Interview with Adam W. Warner of GoDaddy: Hitchhiking through the galaxy with WordPress

Published by Tim
on 1 September 2020
Adam W. Warner WordPress community interview cover

Agiledrop is highlighting members of various open-source communities through interviews showcasing their work and their stories. In this particular series, you'll get to learn more about members of the WordPress community.

Meet Adam W. Warner, Global Field Marketing Senior Manager at GoDaddy and long-time WordPress community member. Check out our interview to learn more about Adam's beginnings with the early days of web development and his journey from working as a WordPress evangelist to his community-focused dream job.

 

1. Please tell us a little about yourself and your work. How do you participate in the WordPress community and what do you do  professionally?

My professional title is Global Field Marketing Senior Manager for GoDaddy, which basically means I run and participate in events in the WordPress space specifically. We are global sponsors of the WordPress project and the WordCamp project, and I manage our participation there.

But I’m also a long-time WordPress community member. I found WordPress in 2005 and I’ve done a lot of different things with it - trying to find my way into where I fit, where my passion lies. Other than WordPress itself, that became community and product and marketing, but mostly, it’s all about community.

So, to say I’m doing my dream job is not an overstatement, because I’ve done a lot of things in the space, but I’ve always wanted to be full-time at events participating with others who are doing cool things with WordPress, learning and sharing, and I’m lucky enough to be able to do that now.

Of course, it’s quite a different experience now since Covid hit, so that’s changed a lot of things for us. But, yeah, I guess that’s it in a nutshell.

 

2. How and when did you first come across WordPress? What convinced you to stay, the software or the community, and why?

The community was what initially drove me, well, kept me to this. I was running a photo-to-DVD memorial business on the side. 

I was working full-time doing website and phone sales for an audiobook company, running this side business, and I had a website created for it. I was looking for a faster way to update it, I’d heard about this blogging thing, and so I tried a few different platforms and found WordPress.

It was really the support forums there, I started digging in and asking questions, then I quickly discovered that I knew more than what some other people were posting, so I started helping there, and then the back-and-forth and just the community was what hooked me.

 

3. What impact has WordPress made on you? Is there a particular moment that has really stuck with you?

Well, I’ve shared my WordPress story in a few different presentations over the years, and I don’t look at it as one kind of major turning point. I look at it as a lot of individual stepping stones that have led me to being able to do and work where I most enjoy things and where my passion is.

I was the artist of the family, I went to school for advertising design, and I had this problem where I would have these ideas, but I had trouble translating them onto a medium. 

I had this moment, this impostor syndrome moment, even back in college, where I thought “Ok, I like to draw and doodle and things, but I’m never going to be a professional illustrator, so now what?”

And this was back in 1990 or 91/92, and we had one computer class; it was a little Mac, and our only assignment for the whole semester was to scan an image, create a postage stamp and then colorize it.

So, it was very rudimentary as far as computers were concerned, but my professor gave me a book about the left and right brain, and the right brain side was the creative side, while the left was the technical side.

Fast forward a few years, I got involved with the internet, the early bulletin board systems. Then, in 1994, I got my own computer, and I discovered HTML and that I could create a site. That kind of satisfied the technical side, and then the creative finally melded into those - so then it was, “Ok, what do I do with this?”

And, you know this, this is through a series of years, but I would get so excited when I would discover how to change a color with CSS; that was a big deal, and I’d come down and I’d tell my girlfriend at the time, and she’d go “Oh, damn, cool, we can change the color!”

So, that little stepping stone led to the next thing that I learned, and the next thing, so I don’t know if there’s any real pivotal moment other than to say when I was working for the audiobook company, I was in sales and in the cubicle next to me was the IT. 

I shared a cubicle wall with one of the IT managers; they were managing all the website and e-commerce stuff, and I had now gotten into this WordPress thing on the side, and I kept telling them: “This WordPress software, WordPress WordPress WordPress,” I wouldn’t be quiet about it.

So, a position opened up, I applied for it, I was given a book on SQL and told to go learn this over the weekend, and then they’d give me a test on Monday, and if I passed I’d be a junior web programmer, because of the stuff I’d self taught.

