Welcome to Press This, the WordPress community podcast from WMR. Here host David Vogelpohl sits down with guests from around the community to talk about the biggest issues facing WordPress developers. The following is a transcription of the original recording.
David Vogelpohl: Hello everyone and welcome to Press This the WordPress community podcasts on WMR. This is your host, David Vogelpohl, I support the WordPress community through my role at WP Engine, and I love to bring the best of the community to you hear every week on press this as a reminder, you can find me on Twitter @wpdavidv, or you can subscribe to press this on iTunes, iHeartRadio, Spotify, or download the latest episodes at wmr.fm. In this episode we’re going to be talking about what’s up with Brian Gardner and the future of WordPress, of course featuring for that interview in that discussion. Actually Brian Gardner, Brian, welcome back to Press This.
Brian Gardner: Yeah, I was gonna say a second time around thanks for for having me, of course different context this time. For sure.
DV: Yeah, absolutely. I think the last one was right around 2018. Right, shortly after the acquisition of Studiopress by WP Engine. Obviously we’re gonna cover some of that here today for those listening. For those unfamiliar, Brian that gained some fame in the WordPress community through kind of CO creating the Genesis Framework. He now lead WordPress developer relations and WP Engine. And we’re gonna have him on or we got him here really to talk about his journey Following the acquisition what’s even up to 2018 through today what He has planned for the future, of course, his thoughts about the future of WordPress in general. So Brian, really excited to have you here to kind of talk through these things. Now, when I had you last on actually didn’t listen to the 2018 episode. Before this, I kind of forgot the answer. I guess, but maybe you can answer the same question I asked all my guests. you briefly tell me your WordPress origin story. What was the first time you used WordPress?
BG: I gotta say it was 2006. That was when I was introduced to WordPress by a guy named Brad who I just randomly met on the internet. We were buddies in a forum and I was telling him I was on Google Blogspot. And he said, man, you gotta check out this WordPress thing. It’s a little bit better. You have more control over some things. And I was like, Okay, sure. Right. You know, I didn’t know any better. So I rolled up my sleeves and I realized at the time even then WordPress needed a little bit more finessing to my liking than Google’s Blogspot platform was but I found satisfaction in that which of course, was like the foundation to everything I’ve done since then.
DV: So like it’s 2006 Shortly after the release of themes themselves in WordPress Core. And but just a year before he made revelation theme
BG: Yeah, it was it was a pretty quick, pretty quick deal.
DV: So revolution theme, for those unfamiliar, I guess is like the predecessor of the Genesis Framework, and you release that 2007 Were you building website themes and other platforms prior to WordPress?
BG: no, WordPress was the first I just like I said, I got my hands dirty. I figured out some CSS how to manipulate some things, started writing about it on my blog and to sharing I just wanted a personal blog. I thought it was cool to be online because I had a regular job where I went to an office and estimated science laboratory installations for the company that I worked for. And so this was sort of a side a side passion project. And after sharing stuff that I’ve learned, people started asking about whether or not I was hireable. And I was like, Yeah, sure. I want to go on a vacation. So let’s start the vacation fund and moonlit a little bit on the side at night. And on the weekends, and of course, that led to the rejected design, which ultimately became the revolution theme.
DV: Interesting, you know, it’s funny, I saw a thread on Twitter, a couple of days ago, or someone else was talking about their case, like reusing some things they had built, and kind of having that be part of their, you know, potential journey, I guess, for that being a product. And I think the person had probably got there yet, but maybe you could kind of slow down on that part. A little bit. And for those unfamiliar, can you can you share a little bit about your journey with StudioPress and Genesis, he kind of started there with kind of the genesis of Genesis in a way. But could you kind of connect the rest of that story from this side project on the weekend to actually making a product and then the company Studiopress tell us a little bit about how that went down?
