DE{CODE}: Be the Change—The Future of WordPress With WP Engine’s Developer Relations Team

WordPress 5.9 with Full Site editing will empower builders in a way we have never seen before. To help developers make a successful transition to the new way of building with WordPress, WP Engine formed a Developer Relations team as part of our core value, “Committed to Give Back.”

This team serves as a conduit between the WordPress project, its users, and those who build with it.

In this DE{CODE} session, hear from WP Engine Developer Advocate, Principal, Brian Gardner about how you can power up your next WordPress project with the help of WP Engine’s DevRel team. Press ahead!

Video: Be the Change—The Future of WordPress with WP Engine’s Developer Relations Team

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BRIAN GARDNER: Hello and welcome to Be the Change. Today, we’re going to be talking about the future of WordPress with WP Engine’s developer relations team. For those who don’t know, my name is Brian Gardner. I am principal developer advocate at WP Engine, the founder of StudioPress, the co-creator of the Genesis Framework, and for those who’ve been around for quite some time, the original WordPress theme revolution guy. More on that later. 

I have been using and building with WordPress since 2006. That makes me pretty old. I want to start today with just a little bit of history around WordPress. Back in 2003 May 27, Matt Mullenweg and English developer Mike Little forked b2/cafelog. This is what ultimately became WordPress, which now powers 43% of the internet. How did we get here? It’s been a long journey, and there’s a lot of road ahead. 

As I mentioned about the WordPress revolution, my instance in WordPress became a thing in 2006/2007. I launched Revolution, which is arguably one of the first premium WordPress themes. This was sort of in an era that I call the first gold rush of WordPress. It really helped us see that WordPress is more of a blog platform, and it could ultimately be used as a full blown content management system. 

As you can see, since 2003, the WordPress usage has absolutely skyrocketed. Today, there are more than 30 million websites that are powered by WordPress. Contrast that against those that fall underneath Joomla!, Blogger, Drupal, and a handful of other smaller, lesser known content management systems, you can see how exponentially powerful WordPress has become. A lot of this success at WordPress has been attributed to what we call the power of open source. 

WordPress is released under the GPL license, which essentially allows freedoms to share, change, redistribute, modify, inspect, and pass along the code that it’s all built upon as long as it inherits the same license. We call this kind of the sharing is caring and moving things forward. So here are some facts about open source. Open source software is only as good as the commitment of the community. With so many folks who are contributing to WordPress, it’s only as good as those who are committed to it. 

It opens the doors to creativity and new ideas. It provides a sense of ownership. For instance, if I were to contribute some code to WordPress and it makes its way in, I could help say I helped build WordPress. That is a really, really cool and powerful thing. Open source software allows anyone from anywhere to contribute. As long as you have connection to the internet, whether you’re in Japan, the United States, Antarctica, you can contribute to the project. 

As we’ve seen lately, even by proprietary software companies such as Google and Facebook, they have also contributed open source software as well. On the left side of the screen here, this is WordPress 1.0. Back in the early 2000s, this is what the post editor looked like. And as you can see, 43 major releases later or almost 20 years, the latest version of WordPress 5.9 now looks like what you see on the right hand side of the screen. So much of that work has been on the hands and on the backs of people in the open source community. 

Speaking of StudioPress, StudioPress was the WordPress theme company that came out of the original Revolution. On June 27, 2018, 10 years into that run, I made a very important announcement about the future of StudioPress. It was being acquired by WP Engine. Some may have considered that at the end of an era. Yes and no, depending on how you look at it. And in some regards for me, it was. And then I spent the next four years wandering the proverbial wilderness. 

But let me tell you a brief story. Those who know me know I love to tell the story. This past fall I emailed Heather Brunner, our CEO, to say hi. It was really just sort of an olive branch to just touch base, to encourage her for the work that WP Engine has done taking the StudioPress and Genesis brands into the direction that it has gone. And I really was just trying to extend the runway for something I was working on. And so I reached out and said, hey, do you happen to know of anybody in this space who might be looking to hire a contractor to do some design work, community work, and WordPress work? 

Little than I know she had an idea in her head that the team internally was talking about. Instead of writing me back and giving me a recommendation of someone to contact, she offered me a job. I said yes. A few weeks later, I was hired and onboarded. I was on a team call and we were discussing innovation and open source strategy. We were defining what we thought that meant. After that call I went for a run, and an epiphany had. Ideas were formed. That’s the end of the story. Or is it the beginning? 

