“WordPress has given me everything I have today and I absolutely adore how this project is trying to keep the web open and free.” Interview with Hari Shanker (Featured WP-Professional)

  • Interviews

We are excited to introduce Hari Shanker as the guest in our WP-Professional of the Month series. He is an Open Source Program Manager at Automattic and a full-time WordPress Contributor. We are also proud to say that he is one of the most passionate members of our own Kerala WordPress community.

Few individuals possess the devotion, expertise, and commitment to community building as Hari Shanker. He is a familiar face at WordCamps – be it as an organizer or speaker.

He is currently leading the Contributor Working Group of WordPress and is on a mission to improve the Five for the Future program. Today, he shares with us about his work at Automattic, his love for WordPress and his experience with WordPress. 

You can connect with him on X, Facebook and his website

Your reputation in the WordPress world precedes you. How did you get introduced to WordPress? Can you please explain the journey?

I first started using WordPress as a teenager/college student. Back in 2006, I was waiting to join engineering college after school and had a three-month break. During this time, a few friends of mine and I started working on a web services startup, where we were creating websites for clients. I was under the impression that you could only do so by hand-coding sites on HTML/CSS. 

One evening, my co-founder showed me how you could create beautiful dynamic websites that can be fully controlled through an admin panel using this free and open-source software called WordPress. I was hooked. 

The start-up fell through (my co-founders unceremoniously kicked me out a few months after its inception) but my love for WordPress lingered. I set up a site on WordPress.com and eventually moved to self-hosted WordPress. I would tinker with WordPress in my free time, oftentimes practicing what I learned in college in the WordPress backend. I even started building websites for clients on a freelance basis. To quote a cliché, the rest, as they say, is history.

Where are you based? Does your location influence your work?

I hail from Trivandrum, India, and I’m currently based in Kochi, India. I love my city and I intend to stay here for the foreseeable future. My location does influence my work, I have my own comfortable workspace at home, and I get to be with my lovely family (comprising of my wife and our three cats). They make the world of a difference. But since I work remotely, I can work productively from anywhere. In fact, I like having a change of scenery quite often – it does wonders for my mental health and my productivity.

Can you tell us about your role as a Community Wrangler at Automattic? What are your primary responsibilities and key objectives?

I am an Open Source Program Manager at Automattic. I contribute to WordPress full-time, and my current focus is on making the contributor experience in WordPress, the best it can be. I occupy the role of a “Community Program Manager” (formerly known as Community Super Deputy) in WordPress, which is a volunteer role that oversees WordPress Community Events such as Meetups and WordCamps. I was supporting WordPress Meetups and WordCamps until 2022, currently, I am focusing exclusively on managing, supporting, and improving the Five for the Future program and on bolstering the contributor experience in WordPress. 

Screenshot of wordpress.org

My main objective is to develop Five for the Future into a fully-fledged program that not only supports WordPress itself but also supports the contributors who work on it. I also lead the Contributor Working Group in WordPress, which is currently working on building the next edition of the contributor mentorship program.

Please share some of the projects you are currently involved with, especially the Experimental WordPress Contributor Mentorship program

I am involved with a bunch of projects with the WordPress community. I help support, manage, and improve Five for the Future (which is a program in WordPress that encourages and facilitates individuals and organizations to dedicate up to five percent of their time to contribute to WordPress). I am also leading the Contributor Working Group in WordPress, which is trying to build a culture of mentorship across the WordPress project. 

We just wrapped up an experimental project-wide contributor mentorship program (which was a huge success), and we have started work on launching the next iteration of the same in 2024. For the pilot version of the contributor mentorship program, we brought twelve new WordPress contributors together in a cohort, where they worked for four weeks to learn about the WordPress project broadly. They got a chance to identify a Make/WordPress team of their choice and got onboarded to start making initial contributions to those teams. Each contributor was also assigned a mentor (an experienced WordPress contributor) who supported them in their contribution journey.

What inspired you to pursue a career in community management?

