On My Relationship with Automattic, _s, and WordPress

Leaving a company never feels perfect. When I left Graph Paper Press in 2011 I was scared that my relationships with Thad and Chandra would slowly fade away. They didn’t, and we’re closer than ever before, but the fear was still there. Thad’s the best manager-slash-boss I’ve ever had, period, and Chandra’s like a brother. I’ve never felt more supported or respected at a job than I did with those guys; it was a special time and leaving it for the next Thing was hard because the experience of working with them was incredible day in and day out.

Quitting Automattic three months ago for the next Thing in my life was an easier decision on a personal level but a much, much more difficult decision on a professional, political, and social level. Would Ian or Lance hate me? Would Matt hate me? Would the Theme Division at Automattic forget me? Would my influence and impact in the WordPress theme world be hindered? Could I go back to openly but fairly criticizing Jetpack, WordPress.com, or Automattic without it being seen as sour grapes? Would I be banned from the Automattic HQ in SF? Would I still have agency to talk about the GPL or premium themes on both .org and .com?

In short, would my career with WordPress greatly suffer after leaving WordPress.com? It took me weeks to write my goodbye letter because I wanted to send the message that a) I’m leaving WordPress.com but I’m not leaving WordPress and b) I’m extremely grateful for the last several years.

It’s hard to express gratitude on one hand while also saying on the other hand that something about a relationship isn’t right anymore and it’s time to go. After a lot of time reflecting during the last several months, I’m simply convinced that there is a way to leave a company on okay terms, or there always should be a way to do it. There’s great fear in leaving a company like Automattic because it touches and influences every single corner of the WordPress universe, but I am absolutely convinced that you should be able to leave and continue not only contributing to WordPress but also make a good living from it.

I believe this so strongly that for the last three months I’ve continued contributing heavily to _s, submitting a bug report or two to Jetpack, figuring out ways to make the themes with Jetpack experience better, advising multiple current and upcoming premium theme shops on WordPress.com and .org on how best to leverage Jetpack and its features in their themes, and in general scouring over the codebases and commit logs of Automattic products because I believe in them and WordPress. For me, WordPress has always been more important than WordPress.com or Automattic; Automattic just happens to make a few products that I am fervent about making better.

This is why it was so easy to continue working on _s. I never really saw it as an Automattic project but a WordPress project that the best themers in the world work on. If you make themes for a living, you should either have created your own version of _s by now or you should help and contribute to _s, or Roots, or whatever Thing strikes your fancy. If you make money from WordPress themes, or are hired by someone who makes money from WordPress themes, it is your cross to bear to contribute in your own way to the theme world.

Last year at PressNomics Carl Hancock said that themes have become commodified. I’ve been thinking a lot about that recently, not so much about if what Carl said was correct or false, but about how we as themers can change that perception. At the end of the day a theme is an experience, for both a website owner and a website visitor. It’s your duty as a themer to tap into that experience the best way you know how, and when you feel you have valuable insight that other themers might benefit from, share it.

I believe in WordPress and _s. I also believe that Jetpack can be an amazing product. I think that WordPress.com and Automattic still have a lot to make better, both on the product side and the company side, but I believe in their mission and will continue to contribute to them in every way that I know how.

Hanoi WordPress, The April Recap

Yesterday’s meetup in Hanoi was our best one yet. Topics this month included a lively debate and discussion about selling on ThemeForest, the GPL (a topic that’s widely misunderstood throughout Asia), WordPress usability, and WordPress optimization. All of it was very engaging and the three hours we were at Hub.IT didn’t feel like three hours at all. It went by so quickly, which is always a good feeling when you’re among like-minded people.

I’m so excited for what’s ahead of us in 2014 and doubly excited that we’re in the initial stages of planning for the first ever WordCamp Hanoi. The community we’ve built here is fantastic, and the friendships I’ve made through it have been invaluable.

If you’re in Hanoi or plan to pass through, join us for the next one.

