you, so I learned that the answers that I’m going to be giving need to be founded in deeper roots, so I started … I read about 12 hundred articles a week. I mean whether it’s re reading stuff on WP beginner. I used to read WP Candy a lot when that was around. I have a post status subscription, you know I’m reading everything that it says.
I’m trying to read as much as I can, not just for my job, because it helps our clients and it helps people solve their problems, but it helps me become better with WordPress, and it helps me become a better person when I offer free help to people such as the meetup or a WordCamp, and I think that my answers are rooted in better information now.
I recognise that I was a ‘WordPress’ guy, and now I’m a WordPress guy as in I can verify I know what I’m doing now.
It was one of those things where you cannot stay that same person in the WordPress community, at least for me because I was the guy where I showed up and they were like oh it’s Russ, hahaha, and now it’s hey Russ I have a question come over here.
I’ve seen in my transformation how easy it is to it in, or not fit in, that’s the wrong word I don’t want to say that. How easy it is to transition to be the person who used to look up to somebody, to now being looked up to and that’s ultimately what I wanted.
Ahmed: I think that’s a good target. That’s a lot of articles to stay on top of and I agree with you that you want to read as much as you can. Always be learning is one thing that I’m a big advocate of is that you should always learn something either new or just become more advanced in a topic or whatever, because then you can help other people, and I’m huge huge believer that the more you learn the more you can help other people.
Russell: I agree.
Ahmed: It’s so so true. This kind of leads me to my next question because we’re talking about you give advice and give service to other people in terms of WordPress so I’m sure you’ve heard it all before, people question whether WordPress is right for them, or whether they should use it or not, what advice would you give to those who just basically want to start their own WordPress website? What advice would you give to those people?
Russell Aaron: Whether you are starting something new like getting into WordPress or you’re starting a new hobby like jogging or woodworking, you always start with a loss, because there are tonnes of stuff that you need to know in order to do things right?
Like with woodworking specifically, you need to learn how to cut with this other saw to make a joint, you need to learn how to do this other thing, how to you know … You cannot learn all that in one day and it’s definitely going to take a lifetime of learning that knowledge to master that craft.
When you come to WordPress, I think a lot of people especially small business owners who maybe have a mam and pap, pizza shop or coffee shop or something like that, they feel overwhelmed because WordPress when you look at it, it is rather large right?
There’s plugins, there’s themes, there’s developers, there’s owners, there’s users, there’s designers, it’s a big space. My advice is start small. Read one article a day on WP beginner. Just one, so you’re reading two articles a day and by the end of the week, of seven days, you’ve read 14 articles. Now you know 14 different things about WordPress that you didn’t know when you first started.
When you do that consistently over a month, you’re going to have a really good understanding of how WordPress works. And then two months, three months, four months right?
When I first started learning WordPress, I kind of lucked out in the sense of we didn’t have an API, job descript wasn’t that big in the community, even objects … Object oriented programming wasn’t a big thing yet. The big thing around was child themes. The point I’m trying to make is you cannot learn everything overnight, you cannot just sit around and in ten years know things, you have to get out and do things, so when you’re reading, start small. Read one article, and then another article, and then another. By the end of a week you have X amounts of articles read, you have a good understanding of WordPress, or you have some understanding … A better understanding than you had a week ago and you keep that going.
You know I know WordPress better this week than I did last week and that’s twice as much as I knew the week before that so when you get that ball rolling, you keep that momentum, you can learn WordPress rather quickly, you just have to really put your mind to it and just read something. Even if you don’t understand it, just acknowledge that it’s there, and you’re learning something new and take in the information.
I learned at WordCamp Las Vegas 2011 about child themes. I wasn’t in that part of my WordPress career when I learned about child themes but when I got to that part of my career, I remember what I learned by going to a WordCamp talk and that’s what I’m trying to say is even though it seems over your head today, it won’t be tomorrow.
Ahmed: That’s great, that’s really good advice, I like that a lot. Start small and then build yourself up like that. There’s no point starting from zero and jumping to 100 in day one. Just gradual steps.
