Episode Cover Art for Episode #1 Aaron Campbell

Episode 1: Aaron Campbell

Aaron is the head of WordPress of the WordPress ecosystem at GoDaddy and international speaker, open web advocate, outgoing, introvert, and has been a contributor to WordPress for over a decade.

  • Twitter: @AaronCampbell
  • WordPress Slack: AaronCampbell
  • Teams: Community, Core, Hosting
  • Website: AaronDCampbell.com
  • Favourite Wapuus: Contributor Team Wapuus & Hipster Wapuu

Transcript

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Christina: Hello and thanks for joining us. Today I have the pleasure of introducing you to Aaron Campbell. Aaron is the head of WordPr- of the WordPress ecosystem at GoDaddy and international speaker, open web advocate, outgoing, introvert, and has been a contributor to WordPress for over a decade. Welcome, Aaron!

Aaron: Thanks. Thanks for having me. 

Christina: So you’ve been doing this for quite a long time. 

Aaron: It’s been a while, alright.

Christina: Before we get going into contributing. Is there anything else that you wanted to tell people about yourself. 

Aaron: Uh, no. I, I think that you summed it up pretty well alright.

Christina: Awesome. So over a decade you’ve been contributing. Do you remember by chance how you started contributing? 

Aaron: Yeah, I do. Um, that one’s actually pretty, um, I guess it kind of sticks in my head pretty good cause I’ve shared it quite a few times, but, um. Honestly, I got started because I was running a small business building websites for people. Um, and I had sort of assessed looking for some sort of system that I could use. It would make it easier to hand these sites over to clients once I’d built them. And WordPress seemed like the best option so I had started building sites with it. And, essentially, I ran into a bug that I couldn’t fix with just a plugin or a theme. I needed to modify WordPress to fix it, but, you know, I, I had tracked it down and fixed it on my client’s site, but the very next time that WordPress updated, I had to update WordPress and fix it again. And you know, that gets old really fast. Um, so the reason that I got involved was. Because I wanted to figure out how to get this fixed in WordPress so I didn’t have to deal with this anymore. It was, it was just a, you know, to solve my own problem. But as soon as that happened, you know, I, I went and I found their, their chat channel online, which was on IRC at the time. Um. I talked to a few people, they kind of walked me through how to use their bug tracker and how to upload my patch cause I’d already fixed it. So like I had the fix ready. Um, and then I saw that go into WordPress. And suddenly there were, you know, at the time, I guess, thousands of people that were, you know, using this little tiny bit of code that I had wrote. Uh, and I was just hooked, like from, from then on. Um, like that was super exciting to me. So from then on every version of WordPress, since then, I have contributed to it in some way or another. 

Christina: That’s really cool. And so what teams, so you would’ve probably then been contributing to core at that point? I would imagine.

Aaron: Kind of there, there wasn’t such a designation back then. Back when WordPress was really small, um, the, the community, uh, as we would now call, it was really just the core team that we see now. It was just the people that were writing the code for this little piece of software. Um, you know, over time, obviously we’ve grown as a community and matured and developed all these other areas to help support the project. But yeah, back then it was either you were involved and you wrote code or you are not involved. That was it. It was very binary. 

Christina: Right. And so how about now? Which teams would you say you contribute to or have contributed to?

Aaron: Hoo, um there are quite a few that I have contributed to. I think that right now I probably contribute the most to, uh, the community team. Um, being involved in, in events. Mmm. I still participate in the security team, which is kind of a unique one. It’s, it’s a little less public and open, kind of for obvious reasons. Um, but I’m still involved there some. The hosting team. Um, I try to pitch in and help out there when I can. Um, I think that, I have found that I rove a little bit more than I used to. I’m trying to pitch in and help out where, where I can instead of just focusing on a single team now. 

Christina: Okay. That makes sense. And I know you’ve talked about this a few times in different presentations that you’ve done, but can you tell everybody why you contribute other than your initial origin story? 

