Five for the Future and Contributing

Do the Woo Podcast Woo BizChat Guests Angela Jin and Jeff Paul Episode 159

Do the Woo - A WooCommerce Podcast
Do the Woo - A WooCommerce Podcast
Five for the Future and Contributing
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Contributing to WordPress is contributing to WooCommerce. In this show Robbie and Robert chat with Angela Jim from Automattic and Jeff Paul from 10up to get to very clear, yet similar experiences and insights. They go from Matt Mullenweg's Five for the Future to the bigger picture of contributing. They not only tell us how you can do it, but how they do it themselves and what that has meant to their personal growth.
Highlights of the Conversation with Angela And Jeff

Connect with

  • @AngelaSJin
  • Angela
  • @jeffpaul
  • Jeff

Highlights of the chat with Angela and Jeff

  • Why open source? [01:50]
  • Getting involved with Five for the Future and contributing [05:18]
  • Five for the Future: being accountable and staying honest to the mission [08:25]
  • How companies can participate in Five for the Future [17:40]
  • Getting clients on board with Five for the Future [20:17]
  • The drive to give talks at events [25:45]
  • The personal growth through contributing [32:00]

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Robbie: Hello, I'm Robbie Adair, and with me as my co-host, Robert Jacobi. Today, we're going to be doing the episode 159 of Do the Woo, where we talk about business. So we do a lot of talk around different aspects of business. Today, we have a particular topic, I think, that'll be of interest to a lot of business people out there. So Robert, why don't you go ahead and tell us who we've got on the show today?

Robert: Today, we have Angela Jin from Automattic. Angela, if you want to hit that intro.

Angela: Sure. Hi, I'm Angela. Thanks for having me today. I'm a community strategist over at Automattic, where I focus on our programs and contributor experience area for Automattic's dot-org division, which is the division that is sponsored full-time to be on the WordPress open source project. I've been using WordPress for about 10 years now.

Robert: That is like a million years longer than me, but don't tell anyone. We're also excited to have today the man with three names, Jeffrey, Jeff, JP, Jeff Paul from 10up.

Jeff: Yes, thank you, Robert. Yeah, associate director of open source initiatives at 10up, where I'm responsible for our open source practice there, and that group is responsible for 10up's open source plugins, our contributions to things like WordPress Core and other open web projects, handling client work that is the output is actually open source software and then coordinating our team's individual contributions to the open web, and yeah, three first names. Thanks for bringing that up.

Why open source? [01:50]

Robert: What happens in the green room doesn't necessarily stay in the green room. What's interesting about this topic per se is it's like we're hitting the open source hard here from so many different angles. I think one of the first questions, just to get us all a little comfortable and warmed up and then Robbie's going to all the hard-hitting, I'm sure, is why open source? I mean, it's a goofy generic question, but I think it's fair given how much WordPress dominates that conversation.

Angela: Yeah. I think it's a great question, right? There's so many different options out there. Why pick WordPress? Why pick open source? I think for me, that's really because I want to own my own content. I want to be able to create and own what I am creating of my own accord. Also, I personally strongly align with open source philosophy as well, this idea that anybody can come and work together and build something together and it belongs to us and we can use it how we want. That's a lot of power for people who are involved in open source. So, bit of a personal answer there for you.

Robert: No, I mean, that's great, because I think a lot of us have personal reasons. Not just the wonderful business aspects of the WordPress coast system, but there's also something else that drives us, and I can't wait to hear how Jeff looks at it from the 10up perspective.

Jeff: Yeah. I mean, I think I amplify what Angela said and would relate it a bit to kind of like the in real life, IRL, the sense of community where you live. I think open source, you also can get that sense of community that you might not get with something that's a closed source, small garden. I know part of Angela's edict is on the community side of things, and also, otherwise agree with just the four freedoms and what that gives to those that are using the software and building with it what opportunities that presents everyone.

Robert: I love it.

