Introducing Val Vesa
Val loves social media. He is very passionate about technology and online marketing. Some of his interests include CMS hardening and tech writing. He loves to take photos, go swimming and spend time with his family.
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 87.
Liam: Welcome to Hallway Chats, I’m Liam Dempsey.
Tara: And I’m Tara Claeys. Today we are joined by Valentine Vesa. Val loves social media. He is very passionate about technology and online marketing. Some of his interests include CMS hardening and tech writing. He loves to take photos, go swimming and spend time with his family. Welcome to Hallway Chats Val!
Val: Hi! Thanks for having me.
Liam: Salut Val! Thanks for joining us. Can you tell us a more about yourself?
Val: Salut? First of all let me say that Salut in Romania means Hello from Romania. As you said my name is Val. My legal name is Valentine Vesa. I live in the city of Cluj Napoca, right in the center of Transylvania. The country name being Romania. I’m 39. I’m married. My wife and I have three….two (oops) who knows?
Liam: We can edit that out.
Val: My wife and I have two children. We have an 11 year old daughter. Her name is Hana. Our son’s name is Luca and he is 14.
Liam: That is great. You talked about in the intro, or Tara read that some of your interests include CMS hardening. I am going to read that as Content Management System hardening. So basically website database driven websites; hardening making those safer and secure. I’m guessing that’s probably a professional focus for you. If so, can you tell us about that?
Val: Yes. I do social media for a company called Sucuri Security. That’s a brand now of GoDaddy where I manage all of our social media presence, monitoring, doing some customer support when necessary. Also, I write on a blog. I like to write about what happened to me. I used to be a customer. I had a site that was hacked. I found Sucuri. They cleaned the site and eventually everything led to me actually being hired by the company. So to say a former customer now becomes an employee.
Liam: Should I ask if you hacked the site yourself as part of your growth strategy?
Val: You could ask, but I didn’t. I wish I had because my wife and I had started this charity project 11 years ago. It just happened before Christmas 2014 (like 5 years ago). The site got hacked. I tried everything I knew how to fix it, I just couldn’t. Sucuri saved the day. I just like them so much. I like the culture, the company, and the services they were providing. I had a similar interest in the area of tech. I was already working on WordPress sites, building sites, custom builds and so on. I just created a connection. The opportunity arose and then I got it.
Tara: That’s great! I know Sucuri is very heavily involved in the WordPress community and I see them around a lot. So tell us a little bit about your WordPress history?
Val: I installed my first WordPress site back in 2009. Actually I started the website that I was telling you about for the project we do is called Shoebox Romania. It’s basically wrapping gifts before Christmas every year in shoe boxes and just offering them to underprivileged children, orphans or families having issues or having a hard time. I was talking with my wife and she was like ok. We cannot go on doing this out of our Yahoo messenger chat box. For those people out there that are too young they might not even know what that is. For us, we remember a time when all chat online was done either via ICQ (if you guys remember that) MIRC, IRC chat or Yahoo messenger. I used to have a status description in the Yahoo messenger chat saying we collect boxes for children with needs. We just couldn’t get the words and the letters to match in a meaningful sentence because there were like 65 characters. Then Yahoo sometime later offered the opportunity to also add a website URL to a member field. You could say something in there like for more details click here. Then you had a link. Then my wife…guys out there… listen to your wives… they have amazing ideas. Sometimes we just brush them off too easily. She said why don’t we just do a website? I was like how in the world am I going to do a website? I’ve never done a website. I was kind of a hosting site as a project, but I never actually created a website by myself. I started looking online. The famous be on line in five minutes catch phrase caught me immediately. I was like ok. So there is a system that allows me to have a website online in five minutes. Ok. I’m going to get on it. There was of course WordPress.org. I downloaded it. I uploaded it to my server and went through the install. It was literally more than five minutes of course because I wasn’t familiar with what I was doing, but we were online. Then I remember getting a free theme; whatever the default theme back then was. Then there was the guy called Vlad. His website is Vladstudio.com. I want to mention this because he was the first person to ever help me with like anything related to…yeah you can just disable this shape. You know there’s this plugin that comes automatically. Then make sure you have this. Permalinks. That’s how you do them. That’s how you create pages. These are posts versus pages. It was a mess in my mind but I was so eager to learn. I was sure that having a website there live, I could write so much more stories about what we do in the project that I could never write in a 65 character limit that chat was offering on Yahoo. So we went online in 2009. Then we just took it from there. As I was involved in marketing and social media, I was starting to talk to customers that I was having and I was like ok. You can also have a website. So of course all the websites I ever did (ever) were always based on WordPress. Just because WordPress was the first love. So I always go back to that.
