Taco Verdonschot of Yoast Shares His WordPress Story8 min read

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Moeez: Hi Taco , it’s great to have you with us today. We would love it if you introduce yourself to our audience. Tell us a little bit about your background and what you are working on nowadays?

Taco: Hi Moeez, thanks for having me. After working in customer service for a while, I joined Yoast as a developer in 2013. Early 2014 I transitioned into a role as support engineer and soon after that we started growing a customer service team. I’ve lead that team at Yoast until spring 2020, when I transitioned into my current role as manager community.

Moeez: What was your first interaction with WordPress? When and how did you realize that WordPress should be a part of your career?

Taco: My first interaction with WordPress was in January 2013. I was studying computer science at the time and one of my classmates introduced WordPress in a project we were working on. A few months later he retweeted a job opening at Yoast. I applied and well.. the rest is history.

I realized WordPress would be (a big) part of my career after joining WordCamp Europe in Leiden. That’s where I started to fall in love with WordPress and its community.

Moeez: I was reading your bio on Yoast, and interestingly you went from being a developer to customer support. How difficult or easy was that transition for you?

Taco: Obviously it was hard to admit that I sucked at being a developer. But the role in customer support felt a lot more natural for me. It really felt like coming home after struggling with development for a few hard month. Fortunately, Joost and Marieke are extremely good at recognizing talents, even when the person in question doesn’t see them (yet). So they really helped me make that transition go very smoothly.

Moeez: You mentioned that your love for the WordPress community was instant and that you consider it as your 3rd family, what was it about the WP community that made you love it to such an extent? How is it different from other tech communities?

Taco: My first real interaction with the WordPress community was at WCEU in Leiden in 2013. I had joined Yoast about 2 months before, and can safely say I didn’t know the next thing about WordPress. And despite being a total rookie, these people were inviting me into their conversations, asked me to join their tables and told me I’d be fine. I didn’t feel like an outsider. They made me feel like I belonged in their community.

I don’t have much experience with other tech communities. I’ve spent a bit of time in the broader PHP community and hung around Drupal and TYPO3 for a bit. All of them are also Open Source communities and thus mostly have a similar friendly vibe.

Moeez: Since you have extensive experience in customer support, how important do you think support is for any tech product, be it a plugin or a web host? Is it make or break at the moment?
Even when you build the perfect tech product, people are going to have questions. Or they want to use your product in ways you’d never imagined. Or they run into problems you couldn’t have possibly foreseen. At that point, these customers have to interact with your company.

Taco: The only thing keeping your customers from rage-quitting and writing bad reviews is your customer support team. So, how important they are? CRUCIAL. Your support team should be at the heart of everything you do. They know your users. They recognize the things that will cause problems down the line. If you do not involve your customer support team in building your product, you’re putting yourself up for failure. That’s how important I think customer support is.

Moeez: Having been a part of the WordPress community, what do you think the community can do more for new and upcoming developers? Is there something you would change?

Taco: I haven’t been a developer for almost 8 years, so this is a hard question to answer. What I do know is that the WordPress codebase is becoming increasingly complex. Onboarding new contributors, developers or otherwise, is something that should have our ongoing focus and it can never be made ‘too easy’. There’s always room for improvement.

Moeez: Being part of Yoast, one of the biggest brands within the WordPress ecosystem, must feel good. Tell us more about what it’s like to work for such a company? Is the pressure different? What are the challenges? And lastly, was it hard handling the post acquisition period?

Taco: Working at Yoast definitely feels good. It really feels like “my company”, even though I have never owned a single part of it. Ever since I joined, we’ve been growing fast. At that time there were 8 of us, now we’re at 150 or 160, I don’t even know exactly. That continuous growth also means continuous change. Nothing stays the same for a long time. And that’s something I had to learn to appreciate. The board has always had an agile approach. Try something new, keep it if it works, or change/revert when it doesn’t.

At the same time, when it comes to our product we can’t make any mistakes. Many of our users depend on their website for their living. We can’t mess that up. Yoast SEO currently has over 12 million active installs. That means a bug that affects 1% of our users is going to cause problems on 120,000 sites. Even if 1% of those users sends in a support request, our 30-people support team will be completely overrun.

So yes, the pressure on our development teams and QA team is high. Our CTO regularly reminds us that we’re playing Champions League, and that’s probably the best way to describe it.

The acquisition of Yoast by Newfold last August was obviously big news. Fortunately, they bought us for all the right reasons. Together we are stronger than ever in our mission to make the web better and offer SEO for everyone. So nope, the post acquisition period hasn’t been hard at all.

Moeez: Why do you think WordPress powers over 40% of the web? What are the main reasons for its popularity in your opinion?

Taco: Those heavily involved with WordPress oftentimes seem to forget that, despite its flaws, WordPress is a very good piece of software. It’s fairly easy to use, and it’s highly customizable through the many available plugins. I do think it’s open source nature also attracts people, or at least it should.

And of course, WordPress is so popular because Yoast SEO is available for WordPress 😉

Moeez: As someone working so close to WordPress, what do you think is the future of this CMS considering a number of competitors and alternatives are available.

Taco: WordPress isn’t going away any time soon. However, others are growing fast as Joost de Valk’s CMS market share analysis tells us. What I think we all need to get better at is telling WordPress’ story, and telling the Open Source story. We need to educate the general public about the benefits of owning your own platform and content, something that some of the proprietary competitions don’t allow.

Moeez: Online or virtual events are replacing offline events and it seems like this year the story won’t change much. How has your experience been organizing and attending online events? Are they a good substitute for offline events?

Taco: Online events are the best substitute for offline events we have, but that doesn’t mean they’re even remotely alike. The bond between people is just that much stronger after meeting in person, having a shared dinner or singing karaoke together.

I can only hope we can return to in-person events as soon as possible, without jeopardizing our community’s safety.

Moeez: Lastly Taco, what advice would you like to give to people choosing WordPress as their career? What are some of the things they need to look out for?

Taco: Get involved with making WordPress. Giving back (see also Five for the future) is important for WordPress, but it’s also a great way to improve your own skills as you’ll get a ton of feedback from peers around the world on everything you do. And you get to learn from what others do.

But most of all, the WordPress community is a fun, friendly, and inclusive bunch. We’re happy to have you!

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Mohammed Moeez

Moeez is a WordPress community manager at Cloudways. He loves to work closely with customers to understand their problems and come up with solutions that are not only beneficial but are long lasting as well. He also actively participates in the community to share his knowledge regarding Cloudways and hosting in general. In his free time he likes to watch football, workout and spend time on his PlayStation. Get in touch with him at [email protected]

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