“The Web Is, at Its Core, HTML Markup,” Morten Rand-Hendriksen Talks About WordPress, Web Development and His Work at Lynda.com

by Danish Ashrafi  July 29, 2016

Morten Rand-Hendriksen is a senior staff author at Lynda.com. He creates online video training materials on a wide variety of subjects related to front-end development, web standards, and WordPress. He grew up in Norway and currently living in Canada.

In this interview, he talks about WordPress development, the importance of understanding web technologies and is a passion for ballroom dancing.

Morten Rand-Hendriksen

Cloudways: Morten the Northman, it’s great to have you here with us today. Please tell our readers a bit about yourself?

Morten: My name is Morten Rand-Hendriksen, though I go by “mor10” – or “mor ten” – online because my name is too long to fit most social media name fields and is too complicated to demand people spell it correctly. I’m a senior staff author with Lynda.com from LinkedIn where I create online video training materials on a wide variety of subjects related to front-end development, web standards, and WordPress. I’m also a regular contributor to the WordPress project focussing on accessibility, community, and standards. I grew up in Norway where I got a degree in philosophy before moving to Vancouver, Canada in 2002.

Cloudways: When did you start using WordPress and why did you choose WordPress out of all the CMS platforms available?

Morten: My real interest in web design and development as a profession began in 2004, though I had dabbled in various web technologies before. At that time, I built websites, first using frames and layers, and then various WYSIWYG tools like Macromedia’s Fireworks. It was a pretty frustrating experience. Then, Flash came along, and I became completely engrossed in what it could do. I had built a video player with tracking before there was such a thing as a video player in Flash, and by the end of it, I was building massive multi-stage Flash sites that were almost entirely powered by ActionScript.

After a couple of years, I realized I was creating solutions that were impossible to manage and update for my clients. Most of my time was spent managing and updating existing sites instead of building new ones, and that was not what I wanted to do. I needed a better option that was more user-friendly. For the next year, I experimented with Mambo, then migrated to Joomla! Only to realize that was like handing my clients a live chicken and asking them to train it to drive a car. Drupal was extremely popular at the time, but that felt too much like driving a Humvee in a convenience store, so the quest continued. I can’t recall exactly how, but blogging software was becoming pretty hot around this time, and all the talk about this new solution called “WordPress” pushed me to test it out. My immediate reaction was this solution could do pretty much anything I wanted while my clients would have a fairly fool-proof interface to work with. The pledge to promote web standards and the GPL-based open source philosophy also appealed to me. That’s what started the spark, and I haven’t looked back since.

Cloudways: I was going through different courses related to WordPress on Lynda.com, What other topics are you planning to cover in the future?

Morten: Course production at Lynda.com is an ever-evolving process. A couple of weeks ago, we released a major course called Foundations of UX: Content Strategy. In the pipeline is a course on how to implement SVGs in your projects (with some demos of how to do it in WordPress), in a couple of weeks I’m recording a major course on web performance, and in the fall I’ll be releasing courses on WordPress development environments, JavaScript tools, and a long list of other stuff. My focus used to be squarely on WordPress to build out our library, and now I’m splitting my time about evenly between WordPress, web standards, and process.

Cloudways: In the recent WordCamp held in Europe, Matt Mullenweg told WordPress users to learn Javascript. What is your opinion as a WordPress developer about this suggestion?

Morten: While I agree everyone who works on the web should learn JavaScript, I think the singular focus on JavaScript is a bit overhyped. The biggest skill gap in the WordPress development community today isn’t JavaScript, but accessibility, and I would rather people learned accessibility deeply before they invested time learning JavaScript for the simple reason that JavaScript makes accessibility far more complex, and if you don’t know how to build accessible websites without JavaScript, you won’t build accessible websites with JavaScript.

The conversation also needs a bit of perspective: The web is, at its core, HTML markup. CSS adds style to that markup to make it look nice, and JavaScript manipulates how that markup behaves in the browser. Focus too much on JavaScript alone, and you lose touch with the accessible core: straight-up plain and basic HTML. So, learn accessibility deeply, learn HTML deeply, learn CSS deeply, then learn JavaScript deeply, in that order. If the sites you build are not accessible, it doesn’t matter how fancy your JavaScript is.

