Interview With Justin Tadlock [Featured WP-Professional]

We are back with another edition of the WP-Professional series and this time we have Justin Tadlock as our guest.

Justin Tadlock needs no introduction in the WordPress circles. He has been in the arena since 2005 as a designer, developer and writer. Currently he is a writer at WP Tavern helping us keep up with the astounding world of WordPress. Today he shares with us his WordPress journey, his current projects and hobbies and of course his love for cats!

Justin Tadlock

You can connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and Github.

Q: How did you get introduced to WordPress? Can you please explain the journey, especially your entry into WPTavern?

I started out using a now-defunct service called Expage in 2003 while I was in my first year of college. A friend of mine from high school got me into it. We’d just use it to give shout outs to our friends and put other funky things like auto-playing MIDI files and those scrolling marquees across the page. Eventually, I started linking together several Expages with more ideas and creating something like a blog.

Like many others in that time, I moved onto Yahoo! GeoCities. That is when I really got more into design and blogging. But, I needed something more.

I tried things like PHP Nuke and even a custom flat-file CMS. Eventually, I settled on WordPress. My primary goal was to have a place to share my writing. WordPress made that possible.

This was early in the platform’s history though. There was so much you couldn’t do without learning how to write a little bit of code or hiring someone to do it for you. Since I was a broke college student, that meant I needed to go the DIY route for anything. So, I kind of just fell face-first into development and found that I actually enjoyed it. By 2008, I had opened one of the first theme and plugin development shops.

“My primary goal was to have a place to share my writing. WordPress made that possible…In the long term, I hope to be a full-time novelist.”

There’s a whole lot of history between then and the time I started working at WP Tavern – enough to write an entire book on. I think it was just time for me to move on from my business. I had always been solo, and I needed a change of pace. The WP Tavern job opened up, and I applied for it.

The Tavern and I already had a good working relationship. I had interviewed for it as a businessperson and one of the leads from the WordPress.org theme review team several times in the past. The site had also already been running my themes for years (with some modifications), so I was also a natural fit to keep the nuts and bolts tightened from the development side.

More than anything, I had come full circle. My starting goal with WordPress was always to be a writer, not a developer. This was an opportunity for me to get real-world experience in a fast-paced environment. In the long term, I hope to be a full-time novelist. While the world of news is much different, it provides me the financial means to cut my teeth in the publishing industry in a way that I could never do as a solo blogger.

Q: Please share with our readers something about the projects you are involved with and about your post as the unofficial official spokesperson for WordPress.

“I am working on a new project called X3P0 where I will be building various block-related plugins”

I ran Theme Hybrid as a business for over a decade. Today, it is an open-source library of tools for theme and plugin developers.

My co-authors and I published the 2nd edition of Professional WordPress Plugin Development last year. I am a bit biased, but I think it’s an awesome way to dive deeper into building projects on top of WordPress.

While it has been semi-secret, I suppose now is as good as time as any to mention it. I am working on a new project called X3P0 where I will be building various block-related plugins. It’s a little side project that I am simply doing for fun.

As for being merely one spokesperson out of many for WordPress, it’s just part of the job at WP Tavern. I enjoy the work and love sharing what other people are building for our beloved platform. And, I am always learning something every day.

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

I am currently living near Montgomery, AL, USA. It’s a rural area a few miles outside of the capital city of my home state. I actually just bought a home here last December.

It has been a challenge at times merely because I have to balance work with all the responsibilities of new homeownership. And, the 2.5 acres of land I have is a lot to keep up with.

I lived in my last place for several years, so I had sort of settled into a routine. I also had a good family support system around me. While my parents live just a couple of miles down the road now, my other family members and friends are farther away. I think all of this influences how people work, and it’s all about making adjustments and finding what clicks for you. I am still struggling with that a bit – the Covid-era hasn’t helped. However, I like where I’m at, and I know that things will get better as I continue building a new life at my new home.

Q: What makes WordPress so special to you?

