The WordPress Contributor Shortage

Episode 41 January 28, 2022 00:26:29
The WordPress Contributor Shortage
Underrepresented in Tech
The WordPress Contributor Shortage

Jan 28 2022 | 00:26:29


Show Notes

In this episode, Allie and Michelle discuss the fact that many WordPress Contribution Teams are short on volunteers! Why is this happening? What can we do about it?


Episode Transcript:



Allie Nimmons  00:02

Welcome to the Underrepresented in Tech podcast hosted by Michelle Frechette and Allie Nimmons. Underrepresented in Tech is a free database, but with the goal of helping people find new opportunities in WordPress on tech overall.


Michelle Frechette  00:16

Hi, Allie! 


Allie Nimmons  00:17

Hi Michelle! Happy Friday. 


Michelle Frechette  00:20

Happy Friday to you. It's snowing here in upstate New York.


Allie Nimmons  00:23

Yay, it is not snowing here in Austin, Texas. I wish it was though.


Michelle Frechette  00:30

What people don't know is coming up soon, like, about a month and a half, you're coming to Rochester. And we're gonna do a podcast together sitting across the desk from each other. So that's going to be so cool.


Allie Nimmons  00:41

I can't, I can't wait. I'm so excited. The whole time I've known, you every single zoom call, except for the ones when you're at your house. Pretty much every single zoom call, you're in like the Give WP headquarters little building. And I'm so jealous that I can't be there because it looks like such a cute and fun environment. So I'm so excited. 


Michelle Frechette  01:05

You'll get to co-work with me and Amanda and Jeff that weekend; that's gonna be fun. And we're gonna have a dinner together and all of that. You get to meet all the people; that'll be great. And we've got to find a place and make appointments for tattoos.



Yes. And we'll be posting all over Twitter about all of that if anyone interested in following our escapades because whenever we get together, there are escapades.


Michelle Frechette  01:30

There are for sure. Some of them include my scooter. But that's another story for another day. Anyway. So 5.9 was released this week. And I thought we could chat about that we were talking a little bit. Josephine i know i love that too, just originally supposed to be out in December. And, you know, we we you and I were together at State of the Word and we know that that got postponed. And I think that's great, quite honestly. I think when things aren't ready, they shouldn't be released. And I was going over some of the 2022 theme and the full site editing and there's still some bugs in it. But that's another story for another day as well. This is not a develop- developer chat. But so far, things are still looking good. And I think it's pretty impressive. But one of the things that I've noticed, and I did it myself when I was on the same team you were, right, when we were on the the... 5.6 team together, was the first thing you do as soon as it releases this, take a screenshot where your name appears and start posting them. And I saw I've seen over Twitter, I've seen over Facebook, like where people are like, "Look, my name's there!" And it starts to really make you think about who are the people who contribute and what are they contributing? So most people know, I am not a developer. I know enough code to you know, really turn my screen white and things like that, usually. I mean, I'm not terrible, but I don't do PHP and I don't do JavaScript, and I certainly don't do React but but there are people who do. But! My name was still included because there are other ways to contribute besides developing code.


Allie Nimmons  03:10

Yeah. And that's super important. 


Michelle Frechette  03:13

Yeah, sure is, right? Because there's more to it. If only if every plugin company only had developers, nobody would be able to come buy anything because they wouldn't know about it, right?


Allie Nimmons  03:23

It would be a nightmare. Yeah. No one would know about the plugin. No one would know how to use the plugin. The plugin would look like trash. Like, yeah, there's so many other... other adjacent things within the tech industry that's not tech. Right? 


Michelle Frechette  03:39

Right. Yep, like content, documentation, videos, showing, you know, all the trading and things that go along with it. So there's a lot of ways to be involved. And one of the things that, you know, has been a hot topic lately, too, is that all of these contributors? It's voluntary, right. So unless your company is paying you some of your salary time to contribute to open source, you're doing it just out of the kindness and goodness of your own heart. Which means that if you are doing it, excuse me, out of the kindness of goodness of your own heart, using your own time and resources to contribute to an open source project, which is commendable, but it isn't often... A lot of people aren't often able to do that. So you know, we often talk about, we always talk about underrepresented groups, right? So I think of my days as a single mom, and I struggled to do everything during my work hours and spend time with my daughter at night. Like the thought of like staying up till three in the morning after she went to bed so that I could contribute to an open source project would have been like...