Robbie: Cool. Robert and I obviously been in the open source world for quite some time, not always necessarily WordPress, but just open source in general. I always tell people, "I think you're in open source because sharing is caring." Right? I mean, we are contributing to something that is used by lots of people, right? But in a sense, kind of we do this because we also are utilizing it in our own businesses or because we're selling a product that's wrapped around it, whatever. We're just doing services. And so, there is still something in it for us, but I think that that sharing is caring carries over with a lot of our business owners, where we see them contributing in other ways, charities out there, nonprofits, different things that we do as companies or as business owners or as employee for those businesses where we run charity funds, different things like that. We maybe get people organized to go and do a fun run that's going to raise money for a pet charity, whatever it might be.

Getting involved with Five for the Future and contributing [05:18]

And so, I wanted us to dive in here and let's talk about that from a business perspective. I think it's really great that we have Angela in here, who's also going to give us from that Automattic side of things, but let's start with Jeff this time. Tell me what's 10up. How do you guys get involved with other things?

Jeff: Yeah. I mean, I think I agree with what you were saying there. For 10up, we certainly exist and ride on the back of WordPress, right? We're able to do what we do because of WordPress being freely available and feel that it's ethically, morally, not necessarily legally responsible for us to give back. From a tenant perspective, we take a little bit of a blended approach. Whereas some companies might have somebody that's fully dedicated, like everybody in the division that Angela is in to contributing to the project, others might have folks that are part-time or rotate through. 10up's approach is kind of a blended of the sorts, where we have my team, the open source practice that is all set up to contribute back to the project, but then also we work with other 10uppers.

Being an agency, there is time where there is downtime between client projects and trying to leverage that to give back to WordPress. And so, working with those folks, it may only have a couple hours a week, maybe spread over a month to focus on something. And so, our team works with them as well. So, 10up has a blended approach there of both folks that are dedicated and then those that are not, that are working in client projects, have some of their availability time to give back.

Angela: I think the way it works at Automattic is yes, we do have a division that is around... Gosh, we've grown so quickly this past year. I think we are about a hundred people now, and we spend our time full-time on the open source project. So yes, there is the rest of Automattic and they have all of dot-com, Jetpack, all of that. But my division, which is led by Josepha, is we spent all of our time on the project. It's really cool to see how that division has grown. It started out in the earlier years before I was there as a community team and a developer team. Since then, it's expanded quite a bit. But yes, still a lot of development teams, but also design and themes and still community, some on contributor tools. One of our newest teams is focused on Learn WordPress. And so, we work very closely with all of the contributors in all of those areas.

Five for the Future: being accountable and staying honest to the mission [08:25]

Robert: I love all the themes and topics and really the ability for folks in all sorts of problems across, obviously 10up and Automattic to be able to contribute in different ways. So, what we're circling here is obviously WordPress.org's Five for the Future. What is that opportunity? We talk about giving back. What does Five for the Future mean to you both? In a lot of ways, it's just 5% of your time, blah, blah, blah. So is that just as I submit a bunch of bug fixes or how... For sure, we know that that's expanding and I'm really curious how you feel accountable to that. What are the bigger goals of that at Automattic, at 10up and how can other businesses learn to do that? And then what's that task methodology and how do you really track that and stay honest to that mission?

Angela: That's a great question. So Five for the Future, if anybody is listening, who doesn't know what that is, back in, I think, I want to say it was 2014, Matt had made a call on organizations to dedicate 5% of their people to WordPress development. It sounded like a small percentage, but that it would add up immeasurably, and that's what it would take to sustainably maintain the WordPress ecosystem, the open source project. For me, I think it really hit home for me during the pandemic, where contribution from anybody and everybody was a big challenge. If you had spare time, you were probably dedicating it to either your family, your health, areas where you really needed to focus on, not necessarily areas where you wanted to contribute.

And so, for me, that 5% that I hope all WordPress ecosystem companies do consider contributing helps us be more resilient in challenging times. It also makes us more sustainable long term. Having people who are consistently there allows us to better bring on new contributors and help them get onboarded into this huge complex ecosystem and to help make sure they stick around. So for me, that 5% really about how we future-proof WordPress, specifically the people involved because without the people, we're nothing. As to how we hold ourselves accountable, that's a great question. Can I pass it over to Jeff right now?