Aaron: Yeah. Well, I mean, like I said in my origin story, I guess, as you called it, that’s kind of fun. But, um, uh, you know, I got started from very practical reasons. It was to fix a bug that I needed fixed. Um, but that was like 14 years ago or something like that now. Um, and the thing that has kept me involved over all that time, it’s definitely more idealistic. It’s, it’s far less practical. Um, but I’m a, I’m a, I’m a huge advocate for the open web. Um, you heard that in my introduction. I think that the web has become this really important thing to people. It’s not just fun and games. It’s not just cat means and you know, uh, it’s, um, this place- 

Christina: But they help!

Aaron: Yeah, they’re great, but they’re not the thing that makes it so important, right. The, it’s the place that we all go to learn pretty much anything that we want to learn. People all around the world can, can learn things, can make their living from the web. Like we use it to transfer knowledge from one person to another. And I think that  WordPress as part of the broader open source software movement, I guess has a real important role in making sure that, that, um, that, that tool that we all have for sharing knowledge stays open and available to everyone. Um, it gives people an alternative to the, the closed platforms that may otherwise um, control that knowledge and what people can and can’t learn in an unhealthy way. WordPress is, is a counterpoint to that. And so I think that it’s extremely important to sort of, humanity as a whole. And WordPress is like my little part of that, that I can help contribute to do and, and, um, keep healthy. Um, and so that’s, that’s what has kept me around for so long. 

Christina: And I think it’s safe to say that you are contagious in that way. And I say that out of experience because if it weren’t for you and some other things, but you are a huge reason why I have gotten into this whole contributing thing outside of the meetups and WordCamps that I was already a part of. Um. 

Aaron: That is good to know. Like I love being contagious in that way. Like that is fantastic. 

Christina: And that brings me to my next question, which for most people, I would ask, have you been to a contributor day? But being that, that is essentially the organizing of contributor day is how I met you, I know the answer to that is yes. And, um, I imagine the answer to that is several, many tens and tens. Um, so instead I’m hoping that you can tell us a little bit more about how contributor day came to be.

Aaron: I’ve definitely been to quite a few alright. And I don’t remember exactly when my first contributor day was. Um, it was probably, I guess maybe 2000, seven or eight right in there somewhere. Um, back in the earlier days of, of WordCamps in general, which contributor days are often tied to, but not necessarily always. Um, but back then, essentially, we had WordCamp San Francisco and the next day, um, you know, we’re all like a bunch of us that have worked together online in the past and we’ve, we’ve all been in all these, um, various areas and maybe work together a lot, but not had the chance to sit down together and work together. Um, we stayed the day after and, uh, went down and spent the day working together on WordPress, focusing on, you know, all this stuff that we’ve been working on specifically for WordPress. Um, we called it a developer day back then, cause again, the community was essentially development. Um, and so that’s, that’s where they started. And developer days, um, went on for quite awhile and slowly grew as our community grew, and as our project grew, right, as WordPress needed more than just code written in order for it to be successful. Um, and so we started having these other groups and they, they wanted to be able to get together and work together to, um, and so developer days turned into contributor days and the, as much as there’s a pretty big difference between then and now in the kinds of things that the various groups may be do on that day. Um, there’s a pretty big difference maybe in the size of, of those days now. Some, like the one that we just did, WordCamp US was massive. I mean, the first one I went to there was probably like a dozen of us or, or something like that, you know? Um, but. It’s still the same basic principle of giving us a chance to sit down and not just work on WordPress, although that is, that is kind of the, the idea of the day, right? But to also get to spend time in person with some of those other people that are working on WordPress, um, and build some of those relationships while we build the software in the project.

Christina: Right. Awesome. Thanks for explaining all that. I’ve been dying to know that. I’ve had a couple people ask me already and I just have to sorta shrug and say, I don’t know, but I’m gonna find out. So there we are.

Aaron: I, I think the earliest ones were held at a little tiny office that Automattic had on the pier in, uh, in San Francisco. Um, and uh, and that was quite awhile ago cause I think that that pier eventually got shut down and those, those buildings closed down. But, uh, but, but that’s, that’s where the first one, at least that I went to was. 