Allie Nimmons  04:43

That's unreasonable. 


Michelle Frechette  04:44

Not possible. Yeah. It just wasn't reasonable. Right, exactly. And I think, excuse me some of our talks earlier, like when we talked about what will be the cost for, let's say, a woman of color, who maybe is a single mom, maybe not right, but to start her own podcast when somebody was said, "Well, it's free to start your own podcast." No, it's not because there's opportunity cost. There's time cost, there's, and there's some monetary outlay of course, too. The same is true of contributing to open source. 


Allie Nimmons  05:14



Michelle Frechette  05:15

Right. So the less privileged you are, the greater the cost to spending your time doing an open source project.


Allie Nimmons  05:23

So is a direct relationship there. And, you know, it's... you bring up the fact that there are people who are who are paid to contribute, right? They receive a financial monetary compensation for the time that they spend contributing. 


Michelle Frechette  05:38

By their companies to be clear, not from not from WordPress


Allie Nimmons  05:41

Not from WordPress.


Michelle Frechette  05:41

Not from Automattic, right.


Allie Nimmons  05:43

From WordPress related or adjacent companies, right? Yes, Automattic, or, I mean, Automattic is always the first one that comes to mind. But there are tons of other companies that do that as well. Um, but it makes me wonder, and I don't know if that data is public. How many contributors within each team are paid contributors? Does that make sense? So like, yeah. Say Automattic has 20 people on the payroll for contributions, are nine of those people doing code base contributions, and only one is like on the translation team? Like, I wonder how that money is actually allocated? And which teams are getting that, you know, indirect funding, right? 


Michelle Frechette  06:35



Allie Nimmons  06:35

Because as a company, you are funding that team through a person, through their time and their energy. So I wonder if there's a breakdown publicly somewhere. Josepha! If you're listening, I really want to know how that's allocated. And you know, we're talking about this, because it needs to be talked about, but it came up between the two of us because Post Status, um, a couple of... in December, actually. This isn't a new episode. This is from December but it just floated across my timeline today. Post Status interviewed Milana Cap, who works on the WordPress Documentation team. And if you don't know the documentation team, there's some code base documentation that they handle, so documentation that exists like in notes in the WordPress source code, but a lot of it is just user facing documentation that somebody who's using WordPress can go to, you know, I guess, and read documentation to learn how to use WordPress. And in this Post Status episode, she is talking about, quote, the stark reality of the near overwhelming workload facing the WordPress Documentation team. Currently about four sponsored volunteers and fewer than 10 volunteers in total make up the Docs team, which is a team that's assigned to manage documentation for software that powers 43% of the web. And this just really struck me because we talk a lot about the idea that there are a lot of underrepresented people out there who have all of these tech adjacent skills, you know, marketing, SEO, documentation, translation, all these other things that don't necessarily maybe have to do with code. But I feel like there is a sort of belief among some people that it's like, "Well, I don't, I don't want to contribute to WordPress because I don't really know a lot about the software. I don't know a lot about the code. And I can't write code. And so, maybe this isn't the opportunity for me?" But if somebody were to come up to me, an underrepresented person, and say, "I have this fear but I do want to contribute to WordPress, how can I do that?" I would point them to teams exactly like this one, the documentation team, the translation team, the design team, all of these teams that don't really touch code, but they make it easier for people to use the software.


Allie Nimmons  09:11

And so it just kind of breaks my heart that we have all of these underrepresented folks around the world using WordPress every single day. And Milana says in the in the podcast episode, it's quoted here on this page, the best documentation is written by people who are using it, for using the software. Mot the people who wrote the software, I'm sure, although I'm sure they can write great documentation as well. But the people who use it on a day to day basis are the people whose voices are so primed to teach others how to use it. 


Michelle Frechette  09:44



Allie Nimmons  09:44

And so through this episode, I wanted to talk about that and also just shine a light on this problem that we're having. And if you're an underrepresented person listening, and you're thinking, you know, "I have an hour to contribute a week, maybe," that's really all it takes because I contributed to the documentation team for the... shoot, which release was it? It was the all women release squad? 


