#116 – Jonathan Desrosiers on the Challenges and Rewards of Contributing to WordPress

Transcript

[00:00:00] Nathan Wrigley: Welcome to the Jukebox podcast from WP Tavern. My name is Nathan Wrigley.

Jukebox is a podcast, which is dedicated to all things WordPress. The people, the events, the plugins, the blocks, the themes, and in this case, the challenges and rewards of contributing to WordPress.

If you’d like to subscribe to the podcast, you can do that by searching for WP Tavern in your podcast player of choice, or by going to WPTavern.com forward slash feed forward slash podcast. And you can copy that URL into most podcasts players.

If you have a topic that you’d like us to feature on the podcast, I’m keen to hear from you and hopefully get you all your idea featured on the show. Head to WPTavern.com forward slash contact forward slash jukebox. And use the form there.

So on the podcast today we have Jonathan Desrosiers. Jonathan has been a contributor to WordPress core for many years, and a WordPress core committer since 2018. He currently maintains over a dozen core components. As a leader in the community, he advocates for new contributors through mentorship and active leadership. Jonathan currently works as a senior software engineer at Bluehost, where he is sponsored full-time to contribute to WordPress core through the five for the future program.

We talk about the challenges that come with contributing to such a large and multifaceted project. From the intricate process of decision-making, involving many stakeholders, to the occasional moments of feeling demoralized when contributions seemed like a dropping the ocean.

We discuss the importance of regular contributions, the challenges of implementing an accreditation system for contributors, and the role of privilege in the ability to contribute and showcase your work publicly.

Amongst the technical talk, including the future of collaborative editing, and the need for adaptability, we also get into the human side of WordPress. From the ways in which individuals can get involved without coding, such as teaching, video processing, event organizing, and documentation, to the personal satisfaction Jonathan finds in his work.

Towards the end, we chat about the sustainability of the open source ecosystem, emphasizing the critical role businesses need to play, and the potential risks when key contributors step back. But, as you’ll hear, Jonathan is confident about the future of WordPress, mentioning exciting development features on the horizon, like the new admin interface.

If you’re curious about how you can contribute, what that looks like, and where it can take you, this episode is for you.

If you’re interested in finding out more, you can find all of the links in the show notes by heading to WPTavern.com forward slash podcast, where you’ll find all the other episodes as well.

A quick note, before we begin. This was recorded live at WordCamp Asia. There was quite a lot of background noise to contend with, and I’ve done my best to make the audio as easy to listen to as possible.

And so without further delay, I bring you, Jonathan Desrosiers.

I am joined on the podcast today by Jonathan Desrosiers. Hi, Jonathan.

[00:03:39] Jonathan Desrosiers: Hi. How are you Nathan?

[00:03:40] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, really, really good. We are at WordCamp Asia. Jonathan, you gave a talk this morning.

[00:03:45] Jonathan Desrosiers: I did. This afternoon right after lunch.

[00:03:47] Nathan Wrigley: Okay. How did it go?

[00:03:48] Jonathan Desrosiers: It went really well.

[00:03:49] Nathan Wrigley: What was it about?

[00:03:50] Jonathan Desrosiers: So I do a lot of the work around, we call it invisible work, around administration and things around the project, to make sure things continue to go smoothly and get released, and all of those things. And one of those things that I work on a lot is attribution for our contributors, and our community members. And mostly focused on the versions of WordPress and release to release, making sure the right people are listed on the credits page, and get the credit that they deserve. And so this was about why it’s extremely difficult. There’s lots of variables to consider when, you know, trying to be accurate in those representations.

[00:04:23] Nathan Wrigley: Okay. And it was well received. You’re happy?

[00:04:25] Jonathan Desrosiers: It was, yes. Very well.

[00:04:26] Nathan Wrigley: Nice. We’re going to talk a little bit about contributing to the WordPress project. And that, I know, is something that you’ve got a long history doing. Do you want to just tell us a little bit about your history with WordPress, and all the different bits and pieces? I know there’s too much to say, but we’ll paraphrase. What have you been doing with WordPress since you started using it.

[00:04:43] Jonathan Desrosiers: Yeah, I discovered WordPress in probably like 2007 or 8. And I was in college building little sites for family members and friends. And that turned into, when I graduated I, you know, started building websites for small agencies, and moved into university education, and built websites for them through WordPress.

And in 2018 I was hired by Bluehost as part of their Five for the Future initiative, to give back 5% of our resources, which is, if you are unfamiliar, encourage you to read about that. It’s a challenge from Matt Mullenweg to contribute 5% of your resources, to ensure we don’t have a tragedy of the commons situation, where we take too much from the project, and we don’t replenish what we use to make sure it’s better for the next people that come after us.

Week to week I work, I’m a core committer as well, so committing changes to the code base. Making sure things are tested and we’re not missing something that could be problematic in the release.

