He loves to take opportunities with a learning curve and he enjoys what he does. He is a core web developer and a moderator par excellence. With more than 6 years of hands-on experience in developing WordPress websites, he has built an enduring clientele.
Mostly, the experienced WordPress developers tend to give back to the community by contributing in forums and communities and he is no different. He is the moderator at WordPress Stack Exchange. He is also the admin of three large WordPress groups on Google+. He is none other than Thomas Scholz.
Cloudways: Thomas, your eventful professional journey led you from journalism to political science and then to a project research on “contractualism”. Then, came web development. What made you stick to web development? How was this experience? When did you find about WordPress?
Thomas Scholz: My best talent is probably pattern recognition. Web development is all about patterns: log files, efficient stylesheets, user behavior. You have to see how and why events follow a pattern. I am enjoying that. So, web development looked like a good way to make money.
I came to WordPress in 2008 or so. I have written my own tiny CMS already and one of my websites is still running on that. But, it wasn’t good enough for larger projects. Finally, WordPress search included pages in version 2.5, so I gave it a try. The good thing was that I could get results very fast, and the community and the documentations were already very helpful.
Cloudways: You have frequently switched between different professions in past few years. Would you leave your current profession for a new adventure?
Thomas Scholz: Sure. I don’t see myself in 10 years still looking at my IDE each day. If I find anything that requires my creativity and comes with a nice, steep learning curve, I’ll take that opportunity.
Cloudways: You have worked as a freelancer for a long time. How did this freelancing inspired you? When it comes to money, it is really good. How it has helped in improving your skills?
Thomas Scholz: Most of my clients were business owners—and often I had to write their content too. In order to do that, I had to learn a lot about the business they did. That was interesting.
I had to write many specialized plugins for them—and that surely made me a better developer. But there wasn’t much feedback from other developers and a freelancer in Germany has to deal with too much bureaucracy. That were two of the main reasons why I joined Inpsyde.
Cloudways: You are currently working with Inpsyde. What are your core responsibilities? Which projects you are focussing on? How’s the experience so far?
Thomas Scholz: I’m working almost exclusively on MultilingualPress. A plugin with thousands of users requires a strong focus on portability, and you have to prioritize the features that are raising the most expensive support. That’s quite a difference to plugins for clients or for private projects.
The downside is I have to write code that is compatible to PHP 5.2 because that’s the minimum requirement for WordPress. It is irresponsible to allow such an insecure environment, but we have to follow WordPress here; else, we would be flooded with support questions.
Working for Inpsyde means: more developer communication and less bureaucracy.
Cloudways: Being a moderator at WordPress Stack Exchange is a dream come true for a WordPress developer. You got the opportunity when this forum was still in its early days. What are your views about it now? How often do you contribute to WordPress Stack Exchange?
Thomas Scholz: Moderation is not about development. It is a very different role. On the other hand, there is always a little diamond (♦) on my name, so everything I write is written by “a moderator”. That can be an extra burden sometimes.
When I became a moderator, I had my first episode of being bored by the community already behind me. Stack Exchange has many rules and tools that I had to learn then. That was fun. Nowadays, it is just a part of my daily routine. I clear the flags, deal with sock puppets, and tell other users how they can improve their contributions.
I don’t write many answers anymore. But that is not so much due to WordPress Stack Exchange, it is more a result of my own improved skills. If you know the WordPress code well enough, you run into nonsense, unnecessary complex or naive code every time you look at it. That’s annoying, not fun.
WordPress’ strength nowadays is the market built around it, not the code. That’s good to make a living, but a poor foundation for passionate developers.
WordPress Stack Exchange itself has settled its rules for now. We have sharpened our scope, even changed the name, and many regulars help to make the community moderate itself. Moderators are exception handlers, and there are not many exceptions anymore.
There seems to be a trend towards exclusionism, and our community doesn’t grow as fast as it did during the first two years. But, this is something we have to deal with as a community; it is not a moderator’s job.
Cloudways: There are several active WordPress communities on Google+. How many communities do you moderate? What type of questions you answer mostly?
Thomas Scholz: I am moderating in a large international WordPress community (with 43,000+ members), the German WordPress community (with 8,000+ members) and a developer community (with 6,000+ members). There are some other private communities, but they don’t require much attention.
It is interesting to see the cultural differences between these communities. The international catch-all community accepts more self-promotion than the others, but we get much more complaints when we remove posts.
The sheer numbers are rather meaningless though because 99% of all members in a community are usually inactive. What counts is the probability to get a useful response. I think the German group works better than the other groups in that regard.
I mostly answer questions related to code development.
Cloudways: We have talked too much about your professional life. Let’s tell our readers about your hobbies and interests. What does Thomas do other than work?
Thomas Scholz: I read a lot, at least two books per week, mostly philosophy, natural science and science-fiction. Never any tech books. I play Skat every Monday and I’m the proud property of a cat named Schraps.
Cloudways: There are very active WordPress groups on Facebook, like Advanced WordPress and All About WordPress. Do you focus on WordPress communities other than Google+?
Thomas Scholz: I don’t use Facebook and I am only on WordPress.org to care about our plugins support forums. Interesting fact: Many members of the G+ community tried their luck on WordPress forum first and didn’t get an answer or their question was closed too early. I wasn’t aware how severe this problem is until I joined G+.
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Cloudways: In the WordPress community, there are many people who are helping out and contributing to the groups. Name at least 5 people, who have inspired you the most.
Thomas Scholz: Oh, that’s difficult. I always try to judge the content, not the person.
Anyway, here are a few names.
- Giuseppe Mazzapica writes code that is almost conceptual art. See his Brain project for some of the most advanced code in the WordPress world.
- Franz Josef Kaiser is good friend, an excellent code reviewer, and a co-moderator on Stack Exchange. I am running WPKrauts together with him, a web site where German speaking developers share their knowledge with the rest of the world.
There are three other people who are not related to WordPress at all. But you have asked for inspiration.
- Karsten Mehrhoff, owner of the first German Opera Browser forum: He was a developer like no one else. Whenever I was about to raise caveats and objections about a change, Karsten had done it already. When the first forum got hacked and destroyed, he started the next one from scratch within a few days. He maintained a well received unofficial translation for the browser that was used by thousands. He died last year. (Rest in peace, buddy.)
- Jeff Atwood, co-founder of Stack Exchange and Discourse: He knows and writes a lot about communities and moderation and despite the fact that I don’t always agree with him, he makes me think about problems in new ways.
- Maya, the first person who made me a moderator, back in 1998, I think. I wasn’t ready for that, but that might be the best time to start something. Her advice, often encrypted in little kōans, forced me not just to see the current problem from a new angle but even to question myself. It was a very intense experience.
You can follow Thomas Scholz on Twitter.