Tara: Yeah. It is great to hear a use case where you learn because you have a need. So you learn how to use it and then you take that learning and you apply it to another opportunity. So with WordPress, a lot of us start out that way. When you have a specific project to work on it’s easier to learn it then if you just take a class I think. Then tell us about the WordPress community where you live.
Val: So in my area we just started recently (maybe almost a year or year and a half) gathering let’s say every other week or every three weeks in Meetups. We don’t have a WordCamp now in Cluj. We are hoping to have one maybe next year. But the community is already I would say pretty strong. I remember the first Meetup we had almost a year and a half ago. There were like 4 people. Now we close to 80, 90 and sometimes a 100 that come.
Liam: That’s great!
Val: In Bucharest, the capital of Romania (maybe a 5 or 6 hour drive away from where I live) we do have WordCamps. So we had a WordCamp Bucharest, the core Wordcamp of Romania if I can say so. We had it for two years already. I have attended both of them. It’s a small community in the sense that the ones that come to Meetups, chatting in Slack and so on, are very connected. Like we know each other by name even if we never met. Maybe we just met at events, like we don’t live close by. We don’t see each other every day. But is really interesting how you can just connect through what is called the WordPress community vibe. I’ve seen that. I’ve never been to any WordCamp before being hired by Sucuri. As a brand evangelist, I get to go to all of the events that we sponsor, speak at or just attend. I am going to Joomla events, I’m going to Drupal events, I am going to WordPress events. I am going to no CMS events. I am going to all these marketing, whatever tech related events. I don’t want to offend anybody, by really the WordPress community has something that is special. It’s not necessarily the sheer amount of people because, yes maybe there are the most number of people (if I can that in English). It’s just a sense of…I remember my first WordCamp I think was in Munich. I’m sure it was Germany but necessarily Munich. I speak German. So I went there to just had to say hi and everybody was like where are you from? What are you doing? When was the first time you used WordPress? What projects are you working on? Do you need any help with anything? What plugins do you like? There were so many questions! I was just suspecting to be like that new guy in the corner just watching the speakers and just to be left alone. It wasn’t happening like that and I didn’t want to be left alone. So that was great. I wanted somebody to ask me hey! What are you doing here? What are you looking for? It was awesome to see the interaction the community has with sponsors as well. The gratitude that is explained every time. I see the tweets that are being put out. I see the content of the sites of these WordCamps. Everybody says thank you so much sponsors because they allow people to come. They have such low, maybe no tickets at all or very cheap tickets just so they can join the community. That is really special. The more I learned about talking to companies that have maybe people who actually volunteer an hour a day, one day a week, weeks in a year or something to the WordPress community; working on the core maybe or just working on plugins or other projects. I feel it’s just very special. It’s much more than just a CMS people build sites with. It is is a community supporting basically every kind of idea you have that needs online presence. You can do that with WordPress. If you don’t know, just drop a message in a Slack or just go in the community on the forums and you’ll get an answer (sometimes in minutes). That’s just amazing! That doesn’t happen in the other communities. I am a member of other communities as well. So I speak knowing both, or all three or all four sides of the aisle.
Tara: That’s good to know. I didn’t realize that other communities weren’t as helpful.
Val: Well, maybe they are. Maybe you need to take more time to adjust. I felt that I was much more welcome and much quicker adopted (if I can say so) by the WordPress community compared to the others.
Tara: Val? I would like to ask you a question we ask everyone which is how you define success? What does success mean to you in your professional and/or your personal life?
Val: Success is a word that everybody struggles with. I see it trending. I would like to use something that my grandmother and my mother used to teach us when we were small children. We are three brothers (just boys…so just imagine a mom having three boys). My mom always used to say make sure that when you go to bed in the evening, you are not only proud of what you did in that day but know you for sure you didn’t possibly hurt anybody or whatever you say is success, Like I made it today to achieve something. You had three tasks and you did them. Was anybody hurt by what you did? If yes, that’s not success. That’s a failure. When I heard that, being a student, a young boy, I am like come on mom! You’re always going to have somebody offended by something you do. You get an opportunity at work and some other colleague wanted that. There are so many situations. Now that I am almost 40 years old looking back, I would say that’s maybe one of the most important values I learned as a child from my parents. If your success or if your measure of success goes against anybody else being harmed by what you did, then it is not success. It just your ego out there and trying to…I think there is a word in English that says step on bodies. So, I don’t want to do that. For me success is if I can be happy in the evening knowing that I haven’t hurt anybody during the day with my actions, my words, my achievements. If I go on a stage and say thank you for this award (whatever that award means) or not necessarily a physical stage, I want to be sure in my heart that I didn’t hurt anybody to get there. If that makes sense.
