The Rise of Expat Devs

These developers—mostly web developers, but a sizeable portion of enterprise developers represented—recognize their skills as being uniquely suited to the realm of remote work. They also recognize the unique possibilities present in such a massive lifestyle change, including much cheaper costs of living and ease of bootstrapping a startup. Finally, and most importantly, these Expat Devs have a yearning for adventure and are not content taking the beaten path—instead they wish to take the road less traveled. To boldly go where no Silicon Valley startup dev has gone before.

Allen Coin of DZone writes about the rise of expat developers in Asia, which includes excerpts from an interview he did with me here in Hanoi.

ThemeForest isn’t the problem.

One of my biggest regrets about publishing We’re Ruining WordPress last year is that I didn’t make it abundantly clear that my issue was with theme authors, not theme marketplaces like ThemeForest. I forgot that the WordPress community—whatever that means at this point—loves red meat, and any mention of ThemeForest would overshadow a larger point that I was trying to make. The point was simple and it still stands: theme authors are hurting WordPress due to our unprofessional approach to both business and development.

Here’s a fact. Creative Market has absolutely no review process, and yet because all of its themes are 100% GPL it’s celebrated as the go-to alternative to ThemeForest. ThemeForest has a review process in place, one that is more efficient and more streamlined than I have seen in any other marketplace, including WordPress.com. I’m not writing about quality; I’m writing about a very predictable set of expectations that theme authors can look to when submitting and launching a theme, as well as planning for the future.

I’ve slowly and quietly taken on an important role at Professional Themes lately. My title on paper is CTO (I’m still Managing Member of Press Build, as well). I handle all the tech, product direction, code review, documentation efforts, and overall game planning for what we will do when things break. I’m fully responsible when emergencies happen and I’m fully responsible for the reputation of the company’s themes.

My daily routine often involves committing code to WordPress.com, packaging new releases for Creative Market, and wondering if we will ever see a day when ThemeForest does not determine pricing for themes. I would dive headfirst into the platform if I didn’t feel like its pricing structure and payouts for theme authors, who bust our butts every single day trying to make something out of nothing, were problematic. ThemeForest is a problem in how it structures pricing, not in that it allows thousands of theme authors to make a living and provide for their families and loved ones.

If you have a problem with people providing for their families by means that don’t align with your political leanings on the GPL, then I would suggest visiting me in Vietnam for a week and seeing how humble and how difficult the lives of many of my friends who sell on ThemeForest are. $500 USD or $1000 USD per month means everything to them, and unless you are part of a solution to help them find other ways to make that money in other marketplaces, I’m not sure what to tell you.

Here’s where we are at right now:

1) WordPress.com has the highest code quality of premium themes, the largest centralized customer base, and an incredible theme team that is second to none with how it approaches doing things The WordPress Way. Many of my friends are on the theme team and I cannot tell you how proud and honored I feel to say that I once worked with them. They are talented beyond measure and do not receive nearly enough credit for their technical chops and ability to juggle multiple hats at the same time. I am convinced that if they were able to focus 100% on premium themes as a platform that they would do wonderful things. Automattic drives excellence and they always figure out how to make good stuff; it’s just a matter of focus and priority. Always has been.

2) Creative Market has absolutely no review process but it’s a darling of the WordPress community, and so that counts for something, right? It’s been promoted across WordPress.org, and so that also counts for something, right? Support channels through the platform are subpar and comments on product pages make maintaining a legit, professional presence on the platform incredibly hard. The internal support team at Creative Market is doing their best and always responds cordially when I email them an angry and frustrated email about being able to provide better support. Creative Market also has a bit of reach, but nowhere near that of ThemeForest. The fact that Creative Market allows authors to choose our own prices makes it the only viable option for those looking to expand into self-hosted marketplaces.

3) ThemeForest is absolutely killing it (and killing it), and yet because they do not allow authors to choose our own pricing and because the WordPress community takes issue with them, it’s quite problematic to leap into the platform from both a business and a sociopolitical standpoint. If ThemeForest is the problem, then so too is the fact that in the last decade there has not been one better alternative created or endorsed by WordPress.org.

