Cutting Floor Interview
When I spend time on something, like an interview, I like to know that it was actually published somewhere. Below is an interview that I completed for a web-hosting company that apparently now is missing in action. It covers how I got into web development, upcoming projects, web security, work flow, writing books, WordPress, and more..
Jeff is the CEO and lead developer at Plugin Planet where he develops, sells, and provides support for a growing collection of premium WordPress plugins. Moreover, he runs his own web development business at Monzilla Media.
Jeff Starr writes about web security, coding, hacking, WordPress and .htaccess. He is a full-stack web developer, editor and graphic designer. He has more than 15 years’ experience in web design and development. He has authored books Digging into WordPress, The Tao of WordPress, .htaccess made easy, and WP Themes in Depth.
Apart from the above, he writes tutorials about WordPress security and web development at various blogs including DigWP.com, WP-Mix, and Perishable Press. Additionally, Jeff served as Editor for Smashing Magazine’s WordPress section, and has produced video courses on WordPress Plugin Development and Hosting WordPress on Shared Hosting over at Lynda.com/LinkedIn.
In short, Jeff has contributed a lot in the WordPress community. He has produced over 2,000 articles on WordPress, web development, security, and more. He has built hundreds of WordPress themes and actively develops and supports over 30+ WordPress plugins.
Now, let’s start his interview without any further delay.
Q: First of all tell us about yourself, how did you start your career journey? What was the inspiration behind entering into this field?
All of this learning about web development and security was happening when I first discovered WordPress. It made my life so much easier. Instead of hand-coding dynamic blog/CMS sites from scratch, I could just install WordPress and save tons of time. And the timing was perfect, because back then you really needed to understand some basics of coding in order to really get the most from WordPress. So it all just sort of “clicked” at the right time. Since then I’ve been hooked on WordPress development. It remains a huge focus in my work, along with book writing and web security.
Q: Your write ups and videos are very interesting and provide knowledge in depth. What topics are you planning to work on in your next write ups and video tutorials?
I plan on releasing more video tutorials on WordPress, web development, and security. Also have some new books in the works. Without giving too much away, several new books will focus on various aspects of WordPress. A few others will focus on general (not WP-specific) web-development topics. And there are couple of other books that I am working on, both of which are outside of the web-dev realm completely. I am very excited about finishing these books and getting them out there. Hopefully 2021 is not as chaotic as 2020, and there is more time to get real work done, instead of dealing with all the unexpected crises and chaos.
Q: Web security has always been a matter of concern for SME’s. Which themes and plugins would you like to suggest in terms of better security.
You don’t need any plugins to secure your WordPress-powered site. You do need: 1) secure web hosting (non-shared, etc.), 2) always stay current with latest WordPress, themes, and plugins, and 3) always use super long and complex passwords for all users. That’s been my strategy for years now for all of my own sites and client sites. This security strategy is lightweight, fast, and easy. And it works.
Of course, some people may want to add more layers of security. And I totally get that. In fact, I offer some of my own security-related plugins. Like BBQ, Blackhole, and Banhammer. I also develop the 6G and 7G Firewall, which are super powerful. Plugins and techniques such as these help to add more layers of protection against specific types of threats. For example, if your site is getting plagued by bad bots and spam, you can use Blackhole for Bad Bots to trap them in a virtual black hole. Or if you want to add a super powerful yet lightweight firewall, I recommend BBQ. There are tons of security plugins out there, that do all manner of things. I can vouch only for my own, because I know they are quality plugins built according to the WP API and standards.
Q: You are multitasking. You do a lot of things by yourself: design, development, writing, etc. What’s the secret of productivity behind it? How do you plan a typical day?
I do most of my planning in my head. I’ve been doing this for so long now it’s just second nature to me. I don’t need to write a lot of stuff down. I don’t keep an appointment book, don’t write stuff in any calendar, and don’t use any apps to manage my time. I do it all internally and intuitively.
And for the details like pick up a loaf of bread or don’t forget Mom’s birthday, stuff like that I use a post-it note. I’ve been managing my business with post-it notes for 15 years lol. And likewise to keep track of computer/online tasks, I use a plain text file that’s always in the same place, always named the same thing. And usually open in the corner of the screen as a working memory space.
So basically keeping simple “to-do” lists on notes is my secret. I keep numerous lists and notes that help me to navigate thru each day. A typical day for me is take care of email support, check and update websites and apps, do some social media stuff, and then spend some hours on maintaining existing projects or creating new ones. It’s all very fluid though, and evolves as time goes on and things change.
Q: Programming world is getting evolved with new technologies day by day. What a single tip would you like to give to new programmers?
