In the last 2 years, we have seen WordPress transform itself from a business builder to an actual industry, where businesses depend on it. Covering the 24% of all known websites on internet, it has become a sensation for almost all online and offline businesses. A big range of WordPress users are making their lives with it. Though, the perspectives are completely different than mainstream expectations and the focused ones get success in the end.
Today, I bring to you Mario Peshev. He is the CEO and WordPress Architect at DevriX. Mario is also the organizer of WordCamp Sofia and WordCamp Europe. Actively contributing in the core development to innovate and improve WordPress, he also participates in the community and marketing conversations.
Mario has been a speaker to many seminars and courses. In this interview, he shares his different approach in forming a business. Other than work, he is a high-party boy. Read more about this geek below.
Cloudways: A decade of hands-on experience in developing with WordPress has made you a geek. As you transform web development into multiple services, how confident are you in writing and reviewing code?
Mario: I’m pretty comfortable writing and reading code since my background is in Java development (I’m a certified Java programmer) and I have production code running on different platforms on various programming languages.
At DevriX, I am responsible for building technical architectures and the foundation of our larger applications; reviewing new features and pull requests by our engineers; and conducting various code reviews for consistency, speed, and security for some of our customers. We take a different approach as compared to other companies building the “lego” development, and we have a large suite of simplified libraries that we could use internally for various features—mega menu, slider, flexible and dynamic internal menus and so on. (It also includes a page builder that we use for a large client in the automotive industry.) This allows us to maintain our platform in the best possible manner and minimize the risk of conflicts, regressions, or security surprises as projects grow with time.
Cloudways: Contributing to the WordPress core is a dream of many developers. Guide the audience on the options to choose from, and how to be a part of the core contributors. How was your journey with the core team?
Mario: My first Core patch landed in WordPress 3.7 after a year and a half in Core Trac. Contributing was something that I’ve been passionate about and for the past 16 years, I’ve tried (sometimes successfully) to contribute to different platforms, tools, applications, and libraries over the years.
Most people automatically relate contributing to hardcore development. Producing documentation, helping with support, assisting with theme reviews, or translating WordPress are other popular ways to help the community and the WordPress platform itself. Without support folks, we won’t be able to identify edge cases and dodgy bugs, or accessibility inconsistencies, or issues that occur in different languages across the world (think Cyrillic, or right-to-left languages for example).
I booked a flight and attended WordCamp San Francisco where I was able to chat with Andrew Nacin, Mike Schroder, and many more lead developers and Core contributors. This helped me to understand the purpose of contributing better and the challenges of delivering value for tens of millions of websites out there. These small networking sessions helped me become a part of the large pool of enthusiastic developers supporting the development of WordPress for the past 12 years.
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Cloudways: What other programming languages and libraries have you expedited on? Tell our readers about your experiences with development.
Mario: I started with QBasic back in school, when I got excited about programming and wrote all of my science formulas as applications and that helped me with my homework assignments! Then, I bought several books for Pascal, C, and C++ development and started digging into them. I started building simple applications in all languages that turned more complex with time.
At high school and university, we’ve studied all of the above, and also Delphi, Java, C#, and several other less popular languages (such as Scheme). From 2002 to 2004, I played with different open source PHP-based applications. I started several forums and portals for software development and security, which was my passion back then. For the past 10 years, I’ve been building all sorts of applications, including desktop software and two mobile applications, which is why we’re mainly using WordPress as a technical framework or an application platform for our customers.
Cloudways: DevriX is a SaaS solution provider with WordPress-based developments and works on big projects. When was this company founded? How do you define its success since the last few years? Where do you see DevriX in next 5 years?
Mario: I moved to full-time freelancing in 2008 and prepared the paperwork for DevriX late in 2010. As an early entrepreneur with technical background, I had a hard time realizing the challenges of running a business and I’ve been working very hard in order to establish the right processes and business plan for our company in order to turn it into a professional service provider.
What most developers forget when going solo is that running a business requires a large pool of skills—marketing, sales, negotiations, pricing strategy, dealing with financial and legal paperwork, doing support and documentation, and so forth. Back then, I read hundreds of articles focusing on freelancing and running a small business, but they barely covered everything that happens to a small business—delayed payments, scope creep, business planning, reporting, managing a project, and what not.