Hanoi WordPress Meetup Group

WordPress Vietnam

Twenty Fourteen will be an important year for WordPress in Vietnam. Strong efforts around localization and internationalization have recently begun at Automattic and WordPress.com, and the polyglot community around WordPress.org has for many years already been very strong. The global reach of WordPress goes far beyond English and the West.

When I began the Hanoi WordPress Meetup Group in 2012 my goal was simple and selfish: to find friends in Vietnam who also love WordPress. We started off small, with eight people coming to the first event (half who were from Japan and passing through Hanoi for a visit). A few years later and we’re now consistently drawing anywhere from 25 to 40 members to the meetups.

The number of people alone isn’t that important, but the fact that it indicates growing connectivity among WordPress users and developers within Hanoi, and by extension Vietnam, matters a lot. There’s also a thriving group of WordPressers in Saigon who have helped to grow enthusiasm around the project within the southern part of the country.

The primary goal this year will be to hold the first ever WordCamp in Vietnam, which will happen later this year in Hanoi. Tuấn Anh (my meetup co-organizer) and I have already reached out to the WordPress Foundation about WordCamp and our focus moving forward will be making sure that we do everything necessary to have the best WordCamp possible that’s geographically authentic and at the same time mindful of the spirit of the global WordPress community.

In the meantime, keep up with us at the following locations:

Site Improvements

Last week I quietly moved this site over to a new server and performed a ton of under-the-hood improvements to it:

  1. It’s now powered by WordPress Multisite and domain mapping running atop a customized LEMP stack on Ubuntu 12.04; working with nginx really is a treat after dealing with a lacking sense of site snappiness for so long
  2. It’s additionally assisted by various types of APC caching and minification (I’m personally on the W3 Total Cache side of the fence)
  3. It’s gone almost fully HTTPS[1. I'm a fan of Jetpack but it's been a pain to work with during the transition. Gravatars on post likes are causing mixed content warnings, Photon doesn't seem to like that I'm on HTTPS (I think there's a workaround for this), and an out-of-the-box Jetpack install hit my server with around 10-15 Javascript requests and 8-10 CSS requests. This may or may not be a problem under certain environments, but I found that I needed to concatenate my CSS and JS to reduce load times.], courtesy of an SSL certificate purchased through DigiCert, which has won me over with its fine customer service

The $20/month savings moving forward and newly acquired knowledge for making WordPress feel like I’m on localhost were well worth the time.

I’m Leaving Automattic Inc.

Saying goodbye is never easy. The power to delight millions of users in an instant, the inside access to some of the best people and brightest WordPress minds in the world, and a few key friendships forged there all made the decision to part ways with Automattic incredibly difficult. Not to mention the puns.

My chief goal in every pursuit is to leave a Thing better off than I found it. My favorite Thing at WordPress.com was premium themes; I stick my chest far out and head very high for the successes we all together brought to the platform and the dozens of premium WordPress theme developers around the world who we spent countless hours with empowering and educating. I loved every second of it, and to do it with the WordPress.com Theme Division was a pleasure.

But—there’s always a but!—considering where I’m at in my career and life, I think it’s best to leave on a high note, take some time to rest, and seek out another challenging and fulfilling opportunity while also making time to develop deeper relationships with the WordPress community throughout Asia.

Make no mistake about it, I’m doubling down on WordPress; you’ll next see me organizing WordCamp Hanoi in earnest and continuing to help bring WordPress into the lives of as many people as possible. WordPress has been my passion for the last decade; it’s been the single most influential part of my professional life and I don’t see that stopping any time soon. I stand strong and firm with confidence that WordPress is the future and can’t tell you how happy that makes me feel.

It’s been a thrilling few+ years, and I can’t thank Automattic enough for the time shared. I’m super-excited to see what my brilliant colleagues all come up with next; consider me one of the newest and loudest members of the Automattic fan club.

