Where Are They Now? – Leland Of ThemeLab

Tell us who you are and what it is you’re doing these days.

themelablogoMy name is Leland Fiegel. Some of you WordPress old timers might know me from my site called Theme Lab where I used to release a lot of free WordPress themes, along with tutorials on how to do WordPress and CSS stuff, among other things. Unfortunately do to time constraints while being a full-time college student for the past three years, I didn’t really have time to update it much.

The site still pays for itself (and more) through affiliate and direct ad sales, and still has (surprisingly) pretty steady search engine traffic to a lot of the old tutorials and themes still up on the site. I still get a few thousand daily visitors, and have no plans to take down the site any time soon.

I just graduated college this year (May 2013, which is a little more than a month ago at the time of this posting) and was hired to be a WordPress developer for a local DC company called Social Driver where I’m now working full-time as a developer, mostly doing WordPress stuff. The work I’ve done with Theme Lab definitely played a huge role in my ultimate hiring there.

It’s a really laid-back work environment, and I have the opportunity to work on a lot of bigger WordPress projects I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to as a lone freelancer. Let’s face it, large organizations would rather pay a premium and hire a proven firm over a one-man shop, which is how I was previously operating. Now I work in a team which features a full-time designer, project manager, and another developer. I’ve only been working there a few weeks, but so far it has been a great experience.

Why did you decide to join the WPTavern forum in 2009?

Leland Joins The TavernBack in 2009, WPTavern was just the place to be for active WordPress community members. When I say “active community members,” I mean the people who were on Twitter all day, IRC all day, interacting with each other all day. The people who lived and breathed WordPress, were people seemed to be active members at WPTavern as well.

The only “competing” forum at the time was the WordPress.org support forum, which mainly composed of support requests from the millions of WordPress users around the world. There wasn’t so much discussion about business (and other WordPress-related, but non-support stuff) like there was on WPTavern. Basically, it cut out a lot of the noise.

How did the WPTavern community help you progress with WordPress in the past 4 years?

The amazing thing about the WPTavern community, as well as the greater WordPress community as a whole, is its diversity. It’s an international phenomenon (just take a look at some of the WordCamp locations around the world) comprising of many different people with many different skillsets. There are the developers, the designers, the writers, the marketers, the social media “gurus“ (as much as I hate that word, some people know what they‘re doing), and the entrepreneurs. WordPress brings all that together.

The WPTavern community, as well as the greater WordPress community as a whole, has helped myself progress with not just WordPress, but development techniques, content writing, entrepreneurship, social media strategy, and the list goes on. It’s a truly awesome community with a lot of passion, and I’m glad to be a part of it.

What was the idea and motivation behind the Theme Lab website?

ThemeLab Website

First of all, I just wanted to point out that it’s been 6 years since I started Theme Lab. It’s been a while. Before that, I was really into buying and selling domain names along with basic web development. It was from there that I discovered WordPress, and it all progressed from there.

When developing my domain names, I tried out countless CMS’s (for those familiar with Fantastico, I tried pretty much everything in there) like Mambo (which was later forked into Joomla), Xoops, PHPNuke, just to name a few. Nothing quite stuck like WordPress did.

On top of its ease of use, what really hooked me in was the (previously described) community surrounding it. Pretty much any problem I had, I could find a solution with a simple Google search. It could’ve been a tutorial, WordPress.org support forum thread, or just a plugin with the functionality I was looking for. I could do pretty much anything I wanted to with it by just hacking up my theme.

Through this continuous theme hacking, I started to get pretty good at actually developing themes. I realized you could turn pretty much any type of template into a WordPress theme by just plugging in WordPress template tags in certain places, along with basic understanding of theming concepts (like the Loop, widgetization, etc.).

So I decided to start a WordPress theme site with the idea of releasing WordPress themes to the public. I did an available domain search for “theme” keywords, and found that themelab.com had recently dropped. I liked the sound of it, so I went with it.

This was a time when the theme industry was in its relative infancy. Just to put it in perspective, this was when the RevolutionTheme was one of the few commercial themes available, and the vast majority of themes were free.

Keep in mind I was a high school student at the time, and didn’t really have any idea of the massive potential of the theme industry at the time. I know it’s hard to imagine now, but I doubt many other people did at the time either. Within the next couple years it just exploded. People really liked free WordPress themes.

What was it like to attend your first WordCamp?

WordPress DC MeetupWell to answer that question, I’d like to direct readers to a previous WPTavern post published in May of 2010 when you video interviewed me at WordCamp Raleigh.

“Nervous but excited” pretty much sums it up. To be able to meet in person some of the people I interacted with on Twitter was great.

Since then I attended the following year’s WordCamp Raleigh, and have since been on a WordCamp drought. Hopefully I’ll have an opportunity to attend some nearby WordCamps in the future.

Although not technically a WordCamp, I do enjoy the monthly WordPress DC meetups to network with some of the local members of the WordPress community.

Any pet peeves you still have regarding WordPress Themes?

Let’s see, where do I begin…

Chill on the theme options. And stop making the UI’s clash so much. Use theme options only when you absolutely need them, and if you do, make them blend in. I think Devin Price’s Options Framework does a good job of this.

Chill with the “SEO,” and stop replicating every single option that free plugins (like Yoast’s WordPress SEO) already do. Data like that should be stored in a plugin anyway.

Speaking of data that should be stored in plugins: chill with the shortcodes, chill with the custom post types, and chill with the custom taxonomies built directly into the theme’s functions.php file. It makes it a huge pain when the user wants to switch themes. Contrary to popular belief, users may not want to use the same theme forever.

Finally, the biggest pet peeve of all is that all my previously mentioned pet peeves are perpetuated by demand in the commercial WordPress theme market. Just take a look at the top sellers of any of the popular theme marketplaces. Their themes almost always include “features” such as SEO optimization, tons of shortcodes, etc. But those themes have sold thousands of times over. Clearly, it’s what the people want. Can’t really blame those theme authors too much for supplying the demand.”

Also, sliders suck.

Is there anything you’d like to say to the general WordPress Community?

Hopefully people don’t get the wrong idea from my theme rant. Being a theme developer myself, I’m a little biased, and I hate to see bad development practices perpetuated.

I love the WordPress community as a whole. I don’t think anyone could’ve imagined 10 years ago how much the community has grown today. I’m just looking forward to see what happens in the next 10.

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