Don’t focus on the means. There are endless ways to accomplish your goals. Instead focus on your goals and then use whatever means are necessary to get there. For example, if you want to be a web developer, start by building web sites. Practice building web sites until your fingers bleed. Then practice some more. Don’t worry about memorizing or learning a bunch of languages before you start. Just dive right in and start building. You’ll acquire the tools and code you need as you go. If you want to build websites, don’t memorize languages, build websites.
Q: Please share experience of writing books? How did the idea come to your mind? What challenges did you face till distribution?
I started off years ago publishing art magazines and comic books. I think desktop publishing is very rewarding. Also I love to write. As you mention, I’ve written hundreds of articles about web design and development, security, SEO, and everything in between. Writing is very natural to me, and I enjoy doing it. One reason why I find coding so rewarding, I think, is because basically it’s just writing in another language.
So after learning how to develop with WordPress, I put my skills to use and published my first book, together with Chris Coyier, called Digging Into WordPress. It was great combining my writing and publishing skills, getting a new book out there, and seeing how it helps others in the WP community. Since then, I’ve written three other books, and have several more books in the works.
As far as book distribution goes, it is super expensive here in the US. We sold pallets of printed books at first, and then phased it out because it required a lot of time, work, and money. For example, printing and shipping one copy of Digging Into WordPress outside of the US costs over $100, plus time spent printing and packaging, delivering to the post office, tracking, customer support, etc. Printing books is very expensive, especially for a two-person crew. A printed copy of the book was over 400 pages of heavy color gloss paper, so it weighed a few pounds and was very expensive print to ship.
So after playing that game for a few years, we decided to just go with all digital books instead. There are pros and cons, and some people still insist on getting a physical copy of the book. But overall going the eBook-only route brings a lot of benefits, especially with publishing and distribution. I don’t even want to know how much printed books cost to make and ship these days.
Q: Many people think that WordPress is vulnerable as compared to other content management systems? What are your thoughts about it?
Vulnerable in terms of security? Or market share? In terms of security, I think WordPress is very secure. It has to be. It powers over a third of all websites. So yeah, it wouldn’t be that popular if there were tons of security issues.
Over the years, I’ve seen how quickly WordPress team fixes security issues as they are discovered. It’s not so much the WordPress core that has any security issues. It’s what people do with WordPress once it’s been installed. For example, new WP users tend to install a LOT of plugins, try all sorts of new themes, and so forth. All it takes is one plugin or theme with a vulnerability and the site is compromised.
People need to be extra careful when installing new plugins and themes, always stick with those provided at the WordPress.org directory. And go for plugins that have solid reputation and development.
In other words, it’s not WordPress that’s insecure, it’s that many people simply don’t understand what they are doing, and can end up with problems if not careful when choosing plugins and themes.
Q: What factors should be considered while choosing a WordPress theme? Which are your favorite WordPress themes?
This is a huge question, one that I cover quite a bit in my book, WordPress Themes In Depth. Basically it boils down to two things: needs and trust. Does the theme provide what you need? And do you trust the theme provider. Those two things are the foundation for choosing a great theme. There are of course lots of other details that should be considered, but those are the big ones.
Q: How do you keep yourself up to date with the latest advancements in the industry? Which blogs or resources do you suggest to stay up to date with the WordPress community?
I subscribe to a ton of RSS feeds. Too many to list here. If you are new and want to keep abreast of some of the latest major WordPress happenings, check out WP Tavern is a pretty solid resource. I share a lot more useful resources in my various books, plugins, and video tutorials.
Q: Everyone has some inspirational personalities in the industry, who do you consider your inspiration in professional life?
Chris Coyier is one of the coolest people I’ve worked with online. He keeps it going and keeps it real every day. I respect that. And find it inspiring for my own work. I find lots of other people inspiring as well, anyone who is succeeding online and helping others to do the same, I find inspiring.
Q: Life is incomplete without leisure activities and fun. What are your hobbies and interests? How do you maintain work life balance?
I like to pray, meditate, spend time with family and friends, travel, good food, watch movies, listen to music, play video games (especially Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild), fly drones, drawing, painting, photography, audio mixing, video editing, digital/graphic design, desktop publishing, decaf coffee, ice cold water, fresh fruits and veggies, writing, reading, learning, living, loving. So much to do, so little time :)
Q: Being a WordPress geek, you would surely agree with the benefits of managed WordPress hosting. Hostnoc is also providing managed wordpress hosting to its clients. What are your views about it? Would you like to try it?
Yeah sure it sounds great. Let me know how to try it, where to find more information, etc. Thank you for the interview!