Tara: No it does makes sense. I’m thinking of the inverse of that which would be it sounds like you already knew that. You got started in WordPress by helping other people. So on the flip side I guess, carrying that thought along of not causing harm, the opposite of that is doing good and helping others.
Val: Causing good.
Tara: Right. Yeah! So does that fit into that definition as well by default?
Val: Yes. I think you cannot be in the middle. There’s no gray area between doing good and doing bad in my mind. You either do good or you do bad. I don’t believe in the saying that says you know you can do some bad things so you can accomplish good things. No. You’re just going to paint. Does that make sense? You’re going to paint the good you’re doing if you employ bad things to get there. So at least that is how I live my life and that’s how we teach our children as parents. They have to pursue doing good. And doing good many times does not come as natural. You feel sometimes that you can cut some corners, you can take a shortcut, do this, do that, cheat at school to get a good grade. You know what I mean. But it’s going to be paid back to you. No thing like that would just remain unpunished. I just tried to stay away. Nobody is perfect. That’s i true and I have my ups and downs. I just try to do good. Push to do good.
Tara: Yeah. How do you handle the times when you may unintentionally hurt someone? As you said, you may do that without intending to. How do you respond to that? How does that fit into this idea of not doing harm?
Val: That is very hard. The moment you were asking that… you know when somebody is asking you something…you can like visualize specific moments when you did that. The hardest thing for me to do is not say I’m sorry but is actually facing the person. I hate to text, email or send documents with I’m sorry. I like to be as much as possible at least in a zoom or video if it’s not physically possible but I want to be in front of the person I hurt intentionally or not intentionally. Express my sorrow in that way or just say my remorse. I am really sorry that I hurt you. I sometimes send texts to my wife saying I love you. I think that’s important. I think it’s also important to say I love you face-to-face but it’s even much more important to say I’m sorry to that person’s face. You kind of would give in to whatever is in your mind saying but that was for higher purpose. That was for a higher good. It’s ok that you hurt them. No it’s not. It’s not ok that you hurt people to get any good accomplished. I think not necessarily automatically that good accomplished by bad means is bad, but I would say it’s not really something that you should be proud of or attach to your CV. Accidentally, if you do a good thing by actually doing a bad thing. I would say don’t brag about it. Don’t add it to your resume.
Liam: I’m really liking this conversation.
Val: I just want to say if you set your mind to do something that you know is bad and then eventually some side effects of that are good you are going to most likely try to brag with those good side effects. I would say don’t even mention them. People will ask how did you come up to do this? And what are you going to say? You’re going to lie. You can’t say you wanted to do a bad thing. It’s just going to add more bad to the things you already did bad. Why? There is a saying in Romania (I’m not sure you guys have it in English) but by the time it takes for the truth to put on his its boots, a lie would circle the earth 10 times.
Liam: Laughing. I like that phrase.
Val: People talk bad about things about you. They gossip you know? You you have all this things going on out there. They say how wrong you were or how bad you spoke about somebody. But when you know the truth you don’t rush. You don’t hurry. You go for sure. You know where you’re doing. You’ve got the proof that the truth is truth. So you’re just gonna put on your boots really slowly, get up in the morning, brush your teeth and just go out there and tell them. Even if the lies goes he’s coming. He’s going to lie to you. No. Just take your time. You go for sure because your truth. So that’s how we Romanians refer to the everlasting battle between the truth and lie.
Liam: I really like that.
Val: It’s like the rabbit and the turtle. You know? Like the speed when they race? It’s a similar comparison.
Liam: So I want to ask you one more question about success. You said it’s going to bed at the end of the night knowing that you didn’t hurt anybody. You have been pretty transparent and that’s not easy to do. If we can set aside the extreme cases of losing your cool at work and shouting at somebody or whatever that kind of thing might be, I kind of wonder the little things that might go unnoticed. Right? Where we just tired so we choose to be lazy. Maybe no one else notices. Maybe we’re lazy at work or maybe we’re lazy at home or maybe we’re lazy on the train as we’re going away and going somewhere at the end of the day. How does, I guess the context of where I am going on this is if complete success is getting through the day and not hurting anybody, where does like…if you only hurt one person because you were lazy where does that fit in? How you try to psychologically land yourself with that? Obviously, there’s room for improvement but how do we balance trying to be a better person without beating ourselves up over our flawed humanity?
