Human for a year

I celebrated my 1 year anniversary with Human Made a few months ago. I wrote up a review for our company P2 but realized I haven’t said much over here. The following is a slightly edited version of that one year recap.

Last year, the Monday following Thanksgiving was my first official day as a Human. I think it’s poignant that my anniversary at Human Made falls in line with Thanksgiving (leaving the historical context of the slaughter of thousands of Native Americans aside for a moment) because I have much to be thankful for.

I have a tendency toward antiauthoritarianism. I stopped working traditional 9-5 jobs because I always ended up in these awkward situations where I (intentionally or unintentionally) challenged authority and ended up getting myself into trouble of one sort or another. It happened pretty consistently until ultimately I decided to start freelancing so my only boss was myself. I bring this up because since moving from freelance to agency work, I have gotten into similar situations (though not nearly as extreme) and it comes from having fairly strong opinions and wanting to voice them and then expecting that someone actually listen to and acknowledge those opinions. This was a fundamental difference in moving from a normal “backend developer” to “developer lead” at WebDevStudios — suddenly, when I became a lead, my opinions and thoughts felt like they mattered. People were listening when they weren’t before. And it made me more inclined to try to champion the ideas and opinions of the developers on my team(s) because I knew that I was often their only representative to make sure their ideas were heard.

Imagine how refreshing it feels, now, to be here at Human Made, where — as far as I can tell — we’re all extremely opinionated, we all demand that our ideas be acknowledged and, hey, they actually are!

More than the work, more than the dedication to open source, more than the people — though I love you all dearly — this is the thing I am most thankful for in my first year (of many!) as a Human. The acknowledgement that we are all valuable, that all of us have ideas that are valuable, and that we all deserve to be treated with compassion and understanding and empathy. I truly feel valued here and I am thankful every single day (and sometimes, still, a little amazed — am I dreaming?) to be lucky enough to be part of this truly inspirational and awe-inspiring team.

When I applied to Human Made more than a year ago, I really expected nothing to come of it. I had loads of imposter syndrome but I knew what I wanted and what I didn’t want. I was pretty clear on that, actually. I wanted to be treated with respect. I wanted transparency in the company and processes and I wanted the ability to speak up if I had ideas about the company — or what it was doing — without fear of retribution. I wanted the acknowledgement that I am not my work, I have other commitments — to my own open source contributions, to WordCamp and the local WordPress community, to my family, to my own health and sanity — and that those things  

Human Made was one of the few companies that actually ticked all those boxes. And I was a little shocked and disbelieving when Tom replied to me and that Joe gave me the time of day and somewhere in that process I was given a trial project and that everyone on that project was so amazing and warm and that, despite feeling like I contributed basically nothing to the project because it was such early days, I still hear, a year later, that some of my code is still there and valued by the team.

Back when I was freelancing — which was before Automattic really exploded, when they were still <100 people — I would longingly gaze at their Work With Us page. I would read stories about what the work environment is like, drool over the benefits, talk to Automatticians and generally try to suck up as much information as possible about Automattic. I said, that right there is my dream job. And that was what I aspired toward. I applied numerous times for various positions, went through a couple interview processes, even did a trial project once, but nothing really fit. Eventually, frustrated, I put it on the back burner for a future attempt “when I’m ready”, still ultimately thinking that Automattic was my dream job and that I would apply again, if they’d still have me.

 I no longer think that Automattic is my dream job. Or even remotely close, if I’m honest. My dream job is working for Human Made. And I am thankful to all of you for welcoming me, for valuing me (and each other), and for making this team truly the best to work with and the only gig I ever want to have.

I got an incredible amount of positive feedback for this post, including the following which makes me feel like I’ve found the right place:

You represent Human Made so much for me that I couldn’t imagine HM without you!

Since I wrote this, I met about half the company again at WCUS in Nashville where we hung out, visited a record pressing factory together and had our first US-based end-of-year meal. Every day I feel lucky to be a part of this incredible group of individuals.

 I no longer think that Automattic is my dream job. Or even remotely close, if I’m honest. My dream job is working for Human Made. And I am thankful to all of you for welcoming me, for valuing me (and each other), and for making this team truly the best to work with and the only gig I ever want to have.

I got an incredible amount of positive feedback for this post, including the following which makes me feel like I’ve found the right place:

You represent Human Made so much for me that I couldn’t imagine HM without you!

