In the digital space, there is no greater tool than knowledge. As the industry is ever-evolving, and as new trends, techniques and utilities arise, it’s important to keep up with innovations in the digital space and to ensure one is always at the top of one’s game. I recently had the great pleasure of sitting down with Bob Dunn, avid WordPress enthusiast and online trainer, to discuss WordPress, WooThemes, Sensei, online training and “ah-ha” moments.
Matty Cohen: Tell us more about Bob. What are your interests, hobbies and what do you spend your days working on?
Bob Dunn: I pretty much spend my days with WordPress: training people online, both in one-on-one and group sessions, answering emails with questions from my online classes, writing blog posts, creating new tutorials, doing tweaks on my various sites and planning future classes. In between, I catch up on WordPress news on Twitter and Google+ and scan my RSS to find news I might have missed on the dozens of blogs I follow.
When I’m not buried in WordPress, I like spending time with my wife and partner of 30 years, Judy, and our cat Booda, one of many strays we have rescued. I love good LOL movies and an occasional drama. Also, I read a lot of fiction. And I mean a lot.
When and how did you discover WordPress? Share your WordPress journey with us.
A long and winding journey it has been. I started in marketing and design for corporations and small businesses. We owned a marketing/graphic design/copywriting business for 22 years. I had been doing some print and design for clients with simple static HTML sites, but can’t say that I enjoyed it that much. As I moved away from print and more into web, I began searching for better and simpler solutions for both myself and my clients.
That’s when I found WordPress. It was exactly what I was looking for and blended perfectly with my plans for blogging and social media.
When, how and why did you discover and choose WooThemes?
I bought the first WooTheme for a client in 2009, I believe. I was using StudioPress at the time. From the beginning, I knew I wanted to use premium themes for myself and my clients—for the flexibility and stability they provide. Once I was exposed to WooThemes, and did a few sites using it, it became one of my top favourites.
I see you offer WordPress training, both online and one on one. How did you arrive at this profession?
Another long story. When I started using WordPress, I was still doing print work and had marketing clients. A bit over 3 years ago I decided to drop everything and just focus on WordPress site design, maintenance and support. As I became more knowledgeable in WordPress, I started doing local presentations and workshops. The more I taught these workshops—125 of them over two years— the more I loved the training aspect. Slowly I dropped the design and support services and focused on just training, because that is what I enjoy the most.
What is your favourite aspect of training, particularly training in WordPress?
A couple of things. Since I am training people, I have to stay on top of things. That involves constantly learning new stuff. I am curious by nature and a big believer in lifelong learning.
Secondly, and probably even more satisfying, is hearing or seeing someone when they finally get it: that ah-ha moment. And when they reach the point of being comfortable with enough with WordPress, no longer filled with fear or doubt, so they can take their blog or website and running with it.
I see you work with Sensei, WooCommerce and the Definition theme by WooThemes. How has the experience been with setting up and maintaining your platform with these technologies?
It went really well, as you can see from the case study I shared on this site. I confronted a few minor challenges, but most were fixed with workarounds. The reason I chose to use all three of these is that they met my needs, while, at the same time, making integration much smoother.
Is there any specific feature you’d like to see within Sensei, to further enhance the online training experience?
Two things. I would like to see the ability to add lessons and courses easily to menus. Right now they can only be added using the custom menu item. And I wish there was an easier way to re-organise the order of lessons as they appear on the course page.
When setting up WordPress-powered websites, which are some of your most used plugins? Which plugins to you see as being important and widely beneficial to the WordPress community?
There are ones I use myself and others that I recommend in my classes. SEO for WordPress, Akismet, Broken Links, and, for premium, Gravity Forms, SEO for Video if they use a lot of video, and, if they aren’t on managed hosting, BackupBuddy. Because each person’s case is different, there are probably ones, too. Finally, if a theme doesn’t have a built in social icon widget, I use Simple Social Icons quite a bit and, if you have a blog, some social share plugin for sure.
I see you’re very involved in the greater WordPress community as well and have spoken at WordCamps and other events. What is one of your most memorable moments at a WordCamp or other WordPress event?
Sometimes it can be that first time connecting with someone in-person after talking with them online for so long. It’s that feeling that you already know them and they already feel like a real friend. I did like the 20-minute chat I had with Matt Mullenweg at a special Seattle meetup we had when Automattic was in town doing a training. It was fun sharing with him what I was doing in the training arena. And as organiser of WordCamp Seattle 2012, the time one of the laptops that was used for streaming decided to update Windows in the middle of the session. No drinking or embarrassing stories, though. Sorry
Do you have any nicknames within the WordPress space?
Pretty much my brand, BobWP. But when someone took my card once (someone who knew nothing of WordPress) and called me BobWhup, well, that made me laugh.
What was one of your most memorable experiences while working with WooThemes’ ninjas?
A couple of times Coen came to my rescue via Twitter. And these were issues I ran up against that had me stopped cold. He pushed my ticket through and had me on my way in no time.
Do you have any plans to visit WooHQ down here in South Africa in the future?
I’d like to. That airline ticket is in the mail, right?
Finally, what are some sources of inspiration and further education you can recommend around WordPress, teaching and getting the most out of online learning and website creation?
That can be a challenge with everyone having different learning styles. I have several online resources that I send people to when I feel my training doesn’t fit their needs. But with all the different levels that people are at, and what they are exactly looking for, it’s hard to list just a few.
One thing I do recommend is for people to get involved with a local WordPress meetup or WordCamp if that’s possible. In fact, someone has started a virtual WPMeetup for those who don’t have access to one. Also, they should check out WordPress.org. Besides their codex, which for many, is a bit overly technical, other documentation is being added aimed at the beginner.
A big thank you to Bob for taking the time out to chat to us. You can view the full view interview here.