“I Hope Some People Can Learn From My Experience And Failures” – Interview with Silvan Hagen

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CMS2CMS is proud to welcome Silvan Hagen as our interview guest today. As you might know for yourself and modestly states Silvan, writing about what you do and who you are is always a bit of a challenge. So, we’re even more excited to introduce him.

Silvan Hagen is a WordPress guy spending more and more time coding the required+ backend. Being the co-founder of this UX & WP Agency, Silvan prefers simple yet elegant solutions and doesn’t believe that too many plugins could actually be bad for your WordPress website if their quality is right. He owns the talent for bridging the gap between code and business while keeping a keen eye on the end user’s experience. Thanks to his unquenchable thirst for everything there is to know about the web and WordPress coding, he can provide you with a tailored backend and front-end knowledge.

What’s even more awesome about Silvan, is his rare talent for making truly immaculate photos. Discover them and Silvan’s insights in our talk below. You are also welcome to contact him on Twitter or via email, if you wish to talk 😉

Thanks for joining us today, Silvan. Please, tell us a bit more about your background, how long have you been working with WordPress and about your current ventures.

Thank you for inviting me Julia. I’m a Swiss-based WordPress developer and co-founder of the WordPress and UX agency required+, a remote team with people in Germany & Switzerland. I started working with WordPress in 2006 by accident. Besides the regular job I still had back then, I started a venture with two friends to build websites for clients with a CMS called cmsmadesimple when I first encountered WordPress. In 2006 I decided to rebuild the website of our venture with WordPress when it didn’t even have the static front-page feature for example. Fast forward to today, required+ as an agency is in it’s fourth year and we are growing as a team and in terms of project sizes. Our go to CMS is of course still WordPress and we are proud to be active members of the community as core contributors, plugin developers, speakers and event organisers.

When was the first time that you really got excited about WordPress and at what point did you decide to make it your career?

Ever since touching it in 2006 I stayed a fan and started building personal sites and a few client sites with WordPress. The open-source love caught me a few years before and I’m a strong believer in open-source culture and communities as a very efficient way to build software. Before starting required+ I was working as a front-end engineer for the biggest Swiss web agency. This was when a team lead approached me to help them build a project with WordPress as he heard that I’m quite savvy building stuff on top of it. More WordPress projects followed before I decided to make the jump into freelancing mid-2011, building for and with WordPress almost exclusively. So far I never regretted staying with WordPress.

Where do you go first to get WordPress news, insights, and updates?

There are many great resources out there today. My favourite channels to stay up-to-date are Make WordPress, WordPress Tavern and the Post Status Club, worth every penny in my opinion. Additionally the several Slack channels and of course, StackExchange. I’m sure I browse many more on a daily basis, but these are the most important ones to me.

What performance tips would you give to beginners (as related to speed, scalability, security, plugins, backup, etc.)?

Make sure to get a working knowledge of the components involved such as the web server and it’s configuration, make sure you understand the impact of queries to the database and how they work so you could, at least, debug a simple SQL statement. Writing intelligent code and not just the first thing that comes to mind as a working solution will help you with all the other elements such as caching, scalability & security. Get comfortable with the underlying technologies of your trade, I once made the mistake to learn jQuery first, now I’m still having a hard time getting better at Javascript.

Confess to us your biggest moment of WP fail?

Well, it’s not really a WP fail, but the night before we relaunched the corporate blogs for the Swiss Federal Railways I accidently wiped out the future production server. I simply overestimated my terminal savviness and instead of cleaning up unused releases, I wiped out the entire web root. Lucky me it only cost me two additional hours in the end and a very ashamed call to my friends at the hosting company. Since that day, I always double check what I do in the terminal on our servers.

So what does required+ do? What do you think helps your professionals stand out from other WordPress agencies in the field?

We position ourselves as WordPress & UX agency. In both fields, we offer our expertise from complete website/webapp builds to informed redesigns based on real user behaviour and also offer consulting for other agencies and teams that need UX or WordPress know how to get further. What really helps us stand out from the crowd is our engagement in the communities we are part of, especially for WordPress, this is one of the key ingredients for our success. We believe in collaboration over competition and love to share our code, learnings and failures. For me it all comes down to making the most of what ever you commit yourself to. Let’s say you are building something for a client and instead of building a one-off solution, try to package features as plugins and make them available open-source. This way others benefit, the client gets newer versions of the plugin for free and you feel obligated to write better code and the community can help you doing so. Then go ahead and share your journey, believes and ideas with others through speaking or writing. It’s a long-term commitment, but for us, this philosophy started paying off in the second year after we started speaking at WordCamps.