Russell: There’s a lot to learn just by using the WordPress dashboard right like where to go to write a post, where to go to change your settings. That probably could take you know six to seven months to really matter that, and then it’s going to take another three years to learn PHP, another three years to learn object oriented programming, another five years to learn java script, and then another six years to learn java script deeply so that’s a long time, and so you’re saying that I cannot have a WordPress site for 20 years because I don’t know any of this? Especially when java script is being developed every single day and advancing every single day? I’m never going to have a website.
What I’m saying is start small, learn small and just mess around with it. Don’t be afraid to break things, but make a backup. I wish the first thing I learned when I came to WordPress was learning how to make a backup.
I learned about themes so I was changing themes left and right and then plugins came into my life and I was installing and deactivating plugins, and then if I broke something I had to restart over. I didn’t learn about backups and i wished i would have learned about backups first, saying you have a copy of your site now, if you break it you can always go back to this point. That would have saved so much time in my career.
Ahmed: Oh don’t I know it. I’m sure a few people have suffered a site gone down and disappeared forever. That was going to be one of my questions for you if you had to start again, what would you do differently? Yeah you need to have a backup. Every single website, you must have a backup, big or small, totally agree with you on that.
Russell: What would I do differently, that’s a good question though.
Ahmed: Well I was going to ask you the same because I thought what would you do differently if you had to start again, I mean backup is one of them but that’s kind of maybe at your beginner stage but now you’re looking back at your career, things like that, what would you do differently if you had to start again?
Russell: So there’s actually another aspect of why I wanted to become a better role model, was because I was going to our meetup group and I was saying hey here’s how you do this thing with an object and here’s how you make it into this other thing and people in our meetup group were like look I’m just trying to put our menus together right?
I forgot what it was like to be a beginner because I’m so far along in my career so one of the things that I’ve had to rediscover is how putting menus together for beginners look like or how to explain permalinks in a non technical way.
I’ve kind of had to do this already so where I started with was I’m going to show how to make a backup. So no matter what, whether you have one blog post or you just set up WordPress, make a backup because it’s important. The next thing I would start with is learning how to plan better, so it’s easy to set up a website and to write an about page and a contact page, but I used to put post it notes on a wall and say okay if somebody is logged into my website, they start here, and how do I get them to the page where they pay me money? I used to draw out that map of my site. I used to plan it because it’s so much easier to build on a wall then it is to rebuild your blog every time you had some new idea right?
I wish if I were restarting I would learn backups and I would learn how to plan and come up with a site layout. Once I had that then I would look into all right what plugins do we need, because when I first learned it was what theme do I need, and then I was basing my plugins off whether it was compatible with the plugins, and in today’s world, that’s not fair. In my experience in today’s WordPress world is all right you’re going to be using some kind of eCommerce plugins like WooCommerce or Easy Digital downloads because you’re selling something, so let’s make that decision first and then we’ll find you a theme to match this plugin instead of vice versa right?
Because you find a theme that says it’s WooCommerce ready and people feel like they have to go with WooCommerce because they picked that theme. My question is why did you pick a theme to begin with? Let’s make a decision on how you’re going to get paid first and then we’ll pick the files to make it look pretty.
Ahmed: That makes sense, okay. A lot of things to learn but that is the whole point, given that you learn as you go along and then you become better when you start breaking things, you learn it from the hard way and then you build up your knowledge that way. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that and I’ve told people so many times, just start breaking things, you know be reasonable, but if you experiment with anything really, but in this case WordPress or websites, experiment with it, break things and then you learn from that and then you move forward so it just makes sense completely, I totally agree with you on that.
Russell: It’s one of those things where when you don’t know what you’re looking for, everything is an available option because there’s ten contact forms plugins out there like gravity forums and formidable and ninja forums so if you don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish, they’re all a viable solution.
Now if you say you know I want to have a contact forum where people can write me but I also want to take online payment donations, now we know where to look for and we can start ruling out other plugins.
That’s why I said I wish I would have learned how to plan my sites better so I could actually have a better understanding of no this plugin won’t work for me or yes this plugin will work for me because until I learn that, I was installing everything and I’ll be like well it does what I want but not really.