And so we are at a place right now where authors want to be on WordPress.com but can’t, want to sell and succeed on Creative Market but struggle due to it not being a ThemeForest, and want to sell and succeed on ThemeForest but fear the pricing structure or the sociopolitical backlash that may happen if they dive headfirst into the platform.

We are at a place were there are many people, myself included, whose lives depend on WordPress themes and who are trying to find the best ways to be good developers, good sellers, good politicians, and good community members at the same time. It’s an incredibly difficult struggle and to begrudge all authors who choose ThemeForest as their poison of choice is misguided and elitist. The problem isn’t ThemeForest. The problem is that no one at WordPress.org ever felt that premium themes were enough of a priority to see to it that something like a ThemeForest wouldn’t happen.

I got engaged yesterday. I now have a future wife to worry about and a future child to potentially think about. Selling and developing themes is not a hobby. It’s my life. It is how I am able to provide for everyone around me. I am not the only person carrying a massive weight on his shoulders, and I feel nothing but respect and empathy for the thousands of developers trying to make a life with WordPress on ThemeForest. If you can’t see that we’re all trying to make this thing work for everyone, then I’m not sure what else to tell you.

I’m done with blaming ThemeForest for WordPress theme issues. It’s childish.

Twenty Fifteen

2014 came and went, and some important events happened along the way…

Most of that sounds like work, but the year didn’t feel like work. When I left Automattic in February I took some time off to hit the reset button and think about what it is that I want from life. Leaving a comfortable job was probably the most difficult thing I’ve had to do in the last several years and it hurt a lot, but I’m in a much better place now than where I was a year ago. I’m calmer, more relaxed, less sick, and happier.

I’ve met someone also. I spend all of my free time with her and my life has become six hours of work per day, eight hours of sleep per day, and ten hours of finding life per day. That means drinks with friends, cooking at home and exploring Hanoi with my girlfriend, watching movies and listening to music, and doing things that makes life feel enjoyable.

There wasn’t much travel this year and that’s okay. I needed to stay still for a while and to think. I needed to get back to the basics and rediscover my smile. Because I wasn’t on planes the entire year I also wasn’t sick, which was a big bonus. I have no idea what will happen next year in terms of professional changes. I have a hunch or two and some exciting news coming soon, but everything’s in flux right now and that works for me.

Next year I will move into a new apartment (bigger and cheaper) and look into building more of a daily life here in Hanoi. This feels more like home than it ever has to me and I want to be nowhere else but here. There will be more travel, to be sure, but I’m not looking to escape or run away from Hanoi. I love it here. I’ve found peace here.

Life is so very short and I’m doing everything I possibly can to live it. Sometimes the decisions I make seem random or weird, but they all come from my fear that time is running out. It’s priceless, time, and next year I imagine that I’ll be even more vigilant about protecting it and honoring it.

Onward.

(Previously: 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011)

Ownership

I’ll write and maintain (to a point of absurdity) a plugin that has less than 6,000 downloads because my sense of ownership over the project is strong. I feel attached to Subtitles because it has my name on it and I’m responsible for it. I take strong pride in taking leadership over work and especially avoid projects or codebases that have no clear direction or accountability. There’s no sadder sight than the plugin or theme that dissolves into dust due to a lack of ownership.

When you give someone ownership over their work wonderful things can happen. Midday showers will create beautiful ideas and coders won’t mind sleepless nights dreaming up solutions that they are proud of. Pride and owning one’s work are what keep me going. Having space to make mistakes without judgment or overly-controlling rules also keeps me going. Being told not to do something or being hampered down by talking about coding rather than coding are what stops me in my tracks.

In my heart I am a developer. If not more than 80% of my time is being spent on the writing of code, the closing of tickets, the squashing of bugs, and the creation of things that make others go “Wow” then I feel myself losing happiness. I just want to make stuff and help others make stuff.

I think a lot of us are like this; let us always remember how beautiful coding feels when we find ourselves with an impulse to erect guidelines, standards, procedures, or rules. Let us remember how good we felt when we had our first pull request or Trac patch accepted when newcomers come along. Let us be careful with our words and gracious with others who want to help and give us their time at no cost.

Let us not push those away who would take agency and ownership over our work. It means that we’ve done something right.