What are you currently working on?

At the moment we are in the process of building the new websites for a Swiss government institute. A very challenging and exciting project based on multisite with up to 10 websites initially and up to 5 languages per site including right-to-left support for Arabic languages. Probably the biggest multisite setup we had the honour to build so far. Since we focus on long-term relationships with our clients, there are many smaller redesigns and change requests being handled by the team.

What’s the coolest project you’ve ever worked on with WordPress?

That’s a difficult one, as I had the chance to work on very inspiring and challenging projects in the past. To this day, my favourite WordPress project is our job board Freshjobs, a fully WordPress based job board for Swiss internet workers. It’s nice to iterate on your own product and getting feedback from users on your work.

What do you think is the biggest challenge for WordPress to face in 2016?

With the WP API coming to core sooner or later this year, I share some of Noel Tocks thinking regarding the decline of the WordPress assembler. The job to build basic websites or simple blogs will shift away further from agencies to SaaS providers who manage to take over a certain niche and get onboarding right. With the power of the WP API there will be more solutions with custom interfaces for content administration and content distribution across multiple channels leveraging the power of WordPress without showing any of it to the end user.

If you could change one thing about WordPress today, what would it be?

In Switzerland we are used to build multilingual solutions for our clients, we have 4 official languages in our country and clients usually support 2-3 of them plus English of course. To this day, it’s still a bit of a hassle to implement multilingual solutions that cover all the features and come with a simple interface for the editors to change their website. Therefore, I support the idea of WordPress core being language aware, say that it at least, offers a basic API for all multilingual plugins to build upon and make it easy to get and set the language for any default content type in WordPress. So far I couldn’t dedicate enough time to it, but I hope we will get somewhere with the idea this year.

What new features would you like to see in upcoming versions of WordPress?

There are a few very interesting features currently under development that I’m looking forward to have in core, besides the WP API. The Shortcode UI is a promising one and we already use it whenever needed. The Fields API is going to change a few things like simplify the process of registering and adding fields to admin pages, for example. As we manage a few multisite environments, I’m looking forward to the upcoming enhancements including WP_Site, because some areas of multisite installs are still quirky.

Have you ever faced the problem of website migration? If so, how did you manage to resolve it: by converting your website data manually or via an automated tool?

Migrations are something we do regularly, sometimes from a different CMS and sometimes from a different or older WordPress installation into a fresh WP site. Depending on whether the client plans to give the content a complete overhaul or not, the tools used vary greatly.

Tell us a bit about your working setup (hardware + software).

Let’s see what I can tell you. Hardware: At the moment I’m using a Macbook Pro 13” retina as my main machine. Depending on where I am, I get to attach a screen to it. At my apartment for example I hacked an IKEA desk to be a standing desk with a 27” DELL display. We have a few phones and tablets to test our sites on if necessary. What I carry with me all the time, is my Fujifilm X-E2 camera body with a fixed length lens attached. This reminds me to take more pictures again, I love it and it calms me down. Software: Most of the code I write in PHPStorm and Sublime Text. In the terminal, I love the combination of iTerm2 and Oh My ZSH!. I recently started using Tower as a GUI for Git and so far I like it. To organise my professional and personal tasks I switched from Trello to OmniFocus Pro in December last year and it really helps me to stay focused and forget fewer things. A little helper I recently discovered and use a lot for terminal commands is tldr man pages, it shows you common usage examples for the commands instead of the man page.

We need to confess our sin, Silvan. We’ve checked your Instagram, and it’s truly awesome 🙂 Would you share your favourite shot with us?

Thank you for the compliment and no worries, there are reasons this stuff is public :-). My favourite Instagram shot is probably this one. 

silvan-hagen-instagram

While travelling Peru with friends, I had the unique chance to take a picture of this beautiful old lady on her way to the local market, a moment I will never forget. In case anyone cares about more of my pictures, feel free to find them on Flickr, they are all under Creative Commons licence.

Finally, have we missed anything? Here’s your chance to fill in the blanks and add something you want people to know about you!

Thanks again for having me and I hope some people can learn a few things from my experience and failures over the years. Fun fact: besides writing code and running a business, I enjoy gardening. This year is going to be the first time I’ll help design and build a food garden from scratch.

We want to thank Sivan and sincerely wish him all of the best luck and inspiration 🙂

As always, we also invite you to see how your website looks like on WordPress so you could find out for yourself why so many people are so much excited for this CMS. Test our free demo, quickly, easy, with no coding 😉 

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Valentyna Tysiachna

Music/English/Life lover|Ukrainian student|MagneticOne Internet-marketer|
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