This is one of the first of many posts in which we will be profiling the heavy hitters of the WordPress community. Who are the people behind your favorite plugins and themes? What makes them tick? Why are they awesome? And what sort of things are they working on for the future? Inquiring minds want to know.
John James Jacoby
Tag line: Go Voltron Force!
Knock Outs: Lead Developer for BuddyPress and bbPress Plugin
Power Move: wikki wikki wikki
I‘ve heard people call you John, John James, J-Trip, and Trip -J. Do you have any other aliases and which title do you prefer?
Aliases: jjj / j-trip / trip-j / j-cube / john
Preferred: John / j-trip / jjj
On your website JJJ.blog, it states that you have experience with design, development, and consulting. A great trifecta. Do you gravitate to a certain area? Which area did you start in and what made you learn the others?
Started off as a designer because I had no idea what development was. Was introduced to Visual Basic 3.0 by a friend in high school and knew in my heart I was meant to be a developer. In the beginning I had no idea that developers and designers were two separate jobs and skills (let alone UX, info architects, etc…), and always just did everything myself because I didn’t know anyone that could do any one thing better than I thought I could. Fast forward a decade or so to today, and I’m surrounded by great people that do everything amazingly.
Who is one of the great people that you look up to?
Currently I look up to a few people for a few different reasons. I look up to Mark Jaquith because of his talent, knowledge, and ability to break things down into easy to understand terms. I look up to Andy Peatling for what he’s done with BuddyPress and for giving me a lot of good feedback and advice the past few years. I look up to and really appreciate Jane Wells for taking on so much responsibility and being such a positive influence in so many peoples lives. I look up to Matt Mullenweg because he’s a fantastic public speaker, which is something I need to practice at again. Most importantly I will always look up to my parents for being amazingly patient and understanding people. My dad is the dad who spent a few months worth of savings on the first Pentium 100Mhz computer that came out back in 1994 so I could learn how to make programs in Windows, and my mom is the mom who called me in sick to school to finish programs I was working on. My parents have always trusted and had faith in me to do the right things, and that’s something I will always look up to them for; they’re just amazingly cool people.
What skills do you consider to be your strength?
I personally enjoy refactoring code a lot. I like going through code and refining it to make it faster, or more secure, or easier to use. I also really like building API’s that can be reused or extended by other applications or other developers. I’m a pretty strong architect in terms of how to store data for efficient retrieval, and I like to think I have a really good ability to understand how all of the pieces of a project fit together. I’m also pretty good at making grilled cheese sandwiches.
How did you get started working with WordPress?
I actually found WordPress around the 2.4/2.5 days, and remember hating the way it looked. I was contributing to CHBB and osCommerce back from 2004 to 2006, and was always looking for something that was easier to style and make modifications to without ‘hacking the core.’ I took a few years off web development as my full-time job for a while, and when I came back out of desperation I scoured the web for any other Open Source platform that allowed for elaborate data categorization, and found WordPress and bbPress simultaneously, loved the way taxonomies worked, and never looked back.
What is your favorite BuddyPress feature?
When I first started contributing to BuddyPress, my favorite feature was XProfile, and the fact you could finally have a true ‘author’ page on your WordPress site. Now, I think my favorite feature is something that will be new for 1.3; a BP_Component class that will help plugin developers rapidly roll their own components.
BuddyPress seems to require more cpu resources above and beyond WordPress, is there any work being done to make it more efficient?
Long term the most effective way BuddyPress can limit the resources it uses is by converting to using Custom Post Types and trimming down the volume of PHP code loaded at runtime. Right now the components are very similar, and there is a lot of duplicated code that will be put into a core component class to help alleviate some of that in 1.3. There are also a few circumstances where BuddyPress could be a little smarter about how it decides to load what libraries, and I think 1.4 will be when we sit down and concentrate on that. An example is when you’re viewing something like your Friends, there’s no reason to load up the entire Groups component code and process all of the background actions and hooks for code that will never execute. Just little things we could do would make a big difference I think over time.
What are you currently working on?
Working on getting the next bug fix of BuddyPress released, the bbPress plugin, the WP Swag Store makeover, the WordCamp.org makeover, WP e-Commerce, WP Multi Network, and a few other plugins that I try to maintain.
Do you still work on client projects?
Right now I’m actually turning away work at the rate of almost a project a day because I don’t have the bandwidth. BuddyPress developers that need work and have available time, ping me!
On your twitter bio, I noticed that you mentioned a love of puppies. Do you ever feel like a rare breed in the sea of cat lovers that occupy the WordPress core?
Westi loves my pups, but yeah it’s hard sometimes when you’re up against Jane’s cute kittehs and Ryan’s goats and ferrets. I think eventually my dogs will have their days.
No question- WE agree, dogs rule. =)
Which part of BuddyPress did you expect to make a big hit but either fizzled or was used in a completely different way than you anticipated?
The Groups component has been used in some pretty awesome ways, even to the point where it’s been totally recoded and turned into a totally new component. I think I expected for the Activity stream to be a little more exciting than it is. Our current implementation of bbPress leaves something to be desired, but it was an experiment and we learned from it and we’ll be moving on to an improved integration method soon enough.
Where do you see WordPress going in the future?
Why is everything so heavy in the future? Is there some kind of problem with the Earth’s gravitational pull? I imagine as it starts to turn into a more robust content management solution, things like better custom Post Type support, better Multisite support, less complex media management, more obvious user role/capability management, and smarter post relationships will need to happen. I also think theme and plugin developers are pushing the envelope on how far they can take things without modifying WP core, and that will only continue to motivate and help show off how infinitely extendable WordPress’s reach can be.
Do you have plans to work on any of these future enhancements? Which ones?
I hope to help out with some of the post relationship stuff, since it will directly benefit BuddyPress and bbPress to have that in WordPress core. I also have always been interested in Multisite and Multi-network installations, so I’ll probably throw some patches at the 3.1 network UI too. I haven’t signed up for any official responsibilities though; I think my personal life may miss me if I try to take on anything else!
A word from John-
Something I preach at WordCamps to freelancers or contractors that ask about getting involved or helping out, I always tell them that contributing back to a core project is the best thing you can do for your career. Anything you can do to share your experience, knowledge, and help other people out (even your competition) will always pay off positively in the long run. I’ve made great friends, great business connections, and have been very fortunate and blessed to be able to have a job that I love to do I feel as a direct result of volunteering my time in the community. We can all learn from each other and together we’re all making some really kick-ass stuff!
John wanted to give some props out- (We blushed. Thanks John)
Pagely, Automattic, 9Seeds, WebDevStudios, Voce Communications, Crowd Favorite, Covered Web Services, E Webscapes, C. Murray, StudioPress, Tammy Hart, WP Coders… all the core contributors to bbPress, BuddyPress, and WordPress… all the WordCampers.