WordPress Interview: Roni Laukkarinen

Today we are going all the way to Finland to meet a great guy and friend Roni Laukkarinen. He is a full stack developer, founder of a WordPress agency Digitoimisto Dude, WordPress Jyväskylä Meetup group, Admin Labs website monitoring/status page startup, Geeky Lifestyle blog and Streetgazer synthwave act. He is also a general nerd, blogger, homebrewer, dad, and command line fanatic.

First of all, thank you for taking your time for the interview Roni. Let’s get to know you better. Could you tell us a bit about your background and how your life led you to WordPress?

Thanks a lot, I’m flattered about all this. Not used to interviews, really, but I’ll try :). I’m Roni, but some people call me Rolle, it’s my nickname that stuck, also my Twitter handle, @rolle. I’m more of a front-end developer which means my strong points are CSS (SASS), HTML and JS and I love putting layouts together via these languages. I know my PHP and servers and do a bit graphic designing if I must so I guess you could call me a “Full stack developer” for that reason.

What led me to WordPress? It’s quite a long story, to be honest. My father has been computer hobbyist since the 80s; he was one of the first Finnish people who purchased a “home computer.” I was born in the 1988 and was hooked right from the start. My first memories of computers were when I was four years old, right around the time’s modem Internet was brought to homes.

At first, it was all about fiddling with the computer parts and playing games, but very soon I realized it’s more fun to do stuff on the Internet. So I started creating my first “home page” in 1998. I was ten years old. Until 2000 I had released my comics, poems, writings and even some gif and simple JS based games online.

I have always loved writing so. First I had a simple journal I wrote in between HTML code. When I grew older, I realized it needs to be easier, so I started to look for “web software” or some sorts for that purpose. We didn’t have “Content Management System” at the time. I found CuteNews which initial release was in 2002. It wasn’t bad but not good either. Didn’t know for the better.

Used cutenews for years, then my online friends released their websites and found out WordPress. It was actually some “Admin login” link which lead me to the big W-logo-powered login page as we know as wp-login nowadays when I saw it was made with WordPress. The version was 2.0 and I have used WordPress ever since.

It was about blogging and making blog themes for myself many years, only later professionally.

How did you start your career? Do you have some formal education related to coding or design?

I didn’t have any formal education related to coding websites. Nothing. I learned everything by myself, tried things on daily basis. I didn’t have friends much, that’s for sure, hah.

I was hooked on websites in very early age as I told you, previously and family friends and other people started to notice that although didn’t advertise myself in any way. That lead to some projects I made for companies my relatives ran and earned some pocket money that way as a schoolboy. That was the start of my freelance career.

Later I got “real job” and put my freelancer career on hold. Didn’t actually use WordPress yet professionally when did freelancer gigs, it was the time when HTML + CSS only was sufficient. Small companies (or coders, or myself for that matter) didn’t realize they could easily make admin interfaces or use “a blogger platform” like WordPress for editing content that time.

In my first real work, we didn’t use WordPress at all but coded SaaS software. After my real job experience, I started seeing WordPress everywhere. It was from 2010 to 2012. I felt my talents go to waste when coding third party, closed software, as I always wanted to do WordPress. I started to think about forming my own company after saw my work wasn’t that rewarding. It was more of a bulk-job I had to do because salesmen sell and bosses tell me what to do. Not much freedom or openness in that job.

In 2013 my dream became true and Digitoimisto Dude (“Dude – the Digital agency”) was born. It started fast and the first year went better I expected. This May we have been running non-stop for five years, that feels good.

[Tweet “In 2013 my dream became true and Digitoimisto Dude (“Dude – the Digital agency”) was born.”]

Did you know exactly what you wanted to be when you grow up ;)?

Not really, never thought about it, because I always loved what I was doing. Before I understood computers that much I thought I was going to be some kind of author or draftsman. I was always writing things or doodling stuff as a child, started when I turned 6. I drew a lot of comics and wrote a lot of texts, poems, journals, etc. but didn’t really think about it what I wanted to be. My father was a railroad engine driver, that felt quite far for me. Also, I think he didn’t like his work that much, we had computers in common.

Roni Workspace

You are full stack developer and founder of Digitoimisto Dude Oy. Can you tell us what is Digitoimisto Dude Oy and the story behind it? How is Digitoimisto Dude Oy different from other digital agencies?

Not very big story behind my company and I can only explain this from my own perspective. As I explained, I was freelancer for many years. I could have continued on that path, but working alone was never my thing. I had to create graphics from logo design to backand frontend coding and communicate, bill, DO everything myself. It was really wearing me out.