[00:05:35] Nathan Wrigley: And you are full-time.

[00:05:37] Jonathan Desrosiers: I am, yes. I’m a full-time sponsored contributor.

[00:05:40] Nathan Wrigley: How unusual is that in your, I mean, obviously for you it’s your day-to-day, this is quite normal. But, how unusual is it to have somebody able to donate 100% of their time, working hours, over to the WordPress project?

[00:05:52] Jonathan Desrosiers: It’s fairly unusual, that it’s not unicorns, but it’s very sporadic. You know, it’s not uncommon for someone to be sponsored 80% or 50%, you know, work on applying some initiatives to both WordPress, and internally to products.

So it’s not unheard of, but it’s definitely hard to come by, and I’m definitely very fortunate to have had the stars align when I saw the job posting go up for this, so yes.

[00:06:16] Nathan Wrigley: So Bluehost, I’m guessing from what you’ve just said, they are committed to Five for the Future, and the intention there is to give 5% of, I’m just going to use the word resources, lets call it that. 5% of the resources available, and you are a part of that. You fall under that 5%, right?

[00:06:33] Jonathan Desrosiers: Yes, absolutely. And that’s, you know, through our global sponsorship, our presence at events to help the community, volunteering at events, contributing to core and the project itself, and many other things that we get involved with over the days and weeks.

[00:06:47] Nathan Wrigley: I’m guessing that most of the contributions to WordPress, are not done from the perspective of somebody who is paid to do it. I’m imagining the vast majority of contributions across the whole project, you know. So we could be talking about events, we could be talking about the code base. There’s all sorts of things that we could be talking about. But I’m guessing it’s done largely by volunteers, because that’s the nature of open source software.

Is that sustainable? Do you think that people’s value in the year 2024, do you think that people are valuing open source, contributing software, in the way that they did maybe at the dawn of the internet, you know, 25 odd years ago?

[00:07:23] Jonathan Desrosiers: I think that people do value it, they just don’t know it, in some cases. And we definitely need people to be more aware of how our businesses are powered and that the burden of maintaining these tools and libraries.

The Five for the Future program is, 5% is the goal, but it’s definitely, we should be doing more, and we could. Especially businesses that WordPress is where they play, where they set up in their ecosystem.

And so, is it sustainable? You know, we will always need some extra help, and I think that we’ll never refuse extra help anywhere we can get it. It’s going to ebb and flow as well, right? We might need more at certain times. And in the community, we’ve needed more help recently, when trying to revitalise our events after Covid, and all of that nonsense that we had to deal with.

And so it ebbs and flows, and the areas change where we need more attention than others. And I hope that people do value it as much as they say, and at least show it through their actions and giving back.

[00:08:17] Nathan Wrigley: Let’s just talk about the code base for a bit. WordPress is changing all the time. Month by month, we’ve got new releases. We’re currently 6.5, thereabouts. And it’s constantly being updated. So that tells me that the work is being done. There are people that are doing that, and you are obviously part of that.

Are there enough people? Is it sustainable from that point of view? Do we have aspirations that the software would be better than it is, and we’re always stifled by the amount of time that people can put into it, and resources and what have you?

[00:08:46] Jonathan Desrosiers: Yeah I mean, if we had more people, we could always go through more issues, and more features, right? But it’s definitely a delicate balance because, if we had a release with 500 features, our users won’t be able to keep up. And so we have to strike that balance. And, you know, we challenge that sometimes, where we put more into some releases than others. Maybe one release will be more bug focused, and polish refinement we’ll call it.

Do we need more? Yes. We could always use more. We’ll never say no. But it’s always a balance with our users. We can’t release too quickly, not often enough. We’ve found that balance is pretty good at three releases a year.

It helps ensure that we have enough contributors to get what needs to get done, release to release. The features can, so-called, bake enough to be ready. We’ll have a good number of major features, and minor features available in that timeframe. That’s the balance that we’ve found works well for us right now.

[00:09:39] Nathan Wrigley: Is it usually the same people that are doing this work? So for example, if we were to go back, I don’t know, let’s say a year, or project a year into the future. Obviously you are going to be part of that makeup. Does it tend to be the same faces showing up? And I wonder if that could be kind of an Achilles heel in a way. You know, because if one of those people decided to move away from the project, they had other things that they wanted to do in their life, all of a sudden, if those familiar faces disappear, we might have a bit of a weakness. Gaps start to appear in the roster of who’s going to do what. So is that a problem?

[00:10:11] Jonathan Desrosiers: I think that that’s always been a problem, right? We never want to see our all stars move on to other things, but it’s life and that happens. And I think if you go back all the way to the project, there’s people that built major parts of WordPress, that are still in it today, that have moved on. And largely we’ve survived and grown and continued.