I wouldn’t like to discourage anyone who’s passionate about starting a business, but entrepreneurship is really far from “I don’t have a boss” or “I’ll work whenever I want” mentality which is the common belief. 🙂
My initial budget was insufficient, so I went through different combinations of doing full-time work elsewhere and investing everything in my company, or part-time consulting when I can combine investment with time. Eventually, after a good number of 80-hour workweeks, I had some experience, business knowledge, capital, and full-time availability that let me inject the capital in my company and dedicate all of my time entirely on running the business, which made it work.
Stephen McCraine once said: “The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried.” I’ve found out to be a bitter truth.
Nowadays, we’re working with several large international brands and corporations around the world and have ongoing contracts for product development and maintenance. Thanks to our combined expertise over the years, we now spend a lot of time consulting with our customers on business growth and monetization strategies, inbound marketing tactics, and how they align with the technical stack required for running a successful profitable business.
Over the next 5 years, we will grow our team two or three times and will extend the variety of services we offer. On the business end, we plan to extend with management and growth consulting. From the technical end, we plan to provide more tangible technical services, such as mobile development or specializing in integrating specific enterprise applications for large organizations.
Cloudways: You presented courses and seminars in different parts of Europe, America, and the Middle East. What is your favorite topic for a presentation so far? What are your views about webinars?
Mario: Wonderful question!
I don’t have a favorite topic per se. My main goal is teaching a group of people as many things as possible, extending their perspective and pointing them to different directions where they can specialize and improve their skills.
I’m passionate about development and security, so I was honored to teach technical training courses at CERN, Switzerland, and a Mile2 security training for certification at Saudi Aramco. Teaching Oracle databases in CERN was incredible, since people were dealing with database clusters with 64 terabytes of data and other massive infrastructures. Saudi Aramco’s revenue for 2014 is 378 billion dollars. Teaching the best security practices is far more crucial in case of a breach as compared to a small business with not much to lose (figuratively speaking!).
I’ve also trained journalists on using WordPress the right way, technical training skills for developers, or development best practices for QA engineers. At technical conferences, I prefer to focus on things such as building SaaS applications, running a complete technical stack for large applications (including unit testing, Capistrano, CI platforms etc) or high-end architecture comparison charts for WordPress and other frameworks and CMS. I find these to be more rare in the WordPress space and more valuable for developers with limited experience in server management or other programming languages.
Cloudways: Work and life balance is very important. To give relief to myself, I choose hangouts with family or friends. I go to beaches. I try new food. What about you? Which activities do you choose to free yourself from work?
Mario: I’m more of a workaholic-type of a person so I work quite a lot. But, I spend a part of time digging into new technical stacks, libraries, and tools; browsing Quora and business portals reading about sales, running and scaling businesses; implementing automated marketing suites; and so on.
However, since we’re a distributed company, I work from coffee shops all the time which adds some variety to my social interactions. I am a hookah (water pipe) fan and I work from two bars combining Coca-Cola and hookah with coding or lurking in Asana, and I watch series in the evening or go to the cinema with my girlfriend.
Occasionally I go to events (meetups/conferences) or meet friends over a soft drink in the evening.
Cloudways: Being in the organizing team of WordCamp Sofia and WordCamp Europe must be fun. The WordPress community is incredible. What challenges did you face during the management? How do you define your experience with this conference of WordPress?
Mario: In 2005, I was involved with helping the organizing team of a large international conference—which was incredibly exhausting—but I learned a lot about automating event management processes and coordinating work with people. Over the years, I’ve organized various seminars and meetups, including a freelance conference in 2009 with 130-150 people. I’ve also helped our local Java user group (we built their site too and integrated different feeds and remote APIs) and occasionally help friends organizing new conferences or seminars.
Also, being a trainer for about 10 years now, I’ve faced numerous challenges over the years with lack of electricity or Internet. Once a projector exploded 2 meters away from me among other fun challenges in hundreds of different venues. Participating with the organization teams of WordCamp Sofia and WordCamp Europe was a great experience—and it’s definitely worth getting involved in such events. When I started programming and dealing with WordPress later on, there were no active development communities or conferences, and I truly believe that those are crucial to the success of any platform out there.