Speaking of stories, there are five elements of a good story. And as we talk about some stuff here with WordPress moving forward, this is really going to be important. We have characters, we have the setting, we have plot, conflict, and of course, resolution. As we near WordPress 6.0, full site editing is really becoming the backbone of WordPress moving forward. This is the setting of our story. As I mentioned earlier, WordPress powers 43% of the internet. Gutenberg, the block editor plug-in, and full site editing is almost fully shipped in WordPress core. 

The problem, however, is that the plug-in, which is an experimental plug-in for now, has a rating of 2.1 out of 5. 65% of users give a one-star review. 6.0, which is supposed to ship the bulk of full site editing in global styles, is scheduled for release May 24th in just a few weeks. So what is full site editing? Let’s get that out of the way. The vision of full site editing is to provide a collection of features that bring the familiar experience and extensibility of WordPress blocks to all parts of your site, not just pages and posts. Talking about sidebars, we’re talking about headers, footers. Essentially building the full site. 

We do this by way of blocks, patterns, templates. And this gets distributed via block themes, the ability to use global styles, the site editor. These are site wide changes that you can make all within the WordPress admin dashboard. The problem is that WordPress users and builders need help. There’s so much going on, there’s so many things changing, and there’s a lot of terminology to be thrown around. Here’s the conflict of the story. Let’s look at some of the reviews that have been placed on the Gutenberg plugin. 

Gutenberg is not friendly at all. It’s a bad user experience. Bye, bye WordPress, bye, bye Gutenberg. My favorite. It’s as if a blog hell had Gutenberg to induce mental torments. Burn the WordPress community. Historic mistake ever. An absolute crock that has ruined WordPress. There are a lot of negative opinions about WordPress, the block editor, Gutenberg, the direction of the future of WordPress. And for something that powers 43% of the internet, this is something not to take lightly. 

However, we have hope. Some of the other reviews on the plugin. Don’t listen to the moaners, you are on the right way. Gutenberg won me over, and my site looks great. It’s a work in progress, and progress there is. I’ve adapted. It rules. As we go back into WordPress’s recent release history, I wanted to just go over some of the incremental changes that have been made. As we know, Matt Mullenweg loves to name WordPress releases after famous jazz musicians, so this section will be an ode to that. 

WordPress 5.6 Simone shipped December 8, 2020. The release details at a high level was that it included the 2021 default theme, it included built in block patterns, it expanded the auto-update capability, and provided an accessibility statement for people to use on their website. Taking that a little bit further, 2021 was the default WordPress theme that provided a blank canvas with a highly opinionated color palette and unique package of patterns. 

This was really the first demonstration of what the block editor moving forward and the ability to build with WordPress can do. Block patterns are a group of blocks that allow users to streamline their workflow and enables builders to create sites faster, and this can be shared from site to site. WordPress 5.6 also expanded auto-updates, and it moved the capability of enabling that feature not just from the developer’s control, but also to the users all within the WordPress dashboard. 

The accessibility statement feature provided users a boilerplate template to edit and publish so that they could have an accessibility statement on their site. And of course, it’s written to support different contexts and jurisdictions. Last spring, just about a year ago, WordPress 5.7 Esperanza shipped. With that came simpler default color palette, the ability to go from HTTP to HTTPS in one click, some minor block enhancements, and the insert or drag and drop, which allows you to do that with blocks and patterns. 

Taking this a little bit further, the simple default color palette collapses all the colors that are used in the WordPress source code down to seven core colors, and offers a range of 56 shades that all meet accessibility standards. In addition, it’s easy to switch a site from HTTP to HTTPS in one click. This is really important as HTTPS is a very serious protocol that allows sites to be secure. In addition, enhancements were made to existing blocks with a few new ones introduced. 

Also in 5.7, the drag and drop capability, which allows you to, via the inserter, take blocks and patterns and drag them right into your post. This is huge. July 20th this past summer, WordPress 5.8 Tatum was released. As part of that release, we saw block-based widgets, which was really exciting to me, as a theme builder. The introduction to theme.JSON, which was pivotal in the go forward plan of Black based themes and full slate editing. Additional block supports and dual tone filters. 