Christina: That’s pretty cool. So of all of those years that you’ve been contributing so far, do you have a proudest moment, a proudest contribution? 

Aaron: Um, that’s. Tough, uh, that, that’s tough to pick out for me. Um, I think, I think that I probably have several that stand out and the problem is the longer I sit here and think about it, the more that I’m probably going to think of.

Christina: Give us one or two. 

Aaron: But, you know, getting my, getting my very first contribution in was, that was a big deal, right. As I look back, clearly that was the thing that got me hooked in and pulled into this to begin with. So can’t really overlook that since it’s sort of what kicked off everything else. 

Christina: And when you say contribution there, you mean your actual, like your commit? 

Aaron: Yeah, my actual little bit of code that got committed in, you know, I started as a developer, um. I, I don’t necessarily, um, I don’t know that that would be what I would consider myself now. I don’t think that I can quite keep up with some of the amazing developers that we have at this point, but, um, but that was where I started. And so code was definitely what got me. Um, eventually I helped, um, lead a release. That was a, that was a pretty big, Mmm. Stand out moment for me. 

Christina: Yeah. Which release version was it? 

Aaron: I think the first one that I led was 3.6 

Christina: Ok. I think that’s right around when I started using WordPress, 

Aaron: and then I led the security team for a couple of years, which went through a couple, you know, good size security releases, and that’s always, um, that feels really good to, to know that you’re helping keep the, the web sort of more secure. I mean, WordPress is such a big chunk of the internet now that making WordPress more secure really does make the whole internet more secure, like that’s, we can help set the bar there. Um, but I gotta say that kind of. Probably one of my proudest moments is really been putting together, um, the contributor day for WordCamp US over the last couple of years. Um, it’s, it’s that being able to spread that, um excitement and passion to other people that I now see as kind of the coolest thing that I can do. And so I think that that’s, that’s probably it for me. Yeah. Most recently.

Christina: Cool. Um, so, and then to that end about getting, having all those people come together and obviously spreading that to, to people who are familiar with it, but also new people, how, do you have any advice for new contributors?

Aaron: It’s, I guess my, my biggest advice is find a thing that you enjoy doing, um, as far as what, like, how you’re gonna contribute to WordPress. Um. When I got started, I was a developer writing code all day, and then I contributed to WordPress by writing more code, um, you know, in my free time. Um, and for some people, including me at that time, that’s great. Like maybe what you do for a living. You love doing so much that you want to do some more of it in your free time. That’s fantastic. But sometimes I think oftentimes, um, people would enjoy contributing in some different way. Maybe you, um, you know, are a designer all day at work working on, on, uh, you know, user experience stuff. And, um, you would rather, I don’t know, you know, write some documentation for users to explain a feature rather than design a new one. Whatever it is that you would like to do. That’s what you should do, because that’s what’s going to keep you going, like make you excited to give, to, to donate a little of your time, which is what you’re doing. Um, and, and hopefully you can do that consistently. Cause I do think that when people do a thing, um, in, in the WordPress community for a little while, they start to meet the other people that are doing it. Um, and that. That’s where I think you start to see kind of the, uh, the real benefits from contributing. You start meeting those people, building those relationships, learning new things from them. Um, so, so that’s my biggest thing. Pick a thing that you enjoy doing and do that for WordPress. 

Christina: Sounds good. That’s good advice I’d say. Um, let’s see. Where are we now? Is there anything else you want to talk about contributor-wise? Have we missed anything?

Aaron: I don’t know. There’s, there’s, uh, 

Christina: Could you talk for days and days about contributing if you had to? 

Aaron: I probably could. That’s, that’s the, that’s the problem there. Well, 

Christina: All right. Oh, if you have something, go ahead.

