Introducing Kyle Maurer
Kyle is the Director of Operations at Sandhills Development which is a WordPress plugin company. He loves bringing people together and has a passion for making music and craft beer.
Preferred Pronouns | He/Him
Tara: This is Hallway Chats, where we meet people who use WordPress.
Liam: We ask questions and our guests share their stories, ideas, and perspectives.
Tara: And now the conversation begins. This is Episode 145.
Liam: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Liam Dempsey.
Tara: And I’m Tara Claeys. Today we’re joined by Kyle Maurer. Kyle is the director of operations at Sandhills Development, which is a WordPress plugin company. He loves bringing people together and has a passion for making music and craft beer. He’s also officially the biggest Hallway Chats fan, yay for us, and he could not be more excited to be on the show today. Welcome, Kyle. We’re so happy that you’re here. Thanks for joining us.
Kyle: Thank you, Tara and Liam. I’m so thrilled to be with you all today. This is amazing.
Liam: Kyle, we’re absolutely thrilled to have you here, and my ego in particular is grateful for your presence. So flattery can continue as long as you would like to do. It is very welcome. Welcome.
Kyle: I am happy to. I have an abundance of comments and just thoughts on this wonderful show. I would love…
Liam: To interrupt you, maybe you can start by telling us a little bit more about yourself beyond what Tara has already shared.
Kyle: Well, that’s totally fine. That’s what the show is about, right? I have a story that’s no more interesting than the next person’s and we can run through that I suppose. I’ve been doing the WordPress thing for a while just like you have and all the other amazing guests that you’ve had on this fantastic show. I was fortunate in many ways when I was younger, but if there is one thing I look back that I lacked, it was probably role models and mentors. I spend a lot of time in my early career wandering about not knowing what to do or where I was supposed to end up. I milked cows, I ran registers, I shelved books, I powerwashed houses.
I did all this random stuff not knowing where to end up until I finally got…not finally. I was pretty young at the time. But I got married and bought my first house and started to get really serious about needing to accelerate my career development. I did a lot of research and eventually found that if I learned just a little bit of web programming in my spare time, it could open doors much faster than the dead-end jobs I was working at the time. I don’t remember why. I started with PHP, took some tutorials, dropped some acronyms on my resume, and immediately had takers.
I turned an internship at an agency into a position and a full-time position, and then a director of technology role, and then eventually had to leave that company because I caught on to how shady the owners really were. But then I started my own company with an abundance of unearned competence and ran a marketing agency with a business partner for five years. And that was the time period when I got the most invested into the WordPress world. At the time, when we started our business WordPress was emerging as the leader of the options at the time but was by no means ubiquitous dominator in the scene that it is today. So it was a little more chanced that we ended up choosing it from the beginning.
But we built many, many, many websites on WordPress and I got interested in plugin development. I did all the things that you can do in the little WordPress world over those five years, and then eventually joined a plugin company when I decided I didn’t want to do that marketing agency thing anymore. I wanted to work for a product company and with some great people that I could learn from and grow. And it’s been fantastic so far. We make a lot of great things here at Sandhills Development. I work with some of the best people in the business. I love the role that I have, which is really at the end of the day, trying to make sure everybody’s job is rewarding and fulfilling, everybody loves what they do, everybody works together efficiently and this company continues to grow.
Kyle: I know Sandhills development does a lot of WordPress plugins, but I also know that Pippin has started his own craft beer company as well, brewery. And I’m wondering if you were already a craft beer fan before that, or is that something that you…you mentioned it in your intro. Is that something that you had to do in order to stay as an employee of Santos? Does everybody have to be a beer drinker and a beer crafter?
Kyle: You have to be a beer drinker. That’s the requirement. I’m kidding. I’m kidding. There are plenty of people in the company who don’t really have a passion or an interest in the beer-making and that side. But we do have a craft beer culture I think within our team, currently 28 people distributed around the world. The company does own two brewery locations both in Kansas. I’ve been able to visit both of them and enjoy lots of Sandhills beer over the years, which is some of the best out there. If you ever have an opportunity to pass through Kansas, make sure you find a way to stop by and pick up a can or two.
