Sabrina Zeidan – WProfessional of the Month

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Welcome back to our interview section! This month, despite the uncertainty of the current situation and being homebound, we were able to talk to Sabrina Zeidan. Our guest today began her career as a graphic designer and later became a backend developer and plugin creator. The last few years she has been very active in the community as a speaker and organizer of WordCamp. In fact, she was my emcee at WCEU2020. But the best thing about Sabrina is how she deals with the challenges she faces. But I hate spoilers, so please welcome Sabrina Zeidan!

Thanks for the interview, Sabrina. It’s a pleasure to have you here! For those who don’t know you, tell us a little about yourself and your career.

Thanks for having me, Ruth, it really is a pleasure! I speed up WordPress websites.

I’m a huge fan of optimization in the general sense and of the minimalist lifestyle.  I only keep the things that I actually use at home, I like to have everything in the kitchen organized in boxes of all sizes. I organize my clothes similarly to need the minimum — that’s how I managed to travel for two months across the UK-the USA-Italy-Lebanon with the same 5kg backpack.

The same for my professional life: I like to keep things lean and make websites faster and with higher conversion rates.

You’ve been a WordPress lover since 2010 when you first installed WordPress for the advertising agency you were working at. How did you like WordPress? What were your first impressions of it?

Back then I was a graphic designer who knew very little about web development. We needed a simple website just to present the web-agency to the customers. I tried some solutions, and all of them were difficult to use or didn’t look good.

At some point, I tried WordPress. The famous WordPress 5 minute installation wasn’t that fast, to be honest. But since I had already learned what a database is I managed to install it in 30 minutes or so. In short, the user experience was something different from what I had seen before, so I continued with it.

The next step was to customize it and to deal with all the white screens and bugs. I was learning things by googling, and really got sucked with it. Some time later I realized I’m not eager to learn anything new about design anymore but I still spend all my time playing with PHP. After someone approached me and asked to make a similar website for them, and I did that, I realized that I’m happy to be called a backend developer.

Since then, have you also been contributing to the WordPress community?

Not really, no. I was using WordPress since 2010, but I had no idea about the WordPress community before October 2017. WordPress was just a software for me, you know, I wasn’t thinking about real people being behind it.

So, in September 2017 I finished another big project with WordPress Multisite for the affiliate network. Most of the things that I was doing had no ready solutions, so I was developing them from scratch. I was proud of myself and wanted to share this experience. I was thinking also, maybe there are other people who are facing the same challenges. And maybe something I already did might help them to accomplish their goals faster.

I looked for any events where I could share, and I happened to find the WordPress Kyiv Meetup group, so I applied to speak there.

The first person I met when I arrived there was that guy. I shook his hand and said “Hi, I’m Sabrina.” He said “Hi, I’m Andrey.” And I was like, “Wait, your face looks so familiar!” And he said “Then maybe you know me”.

And I realized I did know him indeed! I was seeing his profile picture more often than myself in the mirror! He was that smart guy from StackExchange who always knew the solution. Most of the things I learned about coding at that time were coming from his answers there. It was Andrey Rarst Savchenko, we’ve been friends since then.

Andrey Rarst Savchenko and Sabrina Zeidan
Andrey Rarst Savchenko and Sabrina Zeidan

And after this first experience, could you share with us all the activities you have been involved in? Any funny stories about this experience?

My entire WordPress community experience is a chain of funny stories and lucky coincidences, to be honest.

After that meetup, I said to Andrey and Vitaly (who was the organizer) “Thank you guys for such a warm welcome, I enjoyed this evening!” And Andrey told me “If you really want to feel what the WordPress community is about, you gotta go to London.”

I came back home and found out there was the Call for speakers for WordCamp London 2018 open. So I applied. It was my first talk in English (second ever), first time to the UK, first WordCamp. People were so nice and friendly there, I felt very welcome!

And everyone was so excited about some WordCamp Europe event (and I had no idea what that was). So the day after I came back from London I bought a WCEU ticket and booked my flights to Belgrade.

Over the past 2 years, I attended quite a few WordCamps abroad and gave 7 talks on site speed optimization and WordPress Multisite. I became a co-organizer of  WordPress meetups in Kyiv and other cities in Ukraine and was a lead organizer of WordCamp Kyiv in 2019.

We have WordCamp Kyiv 2020 planned for autumn by the way. I was very honoured to be in the WCEU 2020 orgs team and hope to continue this work in 2021.

WordCamp Kyiv 2019.
WordCamp Kyiv 2019.

You’ve also developed and uploaded a plugin to the WordPress Directory. Can you explain to us what its purpose is and what your experience as a WordPress developer has been so far?

This plugin is called SpeedGuard.  It monitors website performance daily and sends you an email in case it gets slower. I was looking for a tool that checks website speed daily, performs tests in a credible way, provides detailed reports, counts average site speed for the website and doesn’t disturb you if everything is fine.