BG: Sure, so the project that I was talking about was a design for a real estate agent. He had seen stuff I had done follow me on my blog and and asked if I would do a custom design for him, which I did and it was I wanted to push the envelope a little bit on what WordPress could do or what I thought it could do. So I did it in a way that was more than just sort of at the time WordPress was like a blogging platform. And I did it in a way that made it feel like an entire website with like a homepage and things like that. And so, what he was actually looking for, through miscommunication was just a real estate blog design. And so he rejected the first design I did for him. And then I went ahead and did a different design. And of course, you know, that that went well. But I was left with this design, which I thought was sort of, dare I say revolutionary in the space and so I went to my blog and I said would anybody be willing to buy a premium WordPress theme and that arguably would have been the origin of that term? I don’t know for sure. But then I followed it up with okay because there was a resounding I had a lot of people interested in what I was doing with WordPress and so hundreds of comments saying oh my gosh, that’s amazing. I would buy it or something that looked like that or whatever. And so I followed that blog post up with well, how much would you pay for one meaning a premium WordPress theme and of course, range of answers. And so I went with 59 and put it on my blog for sale and it completely transformed the trajectory of my path. started selling a lot making lots of money, which it went beyond vacation fund money, and it was doing really, really well for cash, I guess for up to a year or so. And then I got a cease and desist letter from a company in the United Kingdom who had claimed that revolution was confusing in the marketplace that took it to my intellectual property attorney, he said probably best to rename. And so I chose the name Studiopress. And so revolution themes, there was I don’t know a handful of them maybe came over as the sort of the pilot group of themes we sold on Studiopress. And after maybe like, not even a year or so, year, year and a half. Nathan Rice, who is now on board here and has been since the transition, the acquisition there of Studiopress I was asking him I was like hey, you know, like because he was working with me at that time and I was like, it seems like there’s so much common code between all of these themes, that every time we need to update a feature, I have to do it through all the themes, is there a better way to build this to where we can kind of consolidate the core code base, and then have more of a presentation layer or a design layer, which is essentially child themes? As we know them now? And so yeah, it’s called a parent child theme thing. Some people call it a framework and this is kind of how it works. And so we just sort of iterated over several conversations and kind of talk through and he started building it and somewhere along the way, I picked the name Genesis, and that’s what we’ve stuck with.
DV: I like it. So you know, it’s funny. You know, Jason Cohen, for those unfamiliar is the founder of WP engine, the company that Brian and I both work at actually and run and if you know this about his origin story with WP engine, but he also started he start with a I think it was a LinkedIn and he said, who would who would pay $50 a month I guess you landed at 59 one time but is $50 a month for like premium management resisting which you know, there’s a couple of companies I think there’s like this, these circles where people that they like rented water who was first but But there were others that like a lot of people had kind of said and Jason’s post like, oh, yeah, that sounds great. I would totally pay for that. And that was actually very similar origin story there to Brian did you were you aware of that origin story, Jason?
BG: I think I think I had heard that. I don’t think I remembered it unnecessarily verbatim, but I heard something of that nature too. So yes, I was somewhat familiar with that story.
DV: It’s funny and you also mentioned how you first got into it for vacation fund money. It reminds me of some other prior guests of press this. Luke carbis And Rob Stenson. They call that kind of smaller WordPress product money what is it? Oh, beer and gadget money. That’s what that’s that’s how they referenced it. So I think you know, there’s a lot of the agencies are freelance. We’ve actually done quite a bit of episodes actually this year on this topic of, you know, building a product in the context of a freelancer agency business. I also didn’t realize that Nathan, in the kind of genesis of Genesis, if you would, was around that common code and editing problem where you have lots of themes and you’re having to kind of make the same structural changes and all of them all the time. That makes a lot of sense, of course, thinking of it as the root of a framework, but I thought it was maybe more purposeful, like we’re gonna go make a framework versus like, you’re trying to solve this kind of in the moment problem.
BG: Yeah, no, it was that I remember pretty specifically, I was like, you know, I can’t remember what function it was. I know if it’s featured images or something with the header, something where I was like, I gotta go do the same thing over like five different themes and update five different themes. And I maybe even complaining to him, and he sort of said, well, what do you think of this sort of a thing he and I had, and still have a great relationship, but he and I had a really interesting relationship in the early days. Where I would just sort of talk in English of like, how I needed it to be built or what, you know, it wasn’t possible. And so we had a lot of like, sort of gibberish like if if this can this happen, else sort of conversations which he would understand like what I was trying to get at, he would say, Yes, I can write that in code. Am I perfect? We needed to do work this way.