Tara: Yeah, that sounds great. I know Liam and I both enjoy a good beer. I’ve heard of it and would love to try it sometime. I’m a fan of the company as well. I do a lot of great things. I also am a fan of yours, as you know, because I have listened to a couple of your shows, and participated in them as well. And I know, you’ve spoken a bit about the transition from being a business owner to being an employee of another business. And I wondered if you’d talk a little bit about that, because I like hearing what you have to say about it, what it’s meant for you.
Kyle: Okay, sure, Tara. Thank you. And I do want to say that I’ve been a fan of yours as well for a long time—your company, the way you run your business, and the shows that you participated in. That’s a really good one. I’ve had a lot of other peers in this industry who have left entrepreneurship behind. And I’ve joked with some of them at times about creating like a former entrepreneurs support group to talk about this sort of stuff together. But being an entrepreneur does change you. Being on that side of the table running the business, somehow there’s no really going back after that. You’re a different type of worker.
But I did learn a lot of lessons in that transition. Maybe the principal lesson that I learned was that what was ultimately important to me was ownership, not in the sense of legal equity in a business, but ownership over what I was responsible for. That’s what’s most important. I want and need the freedom to do what I think is right to make the impact that I think is needed and help them in whatever way I think is best for the business. So as long as I have ownership over my domain, whatever my responsibilities are, I am satisfied and happy at the end of the day.
And other things matter. I want the opportunity to continue to grow, I want to be able to learn from good people around me, but ownership does matter but not in the sense that I thought when I was younger when I had a lot of pride in the fact that I didn’t have a boss to answer to. I built too much pride in that. It was caught up in my identity. And I had to decouple myself from that and from my business, which was actually a painful process. It took years for me to actually do. Even when I was aware that I wasn’t doing really what I felt like I was supposed to be doing with my life, to just separate myself from the brand I’d made was extremely difficult.
Liam: That’s a topic I feel like I could go for hours, if not weeks on end with you is where does the role of humility come into life work and everything, and the painful journey that that is for all of us? Thank you for sharing that so candidly with us, Kyle. I wonder if I can riff on that and talk a little bit about you talked about how your perspective as an employee, as a worker, as a professional has changed and that the lessons that you learned as an entrepreneur you’re bringing to your new role or your current role where you have that level of control and you can make the kind of difference that you want to make. What’s carried through? What are some of the perspectives that you bring with you and continue to add value to you and your team and your colleagues at Sandhills are trying to achieve?
Kyle: I like that question. This is, like you said, the kind of thing that we could talk about for a while. The first examples that come to mind things that have carried through, after running my own business for five years, my perspective changed radically. A lot of that does stay with me. I think I continue to look at the whole company, not just specifically about my area of responsibility. I think that that has carried through my passion for the success of this enterprise. I’m thinking about it holistically. So even if my responsibilities are just marketing or just support, or just development or something like that, I’m still thinking about how this fits into the bigger picture and what impact this is making to the company and the success of all of us. Because I look around and want all of us to succeed and want this company to move forward.
So I think that having been in that leader role for a while helped me understand that perspective and also have a lot of empathy for our founder, who I know that when you’re at the top of the hierarchy, you get all of the worst tasks to do, all of the most stressful decisions to make the biggest challenges float up. I have been able to provide a lot of assistance and help in this context. That’s why I’m in the operations role. It wasn’t my original role at the company. I started doing part-time support, and then took on a marketing lead role before I was offered the operations role. I think that my ability to perform in this role has a lot to do with how I have experience thinking holistically about a business and doing everything that I can to try make it succeed. That’s one example. We could probably go on and on about that.
Liam: I like we could, especially if we had a couple of beers in front of us.
Kyle: You know it.
Liam: Let me ask you what is our signature question or one of them, Kyle. You’ve covered a lot of ground in your intro and it sounds like you were talking about not just career success, but also your own life journey. And that’s really what this question is about is definitions of success. Kyle, what is your definition of success?