Was unemployed for a while and then applied for a job and got it. It was my first real job in the sense of making something for the web, I was around 20 at the time. In that job I learned a lot, but most of anything I learned how not to do things. Not going to open that position that carefully, but in that job I found a friend who I consider as one of the best graphic designers so I started to think carefully about forming my own company. We wanted more freedom. And to do things better. We wanted to feel happy when waking up to work, not frustrated or already in bad mood.

After careful contemplation we did it. First, we suggested subcontracting deal to our former employer and we got it. Then we invested our holiday money (we didn’t have many holidays because of over-working) to our new company. So not many risks were involved. First months we did almost everything regarding our skills, because didn’t know about the future and entrepreneurship was rather new, naturally. Soon we noticed we don’t need subcontracting anymore and we have our own customers with WordPress. It was quite a fast realization that this business is profitable enough for two guys who do what is their passion.

In our small town Jyväskylä there were not many professional WordPress agencies at that time. Bigger agencies made stuff with their own CMS and I knew all the people from smaller and even some bigger WordPress agencies. Dude always did customized and open source, I guess that has always been the major difference from other digital agencies. When we really started WP, I started creating our stack, custom starter theme and embraced all the latest web development tools. I didn’t want to go the easy way, spent hundreds of hours and sleepless nights to get things right. As our GitHub say, we are “A boutique web design agency formed in 2013 in Jyväskylä, Finland.”.

We do everything bespoke, a boutique way. No quick solutions, but customized, easy to use WordPress sites per customer. Every customer is different so it’s important that every site is meaningful and so fast and easy to use in wp-admin that everyone can update all the images, icons, logos, text on the site without hassle. That’s where we are different from many others, I guess.

The name was supposed to be something of this nature, something that relates to open and flexible yet professional. One of our tonguein-cheek mottoes is “Professional craziness since 2013”, from one of our stickers. The name “dude” was actually invented by Sari who is the wife of my fellow co-founder Juha. We also noticed the domain was available only because the earlier company named Dude changed their name and the domain happened to be released just when we formed the company. So good luck in many sense.

[Tweet “We wanted more freedom. We wanted to feel happy when waking up to work, not frustrated or already in bad mood.”]

How do you find your clients or how they find you? Do you have some advice for the people that are just starting out with their own digital agency?

When we started there were two of us, now there are 6 (four in-house, one freelancer photographer and one freelancer front-end developer). We do not have any salesmen. I guess work speaks on its behalf and we get most of the customers via recommendations. Lots of them come via google as well since I blog a lot and our site is quite visible on the first results for Finnish audience. Third of the customers come from social media.

If you are starting your own digital agency, make sure you calculate really careful how much you will need monthly basis to support your (and your partners’) life. Basic entrepreneur’s ABC stuff. Secondly, you have to have the WHY you are forming a company, is it because you want more freedom or to do your own thing or is it because money.

I have to be honest, I didn’t think about succeeding that much when forming my own company, that wasn’t the point. In this scene, doing things should be the point. You should also be really aware of the fact you will have to do lots of work and even stay up nights if it comes to that. I’m not entrepreneur-consultant so this is all I can say.

[Tweet “I have to be honest, I didn’t think about succeeding that much when forming my own company, that wasn’t the point.”]

If it’s not a secret please tell us a bit about how your working day looks like? How do you manage to balance work and family?

Of course it’s not a secret, I may have even blogged about that in Finnish. Managing balance was tricky at the beginning, but it got easier over the years. I’m really bad at mornings, I’m more of a nighthawk, so mornings are quite hard for me. Thank goodness I have kids and routine that pull me up from the bed.

Nowadays I wake up at around 6, take a coffee, watch a morning TV and stretch my legs. Then before 7, I wake up the kids and before 8 I take my 4-year-old son to daycare. My 8-year-old daughter walks to school by herself. After 8 I walk to our office and from 8 to 8.30 I’m already at work. At work, I drink another cup of coffee, browse some Twitter and try to “wake up” (as I said, I’m not a morning person, it takes some time, heh).

Around 9 I open my Todoist and see what I have to do and start doing things one by one. If it’s a “stuff day”, I do separate random tasks, if it’s a project day, I may code 3-4 hours, then lunch, then code hours more. If it’s a day where I’m supposed to pick up my son, then I stop working by 4 pm, if it’s not, I may work later, even up to 7 pm. Then depending on the day, I go home.

It was hard for me at first, but nowadays I don’t work at home if I’m not having a remote day. As an introvert I sometimes like to stay at home after taking my son to daycare, change to pyjamas and work from home. I do that occasionally, often one day per week.

