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Scott Basgaard Interview

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Scott Basgaard (@scottbasgaard) lives somewhere in the mountains of beautiful Southern Norway. Born and raised in New Jersey, he moved there to live with his wife Renate. He loves all things WordPress and organized the first WordCamp Norway in 2012. Scott makes a living under his alter ego, Scotty B, who is a Support Ninja over at WooThemes specializing in WooCommerce. He’s passionate about helping others and recently organized a 24-hour-long WordPress event, which was free for community, called WordSesh.

How did you first get involved with WordPress, and what brought it into your life?

So I had been dabbling with open source platforms in high school around 2006. Mostly WordPress, and a few others I can’t bear to mention. Although I didn’t really get involved with WordPress until early 2009, while studying Computer Science at Rutgers University, when I had taken an entry level programming job for an ad I found on Craigslist.

The job description wasn’t WordPress specific but mentioned open source solutions which was something I was interested in. Within a week of applying, I interviewed with Brad Williams, CEO and Co-Founder of WebDevStudios, and got the job as their first developer hire.

From that moment on my WordPress career was kicked into overdrive. At WebDevStudios, not only was I involved with building really cool things for clients with WordPress, I was releasing plugins on the WP.org plugin respository and heavily involved with the WP community both helping out with meetups in the area and attending various WordCamps. I actually attended seven WordCamps across the country from 2009 and 2010: Mid Atlantic ’09, Chicago ’09, New York ’09, Boston ’10, Miami ’10, San Francisco ’10, and New York ’10.

These first two years have definitely shaped who I am today. I learned a lot in a short period of time and made a lot of really good friends along the way.

You’ve worked as a developer with WebDevStudios and more recently (up to the present) as a Support Ninja at WooThemes. What did the one bring to the other, and how are they most different?

I actually wrote a blog post around this over at WP Realm titled What Makes a Great WordPress Support Specialist.

In the article I write about my previous experience as a developer and involvement in the WordPress community was a huge benefit to my transition into the support world:

“…having a technical background and general knowledge of WordPress coding standards and best practices is a HUGE win. This has really helped me. With a stronger background in WordPress development and involvement in the community, I’m able to not only provide knowledgeable answers but am confident that they are up to par with WordPress coding standards. In other words, done the right way.”

With that said, being strictly support I feel that I’ve fallen out of the loop a bit and am looking for ways to stay involved and keep my WordPress and coding skills fresh and up to date. That’s something I’d never want to let go and am currently involved with developing a few plugins and projects on the side.

At WooThemes you’re a Support Ninja. What interested you most about taking on the job, how have you made it your own, and what’s surprised you most about what it entails?

Short answer is that I’m passionate about helping people and love WordPress so it’s a perfect fit.

While working at WebDevStudios we had Support & Maintenance packages for clients which I also managed alongside client development. It wasn’t really the same thing as what I’m currently doing at WooThemes but I learned that I enjoyed helping users with WordPress and when I saw the opening at WooThemes I knew it was the job for me.

As of April 1, I’ve been at WooThemes officially for a year supporting our customers. I think that’s what surprises me the most. Not because I’d expect to be somewhere else but because I still love what I do.

Most people may view support as a boring, tedious, repetitive task but I’ve learned to really enjoy it. Each and every day has it’s new challenges and obstacles for me to take on. Not only am I solving problems and pointing people in the right direction, I’m also learning things on the way so it’s really a win win. Most of all, I strive to deliver happiness. Who doesn’t love that?

I actually gave a talk about this earlier this year at WordCamp Norway titled Help Yourself by Helping Others, which you can find on WordPress tv. If you can deliver happiness in every aspect of your support you’ll only benefit and this is something we try to do at WooThemes.

You work remotely for WooThemes from Norway. What tips would you give newbs to the whole work-from-home thing, and what do you wish you’d known when you first started working remotely?

My biggest advice to those who are new to working remotely would be to make a work schedule and try stick to it. If you aren’t strict to this you’ll easily find yourself working all the time so try to have a healthy work-life balance. This also ties into what I would have liked to have known when I first started working remotely. I’ve just started to find a nice balance.

Also, I definitely miss the social aspect of working in an office but yearly trips where you can meet your colleagues, like our annual WooTrip. Also, meetups and WordCamps in the WP community definitely make up for it. It’s definitely not for everyone but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Not everyone can work from home, the local coffee shop, or even from an airplane which I’ve now done a few times. Incredible!