Kyle: Success is being on the Hallway Chats podcast, of course.
Tara: Thanks, Kyle.
Liam: All right. Now, we’re just getting into boldface…
Tara: You’ve made it. You’re done.
Kyle: Yes. Here I am. It’s quite a treat. I really mean that very sincerely. I gave this question a lot of thought, because, of course, I’m loyal listener to this podcast and of course, I don’t show up to meetings unprepared. The question about success is such a good question. And it’s trying to come up with an answer that is not a cliché. At least from my perspective is not very straightforward. But I believe that success is not like a finish line you need to try and cross one time. There’s not a before success and an after success. It’s more about succeeding in your current moment. Maybe it’s a journey, I don’t know, I feel goofy putting it this way. But it just doesn’t have a finish line. As long as you are moving forward, you are succeeding.
So to me, the question is, am I succeeding right now, and not have I achieved something specific, or have I crossed a specific line? I evaluate my own success based primarily on my self-esteem, and secondarily on my freedom. If I finish my days with this feeling like I can hold my head high, then I’m succeeding. I want to feel like I am making a difference doing good work, bringing real value, and so on. This is something that I’ve grown to appreciate as I have changed roles and done a variety of different things in my career. I’m in a job now where I’m able to finish most days feeling like I did all right today, I helped, I contributed, I delivered some value, I justified my existence, whatever you want to say. Like I am proud of what I have done, I’m proud of who I am, and the contribution I’m making, and the role that I’m playing.
I don’t know if that’s an unusual way to look at it or not, but it is a strong signal to me that I am succeeding. Because there’s been so many chapters in my life where, you know, we all appreciate how elusive this feeling can be. We always second guess ourselves and fall into the comparison trap and find reasons to, at the end of the day feel like we missed the mark. But I feel successful now because most days I’m proud of what I have done and who I am.
And secondarily, the freedom aspect. I think a lot of your former guests have mentioned how important it is to be free to do what you want and look at that as a success metric. Maybe to have the means and the confidence and the opportunities that really matters and to be able to say no to things. Freedom is extremely powerful
Tara: Yeah. Agreed. Agreed. I like your definition of success and it’s ongoingness. I definitely share that approach. I read your year in review. You are among our first guests of 2021. And a lot of people have written yours in review about a year that is notoriously…well, notorious 2020. And, you know, not to get into clichés there as well. But you wrote a very descriptive, heartfelt, and just fascinating review of your last year.
I would like to ask you a couple of questions about your year because your family has grown and talking about flexibility with your career and having the ability to have your family grow as it has. If you’d like to share that with us. I know you and Liam have something in common that you both have a lot of siblings. So you come from large families, and I find it like what your family has undertaken with your children. And I’m just curious how you’re incorporating that into your approach to 2021 and your view of success and your career. That’s a lot. Take what you want. Go with what you want.
Liam: And I’m just going to throw in a challenge. Can you do that in 10 words or less? In Haiku format, please.
Kyle: Oh, my gosh, you guys. You’re not making this easy. But okay. Okay. Thank you, Tara. There’s a lot. There’s a lot to… I don’t even know where to start to be honest. This is not just in this context. This is coming up all the time. Every day I’m having a meeting with somebody who’s asking the same question. And I never know how to answer this. What’s going on? How are we doing? I don’t even know how we’re doing. I don’t know how we’re getting by. I’m just trying to make it to bedtime every single day. That’s all that matters. That’s as far ahead as I’m thinking at this point.
But last year was challenging. There’s no doubt about it. It was surprising. It was unusual. A lot of things didn’t go as planned. Hardly anything did go as planned at all. You alluded to a few different things that I don’t know whether it’s timely or useful to recap in their entirety. Maybe the most life-changing for me was this unexpected significant growth of my family. We started the year looking into foster care and hoping that we could bring a second child into our home. We’ve been pursuing adoption again for the second time. We have one daughter already. And we thought, two kids, we can do that. That would be great. It’d be great for our daughter to have a sibling. Let’s look into that.
