Brian Krogsgard Interview
Meet Brian Krogsgard, the lead WordPress developer for Infomedia, in Birmingham, Alabama, and also the editor of the recently launched Post Status, a curated WordPress news and links resource. Brian also blogs about the web on his personal website and he tweets far too often @krogsgard. When his face isn’t illuminated by a screen, he loves to hang out with his wife, Erica, and their blue Great Dane, Lucy May. In today’s interview, we talk about the importance of community, real world testing, and passing your contributions down the line.
You have a background in industrial engineering. How did you get into working with WordPress, and have you found that your industrial engineering background has influenced your work with WordPress?
I’ve always been intrigued by the web, but I didn’t give any real consideration to building websites until I was in college at Auburn and thought I had a few good website ideas. They weren’t good ideas, but fortunately I managed to find WordPress in the process of figuring that out. I continued to be fascinated by how easy it was to create a basic website with WordPress, and for a while would periodically tinker with a new idea, but between 2008 and 2010 I was much more focused on my new engineering career.
I started blogging around mid-2010. I was hacking around with my personal website and of course coming up with new ideas. But this time around I realized that I enjoyed making websites more than I believed in any of my ideas for websites. I also realized just how much I liked to write. I got hooked on WordPress and web development in general and never looked back. I spent countless hours reading, tinkering, and blogging so I could learn more and more about WordPress.
Early on, I don’t know that my Industrial Engineering degree did too much to benefit my web endeavors. But now that I am a full-time programmer and consultant, I consistently see the benefits of my Industrial Engineer’s mindset and focus on core business goals in tasks that I perform. Plus, Apple CEO Tim Cook is an IE grad from Auburn, so I feel like that gives me some major street cred, right?
At what point did you realize that you could make a living with WordPress, rather than tinkering with it as a hobby?
By spring 2011, I knew that what I was doing wasn’t going to fulfill my career ambitions. I had found my professional passion, and I started thinking about how I could possibly work on the web full time. I knew little to nothing about professional web development or the WordPress economy, and I certainly didn’t know just how in-demand WordPress developers were.
I thought I was going to have to take an enormous leap of faith and leave a well-paying job with great benefits and become a freelancer. So I just kept building websites for family, friends, and fun to help prepare myself. And then in August 2011, I saw a tweet from one of the largest and oldest web development agencies in the state promoting a full-time position for a WordPress developer. I was shocked, and felt like I must at least send them an email, even though I still didn’t think I was quite “ready.” A week later, I had a job offer in hand from Infomedia to be their lead WordPress developer.
You recently launched Post Status. How do you pitch that to the unawares, and what inspired you to put it together?
I typically define Post Status as a “WordPress News & Links” blog, but really it’s just a short-form blog where I link to things I like while adding a bit of context to the conversation. Also, other people periodically submit posts that they find interesting. I’ve enabled up-voting on the site as a method for visitors to offer additional insight to other readers on whether the linked post is interesting or not.
I put it together simply because I wasn’t satisfied with existing methods for consuming WordPress-related information. I’ve always enjoyed Hacker News for broader tech news aggregation, but it’s still a bit impersonal and obviously not WordPress-centric. I also love the style of the Next Draft newsletter, as it’s a collection of the top ten news items every day, curated by Dave Pell. Dave’s own “voice” really shines in his newsletter, while simultaneously driving me toward the articles he links. My goal is for Post Status to be like a hybrid of the two.
Tell us a bit about the thinking behind how Post Status works, and how you set it up to be as democratic and user-focused as WordPress from the get-go.
I’ve seen a number of WordPress news sites come and go, for a variety of reasons. But most WordPress news comes by way of a blog post anyway, so re-writing longer-form blog posts as “news” is a bit silly in my opinion. So Post Status merely attempts to drive traffic to the source, and add context in as few words as possible to help readers discern whether they want to read the original article.
I rely heavily on user feedback, submissions, and validation (by voting) in order to make Post Status its best. In a perfect world, Post Status would be a go-to resource for anyone interested in WordPress. I want it to be part of people’s daily routine. And I can’t do that alone. If Post Status helps someone’s blog get more attention when they’ve written great content, and also offers a source of quality information to readers that they otherwise may not have found, then we all win.
By day you’re the lead WordPress developer at Infomedia. Can you think of a project you’re particularly proud of having worked on recently? What made it stand out for you?
One of my favorite sites we’ve done at Infomedia is Weld for Birmingham. Weld is a weekly paper in town that has done a great job of balancing print and online media. They have a small staff, but they also encourage community members to start their own blogs on Weld. I love how passionate they are about Birmingham and how focused they are on high quality local journalism.
From a technical perspective, we built a responsive parent theme using the Hybrid Core drop-in framework and a child theme for the blogs in their Multisite network. We’re using a custom post type and Posts 2 Posts so they can relate their online articles to their print issues. During the process of building this site, I discovered just how much advertising technology isn’t keeping up with responsive design.
