Finding my space and my routine while contributing full-time to WordPress

To this day, it’s super complicated for me to explain to some of my developer friends what I do at work, why I do it, and how it happened. When Francesca, our former team lead, talked to us about writing long articles on topics that interest us, I knew immediately that I wanted to write about that. About my journey as a full-time contributor to WordPress. About how I found my way in this space that can sometimes be overwhelming for beginners.

I’m not going to talk here exactly about how I landed at Yoast; I’ve done that previously on my personal blog about my one year with the company (article in French).

Where I came from

Six or seven years ago I could not have foreseen (and neither could my relatives) that I would be in the field I am in now. I was introduced to the world of software and web engineering at the end of high school. And I immediately embraced it, it was interesting, magical, great to be able to create interesting things by thinking and writing code.

So I learned “on the fly”, tried several things, several technologies. Then I discovered WordPress. I immediately liked the flexibility of the tool, and the latitude it gave me to express all my creativity.

Beginning of my contribution journey

After several months of exploring on my own, my curiosity led me to discover the WordPress open source community. It was fascinating to see thousands of people voluntarily coming together to make WordPress better. So I started contributing to WordPress very sporadically. Translation was the first thing I tried. Then documentation. Then code with the Core team. That’s when I realized the impact I could have by contributing.

So I decided to do it more regularly. So for almost two years, I participated in the weekly Core team meetings, I helped as I could on Trac. With time, I became more confident, and I volunteered for bigger projects like the coordination of the 5.2.2 release or the coordination of the documentation for the 5.3 release.

I realized more and more what I could bring to the project and I wanted to do more. But with a full-time job, I couldn’t afford to contribute more than a certain number of hours per week.

What it means to be a full-time WordPress contributor

Joining Yoast has been a perfect opportunity to explore all the things I couldn’t do as a volunteer contributor. The first thing you realize as a full-time contributor is how vast the WordPress project is; whereas as a volunteer you only get a glimpse of it.

Being a full-time contributor has allowed me to work on larger projects with greater impact. For example, working to restructure the Gutenberg technical documentation was my first full-time contributing project. It required regular collaboration with multiple contribution teams, and constant attention over a period of time. This is something that wasn’t necessarily in my scope when I was only spending a few hours voluntarily contributing.

Another very interesting aspect I noticed is that there are a lot of recurring, not necessarily rewarding or exciting tasks that need to be done to keep a project like WordPress running. As a volunteer contributor, this is not necessarily the kind of thing I would want to work on. Voluntarily participating in the progress of an open source project requires motivation. And it’s not easy to keep this motivation when you can’t measure the results of the contributions you make. So in my opinion it is relevant that sponsored contributors devote some of their time to the above-mentioned tasks.

Finding my routine as a contributor

I must admit that my first few weeks as a full-time contributor were confusing. Since my team members and I had some control over the projects we were involved in, I quickly found myself wanting to do everything at once. I ended up being overwhelmed by my own interests. In this context, having a team lead was a great help to properly direct the efforts to optimize our impact.

Over time, I’ve developed habits that allow me to contribute to projects I love, while remaining effective. The first thing I did was to start by planning in the midterm what I would like to contribute to, and what goals I would like to achieve. My team has quarterly plans which have been very helpful in this context.

The other super important thing has been to keep track of what I’m doing. It’s super important to do that because things move so fast in the WordPress project ecosystem. With collaboration on WordPress being remote by nature, it’s very helpful to have your marks to easily navigate from one project to another, or from one contributing team to another. And again, I experimented with several things before finding the method that worked best for me, and for my interactions with my team at Yoast.

Throughout this process of adaptation and habit building, having a team was beneficial. Contributing together has allowed us to have some stability, bring even more impact to the WordPress project, and help each other.

Lessons I’ve learned

The first thing I’ve learned from all these years of contributing is that you have to have a reason to do it. Whether it’s as a volunteer or sponsored contributor, whatever the open source project, it’s important to have a reason, a motivation to contribute. For me, it was the desire to give back to a community that helped me a lot, professionally and personally.

The second lesson, this time related to WordPress, is to understand and accept that things don’t always go at the pace you want. WordPress is a big project, a big community, with thousands of contributors. Some decisions can take time because of the scope of their impact for example. And it’s important to understand that.

Finally, I think that beyond everything, you should see contributing to open source as a way to grow in skills, as a person, to meet great people and to have fun doing things you love.

Looking forward to what’s coming next

In summary, the decision to contribute to open source has been one of the best decisions I’ve made. I’m very happy to have been able to do this as a volunteer, and even happier to be able to do it full time.