Since I wrote this, I met about half the company again at WCUS in Nashville where we hung out, visited a record pressing factory together and had our first US-based end-of-year meal. Every day I feel lucky to be a part of this incredible group of individuals.

WordCamp San Francisco 2013

This year I went to WordCamp San Francisco. I didn’t take any pictures, but here’s one found on the WP Armchair stream where you can sort of make out my bald head.

You can tell it’s me ’cause the water bottle.

This isn’t going to be an exhaustive post. I’m glad I went but (and there’s always a “but”) I expected…I dunno…more.

The good

I loved being able to meet some people IRL that I’ve only known digitally. In some cases it was more of seeing people who I only knew from Twitter avatars and Gravatars across the room, but in a couple cases it was actually going up and saying hi. That was cool.

Mostly I hung out with the Event Espresso guys. On one hand, I feel like I could have done more to reach out to more people, but then I think — no, that’s probably not accurate; if I wasn’t sitting with them, I’d probably just be sitting alone somewhere and hacking on my laptop and not interacting with anyone. Maybe I should volunteer next time if my goal is to meet people…

There were a few presentations that blew my mind apart. I enjoyed Nikolay’s presentation on coding as UX and the idea of adding a file to projects is effing brilliant — something that I want to start doing with everything, even my own projects. If there’s something left behind about the thought process that went into the code, it would make it easier to re-enter a project after some time away and figure out what it was that I was trying to do.

Nacin’s talk on user roles and caps is really what blew me away, though, and I’m talking literally when I say “blew my mind apart” — I’m now trying to apply some of those things he talked about that sounded so simple at the time and bumping my head into walls.

And the State of the Word was, and always will be, worth watching — a great way to get pumped about where WordPress has come from and where it’s going.

The bad

I’ll make a confession: part of my attendance at WCSF was self-serving. I made it a goal to go to more WordCamps last year as a way to be “seen” more in the greater WordPress community (you know, the one outside of Salt Lake City). Sadly, WCSF is the only one I ended up making it to. I’m not trying to be a big shot, per se, my thought process goes more like this: if I want to work at Automattic some day — and I do — I should be visible in the community so they already know who I am before I apply. This is largely based on the assumption that most people at Automattic (and any job, really, these days) get a foot in the door because they know someone else working at Automattic. And, you know, I do, now, know a few people at Automattic. And that’s cool. But in that “being seen” thing, I totally and utterly failed. Or I felt like I did anyway. 

Here’s the thing: there’s the WordPress Cool Kids, and there’s everyone else. I’m firmly in the “everyone else” category trying to be a part of the cool kid club and getting lost looking for the door. On the other hand, I don’t want to prostitute myself either. I don’t want to just walk up to someone and say “hey, I’m Chris Reynolds, I read your blog” for the sake of doing it and I don’t believe that would do anything anyway. It’s been said before and it was referenced at WCSF that WordPress is a “do-ocracy” where you are judged by the things you do, not by the stuff (and — at least in theory — the people) you know, so the stuff I do needs to be more public. Or something. And I failed at that, too, because I didn’t go to contribute day — but I made a decision (and I stand by it) to spend that day with my family. This trip wasn’t just about WordCamp, it was about hanging out with my parents — who I only see once or twice a year — and celebrating my son’s 8th birthday and Sunday also happened to coincide with the CONCACAF Gold Cup final and I wanted to be able to share our family’s newfound soccer obsession with my parents. And dammit, if choosing to not spend time with my family becomes a requisite for getting a specific job, well then I don’t want that job. So that’s why I stayed home on Sunday.

But by Saturday night, I was burned by my perceived failure to “accomplish” anything. I didn’t rub shoulders with anyone “important” I didn’t talk to anyone about anything that would land me a potentially lucrative gig, it was just another WordCamp, albeit one that seemed to have a higher percentage of people building products and doing things than people who just go there to learn how to use their blog or WordPress-powered site.

The other thing that was hammered home was that everyone wants to work at Automattic. I am not a unique butterfly. There were 1,000 people there and I’m sure every single one of them would like to get a gig there. Tangentially, I’ve realized that my previous attempts to get a gig at A8c have been marred by desperation. And when you’re desperate, you don’t make good decisions, you don’t sound like a confident candidate during interviews, and you end up not getting the job. If it’s ever going to happen, it needs to be at a time when I don’t need it anymore. In that sense, I’ve got a head start, anyway, because WCSF also commemorated my fourth course for Pluralsight, Internationalization in WordPress, which went live during Day 1 as I was passing emails back and forth with Megan to finalize things. (Side note: I’m really happy with this course and I think that it works because the scope is much more limited — it’s focussed on a specific thing, and that works both to create the content and — I think — to relay the information, so I’m going to try to do more courses like this in the future.)

