I’ve been on the periphery of the open source WordPress community for years now. I’ve attended one local WordPress meetup, one WordCamp, and I even helped design and produce a book about WordPress. Here at Automattic, the open source community is always close by. But up until a couple weeks ago, I’d never contributed directly to WordPress itself.
One of my coworkers is out on sabattical for the summer, and I was offered the opportunity take her place on Automattic’s WordPress.org team while she’s out. I’ve always been curious about how the community functions, so I jumped at the chance.
The WordPress community is over fifteen years old and is composed of members from all around the world. As such, finding my way in felt a little bit like trying to weave through a massive crowd. I’ve been lucky enough to have colleagues to help me along and point me in the right direction, but it’s still been a bit daunting.
One example of this is the feedback process. When you design for a client, or in-house at a company, you usually have a sense of who’s going to view and provide feedback on your work. That’s generally not guaranteed when you’re contributing to open source software. You’re frequently posting in-progress work publicly, and you’re expecting and relying on the fact that anyone, anywhere can provide feedback on that work. It’s likely that strangers will help shape the conclusion. On one hand, this seems like a utopian, truly open way to work — but on the other hand, it’s potentially a designer’s nightmare.
In my experience so far, this hasn’t been a nightmare at all. While total consensus seems to be a rare thing in the community, feedback has generally been very earnest and well-meaning. Sorting through feedback is a little difficult, but there are a lot of fantastic, experienced community members who’re happy to help.
I’m approaching this experience with an open mind — this is a very different workflow from what I’m used to, but it’s exciting to gain this new experience and see how the product comes together in the end.
Start from curiosity. Welcome and seek out difference.
For anyone else getting involved, here are a few insights on the WordPress community that I’ve seen over the past couple weeks:
Its members are engaged. This is my day job. But for most other community members, that’s not the case. Many community members get involved during nights and weekends, or whenever they can find the time. Their dedication shines through — they take this seriously, and are truly passionate about getting things right.
It’s hectic. There’s a lot going on in the WordPress community. There are dozens of outlets for communication, posting work, and making decisions. As someone coming in new, it’s hard to get a sense of the overall picture. Having someone you know and trust to help you out is invaluable.
The community is patient. I’ve seen conversation threads that stretch across years, in which people are still providing productive insight and feedback.
It moves forward. Somehow, all of this chaos, expertise, and passion whirl together to create software that over 30% of the web uses every day. I’m still wrapping my head around how that happens, but it’s definitely an impressive feat.