Vlad Olaru

You Really Have No Excuse

Topher really dropped it on me with this article. There I was happily mumbling away about philosophy and life lessons (with regards to our experience at PixelGrade) when he said: “I’d love a message from you to other Romanians about what a business around WordPress can do for them”. I kept on mumbling anyway (it’s a thing I am really good at :) ). “Sure, I can do that!

But when it came to writing my “message”, damn. Talk about brain freeze. Should I write about this or that? Does this really relate to Romanians or it’s just something general? Are Romanians different in this respect? We have good coders here… but boy how lame we are when it comes to… There is talent here but… And on and on it went — procrastination 101.

I just couldn’t put my finger on it. I needed a solid reason. Something worthwhile. Something that I could get behind as being useful to others (Romanians included) from a new point of view (at least for me).

But you know what? I am going to mumble away about what I think kept us alive and kicking all these years and what is keeping others from joining the fun. WordPress, with it’s capital_P_dangit(), is an important part of it. Consider it an open letter to the Romanian community (and others in a similar situation), worthy of HeroPress, but most importantly helpful to some of you.

Where do I start?

You start from yourself. The rest will come later, with time. Right now all you have is you: you the wannabe coder, designer, marketer, what have you.

Just like me and my brother George. When we’ve started, we were just two kids (he was really a kid in highschool; I was in university — but age doesn’t show on me :) ) wanting to do something NOW. Not tomorrow, not when we finished our formal education, not when the opportunity presented itself to us. NOW! This sense of urgency is important to seed early on and hang on to it.

We knew some HTML, CSS, coding on my part (but not PHP), and that was pretty much it. No business experience, no mentors, no friends that were already doing this, no internet acquaintances that would give us some work to start from. Just us, a computer and the internet (that is, Romania’s internet speed — lucky us).

So where to start? From the obvious place, of course. Freelancing marketplaces. After some looking around, we’ve settled for vWorker.com (mainly because it seemed more upper class than the likes of freelancer.com — it got bought by the latter in the meantime). We started with very small gigs and worked our way (in a couple of years) to larger projects.

This is the point where we were forcibly introduced to WordPress. At first small customizations for themes, then the classic by now PSD-to-WP. We were getting the hang of it and loving it. We were honing our skills, making more money than most around us (it pays to have low living standards), and making a good name for ourselves.

So stop making excuses and start doing something. Keep at it and good things will happen, with time.

But I want to be the Michelangelo of coders…

Oh please! I know you want to be the best you can be, that you think learning that extra technique will make you even greater, that exploring that extra framework will widen your possibilities. No it won’t. It will only postpone the day when you actually do something and put it to the test of actual people. I know, it scares the shit out of you. It surely did scare us.

But that is the only way you will truly learn. You will hone your skills, but more importantly, you will learn what you actually need to know to get something done. That extra framework that you know will only drag you down. When faced with a problem you will have a hard time attacking it because you know so many “wonderful” ways it could be done. You will try to code for the sake of code.

Trust me. You don’t really want to be Michelangelo (I think neither did he). You want to be happy and satisfied with your end results. This is where WordPress comes into play once again.

It’s code base is not beautiful by any current standard. It’s not cutting edge, it’s not very “automagical”, part of it is truly out-dated, the templating is cumbersome bordering ancient in today’s landscape. You know it, I know it, and everybody else with some coding experience knows it. So what? Is it stopping you from crafting a sweet design and letting your customers enjoy it? Far from it.

Stop agonizing about what it can’t do for your coder ego, and focus on what it can do for your life and your customers.

Praise the internet gods for having such a low barrier of entry, for the gargantuan community, for the endless snippets of code laying around just ripe for copy-pasting. But above all else, thank each contributor that it hasn’t given up on “the user comes first”. It means your customers will also come first. What a great partner to have when starting out.

And don’t worry, you will get plenty of opportunities to focus on crafting clever code in your themes and/or plugins. Just not at the scale of Google. But then again, you are not Google. It’s healthy to keep a firm footing in reality.

It sounds complicated, and I don’t have the resources

Are you committed to this or not? Good! Then stop for a moment and think. Do you have to build everything yourself? Do you have to learn everything? How could you cut some corners without anyone noticing?

Welcome to the WordPress way (it could very well be the open-source way). The ones before you have literally put millions and millions worth of work on the table (that is dollars, not lei) for anyone to grab and use. You know CSS but not much PHP? Great, grab a starter theme. Or better yet, grab any free theme and hack it to your heart’s desire. And then sell it. Weird right?

You envision your design with some fancy (aka complicated) functionality? I am sure there is a WordPress plugin out there that does pretty much that. Recommended it, offer styling for it and you are good to go — bootstrapping 101.

One day, when you will afford it (and if really really makes sense), you can build your own bespoke solutions. But they better be damn good, ‘cuz otherwise few will notice the change.

When we build a new theme, we purposely try to match the design specs with what is available on WP.org or as a paid add-on to a certain “master” plugin (like WooCommerce). This way we make sure we leave enough time/resources on the table for the things we are really good at: fine tuning the front-end, ensuring a smooth customization experience on the back-end, crafting the copy to help make the complex less so, and so on. Even with 11 strong as we are today, we wouldn’t be able to get at those without leveraging open-source.

As you can see, the entire WordPress ecosystem is built on a can-do attitude. It’s fun being part of it. Don’t forget to give something back from time to time.

The WordPress “stain” will never wash

Sadly I still hear about this among developers. And I am sure it can be quite the deterrent for newcomers. I mean you don’t want to hang out with the wrong kind of people right from the start. You’ve got big, long term plans for you life. You could almost envision yourself interviewing for your dream job and being laughed upon for stating WordPress as your experience. It must suck, big time.

Unless… you realize early on that you simply want to be happy, and that no convoluted line of code will make you happy. Come to think of it, you could create your own dream job.

Choose your own team mates. Forge your own values.

Maybe even a huge WordPress logo outside the office (just to spite the non-believers — or that’s what WordCamps are for?).

The PixelGrade crew is filled with sinners from all walks of life. We bathe daily in less-than-perfect code, we shamelessly copy-paste code from StackOverflow (with proper attribution of course), we kick browser-compatibility’s butt with !importants… I should really stop. We are actually serious people — sort of.

Anyway, if you’ve peeked inside the WordPress world and you truly feel it would hold you back, despite all the advantages, leave right ahead. But don’t avoid it just because of misconceptions. You may be missing out.

I could go on mumbling for a long time (it’s a thing I am really good at :) — remember?). Better leave the rest for another time.

Now, you Romanian (or less so) WordPress enthusiasts (or less so), do let me know your thoughts about the above.


  1. That’s wildly inspiring, Vlad. Congrats to you, your brother, and your team. BTW – pixelgrade.com is awesome. I love the parallax stuff you did on the team bios and how bespoke it all is. Beautiful work. Cheers.

    1. Thanks. Our site was a labor of love and an experiment at the same time (don’t try to open it in older browsers, it won’t work – but that is what we’ve intended).

      I hope the article’s tone was not too cheeky. I’ve learned from some people (especially this dude https://twitter.com/vanschneider ) that it’s important to make entertaining; thus, your message has a better chance of getting across.

      1. I think the tone was right on for the kind of site HeroPress is. A fine match. I agree – write as you speak and know your audience. It’s usually a solid win.

    1. Why are you scared? Due to the last part? :)

      We are really keen on upping our game constantly, so you are in good hands.
      We are only more open about our problems and struggles. That doesn’t make us worst than others. Just more sincere :)

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