Marco Chiesi’s journey as a developer started in the 80s when he tinkered around with basic programming just for fun. Today, he’s a respected Codeable developer, co-founder of the successful Black Studio agency, and an active organizer of vibrant WordPress events.
We’re delighted to have Marco with us as he shares his journey, talks us through his evolving development process, and explains the significance of the WordPress community in his own progress.
Danish: Hi Marco, thank you for joining us today. Can you tell us how you started your career with WordPress? Any insights you’d like to share about your professional career?
Marco: I have been passionate about computers since I was a child. In the 80s I started with some basic programming (“basic” to be intended as both the level and the language 🙂 ).
Then, in the 90s, in high school, I learned C++ and I had fun building some freeware video games, including a Billiards simulation that had a lot of success. Thanks to this passion, I decided to study Software Engineering at University.
At the end of the 90s, the Internet was starting to spread in Italy, and I was very interested in this new technology so in 1998 I built my first static website and then started doing a few web projects for some friends. After a short period of one year working as a teacher in my former high school, I decided to continue with a web developer career, and in 2002 I joined my friend Francesco Canovi who had just founded the Black Studio web agency.
We landed in the WordPress world a few years later, in 2010, after having tried different platforms and solutions. Fast-forward to 2022 and I am still involved in the web development industry and still with Black Studio, even if nowadays I’m usually not so involved with coding.
Danish: Since you have been in WordPress development since 2010, what motivated you to continue with WordPress?
Marco: When we started creating dynamic websites, in the early 2000s, we tried different approaches for the development. We’d either start from scratch with PHP and MySQL, or with the existing open-source Content Management Systems, but none of them was satisfying. Building every project from scratch was very time-consuming while existing CMSs were not flexible enough for our requirements and not user-friendly enough for our clients.
So we ended up creating our own CMS from scratch, still based on PHP + MySQL, which we used to build many websites in those years. Unfortunately, our CMS was based on a proprietary framework that was acquired by Adobe and then dismissed in 2009, so we had to change our way of building websites. At that time WordPress had reached sufficient maturity for the needs of our projects so we decided to adopt it as our preferred choice for building websites. An open-source project with such a large user base was providing us with sufficient guarantees about long-term maintenance and backward compatibility.
Moreover, the vast availability of ready-made plugins and themes was very helpful to provide solutions at a competitive price and promptly. And, most importantly, from a developer perspective, while not being so state of the art in terms of modern programming, WordPress is extremely flexible thanks to its hook-based architecture, which allows the implementation of customizations that would probably not be possible with other concurrent CMSs.
Danish: At Codeable, what projects do you usually like to work on? How do you manage those projects?
Marco: I prefer to work on projects that require building something from scratch, rather than the ones that involve extending or fixing something existing and built by someone else. Meaning a complete site rebuild or building a custom plugin from scratch. We usually adopt a classic waterfall approach for managing projects. But sometimes, for specific projects/clients, we go for an agile-like approach.
Danish: Any tips for beginner Codeable developers looking for a career in WordPress development?
Marco: While technical skills are fundamental for a developer, my advice for beginners is to properly cultivate soft skills. Good communication, reliability, responsibility, attention to detail, ability to self-organize, respect for deadlines, etc, are key to successful professional development.
Danish: You mentioned that you are an active member of the WordPress community. What role has the WordPress community played in your success as a developer and agency owner?
Marco: As part of the community, I got to know many people who in some cases have become our partners, collaborators, customers, or suppliers. There is plenty of room for business opportunities, but apart from that, it’s just good to make friends. By the way, this interview would not have existed without the WordPress community 🙂
Danish: Why is the WordPress community so much bigger and better than the other communities in the tech industry? Any thoughts on that?
Marco: I adore the WordPress community, as it’s full of interesting people and companies. There is a lot of propensity for sharing and a genuine feeling of brotherhood.