Robert: I guess so, but I will come back to find out what's all the little tactical things that are done at Automattic to make sure that your holding that. Jeff, please?

Jeff: Yeah. I mean, I think another thing that's important to highlight as well is within Fire for the Future, it's not just contributing code to WordPress, the software entity, right? There's design, mobile. There's documentation. There's support actually within the forums community itself, running WordCamps and events like that, learn.wordpress.org, the training initiative there. I mean, there's make.wordpress.org outlies all those teams. I've been using WordPress for, I think, 14 years now, and it wasn't until about six years ago where I realized that I could actually myself give back. I'm trained technically, but my day-to-day job is more in product and PM. I just didn't see that there was an opportunity that I could be giving back. And so, I think that's one thing that folks should realize is that it's not just engineers. It's not just software engineers. They can give back to the project.

Really, what you do in your day-to-day job, there's very likely a corollary within WordPress that would flourish more with those skills brought to the project. So I think that's one thing that folks should realize. In terms of the question you were trying to, I think, hammer me on in terms of being accountable, that 5% of your resources, how that's that's measured, I don't know that there is holding anybody to the grindstone as it were like, "Show us the numbers." I think it's on folks that do care about giving back to the WordPress ecosystem that their businesses are writing on top up of. I referenced earlier in the program, there are different companies do it in different ways.

There's companies like 10up, like I said, we have folks that are dedicated, but then we also look to pull partial time from folks. Some of that partial time goes to helping run WordCamps, like WordCamp Asia, or being involved with the WP-CLI. Those sorts of things aren't really just WordPress Core. It's all the other project teams. And then you have agencies, friends of ours, WebDevStudios, they have a Friday, where everybody in the company spends that time giving back in the way that makes sense to them, right? It's not all just contributing code to WordPress Core. And then you have companies like Bluehost and Yoast under the new full digital umbrella that have very specific people dedicated and focusing all of their time, again, like Angela's organization at Automattic, full time. For 10up, we try and at least track the... It's hard, but we try and track how much time folks are spending and contributing and giving back.

And then every year, as part of our annual roll up post that Jake Goldman shares on the 10up blog, we try and highlight what some of those numbers are. Last year, I think we had 6,500 hours that folks contributed across the various ways that 10uppers give back and that goes all the way up to folks like my partner in crime, Helen, who's led many major WordPress releases. We have other people on team that are also noteworthy contributors on all those releases, but then it trickles down to the smaller, just being in the support forums and helping somebody, spending an hour or a couple minutes a day.

Just giving back there is also super relevant. Depending on the shape and size of an agency, a freelance developer, a product company, there's different approaches that they can take and there's different ways in which they can contribute. Sometimes it just takes a moment to actually go to make.wordpress.org and just see really how you could give back, where those teams are and how to meet up with them.

Robert: Along those lines, I guess it's really about the thing you need to embed in the culture, right? Is that what I'm hearing?

Angela: That's a great way of putting it. I love it.

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And now let's head back to the show.

How companies can participate in Five for the Future [17:40]

Angela: I can speak a little bit more towards how other companies can participate as well. So, we did build the Five for the Future page. It's wordpress.org/fiveforthefuture, but we ran into some challenges there, because it runs on the honor system and we did end up with a surprising number of spam pledges, which makes it really hard to surface the actual real pledges. So, there's a post up right now about how to clean some of that up, and it's made some suggestions, like emailing absent contributors and asking them to confirm. But ideally, we end up with maybe some more checks, more collaboration with team reps and contributor teams, and that way, we can really identify who is actively participating in Five for the Future.