Val: That is a great question because recently I’ve lived through a moment like that. I am going to share this here. I’ve shared it already on my Facebook some three or four days ago when it happened but that’s going to be in Romanian so nobody is going to be able to read it anyway. So I’ll share it here. I was about to catch a flight to go to a conference. I called my Uber. It arrived. It tells me go meet your driver. I get downstairs from my building. I get in front. Then in my mind I visually expect the Uber driver as most of them do…they get out, they open the trunk so you can put your suitcase in. They smile and say hop in, whatever. The guy doesn’t even move. I see no trunk popping up, I don’t see him move, he doesn’t even wave. Nothing. In my mind I was like ok. You could at least get out of the car and help me put my suitcase in.That’s in my mind. Again, there’s no words happening, There’s no signal. There is no waving. Nothing. I go in the back of the car. I tried to open the trunk but nothing happens. So I bang two times like hey! I’m still here and I see that it opens. So I put my suitcase in. I close it. I go in the car. I say good morning and I’m like ok. Let’s go to the airport. As we are driving he starts talking. Talking just like the regular driver/passenger conversation. Then he tells me that that day he’s coming like he just arrived at my building from the mayor’s office (I don’t know if you have that in the US) it’s in the mayor’s office where it happens here. He got divorced. He got divorced because his wife said she can no longer live with somebody who has cancer. He had a …what’s the word…I don’t know the word for the condition he had but he could no longer normally go to the toilet (if you know what I mean). So he needed a special pouch. So in my mind, the moment he started saying this is like of course he couldn’t get out of the car. Of course he couldn’t help me. Now I understand. He is having such a shitty day because he just divorced today. I am complaining in my mind because he did not get out to open the door for me. So what looked like somebody disrespecting me actually was nothing compared to the sorrow and the bad condition that he was in his life. So I immediately, as we were still driving start writing on my Facebook. I am like guys. This was such a blow to my ego. Look this is what just happened. I don’t know if you can treat everything you do bad or anything you think that’s happening is kind of a not ok. Just go out to your Facebook friends. Of course I only share those things my friends only (privacy on). I think it takes a lot of guts to confess to somebody that not necessarily is your very close friend or family. Because when you do that (you know some people go to the priest) but again if the priest is not really a good friend of mine (I am not really religious) you know maybe it is not going to help. Just confessing (I don’t have another word it) kind of a bad things you did to somebody you don’t know and I do something else. That’s going to sound crazy but it’s not. It helps me at least personally. I share things like that in the airports while waiting for the next plane to somebody that happens to sit next me. Where I just say hey! Where are you going? Like just carry on a casual conversation where I say I don’t know how perfect you are but I’m not. an for two days ago this happens to sit next to me. Like hey what are you doing. It’s just like carrying on a conversation. Yesterday I shouted at my kids. Or two days ago this happened. Initially, they look at you like why are you telling this? Then it’s minutes before he starts or she starts saying the same things back. It’s a moment in time where you have that chat where you kind of just take off something off from your soul. They do the same. Then you say goodbye, have a safe flight and most likely never see them again. But hours after that conversation you’ll still remember the ahh. I got this off my chest feeling. That’s just a cleansing experience for me. If it helps anybody, try it. It does help me every time.
Tara: It’s sounds like that’s inspiring for you and it sort of spreads that inspiration around. Think about it as drops of water in a puddle that becomes a big ocean. You can always put these good drops of goodness and good thoughts into the ocean of the world. We can have a bigger impact on positivity. That’s my deep thought for the day everybody. Val? You sort of alluded to this earlier when we asked you about success because you discussed how your mom shared this advice with you on not doing harm but maybe you have another piece of advice that you can share with us? We like to have our guests share advice that they’ve received, that they have implemented in their life that has been meaningful to them. Maybe there’s something in addition to that that you can share with us?