At what point does a WP outfit need a dedicated support person (or people), and what can bootstrappers just getting started do to make their support at least as good as it can be in the meantime?

Right away. Support is easily the most important aspect of your business, even if you are just starting out. You obviously need to have a product or service, but definitely don’t overlook support or throw it under the bus.

Again, don’t just do customer service or support, focus on serving happiness to your users/customers and you’ll be doing things right.

Conversely, where do you see people going wrong with customer service, and what are the consequences of that?

The biggest issue I see is people have a wrong view around support. I bet most people even cringe when they hear the word. Will you have horrible experiences and miserable clients? Of course, but let it go and focus on the users and customers who actually appreciate your help.

Here’s a quote from Mark Forrester, WooThemes co-founder, that really hits the nail on the head: “Customer support is the opportunity to convert a disgruntled customer into a loyal product evangelist by over-delivering and creating a memorable human connection with a digital brand.”

Remember, support isn’t a bad thing or a headache for your company. It should always be viewed as an opportunity to benefit.

You’re also the author of some awesome plugins. Which are you proudest of, and what itch were you trying to scratch with it?

I’m definitely most proud of CollabPress. A plugin I released in January of 2010 which, at the time, was BaseCamp on WordPress. There was a need for a project management plugin in the WP community and I decided to make something. We used it at WebDevStudios internally and a few others were as well. I think most successful plugins are those you can both use and benefit from yourself and release to the public as well. Open source, it’s a beautiful thing.

Although I can’t take all the credit. CollabPress 1.0 was a complete rewrite, once custom post types were introduced in WordPress, and Brad Williams, Boone, Eric Andrew Lewis and Christopher Cochran have put a lot of hard work into it as well.

Eric is actually the lead for v1.3, which released last week, and it’s a complete UI overhaul. I love the project and look forward to it’s bright future. You should definitely check it out.

Which three essential plugins would you recommend to WordPress designers and developers up against deadlines, but trying to ensure that their client’s site doesn’t get borked within a few weeks of installing them?

Tough question!

With WordPress being used for so many different types of sites even picking three plugins is difficult these days. Here’s three, you’ve definitely heard of and are most likely already using, I’d use on almost every setup:

  1. Jetpack — While I usually turn most of the features I don’t need off, Jetpack has a few great tools out of the box like stats, short URLs, easy embed, etc. I love it.
  2. W3 Total Cache — Site speed and performance optimization is a must these days. W3 Total Cache is a great caching tool for your WordPress site. Speed up those load times!
  3. WordPress SEO — I’m not an SEO guy, never have been and probably never will be, but it’s important for the success of your site and WordPress SEO does a great job optimizing your site to best SEO practices with WordPress.

What would you say are the three most important skills or characteristics of a kick-ass world-level support person?

A kick-ass world-level WordPress support specialist needs to:

  1. Not only passionate about WordPress but also involved in the community and loves to give back wherever he/she can.
  2. Be a “people person”, i.e., friendly and easy to communicate with and who can help even the most un-grateful person with a smile.
  3. Have some sort of technical background & skills whether it be HTML/CSS, JS, and/or PHP. Knowledge of WordPress coding standards and best practices is a HUGE win.

from http://wprealm.com/blog/what-makes-a-great-wordpress-support-specialist/.

Last up, how important has your involvement in the WordPress community been to you and your career so far? How would you convince someone up against deadlines that giving something back to the community is worth their time?

It’s been everything and still is. WordPress is truly an amazing platform, it’s the best. But, I don’t believe the success of WordPress is directly related to the product itself. It’s the community that separates it from the rest.

Just last week I had the privilege of organizing an online WordPress event called WordSesh. WordSesh was 24 hours of live WordPress presentations. It was fully free and it’s one and only purpose was to teach people about WordPress. It had over 34 speakers, from all over the world, and with events like WordSesh, meetups and WordCamps I’m really proud to be a part of a community that always comes together to better WordPress.

If you aren’t involved in the community already you are missing so much. For starters, you could regularly attend a local WordPress Meetup, go to a WordCamp. And if there aren’t any near you, you could even look into starting your own like I did here in Norway. The connections you’ll make and knowledge you’ll learn are priceless and well worth your time.

I would also make sure to check out make.wordpress.org to see how you can give back to WordPress. It’s not always easy to find time in our busy schedules to give back. I wish I had more time to, but every little bit helps and let’s continue to make WordPress the most popular tool on the internet.

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