I do want to echo what Jeff said. There's a lot of different ways that companies can structure how they do, how they participate in Five for the Future. I love, Robert, what you said about embedding it in the culture, because I think open source culture is real and bringing that to your team, especially how we view good communication, collaboration. I think those are really real benefits to any culture. And then I also just want to echo at what Jeff said that anybody can contribute and it doesn't have to be just engineering or development. I don't know any code at all. I am so thrilled to be deeply embedded in this community. It's been a real joy to be able to do that.

Robbie: Yeah. That was the thing, too, that I was thinking when Jeff was talking. I was so glad to hear you say that, because so many people think this and this is like a lot of different open source too. They think the only way that you really are contributing is to write some code and submit that. That is part of it. Obviously, we need that, but documentation, oh my goodness, I call it the redheaded stepchild, right? I mean, it's always ignored, but that's one place. If you can't do anything else, you could go and help contribute on the documentation. Because if you've been looking at all, you've had to look up anything, that means there's a need, right?

Getting clients on board with Five for the Future [20:17]

And so, if you've googled it and you couldn't find it, maybe you need to go and see if you can contribute some documentation on it. So, I love that you brought that up, Jeff, and I think that is something that businesses should try to explain to their employees. I mean, they could even get contractors, clients involved in this as well. So Jeff, do you guys talk about this internally as well? And have you ever gotten your clients involved, even if it was just case studies or something like that?

Jeff: Have we gotten clients involved? I mean, I know it's something that it definitely brings clients to 10up, that they see that we do tend and care to WordPress as something that we're thriving because of. I think as an agency, we are benefited because of that. There are some clients that we work with that also give back. And so, there is probably a stronger bond between company or consulting and client relationship there because of that shared interest. I'm sure that's helped, again, bring folks the 10up, but I don't know that it's a pointed part of every site we might build or app we might craft for a client that we're purposely trying to have that client give back.

Certainly, as we are building things and we see that something that we've built for our client might make sense in other cases to other publishers, to other small or medium size entities, we look to try and carve that out, if it's a fix or enhancement in Core, contributing there, if it's not, in the extender part of the community, carving that out. And maybe it's a plugin that solves a particular problem for a client we work with and then working with them and having that shared publicly and contributing in that way to the extending part of WordPress. So not just Core itself, but all the plugin scene themes on top of it. There is that part that 10up does tend to work with our clients in terms of contributing back.

Angela: I think we've talked a lot about contributing for, because it's a wonderful thing to do to be able to give back. It's really incredible to be able to have that kind of impact, especially with a project like WordPress, which has such an immense scale. But there's also other benefits to contributing that I think I would love to see us talk a little bit more about, because we're not just one skill kind of people. We have a lot of different skills to bring and a lot of different skills that we can grow as well, and WordPress is a great place to apply those skills and develop them further. So yes, if I am an engineer and I'm contributing code, but also I want to become better at technical writing, yeah, I'd love to put you over on the documentation team and work with other people who do this regularly and you can just keep building up those skills as well. And so, you're contributing while you're of growing, and that, I think, is a really big draw for people or it should be.

Robbie: Yeah, absolutely. Robert, I'm going to ask you just like I'm asking the guest.

Robert: I know I'm supposed to be the wonderful Robbie lackey co-host, but I ran an open source agency for a number of years, and there were times when, I want to touch this on with 10up and what Jeff and his team do, there would be a scope and we would sit there and we would ask the client like, "Can we open source this before we even get going on this?" We're happy to put a whole bunch of social media around. I mean, there's actually a business opportunity to be had by getting buy-in from your client, because then they're going to see that, "Oh yeah, we're going to be the ones who are funding this open source aspect." Obviously, as an agency, we're going to toot all the horns for that customer that, "Oh, these guys help make this happen." So, they're getting free marketing and advertising and awareness around that kind of stuff.

We're all talking about the passions of open source, but there are real direct advantages to working with open source and having your customers get that experience, quote-unquote, giant, giant quote, "indoctrination" that you've done internally so that they have a feeling for how you work as a company, how Automattic works with all the plugins and themes and whatnots and WooCommerce being part of that family, and then as an agency, how you're building out custom tools and things, but that can actually be put back into the community for a greater experience. You mentioned W-CLI. We, at CloudWave, do the same thing. We do a ton of contribution at W-CLI. It's a core thing for us. So, we want to contribute that. So other people also have great ideas and then we can back and forth, back and forth that refinement of ideas. So, thanks, Robbie. Yeah. I love this open source stuff, as you know.