Aaron: I just, I think that, I guess kind of playing off of what I was just saying about learning from other people, like one of the biggest things about contributing to WordPress that I, I sort of share based on my own story over the time that I’ve contributed is that, Mmm, it’s really a way that I was able to level myself up personally in, um, in the kind of code that I was able to write in how I was able to, um, even run my business, get, um, get clients, uh, many of these things. I learned a lot of these skills from the other people that I was working with in the projects. Um, and when I was running my own company, it was hard to level up those skills. I didn’t have other people that I was working with. And so I really credit contributing to WordPress, um, for a big part of what pushed my business and career forward. Um, and so I like to encourage people that, yeah, contributing to WordPress is good for WordPress. But it can also be good for you. And, and I would like it to be good for, for both you and WordPress. I think that it can be an absolute win win, and that’s kind of the most exciting bit. 

Christina: Yeah. And it’s one of those things where ,what’s that phrase, uh, the sum is equal or is greater than. The, what is it? You know? Basically one plus one equals three. Like when it’s your two parts, when you put them together, it’s big. I can’t, I’m horrible with remembering things like that. I’m sure everybody knows what I’m saying and is yelling at me, but anyways, you know what I mean.

Aaron: The sum is greater than the parts, huh? 

Christina: Yeah. 

Aaron: Once, once the, uh, once the, once the phrase was said wrong, I was having a hard time getting, getting there. But I think it’s, the sum is greater than the parts 

Christina: and I was trying to overcomplicate it and make it, 

Aaron: but yes, like that is, that’s absolutely what I think can happen. I think that, um, that that the amount of effort that you put in there, you can benefit both the project and you off that same bit of effort, the sum really is greater than the parts there. Yeah. 

Christina: Awesome. I do want to ask you, you mentioned one of the teams that you are currently more involved with than some of the others is hosting, and that is a team that sort of alludes me right now, so I’m sure it does some other people as well. Can you explain a bit more about what the hosting team does or and, or what you do with the hosting team? 

Aaron: I can do my best. 

Christina: It will be better than me. 

Aaron: Uh, I guess to kind of take a step back a little bit, right. Um, when people experience WordPress when they’re, when they’re using it to build anything from just a, you know, a blog to talk about their pet lizard to a, you know, a, a store for their, you know, a storefront for their business that’s meant to be their livelihood. Whatever it is that they’re doing with WordPress, the way they actually experience it, it’s not as simple as, they’re just experiencing this chunk of code. Um, that, we call WordPress. Instead, their experience of it is something that includes, well, we would call WordPress plus some sort of theme that it makes it look the way they want, plus some set of plugins that make it do what they want. Plus it’s hosted somewhere. Um, and, and the speed or quality of that hosting can affect how they see WordPress. You know, do they see it as, you know, slow and unreliable and, and that’s not the software that’s the hosting. Like they don’t necessarily know the difference of that, they just know that their experience was good or their experience was bad. Um, and that’s understandable, but we don’t have control over all those parts. 

Christina: Right. 

Aaron: We do want our users to have a good experience. 

Christina: Yes. 

Aaron: And so the purpose of the hosting team is to try to help hosts host WordPress better. Like what are the things that they can do, um, that are gonna make sure that people’s experience of WordPress is good. Um, and so you see some of the biggest hosts, um, in the space there. You see, um, representatives from, from GoDaddy and from Bluehost, for example. Uh, you see a lot of the. Um, specialty WordPress hosts, the WP Engine, Pressable, those kinds of hosts. Um, but you, you also see people that are, uh, you know, running their own servers and are wanting to know what, what are the best practices for hosting WordPress? So that’s one of the big things that the hosting team does, is try to essentially document what those best practices are. And have, have some of the hosts that have really figured it out and, um, are really doing a good job hosting WordPress and giving people that good experience, um, and essentially have them share what they’re doing and share what they know. I’m with everyone so that everyone can host WordPress that, that well 

Christina: Nice. 

Aaron: Um, another thing that we have found hosts are particularly helpful to WordPress in, um, is hosts are kind of one step closer to the user, I guess. That may sound a little funny cause the users actually logging into WordPress. Um, but a host is often the one that a user complains to. Um, when something’s not working because they can’t call WordPress and say something’s not working, but they can call, you know, GoDaddy or Bluehost or WP Engine or any of those others and say, you know, I’m paying you for hosting this for my, I’m paying you for my website and it’s not doing what I want it to do. Um, and so we can offer a lot of that information back to WordPress as feedback. We can sort of represent those users at the WordPress table and say, “Hey, these are things that people are struggling with. These are things that people need. Um, these are the things that are, you know, that are breaking or that users are raving about.” Um, and so we try to do that as well. 

