Silvan Hagen: Getting work done isn’t the fastest way to reach the next level

Besides working for clients, WordPress developer Silvan takes one photo every day in his inspiring project 365 in 2015. Having traveled across Americas, he had also visited Surf Office Gran Canaria. It’s worth mentioning that Silvan was far from our ordinary guest — bringing his father along from Switzerland, they brought some fresh views on adventure and working away from home.


Could you introduce yourself and tell us where are you located these days?

Hi, I’m Silvan Hagen, one of four co-founders at required+, an agency focusing on user experience design and WordPress development. I’m currently back in Switzerland staying at different places week by week with friends and family because I gave up a fix home address shortly before visiting the Surf Office.

You didn’t come alone to Surf Office but took your dad along — whose idea was it?

Ever since I read about the Surf Office on Twitter, I knew I wanted to go. As a company retreat, we spent two beautiful weeks in Fuerteventura in early 2014. After that I was sold to the Canary Islands and wanted to go surfing again. I told my dad about my plans and he asked whether he could come with me. It was a perfect opportunity to spend some time together and help him out building a website for his business.

René (the dad): Actually, after Silvan told me where he wants to go and what to do, I digested this idea and found myself in charily asking him whether or not he might sustain my company for let’s say two weeks?

Is seeking the thrill something that you share in your family?

I wouldn’t say that we are a rather thrill-seeking family, but it probably depends on the area in life we are talking about. My parents built large parts of their house by themselves and my dad even designed the house without having an architecture degree. My younger brother went on multiple longer bike tours for example.

I had my fair share of sport accidents because I tried to go over my personal limits when snowboarding and biking, yet it took me a few years to finally commit myself to self-employment or leaving stuff like my apartment behind. You see, we might be a bit thrill-seeking, but not in all areas of life.

René: Considering my age of almost 62 I must admit I’d been indeed a thrill-seeking rambler in my early years, but nowadays I look for rather relaxing opportunities. So, while in Las Palmas, I usually spent the morning working on my own website, side-by-side at the table with Silvan, and while he continued working in the afternoon and sometimes went surfing, I enjoyed the beach sunbathing and reading.

Do you consider yourself a bit adventurous?

Probably yes. We try new things and try them differently than other people. There is always some form of adventure going on no matter what form this might be. This year I’ll take two months off from work to travel from Prague to Mongolia with a Fiat Panda for example.

René: The „big“ adventure Silvan and I had was when we chose to rent a car, cross the island north to south and back on sometimes very, very narrow paths thanks to Google maps’ fastest way feature. Well, in the end I’m not too much adventurous, but I like to see new places.

I had the chance to travel across the USA for business on about 35 trips over the last couple of years, so I’m quite familiar with that country. An adventurous and probably also thrill-seeking project we will start in spring is the conversion of our home’s lawn garden into a permaculture self-supplying environment that includes part of the building as well.

And how does your dad look at his stay in Surf Office after some time — would he repeat this experience?

Anytime, he speaks of it from time to time and there are some inside jokes that formed out of the beautiful memories from our stay at the Surf Office.

René: Definitely yes, I would repeat this experience at anytime.

This year you started an interesting personal project — 365 in 2015. Where did the idea come from and what have you learnt from the project so far?

After traveling back from 35°C in Buenos Aires to -5°C in Zurich in December, I had a hard time to be back at first. I really was in a bad place for quite some time and felt depressed, additionally I had too much work to do as well. Eventually I was looking for something to give me some structure so I’ll have to do it every day and it had to be something that I can look back on to see the result. Still it had to be a hobby and not something competitive so I started this project and my personal blog.

Sometimes I can be a perfectionist and so far I had a few days when I needed to publish a picture I am not totally happy with. This feeling was odd at first, but it makes me try to focus more on creating and it really takes my time to go after a shoot.

What camera (and accessories) do you shoot with?

I am still quite new to photography but I really enjoy it. My setup that I carry with me almost all the time now is the Fujifilm Finepix X-E2 body with the Fujifilm Fujinon XF 35mm f/1.4 R lens. My business partner Karin and my friend Boris Baldinger both recommended this setup to me and I fell in love with it. Because I started to shoot at night, I recently got the Manfrotto befree aluminium tripod to help me out. It’s so small I can carry it in my casual backpack together with my entire office.

