Jeff is a Theme Wrangler at Automattic.com where he leads development on the Canvas WordPress theme and Flexslider jQuery slider library. He is a Software developer specializing in web technologies, particularly in CMS systems such as WordPress and Joomla, with a focus on PHP as his main lingo.
Jeff’s talk at WordCamp Cape Town 2016 regarded future innovation for the WordPress industry, as well as project and contributions soon to come. Needless to say, our interest was captured from the word go and by the end of his lightning talk, we could barely contain our excitement!
We felt honoured for the opportunity to interview Jeff.
1. Tell us about being the lead developer for the Canvas project, as well as the FlexSlider project, Jeff?
Jeff: “So yeah, I’m a theme wrangler at Automattic. I joined Automattic as part of the WooThemes Acquisition. I’d been at WooThemes for about 6 years prior to that. And part of my role at WooThemes, originally, was to work on the Woo Framework, and that just evolved into themes and then plugins and then I made the transition back to themes and to FlexSlider. So yeah, Canvas is the flagship theme for everything that’s not a store. FlexSlider is used in a bunch of themes and plugins.”
2. What sparked your interest in WordPress development?
Jeff: “Yeah so, prior to joining WooThemes, I studied at the university of Cape Town. I studied development, and I did Mostly “.NET” frameworks. So when I got my first job, I joined a web application agency.
“So my job there was PHP development and the first thing I did there, I was told to work the company blog, and the company was WordPress back then. I think WordPress multisite was still in beta. So it was a super early version of WordPress.
“I was working on very rough sites that we still had a custom CMS for. But I immediately saw “This is the future” . Then I did a study at the time, comparing Joomla, Drupal, and WordPress, and I said “We can’t use this now, but in a year we can use it”.
“Within a year, we started a WordPress division, doing client sites and I loved it.”
3. You’re pretty integrated with WordPress itself, you’re quite a big part of it. Where do you see yourself heading in the future?
4. Would you say there are any future programming languages we should be developing for WordPress?
Jeff: “It depends what for, I mean the rise of Angular and React will be interesting. Angular 2 is kind of…, undecided. A lot of people are raving about the performance benefits, but a lot of people are also saying it’s totally different to Angular 1, so should we pursue this? So that community is kind of ‘stalled’. So it will be interesting to see what happens there.
“Also, it’s going to be interesting to see what happens with hybrid-mobile development because a lot of those guys use either Angular or React. I think those are the ones to take a look at. There’s other ones like Ember, and other languages like “.NET” and even Microsoft. I mean Visual Studio code, the free editor, that’s kind of used by most hybrid mobile development. Not using any of Microsoft’s languages.”
“It’s also used by a lot of Node developers.”
5. You recently took a break from social media. What was the thought process behind that?
Jeff: “Just too much information. So at my job, all of our information goes through Slack. And through WordPress blogs (There’s a theme called ‘P2’). So that’s how we communicate, because my team is distributed. My team’s North America, Europe and Australia and then myself here. So it’s quite widely distributed. So to keep track of each other we have Slack messages, P2’s, and absorbing just your team’s information and Slack, and Automattic as a whole, it’s a lot to process during the day.
“So having that, plus my personal social media and the Whatsapp’s, SMS’s, and phone calls. It’s just too much. And I want to focus on spending time with my daughter and my wife. Doing real life. I just had enough. So, it was a good break. I think now I can do it in more bite-sized chunks. Even Facebook, I just go in and see what my friends are doing. “You’re still alive”. I think the most Facebook interaction I do now is through WordPress, where I publish a post and then it publicizes it.
“It’s good to take a break, I highly recommend it.”
6. Do you have any word of wisdom/encouragement for people who would like to follow in your footsteps?
Jeff: “Yeah, I’d say just back yourself up. When I applied at WooThemes, I originally saw the job posting and I wasn’t going to apply. I thought, “No, that’s not something I can do” and then I thought about it, and they actually had someone in mind that they were going to give the job to. Then I applied and I think Mark saw my CV, arranged an interview, offered me the job on the spot. And it happened from there. So, definitely back yourself up!
“Even if you think you can’t do it. Believe that you have the ability to learn to do it. That’s the main thing. Just try it! See what happens.”