Interview with Jonathan Wold, Community Lead for WooCommerce: Working with the community & COVID-19

Jonathan Wold WordPress Community Interview cover
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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.

We recently spoke with Jonathan Wold, Community Lead for WooCommerce at Automattic. Taking into account the current situation with COVID-19, we focused our discussion on how WordPress and other tech communities have been affected, and how event organizers and community members in general should act in such times of crisis.


1. Please tell us a few words about yourself; what do you do professionally and what is your role in the WordPress community?

I love WordPress! I’ve been working in the world of WordPress for around 14 years. I started as a freelance developer, co-founded an ecommerce startup, worked in a large WordPress agency for nearly 5 years, then worked as an independent consultant to SaaS companies before joining the WooCommerce team at Automattic. 

I serve as Community Lead for WooCommerce and I’m responsible for supporting and growing the WooCommerce Community, including our global community spaces (Facebook, Slack, Reddit, etc) and our meetups program.


2. How did you first start working with WordPress? Is there a particular moment that you remember which really stood out to you?

WordPress, from the very beginning, was a tool that empowered me to create on the web. It started with making a blog for a client. I knew very little programming and WordPress made it all possible. What really won me over, though, was the community. I posted to the WordPress forums and numerous people, including Matt Mullenweg himself (the co-creator of WordPress), jumped in to answer my questions and provide support. I was impressed by the software, won over by the community, and have never looked back.


3. The current situation surrounding COVID-19 is something completely unprecedented for the community. How do you think the role of event organizers and community managers is evolving and will continue to evolve in light of all this?

As more and more of us are stuck at home, following the guidance of our local authorities, staying connected to the community is more important than ever. Event organizers and community managers have the opportunity to be a source of inspiration and encouragement to the communities they serve. 


4. What are your thoughts on the mass cancellation of WordCamps? Was this decision done by WordPress or by local Camp organizers? What do you expect going forward as far as WordCamps and other community events are concerned?

WordPress is led by volunteers and there’s an incredible amount of effort that goes into preparing each event. WordCamp Asia was the first big cancellation in the WordPress ecosystem and there was significant debate about what to do. Ultimately, though, Matt stepped in and made the decision. There was a lot of disappointment and some backlash, at first. In hindsight, it was the right call. Since then Community Team has done an incredible job providing guidance and support to events and meetups around the world. 

Going forward there’s a lot of opportunity to adapt and innovate. It’s a difficult time and I feel more grateful than ever for the volunteers who dedicate their time and energy to the mission of WordPress and continue investing in their communities.


5. What do you think the financial consequences will be for WordPress, in terms of partners and sponsors?

There’s always an impact. WordPress as a platform and ecosystem, though, is well positioned to be a bright light in the midst of more and more people looking for creative ways to bring their businesses and organizations online. I expect partnerships and sponsorships will continue to follow that momentum. 


6. More generally, how do you think this will affect open-source tech communities when the dust settles? What about remote work, can we expect to see significant changes there as well?

Difficult situations bring out the best and worst in people. Open source is no exception. Overall, as more people are spending time online, I expect to see an increase in interest and contribution to open source, especially as people find and get connected to the associated communities.

As long as people remember that this time is not business as usual for any of us, I think you’ll find on the other side a lot more interest in and support for distributed work. And, for a time at least, I think we’ll all especially value in-person connection once it’s safe to meet together again. 


7. Finally, what would be some tips for event organizers and community managers in such times of crisis? What about community members in general? 

Focus on supporting your leaders, your volunteers, the people at the heart of your community. Lay aside your big picture ambitions and plans and focus on the fundamentals. 

In the WooCommerce Community our work is to inspire merchants and entrepreneurs, to empower them, and to be as inclusive as possible. Those values are the same whether we’re in crisis or not. In crisis, though, the way we practice those values is different and I suggest that the priority for all should be to provide the support to your community in the way they need it.