One-on-One with WooThemes Chief of Surgery Matt Cohen: Part 1

in Interviews

One of the largest WordPress theme and plugin sites around is WooThemes. Just how big is it? We have reviewed over 100 of WooThemes’ offerings on our site and the list keeps growing day by day. The company is based in South Africa, which makes it unique in itself, and features Matt Cohen as its fearless Product Manager.

Cohen happily refers to himself as Chief of Surgery for WooThemes and works on theme development, integration, and plugin support. WooThemes has become widely known for its plugins, so we’ll talk to Cohen extensively about features like WooCommerce, WooSlider, WooDojo, and WooSidebars.

For Part 1 of our four-part interview with Cohen, we’ll dive into his background, discuss what he oversees at WooThemes, and learn how he climbed the ranks of this esteemed company. We’ll also get a unique glimpse into the developer community in South Africa.

WPHub: Thanks for joining us. Can you tell us about your background and how you got involved with WordPress and WooThemes?

matt cohenMatt Cohen: I started out managing bands and organizing and promoting events during high school, at which point I spent hours tinkering with HTML and enjoyed working with Photoshop (CSS wasn’t around at the time, by the way). I went on to study graphic design, specializing in print and web-based media, where I fell in love with coding. I found that, while I enjoy design, making things work is more my passion.

I worked as a Senior Developer for a design agency based in Cape Town, where I fell in love with WordPress and managed to get WordPress to be the standard CMS used at the agency. From there, I moved to WooThemes as one of the core developers at the headquarters in Cape Town.

WPHub: What specifically do you do at WooThemes?

Matt Cohen: I’ve built several themes and had a hand in developing, managing, and bug-fixing every theme in our catalog. I’m also the lead developer on WooDojo, WooSidebars, and WooSlider, three of our premier plugins for WordPress.

I am the Product Manager at WooThemes, or Chief of Surgery, which means I oversee all product-related developments and make sure our products work smoothly together and help uplift each other. I also ensure that our overall goals with our products are met and that we continue to push boundaries and innovate in the product space.

WPHub: How did you rise through the ranks of WooThemes? What was that process like?

Matt Cohen: I joined WooThemes, but before I joined, I had to do a project as a test to make sure that I was up to snuff. So, I built the WooTable, which is a reservations system in our dining themes. It’s a restaurant reservations system, but it can be used as a reservations system for just about anything.

I’m not sure exactly what their mindset was when they asked me to interview with them, but at the time I was blogging about something cool: how to load different style sheets for the backend editor for different posts. I then got an e-mail asking me if I was interested in interviewing. They sought me out.

The WordPress community is interesting because it’s not huge in terms of the way people perceive it. I might know 10 different WordPress developers in Cape Town, but there might be 100 here in reality. It’s not a very vocal community and so finding someone local to hire is very tough.

Obviously, I passed the test; otherwise, I wouldn’t be sitting here at WooThemes. I became one of the lead developers in the Cape Town office. We’re up to four developers now in the local office and we’re growing. The themes were the big focus at the time I first came onboard. I started developing themes, got my feet wet in that area, and gradually moved onto the WooFramework, which is powering all of the themes. I am now doing product management.

WPHub: Can you talk about the WordPress community in Cape Town? Are there lots of end users and developers?

Matt Cohen: You have big design, marketing, and social media agencies and they all love WordPress because it’s quick and easy to use. In terms of a developer community, we have WooThemes and OBox here, but it’s quiet otherwise. We have developers here who do freelance work. They do WordPress and iOS work, but there are not many people who specialize in WordPress development.

In Cape Town, we had a WordCamp conference and we were mostly talking about monetizing a website, but we didn’t talk a lot about WordPress. It’s a very new community here and I’d love to see more developers come and work here. Maybe they are hiding under a rock.


Next week, we’ll talk to Cohen about the best-selling themes WooThemes has to offer and talk about his “sexy and lazy” approach to theme design. Don’t laugh, just tune in next week for more!