Cloudways: With so many influential people in the WordPress industry, who are the five that inspired you the most? What do you like about them?
Mario: You’re right – there are far too many influencers. 🙂 I’d avoid calling out names since I’ll need a list of 50 or 100 to start with.
I do respect a lot of contributors who support the project on their own without being employed or paid to do so. That’s not to say that contributing should be free in general, but the motivation is way different when you stay late at night submitting patches or helping people, as compared to getting a pay-check at the end of month for your contributing efforts.
I also respect senior full-stack engineers who help WordPress. There are millions of self-taught folks who started with installing WordPress, but often there are important aspects of running a web platform that aren’t taken into account, such as security, scalability, or delivering actual business value to a business owner. I truly admire the excellent team of WordPress lead developers and committers as well as many contributors who work hard and focus on different areas, making WordPress a professional framework suitable not only to bloggers, but established enterprises and large organizations as well.
The third group of people on my list would be educators who blog, teach courses, and record training videos for WordPress users and developers. Since WordPress does not provide a training curriculum or a certification program, setting some standards is of utmost importance for our community.
Cloudways: You are an expert in integrating plugins and services to WordPress. Which are the 5 plugins you suggest should be installed out-of-the-box for WordPress users?
Mario: We do code the majority of the features from scratch, and each project is unique with a different set of requirements. If I have to mention 5 plugins that we use a lot and I like myself:
- Yoast SEO – obviously a leader in the SEO and WordPress ecosystems
- Contact Form 7
- MailChimp for WordPress
- Query Monitor
Cloudways: How often did you fight with the brute force attacks and vulnerabilities? What are your security tips to stay safe from getting hacked?
Mario: Brute force and DDoS is quite common from what we see, and occasionally we have to fix vulnerable applications. Dealing with security is not trivial at all, and attack vectors are available in different layers—from the server stack, through the code base, the infrastructure and integration suite of different services, and the social gotchas by site users setting weak passwords, logging in from open Wifis, etc.
As a rule of thumb, I would advise all customers and developers to pick the right server environment and establish a reliable and secure process for interacting with the server and deploying code. Remote access should be limited to specific IPs if possible, using Secure Shell and Limited User Access. For example, we integrate different monitors, log trackers and suspicious activity bots blocking IP ranges and reporting back to us. We keep an eye on database interactions, user login attempts, file system changes, and server resource spikes.
Users should receive a training on best security practices, especially if they are allowed to install plugins or interact as administrative users with the site. Setting strong passwords, using 2-factor authentication, logging in from reliable networks, and using VPNs are some of the basic steps.
It’s a long list including a secured server access with no demo sites and such available that could be hacked separately, configuring the firewall and the IPS preventing various activities etc.
Cloudways: Cloudways is Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) provider built on Amazon Web Services (AWS), DigitalOcean and Google Compute Engine. What are your views about the one-click service and its features?
Mario: Cloudways is a handy way to set up a technical stack that combines the ease-of-use seen at different shared and managed hosting providers with the power and scalability of cloud platforms such as AWS, Digital Ocean and Google Engine.
We prefer working with separate instances that let us install and configure our deployment stack and some of our monitoring and security tools that we use. Shared hosting is often limited, and has an extra layer of problems that we have to deal with.
Cloudways provides an intuitive and flexible interface for setting up new instances with a one-click install for WordPress and other popular platforms. Its administrative interface is much more powerful and easy-to-use when compared to DigitalOcean or the AWS admin panel. Adding new applications is trivial. Interacting with different services is awesome – being able to restart nginx, purge Varnish or integrate New Relic from the admin panel.
There’s a flexible panel for managing important server parameters such as the execution or memory limits and upload size, and it’s fairly easy to integrate an external email provider without technical skills.
Definitely a great combination between power and flexibility at affordable rates.
You can follow Mario Peshev on Twitter.
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Waseem Abbas was WordPress Community Manager at Cloudways. He loves to help people with their WordPress worries. He is a self-proclaimed "food explorer".