I then had the opportunity to use WordPress on a daily basis in my job. It wasn’t the only thing I was doing, but they said “Yes, spin up a WordPress site for one of our authors, and we can explore this blogging thing as a way to market”.

And that was probably one of the most pivotal moments when I was able to work full-time with WordPress and the community for a job. And then that job led to a web development and internet marketing management job, taking an HTML site into a WordPress site for a big HVAC distributor, and that, being in that, led to me creating my own plugin business.

I’m not a developer, but I partnered with a developer, and working in the plugin business got me more into the community workings everyday, and then that led to working for a brand as an evangelist, and that led to my work at GoDaddy in field marketing - so, stepping stones.

The title at that first job with a brand was WordPress evangelist, a term which in retrospect and nowadays I don’t really like, other than it does describe your passion for something.

But that’s what it was, I had that first, and so I described myself as a WordPress evangelist, that’s just who I am - and I was lucky enough to find someone to pay me for it.

 

4. How did you see WordPress evolving over the years? What do you think the future will bring for WordPress and for open source in general?

Yeah, that’s a big question, right? I’ve seen a ton of changes just in my time. I saw WordPress go from having no plugins, just a HEX file where you would put in your functions and stuff to add different things, to the very first business that came out of WordPress.

Well, not the very first, of course wordpress.com came out of Matt’s work creating WordPress along with Mike Little. But, Cory Miller with iThemes back in I think 2006 or 2007, I believe he was the first one, or they were the first ones to sell a premium plugin and premium themes, and then we have this multibillion dollar theme industry and premium plugin industry. 

And now we’re seeing that shift because of the shift in WordPress itself, with the block editor - Gutenberg - bringing us more towards full-site editing experiences, as your traditional page builder would be.

I should back up - so, after themes, we had this explosion of page buildings with people like me who aren’t necessarily a developer and not necessarily a designer. I term myself an implementer, that phrase coined by Tom McFarlin, a well-known developer, where I sit right in the middle - so, again, that right brain/left brain.

So, we had these page builders come out as tools for people like me to make a site look beautiful, lay it out the way it needs to be laid out without having to be a developer and write code in theme template files and things.

Now, page builders have proven that WordPress itself needs to be a full-site editing experience and very customizable with a click-and-drag way to do that, and Gutenberg in the block format is the next step toward that.

There’s been a lot of evolution, and I think it just goes along with the evolution of the tech industry and websites as a whole, how things have progressed.

What do I see for the future of WordPress? Boy, I see a lot of good things. There’s services like Squarespace and Wix who are ahead of the game in terms of offering that simplified experience for their users. 

And I’m lucky enough to work for GoDaddy who actually has people that they’ve hired that have worked there many years just to contribute to the WordPress project and the platform, so we have core committers on the team - Mike Schroder and Aaron Campbell and others.

If you go to our Five for the Future page on wordpress.org, I think there’s at least a couple dozen GoDaddy employees who are contributing to the software, probably more. 

And we’re doing things with Gutenberg and block-based themes for the onboarding process of new users, cause typically one of the complaints you hear is “WordPress is easy to use”, and then you throw that in front of a brand new person who’s never built a website, and they go: “Oh yeah? Really? Look at the administration area!”

So, people and companies and contributors making the ease of use a reality is what I see for the immediate future. I’m excited, because that’s what I’ve always wanted it to be.

And on the flip side of that, making the user experience as easy as possible also has the potential to affect the industry of web developers and web designers who are adept at developing WordPress sites.

If it’s that much easier for the end user, what does that mean for that side of the user base? There’s this whole spectrum of different kinds of WordPress users, but I think there will still be room for everybody.

And, you know, a real estate agent knows they need a good website, but doesn’t necessarily want to sit there and point and click and create it, they just want it done. They need an implementer!

 

5. What are some of the contributions to open source code or to the community that you are most proud of (either your own or in general)?

I’d say the first answer to that is again our participation in the Five for the Future program, or working for a company who participates in that and places the appropriate amount of importance to that.

Because, you know, this software is open source, and that’s the beauty of open source, it’s that anyone can use it freely and build upon it. And there are so many people benefiting from this open-source software, it’s nice to see people realizing that and giving back.

