Welcome back to our interview section! This month, we’ve had the pleasure of talking to Kirsty Burgoine, @KirstyBurgoine, a frontend developer who is now working in one of the most influential WordPress businesses, Human Made. Kirsty shares with us her current experience and compares it to her previous experience as a freelancer. She also explains all her contributions to the WordPress community and one of the best improvements coming with WordPress 5.5! Please, welcome Kirsty Burgoine!
Thanks for the interview, Kirsty. It is a pleasure to have you here! For those who don’t know you, tell us a little about yourself and your career.
Hello! Thank you for inviting me. ?
I’ve been a WordPress developer for about 12 years now. I started out with WordPress as a freelancer, and I ran my own business for 8 years before taking a job at a local agency and then moving on to my current role at Human Made.
Throughout my career I’ve always had a fascination with frontend, especially CSS and inclusivity. Building bespoke themes allowed me to explore and grow that interest, I spent a lot of time in the “responsive design” space. Making sure that I was ahead of the curve in creating websites that looked great on all devices. A career highlight for me was getting to speak at Responsive Day Out in Brighton in 2014 in the same line-up as Ethan Marcotte, who was the first person to coin the idea “Responsive Design.”
Now with CSS 3 and the new specifications being added, things like feature queries for dark mode, reduced motion, and CSS Custom Properties, you can often find me getting very excited about all the ways CSS can help to create an inclusive web for us all.
After working as a freelancer for several years, you now work for Human Made, a WordPress agency with over 70 employees. I’m curious: how did you get there? This must be a very different way of working. From your point of view, what are the main pros and cons of freelancing and working for a larger company?
Because Human Made is fully remote I actually see it as the best of both worlds. One of the things I loved about being freelance was the flexibility it gave me in my working day. Working for a fully remote company gives me back that flexibility but it also gives me the opportunity to work on large, complex, challenging projects, within a team of very clever people.
It also means that by being fully employed I no longer have to get involved with sales or accounting anymore (phew!). I can spend my time focusing on the work I love. And I will admit, I also enjoy the small things, things like a regular salary, holiday pay and sick pay etc. ?
I think what I appreciate most, though, is having the opportunity to come to work every day and get to work with, and learn from, so many talented people. I have definitely grown as a person and a developer since joining Human Made.
Let’s talk about WordPress. Could you tell us how you heard about WordPress and your first experience on a WordCamp? Did you ever have difficulty feeling part of this community?
I first started working with WordPress when I was thinking about becoming a freelancer back in 2008. At the time I was working as a junior/intermediate PHP developer in an agency that had built their own custom CMS. I’d seen first hand how difficult it was to maintain and fix different versions for different clients and I knew that if I was to be successful as a freelancer it wouldn’t be practical for me to try to build my own CMS, so I looked around at CMS systems that already existed.
WordPress was the one I chose. I think this was around WordPress 2.5 and before custom post types, custom menus and other features we rely on were introduced, but even then, I remember there was already a large community and ecosystem surrounding WordPress, and that was a major factor in my decision to use it.
My first WordCamp was quite a lot later, it was WordCamp Edinburgh in 2012. I didn’t really know anyone from the WordPress community then, so going to this on my own was a pretty terrifying prospect. But I’m so glad I did!
Everyone was amazing, I met so many people at that WordCamp, many of whom I am still good friends with today, and many of whom I now work with too! It was my first real introduction to the community and my lasting memory of that WordCamp was simply being blown away by the awesomeness of the whole experience.
Related to the WordPress community, you’re also a co-organizer of the WordPress Birmingham Meetup. Could you, please, tell us how you got involved with it? What is your experience with this work? How would you encourage someone to start collaborating with WordPress? What would you recommend to get started?
WordPress Birmingham has been running on and off for many years. I think I started attending in 2013/2014 when it was started up again after a long break. I had already met a number of people from Birmingham at the Edinburgh WordCamp, so when they kicked off this meetup again I was excited to be able to get involved with the community at a more grassroots level.
I’ve always loved organizing events, seeing people coming together to share experiences, learn and collaborate, and knowing that you helped to facilitate that is immensely satisfying so, when one of the organizers of WP Birmingham had to take a step back I offered to get more involved.
