Introducing Alfredo Navas
Alfredo Navas is a full-stack designer and front-end developer. He’s a web artisan and WordPress wrangler who organizes a WordPress meetup where he lives in Costa Rica, and is an organizer of WordCamp San José.
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Tara: And now the conversation begins. This is episode 32.
Liam: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Liam Dempsey.
Tara: And I’m Tara Claeys. Today, we’re joined by Alfredo Navas. Alfredo is a full-stack designer and front-end developer. He’s a web artisan and WordPress wrangler who organizes a WordPress meetup where he lives in Costa Rica, and is an organizer of WordCamp San José. Hi, Alfredo.
Alfredo: Hello, Tara. Hello, Liam. Thanks for the call.
Liam: Hey, Alfredo. Thanks for joining us. You’re welcome, thanks for joining us. Tara told us a little bit about you, tell us a little bit more?
Alfredo: Well, I live in Costa Rica. I was actually born in Peru from Italian parents and then when I was around 11, I moved to Costa Rica and I’ve been here since then. It’s almost 30 years. I started as designer and I turned into developer, and now I’m full in on everything regardless to WordPress. Organizing meetups, I was the lead organizer of last year’s WordCamp San José, and I’m part of the organization for this year’s WordCamp San José. I’m also a speaker on some WordCamps. I was invited last year to WordCamp Managua to give a chat, and I’m probably going to be a speaker this year, too, on WordCamp [Managua.
Tara: Great. How did you discover WordPress?
Alfredo: It’s kind of a funny story. I was working maybe 10 years ago in a company that they had their own CMS, they developed their own CMS and they called it The Beast. But it was so hard for a regular customer to modify and add content and images, so I started looking and I found WordPress and I said, “Oh, wow. This is very easy to use.” And I got hooked up since then. It’s been 10 years already and I can say WordPress changed my life. I know it’s a cliche word but, actually, it did. I’m traveling more, I’ve been knowing a lot of people. The community is something that I love and I think it’s like the most important thing WordPress has, this wonderful community of people around the world. Every time I go to a WordCamp, I know really nice people. I met Liam on a WordCamp Miami and I’ve been friend with James from Orlando, Zach Gordon, Christie Chirinos Josh from Caldera Forms. It’s awesome, I can’t be more than happy.
Tara: Yeah, it sounds like the community is almost as important as the functionality of WordPress for you.
Alfredo: Yes, yes.
Tara: Yeah, that’s great. You have a design background and since I can see you, I can say you have some gray hairs in your beard, so I know you’re not 22 or something.
Alfredo: I’m 44 actually.
Tara: Yeah. You started in design. Was it graphic design, print? And then you moved into web stuff or tell us a little bit about that?
Alfredo: I just started doing screen printing, making the designs for screen printing by hand, make the color separation by hand. Then when I was in college, I’ve also studied marketing actually, advertising but advertising was focused on marketing at the time. There was no graphic designer career. But then I just started doing all the works for my friends, and one of those guys actually works in an advertising company and he said, “Oh, you should take your drawings.” Because I also do comics. Whenever you go to my page, you can see I have some drawings there. And I go to this advertising company with no experience, I have like, what, 19 years probably. And I show my drawings and they say, “Okay, can you start tomorrow?” And that’s how I started. I started learning Photoshop, Illustrator, I worked. Then I moved from the screen printing to graphic design doing some print ads, a lot of campaigns, and then, like I said, around 1999-2000 is when I get hooked up into web design. And it was normal at that time, a graphic designer moved and started doing web design. There is no UX career or–
Alfredo: And then I start getting into code, and one thing turns to another, and right now I’m not designing that much as I want, but I do more coding basically. Right now I work for a company in Austin, Texas. I work remote from my home, and basically what I do is all WordPress, coding WordPress, not even design. Just making custom solutions for clients. It was like a long road from graphic design, and a lot of books, actually.
Tara: Yeah, I was going to ask how you learned to code and what are you doing when you’re doing custom code in your current job. Are you doing front-end stuff like themes or are you doing PHP and plugins and stuff?
Alfredo: I do both. I do custom themes but I also do custom functions for them. Like, “Oh, I want a plugin that will do that.” And I start creating. Yeah, I don’t have any formal education in computer science. Basically, everything I learn, I do it by myself. Online courses and books, and that helped me out with my English too, because most of technologies come in English.