The drive to give talks at events [25:45]

Robbie: Yes. Another way that you can contribute is speaking. I know that I think both of you guys probably do a lot of speaking. Robert and I do as well. I think it's one of the best ways. It's kind of that same thing, right? You're working on a project and you're like, "Wow, this was difficult to figure out," or is whatever. Let me make a little talk session about this and then take it to the WordCamps and share this with other people so they can learn as well. I will say that I feel like the speaking gigs have changed, obviously, in this last year and a half with the pandemic, but they're still there. And so, you guys, do you speak at events? Can you give us some of the type of talks that you do and what drives you to do those events? Jeff, I'll start with you.

Jeff: Sure. Yeah. I think ironically, the previous talk that I gave was at a WordCamp about just how to give back, how to contribute to WordPress and it did touch on all the different teams on make.wordpress.org, and try and draw corollaries for if your day-to-day job is a QA specialist, there's the test team getting in there. It doesn't have to be testing-specific patches or Gutenberg pool requests. It could be when WordPress is going through its beta RC or release candidate and final releases, there's folks in there helping tests that WordPress doesn't blow up. There's also Anne McCarthy, who's does a lot of call for testing for full site editing and the advancements that are coming in hopefully 5.9 later this year, as well as farther into the future.

There are very specific ways that people can just test, just maybe building a simple little portfolio site for yourself using these new tools, so that that experience and your feedback can inform how that is further enhanced. Yeah, talks don't have to be, "This was a technical problem. This is how I solved it with code," again, right? It doesn't have to be this corollary of just WordPress Core, just software engineering. It can be designers, marketers, project managers, et cetera, and the different ways you can contribute. Yeah. I mean, that was the most recent talk that I gave. Again, my background is not technical, so mine don't tend to be technical in nature. And so, the different types of talks can be almost reflective of the different types of teams there are within the project.

Robbie: Awesome. That was just a coincidence. I didn't know that's what you had spoke on last time. Angela, what about yourself? Speaking gigs?

Angela: Yeah. Well, coincidentally, the last talk I gave in the WordPress space was also about Five for the Future and how to contribute and the benefits for organizations that do participate in Five for the Future. But yeah, I've given a number of very similar talks around how to get involved in the WordPress community, where you can contribute if you're not a developer, if you are a developer. When I started in the WordPress community, I was a really nervous speaker. To this day, I still get kind of nervous sometimes. It was something that I wanted to work on. I wanted to become a better public speaker. And so, one of the first things that I did was Jill Binder has a diverse speaker training workshop. It's incredible. It's really hands on in bringing people who are underrepresented in tech and want to speak at a WordPress event.

It works with them to create the topic, create your pitch, create the talk, and even how to put together your bio and submit an application. And so, the idea behind this workshop was that anybody could run the workshop in their local community. So one of the first things I did because I was a nervous speaker, I said, "Okay. I'm going to gather everybody else who was nervous with me and we're going to run this workshop together." And that was, I think, one of my very first speaking opportunities in WordPress and it was really empowering for me.

Robbie: That's awesome. I've seen lots of good feedback about Jill's workshop by the way, and I love to see that it is helping people break into speaking that normally one, they probably wouldn't have even tried to submit, but two, that they feel confident enough now to do that. I think it also makes the organizers, when they see that these workshops are going on, be a little more aware that they need to maybe give more help in how you should submit to their events. So I think we're seeing better information out there. When I go to look to submit a talk now, I feel like there's more direction there of, "We want this type of these topics we're looking for. We want them in workshop or we want them in session." And so, I think that we're seeing a whole lot of change around that area. And so, I love that, because I do feel like we're getting more speakers that were not there before. Awesome. Robert, I'm going to let you go. I interrupted your question there, I'm sure.