I’d say that there’s probably a good percentage of people that are consistent, but there’s also a good percentage of people that are new, and willing to try new things, and help take on more responsibility.

[00:10:41] Nathan Wrigley: Oh, that’s interesting. So there is always fresh blood, if you like, coming in. And you’ve noticed that, have you? It’s not like, you know, in one given year it sort of dries up, because I had an intuition that may be around the pandemic, it maybe lost a little bit of its luster, and the involvement in the community sort of ebbed a little bit. But it’s coming back, is it? And there’s always a pipeline of new people coming in, is there? That’s nice.

[00:11:03] Jonathan Desrosiers: Yeah. I think that there definitely was a good amount of computer burnout that happened. You know, we were all FaceTiming with our relatives and stuff, and work as well, and our coworkers. Friends at work, we were also zooming with. But things like the contributor mentorship program that’s being done, where we will take applications for people that need to know, just guidance, how to get started contributing, and how to be effective and efficient at contributing, in areas that we need them to.

They sign up, and we have mentors. People like me that will match up with them. And over the course of a month or so, we’ll onboard them, help them with learning on Learn WP, different things. And help them actually get involved, and get their feet wet contributing, so that hopefully we can start to replenish some of that, up and coming new blood as you say, to replace anybody that may need to move on.

[00:11:53] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, it really does feel like the project is taking that onboarding process, and the learning process, much more seriously, well, just in the last 12 months. So the idea of the mentor program, where somebody like you can guide somebody and give, presumably it would be adjacent to core committing or something.

You would take somebody who’s new to the project, and you’d show them the ropes, if you like. Explain where to find things, explain how the process is done. That’s a fabulous initiative. And also, like you say, lots of energy and time being put into the Learn materials.

So I’m guessing that somebody somewhere, at some point over the last two years or so, identified this as a problem. You know, we to encourage these people. But if they don’t feel supported when they come in, it’s pretty likely that, you know, you’ll lose people who would’ve stuck around. So that’s been great I think.

[00:12:41] Jonathan Desrosiers: As full-time people, we recognise that it’s, whether it’s when we take time off and we come back, or we change focus for a week or two, and then come back to something. WordPress is quite large, and there’s a lot of moving parts, and there’s a significant velocity there. And so it’s kind of like jumping into a moving train, right?

And so at times I have a hard time keeping up on certain areas of the project, and I rely on updates and summaries from various teams to catch me up. You know, it’s always important to keep that in mind when you’re working with people that have two hours a week, four hours a week, an hour a month that they contribute.

We think about how can we download that information for what we know, from being so involved in an easier way, to make it more accessible to people that have less time, but still want to help and participate.

[00:13:28] Nathan Wrigley: So this question isn’t necessarily related to the topic at hand, but I’m kind of interested what your thoughts are on this. We have over the last, well, really since WordPress began, the user base. The number of installs has just gone up, and up, and up. And we have this percentage figure now which we’ve reached, which is roughly 43% of all the web. Let’s call it that. I know that there’s nuance there.

But 43% of the web is powered by WordPress. I mean, that’s just an astronomical figure. And I don’t think 10 years ago anybody would’ve guessed that that would be what would be achieved. But that’s where we are. Does it matter to you that that number, either, let’s say it flattens out and it never goes beyond 43, or if it goes down and we’re back into the high thirties, or if it goes up and we’re into the fifties. Does any of that matter to you? Are you in this project because it’s popular, or do you just enjoy being part of it, regardless of all those incredible numbers?

[00:14:21] Jonathan Desrosiers: Yeah I think, you know, obviously from a professional standpoint, I want it to grow and do good, because the company that I work for is a very firm stance in WordPress. We provide WordPress hosting, and that’s kind of our bread and butter.

I think that, personally, I do it because I enjoy it. I like problem solving these really difficult problems at scale, and it’s always very fascinating to have to tackle these. I think that, to me the number itself doesn’t matter, but the number is a signal to observe and learn from, right? So if we plateau, is it something going on around us? Like, is AI having this impact in some way? Where people are considering a blog, or a CMS website, less than they would’ve in the past.

You know, we saw a little bit of influx in covid, and everybody was rushing to make a website. And so, now is there a lull, because people made their websites already, and there’s less people that would’ve spread out over time, that did a gold rush right at that time.

It can tell us a lot about our society. It could tell us a lot about trends, business trends, economic trends. And we kind of just need to take that number in stride, and figure out why we’re plateauing, or why we’re growing, and understand that a little bit better, and help it influence our decisions.

[00:15:34] Nathan Wrigley: Given the work that you do, and the communities, the Slack channels that you are in, and the GitHub issues that you are tracking and all of that, do you have a sense that contributing is still a popular thing to do? Or in the years that you’ve been doing it, has it been a bit of a struggle? I mean, we were talking about onboarding people, and all that kind of stuff. What’s your sort of gut feeling?