Liam: That’s exactly what I was going to ask you about is so many of our guests tell us, when they were learning WordPress this or WordPress that or code this or code that, they just googled things and read it. And clearly, WordPress is not limited to English and there are so many people everywhere in the world whose first language isn’t English. So yeah, tell us about that. There must be a whole world of Spanish speaking and writing WordPress experts and another language experts. Tell me a little bit about your experience, I’m really interested?
Alfredo: Yeah, probably yes. But what I found is every time I get a book in Spanish, the technology has completely changed because it almost takes a year to make the translation and a year in coding is a lot of time. In a year, a lot of things change. WordPress makes up three or four updates every year. I was lucky when I was a kid, my parents put me in a bilingual school so my English was okay, not much because I don’t practice. So I get it started into books, I get it started in looking for online courses like Udemy, Team Treehouse, all this front-end mastered. And yeah, it was hard when I started because there are some things that I don’t understand. Like, “Oh, what is this guy trying to tell me?” I was looking and looking until I found it and then I started working on an American company in Costa Rica. Basically, everything I did was in English. And it’s funny because at that time, when I got into that company, there were four guys and none of them spoke English. And my English wasn’t that bad, I was good at that time. I was the only one who was able to communicate with my boss and he put me in charge of that department because I was the only one who kind of spoke and kind of understood what they wanted. But then I worked for them for 10 years and everything was in English so I guess my English was still getting better, and better, and better, and now I can understand any book you put me in front. I also have a daughter who lives in Atlanta so I practice with her a lot my English. She has not good Spanish and I don’t have really good English so we try to teach each other.
Tara: What’s it like working with WordPress? Do you work with the Spanish translation version of WordPress or do you challenge yourself with English version?
Alfredo: Everything is in English because most of my customers are in the States. And when I have a few clients here, I always do it in English. It’s most easy for me. I’m used to some words like, okay, appearance, I know where to find the appearance tab. Then in Spanish it says something else and–
Tara: Yeah. I tried to help someone at a meetup once who had the Spanish version of WordPress so I had to kind of guess my way around and test my knowledge of where things are located because I didn’t know what words meant. But it’s all at the same place, so– [laughs]
Alfredo: Yeah, they are in the same place but it’s weird. I actually just finished one website in Vietnamese. I used this translator plugin but the guy wants everything in Vietnamese, so every time I make a change or I need to make an update, I have to, “Oh, what it is? Where it is?” And I have a bunch of plugins too, so, “Oh, man, where does this plugin come? What’s the name?” So I have to switch between English and Vietnamese all the time.
Tara: That’s cool, that’s really cool. Have you worked on any translation with the polyglots at all?
Tara: Okay, that’s interesting. I know that there’s also UK English WordPress too.
Alfredo: Yeah. We have WordPress as the Spanish version from Peru, there is one from Colombia. And I don’t think they change that much. But if you compare it to the Spanish version from Spain, yeah, that changes a lot. It’s very different.
Tara: Right. I’m going to move on a little bit now and talk about my favorite topic, success. We ask our guests to tell us a little bit about what success means to them, whether that’s in their personal life, or their professional life, or both, or the intersection of both. Can you tell us a little bit about what success means to you?
Alfredo: Okay, that’s a nice question. I never think about it, actually. Well, I can say two things. Success, I don’t know I’m reaching success right now on the professional part of myself. I think I still need to do more stuff, I really want to do more stuff. But on the other hand, I have a really wonderful family, really wonderful kids, I’m working on what I like, and this is something I really enjoy. I can stand 16 hours behind a computer with no problem at all. I’m really happy solving problems, looking for new technologies, learning. For me, that’s basically success, working in something that I love or doing something that I love, it’s success. On the other hand, I have my wonderful kids that make me laugh all the time. I’ve been a parent not when I was young, I started being a parent when I had 38, I think it’s enough, it’s a good age. Even though sometimes I get really tired and just want to go to sleep. These kids make me crazy, and this is what is success in my life. On the other hand, I’m doing a lot of meetups, I’m helping people to understand WordPress. With the help of my local government, last year I started teaching some classes about WordPress to low-income single moms women. It was fun, I just started with a group of 20, I ended with a group of six. But those six women, those six moms who don’t have an idea what to do in life, with no education at all, now they know how to manage WordPress and how to make an online store, so they can sell whatever they want. I think it’s wonderful because it’s just a tool to people to get something different. Again, that makes me really, really happy and proud of myself. Like, “Oh, I’m doing something for my community that is helping people to move out of that poverty hole that I have.” I can say that’s success too.