Cloudways: Who do you consider among your best buddies to hang-out within the WordPress Community?

Morten: The WordPress community is an incredibly diverse community filled with insightful and interesting people. Most of my interactions with the community happen through various social media, Slack, and at WordCamps, and I don’t really do a lot of “hanging out” outside of these venues. Rather than provide a list of people I interact with a lot, I’ll say this: Our community is one of the most welcoming I’ve ever interacted with. Everyone is always looking for new input and new ideas, and most  of us are willing and excited to engage in nerdy conversations about how to democratize the web. Take part in the conversations that happen on social media, on blogs, and at events, and take steps to broaden your social network. Listen to the women in our community. Listen to the people of color, listen to the visible and invisible minorities. Interact with WordPress enthusiasts from other countries. Share your knowledge, and contribute to the conversation. In the WordPress community, every voice matters.

Cloudways: Can you recommend your favorite WordPress theme or plugins to our viewers?

Morten: I don’t know if I have a favorite plugin, but there are plugins and services I use a lot, including Joe Dolson’s WP Accessibility plugin, Yoast SEO, the WordPress Beta Tester, Limit Login Attempts, and Google Authenticator (for 2-factor authentication). On the freemium and premium side, I’m a big fan of WP Migrate DB Pro, GravityForms, Advanced Custom Fields, and Sucuri.

Cloudways: Who do you think WordPress beginners should follow and learn from?

Morten: If you are just starting out with WordPress, the most important thing you can do is reach out to your local community. No matter where you live, there will be others who work with WordPress just like you. The best learning, and greatest discoveries will happen in your interactions with like-minded people. If there is a local WordPress Meetup group, join it. If there is a WordCamp happening in your city or close by, get a ticket, or apply to speak (or both). If there are no local events, start a Meetup group and build your community.

There are a ton of great learning resources for WordPress out there. The WordPress Codex and WordPress Handbooks provide detailed, authoritative documentation on WordPress development. Training services like WP101, iThemes Training, and our extensive library at Lynda.com from LinkedIn provide in-depth training on how to use the application. Blogs like WPTavern, PostStatus, Torque provide up-to-date articles and information about the community, and there are several Facebook groups dedicated to specialties like front-end development, advanced development, design, and content creation.

All that said, if you are just starting out with WordPress, I recommend looking beyond the immediate the WordPress community for learning. WordPress is not an isolated island, but a small state on a large continent of web applications and technologies. Investing time in getting to know the larger web community and learning from experts outside the WordPress bubble will pay itself back many times over. Read everything published on A List Apart (including their book series A Book Apart), go to conferences and Meetups on other web topics. Learn Content Strategy, Information Architecture, User Experience design, accessibility, project management, data security, and other topics related to WordPress (we have you covered for all that and more at Lynda.com from LinkedIn), and broaden your horizons. To be truly successful with WordPress, you need to know how to be truly successful without WordPress. WordPress is just an interface between you, a database, and your audience. You should be able to communicate effectively with your audience even if WordPress disappears.

Cloudways: Everybody needs to have some time off from work to relax. What do you do in your free time to unwind yourself?

Morten: My greatest hobby is ballroom dancing. For the past 10 years, my wife and I have learned over 12 dance styles, and we make an effort to go dancing class or parties at least two times a week, every week, all year long. Dancing has been one of the most rewarding investments of my life, and it is something I recommend everyone try out. It teaches self-control, motor skills, verbal and nonverbal communication, and how to have deep conversations with other people without uttering a single word. Physical exercise is also a great mind booster and dancing is one of the most challenging types of exercises for the mind and body that are fun to take part in.

Other than that, I read a lot of philosophy and science fiction, and I try to find the time to play music whenever I can (which is rare).

Cloudways:  Finally, just for our readers, can you please send us an image of what your desk or workspace looks like! 🙂

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About Danish Ashrafi

Danish was a WordPress Community Expert at Cloudways - A Managed WordPress Hosting Platform. He loves helping out WordPress beginners and solving their problems. His passions takes up his free time as well and he spends time designing, developing and learning new stuff. You can email him at danish.ashrafi@cloudways.com

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  • Muhammad Saad Khan

    This is one great interview. Loving the workstation.