Introducing Dave Kiss
Within the WordPress community, Dave Kiss has evolved from client work, to plugin development, to now teaching others code and development skills.
Liam: This is Hallway Chats, where we talk with some of the unique people in and around WordPress.
Tara: Together, we meet and chat with folks you may not know about in our community.
Liam: With our guests, we’ll explore stories of living – and of making a living with WordPress.
Tara: And now, the conversation begins. This is episode 14.
Liam: Hi! Welcome the Hallway Chats. I am Liam Dempsey.
Tara: I am Tara Claeys. Today we are joined by Dave Kiss who tells us that a Google search for information about how to program led him down a decade long worm hole into WordPress. Hello, Dave!
Dave: Hey guys! How’s it going? Thanks for having me.
Liam: Fantastic Dave. Thanks for joining us here today. We really appreciate it. We’re excited to get to know you. Spend a few minutes telling us about yourself. Where you are, what you do and what’s moving you ahead these days.
Dave: Yeah sure thing. As you guys know and I’d like everybody to know, my name is Dave. I am a full stack Programmer. I’ve been writing code for the past ten years or so now. I never really meant to do that. I kind of got into it by accident. I went to school for video production. I thought I was gong to be the next Star Wars guy or something like. But I found that carrying around those 70-pound cameras and working 16 or 17-hour days wasn’t really for me. I decided that maybe I should start looking elsewhere for what was fulfilling to me. So I kind of just got into…I always liked spending time on a computer and AOL was a big thing for me back in the days when it was 2.0 or 2.5. I loved chatting online. I thought maybe I would get started building some websites. So I wanted to show off some of the videos that I was making my own site, so I tried to figure out how to put all the videos I was making online. It turned out that I actually really liked the fact that nobody was bothering me when I was getting my work done. I liked the logical picking apart things and trying to figure how they worked. The more time I spent doing it, the more I realized that I really enjoyed it. So here we are ten years later. I don’t know. I kind of fell into this role, but I don’t know how I got here.
Tara: Yeah. So you taught yourself? Have you taught yourself everything you know?
Dave: Yeah. Everything is self-taught. Obviously, it’s not just because of me but because of everybody else with the ability to just Google something long enough to figure out how everything works and watching YouTube videos. Now you get to the point where if you do it long enough you eventually get good at it. So that’s where we are now.
Tara: So tell us a little bit about your work that you’re doing and your programming skills. Are you working for yourself? Are you freelancing? What kind of business are you running?
Dave: Ok. Sure thing. I guess when I first started off I was just doing client work for other sites and any kind of work that came my way. I would take on anything and just try to get things done for the client. But I realized (after doing that for a year or two) that I wasn’t really getting a whole lot of satisfaction out of it. I wanted to really figure out why that was. I think it really comes down to the fact that I never really got into this work just to do work for other people. I got into it because I was interested in building and I really liked the satisfaction of seeing my ideas come to life in creating. So instead of working for a client, I decided to start building some of my own products, plugins, and ideas and have those come to life. It took awhile. After doing that for a couple of years eventually, I started selling some plugins online. It got the point where it became a sustainable business model. So eventually after doing that long enough, I made enough sales to go off on my own. That’s now my full-time gig. It’s just doing product sales online.
Tara: Tell us about some of the products that you offer.
Dave: Sure. The main product that I sell is called Vimeography. It’s a Vimeo integration for WordPress that allows you to show all of your Vimeo videos on your WordPress site. Again, that naturally goes back to my video production background and I guess what I was interested in before this whole life that I’m living now. So that is the main flagship thing. I’m also really interested in teaching and sharing what I’ve learned along the way because that’s the only way that I’ve gotten to the point of where I am now I guess. I am moving forward. I am really interested in doing online courses, writing tutorials and sharing everything I learned along the way as well.
Tara: That’s great. Tell us a little bit about success. It sounds like you tried client work and that was something that wasn’t a great fit for you. You found product development to be something more satisfying. We like to talk on this show about how people define success for themselves; whether it’s in their professional life, personal life or the combination of the two. How do you think about success?
Dave: Yeah that such a big question, right? That’s something that we always want to make sure that we’re on track for. I like to think about it (at least for me) I like to see how can I enable others to become the people that they want to become rather than just think about what I want to become. I try to think about the ways that I can do that. I think for me I like to teach and I like to share everything that I learned along the way. I like to build products and build solutions that help other people achieve their personal goals. For me, that’s building that Vimeo integration that allows other people to build their portfolios. I’m also working on this learning system as well to help other people share the information that they possess. I’d really like to just enable other people to get to the point where they want to be.
