Today we’re spending a bit of time with Austin Gunter, the Brand Ambassador of WP Engine and all-around tweet addict. He’s been around here on WP Daily a few times and is constantly cooking up new ideas to share his passion for WordPress and his company.
Pretty neat gig if you ask me! We’re stoked to learn more about him and what he’s been up to as a WPOI (Word Person of Interest):
1. Tell Us About Yourself, The More ‘Unknown’ Facts the Better!
Well, that’s an interesting question 🙂 I’m a small-town Texas boy who grew up in Austin and “made good” in the tech industry. Not many people know that I got my degree in Writing and Rhetoric, and the theories of semiotics. Basically, I studied communication building blocks, something that I use constantly at WP Engine. Prior to joining WPE, I built a community of over 120 startup companies at an incubator in Austin, and I still work with folks who are building communities around an idea.
I read voraciously, right now I’m looking at my shelf, and there are 5 books in various stages of completion. For me, reading is a way to learn more about myself, to model successful behavior, and to have an escape from the world in fiction when I need a break. Words are truly my favorite things in the world.
2. How Long Have You Been Working with WordPress? When Was Your First Experience?
My first experience with WordPress was at the incubator when I had just started building the community. Our website was on Drupal, and I remember having to get into the backend on things and thinking to myself, why the hell is this more complicated than it needs to be? I really hated the fact that unless I wanted to spend the time to learn the new CMS, we were at the mercy of a developer.
That year, I was also kicking off my blog, austingunter.com (which is in the early stages of a re-design), and I weighed the value of using drupal for it, or using WordPress. I went with WordPress because all those frustration points with Drupal didn’t exist with WordPress. Once I installed my first theme from WooThemes, the rest really was history. That one decision to go with WordPress has affected my life in more ways than it has any right to: I’m working at an amazing company in WP Engine, I’m part of this great WordPress Community, and the list goes on.
3. Why Did you Start WP Engine? What Was the Chief Motivation?
I think you’ve got me confused with Ben and Jason, the founders 🙂 I’ll answer the question, “why did I join WP Engine?” [Editor – Yes… I thought I edited this question for you! Whoops!]
I initially got a writing contract with WP Engine and slowly turned it into a stable monthly bit of work very early in the company. I was starting my own consulting business at the time. However, I realized that WP Engine was going to gain an incredible amount of momentum and soon, so I weighed my options.
On the one hand, I had my own little company, and on the other, I had the opportunity to be an early employee at a startup that I knew could be important to the industry. I decided I wanted to be part of the bigger thing rather than run my own show, and I wrote a job description that I handed to Jason Cohen, a co-founder and CEO. It took him a few weeks to soften up, but I finally got them to say yes and offer me a job.
4. How Have You Seen WordPress Grow and Change and Where Do You Think It’s Headed?
WordPress really is not just for blogs any longer. I’m seeing so many enterprise and Fortune 500 companies pick up WordPress for very ambitious projects. We’re seeing the Directors of IT and VPs of marketing really jump onboard the platform because of 1) it’s easy for their people to update, and 2) it’s become as scalable and secure as it is versatile, and it’s capable of handling millions of hits an hour on a custom app that you’ve built for a marketing campaign.
I think WordPress is going to see massive adoption in these markets in 2013, as well as with digital agencies, which is going to bring great challenges to us as a hosting platform to continue to innovate and provide the right customer experience for these people who are joining the WordPress Community.
It’s also going to challenge all the developers and designers who want to serve these new markets to build their businesses and hone their specialties accordingly. I think nothing but good can come from it, and lots of people are going to have their lives changed by this year.
5. What Can People Expect to See in 2013 for WPEngine?
Well, we’ve spent all December planning for things, and while I can’t tell you *everything* we’re working on, I can drop a few hints. First off, we’re in the process of hiring for 24/7 support, and I’m amazed at how quickly our support team can find such amazing techs who *get* our culture, and continue to thrill our customers. No specific timeline on that, because you can’t rush hiring, but it will happen sooner than we think.
There are also some pretty sweet, and totally top secret features that our product team is going to add to the my.wpengine.combackend this year. I wish I could tell you about them, but that would defeat the purpose! Our website will be 100% redesigned in a few months, which will improve our user experience front to back.
6. Any Personal Side Projects or Passions that Keep You Busy?
I’m always doing little things on the side to stay inspired and keep learning. Recently, I moved from Austin to San Francisco to help open the WP Engine offices out here, so I’ve been pretty wrapped up with moving and all that entails. I’m currently re-designing austingunter.com, and created a twitter subdomain that archives all my Tweets from @austingunter at, twitter.austingunter.com.
I used the P2 theme so my gravatar would appear by each post. It refreshes every 5 minutes so I’m not burning the server down with unnecessary requests, but it was simple to do. Look for more posts from me about startups, interviews with entrepreneurs I admire to learn what I call “The entrepreneurial mindset,” and posts about the SF Tech Scene, and of course WP stuff.
7. What is One (or Two) Tips for Those That are Getting into WordPress?
Don’t try to do it all at once. Remember that the CMS turns 10 years old this year, so there is a lot of stuff going on there. Don’t stress if you can’t figure it all out in one go. Set reasonable goals that you can achieve, and don’t be afraid to google for answers. There are 20,000 people who make their living with WordPress, and they’ve all written blog posts explaining how to troubleshoot WordPress. Chances are, you can find the answer with Google.
Then, make sure you start attending meetups and ask lots of questions. The people who have been “WordPressing” for years come out to beginners meet ups for the *Very Purpose* of helping newbies get started. They feel significant being able to help you out, so don’t feel shy! That’s what meetups are for!
Finally, pay extra for a good managed host. There are 4 good companies, including WP Engine, that will make sure your site stays clean of hackers and malware, and who can provide stellar support. The difference between a managed host and shared hosting can be a lot of frustration, and it’s worth paying a few more bucks a month in exchange for your sanity. I promise you’ll be satisfied with the experience you have. And if you’re not, send me an email, and I’ll apologize profusely.
Finally, if you’re reading this from the Bay Area, please hit me up for a coffee or a lunch! I love meeting folks that work with WordPress, or have questions. You can always reach me on twitter, @austingunter, and my email is [email protected].
Looking forward to meeting you!