DV: All right, get a nice, Yin and Yang there and the skill sets can be very much so I want to unpack a little bit of course, about what you’ve been up to since the acquisition, but we’re gonna take our first break. We’ll be right back.
DV: Hello everyone. Welcome back to press this the WordPress community podcast on WMR. This is your host David Vogelpohl. I’m interviewing Brian Gardner of Genesis fame about what he’s been up to since the acquisition of StudioPress but also what He has planned for the future. Brian right before the break you were talking giving a lot of really interesting details and kind of early days in Genesis and in your theme business. That was really interesting to hear how was more of a matter of solving an immediate problem than like I’m going to make a framework. Now it’s actually a little bit surprised me I thought I knew quite a bit about this sounds very interesting. But you know, the acquisition of StudioPress happened back in 2018. This was as you recall, right before the release of Gutenberg and so like we’re impressed is drastically changing your life and business are drastically changing. So stock has really been up to since that acquisition back in 2018.
BG: Yeah, those two things weren’t necessarily unrelated. I saw we as a team actually saw Gutenberg coming in as a theme company. We weren’t sure if we were able to sort of dedicate the resources that I thought I had recommended that it was going to take to really embrace all of this. Of course, we didn’t realize it was going to take three four years to slowly evolve but and so that was one of the reasons why we chose to sell because we as partners were just fried. We were 10 years sort of in that run and you know, some of us were interested in just trying other things and doing other things. And so that was sort of the other part of it. And it’s funny because you know, ignorance is bliss and we all have journeys. And so it’s easy for me to say like within the last few weeks since I’ve joined I should have just come over them. But I feel like there was you know an element of like, I needed to walk what I’ve called since then the proverbial wilderness. I needed some time, sort of out of what I had been doing for 12 years straight, right. I think it was the season I just I needed to just kind of figure out what I wanted to do and try different things you know, in WordPress out of WordPress and you know, just kind of step away just a bit, right. Like I was never ever gone. But I just felt like I needed some space because I was so in the trenches for so long that I was I just needed some time. And so, you know, I tried I’ve done several things since since the acquisition, referral, who was the designer of Studiopress. And I, along with two others, three others actually started an agency and I realized sort of quickly through that, like agency life isn’t for me in the context in which it was going. And that was okay, so so we did several really great projects and I was able to do some design, which was fun. And so then after that I kind of did a little bit of just on my own freelance design picking up projects here and there people who would just reach out I wasn’t ever really going to market with any of it again, because I just I kind of just wanted some breathing space. And then see I guess, early this year, while late last year started coming up with this idea for real estate and sort of doing a platform for real estate agents. But with the pandemic. It was a terrible time to have figured that out because the knee industry flipped upside down and real estate agents were super busy and none of them thought they needed a digital presence. And so like it just it was a mismatch in timing and so I guess over the summer is when I finally realized that I needed to kind of figure out what my go forward plan was because you know, at some point, got to have a go forward plan and I’ve come across some some content written by Justin Tadlock over on WP tavern, relative to WordPress in block patterns and Gutenberg and kind of the editor and all of that and things just really started to make sense. And it crystallized in my head and I was like, Oh, now I get where this is all coming to right. Like I didn’t understand that maybe three years ago, I didn’t believe that it was going to kind of become a thing that I would want to play with. But it did and I very quickly started formulating the idea of of the product called frost which is sort of you know, My Second Coming I guess in a sense but you know a lot a lot of things just in general around WordPress that have excited me and as you know, as I reached out to you and Heather and sort of wanted to figure out the best way back in I was presented the opportunity that I have now which is leading developer relations, WordPress for WP Engine and cannot be any happier with where I’m at
DV: we’re certainly glad to have you hear Brian and certainly someone from the big big leagues on helping people you know, Master and expand their skills at building WordPress sites. I know you’ve been doing that since I guess 2007 I learned or 2006 I learned. Now you mentioned earlier as you were kind of describing all that you kind of initially started with saying well, the desire to kind of sell Studiopress for you. And Gutenberg you know in a way we’re disconnected and then later in your description you talked about reading the article from Justin and I love Justin’s articles and TABBERT they’re really well done. And you say it kind of clicks for you that at that moment and I want to talk to you about process in a second but the delta between that and your head 2018 Brian and then the Brian that read Justin’s article, like what was the parts that were missing between those two parts that you’ve clicked for you that you’ve got,