From the outside, I don’t commit in the same way that you do. I don’t really know. I see more and more articles coming up in the WordPress press, about whether the community is dissatisfied. There was something in Search Engine Journal just the other day, saying that, there was growing dissatisfaction amongst the WordPress users. I don’t really sense that, but I wonder if you did.

[00:16:13] Jonathan Desrosiers: I think there’s a level of that. I think that it’s hard to tell the whole story in one survey, right? And we kind of need to step back, and look at the answers objectively, and try to figure out why people are answering the way they are.

From a contributing standpoint, it’s really hard sometimes to see that you’re having an impact in your contributing, right? It used to be with a much smaller code base, it was much easier to put something in that you could see, visually that it’s there. Oh, it’s there, it’s doing what I trained it to do, and coded it to do.

And so in the project with many more moving parts, sometimes it’s not as obvious, or it takes longer to get something in, because there’s more things to test, that’s more intricate. We have a lot more different types of sites at scale. We have 43% of the web now, instead of 5 or 10. And we have NASA and the White House using it.

And so these are all things as committers we have to think about is like, how could this one line change, how could this negatively impact someone, and what are the bad things that this could cause?

And so sometimes, if you have an hour a week, or two hours a week, that can be really frustrating because your ticket might sit there for six months. And it’s not because we want to ignore it, it’s just that either, a, it’s not really fully aligned with our goals, and our project priorities at that time. Doesn’t mean it’s not important, it’s just we have a limited amount of resources, even the full-time people. And we have to have a percentage of our focus on these lighthouses that we’re heading towards.

And so, I guess all that to say that there is some dissatisfaction, but there’s always the opposite side as well. I always tell people, when I look at a product reviews, oh, this only has 4 stars or 3 stars, right? But you always have to keep in the back of your head that people that have a negative experience are also more vocal, right? They’re more likely to go and provide feedback because they’re aggravated, they’re mad at what they experienced.

And so, is that also a thing here? Where we’re not really getting all the positive stories, because the negative people are just a little bit more vocal? All stuff that I think about, but I think that there’s always frustrations. There’s always good stories in the community, but it’s just because we’re so complicated. And there’s so many moving parts that we shouldn’t ignore any of those stories, but we should take it with a grain of salt, and consider what it means, and what’s behind it as we evaluate that.

[00:18:26] Nathan Wrigley: It would be nice to be able to say that every moment that you contributed to the project, whether that’s code or whatever, was fantastic, you know? It was really exciting. It was always great. You got fabulous feedback. Everything was executed perfectly. But I’m sure it must be, on some level, sometimes a demoralising process.

Like you said, you put a ticket in and nobody looks at it seemingly for six months. Or you are just in the weeds with code, and you can’t figure out what you’ve got to do. Do you have those moments where it can be, and I know it’s your job so it’s slightly different, but do you have those moments where it can be quite a demoralising experience?

[00:18:58] Jonathan Desrosiers: Sometimes. I mean, you know, it’s a job, but it’s still something that I pour in a lot of time and effort, and I do care a lot about the project. I think that you’re never going to make everybody happy too, and that’s something that we always know in the back of our mind.

This week we had to make a decision about how to move forward with the fonts library feature. Where do we put our fonts? And so, on one side, we want to establish fonts and patterns as these first class objects and concepts in WordPress. But then a lot of hosting infrastructure doesn’t actually support putting it in the place that we wanted to put them right in the wp-content folder.

And so we kind of had to come up with a compromise there. Everybody’s not going to be happy, and we have to decide on what’s best for our users, the majority of people. And yeah, sometimes it stinks to see negative feedback, but we just have to know that we’re trying to do our best with the information we have, the data that we have available to make an objective decision, and move forward.

[00:19:51] Nathan Wrigley: What’s the hierarchy of the decision making process? You mentioned there about the font library and, you know, some people will have said one thing, other people will have said another. Who gets to suggest things, and who gets to make the final decision about whether this is a go or a no go? I think it’d be kind of interesting for the listeners to have some insight into what’s going on in the background, to make the decisions that push the project on.

[00:20:11] Jonathan Desrosiers: Yeah, I mean, anybody can make a suggestion. Anybody can open a pull request with an idea or a feature. The committers or the maintainers are always the people that will look at all the information and make the final call. And ultimately they’re responsible for the things that they merge, is essentially what it comes down to.

If there’s reasonable disagreement between them and it can’t get resolved, whomever the release leads are for, every release has a core tech lead and core editor lead. And so usually they will be a decider for the best way forward in those areas.

