Interview: The Journey of Anthony Hortin Running a WordPress Development Agency

by Subhan Alam  April 4, 2018

Australia is home to a growing and active WordPress community, thanks to its network of highly esteemed influencers and authorities. And we have quite the surprise for you.

Anthony Horting WordPress Interview

For this week, we interview Anthony Hortin, a WordPress web design veteran. Hailing from Melbourne, Anthony is the owner of Maddison Designs, a web development and design agency that specializes in providing customized WordPress sites using the latest web design trends and practices.

Anthony has over 2 decades of WordPress web design and web development experience and aside from running his agency, he frequently participates in local WordPress meetup events.

Today he shares with his the ins-and-outs of his experiences with using and managing WordPress, its themes and plugins, and why local meetup events are important.

Cloudways: Can you please tell our readers a bit about yourself? What made you select web design as the start of your career?

Anthony: I run my own design & development business called Maddison Designs, based in the south-east suburbs of Melbourne, Australia. I build WordPress themes and plugins for wide range clients, and on the odd occasion, for other design agencies.

I’m also one of the co-organisers of the monthly WordPress Meetups in Melbourne. I’ve contributed (and supported) a number of themes and plugins on the official WordPress.org Theme and Plugin directories.

Furthermore, I’m the author of an extremely popular WordPress Manual called Easy WP Guide. I’ve been updating this WordPress user manual since WP 3.0, and release an updated version each time WordPress gets a major update.

I’ve been a web developer, in one form or another, for as far back as I can remember. For a long time, I was employed by ANZ (Australian and New Zealand Banking Group), where I developed computer applications in C, C++, and a number of other languages.

In the late 90’s, when the Internet started to become more popular, my focus started to shift more towards web-based technologies.

Cloudways: I’m curious about the technologies you used in the early days of your career? If you still have a website from those days, could you please share it with the visitors?

Anthony: In the very early days of my development career, I was developing in a language called Clipper, which is used primarily for database driven business apps. But, that was a long, long time ago!

As my career progressed, I started developing in C. Working for ANZ, I was involved in everything from EFT communications software to creating Novell NetWare utilities for banks and several of their business networks. Later, I moved on to using C++, and was involved in building a large 3-tier client server-application for the bank.

In the later 90’s, when web-based software was becoming more popular, I was lucky enough to work for an area that developed and supported the bank’s Intranet. As the bank at that time was a big Microsoft software user, my work mainly involved building business apps using ASP, JavaScript, and MS SQL.

Cloudways: You started Maddison Designs in 2002. What were the reasons for jumping into the designing and development business? How do you manage the workload and workflows?

Anthony: I started Maddison Designs back on 2002, but at the time, it was mainly freelance work outside of my full-time job. It wasn’t until 2007 when I actually jumped in and started working full-time for myself.

For many years prior to that, I was getting involved with a lot more on the design side of things, rather than just purely developing all the time. Development was something that I’d always had a passion for, and starting my own design & development business just seemed like a natural progression.

As for managing workflows, I’ll be honest. Even now, I still find it a struggle on occasions. I try not to take too many projects or jobs at once, so I can give each my full attention. But sometimes projects get delayed or someone has urgent work that needs to be done, so it can be tough managing multiple projects sometimes.

To help keep track of things, I mostly use Trello. I find it really easy to use and not as convoluted as some of the other project management apps out there.

Cloudways: When did you first discover WordPress? What made you to stick to it?

Anthony: I discovered WordPress back in 2006. The thing that I instantly loved was how easy it was to setup and use. I’d tried other CMS platforms like Drupal and Joomla, but compared to WordPress, they were incredibly hard to manage on the backend.

When building sites for customers, especially business owners who aren’t updating their site every day, it’s important that they can manage it themselves without too much hassle. I found managing your content with WordPress to be so much easier compared to other software programs that I’d tried.

More importantly, I loved that there were so many resources available for it as well. Everything from themes and plugins to tutorials and blog posts. Those sort of resources really help, especially when first starting out.

Cloudways: You have also developed WordPress themes and plugins. What are the most important things that a WordPress developer should take care of while developing a WordPress theme/plugin?

Anthony: I have a number of themes and plugins in the official WordPress Theme and Plugin Directories. Plus, I develop themes for clients on a day to day basis.

By far, the most important thing a WordPress developer should do is to follow WordPress best practices. This is even more so if you want to get your theme/plugin listed on WordPress.org.

The WordPress.org site has handbooks for both Plugin Developers and Theme Developers. These guidelines list best practices that a developer should adhere to when building their theme or plugin.

Another handy resource is just looking through some of the default WordPress themes, especially the later ones like TwentySeventeen or TwentySixteen. They stand as good examples of how to build your theme.

Cloudways: Anthony, you are the author of one of the most popular WordPress guides “EasyWPguide”. How did you come up with the idea? How could newbies best use the book?

