Jeff Starr Interview – The Author of “Digging Into WordPress”

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Hi, everyone. Welcome to a new interview with another professional that knows WordPress inside-out. Today, you will get insights about web design, development, and WordPress from Jeff Starr – one of the most experienced people in our community.

If you missed our latest interview with Tom Greenwood about green business and sustainable web design, check it out here. Feel free to also browse through our full collection of interviews to learn more about your favorite topics from our community experts.

Jeff Starr interview at Themeisle on WordPress and web development

You can find Jeff’s content on his blogs, too – Digging Into WordPress and Perishable Press – where he writes about his discoveries and experiences with WordPress as part of his daily job. When he’s not writing, he’s coding plugins at Plugin Planet and working with clients via his web design company named Monzilla Media.

Jeff Starr is passionate about web design and security, and loves to contribute to the WordPress core. He’s been an active WordPress contributor from the very beginning of his love story with our CMS.

Let’s hear more from Jeff!

Jeff Starr Interview – The Author of “Digging Into WordPress” Book and Blog

When and how did you start working with WordPress? Is there an interesting story here?

I started with WordPress around 2004. Back then, things were very different than they are now. At the time, I was building my own dynamic websites from scratch using PHP and MySQL. Then I discovered WordPress, which took care of all the dynamic stuff plus a lot more. So I didn’t need to keep reinventing the wheel for every website. Once I got the hang of WordPress and realized its potential, I was hooked. Been working with WordPress ever since and haven’t looked back.

What’s your technique for staying productive throughout the day?

I am a goal-driven minimalist. I use simple text notes to manage my schedule. All of the smaller tasks that need done to achieve larger goals. All neatly organized on plain-text files. So to stay productive, I keep my goals in mind for motivation and focus. Like I can’t wait to accomplish this. And then use the to-do lists like a map. To stay on target and keep things moving forward as each day unfolds.

How do you define “being successful”?

As far as a career goes, being successful is more than financial independence. It’s about completely doing your own thing however you want, making your own decisions, thinking for yourself, and setting your own rules.

What do you wish more people knew about WordPress?

I wish more people would take some time to understand how things work. There is SO much WordPress can do all by itself, right out of the box. With a little understanding and a few lightweight plugins, you can build almost anything. WordPress is very fast, secure, and capable all by itself. You don’t need 50+ plugins and some heavy-handed “do-it-all” theme to build an awesome website.

Describe the WordPress community in one word.

What’s the one thing you’d like to change about WordPress?

Stop bloating the core with stuff that can and should be left as a plugin. For example, features like Application Passwords, Responsive Images, Lazy Loading, Sitemaps, Robots Meta, Emojis, Embeds, and even REST API and Gutenberg should have been left as plugins. Keep core lightweight and fast. Then let users build whatever they want with plugins. There are well over 30,000 plugins available, plenty to choose from for just about anything.

How do you see the evolution of WordPress compared to, say, ten years ago? Is it on the right track?

WordPress is moving heavy into JavaScript territory. So if you are a typical WordPress user, like with your own site or whatever, then you’ll probably enjoy the new fancy Gutenberg Block stuff and related functionality made possible by JavaScript. Likewise, if you are a WordPress developer and love working with JavaScript, then you’re also gonna love where WordPress is headed. If you are primarily a PHP-based developer, then the hard turn into JavaScript land won’t be making your life any easier.

So the question “is WordPress on the right track” depends on the individual, their goals, preferences, and so on. It’s all relative to the user. In general, users who prefer the whole Gutenberg editing “experience” are gonna say “yeah, WordPress is on the right track.” Everyone else maybe not so much. There’s always a better way of doing things, especially when it comes to web development.

What’s the no. 1 thing a new business entering the WordPress space should do?

Read and learn as much as possible. About WordPress, hosting, security, SEO, and everything in between. Otherwise you’re gonna make mistakes, waste time, and lose money. Take some quality time to research whatever it is you’re wanting to do, before you go about doing it. It’s the information age, so take advantage of it.

What do you think is the most efficient way to market your own services or products at this moment?

Quality products. Transparent processes. Listen to your users. This is a ground-up organic approach to gaining market share. Where the users will promote your stuff via word of mouth, sharing, etc. Think quality products and happy customers. The opposite way of course is top-down promotion, like buying ads at Google and other big tech providers, basically spamming everyone to death.

