Whether he is speaking at WordCamps all over the country, teaching classes about WordPress or writing and reviewing for Smashing Magazine, it’s clear Jake Goldman is a WordPress man through and through.
On top of this he is the president of the WordPress based web development company, 10up. Rumor has it he’s a pretty slick plugin developer too.
Check out our interview with him below.
1. Tell Us About Yourself, the More ‘Unknown’ Facts the Better!
I’m the President of 10up, a WordPress-centric web agency with a full time staff of 20, plus a handful of specialized subcontractors. I’m lucky to work with some of the best and brightest talent in our community, and to have the opportunity to collaborate with amazing clients, both recognizable brand names and exciting under the radar challenges.
To this day, even as my responsibilities constrain my time, I consider myself a web engineer first and an entrepreneur / “business man” second. When ‘every day’ people casually ask what I do for a living, 9 times out of 10 I say “I make websites.” I think that’s actually cooler than saying “I own a company.” That says something about how exciting our field is.
Here’s another obscure but relevant factoid: before I discovered web development, like many I’ve encountered in our field, I was pursuing journalism. Briefly, I had an affair with the idea of being a digital effects guy for film, too. It occurs to me that much of what drew me to both mediums was the ability to finely craft something engaging that a large audience, most of whom I would never meet, would consume and, if well executed, enjoy.
I had the privilege of being an editor for my high school newspaper for 2 years (which during our tenure, was ranked the best high school paper in the country!), and I enjoyed the layout, editing, and overall craftsmanship as much as I enjoyed the writing. It makes all the sense in the world to me that I ended up in website development. This is today and tomorrow’s craft for mass communication. That it also fully engages my geeky sensibilities just makes it that much more rewarding.
2. How Long Have You Been Working with WordPress? When Was Your First Experience?
My first tryst with WordPress was back in 2006 while helping a mentor build a unique educational website for small business entrepreneurs. We built most of it from the ground up with raw PHP and MySQL, but figured it made sense to use something off the shelf for the newsroom. The buzz seemed to be around WordPress as the obvious self-hosted solution, so we went with that.
I was quickly impressed with how extensible the theme engine was. It was a breath of fresh air after trying to wrap my head around the terrible Smarty template system used by a platform I tried called LifeType a year or two earlier. I vaguely remember thinking there was really something here, and wondering whether I could have used it as a basic framework for the broader site.
I would continue to dabble with WordPress, mostly as a blogging “add on” for fairly complex websites. I was employed as a director for a small web agency in Rhode Island in early 2008, where almost all of the clients were looking to implement a behemoth commercial CMS that ran on ColdFusion. It was clear to all of us that this wasn’t where the industry was heading so I led a push for WordPress centric projects. Mind you, this was before custom post types, before custom taxonomies. That bet paid off.
3. Why Did you Start 10up? What Was the Chief Motivation?
In retrospect, it’s amusing to recall that, when I started 10up, I thought I would begin by taking a short but needed break from larger responsibilities. I did very much envision building another team (it’s not just called “Jake’s Consulting” after all), but the original plan involved a year off from managing employees, from the pressure of cash flow that pays a team, and from the deeply rewarding and also deeply exhausting process of mentoring developers.
I had spent the last 5 years doing that. I would have a few subcontractors to help with larger projects, but that would be the extent of it for year 1. Well, opportunities I couldn’t say no to kept knocking, and I found myself with a team of about 6 one year later. Two years later, here we are at 20.
Although the timeline moved much faster than I anticipated or even intended, the fundamental motivation was always there. First and foremost, I love making websites, and I love WordPress – and had spent much of my personal and professional time pouring myself into it over the preceding years. Perhaps more importantly, I thought the environment and timing was right (and quickly getting more so) for more professional agencies to laser-focus on popular platforms like WordPress.
I was confident I could build a first class team, especially if I shed the antiquated brick and mortar constraints that past employers embrace to this day. At my last brick and mortar gig, we almost never saw our clients, and when we did, we usually went to them. It seemed crazy to me to build a scalable, competitive team for a distributed, international market by putting a pin down on a map and deciding your labor source would be geographically narrow.
