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#9 – Tara King on Encouraging Developers Towards a Gutenberg Future

About this episode.

On the podcast today we have Tara King.

Tara has recently begun working for Automattic in the developer relations role. Tara will lead a newly formed team who will get out and about; trying to understand the pain points which people are having with the new Block Editor and Full Site Editing. They will then report their findings back to the developer and contributor teams, and hopefully establish a feedback loop to make the editor better.

They are also creating blogs, podcasts, courses and many other types of content to help people get up to speed with the Block Editor.

It’s no secret that whilst there are many people who love the Block Editor, there are many who remain unconvinced. Unconvinced might not be a strong enough word, but you get the idea. I wanted to hear about the purpose of this new team and how it’s going to be working. Will it have a real impact upon the future of the Block Editor? What will they be offering? How can they be reached? Who is deciding what’s included and what’s left out? What motivations are behind all these decisions?

We also get into a chat about the fact that WordPress is changing; moving away from a legacy of easy-to-understand PHP code and moving towards a JavaScript and React based future. Is the pain of learning these new skills going to be worth it, and is there going to be any support to help people get there?

It’s a wide-ranging discussion at an important moment in WordPress’ history.

Time will tell if Tara’s team can win the hearts and minds of unconvinced developers.

Have a listen to the podcast and leave a comment below.

Tara’s email address: tara.king [at] automattic [dot] com

Automattic: Developer Relations Job Description

Nathan Wrigley

Welcome to the ninth edition of the Jukebox podcast from WP Tavern. My name is Nathan Wrigley. Jukebox is a podcast which is dedicated to all things WordPress, the people, events, plugins, themes, blocks, and in this case developers and Gutenberg. Each month we’re bringing you someone from that community to discuss a topic of current interest.

If you liked the podcast, please share it with your friends. You might also like to think about subscribing so that you’ll get all of the episodes in your podcast player automatically, and you can do that by searching for WP Tavern in your podcast player, or by going to WP Tavern dot com forward slash feed forward slash podcast.

You can also play the podcast episodes on the WP Tavern website if you prefer that. If you have any thoughts about the podcast, perhaps a suggestion of a guest or an interesting subject, then please head over to WP Tavern dot com forward slash contact forward slash jukebox, and use the contact form there. We would certainly welcome your input.

Okay, so on the podcast today we have Tara King. Tara has recently begun working for Automattic, in developer relations, and it’s an important role within the WordPress community. Tara will be leading a newly formed team who will be getting out and about, trying to understand the pain points which people are having with the new block editor and with full site editing. They will then report this back to the developer and contributor teams and hopefully establish a feedback loop to make the editor better. They are also creating blogs, podcasts, courses, and all sorts of other content to help people get up to speed, and perhaps begin using, or better understanding, the block editor.

It’s no secret that whilst there are many people who love the block editor, there are many who remain unconvinced. Unconvinced might not be a strong enough word, but you get the idea.

I wanted to hear about the purpose of this new team and how it’s going to be working. Will it have a real impact upon the future of the block editor? What will they be offering? How can they be reached and who is making the decisions about what’s included and what’s left out? And what motivations are behind all of these decisions?

We also get into a chat about the fact that WordPress is changing. It’s moving away from a legacy of easy to understand PHP code and moving towards a JavaScript and React based future. Is the pain of learning these new skills going to be worth it? And is there going to be any support to help people get there?

It’s a wide ranging discussion at an important moment in WordPress’s history. Time will tell if Tara’s team are able to win the hearts and minds of unconvinced developers.

If any of the points raised in this podcast, resonate with you, be sure to head over and find the post at WP Tavern dot com forward slash podcast, and leave a comment there. And so without further delay, I bring you Tara King.

I am joined today on the podcast by Tara King. Hello, Tara.

Tara King

Hello. Thanks for having me.

Nathan Wrigley

You are very welcome. It is an absolute pleasure. We’ve spent the last couple of minutes just getting to know one another. We haven’t ever spoken before, so this’ll be a really interesting chat. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover. And first of all, I’d like to congratulate you on your brand new, shiny new job over at Automattic. I wonder if you might spend the first couple of minutes telling us what your new job is and what your title is and what you do.

Tara King

Yeah. So I’ll give you the short version first, which is that my job is to lead a team that is basically going out into the community to hear where people are struggling with Gutenberg, struggling with full site editing. Bring that context back into the development teams and the contributor teams that are building the product and then make it better. And in addition to that feedback cycle part of things, we’re also creating content, courses, blogs, podcasts, all kinds of things to help people get up to speed with where Gutenberg is right now, where it’s going to go next and how to make the leap over from the Classic Editor.

