Lately, prioritizing work related to all our new plugins, we haven’t had the chance to interview WordPress professionals. But recently, we had the pleasure of having Reyes Martinez introduce us to a WProfessional that has already been working for more than seven years in Automattic and we had no doubt that she deserved an interview on our blog. I’m sure you want to know more about her and her projects, so… please welcome Anne McCarthy!

Thanks for the interview, Anne. It is a pleasure to have you here! For those who don’t know you, could you please introduce yourself?

Thanks so much for having me! I work for Automattic as a WordPress Product Liaison having previously been a developer relations wrangler, a happiness engineer team lead, and a happiness engineer. I just switched into this new role so I’m excited to dive deep in the coming months and years. I’m based in the US and, outside of COVID times, tend to bounce around to different locations playing soccer, taking photos, and having lifechats with friends. Generally speaking, I consider myself an optimist, a minimalist, and an introvert. 

Although this interview is published in a professional context, first of all I would like to give you my sincere condolences for the recent loss of your grandmother. You have shared some very special stories about her in your personal blog, nomad.blog, and you must miss her very much. We would love it if you share with us a couple of experiences and teachings you have had with her.

This is so very kind to give me a chance to talk about her. She was such a complex and kind woman who I feel so lucky to be related to and to have had the chance to know. She really taught me how far grace, perseverance, and humor can go, especially as she aged and after a stroke many years before she did. She was fully herself too! Having a strong example of someone who isn’t swayed by what others expect of her and isn’t caught up in the gossip making the rounds has always been powerful. She had so many shameless and intense interests from almost solely reading murder mystery books to watching every second of a golf tournament. It’s given me inspiration and confidence to find my own.

To share a funny vignette, I was trying to explain my job to her at some point and asked if she was interested in the internet at all. She waved me away saying, “what do I need on the internet?” It was a wildly humbling and lovely reminder of what really matters. We also had the same sized small hands and I loved to put my hand up to hers, amazed at our connection across generations. Here’s me repping WordPress with her:

Anne McCarthy with her grandmother
Anne McCarthy with her grandma.

Thank you for sharing something so personal, Anne. To our readers, let me recommend reading Anne’s nomad.blog for more inspiring stories about Anne’s grandma.

However, if it’s okay with you Anne, let’s move on to your professional projects. You are a WordPress Product Liaison at Automattic, what does this really mean? What are the most difficult challenges you have to face?

I just entered this new role so, in truth, parts of the job I’m excited to define. Simply put though, I see myself as an accelerant, a doer, and dot connector working across the WordPress community and Automattic to bring the future of WordPress to fruition. This means everything from creating new pathways for feedback from untapped audiences to helping Automattic’s own products adopt the latest and greatest. 

In terms of the most difficult challenges, I think there are a few:

  • Creating pathways to include more (and different) folks in the feedback process. 
  • Ensuring the right problems are being solved and the value is known. 
  • Communicating at scale across a massive, global project and company. 

Each of these are compounded by the lack of in person time, the general toll the world has gone through with COVID, and the increasing market share of WordPress. Tying this altogether, as Matt has spoken about, the ultimate difficult task is ensuring the open source alternatives are just as good, if not better, than the walled garden options of today’s world. 

Let’s talk a bit more about Full Site Editing. The WordPress 5.9 release was delayed mainly because there were a number of features that needed to be in that release. Could you explain a bit more about this decision?

For more long form thoughts and some visuals, here’s a post I wrote when the initial decision happened. To address this specifically, here are the high level reasons from my point of view as the co-Test lead for the 5.9 release: 

  • ​​Delaying improved sustainability for contributors after a wild, long year, especially given the timing of larger cultural moments coming up at the end of the year/beginning of the year in areas where we have a large number of contributors. 
  • Interrelated features of full site editing make it hard to punt or fully remove pieces.  
  • The value added to users when getting access to the whole suite of full site editing features, rather than smaller pieces.
  • Most of the raised issues would refine the experience rather than redefine it (more on that later). 

This was not an easy or simple decision but I do think it was the right one and I think we’ve learned from it going into 6.0. There are also less interconnected features that make it easier to make hard decisions around what makes the cut. I’m a co-release coordinator for 6.0 so know I’m on the lookout to learn all I can from the 5.9 delay. 

One of the recurrent problems with WordPress is that there is so much information everywhere that it’s easy to feel lost. For those readers who still don’t know about Full Site Editing (FSE) what would you recommend to get started?

Whew, no kidding! There is so much information. I’d recommend folks start with this Learn WordPress course on Simple Site Design with Full Site Editing. For more hands on help, here are a few support docs too:

If you like to hear someone chat and see a walk through, I’ll (selfishly) link to my own YouTube video covering 5.9 and full site editing features

On the other hand, for those readers that are already using FSE, could you explain to us what is and how can they be involved in the FSE Outreach Program?

The FSE Outreach Program was started in May 2020 with the goal to improve the feedback loop between WordPress users and WordPress contributors. Nearly two years later, it’s turned into a place to not just give feedback but also a place to grow with others, share resources, and build with the newest features of WordPress. We’ve done rounds of questions and answers to share knowledge, early explorations to get ahead of what’s to come, and hallway hangouts to discuss it all.