Tara: Yeah, what inspired you to start that? Does that organization have a name? Is it something that–
Alfredo: Well, I like politics a lot. I always talk about politics and I always complain, and one time I was talking to my wife and I said, “Do you know what? I complain a lot but I don’t do nothing to help my community.” So I started looking for a way to help my community so I can complain about it, you know? I’ll do it but I will still complain about this. This is how I start. And right now, I have a call from the same guy who said, “Oh, we have another big group.” And I said, “Okay, that’s nice. The thing is I don’t have that much time.” I have to give this class on Saturday and Saturday is the time I dedicate to my kids. My wife is really pissed about this. “Let me just think about it, let me find a good time, but this is something I really want to do too.”
Tara: Do they have computers, the women that you help? How does that work?
Alfredo: They don’t have computers, not all of them. But all of them have phones, and one of the beauties of WordPress is that you can change your content through your phone. You can follow the app or just simply log in on your phone and you can start working on it. That’s awesome, they don’t need a computer, I told them, “You can just take a picture with your phone of your products and just upload, type there, I know it’s hard.” But most of them, when I leave homework and they give me the homework, and I say, “How you do it?”, “Oh, I do it on my phone.”, “Yeah, that’s it, that’s awesome.”
Liam: That’s really neat. And Anthony Paul, one of our guests from a while ago, at WordCamp US, I want to say the first year, did a talk on not just editing a website from your phone but actually writing a custom theme from your phone. He had a really interesting talk around trying to use tools that somebody who only had a phone and had low bandwidth, and wasn’t at a Starbucks on fast WiFi or anything like that. And it was more laborious than what you and I might have in our current work environment but it was totally doable and it was really inspiring.
Tara: That’s really interesting.
Alfredo: You don’t have the computer? You always carry a phone. There’s some other times, “I don’t have money but I have a phone.”
Tara. Yeah, that’s true.
Liam: I want– sorry, Tara, go ahead.
Tara: I was just saying what a great thing that you started. Go ahead, Liam.
Liam: Yeah, that’s wonderful. I love that comprehensive definition, I know you said you don’t really have a definition, you don’t think about it, but you talked through really the major aspects of life, right? Work, family, and sharing with others.
Alfredo: I have to have a balance of it.
Liam: Amen to that, that’s what it’s all about, right?
Alfredo: I am trying to go to the beach.
Liam: Yeah. Especially because it’s summer for you. This success that you have, this balance, this wonderful family who make you laugh and this job that you find enjoyable and editing code, doing some design, mostly code at this point, and then giving back to the community. Within this ebon flow of the different measures of success, what’s a single most important thing you do to continue to achieve that balance, that success that you have going in your life right now?
Alfredo: Keep learning, that’s how I call it. Keep learning, learning technology, learning to be a parent, learning how to solve problems, that keeps me active. That makes me active all the time, and I love it. I see a bunch of people who don’t do nothing, they are complaining about their jobs, and I said, “Dude, it’s not the money, it’s how you live.” Everyone is going to have financial problems once in a while but you don’t have to let that go. Just be happy, try to find something that fulfills your spirit, and that’s what will happen. Reading good books now, keep learning, that’s something I really love. I enjoy learning. When I discover something, I say, “Oh, yeah. This is how you do it. I’ve been looking this for a long time and now I understand it.”
Liam: You do a little dance?