Nathan Wrigley

That’s really interesting. I did actually read the job description that was posted on the website. I don’t know obviously what the final job description entails, but I was really fascinated to see that it was very much bolted on to the Gutenberg project as opposed to something a bit wider. And that is fascinating. It does feel at this moment in time, we’re recording it towards the latter end of 2021. And it does feel at this time that there’s quite a lot of, disagreement shall we say about how the WordPress project is being taken forward? And a lot of that disagreement is centering around Gutenberg and it seems that a few new roles, not just your role, but some others have been created particularly to handle the way that the community interact and the way that they feel and the way that they’re receiving knowledge about it. Have I got that right? Are Automattic putting jobs out there for people to do exactly that.

Tara King

Yeah, I think my team especially it came out of the 5.0 retrospective. So when Gutenberg came out and it was pushed out into the community, I think anybody who was around at that time of the WordPress community was aware of the pushback and the unhappiness in the community, around some of the things that happened.

And looking at that, I was not part of the project in a serious way, at that point, I was actually doing support, so I was hearing all of the people who are unhappy tell us how can I change away from Gutenberg? How can I fix this? So that was my role in it at the time was just living through person by person with the impact of it.

What I’ve heard is basically they looked at the 5.0 release and said we need to communicate better, first of all right, but it’s not just pushing information out, it’s also, we need to listen better. We need to be aware of what people are feeling earlier so that when we’re trying to make this work, it’s not only perceived as, but I think experienced as a one-way street kind of thing, because I don’t think that’s ever been the spirit of the WordPress project, and I don’t think Gutenberg actually was meant to change that feeling, if that makes sense. But it did so for some people it really did. And so my team especially is really about listening and trying to engage more people, bring more people into the room to be part of those discussions, to be part of those decisions, because I don’t think anybody wants Gutenberg to succeed just for Gutenberg’s sake.

I think it’s a really good tool. And so we’re trying to make sure that everyone can be involved. So that’s my team in particular, but I think in general, there is a sense that Gutenberg is still struggling to be understood. It’s a really big change for the community on a technical level. And so we just need to be putting more energy and more attention to helping people bridge the gap between where they are now and where they need to be for Gutenberg.

Nathan Wrigley

Just dwelling on the team for a moment you may be allowed, you may not be allowed I don’t know, to describe how big that team is and what the specifics are about how it’s going to be implementing that. I’m just wondering if you can give us some insight, because it would be interesting, certainly from my part, it would be interesting to know how many people are on the ground now, doing that kind of work specifically in your team.

Tara King

Yeah, there are four people aside from myself, so five people in total. We have people doing specific programs. Anne McCarthy has been doing amazing work around the full site editing outreach program. So that’s been part of this team before I started, they were doing that work. And then we have other folks doing courses and meet up presentations. Daisy Olson has been doing those also for a while. We have two new teammates, so Birgit from Gutenberg Times, which is a very amazing connection to have, is going to keep doing that. We’re basically supporting Birgit to do more and more Gutenberg Times as much as she’s willing to do. And then we have Ryan Welcher, a new hire from TenUp, who is helping on the sort of more technical side.

So we have four people which means each person is responsible for, I think, 10 and a half percent of the internet. So it’s quite a big job, I would say.

Nathan Wrigley

That’s a fascinating way of actually thinking about it. Forgive me, I’m going to quote from the Automattic job description that came to you. This is the thing that you applied for. And again, please forgive me if this has now morphed in some way, but it basically says “We’re looking for someone to join our Automattic team dedicated to aiding the WordPress open source systems effort, specifically around developer relations. Your focus will be communicating with community developers about WordPress, Gutenberg and the surrounding ecosystem to build a positive and sustainable relationship with WordPress developers and reduce barriers to Gutenberg adoption”. And then there’s a bullet point list of what the ideal candidate will have, which presumably you met admirably. Congratulations. The thing that jumps out for me, there is the word developer is used multiple times. And is that where your efforts are going to lie? You’re reaching out to developers as opposed say to end users or perhaps people that are new in the community who are unfamiliar with how Gutenberg and WordPress works.

Tara King

Yeah. So we are one month in. So we’re still working out the details, but very much focused on developers. I think I’ll say for myself, I am actually from the Drupal project, I’ve been in WordPress for a long time, but I have a much deeper kind of contributor history in Drupal actually. And in the Drupal project, it’s always like developers first. Basically it’s not official, but it’s very focused on the developer experience and, coming to WordPress, I was always looking around… who’s talking about developers and WordPress, where are they meeting? Where are they talking? So it’s a very natural thing to focus on developers for me. But I do think it’s a little bit new in the WordPress project. Certainly not developer first. I think the user is still always, maybe even the visitor is always going to be first, but the user of WordPress is always going to be the primary audience. But I think Gutenberg is really a product, a tool for the user, but in order to get it out there, I think developers really need to adopt it. Especially anybody who’s extending WordPress. We need them to understand how to make Gutenberg work with that. Because that really does, I am blown away every time I use Gutenberg, and I know that’s my job to say that, but it’s actually also true. It’s part of why I took the job. I think it’s such a fantastic tool when you’re giving somebody a site and they’re going to be managing it. Without any code, they can do really advanced things in terms of layout and display.