Twenty Fourteen

2013 came and went, and some important events happened along the way…

  • I mastered a response to the question “So…where are you living now?” (or a variation of it: “So…[look of confusion]…do you live here or…”)
  • My 84-year-old grandmother and I shared quality time with each other in Houston, Playa del Carmen, Tokyo, and Verona. She remains my idol in so many ways.
  • I had the pleasure of attending or speaking at several WordCamps: Seoul (April), San Francisco (July), Tokyo (September), and Nepal (October); I also very much enjoyed my trip to PressNomics 2 (October)
  • I reached the 2-year mark working with Automattic Inc. (October)
  • The WordPress.com Editorial Team came to Hanoi for a meetup, and I had the pleasure of playing guide-slash-errand-runner for a week. It felt amazing to be able to share my love of Hanoi with coworkers. (November)
  • The Vietnamese WordPress community took off, and we’re pushing hard to create translations for WordPress that any Vietnamese person can use in order to better enjoy the experience of publishing with WordPress; our plan is to hold WordCamp Hanoi in 2014.
  • My family spent its first Christmas together in over 10 years. (December)

Two years ago I wrote that my personal life — the one that revolves around health, relationships, family, and friends — needed some attention. I still find that to be true, and have made an incredibly focused effort during the last six weeks to spend more time thinking about the things in life that matter most. Things like my family and friends, my physical health, my emotional and mental makeup, and my spirituality. I’d like 2014 to be a year that I spend more of my time focused on the aforementioned.

My professional life also needs to be scaled back a bit. I’ve learned that it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things if I work 80 hours a week or 30. If my health and the joy with which I approach work suffers because of how much of myself I put into it, then why do it?

I’d like next year to be one in which I fully realize how much more important relationships are to me than clocking hours. I come from a father who valued men who put in work, who wake up every day and bust their butts to provide for their families. I learned good lessons about work ethic from him, but he didn’t tell me that giving so much of myself to a company, or work, is incredibly frustrating and unhealthy in all aspects of life. I figured it out, though.

Lots of change coming in 2014; it’ll be interesting.

(Previously: 2013, 2012, 2011)

Using WP-CLI To Create An _s-Based Theme

I’ve been playing around with WP-CLI, a tool to manage WordPress by command-line, a lot lately and one of my favorite parts of it is the things that it can do with themes.

Currently there are two well-known ways of building a theme with _s:

  1. Manual: Clone the _s GitHub repository directly into /wp-content/themes/ and go through the steps of renaming text domains, function names, DocBlocks, and prefixed handles
  2. Automatic: Go to underscores.me, enter a desired theme name and advanced options (optional), generate a theme, download the theme, unzip the theme, and put it into /wp-content/themes/

I prefer the manual approach because I’m an active contributor and committer to _s and working with Git and command-line text replacement feels natural to me. Plus, I like a bit of control.

It is tedious, though, and WP-CLI introduces a new way of kicking off an _s-based theme that molds the above two approaches into one delightful solution.

Here’s how to do it.

  1. Install WP-CLI. It’s incredibly painless.
  2. From within the WordPress install directory run the following command: wp scaffold _s theme-slug --theme_name="The PAM Theme" --author="Philip Arthur Moore" --author_uri="https://philiparthurmoore.com/"
  3. That’s it!

You’ll of course need to replace my values with yours, but otherwise that’s really all there is to it. Once you’re done with the above two steps then you can happily navigate to wp-content/themes/theme-slug and get to work.

The added benefit of this approach is all the additional goodies that come with WP-CLI. If you’re a theme builder, study the theme list and integrate it into your workflow. It’ll make common actions like switching themes and checking theme paths feel so much quicker.

WordCamp Nepal 2013 Recap

This past weekend I spoke at WordCamp Nepal 2013 about How To Become A WordPress Theme Developer. A synopsis of the talk is here, and you can find slides and links from the talk here (I suspect that I’ll want to turn this into another detailed essay for Code Poet like I did with last year’s talk, as it went over extremely well.)