Christina: That’s pretty cool. I never thought about it that way. So you’ve got, you’ve got our backs. That’s nice. 

Aaron: And there’s actually a third thing that the team has been doing, um, which has to do to testing, right? As we’re pushing out new WordPress releases., um, obviously we don’t want to break stuff, right? So we’re, we tried to test WordPress as much as possible. We have things like unit tests in place so that if we change a piece of code, we can run the unit tests, and if they no longer pass, we realize we broke a thing. But some of those things can act differently depending on the way the server is set up that WordPress is on, right? There’s different image manipulation um, extensions for PHP, for example, and if one is installed versus the other one, maybe we broke one and not the other. Um, so another thing that the hosting team does is they’ve put together the existing unit tests for WordPress in a way that hosts can install them and set them up on their own hosting the same kind of hosting that users would use, um, and have them automatically run constantly to check for if things break and report back immediately so that, um, the WordPress team, as they’re building WordPress, gets much more immediate feedback on how this might um, actually act in, you know, some normal kind of hosting that a user might buy. Um, and so that’s been, that’s been pretty great as well. Kind of good feedback that way. 

Christina: Cool. So if somebody wanted to get involved in the hosting team, how would they go about doing that? 

Aaron: I mean, probably the simplest way is if you’re already in the WordPress Slack to go to the hosting-community channel. Um, we did find that just calling it hosting set a, um different set of expectations that people could just, you know, go in there and looking for hosting, which it’s not a sales channel. It’s a, it’s a community channel, so it’s hosting-community. Um, and you can get involved there. Um also on make.wordpress.org um, there’s, uh, uh, hosting community box there that you can click in for more information. Mmm. That has their meeting times listed in that kind of stuff. 

Christina: Cool, and we’ll put the links for those in the show show notes as well. So 

Aaron: awesome. 

Christina: Those will be there. Great. Well, I think that’s all the questions I’ve got for you. Again, unless there’s some other piece of info that you thought of in the meantime, 

Aaron: I think that I think that we’re good. 

Christina: Okay. So then my final question other than info about you again is if you had to pick just one, although I am open to going to two or three because really? Who doesn’t love Wapuu? If you had to pick just one Wapuu as your favourite, who would it be and why? 

Aaron: Yeah. Um, I have to give a quick shout out to a whole  group of Wapuus because we’re doing the contribution thing, right? Every contributor team has a Wapuu that was designed, um, uh, by, by Michelle Schulp. She, uh, she made them all, so each team kind of has their own. Um, and it’s really awesome. Like, those are like, that’s a really cool set where you can sort of get the one that’s part of the group that, that, you’re, you know, um, part of, and, and that’s really cool. But my personal favourite, the one that, um. The one that’s, that’s sort of me, uh, at least I think in Wapuu form is unfortunately named hipster Wapuu. And I’m not sure that I love being hipster Wapuu but it wears a fedora and it’s holding coffee. It’s very me. Um, cause I’m always wearing the fedora and holding a cup of coffee. So that’s my favourite.

Christina: That is very nice. If, if you were personified into a Wapuu, that would definitely, definitely be you. 

Aaron: Yup. Awesome. 

Christina: All right. Well, can you give us, um, any links that you want to give for people to be able to get in touch with you? Twitter, websites, anything like that?

Aaron: Twitter is probably the GoTo. I’m @AaronCampbell on Twitter. Um, since this is all about contributing to WordPress, probably giving a website makes sense to my website is AaronDCampbell.com. 

Christina: Awesome. Great. Well, thanks for being on the show. 

Aaron: Thanks for having me.

Christina: It’s been awesome chatting with you and now I know so much more than I knew even half an hour ago 

Aaron: Fantastic 

Christina: thanks Aaron. 

Aaron: Bye.

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