BG: you know, it was time away? It was I needed to sort of clear my head from it all I was like I needed to prove to myself or I thought I needed to prove to myself that I was I was good outside of just WordPress or theme or design stuff. It’s like I got to do something different to prove to myself into the world. And so that’s why I set out on that journey and why at the time I chose not to come on to WP engine because had nothing to do with company culture. I wanted to be a part of the team. But I also thought the same breath. I’m like, well, I need to prove something here. So I need to just start over and try something out. Again. And so there was this a lot of like, tried this a while it didn’t work out. So there was a lot of missteps there. And, you know, for the most part I went through relatively unscathed I think. You know, I wear my emotions and what I do and what I go through on my sleeve for those who followed me on Twitter, you know that so you probably could see sort of the peaks and valleys of what it was like sort of post acquisition. But it just came down to the fact I was like, you know, when I came across this post from Justin, I was like, I now see the big picture, and I have never stopped loving WordPress. And I love design and it’s the number one thing I think we even talked about this before. You know, like if I could do one thing and only one thing for the rest of my life design would be it. And I’ve never ever loved community more than I do now. But even through all of the acquisition and you know, having to sort of foster that transition. Like so like, when I saw justice thing I was like I was ready, I was ready to sort of start to kind of come back and do what felt familiar. I felt like I proved to myself at least that I tried. I didn’t necessarily succeed in what I set out to do but that’s okay because I’m a guy of the journey. I love journeys and things happen all for reasons and you know, here we are.
DV: Yeah, no doubt. So it sounds like it was less around like you didn’t quote get the tag it just was that you had all this other kind of, I guess objectives or like challenges for yourself or open questions and it was more around your journey. Then in particulars about the tech. Yeah, that makes sense. Okay, now, you mentioned you created a thing called the frost theme. And this is a Genesis Framework theme, correct? That is correct. Okay, and tell me about the use of blocks in it. Like I played with it, but I’m just curious like from the audience’s perspective, like how have you been thinking about the role of blocks as you think about frogs.
BG: So blocks by themselves are powerful, but when what Justin did was he helped me see sort of the presentation layer of patterns, which is becoming a really big word thrown around and I think really is he even wrote about in a tavern that patterns are the future of WordPress building WordPress websites. And I’ve always been a visual guy and idea guy and so like, blocks by themselves, were great, but like when I think of the fact that I could easily have provided a system for someone to like build a WordPress website literally in seconds. Like that’s what excited me the challenge of could I actually pull off what I thought to be true, which was sort of seeing something like in figma or wireframe form, and do it in a way that would that WordPress could actually accommodate and it didn’t take long for me to realize that what I thought to be true, was was capable of being done and so, so I set out and built for us.
DV: That’s really cool. I think one of the trends I’ve seen people talking about recently is how people are using the block editor and as I think about like the history of Studiopress Genesis with premium child themes, and this notion that the products can fill two roles, one, providing an access to building sites, custom sites, for people that aren’t developers, but also enabling developers to work faster it sounds like that’s the magically part of maybe what you’re discovering on your journey. Is that true? Or do you think it’s one or the other?
BG: No, I think it’s true. I think I’m really excited. I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited about I think we did this last week or the week before how excited I am about WordPress again and having been in it for 15 years. And it you know, Matt always would say the road ahead of WordPress is a lot longer than the road behind it. And you know, yeah, it’s easy to be like oh, yeah, that’s so fun and easy to say. But like I believe that every time I heard it like because I always feel that way. I always feel like there’s there’s more to be done and there’s more more past to be formed and, and all of that. And so I’m really excited about the role here and being able to sort of lead that charge on behalf of WP Engine.
DV: I feel like this is segue. Right? I have a question for you about this actually. But we’re gonna take our last break. We’ll be right back.
