Welcome to this week’s edition of Pagely’s 8 Questions series! Today’s interviewee is the fantastic Jennifer Bourn, the well-respected WordCamp speaker and founder of Bourn Creative.
As with last week’s interviewee, Shawn Hesketh, Jennifer worked in graphic design pre-WordPress. Be sure to check out the Bourn Creative website — including Jennifer’s regular contributions to the Bourn Creative blog — and feel free to get in touch via Twitter, @jenniferbourn.
In today’s interview, we’ll be discussing how Jennifer became involved (and fell in love) with WordPress, the importance of becoming an active member of the WordPress community, and a few tips for WordPress users just starting out.
As always, a big, big thanks to Jennifer Bourn for taking part, and for taking the time to provide us with a set of really thorough, insightful answers. I hope you enjoy reading them!
For readers less familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself and your WordPress background?
I’m a graphic designer by trade, working in the field since 1997. In 2005, four months pregnant with my second child, I quit my agency design job and founded Bourn Creative. After prompting from a mentor to learn web design (so I could charge higher fees), I sat down at my kitchen table with a friend who taught me CSS and Adobe Dreamweaver. Luckily I picked it up fairly quickly, as my original college major was electrical engineering and in those days I wrote a lot of code.
I stumbled through my first several websites, improved my skills, and soon the focus of almost all of my work was designing and building custom websites. Over time, I was reminded why I changed my major in the first place: I don’t love writing code.
In 2008 I discovered WordPress, and in 2009 I moved all of my web work to WordPress and fell in love. Over time we began working with the Genesis Framework as a parent theme for our custom child themes, and in 2011 Bourn Creative moved all of our custom development to the Genesis Framework, and we are now a Genesis recommended developer.
In addition to leading our client strategy and design work, I manage the Bourn Creative brand and the creation and iteration of our internal systems and processes. I speak often on podcasts, summits, and live events, and write for our blog, WP Elevation, CoSchedule, and the GoDaddy Garage. I also co-organize the Sacramento WordPress Meetup group.
Personally, I love to cook, I play A LOT of Legos with my family, spend A LOT of my time outdoors on family hikes and adventures, eat A LOT of tacos, and take A LOT of vacation.
You’ve been in the WordPress community for several years now, but could you tell us how you first became involved with WordPress?
I first heard about WordPress at an online marketing conference. I wasn’t thrilled with the private CMS we were using for client sites and had made a note to look into it, but got busy and it fell by the wayside. Soon after, I had a business contact reach out and ask me if I could design a WordPress site. I said yes and quickly took to Twitter, reaching out to my network to find a subcontractor and I found Dre Armeda who saved my butt and helped me out.
I loved how much more flexibility I had with WordPress and even more so, loved that my clients could edit their own content. So I dug in, learned more about it, and decided to move completely to WordPress as our web design and development tool of choice.
Over time, my husband Brian Bourn began teaching himself how to code and eventually took over all development for the company. In 2011, he discovered WordCamps and began attending them regularly. Our kids were little then so only one of us went to an event at a time. Luckily they grew up, our parents retired, and then with babysitters on hand, we both went to Word Camp San Francisco in 2013 — my first word camp — and I was blown away.
It was so refreshing to be at such a community oriented business event without selling from the stage. I learned a ton, met amazing people (who I am now lucky enough to consider dear friends), and was inspired to get involved. Since then we have attended a lot of WordCamps, and I have spoken at several.
During your time in the community, what different areas have you been involved with?
Primarily, Brian and I co-organize the Sacramento WordPress Meetup with Jake Goldman, Joe Boydston, and Chris Minnick, which meets the first Tuesday of every month.
I speak often and love it. I have done talks at WordCamp Phoenix, WordCamp Los Angeles , WordCamp San Francisco, WordCamp San Diego, and in June WordCamp Orange County. I also moderated a panel at WordCamp Seattle and spoke at the inaugural Prestige Conference. I will be presenting a hands-on workshop at the upcoming August Prestige Conference in Minneapolis.
In July, Bourn Creative will be 10-years-old, and in that time I have made a ton of mistakes and learned a ton of hard lessons, so I also join podcasts and speak at local meetups regularly to share some of my experiences hoping to help others improve and grow their businesses. I also write a lot for our blog and several others.
I’ve attended a couple of contributor days at WordCamps, and have responded to a few support tickets and edited a few docs — but to be honest, I almost always feel like a bumbling fool and I often feel slightly intimidated, as I’m not a developer. I think I just need to find the best way to offer my expertise!
More recently, I’ve really enjoyed being involved with Drew Jaynes’ new user experience (NUX) initiative. I appreciate the focus on making new users’ first time experience with the software easier.
What has been the best thing about working with WordPress for you?