And then summer came along and we got our license for foster care and our agency immediately asked us if we would take a placement of two boys, ages two and three, which wasn’t exactly what we had envisioned, but we still agreed to take it on. And a couple of weeks later, we were contacted by our daughter’s birth mother, who after telling us that she was expecting and asked us if we would adopt that child as well, the biological sibling of our other daughter, which there was no way we could say no to.
And then a week later, she found out it was twins, and then another week they were born. So within the span of one month, we went from one kid to five kids. Of course, that’s not what we expected to happen. That’s not what we planned to happen. But somehow, we’re figuring out how to make it work. It’s definitely not easy. I don’t know how to do it. But you find a way. You all find a way. We’re still kind of in the same circumstance seven months later.
Tara: Thanks for sharing that. I know you might be a little bit tired of sharing it. It is a fascinating story that is unusual and inspiring at the same time. I think people take on things not knowing what lies ahead. That’s a lot. That’s a lot. Not only do you have five kids, but they’re all quite young. It’s a good thing you have flexibility in your job, I guess.
Kyle: That was great. That’s great work has been fantastic. I’m in a very privileged position to be able to do whatever I need to do. If I need to take time off, I can. If I need to work flexibly, I can’t. We’re all stuck at home anyway, but I can work, I can continue to be productive. I’m able to support this household. And things work out. I think a lot of other people would have a much harder time with it than we do. We still have a hard time with it. But we manage. I guess I don’t know what else to say about it.
Liam: Kyle, thank you for sharing that. That’s a very moving story. I hear tiredness in your voice. But I hear love and I hear humility, and I hear acceptance in a good way. Not acceptance in a negative way. But you and your wife I’m guessing accepted that which is coming your way because they’re children, they’re humans, they need love, they need support. And I just hear you saying, “We’ll find a way. We’ll find a way.” And I love that. Thank you for bravely putting yourself at the feet of others. It’s not easy to do.
Kyle: Geez, you guys are so nice. Thank you, Liam. That’s very kind.
Tara: They’re really cute too. I’m sure at times you are overwhelmed and at times it must be just unbelievably cute sometimes too.
Kyle: Yeah, there’s no doubt. Those twin babies are adorable. Twins are pretty fun. Actually. I’ll give them that.
Liam: Are they fraternal?
Kyle: Yeah, yeah, we have a boy and a girl.
Liam: Okay. That’s good. That’s good. That’s good.
Kyle: That’s great.
Liam: Let’s move a little bit and talk about beer. We’ve talked about how Sandhills brews beer, but I have a feeling that I think I heard you say that you’re a bit of a home brewer yourself. Did I make that up?
Tara: In your spare time.
Kyle: What is that? What is that? I forget. Yeah, definitely. I’ve brewed my share in the past over the years. I used to co-host a local WordPress meetup for some years, and I have a friend named Peter who started that group back in 2012. I helped him co-host that for about eight or nine years or something, until last year, whatever that would be. He taught me all about WordPress, basically everything that I know. And he introduced me to WordCamps, which changed my life. And he taught me how to homebrew beer. So I can’t give Peter enough credit for introducing me to all these things that became a big part of my life. But at this point, I probably brew my batch every year. So that gets me by. In these times where there’s not a lot of socialization, it’s just beer for me. It’s more than that I can drink on my own.
Liam: Yeah, fair enough. I brewed beer once, maybe twice. I made two batches. And I enjoyed it. But at the end, I kind of did the assessment and I’ll just save my money a little more and buy good beer than just wait too long to do all the work. If you love it. It’s fantastic. But I just didn’t love it enough. But for those who do…
Tara: A lot of work.
Kyle: It is.
Tara: It’s a lot of work.
Kyle: When the batches doesn’t work out, it’s pretty disappointing.
Tara: Yeah, yeah. My husband makes it every other week or so. I forget, every few weeks. So we have it on top. Which is nice, because then you can just have a little bit. But I don’t think it’s necessarily like a financial savings or anything. It’s a lot of time, but it’s a hobby, and a science experiment ongoing. I made it one time. I learned. But I don’t think I could replicate it. It’s fun.