The ugly

Okay, maybe I’m going to sound like a snob here, but I expected more from the presentations. This is WordCamp San Francisco. Demand to be a speaker for WCSF was so high that they allowed people to nominate folks they wanted to see at the WordCamp and invited people to speak. So you expect in those circumstances something a little…uh…more. And there were some great talks, to be sure. I’m sure if I went down the list over the 2 days, there were just as many good as there were so-so, but some sessions didn’t have anything to add for me, or left me with more questions than answers or didn’t answer the questions I had about whatever the topic was. I did learn stuff, as I always do at WordCamp, but, again, maybe I should volunteer, because there are things that would have been throwaways had I not had the whole day to just pick which of the two options I wanted to attend. On the other hand, a lot of those throwaways end up being some of the really good sessions you wish you went to — I’m told the responsive web design presentation was good (or if not good, at least funny), but I was downstairs watching Mika talk about multisite partially because it didn’t click for me what RWD stood for until later (d’oh).

Next year will be better. Or so I will tell myself. Like all democratic systems, you take the bad with the good because it’s about giving everyone a voice and I really should know better than to have stars in my eyes when it comes to things (and people) surrounding WordPress — we’re not celebrities, we’re coders. Even when we’re celebrities or our celebrities are coders. And though I didn’t go to contribute day, I’m planning on following Ian Stewart’s advice to pull up WordPress core Trac tickets by “Bundled Theme” as a way to get started contributing to WordPress. But until my name is attached to a patch in core, here’s a video for you because apparently 3.6 dropped.

WordPress and the GPL, round two

This seems to happen every couple years. Something will come up, and suddenly the WordPress blogosphere is suddenly all a-Twitter (pun intended) about GPL-related issues. This time around, though, it isn’t an outright disregard for or ambivalence toward WordPress and the GPL, there are actual, seemingly good intentions involved, and unwilling participants caught in the crossfire, which makes this go-round much more unfortunate and sad.

@jakecaputo is a WordPress theme developer. He also happens to be a seller on ThemeForest. Until Friday, he was a speaker and planner for  WordCamps. Now he isn’t.

Say what you want about ThemeForest (I certainly have).  For the record, I’m not an advocate for ThemeForest, nor do I have any themes on ThemeForest (or plugins on CodeCanyon). If anything, this discussion has made me want to steer even further away from those places (at least until this gets resolved, one way or another — well, one way, at least).

The reason Jake got booted is because he’s on ThemeForest, selling themes. The WordPress Foundation — the non-profit entity that helps support WordCamps and otherwise provides advocacy and guidance for all things GPL in the WordPress world — has made it clear, for a long time, that WordCamp volunteers must not only follow the letter of the GPL license in how they advocate and promote their own works (outside of WordCamp), but also embrace and follow the spirit of the GPL as well. In plain(er) English this means for developers that your code must not be simply GPL-compliant (e.g. split GPL and proprietary license) but 100% GPL or compatible. All resources in your (distributed) code, all GPL, all the time.

The problem comes in when you sign up to be a seller on ThemeForest. ThemeForest (and CodeCanyon) enforce a split GPL/proprietary license and do not let authors choose the license under which their code is released. This comes in direct conflict with the “one step above simple compliance” that the WordCamp guidelines advise. Which means, essentially, that any author on ThemeForest or CodeCanyon can not present at a WordCamp because ThemeForest and CodeCanyon do not allow them to distribute their work under a license that is 100% GPL. End of discussion.

I will happily say that this sucks for individual theme authors who put their work out there and try to give back to the community by being involved in WordCamps and are now being excluded because of their involvement in Envato properties (the parent company of ThemeForest and CodeCanyon) and decisions that were made for them. But this is how I see it:

