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-SandΓ­, 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 πŸ™‚

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.

 

Published by

Drew Jaynes

Drew is a Core Developer for the WordPress open source project, and works on cool plugins like AffiliateWP, Easy Digital Downloads, and Restrict Content Pro.

26 thoughts on “Contributing Full Time Isn’t For Everyone”

  1. Drew,

    This is a great article, thanks for writing about your ups and downs, something that most of us fail to recognize in our own careers at times.

    Super excited to be part of this next step as you join our team!

  2. Congrats Drew! I’ve enjoyed following you around Twitter, the blog, and your various contributions.

    EDD is lucky to have you and I’m eager to see what all you bring to the table for them.

    Best of luck, man!

  3. Best wishes on this exciting new chapter. And let me take the opportunity to say thanks for all your hard work and leadership over the past few years, in many different roles.

    Cheers!

  4. Thank you for being so candid in sharing your story with us, it is always inspiring to read your writings or listen to your talks.:) It is super hard to get your groove back after burning out, which I also did recently and had to take a break from it all. This post is awesome and inspirational. I am starting to do what I love, which is to work with awesome graphic designers to bring their dreams to a WordPress reality & teaching as well, so I’ll keep on keepin’ on and you keep on being awesome!

  5. Drew, your relentless documentation drive is IMO one of the best things that happened to wordpress code in the last years. Hopefully a replacement will be found (but I am skeptical, good documentation is hard to do but there is no glory in it πŸ™ )

    1. Thank you for the kind words. To be fair though, I’m not leaving WordPress, I just won’t be contributing anywhere close to full-time anymore. I’ll still be wrangling inline docs for core and working to improve DevHub πŸ™‚

      1. You are so right, I just assumed, probably wrongly, that you might become too busy, so let me rephrase my previous comment. You have done a great work with documentation, please keep it on as much as it will be possible with your new responsibilities πŸ™‚

  6. I’m glad to hear that you’ve given consideration not just to the position or pay or prestige, but to the effect that your work has on your health and happiness. I wish that more people would do that, and I hope that everything works out well for you!

  7. Good luck. Welcome to the #10upforlife club. I get the feeling Jake and others want to see us all succeed, working inside 10up or on other things. I think working with Pippin is a great choice for you. All my best!

  8. Thanks for sharing your experience with us, Drew! Being a regular contributor and new committer, this post will definitely help me find a good balance and reduce the risk of burnout.

    Congrats on the next step in your career! Pippin and his team have really been doing some awesome stuff. Looking forward to seeing your influence there.

  9. I long followed your contributions to WordPress before we met IRL at WCEU in Sevile. You’re important and influential, and I’m happy to know that won’t change. Congrats, Drew, and see you around the docs πŸ˜€

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