This sense deepened in me as I was in a personally transient state just before starting 10up, and didn’t like feeling trapped by a geography that had little to do with our clients (and for the record, since starting 10up, I have “primarily” spent my time living in 3 different states over these 2 years: Rhode Island, Indiana, and California).
Finally, It seemed to me that my third go around with business and team development needed to be a destiny I was in control of. I had the business skills and engineering skills, a strong enough position to not seriously fear for my basic necessities, and I simply couldn’t imagine investing all of myself into someone else’s venture for the third time.
4. How Have You Seen WordPress Grow and Change and Where Do You Think It’s Headed?
WordPress has been really embracing it’s potential as a full-fledged framework and content management platform since around 2.9, when APIs were turned on for custom taxonomies. Adding an API layer for custom post types in 3.0 was a watershed moment. The cleanup and abstraction of core APIs, as recently as PHP classes for abstracting image editing in 3.5, is also very exciting.
I think 3.5 was actually an immensely important release because we aggressively shook up components from links, to naming conventions in the admin, to media management, in a way that we’ve historically been a bit shy to do in the name of legacy support. Media management changes are huge, of course, but from a trajectory standpoint, turning “Links” (blogroll) off by default was the decision that should most be lauded. That says “the base platform isn’t about blogging anymore, it’s about content.”
I was also really encouraged to see Matt Mullenweg, in 2012’s “State of the Word”, put up a slide talking about WordPress’ shift from blogging to content management (today’s plurality) and its rapidly emerging “app engine” use case. I always thought Matt, a reflection of his own passions, was somewhat uneasy with WordPress’ clear trend away from a blogging focus. It seems it’s being embraced for its potential at all levels.
If our community can keep its momentum and energy rolling, WordPress is headed towards being the overwhelmingly dominant engine for content-centric websites. You could argue that it already is, but that view should increase in the future. Its inroads will deepen with “old media,” government and other entities slower to embrace change.
I also think our community and core contributors are going to wrestle with deep philosophical questions about endless compatibility, core features, and where along the spectrum of “simple blog” to “full app engine” WordPress should concentrate. My greatest fear is that we become so nestled in how we do things, and what WordPress should look like, being driven by engineering-types, that someone else will build “WordPress Next” before we do.
I always challenge the current orthodoxy to forget current technical constraints and picture what a dream CMS in 2020 looks like. It won’t look like WordPress 3.5. I then remind them that if we don’t build that dream, someone else will.
These are healthy questions to wrestle with, and I have great confidence in our platform leaders’ ability to get us there. From our team, that’s not just kind words – we’ll continue to devote significant resources to its growth.
5. What Can People Expect to See in 2013 for 10up?
10up’s core mission has always been about making outstanding web publishing as easy as possible, taking complex and powerful website features and making them as easy as browsing the web. This mission permeates everything 10up does, from our community plug-ins, to our first-class consulting services, to our huge contributions to core. We’ll continue to be true to that mission, possibly even broadening our scope.
Behind the scenes, we’re going to focus a bit less on personnel growth and economies of scale (to my knowledge, we are now the largest WordPress-focused agency) and even more on making this the best place to work from an operational, employee growth, and family atmosphere.
6. Any Personal Side Projects or Passions that Keep You Busy?
When you choose to own, run, and grow a business, and – more importantly – you love what you do, there’s not a lot of bandwidth for personal side projects! I have other important priorities I’m increasingly carving out more time for – family, travel, fitness – but when it comes to productivity, I’m focused like a laser on 10up!
7. What is One (or Two) Tips for Those That are Getting into WordPress?
For developers: if you’re curious about how a function call or another piece of WordPress works, go to core code first, not Google or the Codex. It’s well commented, clean, and will improve your programming skills and depth of WordPress understanding. And I don’t care how good you think you are: use an Integrated Development Environment (IDE). I recommend phpStorm on Mac and phpDesigner on Windows.
For publishers: don’t ask “whether” WordPress can do X. Ask what’s involved in making it do X.
For designers: forget that it’s WordPress, and design something amazing. Let the engineers figure out how to bring your vision to life on the platform. Oh, and use engineers for bigger projects.