Misc. Notes

  • There were around 150-160 total attendees. It’s not because of demand but because the facility, Yalamaya Kendra, could only hold this many people. It’s the same one that was used last year, and I suspect that next year the organizers will choose a location that supports more people. The demand for the event is huge and the Facebook group for WordPress in Nepal has over 1600 members now.
  • In general WiFi connections in Kathmandu seem spotty at best, even in the hotels. For any of you who come to Nepal and want to make sure that you have a backup in place for locations that do not support good WiFi, purchase an Ncell SIM card at the airport on arrival into KTM with data and use it for tethering.
  • Naoko and I have talked a lot about this with each other: the GPL is both widely misunderstood and widely unknown in Asia. I made it a point in my talk to spend several minutes on explaining how important it is for new WordPress theme and plugin developers to read up on the GPL and learn about the philosophies behind it if they want to become integral parts to the WordPress community. I honestly do not think that people who are hesitant about the GPL are wrong or bad; it’s entirely a matter of exposure and culture, and the culture around the GPL is largely a Western construct. For someone new to the WordPress community the best thing any one of us can do is to gracefully introduce the GPL as a “this is really important in the WordPress community” statement and less of a “you must do this” statement. For anyone looking to speak in Asia about WordPress, I encourage you to talk to people about the GPL and figure out what they think about it and how much they know about it.
  • I floated the idea of WordCamp Asia to some of the volunteers and organizers and they absolutely loved it. WordPress communities in Asia are becoming stronger by the day; Japan, Nepal, the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, and South Korea are all fine examples of communities that have strong growth, and from personal experience organizing the meetup group in Hanoi I can say that the sense of community and freshness in Asia is large. One of the main differences between a WordCamp in the States and a WordCamp in Asia that I notice is how familial everything is in Asia. It’s not just business that people talk about but there is a real sense of closeness among individuals in this area that goes beyond WordPress. I sense that in the States to some degree, but not anywhere near the amount I see in Asia. Communities and social gatherings in Asia around WordPress have the potential to really spur on the adoption of WordPress in the region.
  • One of my favorite parts of the event was how theme-heavy it was. There were so many talks about themes and design, and many people at WordCamp Nepal approached me to ask about all things themes. I chalk a lot of this up to how successful themes have been for business in the community, but Chandra (one of my ex-coworkers and one of our WordPress.com partners in Graph Paper Press) has been a good example of a successful themer in the region as well. Another great leader in the theme space in Nepal is Sakin of Catch Themes. Underscores gets a massive amount of attention in the region as well, which is cool.
  • I met with Surendra Shrestha, a “Certified Top Notch WP Contractor” at Codeable.io. This is a very interesting service. I believe that Surendra is the only contractor based in Nepal, and he had great things to say about the company. He focused on the the extensive interview and vetting process that contractors go through in order to become members of Codeable, and said that things have been going really well for the company. I’m excited to hear more about them, as the primary two companies that I’ve mostly paid attention to in the customization space have been Tweaky and WerkPress.
  • One thing I noticed last year and this year at WordCamp Nepal is how few women there were at the event. My unscientific view was that 99.9% of the attendees were men, with 2 women acting as MC’s. One community that has done a really good job of including women in its WordPress events is the Philippines. I think that one way for Nepal to increase the number of women at the WordCamps and WordPress meetup would be to create some topics targeted at new users and bloggers, not just developers, to even the balance of women out a bit.
  • Not many downsides to the event. The audio had a few glitches and towards the end of the day people were tired, so our panel discussion on themes was somewhat subdued, but otherwise there weren’t any major red flags at the event at all. They really do it right in Nepal.
  • Relationships and networking mean everything in Asia. I’m excited about the next year or so in Asia as far as WordPress goes.

Images

Some of these few were taken by me and some of these were taken by Sanam. There are lots more on the WordCamp Nepal website and the WordPress Nepal Facebook group. There are over 250 photos; give them a look!

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