WordCamps are largely assisted by the WordPress Foundation — a non-profit that Matt Mullenweg set up a few years ago to “further the mission of the WordPress project.” WordCamps can use funds from WordPress Foundation stores and, if they make any profit, it goes back into the WordPress Foundation. The WordPress Foundation takes over — as an official, legal entity — where the views and ideology of left off, particularly when it comes to these issues of open source and the GPL and what flies and what doesn’t. Because it’s an organization, it has more influence than just saying “.org says you can’t do that”. But I see this going a step further than that, too. In the (hopefully unlikely) event that the GPL ever has to be defended in court as a legally-binding license (like the mutterings several years ago when Chris Pearson was refusing to put the GPL on his popular WordPress theme, Thesis), it would be the WordPress Foundation who would be defending the GPL, much like the Electronic Freedom Foundation assists in cases where digital freedoms are being violated. And that is why I don’t see the WordPress Foundation ever budging when it comes to GPL debates, nor should they. If you make just one exception, it undermines the entire license and could potentially threaten all open source software released under the GPL should it ever go to court (and even have wider-ranging backlash than that, should GPL-derivative licenses or any open source license come into the argument — if you prove the GPL is invalid, where does that leave other OS licenses?).

The WordPress Foundation is like a lighthouse for the GPL, particularly when it comes to WordPress, and WordCamps are a product of the WordPress Foundation. That’s why it’s not good enough that you simply comply with or agree with or use the GPL when it suits you. As a speaker, organizer, or volunteer for a WordCamp, you are a representative of the WordPress community as a whole, and therefore you — yes, you — need to go above and beyond what’s required. If I went to a WordCamp, knowing nothing about WordPress, and met a speaker there who sold on Envato (CodeCanyon or ThemeForest), and went to look up their stuff after the Camp, I could easily get the wrong idea about what WordPress is and where it stands when it comes to open source, the GPL and selling commercial themes and plugins.

so, is a religion now?


No. But the GPL is an ideology and the WordPress Foundation is based on that ideology.

There are a number of things that can be done to solve this problem, including — but not limited to — a compromise on Envato’s side.

1. Non-WordCamp WordPress events.

This has already been done with a number of WordUps around the world and with the recent — and by all accounts incredibly successful — PressNomics. Have a problem with the way the WordPress Foundation runs things? Fine. Start your own event that’s not a Camp. WordCamps traditionally don’t make any money and generally pretty much break even, with all the sponsor money and ticket sales going to pay for things like lunch, t-shirts and the venue. There are no shortage of willing sponsors for a WordPress-centric event, organizing a notCamp wouldn’t be any more difficult than organizing a Camp (admittedly, that’s still a pretty hefty job).

2. ThemeForest authors pull their themes off of ThemeForest.

This is a bitter pill to swallow. Many ThemeForest authors are making significant amounts of money selling on ThemeForest and going it alone would put that at risk. However, as long as you don’t have a say over the license under which you release your themes, if you want to be a part of the WordCamp system — and generally play nice with WordPress — it might come down to this. Brian Gardner (from StudioPress) pulled his themes off of ThemeForest when he realized that putting a GPL license on his profile page wasn’t good enough (editas pointed out in the comments, this was an internal decision that had been made already that just hadn’t been done yet and not specifically a direct result of these shenanigans), and Adii (from WooThemes) — who’s never been on ThemeForest (that I know of edit: I stand corrected) — put in his 2 cents about the GPL and abandoning their split license and adopting the GPL (and subsequently how that’s helped their business by way of WooCommerce). Not everyone is Brian, Adii or Matt, of course, and it’s one thing to already have a successful theme business like StudioPress and pull your themes off ThemeForest — it could be devastating if you were an independent author and suddenly didn’t have those checks coming in. That said, when I launched Museum Themes and looked at the options out there for licensing, I went the harder route — making everything 100% GPL and not using marketplace sites like ThemeForest — because being all in with WordPress, when WordPress is your business is the right thing to do.

3. ThemeForest changes their licensing structure to allow authors to put their themes up under a 100% GPL license.

This may involve some meeting at the middle from ThemeForest. ThemeForest will need to compromise their position in allowing authors to choose. Matt’s comment here indicates that if ThemeForest were to allow authors to release their themes to be 100% GPL, that they would be able to, once again, speak at WordCamps. As he points out, “all of the most successful theme companies out there are 100% GPL and their business is booming, so there’s no monetary downside to Envato.”

The ball, it seems, is in Envato’s court here. Matt has provided some clarification of the guidelines, stating that if ThemeForest/Envato allowed users to release their themes as 100% GPL, those authors (choosing a 100% GPL license) would not be in violation and be able to speak & be involved at WordCamps, but Envato (by still selling non-100% GPL/split-license works) would not. The last time this issue reared it’s ugly head, it was on the theme shops to comply — and they did — and I think the WordPress ecosystem and even their businesses have thrived because of it. I hope the same thing happens here.