Liam: I think that approach of tying your definition of success to the ability to empower others to succeed is really impressive. I think it’s very much a part of the WordPress Community. I can see that’s why you are doing so well. When your default position is how can I make you better, even if they’re not clients in a services way that you really do not like doing, they are clients that are using your product. That’s just a great way to view success. It’s not around money; it’s not around sales, it’s now around any kind of business metric but rather I want to make you a better person or a better whatever you’re trying to be…I want to make you better. That’s fantastic. Thank you so much for that.
Dave: Yeah of course. I really believe that the value should always become before your profits. That kind of stuff comes if you put enough heart and effort into it. That should never be your primary focus. It should be about providing as much value as possible for your clients or customers.
Liam: Yeah. I agree with that in the sense that if you do the work and you put your heart into it, and you pay attention to what you are doing the money will be there (maybe not all the time and not every day), but at some level, it’s going to be there. If it’s not there, you’re probably doing it wrong, or we’re doing it wrong. That is great. What a great outlook. Thank you.
Dave: Of course.
Tara: It sounds like the evolution of your development skills have brought you into helping others with that. In what ways are you reaching out and helping? Are you on the forums? When you talk about helping others, tell us a little about how you do that and where you do that.
Tara: I like that. I also found that if you do that it also helps with getting it ingrained in your head. You have a reference to go back to as well, right? You’re keeping a journal of your own path.
Dave: Totally. It’s almost embarrassing how many times I watch my own tutorials and read my own articles.
Liam: You think I’d remember by now. You know what? I need to chime in and say that I really like (aside from just keeping the knowledge fresh in your head) I think the context around which you are trying to figure out the new technology or that new code (also the frustration that comes with not knowing it yet) and being able to keep that in mind as you writing a tutorial. Oh yeah. I remember this part was really challenging. The documentation that’s out there kind of describes it in this vague (or in my opinion) unhelpful. I want to describe it this other way. That’s really great. I think that contextual learning while it’s still fresh in your mind. You still remember that it is hard when you have been doing it for fifteen years, or ten years or five years. Oh yeah. That’s easy. Here’s how you do it. Well, it wasn’t always.
Dave: Exactly. Yeah right. So when I run into those frustrations, I will actually type out and make a note of the frustrating thing about it. How do I turn that into like a headline on the article? Are you stuck on this? Here’s how you fix it kind of thing. But really those frustrating points are kind of the highlights of all the stuff that I share.
Tara: That sounds great. When you’re learning things and teaching yourself things, talk a little bit about (I’m going to use the word imposter syndrome) because I feel that way sometimes. When you’re learning how do you face the challenge of being sure of your code? And I guess sharing your information knowing that it’s good code. What kind of challenge do you face in that arena?
Dave: Yeah that’s a great question. Imposter syndrome is very real especially for somebody that doesn’t have a computer science degree. I’m not like a professional. I don’t ever expect to be an employee of Facebook or Google or anything like that. I do think that because of that syndrome existing; a lot of people just have this fear of sharing what they even believe in or what they think they know. I just at least bypass that. If I learn something and I think that this is the right way to do it (in fact one of my free online courses that I have available right now) is a way that I learned it. I bet there’s somebody that’s smarter than I am that could watch the course and say hey! You kind of did this a little bit differently than I might’ve done. But I don’t let that affect me because I think that a lot of what we know and what we feel most comfortable about covers the 80% of what is important to know about on any given topic. That 80% is extremely valuable for somebody that is just getting started. So I always try to think about it that way. Don’t let that last 5% of imperfection prevent you from actually getting something out or sharing information with somebody else because all of the other 95% is way more important.
Tara: That’s a great perspective. I really appreciate that. Can you talk a little bit about that other challenges or what you say is your biggest challenge in what you’re doing and the path that you followed? How did you overcome it? How are you working on overcoming it?
Dave: Yeah sure. The biggest challenge that I faced for probably three years or so now is hiring. There are a couple of corners to that and why I am struggling with it. Some of the main points for that is a) It is really hard to find incredibly talented people that aren’t already doing with they’re super interested in and in love with. And it’s also very incredibly hard to compete with the likes of Amazon, Microsoft or Facebook when you’re at a certain level because of the benefits that they can offer, and all of the pay and all that. So I think what I need to find (and what a lot of people that are hiring at a certain lower scale might need to find) is the ability to offer other value to potential employees that isn’t necessarily just amazing benefits and we watch your dog, and you get free food all the time. But the fact that hey! I can empower you if you want to learn how to how to grow a plugin from zero sales to a hundred sales a month. I can teach you how to do that sort of thing. I can share what’s worked for me and what hasn’t worked for me. I can share one-on-one why I’m writing my code the way that I am. I can really just have a meaningful relationship rather than just you work for me, get this done and I’ll give you a banana for lunch or whatever.
