Contributing Full Time Isn’t For Everyone

For the last seven months, I’ve been contributing full time to WordPress as a Platform Engineer at 10up, a role I helped develop.

It’s had its ups and downs to be sure, but the biggest takeaway is that contributing full time isn’t for everyone, and as I’ve come to realize, not for me.

Let me explain.

Contributing full time provides a ton of freedom to work and iterate on any aspect of the community you can dream up. Sounds good right? It is if you can sustain it.

Here’s the thing: burnout is a real struggle. And when you’re working on something full bore, 100 percent of the time, and you burn out, there aren’t a lot of good options to help combat that except to keep pressing on and try to get your groove back.

As a community contributor at 10up, I’ve always been given near-complete autonomy. There’s no strong-armed commercial agenda; 10up nudged me toward broad projects in its vested interest, like WordPress core or documentation, but it never micromanaged my contributions. That said, the autonomy can take its toll, and it left me feeling isolated.

To be fair, in the three years I’ve worked at 10up, I’ve always had some slice of contributing time. It started with about a 25/75 percent split contributing vs regular development. Then around the two year mark, it went to 50/50 for a while, then briefly to 100 percent when I led the 4.2 release, then back to 50/50, and finally to 100 percent for the last 7 months.

It really comes down to having a lot more experience splitting my time between contributing and regular development than contributing full time. Unfortunately it took the last 7 months to recognize that the split is how I best combated burnout. Lesson learned.

Before I tell you about what’s next and where I’m going, I think it’s best to talk a bit about where I’ve been.

When I originally joined 10up, it was following a brief conversation with president and founder Jake Goldman at WordCamp Phoenix 2013. We were talking about my community contributions to date. I was looking to level up in my career at the time, but was reluctant to apply at 10up because they’re the best!

Jake told me he knew I was selling myself short and that I should apply anyway. I can easily say three years later that joining 10up turned out to be the best decision I’ve made in my professional life.

I’ve grown exponentially in my time at 10up both as a developer and an influencer in the WordPress community. When I joined in March 2013, I had already been contributing to WordPress for two years on my own time, mostly in the realm of documentation and core.

At the time, WordPress 3.6 development was in full swing and I was well on my way to earning the moniker of “Recent Rockstar” – now the equivalent of “Contributing Developer” for that release. The 3.6 release combined with having paid time to contribute ended up signaling a turning point in my career in WordPress.

Starting in the 3.7 release in the fall of 2013 and continuing all the way through the end of the 3.9 release in April 2014, I led the efforts to document all of the actions and filters in WordPress core, gaining guest commit access in the process.

It didn’t stop there. 10up’s continued dedication to good open source citizenship empowered me to reach further and accomplish more, especially in areas where a lot of help was needed, like developer documentation.

By the time a year had passed, I was established as a permanent committer to WordPress, was leading the 4.2 release, and sponsoring community initiatives to improve the new user experience in WordPress.

In short, 2015 was a whirlwind year for me in WordPress contributing.

I began the year leading the 4.2 release and followed that up with serving as the lead organizer for WordCamp Denver. I traveled to Seville and spoke at WordCamp Europe about new user experience, traveled to and spoke at WordCamp Cape Town about the release process and advanced queries, spoke at WordCamp Portland about beta testing, and finally, helped organize the largest WordCamp contributor day held to date at the inaugural WordCamp US in Philadelphia.

I said it best at WordCamp Cape Town: It takes a village to make WordPress. And I would not have been able realize the successes I have without the rockstar cast of 10up contributors I have the honor of calling colleagues and friends. People like Helen Hou-Sandí, Adam Silverstein, Morgan Estes, Ryan Welcher, Scott Kingsley Clark, Jake Goldman, and others. That internal support system at 10up has allowed me to flourish.

With all of that history in mind, you can kind of see how I felt like the next logical step in my career would be to contribute full time and really make my mark. As I found out, that didn’t turn out to be a good fit.

That realization essentially left me with two options:

  1. Go back to a split of community and client services work
  2. Move on from 10up and try something new

I’ve chosen the latter. Last Friday was my last day at 10up.

You see, the entirety of my WordPress career has seen me working in a mix of community and client services. Don’t get me wrong, client services is a challenging field, to be sure. At the same time, its ever-changing nature has left me yearning for an opportunity to work on something that’s more long-term and allows for greater creative control: products.

With this change, I’ll also have the opportunity to work on a smaller team again, something I’m looking forward to. When I joined 10up three years ago, I was the 25th hire. 10up now employs something in the neighborhood of 130+ people worldwide, a more than 400 percent increase in the last three years!

That said, I’m going to work for someone I respect immensely as a developer, a business owner, and an innovator: Pippin Williamson.

I couldn’t be more excited to start this next chapter in my career, and joining Pippin and his team to work on products like AffiliateWP, Easy Digital Downloads, and Restrict Content Pro feels like the best move I could make.

Like Jake, Pippin shares a commitment to good open source citizenship, so he’ll naturally be donating some portion of my time to contribute to WordPress. Just not all of it 🙂

To be clear: I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunities that have been afforded me at 10up, and for the friendships I’ve developed there. The fact that my exit has been amicable and fully supported at every turn by the leadership speaks volumes about everyone involved.

Suffice it to say, I’m sad to go, but I’m looking forward to what’s next. premium needs a gift option

I just upgraded a friend’s blog to a year of the “premium” bundle.

This was made possible by my already being an admin on the site. It occurred to me at the time that it seemed like there were two things missing:

  1. The ability to arbitrarily “gift” premium to someone
  2. Ability to pay with Amazon payments

OK, so maybe that second one is a bit of a way off. I was totally sold on Amazon payments after using it just one time. It’s way easier than Paypal. I digress.

I sort of view the “giving” of this upgrade as the next-generation version of giving the annual Reader’s Digest subscription. Almost a yearly “Blogger’s Digest” subscription.

Something for to think about.