What is the Future of WordPress and the Role of AI as of Atanas Yonkov

Boryana Popova

We talk to Atanas Yonkov - a well-known face in the local and international WordPress community, as a speaker, volunteer, and organizer of events, including WordPress MeetUps, WordCamp Sofia, etc., as well as a developer of WordPress themes and plugins.

Recently, he presented his selection of the best free WordPress themes, with explanations of which online projects they are suitable for (blogs, online stores, media, libraries, etc.).

We also invited Nasko for an interview, and we are grateful that he readily responded. Before we move on to the questions, we have prepared for Nasko and his answers, we would like to provide a little more information about our guest.

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Who is Atanas Yonkov?

Atanas Yonkov started his career story in WordPress in 2016 when he and two of his friends created their first WordPress blog literally as a joke. Throughout his development and professional growth, Nasko evolved into a web developer and consultant (wordpress.org).

His professional path has taken him through Webfactory BG, a company with over 20 years of experience in information technology, and the British publishing house New Statesman Media Group.

He creates themes and plugins that are published on wordpress.org and runs an online theme store, Nasio Teams.

And now we come to the questions:

Boryana Popova (Hosting Jump): Hello, Nasko! First of all, I would like to thank you for accepting our invitation and our idea to contribute to the development of the WordPress community in Bulgaria - "together we can achieve more"!

Tell us how it all began? How did you become interested in programming and WordPress in particular?

Atanas Yonkov (Nasio Themes): Hello, Boryana! Thank you very much for the invitation! I started using WordPress rather accidentally in 2016 when two other friends and I founded "The March", originally a blog that later became a platform for bloggers.

I gradually became interested in programming, initially as a mere amateur, but I quickly saw the cool and useful things you could do with technology and was fascinated by the possibilities it offered.

The first code I wrote was a macro in Excel that significantly optimized my work at the company I was working for at the time.

Eventually, I took some programming courses and enrolled at Softuni. At the same time, I started working at Webfactory, a pioneering web development company… and so my passion gradually turned from a hobby into a profession.

Atanas Yonkov

Boryana Popova (Hosting Jump): Were there any mentors, people who helped you at the beginning and for whom you still have a place in your heart?

Atanas Yonkov (Nasio Themes): Yes, definitely, one of them is Koos Schouten, the manager of Webfactory, unfortunately, he is no longer alive. He encouraged me to get into programming and allowed me to work on real projects when I had no experience in this field.

Also, the colleagues I worked with at NewStatesman Media Group - Vlastimir and Aleksandar, with whom we worked very well from the beginning and have remained friends to this day.

Boryana Popova (Hosting Jump): WordPress community shows that you like to make yourself useful and share your knowledge. But have you mentored anyone, worked more closely with anyone?

Atanas Yonkov (Nasio Themes): Yes, new colleagues came to work and I always tried to help them as much as I could. Now we mainly work with experienced freelancers and I rarely have to help, but I am happy to pass on my experience to people who are interested and willing to learn.

Boryana Popova (Hosting Jump): What was the most difficult thing you had to overcome on your journey from the beginning to today? What obstacles and challenges have you overcome?

Atanas Yonkov (Nasio Themes): In the beginning, the hardest part was figuring out how arrays work and counting from 0 (laughs). The most difficult thing for me was the decision to retrain, because I have a degree in economics and had already worked in this field, and I had to start all over again. But I am glad I did it.

Boryana Popova (Hosting Jump): Admiration for your courage, Nasko! But let's talk about Nasio Themes for a moment, shall we? What was the first theme you created?

Atanas Yonkov (Nasio Themes): That was the other, most difficult thing. The first theme I put in the WordPress repository was Nasio, but the path of this theme was very thorny.

The theme was rejected three times because I couldn't fulfill all the requirements of the reviewers (Theme Review Team).

I submitted the theme for approval in June 2019, and the theme was not published until January of the following year. I was on the verge of giving up after receiving a harsh rejection the first time (the theme goes back in the queue and waits a few months to be picked up by a reviewer), and the second time I received a long list of things to improve.