To be ready for my biggest adventure this year, I recently got the new GoPro Hero4 black so I can film some outdoor stuff and take time-lapse images. When everything else fails I still take pictures with my LG Nexus 5 from time to time.

What was the most interesting place you’ve photographed so far?

The most interesting place I’ve had the pleasure to capture so far was probably the Sacred Valley of the Incas where we went to on a day trip from Cusco. Here are a few impressions:

How much time did you spent traveling in South America? What was the most remarkable moment from this trip?

Dave and I went for a total of almost eight weeks because my grandma was sick and I promised her to be back for Christmas dinner. Most of the time we spent exploring Peru where we met with my business partner Karin and her boyfriend.

I am a bit undecided whether the vibe at Machu Picchu or the sunsets in Chicama were the most remarkable moments from this trip.

A tip for Machu Picchu, stay in Aguas Calientes for the night and go visit the site in the afternoon when most tourists are already on their descent back down.

From a digital nomad’s point of view, what are the places in South America we shouldn’t miss?

While Peru is fantastic from a traveler’s perspective, you will be cursing the Internet speed all the time, trust me on this. So in case you need a fast and stable Internet connection to get your work done, consider getting at least one data SIM card from claro in Peru. While I missed surfing the waves in Buenos Aires, I fell in love with this mega city. There are so many beautiful spots and places with great coffee, fast WiFi and so much more. Make sure to check out the Palermo district — it’s full of life all the time.

As you’re also a surfer, where in the world have you surfed?

In 2006 I had the pleasure to take my first course at a small spot in Vieux Boucau in the southwest of France. I tried my best to catch a wave in Sylt, Germany on a rough day with a couple of friends in 2007. Sadly I lost touch with surfing afterwards until 2014 when we had the company retreat in Fuerteventura and of course the reason for this interview, my stay at the Surf Office in August 2014.

During the time in South America, I had a chance to surf the longest left in Chicama close to Trujillo and waves that scared me at first in Huanchaco, both in Peru. My favourite spot so far is definitely Chicama, it’s such a beautiful and impressive spot.

5 things you won’t travel without?

  • My camera
  • eBook reader
  • Power plug world adapter
  • My MacBook Pro
  • Decent headphones

What are your travel plans for 2015? Will you be traveling alone or with someone else?

The first half of the year I’ll mostly stay in Europe because the planning and preparing for Mongol Rally requires my physical appearance in Switzerland from time to time. Besides going to Norway for a couple weeks, traveling until July will be in a form of a week or weekend trips to conferences, mostly WordCamps in Europe.

Once Mongol Rally starts, I’ll be taking time off from work for at least two months. This will be a first in a couple of years. By the time I come back from Mongol Rally it’s almost time for WordCamp Switzerland 2015 in Zurich, which I help organising. And after that, we’ll see. Most of the trips this year will be accompanied by either friends or co-workers.

As you’re in Zurich now, can you give us some local tips?

There are countless places to visit in Zurich and the city offers a vivid nightlife too. Here are some of my favourite spots for different occasions:

  • My favourite coffee in town — Café Noir
  • Best burgers in town — The Bite
  • Co-Working and event space — Colab Zürich
  • Amazing cocktails and gin selection — Dante

I read somewhere that you don’t believe that too many plugins could be bad for a WordPress website (providing they are of high quality). What are your most favourite WP plugins?

This is true, it almost doesn’t matter how many plugins you have installed on your WordPress site, it’s the quality that makes the difference. So if you ever wondered what plugins are causing your site to be slow, take a look at the P3 Plugin Performance Profiler. Instead of using the service Akismet, all my clients rely on the fantastic Antispam Bee to keep spammers out.

To let people build and use forms on their site, I usually end up installing a license of GravityForms.

Let’s say you need to handle additional fields for a given content type, choose Custom Meta Boxes to get the task done. We recently published WP Team List in the official WordPress plugin repository. Clients with a large editor team use it to group and display their team on the site.

How have your life changed since you started the journey of a digital nomad last summer in Gran Canaria?

At first it was an odd feeling of having no permanent home, but after a few months it simply went away and I started to trust life to point me to the next adventure I’d enjoy. In general, traveling has broadened my horizon and having bad Internet connection from time to time gave me the chance to practice my patience. Some days it’s easier than others.

Thanks to my business partner Karin I learned that sometimes getting work done isn’t the fastest way to reach the next level, but getting inspired by your surroundings is and I am grateful for this.

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