I had those nights where I was saying uhhh and now I’m like yes, this is what I want to do let’s move forward, and my building process has actually sped up because of that.
It takes me four or five days to build what I’m trying to do instead of five months.
Ahmed: No that makes sense and so much of what we said right now is really really good things to know. All valid, really useful for everyone so I appreciate you sharing that, it’s really really cool stuff.
I was just thinking, wrapping things up, I just want to get your idea of … Just a few things about you a bit more is what is your biggest strength?
Russell: My biggest strength…so personally I feel like my biggest strength is my willingness to actually help if any situation. Whether I know the answer or not, I know how to find the answer.
I think my biggest strength is identifying the situation at hand and coming up with an idea on how to solve it. If somebody comes to me and says oh I have a category and it’s broken, well it’s not a category it’s a taxonomy. I know how to identify that and I know how to go and find the solution to fix that.
I think that would be my biggest strength, is identifying and solving, and I know where you’re going with this, are you going to ask me what my biggest weakness is?
Ahmed: Well of course, I’m not going to let you get away with that. What is your biggest weakness and how do you go around it?
Russell: One thing that’s hard … So I do WordPress support and one thing is all of our support is done through text. Not like texting through phones but emails, so somebody sends us an email and I read it as hey guys our site is down, wondering if you guys had a minute, I read that as something that’s maybe not as important. I don’t know what the other person is saying on the other end. They might be saying hey guys my sites down, help what are we going to do? I cannot really get that tone or diction from what they’re saying so sometimes I perceive things as not being important when they are important or I say oh this is important and this person doesn’t really hold it that way. That’s one of my weaknesses is I don’t think it’s me personally I just think there’s a power disparity there where we’re using this medium to communicate. You and I can see each other right now you can see the passion and you can see my mannerisms and what I’m doing with hands.
I cannot see that when everything is done through emails and I think that’s one of my biggest weaknesses is not being able to identify how that person feels at this given moment, so what I try to do to combat that is have an open mind when I read what they write. Hey guys our site is down. All right, that probably means they’re not happy, but let’s not assume that let’s read the rest of the message before we jump off the cliff.
I kind of train myself to see certain words and these words mean red, these words mean go to Death Con 4 or something along those lines so one of those things is just like asking better questions, so is this something that needs to be done right away? I’m just wondering if that’s what you guys meant or giving people more than one response. I think sometimes in support somebody will say oh just do it this way. Well now we know in the WordPress community that there’s always five ways to do something different. You can use visual composer, you can use a short code, you can it on HTML you can do it on the template so let’s give one answer that we think is going to be very helpful but I’m going to list three other options just in case that’s not what they were looking for. Right?
That way when the next email comes in, they say hey that was helpful, maybe I’ve calmed them down or maybe I’ve answered their question even though they didn’t ask me a specific question. Does that make sense?
Ahmed: Yeah it does make sense. Even I can kind of relate to that and I’ve seen people for example, if they are sending Whatsapp messages or text messages, and they’re reading it, it’s hard to understand the emotion behind what is written and what is sent to you.
Even the other way around, if you send a message on your phone to the other person, unless you use Emojis, which is probably the only way to put your emotion in text, it’s really hard to understand the emotion of that person, so I can understand what you’re saying, it does make sense and I think a lot of people can relate to that.
Russell: Or until they send you a picture with them pulling their hair out, you don’t know that they’re really mad at you right now you know?
It’s one of those things where … That’s hard to manage, is what is your client feeling right now, and how important is it to them with what they’re saying. They’re saying their site’s down. Do they care? Are they wondering what’s going on? Are they in a panic, are they calling everybody that they can? It’s really tough to get that from an email you know?
Ahmed: I think everyone had that problem so I appreciate you sharing that as well. Well if we’re going to finish off and wrap things up, if we’re going to go all sentimental, what are you most proud about with your career to date and your presence in WordPress and all these things, what are you most proud about?
Russell: What am I most proud about. That’s tough man.
Ahmed: Because there’s too many or hard to pick one?
Russell: I’m thinking of all these great things I did you know like I knocked down the Berlin Wall, that was a big moment in my life.
Ahmed: I mean we can end the conversation there you know, I cannot get anyone to beat that, there’s no way.