However, I couldn’t find one so I’ve built it by myself.

I’m happy to see that other people find it useful as well, also it’s very exciting to see people contributing to its translation, so it gets more accessible to people around the globe in their native language.

What about the loading speed of the websites? Why is it so important? 

Site speed is not something that exists in a vacuum. It’s about our daily life, daily experiences and daily expectations.

Do you remember those times when we used to connect to the Internet via dial-up? The modem connection process itself took something about 1 minute. And then, to get to read that only letter in your Inbox you had to wait while Outlook was loaded, then a connection to POP3 was installed, then the number of letters received, and then — it got loaded finally! And it took only 5 minutes or so 😉

I can’t remember people complaining about it, it was considered to be normal. Can you imagine that situation now? Today people aren’t particularly happy to lift up a laptop lid to find out they need to wait for another 10 seconds while Wi-Fi gets reconnected. Everything got much much faster, our everyday experience changed completely and so did our expectations.

Google understands that and adapts. And they make all those people who design, develop, market or own websites to understand this and adapt too. That’s it.

What are the most important tips to make our websites load faster? Do you recommend any tools to improve our websites in this aspect?

You’re already hosted on SiteGround, which I like a lot. I’m always happy to recommend WP Rocket. I would like to point out that I’m not saying this because I worked for WP Rocket, as I was a big fan of it long before joining the team. I think it’s the best caching plugin ever because it does much, much more than caching. The main way you can improve user experience on neliosoftware.com drastically is prioritizing content loading order — so the user will be able to start interacting with your page faster.

Of course, we take note of your recommendation. Changing the subject, the year 2020 is becoming a very difficult year and as a freelancer, you are not exempt from this complexity. What are the most important difficulties and challenges you’re facing right now? 

I don’t know what will happen, I don’t know what life will be like, I don’t know if I and the people I love will be fine. But actually, I never really knew that before. This crisis only naked the truth: you have no idea what tomorrow will be like, and never had. I think the most challenging thing for me right now is to move from “I’m going to wait until I can live again” mindset to the “Whatever, I’m going to live” mindset.

I’m afraid we weren’t prepared for this situation but let’s move on… Now it’s time for our most-acclaimed question: sharing an epic fail of your past 😉 So please confess: where and how did you screw up?

This interview just reminded me of something. When I was applying to be a speaker at that first WordPress Meetup in Kyiv in October 2017 I had no idea what it would be like. When the organizer got back to me and said that I was welcome to give a talk, he described the format: the stage, the microphone, Q&A, live-streaming and about 50 people in the audience — my stomach just turned at the thought of it.

A week before the date, I saw an advertisement for theatre auditions and I thought “Hey! If I prove to myself that I have the stomach for going through the audition, that might help me to give a talk about WordPress Multisite next week!” Auditions consistent of 5 things: telling an anecdote, a story, a poem, dancing, and singing.

And there I was, on the real stage of the real theatre, in front of 326 people (I counted them while I was waiting for my turn). I started with a poem. The casting director stopped me in the middle of it and said: “Okay, let us hear the story now”. I started the story. In less than 30 seconds he stopped me again. He asked: “Are you a programmer?” I said yes. He said  “That’s enough. I never want to see you on this stage again. But I would marry you, though.”

I just burst into tears. Not because I won’t become an actress, obviously. But because the stress level of this humiliation was so high I couldn’t handle it anymore. But it actually did work. I couldn’t imagine anything worse than that. The idea of speaking in front of the other developers about the meaningful stuff I really know how to do at WordPress meetup next week became so much less frightening.

Wow! This was quite an anecdote to be told! And while I have no doubt that the method worked, I’m afraid I wouldn’t dare advise it 😱. And finally, Sabrina, who else should we interview? Tell us what 3 WProfessionals you’d like to see in the next interviews and why.

Andrey Rarst Savchenko, whom I already mentioned. He is the person whom I ask for WordPress/PHP advice when googling for days brings no solution because the issue is so rare and unexplored. And in most cases, he knows what to do! I’m excited to know about his screw-ups (if there were any at all!)

José Freitas who is heading up the local team in WordCamp Europe 2020-21 in Portugal, because I would like to know more about him and his experience on how he manages to handle this so good.

Robby McCullough from Beaver Builder. I interviewed him last summer for my #MadeInWordPress series, they have over 1 million installs now. Robby mentioned that they had people saying “I tried your product because I just like you guys. I only got this after I met Justin and Billy as well (they are two other co-founders), last September in California.” These three guys are really nice people who have managed not only to build a cool product but also to create a strong and supportive community around it. Would love to read his interview as well!

Thanks, Sabrina for your time. I really enjoyed sharing some time with you at WCEU2020 and, of course, I’ve really enjoyed this interview, and I hope our readers did too. See you next month, guys!

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