The absolute best thing about working with WordPress has been becoming part of the community as a whole. Never have I experienced an ecosystem of business peers and competitors that is so supportive, positive, and encouraging. From my very first experience at WordCamp San Francisco to today, I continue to be impressed with the collaboration and open sharing of knowledge. I don’t think there is another industry I know of where competitors will sit down together and share advice, knowledge, resources, and valuable insights — and cheer for each others’ successes.
We have built relationships with ridiculously talented people who share their knowledge with us to help us grow and improve, and I simply feel blessed to call many of the people I have met through WordPress great friends.
The other amazing thing that WordPress has allowed us to do is to empower our clients to take control of their own website, teach them how to use it, and watch them grow their businesses. More than design, more than consulting, WordPress has given us the ability to make a profound difference in our clients’ lives and businesses, and there isn’t a much better feeling than that.
How has the WordPress community changed since you started?
When I first got started with WordPress I didn’t know there was a community!
I spent a lot of time (and still do) on Twitter and I did connect with some designers and developers who were using WordPress, but other than that I wasn’t involved and didn’t know what I was missing.
When Brian began attending Word Camps, he would always come home and tell me how much I would love them. When I finally went to my first one, I didn’t really know anyone. Luckily Brian introduced me to people he had met. Jake Goldman, who is a friend of ours, made a point to introduce me to a lot of people as well, and I connected with Chris Lema in person for the first time, and through Chris I have met even more people in the community.
Also, while this year I attended Pressnomics for the first time, it was Brian’s third time attending, and we will both definitely go again if it happens next year. The event creates a unique and intimate space to really connect with high-level community members; have meaningful, substantial conversations; and foster strong relationships.
Over the years the community has grown by leaps and bounds. It’s not as intimate as it was a couple years ago, but I think that’s a good thing. We need fresh voices, new perspectives, and outside ideas.
The community is also growing up. More people are discovering their own voices, they are gaining confidence in their own abilities, and as a result participate more in the community. I’ve also noticed that over the years the community has taken more of an ownership over WordPress, defending it, evangelizing for it, and dedicating time to improve it.
The biggest change has been the change I have seen in myself.
When I first discovered there was a WordPress community, I watched a lot, I followed a lot of people, and listened. I didn’t get involved right away. I was nervous and intimidated. I had all the common impostor thoughts running through my head: Who am I to speak up? Why would they care what I have to say? Why would that crazy talented person want to talk to me? What do I have to bring to the table?
So I kept my head down and focused on improving my skills and producing great work. Because we were using Genesis as our parent theme, I eventually dipped my toe in the water becoming more active in the Genesis community first. It was smaller and seemed safer to me. Everyone I connected with was welcoming, nice, and supportive, save a few. There are always exceptions, right?
As I connected with, and was introduced to more people, speaking up in the community got easier. With the friendships, support, and encouragement from those in the community, I gained more confidence in my own voice. Today, those that know me would agree that I have no problem speaking up about anything to anyone.
What advice would you give to anyone getting started with WordPress? Which direction would you yourself go if you were starting over again?
The best piece of advice I can give to someone just getting started is to show up and talk to people.
FIRST: Don’t just sit behind your computer and stalk Facebook groups or lurk on Twitter. I did that and it doesn’t work. Take the time and make the effort to show up. Go to your local WordPress meetup every month. Attend a WordCamp or two (or three!) if you can. Everything changed for me in this community when I began showing up.
When you show up, you can connect with people in real life, face-to-face, and have conversations people will remember. Your relationships will form faster and they will be stronger. In person you have the opportunity to have conversations that would never happen online, and you have the opportunity to introduce yourself to people that may be difficult to make a connection with online.
Plus you’ll learn a ton, and not just from the speakers and the sessions, but from the other attendees. The talent in the room at meet ups, WordCamps, and other events is quite impressive and everyone is accessible.
SECOND: Introduce yourself to people! Don’t be afraid to just walk up to someone and say “hello.” This community is the most welcoming and supportive community I have ever experienced, so you don’t need to be nervous or feel weird about it. Plus, chances are many other people feel the same way you do, and they’ll probably be thrilled you walked up to them because now they don’t have to do it!
If you’re shy, reach out to them online first, mention that you’re going to the same event and that you look forward to meeting them. Or stand in the hallway outside the meeting room, wait for the person you want to connect with to walk in and sit down, then sit next to them, and say “hello.” I’ve met some amazing people just by sitting next to them at an event.
THIRD: Ask questions! You don’t have to know everything, and you’re not expected to. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I’m not sure who said it, but a quote I love is: “By not asking for help, you’re robbing others of the great feeling they’ll get when they help you.” Remember that people want to help, especially in this community. So many of us are where we are today because of others who have shared their advice, code, resources, and more, and we want to pay it forward now and help you, too.