Liam: I’d prefer that you just keep an eye on my dog, please.
Dave: Yeah, actually is not a bad benefit. I don’t know if I can do that. I already have two of my own, so.
Liam: But your point around creating a culture, a climate and a milieu where employees and colleagues feel valued, feel cherished, feel an opportunity to be challenged, to be educated, and to grow I think really is a huge value. We spend do much time at work, right? Anywhere from 20 to 80 hours a week, depending on the week to have it not be a place where we look forward to going can be really problematic. It can be really challenging for our wider lives. So that you’re trying to hone in on that as a value for joining your company is great. I think that’s really insightful.
Dave: One of the things (I’m not sure that this is the best analogy) but there is this idea of having a home away from home, right? Where if you’re on vacation or you’re in another city it is something that you make you just as comfortable as if you were in your own place. I like the idea of having to work away from your work. It’s the same idea where if you are interested in a certain thing professionally when you’re at your job you should still feel like you’re being cultivated and surrounded with the things that you love professionally.
Tara: I love that. That’s awesome! I need to make a note of that. Work away from work. I like that.
Liam: You heard it first here folks from Dave Kiss. Work away from work.
Dave: Yeah. Trademark, copy that.
Liam. So Dave? Within Dave within the plugin business that you’re growing and your work to find reliable professional capable team members, you’ve talked about the biggest challenge that you have been facing. But what is a single most important thing that you can do to achieve that success or maintain that success that you talked about earlier where bringing value and empowering others is what drives you forward?
Dave: I think the most important thing you can do is wake up and drink a cup of coffee and get going. That is super important to me, but I think that the ability to just kind of break down your big goal into incredibly small pieces and just take one step at a time. I think it’s really easy to look at your big picture goal and have it become very difficult to accomplish because it just seems so overwhelmingly huge. I believe in just building tiny and taking one step at a time. A lot of times I’ll only write up to a hundred lines of code a day or so. I’ll call that a win. As long as I’m taking these steps forward and accomplishing small tasks eventually the bigger thing will come. Those small tasks kind of layer on top of one another. But you’ve got to start building your lego castle with just one lego. You can’t just build the whole thing. They probably do sell kits out of the box or whatever now. I believe that if you’re going to build this from the ground up, you have to start one step at a time.
Tara: Yeah. It sounds like you love what you do. I can hear that you’re passionate about your products, helping other people and having employees. How do you balance that with your life? I believe you are “a digital nomad” if I am correct on that? How do you balance your work life with hobbies or having fun? Do you do things that aren’t work?
Dave: That’s a good question. I was traveling for the past six months or so, and that was an interesting experience because it kind of forced me to be in a place that I’ve ever been before. I don’t know anybody there, so it required me to rely on the things that I did know (I was traveling with my wife and our my dog). So it required really focusing on those things that are important to you and making sure that your spending that time where it needs to be. In general, even when I’m not traveling, I just believe in being completely present wherever you are. I also think that this whole 40-hour workweek thing is completely overblown, unnecessary and antiquated. Like I said before, some days I only write a hundred lines of code, and I’ll call it a day. It’s not because I don’t want to work for the day but I think that is an incredibly important balance that we need to really dial in to figure out how much work is actually enough work for a given day? How productive can you be in an eight or nine hour day? There’s a lot of statistics on that. So if you can just find those hours that you can really dial in and do your best work, I think you can use the rest of the hours to dial in and do your best personal life.
Tara: Also, in code writing, you are finding yourself most likely solitary. What kind of community involvement do you have? How do you interact with others when you’re writing hundreds of lines of code in a day? That can be kind of lonely and isolating.
Dave: Absolutely. The community is incredibly important for this. I’m a member of several Slack teams that have kind of kept me too distracted throughout the day. I also participate in a lot of local Meetup groups and even not local. When I was traveling, I spoke at the (we were in Tucson Arizona). I spoke at the Tucson WordPress Meetup group. It’s really easy to do. You can just reach out and find everybody’s contact information and say hey! I would love to meet who is in this community. I would love to help out and share my experiences. With the travel how can we set this up? I believe (especially if you aren’t traveling) you can just have your local community to participate there and really get to know the people around you that also have similar backgrounds or similar goals. The Meetup groups really (and speakers in general) while the topic and the content of the talk might be interesting, it’s really just an excuse to get like-minded people together and share what you know with one another and have a good time. So participating in local Meetup groups and even remote Meetup groups are really great way to complement your solitary confinement during the day.