Helping to run WP Birmingham is incredibly rewarding, even now in a COVID-19 world, it hasn’t slowed us down. We have regular meetups still, hosted online instead of in person though.
For anyone wanting to get more involved with WordPress, I would definitely recommend coming along to a meetup. WordPress Meetup’s strive to create a safe, friendly atmosphere for everyone and it is a great way to meet other people within the community.
You are also volunteer on the open source WordPress Core CSS team. How did you become a member of that team, how many hours do you spend on it and what’s your contribution to it?
This is something that is really new for me and I’m super excited about it. I had a bit of time that I wanted to dedicate to contributing to core in some way, but there are so many ways I really couldn’t make a decision. Then I stumbled across the #core-css Slack channel on the Make WordPress Slack and considering my love of all things CSS it seemed like it would be the perfect place for me to get involved!
It’s a pretty new team still who are trying to establish themselves within the already existing ecosystem. Some of the tasks they are undertaking are a complete audit of the CSS used in the admin and also trying to move towards using CSS Custom Properties for color schemes. Which is pretty exciting, especially when you think about the possibility of being able to support other color modes as a result of that!
I’ve only really contributed at the moment by attending the meetings on Slack (10pm – 11pm UK time if anyone is interested) and putting forward ideas and opinions, but as tasks and tickets are being generated from these discussions, I plan to contribute with some code soon! ?
Related to accessible CSS, could you summarize for us what is new in WordPress regarding website accessibility and inclusivity?
As with every release 5.5 comes with a number of accessibility fixes. I think the one improvement that I’m most excited about is that the shake animation no longer triggers when you have a failed login attempt if you have “reduced motion” enabled in your operating system settings. It’s exciting to me because it is using the
prefers-reduced-motion CSS media query. ?
The year 2020 is becoming a very difficult year and all of us are not exempt from this complexity. What are the most important difficulties and challenges you’re facing right now?
I think because Human Made is a fully remote company anyway, we were pretty lucky and already set up for working remotely, so not a lot had to change on that front really. However, everyone’s home life has changed drastically and working within a team distributed around the world means that generally life is very different for different people.
I think one of the most important things is just remembering that and being supportive of that. I’m pretty lucky in that our company culture is already geared towards encouraging us all to look after each other and be considerate of each other, but in such difficult times it’s more important than ever to remember that your experience may be vastly different to another person and to take even more care to show compassion and understanding.
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?
Wow! This is a super hard question. Professionally I like to think I fail upwards. I get things wrong all of the time, but I learn from them. I can’t think of one specific epic fail though (although I’m sure there are many!).
Personally, I have had many epic fails. Probably the thing that friends and family get the most enjoyment from is my utter lack of a sense of direction. It’s been a running joke that I get lost everywhere I go, but trusting my satnav too much has created some epic fails.
I did turn right once when the satnav told me too and ended up turning into a corn field because I hadn’t realized until it was too late that the gate to the field was not actually a turning. Unfortunately the ground was very uneven and I was driving a mini, which is not exactly built for cross country driving, so I ended up stuck in this corn field and had to call the AA (a breakdown rescue service in the UK) to come and tow me out of the field again.
And finally, who else should we interview? Tell us what 3 WProfessionals you’d like to see in the next interviews and why.
Rian Rietveld – @RianRietveld
A fantastic Accessibility Expert at Level Level in The Netherlands. She has also worked on the core accessibility team.
Jem Turner – @jemjabella
A freelance PHP/WordPress developer, who blogs and tweets a lot. She also was the person that found the Pipdig security vulnerability – https://www.jemjabella.co.uk/2019/security-alert-pipdig-insecure-ddosing-competitors/
Steph Walker – @missstephwalker
Co-owner of an agency in Leeds called Deliciuos Media – WordPress Leeds Meetup / WordCamp Manchester Organizer. She does a lot for her local community and is also an active supporter of initiatives like CodeFirstGirls.
I take note of your recommendations Kirsty and hank you very much for your time. I really enjoyed this interview, and I hope our readers did too. See you next month, guys!