There are only a few people in the WordPress community that hold many badges of recognition. Michael Torbert is among a few who has vast experience in the development of WordPress websites. Michael Torbert is a Marine Corps Veteran, a college dropout, founder of the most popular WordPress SEO plugin All-in-One SEO Pack, CEO of Semper Fi Web Design and co-author of WordPress All-in-One for Dummies.
He has also been a WordCamp host, sponsor, and WordPress Meetup organizer. Michael’s contributions to make WordPress a popular platform is without a doubt worth mentioning. His All-in-One SEO plugin has crossed millions of downloads. His knowledge about WordPress development and willingness to help people with their WordPress sites sure help build a strong community. We feel honored to have him with us for an amazing chat! Here is what Torbert had to say!
Cloudways: You are a Computer Science graduate from North Carolina State University. Tell us what drew you towards this field, and specifically towards web development? What is your favorite programming language and why?
Michael: Like many developers in the WordPress world, I didn’t finish college. I found my passion and didn’t see how completing a degree would help me achieve my goals.
I’ve always enjoyed programming and logic problems. While I’ve used various languages over the years, PHP has a low barrier to entry in that it’s free, can be written in any text editor, and runs on free operating systems. This is great for a poor college student. That it powers most of the web doesn’t hurt either.
I moved toward web development partly because it’s what PHP is typically used for, and partly because I wanted to participate in global projects to share my own projects with the web. This made WordPress the perfect CMS on which to build web applications.
Cloudways: As a Marine Corps combat veteran, which skills did you acquire which help you to succeed in the web development industry?
Michael: There are three that come to mind.
First, it instilled an excellent work ethic. In the Marine Corps, you develop great work habits. I was hired for my first few jobs after service, specifically because they knew I’d come in with a strong work ethic.
Second, it gave me the ability to work with anyone. Do you think it’s hard working with or managing employees at most jobs? Try working with and managing a group of tough Marines in a competitive environment! While you can be certain they’ll always have your back and will do their jobs, if you show any sign of weakness they’ll let you know it!
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Third, I become a creative problem solver In the military, you often need to accomplish a difficult task with little instruction or precedent and few resources on which to call (tools, manpower, previous knowledge, etc.). You improvise and and find ways to adjust and succeed.
Cloudways: What are some challenges you faced as co-author of the how-to guide “WordPress All In One for Dummies” for maximizing one’s WordPress experience? Is it easy to put across ideas of application development to newbies?
Michael: You just hit the nail on the head! The biggest challenge was presenting advanced development concepts to a “For Dummies” audience. It’s difficult to achieve an appropriate balance to provide useful information, which can be grasped by beginners, but is not over their heads.
Cloudways: With great risk comes great reward. You are the CEO of Semper Fi Web Design. You have also been a founder and investor in other software companies. What is your business philosophy? How do you manage to steer business towards success?
Michael: My business philosophy is: product and service development needs to be customer centric. While I recognize the big picture view, it’s important to keep things simple and focus on what’s important.
I had to put a great deal of effort into finding and developing a solid team. Trust is important and it’s difficult, but not impossible to find people you can trust. I surround myself with people who know more than I do about different aspects of what we’re working on. I believe each one of us must take advantage of the opportunity to learn whenever we can. Educating yourself is important and it’s a lifelong process.
Cloudways: All work and no play make Jack a dull boy. How do you like to unwind and relax?
Michael: I agree. One of the challenges of working for a small company or running a business is, you find yourself constantly working and constantly available to your colleagues, customers, and clients. I’ve learned over the years to completely separate work from my time off. I make my vacations actual vacation from work. This requires a bit of letting go, hiring a dependable and trustworthy staff, and believing in them to keep things moving forward.
When I’m not working, I enjoy traveling to new places and experiencing other cultures. I love trying new restaurants and different foods. I also relax by practicing the piano. And, I enjoy college football very much. I attend a fair number of college football games each season.
Cloudways: You are the developer of the popular WordPress plugin All In One SEO. We are witnessing many vulnerabilities in plugin code. How often do you and your team upgrade the plugin? Do you face any complaints from your users?
Michael: Our plugins are constantly in a development cycle and are frequently upgraded often by our development team when there are new features, bug fixes, or security patches. We’ve experimented with having scheduled updates, but ultimately found it better to release an upgrade when features and functionality are needed. Since All in One SEO Pack is a primary focus for our development team, we release updates fairly often.
Cloudways: SEO is getting complicated with the passage of time, and search engines tend to favor websites that provide more information through rich snippets. Do you plan to such features and options for All-in-One SEO plugin or does the plugin already have support for it?
Michael: We’ll continue to add rich snippets support as it makes sense, but generally speaking, this concept is better left to a theme or dedicated plug-in. Keep in mind, while rich snippets are useful for Local SEO in getting more people to click on your SERPS link, their use doesn’t actually increase your rank. So there’s a balance between providing more features that fewer SEOs might use. We look at the audience for a feature and weigh the cost/benefit of adding something that may seem popular today, but could be rendered obsolete tomorrow.
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Cloudways: How important is a Hosting Provider for good performance of a WordPress website? Do developers prefer a Managed Hosting Provider over a simple infrastructure server?
Michael: Choosing the appropriate hosting provider is extremely important. Uptime reliability, support, and security vary widely. It’s difficult for the novice WordPress user and non-developer to know what a good host provider is and does. Most go on word-of-mouth from a trusted source, but there are times that is not the best decision. From a developer’s perspective, we often prefer the greater control a dedicated or virtual server typically provides over managed solution that are more restrictive. For example, many managed service providers restrict caching plugins, because they have their own caching systems, which means less control for the developer over caching configurations and server side technology. I might want to tinker with NGINX settings, however, on a managed host, it’s not likely you’ll be able to do something like that.