So, that’s something I’m very proud of, that I’m aligned with a company who participates in that. My personal contributions that I’m most proud of are my community work and my work at events.

There’s a lot of ways you can contribute to WordPress. You can write code, obviously, that’s the one that most people think about - “Well, I can’t contribute because I’m not a developer”. Well, that’s not true at all! You can contribute in many ways.

Us having this conversation and other people benefiting from it is contributing to the community. Writing documentation, translations on the Polyglots team, anything that you’re doing with security, training people; if you make a screencast on how to make a poster page in WordPress and you put it on YouTube, you’re contributing to the community.

It’s really a groundswell of millions of people around the world doing all of these little micro actions that have built up the software to power over 38% of sites on the internet now - that’s a huge chunk of humanity. Even with not everyone on the internet these days, it’s a big responsibility.

For me, when I contribute to the community by putting on events, by talking to people about WordPress, especially new people who may be overwhelmed or not really clicking on how they could use their website to further their businesses and to further whatever their goals are.

Maybe you have a non-profit and you want the word to spread and you want to help people - well, WordPress is the perfect tool for that. So, to answer your question - I’m really proud of the work I’ve done in the community simply by listening and sharing what I’ve learned with others.

 

6. Is there an initiative or a project in WordPress that you would like to promote or highlight?

Well, I would point out a few things to watch, and at the risk of sounding self-promotional: have a look at what GoDaddy’s doing with their free Go theme that’s in the WordPress repository, and the CoBlocks plugins. 

These get you one step closer to having that simplified experience when you want to choose a predesigned layout, predesigned color schemes, they’re doing a lot of work there and there’s a lot more to be done, so I’m seeing some really good things for the future there.

The other thing would be to follow the development of the Gutenberg plugin. And, for those who don’t know - the new block editor in WordPress was codenamed Gutenberg. There still is a Gutenberg plugin that is basically being developed to add and test features before those go into core WordPress.

Birgit, who runs Gutenberg Times, has her finger on the pulse of what’s happening in Gutenberg as it moves to the full-site editing experience, that’s where I get my latest news.

And then the third thing I would say is, especially now in this time of Covid and on our team - so, we were doing a lot of physical events, and now everything is virtual, right, so we’ve seen a lot of people lose their businesses, their brick and mortars, and have to shift and to find income elsewhere, and so we’re seeing a huge shift to e-commerce.

There’s a lot of e-commerce going on, and as it happens we had a WooCommerce hosting product released in the fall of 2019 before all of this happened, and it’s a really easy way for people to spin up an e-commerce store.

And there’s a project by Brian Krogsgard and Cory Miller of Post Status, it’s a new project called commercejourney.com which we’re sponsoring. 

And I’m mentioning this because their vision for Commerce Journey is to take someone who’s never had any e-commerce experience, or someone who’s already running their store, and help them navigate all of the questions that come to play with opening up an online business: how to manage it, how to set it up correctly, how to implement processes to make it as streamlined as possible, etc., and it’s so important now that people have the opportunity to shift to online income generation.

 

7. What other things excite you beyond WordPress (either technology-related or a personal hobby/endeavor)?

Yes, so, passions, I have a few. I read the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series of books when I was in early high school. It was my first introduction to English humor; because of the nature of the story, and I’ll let you readers experience this for themselves, it helped to further open my world view and my galactic view into thinking about what could be possible.

I think in part that fostered my interest in space and rocketry, and I’ve always been interested in that. I saw a space shuttle launch in 2002 in person, and that was life-changing for me. We were 3.1 miles away, it started to lift off, and there was water in between us, and I commented to the person I was with: “But there’s no sound!” and then just then the sound came rushing across the top of the water through everybody, and it was magnificent.

Since then I’ve been really interested in space and the nature of our existence in the world, and the nature of consciousness, so that would be a passion of mine, thinking about those things, those big questions.

I’m lucky enough to live in Orlando, Florida now where we can see launches from our balcony on a good day. It’s far away, but we can see the flames, and I have two kids that I wanted to introduce to that, so that’s nice. So, yeah, my passion would be science and technology, and the nature of all things.

 

Adam W. Warner showing the tattoos on his arm