As an entrepreneur, you are “working” 24/7 and I’m Inbox Zero fanatic, so of course, it’s hard to manage the balance between work and family. But I think it’s okay by this point. My wife and kids are happy and everything.

Let’s talk more about another interesting project of yours, Geeky Lifestyle. It is a new lifestyle blog for nerds and tech diggers. How and why did you start this blog? What are your future plans for this project?

It started as a holiday project, so it’s not really a priority for me. I’m ashamed to say I haven’t been bloggin in English as much as I would like, but in the other hand, I manage five blogs already in total.

Geeky Lifestyle is everything around geek things, it can be movies, electronics or coding. I plan to have more WordPress related blog posts in the future, now I only have one. Although blogging about Linux or tinkering gadgets is easier for me right now (not that timeconsuming). Will see.

When and why have you started contributing to WordPress and organizing a WordPress Jyväskylä Meetups?

I wasn’t active in the community before 2015 and there’s a good reason for that. I’m a full-blown introvert and suffer from GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) so it has always been hard for me to be social in real life. In Internet, it has never been a problem for me because I was grown to it. It’s so different because in the Net I do not have to think my appearances and I have more freedom and time to think what to say or how to react. Or be, in general.

In 2015 there was a first WordCamp in Finland. I decided to take part despite it being quite a step for me. When I went there, it felt everyone already knew me and surprisingly enough it didn’t feel that bad as I thought before the event.

Soon after I tweeted why we don’t have WordPress Meetups in Jyväskylä but didn’t know I was the one to organize them. My childhood friend and one of the original founders of another similar bespoke company MEOM, Natanael Sinisalo took a lead and we started the meetups together, he in charge. Later when Dude grew with one more coder Timi and Natte was moving more towards other opportunities in his life, I took more and more responsibility of the the Meetups of my city.

Today I’m hosting with Timi and Natanael Meetups in 2018 and we already have half of the year Meetup’s planned with speakers and schedule. Really happy about the progress in myself and in the community. A couple of years back I didn’t think I as an introvert could do this, but more you do it easier it gets. It’s still not effortless for me, I still need a day after meetups to get my energy back, but it’s really worth it.

After 2015 I attended the next one hosted in 2016 and after that, I’ve been in WordCamp Europe 2016 in Wien Austria, WordCamp Helsinki 2017 WordCamp Europe 2017 in Paris, France, WordCamp Jämsä 2017 and soon will be speaking at WordCamp Jyväskylä 2018. The latter is a huge deal for me! Can’t believe how long way I have come to this point.

What WordPress Community means to you?

I’m surprised on how much it means. I have learned many things professionally and with personal stuff. I notice in Finland people don’t talk much about issues like mental illness in WordPress Meetups but in WordCamp Europe people are more open about these things and I have found friends and support from that community as well. A good example is you Ana, we have had great chats since meeting in Wien.

So for me (in best) WordPress community is all about meeting friends, old or new. I’m not very good in big crowds, but feel free to come to talk to me even if I don’t talk to others. Beer helps, haha.

[Tweet “So for me (in best) WordPress community is all about meeting friends, old or new.”]

Roni Personal Life

We are moving now a little bit to your personal life, if you don’t mind ;). We talked a lot about the anxiety, panic attacks and mental health. Can you share with our readers a bit more about your experience with these? Do you think that the weather in Finland, especially during the winter plays a role in it? What have you learned from your experience with anxiety and do you have some advice on how to reduce stress and anxiety levels?

I don’t mind at all, as you can see! Like I already slipped earlier, I suffer from GAD which means, in short, I’m almost always anxious, often without any reason. It’s sometimes easier, sometimes real pain in the ass (sorry my french!). It’s bad especially when I’ve slept poorly which happens most of the time as vicious circles – when I’m anxious, I sleep poorly, when I sleep poorly, I’m more anxious…

I think GAD is part of the nature, character of who I am, because I’m very sensitive as a person and react too easily to things around me. I tend to overthink simple things which makes this worse. I suffered from depression when I was younger, but after getting solid job I went past it through therapy. I never liked meds, tried them out and it didn’t suit me, so I have just tried to survive without them with recognizing thinking patterns and exercising Mindfulness (staying in the moment, not in the past or future).

[Tweet “I think GAD is part of the nature, character of who I am, because I’m very sensitive as a person and react too easily to things around me.”]

They say that even 7% of the Finnish people may suffer from GAD, which is about 350 000 people (of the population 5 million). The weather in Finland is one of the reasons for this because we have short days, cold and darkness about eight months every year. Sun is always the best when it comes to mood. But I really think it’s about character, experiences in childhood. It can be treated but it may be slow. I stopped therapy couple of years ago because the Finnish social system is quite complicated with this and I’m c
coping just well enough for me to pay the treatment in private sectors. I have generated my own mechanisms for toxic thought patterns.