The block bait which is screen allowed users to transition from classic WordPress themes to this full site editing experience. It allowed users to, in the traditional widget screen, use blocks which had never been done before. Theme.JSON introduced the global styles in global settings APIs, which allows users to modify the editor settings, customize tools, and help style blocks. This is essentially going to replace what we’ve known as style sheets. 

New block supports flags were added, giving options to customize register blocks such as margin, borders, controls, and other things like that. The dual tone filter, which is an image process that creates a two tone color palette from a single image, allows users to showcase images in a very striking and high contrast way. At first, I was like, this isn’t for me. But recently, I’ve really started to embrace dual tone filters as a really cool way to use design. 

This brings us to the latest release this year, WordPress 5.9 Josephine. With this release, we saw 2022 the default WordPress theme. There is additional support added to theme.JSON, and more importantly, full site editing in the site editor was brought to the WordPress dashboard. With that came the global styles interface, all of which are pivotal in the go forward plan. The 2022 theme is the first default block theme in WordPress. This is more than just a new default theme, it’s a brand new way of building with WordPress. 

Theme JSON now has additional support, including child theme support. This means users can build the theme and the dashboard, export it all without writing a single line of code. Full site editing provides a collection of features that bring the familiar experience of extensibility with blocks to all parts of your site as I mentioned before. Now within the dashboard, you can build your site from top to bottom. 

The global styles interface was recently added as well in 5.9, and this provides a foundation of customizing the look and feel throughout your entire website. This is something that I am working on literally as we speak in developing themes that offer different styles and variations which can be changed in one click. This now brings us to the throes of where we’re at, WordPress 6.0, which is supposedly shipping May 24, 2022. We don’t know the name of the Jazz musician yet, and that’ll be released I’m sure when the time comes. 

In this release, there’s going to be more enhancements to the block editor. Blocks and patterns are going to become more of a thing, the design tools in the dashboard will be paramount, and we want to focus on the gradual adoption of full site editing and block-based themes. The block editor. As I mentioned, we want to refine information, architecture, and template browsing experience. We want to improve the template creation. We want to embrace style alternatives driven by JSON variations. This is through the global styles. We want to remove coupling of templates to specific themes. 

The hope here is that WordPress 6.0 will allow users to go from theme to theme or design to design in a few clicks. They also want to introduce new blocks, improve other blocks, they want to introduce page patterns and page creation, and simplify registration of patterns for themes. There’s a lot of work going in WordPress 6.0 that I can’t wait to see come. Part a 6.0, they want to focus on the design tools. They want to tighten the consistency that happens throughout the interaction and the user experience. 

They want to introduce more responsive capabilities, which is a big Achilles heel right now in WordPress. There’s a lot of work being done for it, there’s a lot of work yet to do and given the amount of people who use mobile devices to browse websites, this is really important. In addition to that, the supports and elements API which is coming. They want to make it easier for third party blocs to adopt tools. This is all a multi-year process that’s starting to kind of come to a point where we can see the fruits of all the labor 

I mentioned gradual adoption. We want to continue to adopt themed JSON configurations for non-block themes. That means four themes that are built sort of in the traditional sense, there’s ways in which we can leverage some of this technology in them. We want to establish new opportunities for non-block themes. We want to transition navigation and replace the navigation screen. And we want to explore the flows of creating dynamic templates. There’s a lot of work and a lot of hope in the future of WordPress being all no code. 

OK. So we’re going to bring this back to the run that I had after our meeting. When I was on that run, I was really thinking a lot about WordPress the future, innovation, and imagination. We were on the cusp of a trip, which I’ll get to in just a minute. And so there was a theme already in my mind being baked. And on that run, I started to question things like how do we reimagine the way we build with WordPress? There’s so much coming, and the methodology of all of this is going to really allow people to do stuff differently. 

What are the limitations that it’ll impose? What are the opportunities it will provide? Who is responsible for this effort, and why does any of this matter? As I mentioned, we had a family trip plan to Walt Disney World. Our family is a huge Disney family and we’re inspired by everything they do. Walt said, there’s really no secret about our approach. We keep moving forward, opening new doors, doing new things. We’re always exploring and experimenting. We call it imagineering. 