DV: Hello everyone. Welcome back to Press This WordPress community podcast on WMR. This is your host David Vogelpohl. I’m interviewing Brian Gardner about what’s been up with Brian Gardner very convenient topic for Brian to talk to Brian right before the break you transitioned is perfect into my next set of questions. But you have a new role at WP Engine leading WordPress developer relations. And can you tell me about that role and maybe some examples of the things that you’ll be working on or are working on are exciting.
BG: Yes, so officially, I am Principal Developer Advocate. That is my title. And essentially what I’m here to do is lead WordPress developer relations helping the community reaching out to customers, people who use our products, people who don’t and just generally helping folks through the transition to the block editor and full site editing sort of via the Gutenberg experience. I feel like even though it’s only been this is my sixth week, which is both hard to believe and also it feels like so much longer. Everything I’ve learned and sort of the strategies I’ve formulated as I embraced this role that really led me to the point where like we have I personally we as a company, and even as a community there’s there’s there’s so much opportunity to sort of set precedents and leverage the resources we have and produce content and teach and demonstrate the capabilities of where WordPress is going. And I feel like I just want to, you know, formulate the developer relations team here to become a treasure chest of knowledge and sort of operate as a conduit between the product, the project and its users.
DV: That’s fantastic. Sounds really fun now, you have been up to some things and now you’ve had some things planned with Torque recently. I’m like your Contributor Day. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
BG: Yes, that is this coming? One Friday and Saturday
DV: the last Friday and Saturday when we broadcast this but yes, yes. I’m sorry. No worries. Yeah. Wonder time travel here. So yeah, last Friday and Saturday.
BG: In my past, I would have contributed at least two hours of code. So one of the things that we want to do is really embrace open source, the open source ideology and just pay things forward and be generous with our time. And so we as a company are organizing have organized an event to encourage people to, you know, take two hours out of their week or their month or whatever, and help sort of pay it forward and contribute to wordpress.com Look it several different ways and and even beyond just that event, right? There’s always opportunities, whether it’s unlearn or make to make a difference whether you’re a designer or a developer, a user, there’s always some element of paying things forward that we can help accommodate for.
DV: Yeah, I loved watching the email and slack threads develop this. Y’all were planning that seeing the guidance and feedback from folks like Courtney Robertson and just have a Hayden. I thought it was really great. And then of course, just around WP Engine and Torque, all the various people kind of jumping in to organize and get that event off the ground is really exciting to see and the levels of input to help make it a great event. Thanks for sharing, right, that was cool. Um, okay, so, um, in the last couple of minutes here, you know, I’d seen you know, you kind of built your first step SC theme, and you kind of talked a lot about being excited about the future of WordPress. What do you think is to come like, what are you excited about?
BG: Well, for starters, WordPress 5.9. I’ve always been a core person, somebody who always likes to build for core rather than things that extended just because it’s so easy to just know that everything has already been tested and relatively fully baked and stuff like that. So the first step is WordPress 5.9 that I’m looking forward to that, as from what I understand, well include most of what the original full site editing scope will be. And so I know that there’s probably what six or seven weeks left before sort of feature freeze and all of that and I know there’s a lot of exciting things coming because I’ve been probably as close to the leading edge as I’ve ever been with WordPress and so like I can see it and I’m working within the Gutenberg plugin to do things like full site editing. Themes and really understand the power of theme that JSON and stuff like that. So there’s a lot of really good things coming. I think there’s a lot of opportunities for missteps also. I think there’s there needs to be like really clear paths paved here, and I hope to be a part of that on behalf of WP Engine and just because I want to see WordPress be the best it can be.
DV: Yeah, it’s great to see that kind of give back mission there as well. And you know, I think that’s a really good kind of point to end on is that we’re still in the throes of sfsc And what will become will become a WordPress and become a products that work within it. And it’s great to hear that folks like you are sitting there fiddling with all the new stuff to help folks with that journey and certainly also through the not just the product sense, but also the using fans. So super cool. Thanks for joining us today, Brian.
BG: Yeah, thanks for having me. And of course I’ll happy to be on as often as you want.
DV: Totally will absolutely have you back. If you’d like to learn more about what Brian is up to you visit wpengine.com Thanks everyone for listening to Press This WordPress community podcast on WMR. Again, this is your host David Vogelpohl I support the WordPress community through my role at WP Engine. And I love to bring the best of the community to you here every week on Press This.