[Tweet “They say that even 7% of the Finnish people may suffer from GAD, which is about 350 000 people (of the population 5 million).”]

Developing my social skills through Meetups and WordCamps has been really hard for me because of GAD. But I have also found it to bring me good things. I have learned a lot of myself and about my thoughts. A good example is the pretty basic “social anxiety symptom” which goes as follows: I set up a meeting (it can be my dad or my best friend) and add it to my calendar. It should take place in two or more weeks time and it gets me so anxious while “waiting that to happen”. I start to think how awful it would be for me, to have to go out and meet that person, to get a grip and be social and happy. It’s kinda absurd to describe it like this, but it always goes to a point where I might cancel the meeting, because I feel so anxious about it. But I often ignore these thoughts and just “deal with it”, go and meet that person and forget about these thoughts while walking to the cafe or whatever. After the meeting, I remember these thoughts and I’m super relieved and even surprised how well it went and didn’t feel a one bad thing during it! When I remember this next time, how easy it was before, I rarely cancel any meetings nowadays. It teaches me to react to these better, although it’s still hard. Often I appoint new meetings in short time span just for these reasons – I don’t have time to think that much. “How about today?” is the best if I have room in the calendar.

So think less, do more things that make you happy. Or do more in general. Sorry my French again in advance, but I have learned to think myself “fuck it, just do it” and then just do it and stop thinking about it more. A good example is this forthcoming talk I’m giving in WordCamp Jyväskylä. I never thought I would give talks, but I have now given two in WordPress Meetups and soon one in WordCamp. Because “fuck it”, why not?

[Tweet “So think less, do more things that make you happy. Or do more in general. “]

You told me you’re an introverted person. How hard it is for you to work in an agency that requires working with other people on a different projects? Do you have some advice for all the introverts out there?

I consider my colleques as friends, that’s very important. I can go and grab a beer with them. I also can do remotely once or twice a week if I feel like it. It’s easy to have meetings in small groups (two or three people) and I have learned to cope with it very well. Most of the stuff happens online, so working together is really not a big deal to me. As I explained before, part of my social skills come from Internet since I’ve grown with it.

I know many kinds of introverts. The most extreme ones are those you never see, you cannot call them, they only respond via IRC, IM email. The second type is the ones that tweet rarely or not at all, you might see live sometimes but may skip a meetup or two, who don’t talk much in groups, only face to face. The third type I guess is like me, who has learned to be more social and copes with it, seems social outside but wants to be alone on the inside. No matter how introverted you are, give life a chance. I’ve experienced I learn and develop myself more if I lay open to things and don’t do it just “because I feel like this”.

[Tweet “I consider my colleques as friends, that’s very important. I can go and grab a beer with them.”]

What do you enjoy most about your life? What do u like to do in your free time?

Time with my family. Can’t live without sauna (almost every finn has a sauna at their home, we do as well), I take a good steam couple of days per week. Internet, naturally, trying new things, even in free time (mostly non-work related, even python software). Trying out new craft beer, writing to beer blog, going to beer events. Lots and lots of movies and series. Music – I listen a lot ( says over 8000 different artists, mostly metal), I own a classical piano and play it sometimes, doing some composing if I feel like it. Retrogames (SNES, Atari, Amiga, MS-DOS, etc.), gadgets, sometimes investing to some Kickstarter campaigns. I don’t do sports much, but I like jogging. I used to parkour and snowboard, but no time nowadays. I’d like to travel more, but currently, my the financial situation in our family is not sufficient enough. Maybe someday. I do lots of things but I think that’s most of it.

Finally, here’s your chance to freestyle:). Write anything you think could be interesting or useful to our readers.

If you type these in your Terminal, you get a handy calculator:

echo -n "#" > pc
echo -n ! >> pc
echo "/usr/bin/perl" >> pc
echo "print eval(join(' ',@ARGV)).qq{
};" >> pc
chmod +x pc
sudo mv pc /usr/bin/

After this, just calculate things. 9 x 1000 would be:
pc 9*1000

PHOTOS CREDIT: Emmi Virtanen

Roni Laukkarinen

Roni Laukkarinen

A full stack developer, founder of a WordPress agency Digitoimisto Dude, WordPress Jyväskylä Meetup group, Admin Labs website monitoring/status page startup, Geeky
Lifestyle blog and Streetgazer synthwave act

Twitter: @rolle | Website: Digitoimisto Dude | Rolle


By Ana Segota

Co-founder of Anariel Design - online web design agency that specializes in developing premium niche WordPress themes.

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