Alfredo: Yeah. [laughter]
Tara: I think there’s a common personality trait among people who do the type of work we do, that we get that satisfaction from solving problems and will persist and stick with it for however long it takes. You can spend two hours trying to find the one semicolon missing and you’re so– or it might take you five minutes, it’s equally satisfying when you figure it out. Certainly, it’s more productive when you do it in five minutes but yeah, I think that we–
Alfredo: Exactly, that’s what I think. I enjoy nature, I enjoy a good book, I enjoy time with my kids. But yeah, learning is what fulfills my spirit the most, to be able to understand something that takes me a long time to get it. And once I get it, I feel so good with me. Like, “Oh yeah, you’re old but you still get it.” [laughter]
Tara: Yeah. Along those lines, what would you say is your biggest challenge that you face?
Tara: Yeah, plus, you have a job and client work you do, so all of that learning comes outside of that, and so many hours in the day, right?
Alfredo: Oh, yeah. Sometimes I wish I can have a 48-hour day, not 24.
Tara: Yeah. How do you balance that passion that you have and that you can work all the time with your mental health, because that can take a toll, right?
Alfredo: Yeah, but I’m trying to– for example, when I first wake up in the morning, I dedicate to my family until nine. I work remote so I have my own time. What I did is, okay, I’m going to start with them from seven to nine every single day. On weekends, I don’t work at all. I just completely dedicate to my kids, I don’t turn my computer. I do have my phone, just in case, but I’m trying not to do nothing with that. I wish I’m with my family, but from Monday to Friday, they know that I’m working so I think we have a good balance right now. My wife understands that. For example, right now, she took the kids to the park so they don’t mess around here. Yeah, I manage that really well. Basically, I don’t have really bad time, something like that, I think I have a really good balance. I hope it keeps that way.
Liam: So, you’ve mentioned your children a bunch and I love that, I just love that focus. I work from home and I get to spend a lot of time with– I have two children. Can I ask you how many do you have and what are their age ranges?
Alfredo: With my marriage, I have two kids. Mia is seven, and I have Phillipo who is 18 months. And from another relationship when I was younger, I have Daniela, she is 26 and she lives in Atlanta.
Liam: That’s wonderful.
Tara: 18 months old, that’s fun.
Alfredo: Oh yeah, he is the crazy one. And he is turning to be a lot of energy. [laughter]
Tara: That’s excellent. Do they get along well?
Alfredo: Oh, yeah. The thing is, every time they see me, it’s like, “Papa, papa, papa.” All the time like, “Papa see. Papa.” [laughs] It’s nice. It’s crazy sometimes.
Liam: Yeah, I get that. Having worked from home for, geez, since 2005-2006, from when my children were very young and before they were there, it can be a kind of a crazy fun little, how am I going to actually do things when the cutest thing in the world is right next door screaming my name. Alfredo, let me change gears on you a little bit here and ask you about advice. What would you say is the single most valuable piece of advice that you’ve received in your life and integrated into your life in a way that has made it better, has made you better, had a lasting positive effect on you and your life?
Alfredo: Well, one time a mom of one of my friends when I was younger– again, I told you I was really into politics and what happened to the world and whatever. She gave me this beautiful advice and she says like, “The world is too big, don’t worry about it. Just live your own world and don’t worry about it.” I said, “Well, that’s a lot of truth.” I worry about a lot of stuff that doesn’t affect me directly so I’m going to start living my own life the way I want and trying to be the best I can. That advice, I still remember it. Every time I have an issue with something, I say, “Don’t worry, everything is going to be fine. Just live your small world, don’t worry about it.”
Liam: And it sounds like you followed that advice when you decided to stop complaining about politics, only complaining and do something, and you went and helped not the world organization or somebody afar, but you found some mothers in your own neck of the woods who could use a hand. You’re worried about the world immediately around you.
Alfredo: Exactly, that’s the best world. The world that is around me is the one I have to take care. Even that I affect– because right now, we’re so connected with everybody. Things happen in Africa, you just know it. That makes me sad, but on the other hand, when I go to all these meetups, these WordCamps, and I know all these people around the world, I say, “Well, I’m not alone. Everybody’s thinking like me. The good people, we are more.” Yeah, that’s a good advice that lady gave to me. I still remember it and I’m still trying to live with it.
Liam: Yeah, I love that focus on the here and the now, and the local– go ahead, Tara?
Tara: No, as Liam mentioned, I like how you implemented that, too, in your local community and what you can impact versus just worrying about things that you can’t. That’s a hard line, especially in these days, it’s a hard one to figure out where you walk that line, I think. But I think one person at a time, one thing at a time, one step at a time.
