Welcome back to our interview section! This month, we’ve had the pleasure of interviewing David Baumwald, @DreamEncode, a passionate engineer and tinkerer. He is a true full-stack developer, FOSS advocate, WordPress Core Team member and, recently, added as a Core Committer by Matt Mullenweg. In this interview, David talks about his professional experience, contribution to the WordPress community and some of his really interesting passions. Please, welcome David Baumwald!
Thanks for the interview, David. It is a pleasure to have you here! For those who don’t know you, could you please introduce yourself?
It’s my pleasure! I’m a full-stack developer specializing in e-commerce. I’ve been doing this for about 16 years, all of it freelance. I’m very passionate about open source, and I’ve been involved in open source communities since my start. These days, that’s 100% WordPress Core. Personally, I enjoy woodworking/DIY, flying, volunteer work(specifically, with a local Humane Society), and have an absolute obsession with Christmas lights!
David, after being a full-stack web software engineer/developer all those years, what do you like most about WordPress and its evolution? And, if you could make a wish, what would be the next feature you would like to see changed or improved?
WordPress’s ability to both bring people together, from all over the world and empower them along the way. Because of my contributions and involvement in Core, I now have, what I consider, true friends not only throughout the US, but around the world! I read inspiring stories from both users and builders. Whole, top-end agencies owe their entire existence to WordPress. Careers and causes alike have been launched and sustained by WordPress’s low barrier for entry in so many aspects. Charitable organizations can have their cause shared and amplified. Movements can gain momentum.
As for a feature, I’d like to see custom post types and taxonomies have a core-based UI for management, and the data underneath a little more “denormalized” for better performance. This is one area another CMS, Craft CMS, has a leg up. CPTs and taxonomies are managed without code.
You were the Release Lead (Triage PM) for WordPress 5.3, 5.4, 5.5. Tonya Mork, who replaced you for WordPress 5.6 and 5.7 gave us a detailed description about what this role entails. However, we would like to directly hear from you, what are the most difficult challenges and satisfactions you have had participating in this role?
I was able to serve as Tonya’s mentor for 5.6, and it gave me a different appreciation for the role. Tonya is an absolute superstar, and it afforded me the opportunity to relive my “first-timer” experiences but through a different perspective.
Aside from the hard skills, like project management and communication, the biggest challenge is definitely expectations. You ask yourself constantly: “What am I expected to do?” and “Who is setting these expectations?”. There’s very little detail to what the Triage role entails, in terms of documentation. However, there are certainly “soft” skills that are hard requirements. If you don’t have any experience in Trac (WordPress’s ticket system), there’s more onboarding to do. That being said, the biggest success has to be the achievement itself and the confidence it instills. Release day for a major version is a huge accomplishment for a CMS that powers ~40% of the web. It’s a massive source of pride.
Serving as a mentor was a different challenge, and one that I didn’t think I’d enjoy just as much as serving in the role itself, if not more. Along the way, Tonya and her experience ended up teaching me far more than I would ever expected.
One of the most impressive things about WordPress, considering that it is open source, is the organization of the Community into teams. In relation to this, and from your experience, do you think that the structure of the teams and the communication between its members is the most efficient for development? Do you think it could be improved and how?
For development and pushing WordPress Core forward, yes. I think Slack allows for synchronous meetings and resolving of acute issues, and the various Make blogs and sites allow for asynchronous initiatives to include contributors from all over the world. The latter allows for better inclusion of those who cannot attend the synchronous meetings in Slack.
Related to the WordPress Community, at the WCUS 2019, I know you attended Alain Schesser interesting talk about the cost of contribution to the Community. Many put in their own money and time to make this project what it is today. Do you think there should be some financial or other compensation to all community participants?
Alain’s talk was one that’s been in my heart for over a decade, so it’s a very important subject for me. More generally, I’ve been a huge proponent of work-life balance to as many as will listen. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown to see time as our most valuable, non-renewable resource, and with this global pandemic, many are gaining this perspective.
As for compensation, that can come in many forms, some of which is offered already. Recognition and celebration of contributions is a core part of the WordPress.org community and is part of every team. I’m not qualified to answer whether monetary compensation is needed going forward, but I’m a big advocate for the Five for the Future challenge. In fact, I’ve invested in the idea since my days in the osCommerce community over a decade ago. It encourages those fortunate enough to greatly benefit from WordPress to give back. To borrow a concept from Alain’s talk, I think this is a more sustainable model where success from using WordPress also serves to benefit WordPress.
Now, changing the subject. David, you have your own business, Dream Encode, where you offer services of software development, consulting and web maintenance. Tell us a little bit more about your business. What type of projects do you mainly do, how do your customers contact you, how is your normal working day?