Michelle Frechette  10:07



Allie Nimmons  10:08

5.6. Thank you. That was the time that I was like, I'm going to make the time to contribute because I feel like this is like historical, I want to be a part of it. And I joined the documentation team. And all I did in that team was help do admin for the meetings on a weekly basis. Right? So Francesca Marano would give me questions that I would ask to people, ask to the group as a whole and I would like make sure that people got heard and it was it was admin. It was really just helping out. If I didn't know anything about WordPress, I still could have helped out with what was needed. Right? Um, so yeah, it just kind of broke my heart to listen and read about this problem, because there are people out there who can do this. And I don't know if it's a marketing issue. I don't know if we're just not marketing ourselves properly. I don't know if it's a onboarding issue, because I have, and I've talked about this publicly in various forums that while I loved contributing on that team for that release; it was difficult. The onboarding process was very difficult for me, because I just didn't know what was expected of me. And the people who are... it's this catch-22 of the people who are there contributing already are understaffed and have so much to do that it's hard for them to take additional time to teach new people what they have to do to be helpful. Right? So it's this revolving door of frustration. And so I don't know if maybe it's all of those things put together. Um, what do you think?


Michelle Frechette  11:53

I think definitely the, you know, you I think you hit the nail on the head with a marketing issue, right. So I know that WordPress Marketing is really geared towards people using WordPress. You know, like, every time I'm on YouTube, for example, and a WordPress ad pops up, it's all about why I should use WordPress. It's not about how I can contribute to WordPress. So there's, there's two ways that you market things, right? One is that you market to recruit people to do the job. And the other is that you market to people to use the product. And with open source, it's more along the lines of recruiting right than it is than it is marketing, but there's, but let's face it, recruiting is also marketing, right? You're trying to market why somebody should come either work for you or volunteer for you. And it's really hard to market and recruit volunteers when they really don't know what they're getting into. And yes, there's descriptions on you know,'s site that tells what the different teams do but that still doesn't say, "This is what you're going to do if you help us with this XYZ." And I haven't attended I you know, I haven't attended one of the marketing meetings in a long time, just because my job has been so crazy and I have so many other things that I'm working on, you know, on a regular basis, that being part of the marketing team was one thing I couldn't commit to as much as I had in the in the past. But it also feels... it also felt to me like it was just the wheel turned so slowly, because all these volunteers but there's nobody holding anybody accountable to doing the things right. So, you know, you have a group of volunteers and you're like "we need help writing tweets." Well, but who's tweeting it? You know, who's like, what's the schedule look like? There needs to be a much higher level like a like admin over the area or like overseer or whatever the words we use to you know, to make sure that things are done timely and then even though we're volunteering


Allie Nimmons  13:54

Overseer. It has such a dystopian feel to it.


Michelle Frechette  13:57

It does, doesnt' it? 


Michelle Frechette  13:58

Team lead! My brain went. There you go. I just cuz like all of a sudden had visions of Handmaid's Tale in my head when I said overseer. But we do need somebody and maybe, I mean, I don't know what the right answer is. But maybe WordPress actually pays people to do those roles. I know, once upon a time, we tried that with marketing. It didn't work out the way we wanted it to. But I think it could work with number one: the right people in the seat whose only a job it was to do those things, who had the way to build an infrastructure that made sense, that people who were volunteering understood what the tasks were. It wasn't just about everybody gets together on a weekly or bi weekly basis and gives their opinion, but that we actually, you know, move forward in getting things done. So even when I was on the team, I didn't really know one week to the next, you know, what marketing we were supposed to be doing for the 5.6 release.  I've often said I did contribute, but I was probably the worst contributor of the whole group. I did a lot more like rallying around why women was a good idea and that kind of thing so it was kind of unofficial marketing. But yeah, I just, you know, I don't know what the right answer is. I also don't know how we get people from underrepresented groups to be able to see why they should do it as voluntary and also, with the understanding that anytime we volunteer for something, we're not getting paid for it. And we know that it eats into other things in our life. So if we can't do it during the day, when we're at work, if our companies aren't Five for the Future company, like we know, Yoast does that, we know that WebDevStudios does. Those are really committed companies who are at the top of the list as far as the Five for the Future goes. And they have an idea of how to move that forward and what they're doing, because they have people who are working within the company to make sure those things happen. You know, how do we really... I don't want to say acknowledge people, but what's the return on that investment time? And if you're involved in it, the return on the investment hat time has to be pride and seeing what goes forward. But how do you align yourself with somebody, as somebody who made that happen? When you're a coder it's a lot easier, right? But when you're like "I wrote 10 tweets," like, does that really feel like there's any ownership of it? I don't know. You know, it's definitely useful, you know, as it has to happen. But it isn't like, I could point to a line of code and say, I did this, that or the other thing. So yea.


