My Journey to WordPress Commit

For those that don’t know what WordPress is, it’s software to run a website. It runs sites ranging from this blog; to news sites like CNN, NBC, CBS, and TechCrunch; to celebrity sites like Bill Cosby, LL Cool J, Howie Mandel, and the Rolling Stones; and everything in between. It powers 18.9% of the top 10 million sites on the Internet, so nearly one in every five sites is using WordPress.

It’s also completely free and open source, which means you can not only use it for free but you can modify it in any way you want. Even the license is designed to protect those that use the software instead of those who write it (which I love, even though I’m one of those that writes it). It makes the Internet a better place.

Oh, by the way, you have commit.
— Nacin

I’m now a core committer on this project, which basically means that I’m one of just over a dozen people that can push code into this software that powers almost one fifth of the entire Internet. I’m honored. But how did I get here?

Looking back, it all started because of a client I had just over six years ago, in June of 2007. We ran into a problem on their site and found out it was a bug in WordPress. It was an edge case. It only happened if you had two posts whose titles were at least two hundred characters long and the first two hundred characters of those titles were the same. Still, I fixed it for the client and tried to figure out how to pass that fix back into WordPress. My motives weren’t particularly noble. I simply didn’t want the site to break when WordPress was updated. That would mean that I’d need to go in and fix it again. Still, when my first code actually landed in WordPress 2.3, I was addicted almost immediately.

It took me a while to get the hang of it. The amount of code in WordPress can be overwhelming to navigate, and there were many patches that I wrote that never made it in because they just weren’t right. Still, 6 months later I got more code put in. Then more a month later. While it took me 6 months to get from one patch in to two, the next six months would take me from two patches in to nine. I stuck with it though, and six years later I now have 109 patches that made it into WordPress and I’ve contributed to every single version since my first contribution to 2.3.

Somewhere along the way I discovered the community. Communities in general are something I’ve become passionate about, and WordPress has an amazing community organized around it. It’s full of intelligent, disparate people that have come together to build this software for the benefit of anyone and everyone that wants to use it. We like to get together and discuss shared interests, we like to party and drink, we enjoy sitting together until the wee hours of the morning and coding or possibly waxing philosophical over religion, politics, or life in general, but we also support each other. Sometimes you see it in the form of a developer at one company helping out a developer at a competing company with code they’ve already created to solve a particular problem. Sometimes it’s even more than that. Let me tell you a story that will help you understand just how amazing this community can be.

Ptah, well dressed and the life of the party as usual
Ptah, well dressed and the life of the party as usual
Many of us knew Ptah Dunbar as the fun, charismatic, and well dressed guy that we got to see whenever our conference schedules overlapped. You were always happy to hear he would be at the same conference as you, as it basically guaranteed a good time. Unfortunately, right after WordCamp San Francisco one year, Ptah got into a bad motorcycle accident. Information was sketchy at best and completely inaccurate at worst, and many of us were told that he had been pronounced dead on the scene. Thankfully that was not the case, but he really was in bad shape, and the worst part was that this fellow freelancer didn’t have good insurance. He had lost all sight in one eye and the cost to see the specialist was prohibitive. Someone in the community put up a site to collect donations to help with some of the his expenses. Get Well Ptah hit and exceeded it’s goal of $6,000 in just 90 minutes. That’s right, people from the WordPress community donated $6,000 USD in 90 minutes. Many of these people were from other development companies or were freelancers themselves, which means Ptah was their competition. No one seemed to care. Ptah ended up permanently losing sight in one eye, and is now known as Pirate Dunbar on Twitter, but I he knows how much the community cares for him and that’s truly amazing. How many of your friends, or better yet your competitors, would do that for you?

When you have the chance to be a part of a community like that, I think you’d have to be crazy to pass it up. So I didn’t. I integrated into the community and became part of it. I released plenty of plugins for free, spoke at a number of events, and even helped plan an event or two. Once you’re a part of the community you can’t help but want the best for WordPress, and out of that comes an involvement in the project that not most software development can never even hope to achieve.

So while the initial hook may have been business related, the community is what kept me around and motivated me. That’s why I jumped at the chance to co-lead WordPress 3.6. It was long and it was hard, but as we release the final product I realize that I’m really proud of it. And when I was given commit access at the WordCamp San Francisco contributor day (yes I co-lead a release without having commit) I was elated. Even if it was by Nacin throwing an off-hand comment at me over his shoulder “oh, by the way, you have commit” and then going back to his other conversation.

So it’s the community that kept me company on the journey to where I am now. It’s certainly not for fame or money. Aaron Campbell won’t become a household name because I work on WordPress, and volunteering time certainly doesn’t rake in the cash, but I honestly think that I have a hand in making the Internet a better place. And I’m proud of that.

4 thoughts on “My Journey to WordPress Commit”

  1. Aaron, it’s been almost two years since my motorcycle accident. When I look back and reflect on what happened, I can’t help but realize how selfish I was for not taking basic safety precautions when I rode out that night. I worried my family and friends to the highest level.. and I wasn’t thinking about that, and it hurts.

    I’m sooo grateful to everyone I’ve met over the years at various WordCamps, meetups and gatherings, you have no idea how much this community means to me. When I was at the hospital I kept telling my mom that you guys were my extended family, and I said to myself that I’m going to do everything I can to get myself out of “the fast lane”, and contribute back in every way I know how. I’m so grateful to be alive, I have more energy and purpose than ever before.

    Thank you for all of your kind words, and mad props to your rise to core comitter! I’m transitioning to my new job so I’m excited to get back into WordPress dev full time again! I can’t wait to hang out with you and Christen (she’s so funny) to catch up and add more to the good times 🙂

  2. WordPress is pure joy to use. I’ve set up a few blogs for the company I work with, and had it not been for WordPress I would have gone insane, trying to implement the billion changes that my non-technical peers demand from me. So, thank you – you make me love my job!

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