We need all the developers in the community to get on board and make it available via their various extensions. So we really are focused on developers and that goes everywhere from, so there’s the theory of care in the WordPress community? I don’t know if you’re familiar. It’s there’s the leadership. There’s the contributors. There’s the extenders. Users and visitors, I’m kind of sticking with that model. There’s developers all the way down to the user level. People who are not writing a lot of new code necessarily, but maybe a little bit here and there. So we’re talking to those folks. We’re talking definitely to the extender group. So people who are writing plugins and themes, people who are running hosting companies or agencies, large universities, anybody kind of working with WordPress at a larger scale. And then of course the contributors who are literally developing the project. So it doesn’t sound very focused when I say it like that, because that’s a lot of people, but it’s everybody who’s writing code to support WordPress, whether that’s for one site or for all of WordPress.

Nathan Wrigley

I am really interested by the fact that this role in this team now exists. As far as I’m aware it’s the first time that your role has existed. That’s right, isn’t it? You are the first person to.

Tara King

That is correct.

Nathan Wrigley

Okay. So that speaks to me that the team over at Automattic, as you said, they’ve listened and they’ve realized that this team needs to exist. WordPress is growing and fortunately Automattic have the capability to put this together. I suppose later on in the podcast, we’ll get into the problems that people are experiencing and some of the things that presumably you’re going to be addressing, but I am also keen to understand how people will be interacting with you.

So in the future, how are they going to be getting their concerns in front of you and your team. Is it all about outreach from you or is it doors open, you can email me. How are people going to make contact with you and your team and express what it is that they need to express?

Tara King

Yeah, that’s a great question. Going back to the 10.5% of the internet per person. It’s a really hard problem to solve. We can’t be everywhere at once. As much as I would like to have someone who’s on every WordPress related Stack Overflow or Stack Exchange, Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, I could keep going with where we might go to listen to the community.

We’re still working that out in terms of the details. We’re in Make Slack all the time, but I know Make Slack isn’t always terribly welcoming. It’s welcoming, nobody’s mean, but it’s a bit confusing, I think when you’re new to the community or new to that space, there’s always meetings happening. I know I personally have had the experience of, I don’t know when I’m supposed to talk with, if I’m interrupting a meeting.

You know, there are places that we definitely are. I think my email is going to, I assume it’ll be in the podcast notes, it’s tara dot king at automattic dot com. I am happy to hear from folks. I may regret saying that I don’t know how many emails I’ll get, but I think for me right now, especially because I am transitioning from having one foot in both Drupal and WordPress into being more WordPress focused, I’m really looking to meet people and genuinely hear what folks are struggling with because it’s wide. So my mandate is Gutenberg focused, but, that’s not the only thing that causes problems. You might be also struggling with some particular part of Core that isn’t Gutenberg. Like it’s a very tangled knot in terms of when you’re having issues with WordPress. So I like to hear about it because maybe right now the radar is focused on Gutenberg, but we’re not going to be focused on Gutenberg forever. We can expand out from that narrow focus.

So long story long, I wish I had a super simple answer other than to email myself personally. We are listening as much as we can or going to events, camps, and meetups and things. We are listening on Twitter. We’re listening on Post Status. We are trying to be in all the major places, but feel free to reach out to myself or anyone else on the team that you feel comfortable with.

There’s a lot of people out there for a very small team, but we are trying to listen. One other thing I’ll say before I finish on this topic, is there are very specific calls for testing that we’re doing. So if you want to be more involved in the full site editing development before it happens, right? So a lot of people have a very reactive approach, which is, it comes out and they’re unhappy, but actually there are pathways to be involved sooner. And this was one of the easiest ones. You can go to the Make Slack, there’s a channel called F S E dash outreach. And if you join that channel, you will be presented with calls for testing that are, in my opinion, I hope that other people find this to be true as well, fairly clearly outlined. You know, step-by-step how to do the test in question. And then where to give your feedback. This is helping with everything from how a navigation block works from how widgets work. There’s been some open-ended ones around what themers, theme builders needs. So that’s one way to get a very specific kind of feedback, right? It’s not general, but it’s very effective to get specific feedback.