Alfredo: Exactly, anything you do, even the smaller thing, is going to affect positive to somebody else, so just keep doing it.
Tara: Yeah, WordPress is very much a pay it forward type of community also. I think we can think of people who’ve helped us and then it inspired us to help others. Who knows who you’ve helped then will help someone else, and so on, and so on. There used to be a hair shampoo commercial that was like that, and so on, and so on, and so on.
Liam: And I love how if we think back on our lives and with the people that have helped us along the way, not just with WordPress but with life, maybe, Alfredo, with your example of your friend’s mother who gave you that advice, she may or may not have any idea what might have just been a comment in the kitchen afternoon after school, and it’s been a guiding light in your life for so long. It’s kind of, I’ll call it a throwaway comment. I don’t mean that in a negative way but just the positive effect we have on each other by caring for each other and thinking about each other, trying to put other first. It’s not to be underestimated.
Liam: Well, we’ve got a little bit of time left so I wanted to ask you something, unless Tara, did you want to jump in and say something? Okay, here I go. We’ve talked about, you started in design, now you’re in development, and I want to ask you because it sounds like you were working in design long enough and had some professional accomplishments about what you’d be proud, magazines, campaigns. And now you’re working and you’re really enjoying being a developer. What about development do you enjoy in a way that you couldn’t get from design? What about working with code versus working with pixels, to grossly oversimplify the two fields, do you enjoy?
Alfredo: I enjoy designing a lot. Trying colors, moving this image, moving that, but what I love of development is, in a certain way, you are also designing but the difference, you’re designing algorithms. And I kind of love it because even that I enjoy design, I enjoy painting, I enjoy drawing, writing code is something like– first of all, I didn’t figure it out that I’m going to do what I’m doing now 10 or 15 years ago. I see myself at that time and I see myself now, and I say, “Wow, if you can do it, anyone can do it.” This is what I tell to everybody, “If I can write code, you can write code. I learned to write code watching videos on the internet. You can do it, too.” That’s what I told to my students, too. “Anyone can do it, even if you have 40, 60, 50. If you pay attention enough and you focus on that, you can learn to code.” And basically, at least in Costa Rica, learning code is something that can give you a better future–
Liam: A surer career, a surer job.
Alfredo: Exactly, that’s what I tell to everybody. And when I do code, I feel so nice, so happy. I don’t know. I just sit down, put my headphones and start writing code and start looking for solutions. It’s awesome. Sometimes it gets frustrating when– did you see that meme, “My code works, I don’t know why.”? It happens often to me, you know? But yeah, I think things are turning more difficult. Now, you have to install 20 packets just to get a header and the footer on your screen but it’s fine, it’s how modern times go. It’s okay, you don’t have to be that complicated but if you want to do it, okay, that’s fine.
Tara: Yeah. You’re an inspiration, I’d like to learn more code than I know, too, so I’ll take your words to heart and thanks so much. Alfredo, we are out of time but I want to thank you so much for joining us today, and if you can share with everyone listening where they can find you, website, Twitter, all of that?
Alfredo: Sure. My website is Elpuas.com, that’s kind of my nickname. You can see my profile and you can see some of my works. Also there, you can find links to my Twitter account, to my Facebook account, too. I use a lot of Twitter now so it’s the same, it’s my same nickname. That nickname sounds funny, I have it since the school, so yeah, everybody called me like that so I said, “Okay, let’s do it my brand.” But yeah, you can go to my website and you can find all the links and some of my work.
Liam: Excellent. Thank you so much for joining us, it’s been an absolute pleasure having you on the show today.
Tara: Thank you. Really great chatting with you.
Alfredo: Thank you, guys. I enjoyed a lot sharing my experience with you guys. Thank you very much.
Tara: Yeah, we’ll see you at a WordCamp sometime.
Alfredo: Oh, yeah. WordCamp Miami, I’ll be there definitely.
Tara: Alright, me too.
Alfredo: We can come to WordCamp. You can spend a nice weekend and then you can go to the beach and enjoy these beautiful beaches here in Costa Rica.
Liam: That is a very, very tempting offer. With that, we’ll say goodbye.
Tara: Thank you.
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