My talented coworker, David Hickox, is responsible for the beautiful design. Weld is engaged with their online community and they love WordPress. They are a joy to partner with, and the project has been very rewarding personally.
How important has the WordPress community been in getting and keeping you involved with WordPress, and would you encourage others to get involved on some level?
My relationships with other members of the WordPress community are incredibly important to me. I wasn’t hired at Infomedia because I was a proven developer. They took a chance on me, because they were just getting into WordPress, and saw my commitment to staying engaged with the community. I learn every day from many people in the community, and cannot stress enough just how valuable my relationships are. WordPress has a very special community atmosphere, where even the most talented WordPress professionals in the world are approachable and helpful.
My wife jokes with me about my “internet friends,” and I always love when I get to turn an “internet friend” into an “in real life” friend at WordCamps and meetups.
You’ve written about pricing products and services on your blog before. What’s the most important thing that someone just getting started with their WordPress business should keep in mind about pricing, and what do you wish you’d known years ago that you know now?
Clients hire consultants for tasks they can’t handle themselves. Therefore, creative and technical aptitude is assumed from the get-go. Being a great programmer isn’t going to make a client an advocate. Excellent communication skills, complete honesty, and doing what you say you’ll do will make a client an advocate every time. We should price our work based on the value we provide to the client, but we also need to make sure the client will look back on the project as a positive experience as a whole. They will never see the value in our code if we don’t communicate properly and make good on our promises.
As far as more practical pricing tips from some people I really respect, the Code Poet ebook on pricing is exceptionally good. I promise I’m not just saying that because of this interview. Mark, Remkus, and Shane are all top notch members of the community, and it’s very nice of them to share their knowledge and experience.
I certainly wish I knew a few years ago just how in-demand WordPress developers were. When I first thought about making the jump, I didn’t know how many agencies were seeing the popularity of the platform and desperately trying to find talent. I could’ve started working full time with WordPress sooner than I did. You’ll never think you are “ready” as long as you are learning, because you’ll always see things you still don’t know. I tell aspiring developers to just go for it. Start sending emails to local (or remote) companies and give them an honest overview of your skill set. Someone will love to hire you, and then you can learn on the job.
How important would you say it is to provide documentation or training to clients, and what’s in it for the designer-developer itching to move onto the next project?
Unfortunately, building something doesn’t mean the user will automatically know how to use it. Documentation and/or training is pivotal. I talk a bit more about how to offer users help on WP Realm, but in addition to those methods, nothing beats real in-person training. I usually leave training sessions with more personal notes on things I can improve in the UI interface of a particular feature, just from watching them use it for the first time, than items the client requests.
As for what’s in it for the developer, nothing is worse than building a feature that goes unused. And if they don’t know how to use it, why would they?
Tell us about the Happy Theme you designed and shared with the community, and what you learned from the process of putting it together?
The Happy theme started as a project to design and develop a theme I’d release to the public. However, I simultaneously needed a new base theme for our Infomedia client sites. So, Happy hasn’t really become the finished theme I wanted it to be yet, because I focused on creating a base theme first.
On our client sites, we use a forked version of Happy that we’ve consistently iterated. We were in need of a flexible theme that we weren’t afraid to fork when the work necessitated it. Because it’s built on Hybrid Core, that’s easy. The framework lives in the “library” folder, but doesn’t assume anything about the theme markup or specific features. Therefore, we can build most sites as a child theme, but if we need to fork the parent, it’s no problem.
Before long, I’ll finish up the Happy theme the way I initially imagined it, with all the goodness and flexibility of our Infomedia base theme. Then I’ll finally submit it to the repository. In the meantime, patches are welcome!
The biggest thing I’ve learned in theme development so far is that thinking through a theme architecture only goes so far. Nothing beats putting it to the test in the real world to see how both users and other developers will use it. My teammates at Infomedia make for a great test group!
Which three things would you underline as essential to anyone wanting to carve their own place in the competitive WordPress design and development world?
1. Never stop learning. New trends and techniques are always emerging. I often finish a project and immediately want to go back and change something based on a new technique I learned. Read blogs, books, and follow industry folks on Twitter to stay up to date.
2. Blog. We build things for other people every day using WordPress. We need to eat our own dogfood and use WordPress ourselves. I’ve learned so much by blogging consistently, both about how to use WordPress efficiently and just by writing about topics I want to learn about. Also, blogging has helped me get my name out in the community more than anything else I’ve done.
3. Be nice. There are enough inconsiderate people in the world. Follow the golden rule. Treat others how you would want to be treated, whether they are a client, a colleague, or a random person you encounter on the internet. This isn’t always easy, and I often fail, but if we all made a conscious effort to be nice to one another in our daily interactions, the world would be a better place.