Nathan Wrigley

I sometimes feel that despite the fact that those channels are publicly available and anybody can hop in, I do sometimes wonder if things like the Make Slack and Github and so on, I do wonder if there’s room for improvement there. And I don’t mean throw the baby out with the bath water, but they can be quite intimidating. It is difficult to backtrack and figure out where the conversation began that’s currently going on. The interface for Slack is excellent if you’re a part of a team and your daily grind is to be in a particular Slack channel, and you’re constantly checking in and you see where the conversation has flowed from and where the conversation is right now. But I feel it’s difficult for people who are just hopping in to make almost any sense of those conversations at all. And so of course, the easy thing to do is to glance in open the door at a tiny bit, stare through the crack and then just run away in fear and continue to feel annoyed.

Tara King

Yeah, I totally agree. I think, here I am barging in kinda new to the community. It was lots of opinions. I’ve been feeling very much like the Make Slack and the Make blogs are more welcoming to people who are contributing because they’re in it every day. It’s easy for them to understand what’s happening. Whereas I don’t actually feel like we have a great location for developers at large. We have documentation. We have the Github for Gutenberg, but again, they’re very contributor focused. There are people who just need to know how to build a plugin. How to build a block pattern on WordPress in general. And I don’t feel like we have a great place for those discussions to happen right now. I don’t know what we’re going to land on, but that’s one thing that this team is working on, trying to figure out what would be the right way to consolidate conversations for that community. Because right now it does feel like if you’re a developer who has a WordPress problem, you shout into the void and you hope somebody hears. That might happen on Twitter. It might happen at a WordCamp. There are ways to be heard, but they’re hard to find. I think we need much better pathways. To have those conversations.

Nathan Wrigley

I am not committing you to any particular platform or any particular piece of software, but it’s just, it is nice to hear though, that you have that, on the radar, you’re thinking about that because I think that’s really important. Many of us are used to different platforms, probably more social in nature that seem to work in inverted commas, better, but that’s fascinating, thank you.

Okay. Let’s get stuck into the side of Gutenberg where people are concerned. Feeling disgruntled. Now I do want to definitively spell out at this point that you are not responsible for the way that Gutenburg is right now. I really want to make that very clear. So anybody listening to the podcast, it is not your fault, but people have concerns.

I think right now we seem to be seeing more concern than ever before. I’ve been using WordPress for about, I’m going to go for nine years, that feels more or less, right. Prior to that I was using a piece of software, which you just mentioned, Drupal. And I was extremely happy with Drupal. Drupal did everything that I wanted to do. It really was fabulous. In fact, if you could rewind the clock, I was telling my clients that Drupal was probably going to overtake WordPress in its use. How wrong could I have been? But there came a moment in time where that community became something that I no longer was part of. And it was because of the fact that Drupal deals with point releases, so from five to six to seven. There is a real line drawn in the sand. Drupal five doesn’t sit well with Drupal six and six doesn’t sit well with seven and so on. And I left at the point where there was one of these moments. It was from Drupal seven to Drupal eight, and I couldn’t cope with the fact that I was going to have to do an enormous amount of work, just to keep things that had already built, up and running. Now the parallels that are there are fairly major I think, WordPress has done an unbelievably good job of being backwards compatible, but now we have what feels like, I’m going to call it a Drupal moment. Where we are at an inflection point, something radical has changed in WordPress, and it really is bifurcating the path. Some users extremely happy, giving it a go, getting involved, loving it, other people, disliking it, not wanting to be a part of it and ultimately, just stopping being part of the community and not using WordPress at all. So I hope my analogy there with Drupal sits and you understand what I’m saying?

Tara King

Yeah, it does. Yep. I was in the community of the Drupal community when that happened as well. It is very interesting. I think for a long time, I’ve talked to people in both communities, I’ve talked to people using both software. And one of the differences, when people ask what’s the difference is that WordPress is backwards compatible and Drupal’s not. And the seven to eight was Drupal becoming object oriented, was the main change. And so people were used to writing procedural PHP, and now they had to write object oriented and they weren’t used to it. And, not only were they not used to it, it was just unbelievable amount of work to update all of the extensions and make everything work. And then there’s no migration path that’s very clean between seven to eight in Drupal. Having lived through that, the Drupal project forked at that point, there’s now a separate fork of the project called Backdrop. It was a very painful time. It was honestly a very painful time for me personally. I’m sure it was painful for other people as well, but it was painful for me because I had gotten into Drupal in Drupal six and I was essentially a solo shop. I was building sites by myself, occasionally getting in a contractor and I could make sites pretty cheaply and pretty easily for lots and lots of people on Drupal. And like you said, loved, I just loved the software. I loved it so much. And the switch to Drupal eight felt very personal, like we don’t care about people like you Tara. Obviously, no one’s said that to me, but that’s what it felt like. It felt like I don’t have the resources to make this kind of a change for my clients. And I think ultimately it led me to stop freelancing and start working for agencies because they did have the resources. So it actually did change my career trajectory. So it’s very serious for people. These kinds of changes in a software project, it seems kind technical or niche, but it’s not, it’s people’s livelihoods and it’s people’s entire way of being in the world. Like you’re changing how someone is working, you’re changing, what kind of work they’re able to do.