WordPress has given me a career outside of the typical 9-to-5, which I don’t think I was really built for. I’m not sure anyone is.

But, the community is what I am most grateful for. There is a vocal minority that do little more than drag others down, and that can be deflating at times. However, the vast majority are kind and willing to go out of their way to help others. And, I really think that is the “default setting” for human beings. We all have different politics, religions, and other belief systems, but we are ultimately one tribe.

“The WordPress community, on most days, shows that we can overcome the things that makes us different. We can bicker like siblings too, which is a natural part of relationships, but the community — the family — is what holds this project together.”

Q: How all have you contributed to WordPress? Why do you think everyone should contribute to WordPress?

I have built dozens of themes and plugins, written a few hundred tutorials, co-authored Professional WordPress Plugin Development, led the WordPress.org theme review team, contributed code to core, and much more. I think my “resume” is out there for everyone to see, so I will mostly let it speak for itself and focus on the second question.

I would love to see everyone who uses WordPress contribute something to the project. There’s a Make team for just about everything now. If you’re a non-English speaker, helping with translations of your favorite plugins is an easy way to jump in. Joining in with the Test team’s testing rounds usually only requires that you know how to use WordPress.

One of the problems with projects like WordPress is that something like 10% of the people are doing 80% of the work on various teams. It is so easy for them to burn out because they are often doing this on top of their day job. If you are able to help somewhere, there is always room for more contributors.

Q: What are your thoughts on the block editor and FSE? What new features would you like to see introduced in WordPress? especially in Gutenberg

That first question is really broad. I routinely write opinion pieces around the block and site editor on WP Tavern. If there’s something specific you want to know my thoughts on, I have probably already said it at some point. In general, I like where the project is going.

As for features, I would like to see a completion of the post status and comment type APIs. Those are a couple of architectural pieces that would lay the foundation for plugin developers to do some awesome stuff.

In terms of the block system, I want to see a the admin-side block directory interface (https://wptavern.com/version-1-prototype-of-the-wordpress-admin-block-directory-announced). The advantages here are twofold. First, there are many components here that would help users understand and find blocks more easily. At the same time, it could spur developers to start building more single block plugins, creating some healthy competition in the space that we have not seen yet. There are also a lot of features that core and third-party developers could build on top of this admin interface.

I have tons of other ideas too and could talk about the block system all day. It’s an exciting time where a small team could disrupt any niche in the WordPress industry, and I think we will see more of that in the coming years.

Q: What is your favorite a) Plugin b) Theme c) Web hosting? and why?

My favorite plugin or theme is whatever I am personally creating at the moment. I come across cool things every day as a journalist in the WordPress space. However, I rarely use them myself. Most of the time, it’s simply because I don’t have a project for them. I appreciate the ideas and enjoy looking through the code.

If I had to pick a third-party plugin, my current favorite is Newsletter Glue. And, Eksell tops the list of themes.

As for hosting services, I currently have no recommendations. It has always felt like a necessary evil, and I have always run into some issue or another. If I ever find that perfect service, I will be the first one to announce it.

Q: You are a prolific writer. How do you keep abreast of the developments in the WordPress field? Which all resources do you rely on?

Often, it depends on the time of the year. Autumn is easy. Kids are back in school and fewer people are on vacation, so the pace picks up at this time of the year. Most stories are just things folks are sending through the contact form, Slack, etc.

Other times, it can be a bit slower. So, I rely on Twitter, the Make WordPress blogs, and RSS feeds. Sometimes, I just search around for new plugins and themes from the official directories, looking for cool projects.

I still do some development for fun, so I tend to follow a lot of stuff on GitHub and Trac. This will often turn up story ideas.

Q: What are your thoughts on the future of WordPress & Gutenberg?

Hardly a week goes by now where I don’t see someone posting how they either understand the vision or have changed their stance on it from three years ago. The project is heading in the right direction. It’s just going to take some time for the four phases of the Gutenberg project to play out. We’re currently in Phase 2, site customization. It’s going to be fun being a part of the journey as it matures in the next couple of years.