Kyle: I want to talk more about your guys’ show. This is such a cool show.
Tara: Thanks. I was going to ask you about your show.
Kyle: My show is not as good as your show. Hallway Chats is really special. And I don’t know that you guys get the credit that you deserve for putting this together and doing it so consistently for so long. I used to have an interview show too. It was not nearly as good as this. It was long time ago. But you know, there were always interview shows at the time. And back then I used to listen to and watch the DragCast and Matt Report and WordPress Weekly, and WPBacon and WP Elevation and all those. And it seems to me like it was generally the same people appearing on every show. I really wanted to see how far I could go without ever repeating a guest. And it turned out to be not that hard for me, mostly because I was able to get out and meet a lot of people. I was pretty social. But then you guys started Hallway Chats and it was so much better than what I was doing.
Kyle: I started to feel more like the community didn’t need what I was doing. You guys were taking care of it. They should all just listen to you instead. I eventually hung that up.
Tara: Oh, Kyle. The Roundtable was an inspiration for doing Hallway Chats. I think the conversations that you had we’re really similar.
Tara: And you’ve continued with Adam doing The Get Options Podcast for a long, long time. And that’s one of my go-to shows. It’s a good combination of entertainment and information
Kyle: Tara, you’ve been a great guest on both of my programs. You appeared on the Roundtable Show back in March of 2018, I think, and several times on Get Options. But yeah, you guys have been going since June of 2017. That’s amazing. So consistently, so many episodes and so many great people. Hats off to you. And if you don’t mind, I want to just comment on how good you guys are at this. I really think you are.
Liam: We know there’s no fee for paying it. We don’t pay our debts. Go ahead. Go ahead.
Kyle: If someone has run an interview show for a long time, I did it for I think five years and hardly missed any weeks in that time period. And I know how challenging it can be. You know, finding guests isn’t always easy, scheduling can be quite the hassle, expanding beyond your own borders, which is something that you’re enthusiastic about. That’s not easy to do. Also, not all guests are really great at being interviewed. I know this from experience. I had guests who would take my first question about their origins and just ramble on for about an hour about that and no more input from me, and then other guests who over and over gave me like one or two-word answers to my questions and forced me to do all the work to get anything interesting.
I know when you show up week after week, you’re not going to feel 100% interested and enthusiastic every single time. That’s a real challenge. But you have to do your thing anyway. But in spite of those challenges, you both do this incredibly well every single week. And you’re both so genuine and have a real knack for making the show interesting no matter what or who the guest is.
I think you both have really special qualities. Liam is kind of like the Terry Gross with your creative thought-provoking original questions. And Tara may be more of like a Joe Rogan type because you like to connect with and relate to the guests no matter what the subject matter is in really special way. I think you two are the pinnacle of WordPress podcast hosts.
Tara: Ah, thank you very much. Thank you. That’s awfully sweet really.
Liam: Very, very kind of you. Thank you. It means a lot.
Kyle: I thought of a suggestion too that I wanted to throw at you. I love your anniversary episode. That’s fantastic. You guys did that some months back. That’s really, really special. I would suggest that you guys consider doing those a little more frequently. Maybe every quarter or something like that, have an episode where it’s just the two of you reflecting on takeaways from recent episodes. I would love to hear that. You guys have such great takeaways and get a lot of good advice from your very thought-provoking questions from your guests.
Tara: That’s a great suggestion. Thank you. And so now you’ve just given me the segue for one of our other signature questions, which is advice. So Kyle, do you have any advice that you’ve received and implemented, that you would share with our listeners and with us?
Kyle: Of course, I’d be happy to. The advice which had the greatest impact on my career was expressed by multiple different people in different times in different ways. But the essence of it is that I think you should—at least this really speaks to people like me who are very ambitious—you should do the job you want not the job that you have. Originally, this came in the form of a suggestion by a mentor of sorts who told me that I should probably dress for the job that I wanted when I had an in-person job at a library.