So I think it’s a really relevant parallel to draw to Gutenberg because I think a lot of people are feeling that same way now, and it’s no surprise that they’re going to have very strong reactions when their livelihood is threatened. I don’t play a single person for having that struggle. The reason I took when I was talking about the job and interviewing and things like that, it definitely feels like we’re starting a little bit behind because the community is already upset. It would have been nice if we could’ve started before we Gutenberg came out and built those relationships earlier, but hindsight’s 2020.

And I thought to myself, there’s so many people doing so many cool things with WordPress right now. I think Gutenberg is a really powerful tool. And if we can help people make that bridge. Not have to build the bridge to becoming a Gutenberg developer themselves, but have one provided. If we can help people feel heard and welcomed and important again. Cause I think that’s why we come to these communities as we feel that way, we feel like we’re important and we have somewhere to matter. So anyway, for me, long story short, it’s very emotional and I really want to honor and respect people and meet them where they’re at because I’ve been there in the Drupal project.

Nathan Wrigley

A couple of quotes. I should say that I reached out to a few of my friends. I am going to name no names. They didn’t ask me to not to name names, but I won’t. Just a few little things just to give you an indication of where people are at. So this is from somebody who creates WordPress websites for a living. I don’t think they would describe themselves as a developer, but they say, “Push and you get push back. If Gutenberg had been developed as an add-on plugin, for example, which was optional, where folks could opt in, then it would have become something that they could choose. And that for me is what made WordPress so successful”.

So that was from one person, and then from another person who is involved in themes shall we say, “To every new feature or whatnot, which is added to Gutenberg, there’s a but to go with it. And those things are never addressed. All in all, that is why I’m losing passion for WordPress”.

It’s those kinds of feelings I think, I could probably have put in some stronger ones, and certainly there were some ones which were less strong than that, but it gives you an indication. This is really, like I said, bifurcating the community and it really isn’t a case of people just tutting a bit and being a little bit annoyed and then just shrugging it off and getting over it. This is genuinely people who’ve been doing things for a long time, are dedicated to WordPress, commit to WordPress, use it every day, promote it. And they’re thinking of walking away are, like I did with Drupal.

Tara King

Yeah. Yeah. It’s really hard to hear quotes like that, but it’s also just so important. Honestly, I find that the WordPress community has been very patient. Gutenberg came out now, I think three years ago. And obviously some people were not patient, some people took off. But I do feel like people have been pretty patient. And whereas in Drupal before Drupal eight even came out, people were like, I made a fork. I’m leaving. Here’s my talk at DrupalCon about how Drupal’s terrible. I really hope, I’m not here to try to save people.

Everybody has to make their own decisions about what software project is the right for them. I think in general, this is about people’s passions, whatever that might be, it’s not necessarily about WordPress. They want to be able to do what they need to do. I’m not trying to save every last person, but I do think it’s important to hear when people are having these reactions and to really hear it right, to let it sink in.

I hope if my team can’t counteract some of these feelings about the software being pushed onto people about development, ignoring the feedback that’s coming in, I think we will have failed. I am very optimistic at this time, one month in, to say that I think we have some really good people who are really passionate and very deep in the community who know what people need. They’re on the other side too, they’re also developers. We’re not hiring marketing people, no offense to marketing people, but that’s not what this team is. We sit inside the product team. We’re talking to the developers of the product. We’re talking to developers in the community. And like I said, there’s four of us, 42% of the web. Can’t really hear everyone, but I’m hopeful that as we listen. One person who stands up and says, I’m losing passion for WordPress because of this, represents a hundred people who didn’t or a thousand people who didn’t, I don’t know what the numbers actually are, but if we can address these people, one-to-one with personal caring, with strong, clear feedback to the product teams that are working on WordPress. I am hopeful that we can make this feel more like a collaboration, more like you’re opting in, and it’s your choice to use this cool tool instead of, oh, I have to. So that’s the goal for the team.

Nathan Wrigley

The two things that keep coming up in the conversations that I have on this side of the fence are that it was pushed into Core without the sort of necessary time for it to be examined and the entire community to have their say on it.