Anthony: I originally wrote my Easy WP Guide WordPress Manual as a resource to give my clients. After building a site for a client, while it’s always helpful to provide them some training, it’s useful if they have a resource that they can refer to when needed.

There’s a lot of documentation on the WordPress website, but it isn’t organised properly. Having said that, it’s a lot better now than when I wrote the first version of my guide over 9 years ago. Navigating the official documentation and finding helpful pages can be a bit daunting.

Also, all the other WordPress guides around at the time were seriously outdated. The screenshots it had were from versions that were out of date for years.

I wanted to write a guide that was easy to read and also consisted of lots of up-to-date screenshots. My intent was also to write a guide that showed people how to update their site content. I wasn’t going to cover things like installing or setting up WordPress. There’s plenty of other resources out there for anyone who wants that kind of information.

I knew I wasn’t going to be the only one who needed a resource to give to their clients. So I made it available to other WordPress professionals to provide to their clients.

I’ve been updating it for each major version of WordPress that gets released so that it always stays relevant.  There’s nothing more annoying than looking through a user manual trying to learn something and then find screenshots that don’t match with the information provided.

For anyone who’s new to WordPress, I’d suggest downloading a copy of the free PDF and just having a read through it. It’ll teach you all the basic WordPress concepts such as creating or editing Pages & Posts, uploading images to your media library to updating your sites menu options and using Widgets.

Cloudways: What are the main challenges of managing a WordPress agency?

Anthony: I think one of the main challenges for anyone with their own WordPress agency is just finding the next job. Having used WordPress for quite a few years now, as well as being actively involved with the WordPress community, I’m lucky enough to get most of my work through referrals.

Cloudways: The WordPress Core is not well known for its speed and security. Any tips for speeding up and tightening the security of WordPress websites?

Anthony: There’s always something you can do to help speed up your WordPress site. First and foremost, get a reliable hosting provider. You can have an extremely well-built site, but if you go for cheap hosting with minimal resources, then it’s not going to perform very well.

Secondly, a decent caching plugin will greatly improve your website performance by caching your pages and minifying your scripts and stylesheets. I use WP Rocket on all my sites. It works really well, and is really easy to setup and configure.

For security, I like to use iThemes Security Pro. It has lots of great features like Brute Force Protection and the ability to hide your login page.

Cloudways: Anthony, I see you have attended and managed a lot of WordPress events, including WordCamps and meetups. Can you please share your experience and how local meetups help WordPress community to grow?

Anthony: I’m one of the organizers for the monthly WordPress Melbourne meetup, and I also helped organize Melbourne’s last WordCamp back in 2013. Helping organize local events such as meetups or WordCamps is a great way to become more involved in your local WordPress community. At the same time, it helps gives back to the community and helps other like-minded WordPress folk.

Whether you’re assisting in organizing events or just attending, WordPress meetups (and WordCamps) are a great way to get involved and meet other WordPress professionals.

Regardless of how experienced or inexperienced, you are about WordPress, you’ll always learn something new, either from the presenters themselves or just from networking with all the other attendees.

Cloudways: Who are your friends in the WordPress community?

Anthony: I’ve had the chance to meet a lot of exceptionally smart and talented people – a lot of whom have become great friends of mine – at various WordCamps and meetups that I’ve attended over the years. Some of these talented folk who contribute to making the Australian WordPress Community what it is, include….

Some of these talented folk have made outstanding contributions to the Australian WordPress community, and include:

  • Denise Teal, Project Manager at Human Made
  • Peter Wilson, Senior Developer at Human Made and WordPress guest committer
  • Aaron Rutley, WordPress Developer at Envato
  • Bronson Quick, Senior Developer at Human Made

Cloudways: Anthony, it’s hard to take out time from a busy schedule. How do you relax and unwind?

Anthony: When I’m not in front of the computer, you’ll usually find me on the couch watching TV, reading some Marvel comics, or at the cinema, catching the latest blockbuster. I relax the most when I can just switch off and enjoy a good movie or TV series.

Cloudways: How would you compare traditional hosting providers with cloud hosting providers such as Cloudways?

Anthony: I think one of the main benefits of using a cloud hosting provider like Cloudways over one of the more traditional hosting providers has to be scalability and flexibility. The ability to scale resources such as CPU, RAM, or disk storage is infinitely more flexible than those provided in traditional hosting packages where you simply purchase a finite number of resources.

Those traditional hosting packages are even worse when you start comparing shared hosting plans in which cheaper hosts cram you on a server, sharing resources with hundreds of other users.

Cloudways: Just to inspire our readers, can you please send us a pic of your workspace. 🙂

Anthony Hortin's workplace

And that’s a wrap with one of the most prominent WordPress authorities in Australia. To see more insights from Anthony, follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

So what did you learn? Feel free to share your insights in the comments below.

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About Subhan Alam

Subhan Alam is a Digital Marketing Manager at Cloudways, a Managed Cloud Hosting Platform. He works on different regions and is passionate about implementing new approaches in Digital Marketing. He likes to stay fit and meditates daily.

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