And then when there’s a stalemate like this, it goes up to either the release lead, or Josepha will come and talk to some people that are on each side and, you know, the leaders in the areas, and determine what’s the best compromise, and what’s the best way to go forward with our users’ best interests in mind.

[00:20:58] Nathan Wrigley: And where do you spend your time doing this work? I mean obviously, in your case there’s a laptop involved, I’m sure, or some machine. Are you doing all of this via Slack? How’s all of that communication going on?

[00:21:09] Jonathan Desrosiers: Yeah, a lot of my time spent in Slack, but also a lot of time is in Trac or GitHub. You know, working in public is so important, and so, as much as possible you should be in shared channels, or in GitHub tickets and issues, pull requests. Because, like you said, like people come and go, and that’s just a part of life and business and work.

And it’s important that we leave that history for others that come after us, to be able to follow along. Because in 10 years, this font library decision, people will be saying like, well, why do we do this this way, right? And it’s important that it’s publicly documented, because then we have like a breadcrumb trail that people can learn from, and get into our minds today to know what we were thinking and why.

[00:21:48] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, nice. Your contribution is code. You write code, and you help with code, and GitHub, and all of that, and Trac. But there’s more to the bigger project, the WordPress project in general. So do you just want to spell out for the listeners, the kind of things that you could do? Obviously, if you’re in to code, that’s fine. We know that you can do that. What are some of the other areas that people contribute?

[00:22:07] Jonathan Desrosiers: Yeah. You know, if you’re a teacher or a trainer, we have Learn WordPress, which is a site where we have educational resources, whether it’s course outlines for you to use at a meet up or an event, to teach people how to use WordPress.

We have wordpress.tv, so if you are good with audio, video, you can review and process WordCamp videos. So like all the WordCamp videos from here will be available to everyone in the world, eventually. You can run events in your local communities. You can contribute documentation, whether that’s user or developer documentation. Going to make.wordpress.org, there’s a full list of all the teams that you can contribute to.

[00:22:44] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, there’s lots, and lots, and lots.

[00:22:47] Jonathan Desrosiers: We’re over 20 now I think.

[00:22:48] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah. I mean essentially, it genuinely, there’s literally a role for everybody. If you rock up I think you’d struggle to find an individual that couldn’t fit into one.

[00:22:56] Jonathan Desrosiers: Even if you like taking photos, can be on the photo and the photo directory.

[00:23:00] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, there’s so many different paths that you can go through. What do you get out of it? I know the job, but do you get a sort of sense of satisfaction doing this? Is there some part of you which just thinks this is good for humanity? You know, I’m involved in an open source thing, gives you the warm, fuzzy feeling that you’re doing something beneficial to the world, providing free software. Yeah, what do you, Jonathan, get out of it?

[00:23:19] Jonathan Desrosiers: You know, I always like puzzles and challenges like that, and trying to figure out how to fix things. I’ve always repaired computers since I was young and all that. And so these are just more interesting problems to learn from and tackle, especially at the scale that we’re at.

And I also think that, some of the smartest people in the industry, you know, WordPress is so big, they gravitate towards it because these are such interesting problems. And so the people I meet, the people I learn from, the people I interact with all the time, I step back sometimes, I’m like, oh, this is really cool. You know, I’m learning from some of the smartest people out there.

And throughout the community, in all the different areas, we have so many brilliant people that are great people, and they’re willing to teach you, and you can learn so much from them.

[00:24:01] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah. It sounds like pride might be a good word. There’s sort of sense of pride in it. You get some badges as well.

[00:24:06] Jonathan Desrosiers: Yeah, and you know, sometimes I’ll go to a website and it’s, oh, it’s a WordPress website, you know. I help that person make a living, or I help that person have a business. You know, especially when it’s like mom and pop stuff, or my son’s school is a WordPress site. I’m like, oh, that’s really cool. You know, my work goes into them being able to have a website, and all those different things.

[00:24:25] Nathan Wrigley: We know that, in your case, Bluehost is funding you. And so thank you to Bluehost for that, that’s fabulous. But, do you know of any other ways that you can explore? If you literally can’t commit the time, because you are entirely busy, are there ways that you could seek funding, ways that you could be remunerated, maybe sponsored by a company? Let’s just go into that a little bit.

[00:24:47] Jonathan Desrosiers: Sure, yeah. You can sponsor yourself. So one good way of doing that is, maybe you have a plugin that you build for a client, and you think it could be useful to other people. It’s not directly contributing to the project itself, but you’re contributing to the ecosystem if you open source that.

And there’s pros and cons of that, right? Because then you’re responsible to maintain it, or at least have to be transparent about what level of maintaining you’ll do. But you never know who could find that useful. And I know when I was at Boston University, we had a navigation plugin that we used internally with our authentication system. And so we made it open source, and there were some other universities that used the same authentication system that chose to use it.