And the other one seems to revolve around the fact that it’s now been going on for such a long time, and it feels like almost like a public beta that’s been going on for two, nearly three years where we are asked to use a piece of software, which is still very much in development. And so concerns around those. And I’m interested, you may know, you may not know what the decision-making processes were in the past for how that happened. You may be able to talk about that again, you may not, but I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on whether the decision-making process for how things are going to be implemented, are going to change. Is there going to be more openness about what’s coming up? Are we able to communicate directly with the people who are making these changes? I think the feeling is it’s top down. That a few people who make very big decisions and they make them, and the rest of us have to go along with that. And I think people would like to understand whether that governance model is up for debate. That’s my question really.

Tara King

I don’t know if it’s up for debate, to be honest, in terms of the very highest levels of the project. I don’t think it is. I think that we have Matt, we have Josepha and they’re the leaders. And I think almost every major open source project has one or two people, typically one person in that position.

And I’m not in the room for those discussions. I should say there’s anything that’s it is going to change there. I don’t know about it. That said, I think it’s very clear to me, I actually have not yet spoken with Matt, but I spoken with Josepha who’s in dot org. Like we work together very pretty closely. And I can tell that Joseph is really listening. It’s obviously hard for someone who’s not seeing her regularly to know that. I fully understand why people think that it’s very top-down, but that is part of this team is to go out and to try to listen and to help people understand how their feedback can come in.

That’s why I feel kind terrible that I can’t say to you, this is exactly how you can give us your feedback, but that’s absolutely the top list of priorities. Hopefully by the end of this year, we can have something clearer. There’s the obvious ways of you can go in and contribute. But it’s a pretty high barrier to entry.

And I think what most people actually want is just to be able to give a little feedback. They don’t want to write new code to fix something, they want to be able to say, oh, this didn’t work for me because X, so that’s what my team is going to be doing. And maybe it’s not fair to call it a beta, I don’t think, but it is ongoing development in public because that’s the open-source way. But it’s very challenging, having come from the Drupal community where people are making these big changes all the time, it feels, yeah, that’s what we do. But I know in WordPress that hasn’t been the case. What we are trying to do very specifically with my team is, get ahead of the release. So 5.9 is coming out in December. We are working right now on documenting exactly what is and is not going in. Is there any kind of breaking change? Those are pretty rare still, but if there is anything like that, we want to get ahead of that. We want to know, is there education that needs to happen around a certain technology to make this a success.

And we’re trying to push that out, to, I think right now we’re going to try to push it out to things like large agencies, universities, big groups that can then disseminate it internally just for purposes of scaling. Not because we don’t care about individuals, it’s just hard to reach them. So we’re trying to work that process, get that smoothed out. While that is getting refined, also building ways for individual developers of any kind to opt into that kind of information. So it is very much an experimental piece of software at this point. It’s production ready to, it’s both. It’s very interesting to be in this middle, the middle of it all. And I know it feels like it’s been going on for a long time and I know it feels like it’s never going to end, but it actually is going to end.

And as somebody whose mandate is to work on it, there’s even almost a little bit of not dread, but existential sort of conundrum when Gutenberg ends. What do I do then? So as much as it feels like it’s never going to end it. It is, it will be done, it will finish.

Nathan Wrigley

Moving the debate ever so slightly, but more or less the same wheelhouse really, there seems to be this under current, and in a sense, it feels a little bit, I’m going to say conspiratorial. Seems to be a lot of people who are equating the Gutenberg project with, so the dot org side of things with the dot com side of things, almost as if the people on the dot org side are the Guinea pigs, for want of a better word that, is probably entirely the wrong word, but you get the idea, for the project and that the dot com side obviously has a financial model, which the dot org side doesn’t. And I just wondered if you had any thoughts on that, whether those concerns could be assuaged as well, whether there is in fact a problem there or not.

Tara King

You know, I don’t see. I have only been there a month, I don’t have this sort of deep WordPress roots that other folks do. So I’m like new, I guess I’m an outsider still a little bit. And so I was concerned, I’m not going to, when I took the job, I was a little concerned about that because when I’m not working, before I worked at Automattic, I was constantly, oh, it’s so annoying that there’s a dot org and a dot com. It’s so confusing. It’s so annoying. So coming from the outside of the company and from like a fairly commercial place, honestly, from my interactions with WordPress, I don’t see it. I have not met anybody from the dot com side. And I mean that literally like the entire side I’ve met one person because she lives in my hometown. We had coffee, that’s it? So, no one has told me anything from the dot com side needs to be implemented on our side. If anything, I almost feel like it’s inverted, which is that, I would guess if you talk to folks who work on dot com, they are just maybe not just as frustrated, but close to as frustrated as folks outside the company, as they’re waiting to ingest information from dot org, I’ve heard that from folks like we need training, we need to be able to, to train dot com customers. So there’s frustrations there too. So I hear the conspiracy. I see where that comes from and why it exists. My experience has been completely not that way.