Typically, most of my work involves serving as a go-to for both agencies and clients. Whether that’s mind-mapping and building a complex new system for inventory management or taking an idea or use-case and extending to as many possibilities as can be conceived. I pride myself on asking “what if” and helping the client better coalesce their idea around a more complete vision that incorporates future growth.
As I mentioned earlier, my start was actually in e-commerce, so I have a ton of experience with the phases these companies go through and their expanding technical needs along the way. I also love geeking out over warehouse operations, and I enjoy nothing more than building apps for touchscreen, scanning devices (i.e. Motorola TC7X). Tweaking both pathfinding and packaging algorithms for order fulfillment and receiving efficiency, and even automating their improvement over time, based on analytical data.
Have you ever worked for a bigger company or just been always as a freelancer, and why? What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of working as a freelancer?
Always freelance. I personally like the flexibility and control I have as a freelancer. With COVID, many are now seeing remote work through new eyes, their own. For years, I’ve had people say, “you’re so lucky [being able to work from home].” Now, more appreciate that self-motivation and setting expectations for yourself are more difficult than they imagined. It’s not for everyone, but something in my personality (for better or worse) makes me well suited to the task.
I am also very curious about two of your hobbies. One, as our reader will have already guessed from the featured image in this post, is flying. Tell us, how did this hobby start? For how long have you been flying? Is it just a hobby or do you plan to become a professional pilot?
I began flying gliders at 14 and transitioned to powered planes shortly after. About halfway through my training, life got in the way, and I had to stop flying. Over the years, it was always a goal to get back and finish on my own terms. Finally, in 2014, I finally finished my license, with the same instructor! Right now, I’m slowly working toward my instrument rating, but I’ve never had any plans to turn it into a career. Maybe when I retire I’ll go through CFI training to instruct.
About your second hobby, I’m still speechless. Christmas lights!! For several years, you’ve created an exterior Christmas lighting system for your home with music and light effects that must be the envy of Hollywood. Please, explain to us more details about this amazing engineering project…
This is probably the one thing that I’m most notable for. In fact, @matt has always been curious about my lights and the hobby itself on the occasions I’ve been able to talk to him in person.
I’ve always been obsessed with Christmas lights, to the point of having filed a patent as a 10-year-old for an extendable pole that had a hook to assist in hanging lights from gutters and trees. The idea was too generic, but it’s the product that you now see every season in your local stores.
My fondest, and most vivid, memories from my childhood absolutely revolve around Christmas lights. Begging to go watch the town put them up right after Thanksgiving. Over-decorating our own house. Whatever I could put lights on, I did.
My display these days has one purpose: spread joy, even if for a brief moment in time. Again, with COVID-19, this became even more important. It’s definitely a hobby that takes a majority of the year to prepare each season, but the payoff is hearing “whoa!” from the backseat of a passing car, bringing me back to my own experiences as a child.
As for the implementation, I am, again, the product of a welcoming and passionate community online where I first learned what was needed and how it all fit together. Much of the display runs on open source software and even some open source hardware!
This is really, incredible, David! Well, 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?
I hope to cure anyone with any Imposter Syndrome here. We all look like we have it put together from the outside, but we’re all just winging it on the daily.
One of my esoteric areas of experience is in integrating websites into warehouse operations for medium- to large-scale e-commerce/fulfillment operations. Last year, I was engaged by a client who needed to add various functionality to a WooCommerce back-end. The client was new to giving inventory identifiable locations, scanning stock, etc., so part of this new system would allow employees to scan a product, scan a location, and then save that new relationship to the WooCommerce database.
Weeks went by after final QA and delivery. Employees had been happily scanning away with portable devices, adding locations for each unique SKU. Once the locations were finally read by another system (order fulfillment & packing slips), the data was empty. A very minor bug had creeped in very late and had gone unnoticed, and I wrote 100% of the code.
Fortunately, the client later added another process that required a re-scan of inventory, making my epic fail a little more palatable.
I’ve made many mistakes in my career, but I’ve learned that they are part of the journey. If a client believes there will be no bugs or problems in anything I build, I’ve failed myself by setting unrealistic expectations.
And finally, who else should we interview? Tell us what 3 WProfessionals you’d like to see in the next interviews and why.
JB and Garrett are consummate professionals, and both are heavily involved in WP Core. Sergey because… well… he’s Sergey! For all three, I’d love to hear about their background and their passions outside of WordPress, but also what motivated them to give back to the community.
Thanks for the recommendations and your time, David. I really enjoyed this interview and learning about your passions outside of WordPress. I’m sure our readers loved them too! See you next month, guys!