Finally, in January 2020, my theme was approved. I was just happy that it was finally live when the theme reviewer sent me an email that he had decided to suspend it because of an incorrect screenshot size.

Wrong screenshot size, can you imagine that?

A suspension is the worst punishment a theme author can receive, as it makes the theme invisible and wastes valuable time that could be spent collecting active installs.

Despite all the difficulties, I did not give up (even though I had thought about it) and eventually fixed the problem. Eventually, the theme reached 600 active installs, which is pretty good considering I had not done any marketing for it.

Atanas Yonkov

Boryana Popova (Hosting Jump): That definitely is an impressive start! So many difficulties and you didn't give up! Patience and perseverance are the basis for your success!

All the themes are your creation, you probably love them as a child, but is there one that is particularly close to your heart? Was it because of an emotional moment or for some other reason?

Atanas Yonkov (Nasio Themes): I love them all, but perhaps Nasio and Pliska the most. Nasio because it was my first theme and I later used it to create the blogs of many friends. Pliska, because I achieved my biggest success with it, 2000 active installations.

Boryana Popova (Hosting Jump): That's really impressive! Congratulations!

You have also developed a theme specifically for museums and libraries. How did you come up with the idea of creating one? Was there a specific request or did you see a free niche in the business sense? Or do you have a soft spot for such environments?

Atanas Yonkov (Nasio Themes): Very good question, my Muzeum theme was inspired by a real project I worked on, as I am the author of the design and code. I wanted to create a theme that resembles an old book for a long time and this was a favourable opportunity to do so.

Boryana Popova (Hosting Jump): It's a very nice impression that two of your themes are named after Bulgarian cities with historical significance - Preslav and Pliska? What connects you to these cities?

Atanas Yonkov (Nasio Themes): I am not personally connected with these cities, but they are the first two capitals of Bulgaria, and at the same time this fact is not so well known, so it is worth every attempt to promote them in some way, both for the Bulgarian and the foreign audience.

Boryana Popova (Hosting Jump): Even though you have "only" 6 themes, each of them is strictly profiled and targets different needs - a theme for blogs (Highstarter), a theme for online stores (Estera), a theme for museums, libraries, web journals, archives (Muzeum), a theme for digital agencies, portfolios, etc. (Preslav) and multifunctional - Pliska and Nasio.

Once created, are they refined over time - apart from what is required in terms of security and core updates? Is this more your personal opinion - something that could be added or improved?

Atanas Yonkov (Nasio Themes): Yes, I update the themes regularly when necessary. Occasionally there are fundamental changes that can affect the theme, plus every year a new PHP version comes out that needs to be tested with the theme.

It also happens that I add new features as I use my themes myself frequently and in different projects. This is the best way to make sure that your theme really works - if you put yourself in the customer's shoes.

Boryana Popova (Hosting Jump): This care is really extremely important for those who trust and use the themes! And even more beautiful and important is that you use them yourself!

They probably turn to you often when they need theme recommendations. Do beginners even know how to ask? What advice would you give a budding enthusiast when it comes to choosing a theme for a WordPress-powered online project?

Atanas Yonkov (Nasio Themes): When choosing a theme, it's important to check a few things: whether the theme has been updated recently and whether it has good reviews. If the theme hasn't been updated in years and has bad reviews, that's not a good sign.

But just because a theme is free doesn't mean it's of poor quality or that you can't do anything with it.

Every theme on WordPress.org goes through a rigorous approval process that ensures themes are of high quality and without security issues at the time of release. As long as the free theme works for you, it's no problem to keep it.

However, if you need support, help from developers, and more options, it's always better to buy the paid version. This gives you more security.

Boryana Popova for Hosting Jump: Is it difficult to write themes and plugins? What knowledge and experience is required? What is your strength to be so successful at it?

Atanas Yonkov (Nasio Themes): Writing WordPress themes and plugins requires in-depth knowledge of several technologies such as php, html, css, js and in some cases react and typescript.

You also need to understand SEO and be able to optimize the theme so that the page loads as quickly as possible.

You also need specialized skills to meet WordPress.org requirements, including the accessibility and code security requirements that every theme in the repository must meet.