Nathan Wrigley

Okay. It’s definitely something which gets raised from time to time. So I thought it was worth bringing up. But again, the caveats that we mentioned at the top of the podcast, that you’ve just begun in your line of work and so.

Tara King

Exactly, I’m very new. And the thing about conspiracy theories is you can’t really prove them wrong. Most of the time, they’re unable to be proven wrong. So I can’t prove it. I just don’t see it.

Nathan Wrigley

One of the things that I guess you are going to have repeatedly over the next year or so is the chatter about the move into new technologies in WordPress?

So React, increased reliance on JavaScript and the move away from PHP. And this also speaks to the debate about people moving away and getting alarmed that their websites that they’ve already built and their capability to build things and have a business that’s easy for them to manage in the future, is going to be difficult. And I wonder what you thought about those horizons. I wonder if you’ve got any words of comfort for people who have those concerns. And a related question, I wondered if there was possible responsibility, that again maybe too strong, a word, but I’m going to use it, a responsibility on Automattic to provide guidance, training, materials, whatever would be needed to help people cross that bridge and to ease the burden of learning these new things.

Tara King

Yeah. So I’m a PHP developer, I taught myself PHP and I always held JavaScript at arms length, right? It was like, nope, that is too far. I will not do it. When JavaScript started becoming more and more popular, I just was like, nope, I don’t have to, I know PHP. So I feel very much the pain of why do I have to learn JavaScript again?

I think the concerns I’m hearing, and again, I said my email, I’ll say it again at the end of the podcast, but the concerns I’m hearing and the concerns I’ve had are, yeah, it’s just, I don’t want to learn JavaScript because I don’t need to, why do I need to? There’s a build step, right? There’s often a more, a slightly more complicated kind of environment needed to Gutenberg development versus just straight PHP. You just write it, hit save and I’ll see if it works. So there’s additional complications of writing Gutenberg code. Not every host necessarily well, set up if you wanted to do that remotely or something like that. For some of us, I thought we stopped compiling things. I have to compile things. It feels a little, old. So I hear all of that and I’m sure there’s other objections people have. The things that I’m excited about with it, now that I’m having to do more of it, I’m realizing JavaScript’s not that hard. We’re all going to be okay. It’s not that hard. And it opens up so much in terms of greater web technologies.

And again, this feels very parallel to Drupal seven, to Drupal eight, which was moving to object oriented programming actually made me a better developer. I was a fine PHP procedural programmer. I was a reasonable developer and then having to learn it, which I know it’s frustrating when you have to learn something, but I don’t regret having done it. It made it easier actually for me to get into Gutenberg development, it’s made my whole development life much easier. I don’t think JavaScript is going away on the web in general. I think if anything, it’s going to continue to eat the web. As an individual, it’s powerful to have that tool in your toolbox as an agency, it’s powerful to be able to sell that work. Talk to people, have a more diverse kind of set of skills on the team. I’m pro learning in general, right? It’s I think something that helps every open source project grow. I think the backwards compatibility with WordPress, I hesitate to say it, but it feels like it’s gone a little bit too far. At some point, if you maintain backwards compatibility, the software can’t move forward because the old stuff is pulling it back.

I think it’s a wonderful model and Drupal is moving more towards it. It’s kind interesting to see the two communities converge there, but this might just be a case where there’s going to be a few pain points. Every web developer, no matter what tool they’re working with is going to have pain points where they have to learn something new.

I think it’s useful on an individual level. And then in terms of offering support for the transition, that is absolutely something that I think needs to happen. Whether or not it’s Auttomatic’s responsibility. I think it’s best when these things are community-wide efforts. I would love to see WordCamps and meetups offer, people volunteering to run… hey, this is how I got started. That happened a lot in Drupal. I have a friend who ran a talk about how Pokemon can teach you object oriented programming. Very accessible. And so I think, it’s not necessarily Automattic’s responsibility, but that said it is something that my team is actively working on right now is what kind of materials are needs to help people get over there. Is it, we need to help people understand how to make, build environment, that dev environment that can do the build steps for React, or is it just general JavaScript knowledge? So we’re actually, this week, looking at what options are currently out there. What’s up to date. There were, when Gutenberg launched, there were a number of products and educational things that came out from the community that were great, but have not been updated. And people are still being directed to stuff that’s two years old, and doesn’t help them now? So my team is actively working on this.

How can we help people do this? Because like I said, it’s actually not that hard, but we don’t give the tools people need. I tried to build a Gutenberg plugin recently entirely just from wordpress dot org documentation. I was like, no blog posts, no outside resources, just wordpress dot org. And it was not easy. So whether or not it’s Automattic’s responsibility, it’s something that we’re taking on, because it needs the community does need it. So look for something better in that space, soonish.