I’d like to introduce the WordPress developer relations team here at WP Engine. Currently, it’s myself and Nick Diego. However, we are on the cusp of hiring more folks. We like to call them future imagineers. Back to the five elements of a good story. The plot. It is our mission here at WP Engine’s developer relations team to accelerate the innervation of WordPress and the community, helping them transition from the block editor to full site editing. We want to establish a community of builders, which include designers, developers and creators. 

You might ask, what and how are you going to do this? Well, we want to leverage our resources and produce content that teaches and demonstrates the capability of the block editor. We should embrace open source, become a treasure chest of knowledge, and operate as a conduit between the WordPress project and its users. We have identified some values on our team, generosity, innovation, and curiosity, all of which are sort of modeled after the Disney approach. 

With generosity, we want to say, how do we help people? Who can we help? Innovation. What is our expertise? How can we leverage that to further the technology we’re working on? And curiosity. We always want to ask ourselves, is there a better way? And if so, what’s preventing us from trying it? One of the things I’m most excited about and something I thought about on that run was a builder’s resource, the resolution of the story. 

We really want to cultivate and interactive and immersive WordPress community that values the same things we do, innovation curiosity, where generosity is encouraged, ideas are celebrated, and new pathways are formed. We want it to be a destination for discovery, a comprehensive resource for designers and developers, creators, builders, who wish to learn the fundamentals of building with WordPress and for WordPress. 

Now, the developer relations team here at WP Engine, we’ve already compiled a list of ways in which we want to help. We want to help work and we have tested the 2022 theme prior to it being shipped. We’re doing ongoing work with the Gutenberg plugin. 6.0 of WordPress has several issues, and we want to help work on those and help get them resolved. We want to create and open source full site editing themes other than just Frost, which I’ll get to in a minute. 

Other teams we want to support are our product teams Genesis, Local, WPGraphQL, Faust.js, of which are free open source products. We want to build plugins as proof of concepts to help really understand how WordPress can be extended, and offer that to our community. We also want to be thought leaders on social media and online publications such as our own, Torque. Additionally, we want to have open dialogue. 

And for me, this is the most important part. We want to have open dialogue with WordPress users, our customers, and agency partners to help them understand the pain points of working with the new way of WordPress. We want to be a treasure chest of knowledge and extend all that we can to help the project move forward. Little recap and some numbers. Our developer relations team, which started in the fall of last year, really got going after the first of the year. 

In this first quarter, which just ended yesterday, we did a list tally. Nick Diego has been leading the charge on GitHub with 14 pull requests merged into Gutenberg WordPress core. A lot of that work requires a lot of time, and we’re happy to do it. In addition to that, the teaching and training and being that treasure chest of knowledge has transposed itself into us hosting several different formats. This past quarter, we’ve hosted 10 meetups, social learning spaces, and what we call full site editing Fridays, which were Zoom calls that were open to the community for anybody who wants to join. 

In addition, within the last week or so, WordPress has opened the block pattern directory on the website of which I already have for patterns that have been published there. In addition to that, there’s a full site editing theme called Avant Garde, which I’ve contributed as well to the WordPress project. I mentioned earlier Frost, and this was something that I was working on prior to coming on at WP Engine. In the December of this past year, we decided as a team that it made sense to bring frost into the operations of WP Engine and open source it to the community. 

By open sourcing Frost and focusing on full slide editing, we, as I said earlier, want to encourage the community of builders to experiment with what’s coming on with WordPress. We want to expand the capabilities of the block editor. And given this is the future of WordPress, we believe in the potential of it and look forward to helping it grow. So what is Frost? Frost is an experimental block WordPress theme that I created last summer that was hoping to be a foundation for designers, developers, and creators. It embraces full site editing, it extends the power of the block editor, and it enables builders to build and create amazing websites with little effort, and elevates the potential for freelancers and entrepreneurs. In short, it could be the foundation for a business. 

So what is Frost? Frost leverages block patterns, my favorite part of building with WordPress. It allows people to add beautifully designed ready to go layouts to any WordPress website with a simple copy and paste. As you can see in the screenshot, there are several patterns that Frost has. We’ve broken them down into five categories, header, footer, general, page, and query. The screenshot shows several of the patterns which you can add to your website in one click, all well-designed, beautifully done. 