Robert: Oh, no. I mean, first and foremost I thought about, I mean, I got into the open source community just around 20 years ago. I have found two hugely relevant things, one, and they're so broadly generic and I hope you guys can window them down, there's an immense amount of personal growth and appreciation that happens in a lot of open source communities, but especially WordPress and we can talk about those aspects.

The personal growth through contributing [32:00]

I'd love to hear personal experiences around that, but then the professional stuff, and I know in our household stuff is not a word. So I've seen people really take advantage of different types of professional opportunities by doing open source work when we've talked about not just the coding aspects because that's almost the old school way of thinking about open source, because open source is more than just the code. It's obviously the community and the ecosystem. So, I'd love to hear personal experience of it, both on the personal side and the professional side, how that's move you through life.

Jeff: Sure. I can jump in that or start. I mean, I think from a professional growth, when I first started contributing to WordPress, it was alongside Helen and Aaron Jorbin in helping co-lead the WordPress release 4.7. And from that. The people that I met in the project, the network I built brought me now here to 10up and has given me other opportunities across the project to meet more people and learn things from them. Those professional relationships have oftentimes turned into very enjoyable personal ones as well.

I think for somebody that might be a freelance developer or at agency or product company that might want to grow their network or learn specific skills, the WordPress project offers so many different ways in which you could contribute and gain experience that maybe your individual role at a company may not afford you, again, with very minimal all time and very minimal investment to maybe learn more about marketing or learn more about documentation or design. That doesn't have to be your day-to-day role. You can look at that as a way to grow professionally by just in a very minimal way giving back to the open web and the WordPress project.

Angela: Yeah. I think personally, it regularly surprises people to know that before I joined Automattic, I was a program manager at a commercial real estate consulting firm in Seattle. While I had a great team there, I liked that job, it was not what I wanted to do long term with my career at all. I had gotten into volunteering. I was doing a lot of volunteering and I wanted to get more into the strategic side of community building. And so, that's how I found my way into Automattic and really where my professional career, my desired professional career really took off.

It really came from working alongside the giants in our community to be, like these people who have been there working daily to do the thing. That was an amazing opportunity for me to learn community management alongside a lot of really incredible contributors, especially when I feel like community management is an area that... I share with my parents what I do, and they don't really fully understand it because back then it wasn't a thing. And so, finding people who are like-minded and in this great environment has been literally life changing for me.

Robbie: That's awesome. I will say, just like Robert, I've also been in the open source world for 20 years, and before that, it was in corporate America and it was quite different going into the open source world from big corporation. I saw a lot of personal growth, especially just immediately. It was just so different and it was so sharing among other people and learning from other people and I loved it. I saw a lot of both personal and professional growth myself for that. And so, by the way, thank you both because you're being on this podcast, on Do the Woo, is contributing back. You're talking to other people, other business owners out there we hope will listen to this and be inspired. And so, we thank you for that. But in case people want to talk to you after this, tell us where can they find you. We'll start with you, Jeff.

Jeff: Sure. Yeah, twitter.com/jeffpaul, really @JeffPaul as a handle, I can be found on most places, LinkedIn, WordPress, Slack, et cetera. So, happy to chat, ideally in public, if possible, certainly private conversations to help guide and help folks find their way into the project if they haven't yet, would love to have those conversations.

Robbie: Awesome. And Angela?

Angela: Yeah, Twitter, AngelaSJin, and that's the same handle just about everywhere else as well, the WordPress making, Slack, the LinkedIn, everywhere else.

Robert: That's great. Thank you so much folks. I mean, I love open source. I think we all obviously do. I hope our audience has taken away some ideas of how they can, first and foremost, contribute back to the WordPress universe and ecosystem, but that you can actually get... Stuff comes back to you all the time, so don't forget about that. I totally did not memorize on the fly everyone's Twitter accounts, but certainly Automattic.com and 10up.com. Thanks so much, Angela and Jeff. It was really great having you guys here.

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