Anyone and everyone is welcome to join. Sign up for a WordPress Slack account if you haven’t and head to #fse-outreach-experiment. From there, you can help respond to calls for testing and stay up to date on what’s happening with the program.

For any visual learners, here’s another older YouTube video of mine about the program. For anyone looking to learn more, check out this handbook page.

Finally about FSE, there are still features to come in Full Site Editing. Could you comment on the main FSE features that we will see soon?

WordPress 6.0 expands on the foundation that 5.9 set. This means that the features folks have come to know as FSE features are now capable of even more:

  • Style variations: easily switch between preset styles baked into block themes by block theme authors. 
  • Create even more types of templates with the option to now create author, date, categories, tag, and taxonomy templates all using blocks. 
  • Customize the Query Loop block even further with the option to filter by multiple authors, support for custom taxonomies filtering, and a new no results block that lets you customize what the lack of results looks like. 
  • Take advantage of patterns built directly into the experience right when you need it, from in the Quick inserter while creating a brand new template to when you’re making a new Header or Footer. 
  • Enjoy being closer than ever to visual block theme building with improved theme exports directly from the Site Editor.
  • Take advantage of the Code Editor, Preferences, and Text Only options being added to the Site Editor. 

This doesn’t even touch on updates coming to the entire WordPress experience through expanded design tools, an interface for controlling block locking, and more. 

Now, let’s switch to a completely new project you are involved in: The Museum of Block Art (MOBA). Whose and what has been the motivation to create this new project? 

The museum is truly community and project inspired. I was so enjoying exploring some new tools in WordPress back in October 2021 that when I saw what another contributor, Tammie Lister, was doing, it struck me that true art was possible. I’m a huge fan of museums and art in general, despite having very little artistic talent, and the pandemic made me miss the experience. The idea of creating one virtually for the community simply was too compelling for me. 

Museum of Block Art
Museum of Block Art.

Second, what exactly is it and what can we expect?

The Museum of Block Art is a collection of art made with WordPress and designed to show just how far you can go with WordPress these days. Each featured creation is made using just the block editor, mostly without any custom CSS. Wondering how it’s all done? Just click on the art piece that has captured your attention and you’ll see the markup used along with the “raw materials” in the form of blocks. 

Here’s one of my personal favorites from Brian Gardner:

Infinite Gradient by Bryan Gardner
Infinite Gradient by Bryan Gardner.

Here’s one of my creations!

Melting by Anne McCarthy
Melting by Anne McCarthy.

Is there any way for our readers or us to contribute to this project?

Right now, there’s not an official submission form. Folks who are inspired to create are welcomed to share using the hashtag #WPBlockArt. I’m doing the best I can to then reach out to folks to get their creations added to the museum. Since this is very much in the side project territory alongside my main work, I have to be careful not turn this into a full time job. What a neat job that would be though! Virtual Block Museum Curator. 

Thanks for all this information. Now it’s time for our most-acclaimed question: sharing an epic fail of your past 😉 So please confess: where and how did you screw up?

Oh my gosh. This is easy. When I first kicked off the FSE Outreach Program, I asked for a private slack channel in WordPress.org slack. My thought process at the time was one of frankly fear: I was worried too many people would share feedback and wanted a way to contain the chaos since I was working as a team of one. This was the completely wrong move and I had a pretty intense Make Core meeting where it was made clear to me. It was the very first big initiative I was doing a few months into a public facing role and I was so devastated by it. Thankfully, the community is fantastic and, in giving tough feedback, were ultimately setting me up for success. As I like to say, “thank you for making me better”. You can see this all play out in the public Make WordPress channels and more course corrections from me. I love that I can be a part of such a passionate, flexible, and generous community that wants to see the project succeed. 

And finally, who else should we interview? Tell us what 3 WProfessionals you’d like to see in the next interviews and why.

Destiny Kanno is doing such awesome and impactful work with BlackPress alongside Joe Simpson. Finding more ways for folks to be welcomed into the project is critically important to the future of WordPress and I believe it’s important for more conversations to be had around this work. Destiny also has an interesting background previously coming from the VIP division at Automattic and thinking about using WordPress at a very large scale!

Alex Stine is the accessibility team rep and is someone I’ve had the great pleasure of getting to know in the community from afar. I am so impressed by how he approaches his work: learning as he goes, bringing others with him, and always helping others. I’ve learned heaps from being in his sphere and think others would too with an interview. 

Carolina Nymark is a relentless, kind, and extremely knowledgeable contributor to the project. She sits at the cutting edge parts of WordPress, creating https://fullsiteediting.com/ long before many official resources existed (as just one of many examples). She’s someone who can seemingly speak both to where we’ve been and where we’re going with practicality, awareness of what’s broken, and excitement about what might soon be possible. 

Thanks for all the detailed information you’ve provided today and your time, Anne. I really enjoyed this interview and learned new things about your passions and WordPress. I’m sure our readers will love them too!

All images published on this post have been provided by Anne McCarthy.

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