I’m also excited about the other phases, which will cover co-authoring and multilingual sites. Those should be less shocking than the block and site editors, but they will offer richer experiences for many users on the platform.

“The project is heading in the right direction. It’s just going to take some time for the four phases of the Gutenberg project to play out.”

Q: What advice would you give a WordPress beginner and those aspiring to write for WPTavern?

It’s hard to say what advice I’d give to a “WordPress beginner.” Are we talking blogger? Business owner? Developer? Everyone comes to the community for different reasons, and advice should be specific to what that reason is.

As for those looking to write for WP Tavern, we do not currently have any full-time openings as far as I know. However, we do accept guest posts.

What I like to see from our guest writers are feature-type articles. Our team already covers news stories, so the best way to get in would be to have a unique take or experience on a relevant subject in our industry.

Q: As a man involved with several plugins, please share some marketing/pricing tips.

The best advice I have ever been given is that I was undervaluing what I had to offer. Bump up the price.

Q: What do you think about the latest acquisition saga in WordPress?

Honestly, I don’t have much to say on it. As long as businesses that are acquiring products are treating their customers right, I think it’s healthy for our ecosystem. It’s usually a nice payday for the original owner, and the right team can grow the product.

On the flipside, if I’m hearing from customers on anything shady, you better believe it will make its way onto the Tavern. So, just treat them right.

Q: What are your thoughts on WordPress meetups and WordCamps?

This is not something I’ve ever been involved in much, so I don’t have too many thoughts. I think folks are just looking for that social element. So many of us were already working in isolation pre-Covid, and the pandemic just blew everything up. WordCamps were just one of the social outlets people had, and it would be nice to start meeting folks face to face again.

Q: As veteran Work-From-Home-Employee, do you have any work-life balance tips?

I have written extensively on this topic.

In short, getting the fundamentals like organization and structure down is important. Make sure to get some fresh air. Have outlets that bring you joy outside of work. Getting a pet never hurts either.

Q: What is Justin like away from WordPress? What are your ways of chilling?

Like I mentioned earlier, I purchased and moved onto a new piece of property in the past year. Many of my off-duty hours has been working on various projects here. It is a lot of upkeep, and I’ve honestly been a bit burned out for the last few months. Basically, I actually do need to take some time to chill.

When I do get some time to relax, I spend as much of it as I can playing Halo on Xbox. I’m looking for an all-WordPress team for Halo Infinite if any of your readers are interested.

I read every single day. In December, I will hit my three-year anniversary of doing so. The goal is to make this a lifelong pursuit. Everyone could benefit by a developing a habit of reading. I prefer fiction, particularly fantasy and sci-fi, because I feel like I get to live in an entirely new world every time I open a book. But, I skip around to different genres and even non-fiction from time to time.

“I’m looking for an all-WordPress team for Halo Infinite if any of your readers are interested. I garden, write outside of my day job, and still like to build plugins and themes every now and then. I also have six cats.”

I collect film and TV series on physical media. I have media ranging from the Laserdisc era to the current 4K UHD Blu Rays. Most of it is in boxes for the moment because I need to build some shelves. Right now, I just have one wall with steelbook editions.

It’s a bit funny. Without fail, whenever someone new visits my home, they ask, “You don’t have a TV?” I don’t like having a TV in the living/main room and communal areas because I believe time with guests should be about conversation. A TV takes away from that social, human element that we so often miss out on in our tech-driven world. I have a record player and baby grand piano if we need entertainment.

Anyway, to answer their question, I just show them my theater room. So, yeah, I have a TV. Then, I promptly invite them over for a movie night.

I have tons of interests and rarely enough time to devote to them all. I garden, write outside of my day job, and still like to build plugins and themes every now and then. I also have six cats. The eldest turns 18 in November, and the youngest is around 3 years old.

The WP-Content team wishes him all the very best for his future endeavors. We really appreciate you sharing your insights and thoughts with our readers.

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