And so you never really know what will be useful to other people. So sponsoring yourself in that sense is that you’re just giving something you work on, that you already have to work on, right? Because maybe it’s for a client. You can just open source that, and obviously check with the client first, you know, make sure they’re okay with that. But that’s a great way to do that.

There are sites like WP World, where you can, in a community, you can put yourself in that community as well. And it will list all the things that you work on, and all the, you know, where you’re from, who’s local to you, and what communities are local to you. And you can indicate that you are looking for work, or looking for freelance or employment on those types of sites.

I think sponsorship might be one of the options on there as well. Or on your GitHub profile, you can also accept donations and sponsorship on your GitHub profile. It’s another good way, especially if you’re a developer, to receive donations to fuel some of your contribution.

[00:26:17] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah. There’s also the WPCC, the WP Community Collective. I think they’ve recently got these kind of little areas that you can go as a WordPress user. Somebody like me, and I can contribute some money to a particular thing. It might be accessibility, for example. And then the idea would be that somebody can make use of that pot of money, that’s been built up over time ,and somebody could then get sponsored, and use that money, and then give themself a wage whilst they’re working.

Speaking of that, and we talked a moment ago about, maybe the same faces keep coming back. There’s this idea, and I can’t remember exactly how to phrase it, but the phrase goes something like this. You can contribute to WordPress, or the people that do contribute to WordPress, are the people who can afford to contribute to WordPress. And I’m sure there’s a bit of truth in that, you know?

That if you are independently wealthy, then you can give up all of your time to the WordPress project. If you are in a position working for a company, and they second you to the project, that also works as well.

Do you have any intuitions on that? Do you feel that it is as democratic as it could be? Or do you feel like there is a little bit of, those that can afford, can contribute, so they get their voice heard, and the decisions are made by the people who are able to contribute, because they’ve got big, deep pockets?

[00:27:31] Jonathan Desrosiers: Yeah. I talked about that a little bit in my talk today, where my talk was focused on how we measure contributions, and we track them, and factors to that. And one of the things I talk about is that you can’t measure impact, right? So someone that contributes a three line code change, it may seem unimportant from a Git log perspective or like a commit log.

But maybe that’s their first contribution to open source. And then, from there they are able to get hired, because they have this new experience. And that might change their life, that might open doors that they didn’t previously have available to them.

And so, in that sense, it’s hard to say because we can’t measure that. And so, on the surface, it looks like they’re not really receiving anything, because they’re not contributing a lot, or very infrequently, right? But on the outside, from their perspective, they’re receiving a lot. Because the benefits to them are not necessarily directly related to the project, right?

They’re getting experience, learning how to maybe code PHP, or use an API, and then they go do a job interview and they can talk about that, and how that experience went, and what they learned. And they can show that they are easily teachable, and attractive to an employer.

And so, that’s only one part of it, right? It appears that only the people with a lot of time benefit from it, but there’s other benefits to just having their code frequently merged.

[00:28:54] Nathan Wrigley: Would you like to see some sort of accreditation system? Well, I mean we have the badges on the WordPress profiles. But would it be nice to have some sort of an official accreditation system? Honestly, I don’t know how that would be managed. I don’t know how it would be made to be fair and equitable, so that what you actually put in was measured in some way, tracked in some way, and then was equated to, I don’t know, a badge or something that you could add officially to your CV, or what have you. Do you think anything like that would be useful?

[00:29:22] Jonathan Desrosiers: Probably. But it also depends on another thing I talked about in my talk is, how do people expect to be recognised right? So, currently we collect all the contributors for our release, and it goes on our about page, that you see when you update.

But some people might not really, that may not really do much for them, right? Because you have to be in WordPress to see it, and they don’t really care about that. Maybe they want it to be, their profile to be, more like a CV, like you said. And so it shows to an employer, like how consistent they contribute, or what they’ve contributed.

[00:29:53] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, that’s a good metric, isn’t it? You know, consistency, and the fact that you’ve showed up for month, after month, after month. There’s something in that, there’s something very valuable in that little bit of data, isn’t there?

[00:30:03] Jonathan Desrosiers: Sure. But likewise, somebody could show up once every three months, but they’re, maybe they work for Google, and they build things into the browser. And so they show up once every three months, but they’re helping advise how to implement this new API that improves performance, or something of that nature.

And so regularity is not always a good measure. Volume is not always a good measure, because you could contribute 50 times, but it’s like 50, 1 word typo fixes, right? Or you could contribute once, and you’re contributing an entire API, or something that unlocks a feature for hundreds of themes, and makes the world a better place.

So it’s really difficult to get right. And I think accreditation, a lot of companies spend a lot of money and time on keeping up, because we’re in technology and web, and it changes so quickly. I worry that, we have to do it in a way that adapts as we adapt. And I wonder if the value of that is outweighed by the effort that it would take to kind of stay accurate over the months and years.