Allie Nimmons  13:58

Team lead.


Allie Nimmons  16:29

You could make it for free?


Allie Nimmons  16:29

Yeah. Yeah. It's, it's a really complicated issue. And I think people in the past two, maybe two or so years, I think, since the pandemic, and a lot of, you know, I think... What I've heard is since the  pandemic, the number of regular contributors has kind of dropped. And it's kind of becoming a problem to figure out well, how do where do we find these people? Where do we get new contributors from? There's been this, this, this long conversation about paying contributors and how that could or could not work? I was on a Twitter spaces with Daniel Schutzsmith, who, if you're listening and you're really interested in like, WordPress community news and things that are going on in the community, and how people feel about things, please look up Daniel Schutzsmith on Twitter, because he's been doing like, I think he calls it WP talks, #WPtalks spaces, and just really interesting conversations. And he's bringing in directly people from the community to share how they feel. It's a really cool little series he started. Yeah, we were talking about the problem of paying contributors. How does that work? Is there a possibility of having an internal WordPress economy where WordPress users could donate money that would go directly into the pockets of contributors and how that's such a beautiful utopian idea that is basically impossible to implement on a logistical level, right? And going back to the marketing thing, like I just typed into YouTube, "what is WordPress contributing?" The only results I'm getting are about the contributor user role in WordPress. Like when you create a user for your WordPress site, there is a role called contributor that has certain privileges. And then there are a couple of WordPress talks or panels about people's experiences contributing to WordPress. Like there's one about contributing to WordPress as a non-developer, which is a super valuable topic. I'm not seeing a YouTube.. a WordPress... I'm seeing videos from the WordPress YouTube channel that are from WordCamps. I'm not seeing a video from WordPress that explains what contributing is and how to do it. Where is that? Why does it not exist? Can I make that? Will somebody pay me to make that because I will make it for you. Hello?


Allie Nimmons  17:00

I could, right? It's free to make YouTube videos.


Allie Nimmons  18:40

But like that was tongue in cheek, you know?


Allie Nimmons  18:59

Yeah, I know. I know. And my response was tongue in cheek as well. People can't see us rolling our eyes. 


Michelle Frechette  19:13



Allie Nimmons  19:13

But it's like, I feel like so much of the open source community is like... it makes me think so much more of us as a nonprofit, rather than a business. Right. And so for example, I recently watched the newest season of Queer Eye, which is on Netflix, right? And it's a show about these gay men who go and remake somebody's life and blah, blah, blah blah. And I watched the season specifically because it took place in Austin, which is where I live. And they visited this woman who had started this animal shelter for disabled animals. And it was just super. I cried for an hour because it was just it was such a beautiful episode. They built her a barn and I'm at the end of this episode. I'm on Instagram, I'm on Google. I'm trying to figure out how can I go volunteer at the shelter? How can I give this woman some money? What can I do? Knowing that this woman is in my community? How can I... how can I help her? Right? Because I have now spent one hour feeling this emotional connection to this woman and to what she does and what her vision is. Why are we not doing that for WordPress? Right? Like, the fact that WordPress has changed so many people's lives and allowed so many people to build brands and build businesses and build all of these things. Where is our nonprofit tear jerker, you know, content? Like when I was at GiveWP with you, that was a conversation that came up a lot when I would write blog posts with Taylor, right about if you're marketing your nonprofit, you have, you're not trying to manipulate people, but you're trying to make that emotional connection, because that's when people are going to reach into their stores, whatever that is, if that's their pockets, or their emotional banner, their energy, or their time, that's when people are going to do things. Where is that for us? I think it exists at WordCamps sometimes. But then you have to get people to the WordCamp, right? Where is our marketing content that says, "Look at the beautiful work that comes out of this and here's how you can help us." 