At one of the first WordCamps Brian ever attended, he was speaking with another developer he had just recently met about a challenge he was having with a client project. Immediately, the developer said he had the code, and simply gave it to him. That developer was Andrew Norcross. His generosity blew us away. We’ve stayed connected, and today I am thrilled to call him a friend.
What do you think the biggest mistakes WordPress website owners are making?
Many website owners we encounter simply have the wrong mindset about their site and being a site owner.
- They believe they can build it and then it’s done and they don’t have to do any more work. They just don’t understand that their website is powered by software that needs to be maintained, and they fail to use the site they build to publish content.
- They think they can do everything themselves, which technically they can, but the problem is that they are doing this without the proper knowledge and understanding of what they are doing.
- They believe that every theme and plugin available is safe (or the same quality) and that they all should work perfectly together.
As a result they make four major mistakes, we see over and over:
- They ignore their site and let it get out of date. They don’t update WordPress, they don’t update plugins, and they don’t manage spam effectively, making their site vulnerable. And even worse, because they don’t pay attention to updates, sometimes they have no idea that a security vulnerability has been identified for a plugin they have installed.
- They install plugin after plugin after plugin, without testing, without doing research or homework, without knowing the implications it could have, and/or without looking at when it was last updated or if it has security issues. And they don’t delete plugins they decide not to use. So we’ll see sites with six different plugins that all do the same thing installed and activated, but only one is being used. Or we’ll ask about the plugins installed and the site owner has no idea what many of them are for.
- They don’t back up their sites before installing and activating new plugins or editing the CSS in the WordPress editor on the live site!
- After investing time, effort, and money into a new site — often thousands of dollars on a custom WordPress site — they will cheap out at the very end and balk at spending more than $5-$10/month on hosting to protect their investment. This blows my mind every time, especially when the website is their main source of income. Every website owner whose website is their primary source of income, or primary generator of leads, should invest in managed hosting.
What do you think the future of WordPress holds? What would you like to see?
I’d love to see WordPress implement a form of “preserve editor scroll” in the editor. I hate that every time I edit or update a long blog post or page of content the editor jumps back to the very top of the page and I have to scroll back down to where I was working… Oh wait! You probably were asking for a bigger picture response…
I think the future of WordPress is bright and there is a lot of potential. We’re going to start seeing WordPress becoming part of a bigger solution instead of the solution, especially with the implementation of the JSON REST API. We’re already seeing some of that in play today with the New York Times. I also think we’ll see a decoupling of the front-end and back-end of WordPress, where the back-end is used more for settings and admin, and the front-end is all content editing and design options. I hope in turn this will lead to making the new user experience simpler and easier.
The key to continued growth for WordPress is down to ongoing contribution by volunteers and a continued commitment to resource allocation from companies. WordPress has improved by leaps and bounds, especially in the past few years, and much of that improvement is a direct result of these individuals, and of companies who donate employee time to the project.
At the same time, we need to be careful to not get stuck in the WordPress bubble. By keeping a finger on what is happening outside WordPress, alongside WordPress, and in competition with WordPress, we can bring that knowledge to the project to make it better for everyone.
As the project and the community continues to grow, I’d love to see an expanded vision of contribution and a greater outreach to get more skill sets involved.
I know there are contribution roles available for people who don’t live, sleep, and breathe code, but getting started and understanding how to contribute is not easy. I know for a non-developer, you can contribute by organizing a meetup or a WordCamp, and I know there are other things you could do… but I’m not sure what those are or how to really get started. I’ve dipped my toes in and it wasn’t easy — and I’m a smart woman.
I’d also love to see a great acknowledgement project-wide for those who contribute and volunteer their time but aren’t core contributors.
Many volunteers do so because they have a passion for the project, not because they need to be acknowledged. But people innately crave respect, acknowledgment, and affirmation, and when you give it to them, it bolsters confidence, increases motivation, and builds loyalty. If we can do that for those who already give their time and those who will do so in the future, the project will retain their volunteerism longer and inspire others to volunteer as well.
I couldn’t agree more, Jennifer: WordPress needs the editor scroll lock you mentioned!
A huge “thanks” to Jennifer for providing us with some expert insight into the WordPress world, and for taking the time to write this set of detailed, insightful answers.
For Jennifer, playing an active role in the WordPress community seems to have had a strong positive impact on her WordPress career — as well as many of our other interviewees. Even if you don’t feel like you have anything to contribute yet, attending a WordCamp is still a great opportunity to learn and network. With WordCamps running regularly, and in all corners of the globe, they really are an accessible way to put yourself out there, and, based on most of our interviewees’ responses, a pre-requisite for a successful WordPress career.
If you’ve missed the links, here they are again: the Bourn Creative website, the Bourn Creative blog, and Jennifer’s personal Twitter account — she’s very active on Twitter, and I’m sure she won’t mind you saying “hello!”
Thanks for reading, and I look forward to seeing you again next week when Pagely interviews another well-respected member of the WordPress community!