What’s your personal definition of a “quality WordPress website”?

Quality WordPress sites are secure, load fast, and provide excellent user experience. The great thing about WordPress, is that it does all of these things out of the box. Install a new WordPress site and use only the default theme and plugins. That’s gonna be a quality website, because WordPress is quality software.

What happens though, is that overzealous and/or unaware people try to improve on a good thing. They start installing all sorts of needless plugins for things like caching, security, SEO, and on and on. Sure some of those things may be necessary, but if you’re not careful it’s really easy to go from awesome WordPress site to bloated, slow, and sloppy looking hot mess. Also too many advertisements, popup nags, signup reminders, and other desperate measures are a surefire way to ruin any website, WordPress or otherwise.

Any tools you’re using often to streamline your work?

I am a minimalist. Streamlining means eliminating extraneous steps and simplifying workflows. For example, using some fancy scheduling software that needs to be configured, maintained, updated, backed up, etc., is nowhere near as easy or productive as a simple note.txt file. Keep everything close to default system functionality at all times for all devices. Another example, instead of relying on a 3rd-party service for email, I use a non-cloud based app and domain-based email addresses for 100% control and no false-positive spams or blocked messages. Saves time. Saves money.

It may sound counter-productive, but instead of using a million different tools to save time, it actually is faster and easier to DIY as much as possible and avoid all the abstract hassle and time required to purchase, configure, and manage a bunch of different apps. Stay close to the data, not lost in space.

What’s your favorite/must-have WordPress plugin and why?

I have two favorite plugins, both are my own creation: BBQ and Blackhole for Bad Bots. I am heavy into security, and these two plugins do an excellent job of providing a lightweight super-fast firewall and honeypot-style trap to stop bad bots.

What is your no. 1 rule when it comes to WordPress security?

WordPress by itself is very secure. Stay close to core and use only well-known and trusted plugins and themes. Also solid, reliable, trustworthy hosting is a must.

Coding or writing? Which one is more rewarding and why?

They are one in the same. Just different languages. I like to write in English, like for books and tutorials. Also like to write in code, like PHP, JS, CSS, etc. All languages can be rewarding depending on what you are trying to accomplish.

What do you think about the full-site editing in WordPress? Will it affect designers, business-wise?

I think it will affect some of those all-in-one type “page-building” plugins. They will be challenged with all the fancy Gutenberg stuff and full-site editing. Users will be able to use WordPress core to build a site, without having to bring some heavy page building monstrosity into the mix. Beyond that, I think full-site editing simply fills a niche that has lacked real solutions for years.

Do you think the block editor will be a real threat to page builders like Elementor or Beaver Builder?

That’s basically what I was saying in my reply to the previous question. Page builders are one group that’s kinda getting the shaft with all this Gutenberg stuff. But I think the competition is a good thing and will thin the herd and make the best plugins even better. Page builders aren’t going away anytime soon.

Did the pandemic have any impact on your business (positive or negative)? Any changes you had to make in this regard?

Not really. My workflow already is like quarantine. Been that way for years now. Interesting to watch the rest of the world give it a try.

Are you part of any cool online/offline communities or groups? Can be about any topic, not necessarily work-related.

Offline, not really. I am very independent person that spends most time looking at screens. So kinda reclusive and introverted. Unless around people I am comfortable with, then I’m more of an extrovert. Online, I am involved with all sorts of groups/interests, like web development, security, cryptocurrency, blockchain, photography, flying drones, creating video, and of course WordPress.

What is driving you to keep doing what you’re doing? What’s your personal mission?

It’s changed over the years. 20 years ago, I was driven by the idea of success. Now that I’m achieving it, I’m more driven by my love of the work itself. I truly enjoy the little online empire I’ve created. I enjoy managing it and watching it grow. A little more each day.

What are the main challenges in keeping up with your mission?

Myself. I am my own worst enemy. The name of the game is discipline and responsibility. Usually I handle it just fine, but sometimes it can be challenging. Also it’s getting harder and harder to find people who are sincere and genuine, have half a brain and are not afraid to use it. Fortunately, I’ve been fortunate enough to connect with lots of great people online. My network and users really help make it all possible.

That sums up our Jeff Starr interview. If you enjoyed it and want to learn more, please leave your comments in the section below. Also, if you have any ideas for who we should talk to next, feel free to share your suggestions with us!

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