It's also recommended to test and ensure compatibility with the most popular plugins such as WooCommerce, as well as different WordPress and PHP versions if you want your theme to reach the widest possible number of users.

It takes a lot of skill to create good themes, but the most important thing, as with any other endeavor, is to have perseverance, desire, and time to succeed.

The best free Wordpress themes

Boryana Popova (Hosting Jump): Surely it is important to dedicate yourself to what you do in order to develop and improve!

And is there a fashion when it comes to WordPress themes? Minimalism, maximalism, functionalities, colors, other?

Atanas Yonkov (Nasio Themes): Nowadays people say that fashion is a long-forgotten thing. This is true to a certain extent for websites, but not entirely, because new technologies are developing at breakneck speed, and in this business you have to be very interested and constantly learn new things.

This year, for example, artificial intelligence has been very popular, and many theme and plugin developers are integrating OpenAI and other AI products.

I am constantly looking at what other theme developers are doing, we learn from each other. There is a trend for free themes to offer more and more features, the competition is getting more intense.

Boryana Popova (Hosting Jump): Let us talk about artificial intelligence. You have given such talks at WordPress Meet Up Sofia and WordCamp Sofia 2023.

While some are still afraid of AI, others are already using it successfully. What are your experiences? You are also welcome to write a guest post on this topic for us :)

Atanas Yonkov (Nasio Themes): I started using ChatGPT as soon as OpenAI released it in November 2022.

Artificial intelligence is nothing new, it's been around for a long time, but it was released to the general public back then.

In my opinion, ChatGPT and other AI-based technologies are extremely useful because they can save time, effort, and money. I do not think they will replace humans in the foreseeable future, but they will make our lives easier.

Boryana Popova (Hosting Jump): Tell us about your commitment as a speaker, volunteer and organizer of WordPress events? What motivates you to invest your time? Do you have an interesting or funny story to tell?

Atanas Yonkov (Nasio Themes): I haven't missed WordCamp since 2018, it's my favorite IT conference. At this conference, I met a lot of people with the same interests, learned a lot of new things, and had a lot of fun.

I love volunteering because it's my way of giving back to the community for everything I've received thanks to it. For me, volunteering is a cause, a task that gives meaning to one's life.

I remember a funny situation at the last WordCamp where I was a speaker. Coincidentally, the speaker who had to go on stage directly after me was a colleague of mine from the New Statesman Media Group, Martin Mladenov. So it happened that a powerful group of our colleagues formed and we spontaneously organized a mini-team building.

Boryana Popova (Hosting Jump): Really a very good shot, indeed!

And how do you see WordPress developing in the coming years? Are there any threats to the platform's dominant presence?

Atanas Yonkov (Nasio Themes): It's difficult to make a concrete prediction, but I think the platform will continue to grow and become more popular.

At the same time, however, we have to be aware that we live in an extremely competitive environment, and those who are not constantly innovating risk falling out of the game. The WordPress development plan currently comprises 4 stages:

  • Easy editing (already implemented in WordPress 5.0. with the integration of the Gutenberg editor),
  • Comprehensive website editing (introduced with version 5.8 and improved in the latest versions),
  • Collaboration (the ability for multiple authors to edit simultaneously)
  • Multilingualism.

One of the main areas being worked on is improving the usability of the platform for people without programming experience. To make it more user-friendly, the Gutenberg block editor was introduced in version 5.0.

I look forward to continuing to work on simplifying and fine-tuning the editor in the future and making the entire website editable with Gutenberg. Other areas we will continue to work on are cyber security and the loading speed of the website.

Boryana Popova (Hosting Jump): Finally, what would you wish our audience? It can be in the form of a wish, a recommendation - I will rephrase my question depending on the answer.

Atanas Yonkov (Nasio Themes): My advice to the readers of the Jump blog and the customers of Hosting Jump is not to give up and chase your dreams despite all the difficulties.

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Article from Boryana Popova

Boryana loves technology and has an affinity for explaining complex things in a simple and understandable way so that they are accessible to more people. He is also interested in AI, ML, SEO, copywriting, design, etc. With his attention to detail and the power of words, Boryana likes atypical and non-standard solutions and likes to think outside the box.

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