2016

Every major change in my life has been filled with grey areas that usually fall between opposing feelings of resentment and appreciation, anger and acceptance, bitterness and nostalgia.

I hated Rice University for its lack of diversity, rich kids get drunk to have fun culture, and for how isolated I felt. But without it I would have never met two of my best friends or studied abroad in Vietnam twice, eventually making it home. I needed the bad to get me to the better.

Sometimes I struggle with anger and bitterness over investing so much of my energy into Automattic when I had that kind of energy to give, but without those several years I would have never reached this position in the WordPress community or gained the confidence to build from scratch again. I also know that I would have never met another best friend for life and seen other interesting parts of the world. I needed the company to teach me how to sharpen my craft but also teach me how much I needed to slow down and gain balance. Given the chance, I would never work there again, not even for a second, but I would in a heartbeat tell others to join the company because inside of it are incredible individuals. It’s a remarkable experience.

Examples are endless. I regret my relationship with my father but after his death I have been filled with nostalgia for days in Kilgore, Texas, with him, eating white bread and ham and macaroni and cheese and candied yams and buttermilk pie and collard greens.

And I feel guilt for investing the last twelve years of my life so much into Vietnam when America has moved on without me. Nephews are becoming taller, my grandmother and mother are getting older, and society “back home” is becoming hardly recognizable. But everyone in my family from top to bottom supports me and I need to be here, most of the time anyway, for inner okayness.

Most things are grey and there are mostly no absolutes. I am learning that black and white, 0 and 1, yes and no, hate and love are awfully simple ways of understanding the world around us. Mostly everything is nuanced. Twenty fifteen taught me that.

Almost Goodbye WordPress

WordPress is no longer at the center of my life. Those days are over. I work with it every day and actively contribute to Core, I still run a growing business that heavily uses WordPress in our tech stack, I still ship themes to WordPress.com and love working with Automattic, I still do my best to keep _s stable and maintained, I still organize meetups in Hanoi and am mulling over what a WordCamp Hanoi 2016 might look like, and I still write plugins and educate. I haven’t stopped working with WordPress, but it’s no longer the first thing or the last thing I think about every day before I go to sleep.

I’ve given a lot of myself to the software, still do. Since 2003 I’ve given thousands upon thousands upon thousands of hours to WordPress, so it feels weird that I don’t care about it the way I used to. I used to argue for weeks about why I thought Infinite Scroll was bad. I used to write long essays about why the direction that every theme marketplace, including WordPress.com, is taking is upsetting. I used to fight with colleagues about what saying openness means and what really being open means. I used to care so much that people knew I was one of the best theme makers and theme reviewers in the world. WordPress was so deeply ingrained into my identity. I felt that without Automattic and WordPress I wasn’t really anyone.

And then I quit Automattic, did a very hard reset on my life, stopped traveling so much, met a girl, fell in love with her, got married, and took the blinders off. It’s the best thing that could have ever happened to my life in 2014 and not caring about WordPress or its community, or its drama, the way I used to has made me better at coding it.

I give 8 or so hours a day, probably much less, to thinking about WordPress now. It’s been replaced by arguments with my wife about naming our new cat or mulling over what to cook for dinner, or building out strategy for our new clothing store, or trying to find land to buy. WordPress is just something I do now; last year it stopped being who I am and I’m much better off because of it.

I’m an American expat who speaks Vietnamese. I love music. I have an amazing wife and we own a clothing brand. I’m a full stack developer. I’m not bad at design. I can’t dance but I do anyway. I have bad problems with anxiety and panic but everyone in my life seems to love me even more for it. My stomach is weak so I cancel plans often but friends still love me and understand me. I’m an interesting person who doesn’t really need WordPress to be interesting anymore, and it feels so incredibly liberating. It’s just a thing I do well, it’s not really who I care about being anymore.

Twenty Fifteen was when WordPress stopped being my future and started becoming my past. My life with it won’t stop. I’ll continue working with it. But it’s just not the solution to every single problem I’ll run up against in the next future.

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(Previously: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011)

On Coworking Spaces In Vietnam

I did a fun interview with VTC10 that’s just been released. It’s on coworking spaces in Vietnam and it took place at ClickSpace, one of the better spaces for thinking and working for digital nomads in Hanoi. Thanks to Jason Lusk of ClickSpace fame for introducing me to VTC10 and helping set up the interview. He’s doing great things in the city. If you find yourself in Hanoi looking for a place to work check out ClickSpace.

The New Stratechery

Work for Automattic. Meet a coworker named Ben Thompson at a San Francisco company meetup and bond over our American expat lives in Asia. Quit Automattic. He leaves too. Remain friends and chat via LINE. Go into debt over the amount of Japanese emoticons purchased in the LINE store. Help Ben refactor and relaunch Stratechery to earn more money for more LINE stickers.

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If you’re into tech news you’ll want to subscribe to Stratechery. Ben’s writing is thorough, and something I take time to read every day.

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.