Danish: You also developed some free WordPress plugins available on the official WordPress plugin repository. What do you recommend as the best of those?
Marco: The most popular plugin is undoubtedly Black Studio TinyMCE Widget, which has surpassed 10 million downloads. It became pretty popular shortly after being released (2011), as it was the best way to insert content in WordPress widgets using the visual editor. A few years later, WordPress introduced a similar feature at the core level, and more recently, the full site editing. So the plugin is now less necessary than in the past, but it still has 500,000+ active installations.
There’s no plan to introduce new features in the plugin, but it’s still actively maintained to ensure compatibility with the latest versions of WordPress and other plugins (the latest version was released just a few days ago).
This plugin has been a good representation of the way I work: it’s simple and clean, its solution is straightforward and clever for a common problem, and it’s loved by the users.
Danish: How important is the WordPress community for WordPress survival?
Marco: Currently WordPress could not be considered just an open-source platform – it’s a worldwide ecosystem made of thousands of companies, professionals, and, of course, users. There are a lot of people making a living out of something that is related to WordPress. For that reason, the community is essential for WordPress’s survival. I truly appreciate the Five for the Future initiative, which encourages organizations to contribute five percent of their resources to WordPress development (which is not only coding).
Danish: How did you end up creating an agency? What was your inspiration? Can you share a brief story about that?
Marco: Black Studio was founded in 2002 by my fellow Francesco Canovi. I promptly joined him in this adventure that has been going on for over 20 years now. We were both passionate about technology and the web was very intriguing for us, even if it was at the very early stages in Italy at that time, so we ended up trying to find our space in that world.
Danish: What initial challenges that you face as an agency? How did you overcome these challenges?
Marco: The main challenges were being able to attract new clients, and then getting the projects done. I was mainly responsible for the second one. Additionally, since the very beginning, we have been working remotely, which was absolutely unusual 20 years ago, and also not so easy, as the network connectivity was a lot worse than now.
Danish: You were the speaker at WordCamp Europe 2018. What was the topic? Are you planning to give a talk at the WordPress future events?
Marco: Francesco shared the stage with me. Our talk was entitled “Once upon a time there was a plugin…”, and it was the story of the aforementioned plugin Black Studio TinyMCE Widget, but also a bit the story of our agency and ourselves.
Between 2017-2019, I have been a speaker at several WordCamps across Europe (mainly in Italy), but then I preferred to move behind the scenes and become an organizer. At the moment I don’t have any plans to give talks, but in the future, who knows?
Danish: You are a community guy (as you mentioned), and you love to organize events. How was your experience organizing meetups and WordCamps?
Marco: After attending many WordCamps, some people in the Italian community convinced me to start a local meetup in my local area (Teramo, Italy), as the nearest one was a few hundreds kilometers away.
So I applied to create the meetup, and started organizing the first event which took place after a few months. At that first event (September 2018) there were only 8 people attending, but it was just the beginning. Then more people joined me as organizers, and I am proud to say that we were able to produce some very successful events.
Then the pandemic arrived and unfortunately, things changed completely. We organized several online events in collaboration, with another meetup led by some of my colleagues, but they became less and less frequent…
In 2020, I applied as an organizer for WordCamp Italy (online), which was a quite large event compared to our meetups. It was a beautiful experience thanks to the wonderful organizing team from all over the country. Most of them were people that I met in person at previous WordCamps, and there were also a couple of colleagues that had applied as organizers without knowing about each other.
I really hope that we can get back soon to an in-person event. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend WordCamp Europe in Porto this year.
Danish: We’d love it if you could share an image of your workstation for our readers.
Marco: Here it is:
Danish: Thank you!
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Danish Naseer is a WordPress Community Manager at Cloudways. He is passionate about designing, developing, and engaging with people to help them. He also actively participates in the community to share his knowledge. Besides that, he loves to watch documentaries, traveling and spending time with family. You can contact him at [email protected]