[00:31:03] Nathan Wrigley: Every time this conversation comes up, almost immediately clever people chime into the conversation and point out why some sort of accreditation system would be very hard to do effectively. And I’m often very persuaded, you know? Like you said, do you measure time? Do you measure the frequency? Do you measure the thing that they did?

[00:31:21] Jonathan Desrosiers: Impact.

[00:31:21] Nathan Wrigley: And it’s really, exactly, it’s really, really difficult. I think from my perspective, it would be nice if there was something, but I don’t know what that something would be, other than the sort of badge system that we’ve got at the moment.

[00:31:32] Jonathan Desrosiers: I think in most cases it just ends up like we’re open source, and so your public work just speaks for itself, right? The way you interact with other people that disagree with you on public discussions. The repositories that you have that are open for people to view. The plugins that you create. That’s the best way, in my opinion, to have an open track record of your skills and what you have to offer.

[00:31:53] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah. And I suppose, in a way, every job interview that you go for, you are just going to write down the best bits that done, and so I guess maybe the traditional way that we’ve done it is probably still useful.

[00:32:03] Jonathan Desrosiers: But that’s also a privilege too, being able to be public about your work. And I’m privileged with that, because I work on an open source project right? But if you work at a corporation, you know, you can’t always show all of your work, talk about it. But it’s not something you could open source, you know, and let someone dive in and see your work, and the history of your work. So there’s also that aspect as well.

[00:32:21] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah. Are you confident about the future for WordPress? I mean, obviously you’re working in the industry, you’re saturated by it, you’re completely immersed in it. Do you have an expectation that 10 years from now, WordPress will still be strong? We’ll have a community, it will still be being developed. Does it feel like it’s on rock solid ground? It does to me, but I don’t know what your thoughts are.

[00:32:42] Jonathan Desrosiers: I think there’s always going to be spots you step on, and you’re like, oh, should I put all my weight there, right? I’m very confident in WordPress. I think last year was one of the more exciting years in quite a while. And the reason was, when we’re in the process, it’s sometimes easy to feel like we’re not going anywhere, right?

I’m involved week to week, month to month. And so, even release to release, it feels like we’re not getting a lot done. And last year was so exciting, because we reached the end of a phase of Gutenberg. And it was the culmination of all these releases that came before it, to see site editing, right? It was the first release where we said, you can make a great website with this site editor now.

We took that beta tag off and now it’s ready to go. And so, you know, we see a lot with 2024. Some people are making such incredible websites using this base theme. They look nothing like what was shipped. And it’s just really great to see these blocks, these different APIs that get built. All combining to make this cohesive thing that is really quite powerful.

And I’m really excited to see what people do with it this year. The Interactivity API, block bindings. All these new things that are coming. It’s like I say in my talk is, we’re so creative as a community, there’s so many brilliant people, and we’re giving them the tools to run with. And I’m really looking forward to see what people build with WordPress over the next year.

[00:34:07] Nathan Wrigley: There is so much coming down the pipe very, very soon, isn’t there? So, obviously, we’re into phase three, collaborative editing at some point, probably not particularly quickly. But like you said, the Interactivity API, block bindings, and maybe a completely new admin interface.

It does feel like there is a lot of change about to happen. And so, if you ask me that same question, do you feel confident? It feels like there’s every reason to be confident at the moment, because there’s so much interesting stuff happening.

[00:34:37] Jonathan Desrosiers: Sure. Kind of to circle back to one of the things we talked about earlier, about the sense of frustration out there. Change is hard, you know? If you’ve built a business around a specific thing, and maybe you have admin notices, right? That you sell a premium plugin through, or something like that. When we redo the admin, it may not be exactly the same experience, right? And so you kind of have to rethink it a little bit.

And so I think that that’s where some of, frustration with innovation in a way. And change is always very hard, and it’s harder for certain people than others, and in different ways. But you have to look at both sides, and see where we’re going, know where that end point is, where we would like to end up, and see how exciting that is.

And again, a privilege to have the time and the resources to invest in updating, and embracing new technology, and learning. And we just keep an open mind, and follow us along. And follow all the thought leaders, and the people that experiment with the new features, and demonstrate what’s possible. I think we’ll definitely end up in a better spot.

[00:35:32] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah. I think it’s really difficult for those North Star, how to describe it, the big ticket items. It’s very hard to communicate those to the user base of WordPress. I mean, here we are, we’re at a WordPress event, so it’s pretty clear that everybody here is a bit nerdy about WordPress. So we understand that, because we’re talking about it all the time.