Michelle Frechette  21:33

You know, you said something about business. The truth is, WordPress itself isn't technically a business. Automattic is a business. Companies that use WordPress are businesses. isn't even, as far as I know, a 501c3, when there is the WordPress Foundation, and that is a 501c3, but WordPress itself, the software is just this giant open source project that people contribute to through time and knowledge. But it isn't even a business-business. You know, so it's this weird entity


Allie Nimmons  22:06

And that confuses people, like, what is this? Right, and I feel like people's default is to kind of put it in that company box. But I do think that in reality, we are more like a nonprofit, then like a company. Right? Right. 


Michelle Frechette  22:23

For sure. For sure. And that, you know, Automattic is its own thing. And then you know, people don't understand the difference between versus self hosted. And that's another whole story. But yeah! I mean, obviously, you and I are coming up with answers. We like to ask the questions and sometimes we have ideas but we're not omniscient, so we can't just solve every problem. But you know, and we ask people. Chime in! What do you think? Let us know! What do you think some of the issues are? What do you think some of the solutions might be? We'd love to hear them. And you know, if you in two weeks time, I will be out of town. And Allie will be running the podcast. If you have like a really great idea, not only like around this, but the podcast in general, something you want to talk about that has to do with underrepresentedess in technology, reach out to us because we would love to have you co host with Allie the week that I'm in Oklahoma City. So let me let us know! She'll be reaching out to people otherwise to see if they want to come on the show with her. But yeah, I don't know. I don't know what the answer is Allie. I know that there's a lot of potentials, but I feel like we just leave this open ended and let people ponder. At the very least.


Allie Nimmons  23:36

I'll go ahead after I publish this and share a link to that Post Status....


Michelle Frechette  23:44

The podcast with Milana.


Allie Nimmons  23:45

Podcast epsiode! Thank you. I forgot the word podcast while I'm recording a podcast.


Michelle Frechette  23:50

That happens to me.


Allie Nimmons  23:52

I will share that. And yeah, at the very least check out that episode. Listen to what Milana has to say. If there's a bit of time you can contribute as a WordPress user to the Docs team, help them out.


Michelle Frechette  24:08

I think I will say to, I'd might as well throw this in there. If you think that you don't have time and you want to throw money at something to help the community. There is Big Orange Heart, you can contribute there. There are other nonprofits associated with tech and with the industry. And you can always sponsor one of our podcast episodes or even just visit our tip jar on our website and help us continue to do what we do for the community. We don't beg for money. That what we do, but I will remind you it's there in case that's something you want to support.


Allie Nimmons  24:42

Absolutely. I want to say that HeroPress also takes donations?


Michelle Frechette  24:47

They do. Thank you for bringing that up. Yes they do. So HeroPress Network? That's what it is. and you can contribute to their endeavors either as a recurring sponsor or a one time gift. 


Allie Nimmons  25:06

Yeah. Fantastic. 


Michelle Frechette  25:08

And they're always looking for stories, too.


Allie Nimmons  25:10

So, absolutely.


Michelle Frechette  25:11

If you want to tell your story go, go hit them up, and they would love that. 


Allie Nimmons  25:14

For sure. 


Michelle Frechette  25:16

All right. 


Allie Nimmons  25:17

Thank you for listening to us yet again this week. 


Michelle Frechette  25:20

Gentle reader, dear reader.


Allie Nimmons  25:22

We're nearing 50 episodes. Do you believe it?


Michelle Frechette  25:27

Ridiculous, I know.


Allie Nimmons  25:28

And we have a little we have a little. I don't think we should announce just yet but I'll tease it. We have a little thing that we're going to be doing in preparation for 50 episodes. So make sure you keep listening to to hear about that and get involved with that. 


Michelle Frechette  25:43



Allie Nimmons  25:43

Yeah. We appreciate you. I appreciate you, Michelle. 


Michelle Frechette  25:47

I appreciate you, Allie. Have a great week. 


Allie Nimmons  25:49

You too. Bye. 


Michelle Frechette  25:51



Allie Nimmons  25:54

This episode was sponsored by the following companies: Ninja Forms. Ninja Forms is WordPress form building simplified. Build beautiful, user friendly forms that will make you feel like a professional web developer. No code required. If you're interested in sponsoring an episode, using our database, or just want to say hi, go to See you next week.

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