Tammie Lister – WProfessional of the Month

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Welcome back to our interview section! This month, we’ve had the pleasure of talking to one of the key people in Gutenberg’s design: Tammie Lister, @karmatosed. She shares with us how she, with a combination of psychology, coding, design and art as a background, has become someone working full time to the WordPress project as a contributor. Don’t miss her interesting experiences working in the project. Please, welcome Tammie Lister!

Thanks for the interview, Tammie. It is a pleasure to have you here! For those who don’t know you, tell us a little about yourself and your professional career.

I am a designer who is donated back full time to the WordPress project as a contributor. I work at Automattic and spend most of my time working on core focusing on experience, for example in the new editing experience. Career wise I’ve had a journey through psychology, art, development, design and ending up previously as a freelancer focusing on designing communities.

Could you also tell us how did you know WordPress and your first experience at a WordCamp? Did you ever have difficulty in feeling integrated into this community?

Like many a while ago, I was coding my own system. Someone suggested WordPress as a better option than torturing myself and the fragile code base I had created. My first experience was incredibly positive and I haven’t really looked back since. 

Attending my first WordCamp took a little longer and that didn’t happen until 2011 when I went to one in Portsmouth, UK. I’d already been a contributor by then for a while, but hadn’t really had the opportunity of going to a WordCamp. Finally getting to one was an incredible experience for me. I got to meet those I had been interacting with online and as I was freelance at the time, I got to make connections that fueled future work.

As far as feeling difficulty in being integrated, my contribution journey had a few bumps along  the way just like most. I took a while to find the spot where I could thrive. Starting out in core didn’t work out for me as it was really overwhelming and I just couldn’t find a way to work back then. I ended up spending a lot of time in the theme review team and then shifting my focus as my passion grew for communities, onto contributing to BuddyPress with a side of the design team. If anything the bump was really finding my place and slowly exploring where my contribution home was.

You are someone who has working hard to make sure the WordPress Community is an inclusive Open Source Community. How would you encourage someone to start collaborating to WordPress? What would you recommend to start with?

That’s a big question and one I probably would respond to by asking the person what they want to do. Finding your contribution passion and home is really important. There are also so many ways to contribute, that I would listen to what they wanted to do, see where they lived and what time they had. Knowing their location is good as they can connect with their local community, often in their language. Lots of countries have their own Slack communities and those are a really supportive way to explore.

If possible, mentoring really works and it’s exciting to see those types of programs springing up across the project. As a start, I would recommend starting to attend the meetings of the team’s you are interested in and catching up on the notes if unable to, most teams post notes. This way you can gradually learn the voices in those areas, see the type of work that goes on.

Lastly, I would point to the online contribution days that are starting to happen. These don’t even require you to go to a physical location to start contributing. One thing that I would recommend is to not just stay in one area all of the day. Move around, see what team fits you and know you can move around the project to find your spot, that spot might also change as you grow in your contribution journey.

You’ve been working at Automattic for more than 6 years. I’m curious: how did you get there? And could you explain to us your first experience and impressions working there? 

My journey actually involved another WordCamp, that of WordCamp San Francisco. I was lucky enough to get to go and speak, during that time I talked to a few people who worked in Automattic and over the course of the WordCamp discovered the opportunity to continue my theme journey. I wasn’t actually planning a change, my freelance work was doing very well, however the time and opportunity was right. After a trial, I started working on the theme team.

As far as first experiences go, it was very calming. I was coming from the bustle of fast paced freelance. Being able to focus on one thing and refine my craft was recharging. Everyone that starts at Automattic does a support rotation to onboard through knowing the user experience first hand. This is an incredible way to enter any company and gave me insights I continue to hold.

However now, while working for Automattic, you’re contributing full time to the Core and Design teams of WordPress.org. Could you tell us, a little bit, what the differences between working sponsored for WordPress.org instead of working for Automattic are? Who are your bosses? How are you evaluated for your work?

My experiences aren’t that different, previously I was on the theme team and over the years working increasingly within the community. I have a team lead and there is a division lead, but my work is pretty much set by the focus within core for the year. For a while now, my primary focus has been both on the new editor and also on enabling contributors to design. Evaluation comes in the form of staying true to goals and delivering design work. All my work is done in public, mostly in GitHub issues or Trac.

In the State of the Word 2017, Matt officially presented Gutenberg. At the WCEU 2018, you presented a first deep dive into Gutenberg’s design patterns. And by the end of that year, Gutenberg finally became part of WordPress core. What has been exactly your role and contribution to the Gutenberg project?

My role has changed over time, which has given me a privilege you don’t often get, one of getting to see a project like this evolve over a number of years. I started as a contributor, supporting design and then became the second design lead of phase one. I continued in this role until the release of the new editor into core. Since then, I have continued to work on the project focusing on design.

I perfectly remember that Gutenberg’s integration in the new version of WordPress was full of controversy and a lot of people hated it at the beginning. What was your experience and your learning within the first months after the Gutenberg’s launch?

Listening, listening and more listening was an important part of my experience. I spent a lot of time along with others hearing what the experience was and then turning that into actions. From listening came a lot of iterations, triage and polish of the experience. This was important and work that continues to happen in the editor.

The evolution of Gutenberg during its first year of public life has been really incredible. Updates happened one after another and developers have been polishing every detail of Gutenberg until it’s become a friendlier and more efficient interface. Tammie, after this first year with Gutenberg, what has surprised you the most in this process of adaptation to Gutenberg by users and companies? Any totally unexpected reaction or experience?

Interestingly, I don’t think I am surprised as much as excited. I love it when I see someone creating something I didn’t expect from the foundations of the new editor. I would love to see more of that, more radical experience experiments. I love within the project itself when something I worked on gets iterated and improved, that’s a sign those working on it are responding to feedback and listening effectively.

The year 2020 is becoming a very difficult year and none of us is exempt from this complexity. What are the most important difficulties and challenges you’re facing right now? 

My heart goes out to everyone right now, thank you for asking this and I hope anyone reading this is holding up right now. I am experiencing the same as so many. I actually think the challenge is the same as everyone, that of adaptation. We are all trying to learn how to move in the space we now exist in.

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?

Goodness, I have failed so epically in the past on so many occasions, it’s hard to pick one! Each time I’ve learnt though.

There was one time I managed to wipe an entire client’s server without a backup – learning as a result the importance of backups.

An early WordCamp talk was also an epic fail. I was nervous and spoke so fast nobody could understand me, I wrapped up what must have been a confusing talk for everyone watching by walking off before the questions section. I had to walk back on to take questions – talk about embarrassing. A lesson I carry on in my speaking career today, talk slower than you think you do and always stay on stage after.

Everything I do today in any level of competency, I likely failed epically at it in the past.

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

Mel Choyce for the insights into design and themes, Rich Tabor for his background on extending Gutenberg and journey, and finally Estela Rueda, for her contribution journey and now becoming a design team rep.

Thank you very much for your time, Tammie. I really enjoyed this interview, and I hope our readers did too. See you next month, guys!

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