But the sort of end user, who’s suddenly confronted with, I don’t know, when the block editor came. Suddenly, what is that? Where did that come from? Being able to explain all of that to the wider public, I think is going to be an interesting thing. And I have intuitions that that’s going to be taken very seriously, in the near future as well. That communicating what’s coming, what the idea is, what the North Star is, going to become a big part in feeding that to the WordPress media, if you.

[00:36:14] Jonathan Desrosiers: Talking too, we also have to listen. You know, it might not be the feedback we’re expecting, or want to hear, but we need to have open ears and listen to that, and process that appropriately as well.

[00:36:23] Nathan Wrigley: Slightly going off on a bit of a tangent. What are your thoughts about collaborative editing? From a technical point of view, that feels like that’s a really difficult challenge, given that we have no idea what infrastructure any WordPress website could be on.

It could be on the most powerful server that has ever existed. Alternatively, it might be on something very affordable and economical. What do you think? Does it seem like a project which is going to be easy to ship, or it’s going to be keeping us busy for two, three years?

[00:36:51] Jonathan Desrosiers: It’s definitely not easy. You know, it’s very intricate, many moving parts, and it definitely is going to be a many months roadmap that we have to follow. I think that, like we mentioned before is that, we’re always improving, technology is always changing, and we’re trying to embrace.

We have our performance team that’s, year over year we’re seeing tens of percentage point increase in performance. And obviously that will plateau as well too, right? But we keep adding new stuff, so they’ll keep having new things to look at.

I’m confident that when we build software, we balance these things, right? We don’t want to be, we want to add these very powerful features, but we keep performance in mind. We don’t want it to be slow, that you don’t want to use it.

And so these are things that we’re just constantly evaluating, and keeping in mind. And in the end, we stick to our philosophies of building great software, that works out of the box, that’s performant, that handles very difficult technical topics, and concepts for the user, and makes the best decision for them, but while being flexible.

Something that’s really great about WordPress is, you can change it to be something that doesn’t even look WordPress, you know? Don’t even recognise it, and it’s still at the core, it’s still that software that everybody’s using.

[00:37:57] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah. It sounds to me like you’re very bullish. You’re very confident that WordPress has a bright future, and we could well be sitting here in the year 2034.

[00:38:05] Jonathan Desrosiers: Like I said, it might not be the smoothest road, there’s going to be bumps along the way. We just have to work together and listen, and constantly evolve, and don’t be stuck in our ways and get to that end point.

[00:38:14] Nathan Wrigley: If people have listened to this and they’ve thought to themselves, you know what, I fancy contributing in some way, but they want to talk to you about it, where can people find you, Jonathan? What’s the easiest place?

[00:38:23] Jonathan Desrosiers: Sure. You can find me at desrosj, pretty much everywhere. WordPress Slack, Twitter, and all of those places. You know, if you want to get started contributing, I recommend just going to make.wordpress.org. I believe there’s a getting started contributing course on learn.wordpress.org. And worst case, just hop into Slack and say, hey, I’m new, I just would like a little push in the right direction. And there’s handbook pages that will link to you, and break down how to get started.

[00:38:48] Nathan Wrigley: There’s definitely a way to contribute, no matter what your station in life is, yeah. But thank you Jonathan for chatting to us today, I really appreciate it.

[00:38:55] Jonathan Desrosiers: Of course. Thanks for having me Nathan.

On the podcast today we have Jonathan Desrosiers.

Jonathan has been a contributor to WordPress Core for many years, and a WordPress Core committer since 2018. He currently maintains over a dozen Core components. As a leader in the community, he advocates for new contributors through mentorship and active leadership. Jonathan currently works as a Senior Software Engineer at Bluehost, where he is sponsored full-time to contribute to WordPress Core through the Five for the Future program.

We talk about the challenges that come with contributing to such a large and multi-faceted project, from the intricate process of decision-making, involving many stakeholders, to the occasional moments of feeling demoralised when contributions seem like a drop in the ocean.

We discuss the importance of regular contributions, the challenges of implementing an accreditation system for contributors, and the role of privilege in the ability to contribute and showcase your work publicly.

Amongst the technical talk, including the future of collaborative editing, and the need for adaptability, we also get into the human side of WordPress. From the ways in which individuals can get involved without coding, such as teaching, video processing, event organising, and documentation, to the personal satisfaction Jonathan finds in his work.

Towards the end we chat about the sustainability of the open-source ecosystem, emphasising the critical role businesses need to play, and the potential risks when key contributors step back. But, as you’ll hear, Jonathan is confident about the future of WordPress, mentioning exciting development features on the horizon, like a new admin interface.

If you’re curious about how you can contribute, what that looks likes, and where it can take you, this episode is for you.

Useful links

Bluehost

Five for the Future

Learn WordPress

Contributor Mentorship Program for WordPress

WordPress.tv

The WP World

WordPress Community Collective

Jonathan’s X / Twitter

Jonathan’s website

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