Liam: Absolutely! Dave? I want to back to the work life balance that you mentioned. Some days you’ll just write a hundred lines of code and call it a day. Let me start by saying that I think that’s a fantastic way to approach it. There is this balance and tying our workweek to a specific number seems somewhat antiquated at the very least. Tell me a little bit about (if you can) what is your thought process? How do you decide when it’s been a successful workday and that’s enough? I don’t mean that maybe you have an appointment at 2:00 so you have to leave early but when there is nothing else technically drawing you away from work, how do you approach that? What’s your thought process?
Dave: I’m probably the least organized person that you might ever meet. So in terms of a plan, I have these plans. I have a ten-year plan. I try to break that down in as many different increments as possible. So okay, if I want to be at X in ten years how can I break that down so that in nine years it gets me 90% there? In eight years, 80% there but continue that granularity all the way down to one year, six months, three months and one week. So I try to just think about all these little things that can layer on top of one another. In a day there’s not a whole lot that you can just you hammer out in one single day that’s going to get you to that ten-year goal. So if you can just figure out what are those small steps that you can call a win (whether that is you implement one feature or you solve one bug fix or answer ten customer support tickets). Those are all things that I feel good about moving forward that are going to move closer to that ten-year goal (or even a three-month goal or the one-week goal). Once I start considering maybe those two or three wins throughout the day, that’s a good day for me. So I try to think about what are those one, two or three things that I can do you today that I can solve today that’s going to make everything else irrelevant or much easier to deal with. If I can pick up those two or three wins a day that’s a really positive thing.
Tara: I love goal setting. It’s an important thing to do when you are working for yourself. It’s very hard to be mindful of it sometimes. Have you learned this skill on your own? Do you follow blogs or business blogs and information to learn about setting those goals or is it something that you’ve done on your own?
Dave: I mostly get people that yell at me and tell me that I’m doing things wrong. That’s like the only way I ever learn anything. I have a mentor/business coach that helps me with some of the stuff. We get a weekly phone calls. I think it is always incredibly important to talk with other people and reflect on is this the right step for my business? Is the thing that I should be working on this month? Just getting that sort of feedback and then books can help for sure. I’m not that great at finishing books. A lot of times I’ll skim through and pick up different parts. But I think that really just communicating and reflecting is the biggest take away for me.
Tara: I think it’s great that you have a mentor or coach who is helping you work through some of this. That leads me to a question that we ask everyone on the podcast which is to talk a little bit about the most important advice that you’ve received that you can share with us.
Dave: Yeah I think it would probably go back to what I was just talking about a minute ago which is what are the things today or the one thing are the two things today that you can do that just makes everything else irrelevant or easier? Specifically, in terms of your goals. So a lot of times…I always call these projects sand castles…where my mind just goes from one idea to the next. I want to build this thing. Then I get this other idea going, then a third idea. Then by the time I look back to the first sandcastle, the waves kind of came and knocked it over. So I have to go over to that one and start fixing it up. Then the third one starts to fall over, or the wind blows it away. None of these ever really actually get done, and my focus is just all over the place. But if I can think about what is the one thing that I can do today where these other castles aren’t really going to matter for my personal goals then just do that. Why am I wasting all this time just jumping between all these different projects when it ultimately isn’t get me closer to what I guess I’ve been calling my arrow or future self? What I want to be in the life that I want to live. So what is that thing for you and how can you implement it so that everything else becomes easier?
Tara: You sound very organized to me. You said that you were not organized. It sounds to me (at least in your thoughts) that you are very organized.
Tara: I think the sand castle visual is fabulous. I talk about rabbit holes a lot. I think that in the kind of work that we do, whether it’s emails or a bug that you have to solve right away, we go down these rabbit holes all the time. I think that the sand castles are an appropriate analogy for what we do and how we deal with issues every day.
Dave: I would agree.
Tara: I like that one focus. That’s a great way of looking at it. So I think we are just about out of time. Dave? It’s been great having you on the show. Can you tell us where people can find you (websites, emails, social media)?
Dave: Absolutely. I am Dave Kiss just about everywhere. So @davekiss on Twitter. DaveKiss.com. You can email me firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m also just sharing information about developing on WordPress so feel free to get at me if you have any questions or if you’re interested in learning more specifically about WordPress plugin development.
Liam: Dave thanks so much for joining us today. It’s been an absolute pleasure to chat with you. I love your vision of sand castles and your arrow. It’s very descriptive. It’s very unique, and it’s very powerful to get a sense of how you go about achieving your success. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and wisdom with us today.
Dave: Of course. Thank you for having me.
Tara: Thank you. I appreciate your time. Bye!