I am an accidental community manager. Yes, really. 🙂 I joined Automattic in 2016 as a Technical Support Engineer, where my role was offering technical support to users of Automattic products, a role I thoroughly enjoyed. I loved WordPress so much that I got involved in the local community and started organizing local WordPress meetups. 

Screenshot of kochi.wordcamp.org

I even worked with our local community to organize a WordCamp – WordCamp Kochi 2017. Our community went on to organize two more editions of WordCamp Kochi in 2018, and 2019. I absolutely loved organizing these events and found it so much fun.

In 2020, an internal opportunity came up in Automattic, where they were searching for a full-time contributor to WordPress, working on community events. I applied to the same, and after a grueling selection process, much to my surprise, I was accepted! I love community management, and I think it is my true calling.

What makes WordPress so special to you?

WordPress is very personal to me. It has given me (literally) everything I have today. It has given me a group of close friends, who are all very close to my heart. I love being a part of a global community of like-minded open source enthusiasts, who are amongst the best human beings I have known in my lifetime. I love the open source philosophy of WordPress, and I absolutely adore how this project is trying to keep the web open and free. I love WordPress for its community.

What is your favorite a) Plugin b) Theme c) Hosting and why?

a) Gutenberg b) Twenty Twenty Three c) WordPress.com

* Gutenberg – because it is awesome, and I’m a huge fan of the block editor + FSE and its possibilities!

* Twenty Twenty Three – because it’s the best block theme there is, and I love tinkering with it!

* WordPress.com – I am biased here (for obvious reasons), but I’ve been on a WordPress.com Business Plan for my blog for six years and counting, and it has been a breeze so far!

What do you think about the future of WordPress?

I would like to quote Matt Mullenweg on this: I see WordPress as the operating system for the web, in a very literal way!

What would you like to see implemented in WordPress as a Core feature?

I am excited about the WP Notifications project and would love to see better notification management in Core.

How do you stay up-to-date with the latest industry trends and best practices in community management? Are there any particular resources or communities you rely on for learning and networking?

On community management, I follow the Community Club, and Rosie.land for community management best practices. I also follow the CMX Hub, which is an active community for community managers.  

You have been actively involved in leading WordCamps and meetups in Kerala from the very beginning. Could you share your experiences from the early days, and what notable changes and improvements do you observe in these events now?

My early days with the WordPress community in Kerala were amazing. There was a lot of enthusiasm and passion for WordPress which brought all of us together. Working together with these people was effortless and it helped that we had so much passion for the open source project and the community, bringing us together. Several years later, our passion still unites us, and we have all matured as individuals and community members. 

In our broader community, I see a lot of changes, post-pandemic. There is a strong desire to meet in-person and stay connected, but I can also see how many of our community members are tired and how organizing events is slightly more difficult (and expensive) than it used to be. However, the passion that united still remains and is stronger than ever.

What have been the most significant challenges you’ve faced in managing communities, and how did you overcome them?

 The biggest challenge of working in an open source community is working out in the open. Decisions should not be taken behind closed doors, communication should happen out in the open, and for important decisions, there should be buy-in from the community. Working on big projects, while getting support from the community and ensuring that their feedback is heard and included, has been the biggest challenge I’ve faced.

Life has both success and failure. Please share one mistake that you made early in your career.

I believe in the statement: “Communication is oxygen”, which incidentally is mentioned in the Automattic creed. Early on in my career, I was not a great communicator, and I learned the hard way how communication is important. In fact, not communicating properly has actually even cost me a job in the past. While getting fired was painful, it was a great life lesson. Thereafter, communicating effectively and efficiently has always helped me later on in my personal and professional lives.

What is Hari like away from WordPress? What are your ways of chilling?

I like traveling, listening to some good music, and spending time with my family and friends. I also like curling up on my couch with a good book and copious amounts of tea for company.

The WP-Content team wishes Hari all the very best in his future endeavors and hopes to see him make more contributions to WordPress.

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