Frost is for designers. It helps people extend the power of the WordPress editor. Frost is for developers. It enables builders to create amazing sites with very little effort. Frost is also for creators, as it elevates the potential for freelancers and entrepreneurs. Here are three examples of beautifully designed websites that can be done with Frost in just a few minutes. With 6.0 coming to WordPress, we want to really quickly talk about how builders can leverage what’s coming. 

Three main topics here. We’ve got rapid prototyping, which is essentially using block patterns to create mockups, expediting the build process, and increasing overall productivity. It allows builders to leverage full site editing where they can deliver websites to clients that they can update themselves all within the WordPress dashboard. Global styles and variations allows builders to create a base theme that is block-based and supports full site editing. This in it of itself could probably be its own talk, and I’m sure we’ll get there sometime. 

The WP Engine developer relations team is comprised of Nick and myself. We would love to connect with you. You can find us on Twitter @bgardner, you can find Nick on Twitter @nmdiego. You can email [email protected]. We’re on WordPress Slack, we’ve written articles and contribute regularly to My column is called Pit Stop, Nick’s is called Builder Basics. And of course, is where we’re doing our exploratory work with full site editing. 

With all that’s coming in WordPress 6.0, it’s safe to say it’s going to take a village. It’s something our CEO Heather Brunner has often said with internal conversations, and she’s also really encouraged us by saying where there’s focus there’s progress. The developer relations team at WP Engine is our village where we accept today’s challenges and embrace the promises of tomorrow, very much an ode to Walt Disney and the ethic in which he brought to his company. 

We want to be the change with WordPress because we are leading technology. And by we, I mean we the people. As Mickey says, see you real soon. Appreciate you watching this talk. Again, my name is Brian Gardner. I am principal developer advocate at WP Engine. You can reach me at [email protected] or in the places I’ve mentioned before Thanks again. 

PRESENTER: What an amazing start we’ve had to the day with those keynotes. Thank you Jason Cohen, Kellen Mace, Ilona Kedracka, and Brian Gardner. The keynotes were really insightful, and we hope you’re on your way to developing smarter and faster WordPress sites. There’s been lots of activity over on social media, so keep going with the hashtag WPEdecode. Post about the event and follow along with your fellow attendees. 

We’re going to take a short break. So grab a bite to eat, stretch your legs, or stick around and listen to the tunes of our talented WP Engine DJ Boogie Bones. We’ll be back in around half an hour’s time for you to tune into one of our breakout tracks. We have split our breakouts into four distinct areas to help you find the content within your developer workflow stages of interest. So the four breakout tracks that we have for you to choose from are Headless, we have a deep dive into Headless 101, Gutenberg and Headless, an agency-focus panel that will be delving into when to choose Headless for your clients, and lastly, a demo on new features within our Headless Atlas platform. 

We also have an e-Commerce track where you can learn about subjects, including WooCommerce web developer tricks, building e-Commerce sites faster, and post E-Ccommerce site launch, optimizing your conversion rate and why that is so important. The third track we have is on managed WordPress hosting solutions, including modern theming, full site editing, site monitoring, and a few sessions on security from our friends at Cloudflare. 

The fourth and final breakout track will be Builder Experience. We focus on blueprints, local, migrations, and top tips for developers. Definitely feel free to bounce around between tracks and check the full agenda for all of the topics that we’ll be covering in the breakouts. Please don’t forget to keep filling out the session surveys after each of our sessions ends so we can improve our content. And remember that there are three special promotions running. 

The first is for Atlas, WP Engine’s complete Headless WordPress platform. You can get a free Atlas sandbox account. There is also the option to download Local for free. You can click on the adverts on the site to access those. The final promotion is 25% off all of our shared plans, including e-Commerce and other advanced solutions for new customers to the WP Engine platform. A reminder that we have a DE{CODE} fundraiser to support those affected by the war in Ukraine. 

WP Engine has been supporting the Polish humanitarian action and the Ukraine humanitarian fund since February, and we would like to invite you to donate to those organizations that are working with refugees and in the conflict zone. Throughout DE{CODE}, we will be matching all donations up to the value of 5,000 US dollars. We encourage you to donate today and email the receipt to [email protected] for matching. Thank you and we hope you enjoy the breakouts. 

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