Nathan Wrigley

Thank you. Encouraging, just to hear that the flag has been raised and the concern has been written down and it does sound to me like you are actually planning to bring something to the table and it’s been thought about, so that’s really encouraging. Thank you for that.

It feels like we’ve been bashing for a long time, we’ve probably spent half an hour dissecting all the bad. So before we draw to a close let’s flip that entirely. Let’s turn it to the good. And I just want to offer you a platform to say why it is you’ve taken this job with Gutenberg as the sole focus. What is it about Gutenberg that you feel is better? Why do you think it’s the future? In other words, what I’m saying is, here’s a crowd of naysayers, here’s a crowd of people in front of you, they’ve got their pitchforks out, they are furious about the way that things are going, you’ve got an opportunity now to just address that crowd and see if you can turn some heads.

Tara King

Oh, I wish I had practiced. WordPress has always been about freedom and empowerment of people, of individuals. This is my personal take on it, this is not the Automattic take on it necessarily, it’s just how I feel. When I was building small sites, I used to run a consultancy for artists, artists are famously, not necessarily wealthy. Don’t have a lot of money to put into these things. And they’re also a very do it yourself kind of group. So I was making websites for artists. And if I could just get them started, give them a little push, install, some WordPress on a server, maybe pick out a theme for them. They could do it. People who almost refuse to touch computers because they’re just busy off making their art could come back and use WordPress and share their work, talk about it, sell it, do really cool things.

And I think I’ve always been very passionate about that kind of end user being able to make their own website. I am personally just so not interested in having to go to a developer to say I need to post my new blog post. I need to add a little widget here with my new event. It’s feels so old fashioned to me, and it’s so disempowers, like I said, the user of the website. And so when I was looking at this job, thinking to myself, self, nobody, like everybody’s mad about Gutenberg. Do you really want to talk about it and try to make them like it, what it really came down to was a genuine feeling, when I was interviewing and talking to people at Automattic, genuine feeling that they wanted this to be a collaborative experience, that they wanted it to be in conversation with the entire community, which is really where my passion derives from. And then Gutenberg itself as a tool is just incredible. I wouldn’t have taken it if I didn’t think the tool was worth it. If it was like, oh, there’s this like terrible piece of software, but it’s okay. I’m getting a salary. I’m not going to work 40 hours a week on something like that. So the tool allows people to do really powerful things and really control stuff that I haven’t seen in other CMS’s. I’ve built sites for clients in Wix and Weebly and Squarespace and Drupal and WordPress and other more niche platforms. And I just see my clients over and over again, bumping up against, oh, I just want to put two pictures next to each other. And they can’t because they don’t know HTML or they don’t know how to make a table.

I just want to be able to make all my pictures, have a little, like a header cover image with some text on it and they have to call me and I have to code that in and put it up there. And obviously Gutenberg doesn’t have every kind of block and every kind of pattern that you might imagine. But having now built several sites, just with vanilla WordPress, I haven’t installed any themes or anything like that, and just a couple of block packages that are out there, you can get pretty far, I think much farther. Yesterday I was watching a video on YouTube about, it was 10 minutes to a block theme, and it was like, make these five files and now you can put a block widget as your header, which means the users can make their own headers. And I don’t have to go in and do all of those little things for them all the time. I think that’s scary for some folks because they rely on that work. They rely on it being difficult. But ultimately, it’s really empowering. It makes more people able to make more websites. Like it really grows the size of the pie if you will. Drupal’s like jealous of it and there’s a Gutenberg port to Drupal and it’s really very cool. It’s very powerful. And I think, the community can really benefit from it. We just need to be able to actually speak to each other and hear each other and work together. And that’s the part that my team is really trying to build that bridge and to make that a reality, obviously we can’t fix everything for everybody, but we can fix more things than we have been fixing.

Nathan Wrigley

That, I feel is a really excellent place to call it a day. You mentioned just before we finish, you did mention earlier that you were going to drop your email in once more. It may be that people have heard it and haven’t written it down. Can I encourage you to do that once again?

Tara King

Absolutely. My email is t a r a dot k i n g at automattic dot com. And there are two T’s on the end of that. So it’s a u t o m a t t i c dot com. I’m also sparklingrobots on Twitter. Like I said, R I P my inbox let’s see how this goes. But I, I believe my DMs are open on Twitter or you can just tweet at me because I am actively looking to have conversations in the community. One-on-one conversations actually move things forward quite a bit. So I’m excited to have those.

Nathan Wrigley

Tara thank you very much for coming on the podcast today.