Russell: I know right, next all you have to do is world peace that’s how you top … I think what I’m most proud about is I kept the company’s doors open by utilising WordPress. Because of that people still have jobs. Another thing I’m proud of is that once a month even though it’s only for two hours, I get to help people feel better about their websites, I get to teach even though I don’t have a degree to be a teacher, meetups have offered me the chance to be a teacher, not just in WordPress, but in blogging and podcasting, stuff like that. I get to be part of a community that is very supportive, that will not only tell you how to do it they will help you do it.
I’ve had many people write the code that I’ve needed to solve the problem and they’ve never asked me to send a donation or a Paypal or whatever.
I think what I’m most proud of is joining a community that I didn’t fully understand and I’m grateful that I did right? I mean I have a blog post on my site that’s called what could have been different in my life. I had two roads I could have taken from my first job. I could have worked at this place or this place and I chose you know option A and I always think about how my life would have been different I would have went with option B, and so relating that with WordPress, I think about that all the time. If I wasn’t in WordPress, would I be in the Druple community, would I be a java developer, would I be working in a coal mine, like who know where I would be you know?
I think I’m very proud that I made a decision. I’ve met some very interesting people who have helped me along the way and I get to participate in that and I get to help in one way or another. I get to help power 25% of the internet.
I wrote a plugin that solves one simple thing and hopefully people use it and by doing so maybe I’m helping somebody else. I think that’s in a nutshell that’s what I’m most proud of is being able to help, being able to have a voice and contribute.
Ahmed: I think that’s pretty awesome, I think it’s really really well put as well. What more could you want, the fact that you’re happy, you’re helping other people I think that’s pretty awesome.
I’m going to put that blog post in the show notes for everyone to find if they want to read about that as well, I think it’ll be very interesting to understand that so this has been a really really good chat, really interesting, you share some awesome stuff, even I have learned a tonne just having a conversation with you as well, I’m not going to break down the Berlin Wall, I think I’m too late but I can learn other things, I can make my impact other ways.
Ahmed: I just want to thank you for your time Russell, really really appreciate it. It’s been great and I guess you know if someone wants to find you, or connect with you, where can they find you?
Russell: Either at a WordCamp or at a Meetup?
Ahmed: If anybody wants to go to Las Vegas, you’ll find Russell there.
Russell: Just get a plane ticket, I’m sure we have enough hotel rooms in Las Vegas, so I’m on Twitter as ENQUEUE_RUSS. If not I have a blog called Russellenvy.com, you can find me there or you can just search Russell Aaron and things come up. There’s an American Olympic athlete with the same name as myself or I think he’s Aaron Russell so don’t get me confused.
Ahmed: I’m going to make sure, just to help people, I’m going to put your link in the show notes so that they are not going to the wrong Aaron Russell, Russell Aaron, whatever it’s going to be so I’m going to help them with that so don’t you worry about that, that’s going to be cool.
Russell: There’s actually a kid that I grew up with in Reno, his name is Russell Aaron as well so if you actually go on Twitter and you search for Russell Aaron, he actually comes up first and we look very similar. We had the same classes, we went to school together, it’s very awkward you know.
Ahmed: Unbelievable. I mean okay I’m going to be extra careful not to get your neighbour in the show notes as well. Not that’s awesome. Again Russell, thanks for your time, thanks for sharing it’s just been totally awesome. Like I said, anybody wants to go to Las Vegas, make sure you say hi to Russell, so yeah Russell thanks again.
Russell: Thank you very much.
Ahmed: And that is it, thank you Russell again for coming onto the show. I really really appreciate it, I really really enjoyed talking to you and it just made me more excited to be part of the WordPress community. It is such an awesome awesome place to be, and I hope you guys, the listeners, you can see how supportive the WordPress community is really because it’s just the way we work and it’s just what we do … We just want to help and we also want to be together, and also we also want to have fun together as well and I hope this interview just shows that as well.
So thank you for listening, I hope you enjoyed it. If you enjoyed it, I would really appreciate it if you could leave a review on iTunes, I would really really appreciate it. In the meantime, let’s rock with WordPress.