So I was skeptical, but I took his advice. And instead of shorts and a T-shirt, I tucked in my shirt and put on a button up and I started dressing a little more professionally. The effect was almost immediate and surprising. It kind of blew me away how differently I was treated in the workplace and how soon it was that young Kyle was invited to be on this task force or join this committee or interview for this position, and so on and so forth, and be generally respected by peers.
Another context I was given very similar advice about making your boss look good, do their job. Don’t wait to be given the promotion to start doing that work. Do the work that is above your paygrade. Look at the organizational hierarchy. And if you want to get to that next level above where you are now, start doing that work. Immediately, let’s start doing what is a higher role is responsible for than what you are currently working on. That’s what I strive to do.
Tara: That is interesting. I could really dig into that a little bit and maybe debate you on that to some degree. Because I think it’s great advice to have to do the job you want not the job you have. When you are working in an organization, though, how do you avoid, to put it kindly, pissing people off by doing more? I think I’ve gotten in trouble in the past for being somebody who is pretty proactive, sees a problem, and wants to solve it. And there are people who may not appreciate that effort because they’re threatened by it or you’ve somehow maybe not done it the way that they would have. So what do you think about that? Has that always been helpful advice or can it go the other way, do you think?
Kyle: Well, it certainly can. And there have been cases where I have experienced maybe, I don’t know that I want to say, being unappreciated or my efforts not being appreciated. But generally, I take a lot of that as a signal that I am in the wrong place or maybe working for the wrong people if that is generally their attitude. That’s a problem with them and not a problem with you. Not all of us have the flexibility and freedom to just say, “Okay, too bad, I’ll go somewhere else.” I acknowledge that.
But my point is that it’s their problem and not yours. This is something that you do want to be careful with and tactful and respectful. And you have responsibilities that you must take care of them first and foremost. But if you have higher aspirations like I do, then don’t wait for those opportunities to be given to you. Take them.
Tara: Fair enough.
Liam: I think there’s a tact to, well, if I want to do Kyle’s job, yeah, I don’t want to step all over his toes and show up with the meeting agenda. But I can know that the last three agendas he’s always talked about this. So I’m going to make sure that I have constructive advice or ideas or I’ve done the homework on that. Or I know that Kyle always wants to see this done, so I’m going to do that right. And then support him on the things that matter to him. I love that. I love that.
For me, that gets back to one of the pieces of advice that I received years ago was “no matter who’s paying your salary, you always work for yourself.” And that’s not a selfish like, you know, me first and the gimme, gimmes kind of thing. But it’s maintain that perspective of—to what you were saying, Kyle—ownership. Own it. Drive it forward, make it your own, but ultimately know that you’re working for yourself.
Kyle: Absolutely. Yeah, that’s what I believe. I don’t know that it’s perfect for every personality of people at different stages in their careers. But if you’re like me, this is what works. This is what has made a difference to me.
Tara: Thank you. Thanks for sharing that. We are almost out of time and I want to ask more questions, but then we’re going to go over time.
Liam: I feel the same, Tara. I feel the same way. Maybe what we should do is ask Kyle to share where folks can learn more about him and connect with him online. And then after we stop recording, we’ll just keep chatting to him.
Kyle: Perfect. That’s fine. I’m happy.
Liam: Kyle, where can folks find you online and connect with you?
Kyle: Great. I am online all over the place. It’s Kyle Maurer. It is pretty easy to find in some searches. But I have a blog, kyleblog.net. I am occasionally not that much on the social media stuff, but I’ll be available on Twitter @MrKyleMaurer. I’m in a lot of Slack groups you can probably find me in too.
Tara: Great. I’m so glad you joined us because now my day is made by just feeling good about myself, which you are very good at doing. So thank you for all of your kind words. And back at you, you are a wonderful person and we are very fortunate that you joined us here and that we call you a friend. So thanks.
Kyle: Thank you so much.
Liam: Thanks, Kyle.
Tara: See you in person sometime. Thanks.
Kyle: Thank you.
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