Val: Absolutely! I am going to go back a generation and share something that my grandmother used to say to us when we were kids at home. Specifically because I was the oldest from the three boys, she would say well, if you ever get in a position or situation somewhere on God’s huge globe, if somebody asks you a question that you don’t know the answer to you should say (mark my words) I don’t know. Because after I don’t know there are no more questions. If you say sure I heard about it. I kind of know what you’re talking about. They are going to ask more questions. You are going to look much worse if you say yeah. Of course I know. That’s one piece of advice I use thousands of times with no error. When you are talking to somebody and they ask you about something or the conversation goes along on a topic that you have no idea what that means just say I don’t know. I don’t know this topic. But I added something on top of what my grandmother said. I always say you know what? I am going to look into it. I am going to get back to you. Just give me a day, some hours, whatever (depending on how unknown to me the content of the conversation is). When you say go back. I am going to go back on this and tell you what my version is. Make sure you always go back and tell them. Then they are going to know that this guy is guy of his word. When this person says something they are going to do it. Even if it’s just something that they didn’t know anything about initially, they researched it and came back. Even that shows that you are a man of your word.
Tara: Yeah. I was going to ask you if you explained the addon that you do. I was going to ask you how that works. Do you just say I don’t know, Because if you said that when your wife said how about building a website you wouldn’t be here with us today probably. Don’t end it there.
Tara: You’re being honest but also expanding your knowledge and showing a willingness to learn something. As an entrepreneur, you need to have the ability to do that. You just can’t limit yourself to what your currently know. Thanks for that addon.
Liam: Val? Tell us a little about challenges. What’s been one of your biggest challenges that you have dealt with? If you are still working on it, how are you getting over it? How are you dealing with it?
Val: The first challenge I ever felt was after communism fell in Romania (back in 1989, December). We were living in a closed world. Of course for your American audience most likely this will mean nothing. But if anybody is hearing this and they have lived in communism, they will know what I refer to when I say you have no idea that there is a world beyond your borders. They will tell you in the press, in the media, everything outside of your country is bad. They use drugs in America. Everybody is shooting in the streets. Everything was bad, bad, bad. Just so you don’t see the bad in your country. The moment the borders were open and Westerners started pouring in, they would come with books, food, blankets and medicine. I remember some lady in a pharmacy. They were open like open source for pharmacies…like all the hospitals from Germany, England and France would send pills, medicine and all these treatments in to Romania. We would just put them in a pile I would say. You would just get for free whatever you needed. I remember my mom saying you know? Kids were dying in this country because this pill (she was holding a pill) never existed. It was a challenge for me to accept the fact that people that we thought (as we were being educated) were bad and killing us. They are going to ruin us. They are actually coming to help us. Then when I started traveling outside Romania, a challenge was to get transcultural with the people I was visiting, like understanding the local behavior. It happens to me even now. Like when I speak in English many times (English is not my maternal language) I have to realize that some words I am saying could be offending in English just because of the way you arrange the words in a sentence. Maybe you have sayings that don’t make any sense in English for an American or British person. I am trying to go over that. The biggest challenge that I have right now is that I want to learn Chinese. That is my current situation. That is my personal goal. I think in 10, 15 or 20 years not knowing how to speak Chinese would be an impediment to anybody’s career or business. Just look at what happens. They are growing. They are getting all over the world. If you want to have a business relationship with anybody that is meaningful in 20 or 30 years, I think most likely you will have to speak some Chinese. You might cut that out, I don’t know. That’s what I think.
Liam: We’re running long so I will try to be succinct here. I love the challenge in trying to overcome your own cultural understanding and stuff outside your own experience to see the world from other people’s views. That’s more relevant now, at least in the west than ever. That’s a huge problem for us. The importance of doing so, with your example that could have saved lives. Little children might still be here. That’s powerful. I see that in you. You told us that you speak German. Clearly you speak English. You speak Romanian. You said earlier before that you speak French and Russian. You are the second guest we’ve had on this show that wants to learn or is learning Chinese. You are pushing yourself.
Val: Now I want to know who the other person is. Maybe they can teach me.
Liam: Yeah. So that’s great. I am really moved by that story and by the work you are doing to overcome that and to use that in the WordPress community to bring more people together. That’s fantastic.
Tara: Yeah. Thank you for sharing your story and giving us a more personal view of what your life is like in your country. I guess it’s been about 30 years.
Val: Yep, almost.
Tara: Yeah. So you were quite young at the time?
Val: Fifth grade.
Tara: Thank you so much for sharing your story and all of your advice and thoughts. It’s been really great chatting with you and getting to know you a little bit. Where can people find you online?
Val: I am on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. On Twitter and Instagram my handle is @adspedia. On Facebook I am just Valentine Vesa, my legal name. Same as LinkedIn.
Tara: Thank you. We will put that in the show notes.
Liam: Thanks Val!
Val: Thank you so much for having me. Bye guys!
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