Interview With The WordPress Community Champion, A.J. Zane

by Waseem Abbas  December 1, 2014

He is the one who believes in DIYs and it made him choose WordPress. He is more towards the community then the core development side. Before starting his career with WordPress, He had a keen interest in gaming and developing video games. He followed the flow of life and never depended on any plan. He is one and only, A.J. Zane.

AJ Zane Interview

Today, I get a chance to talk to him being another admin of Advanced WordPress group on Facebook. He is a gem of a talent within the community. With his generous attitude, AJ is helping out the community. He also actively participates in arrangement of all AWP Meetups.

In this interview, AJ shares his experiences about his life, choosing WordPress, interest in gaming and the personalities of WordPress that inspired him the most. Enjoy the read!

Cloudways: A man with a passion of developing video games ended up as a well known WordPress Developer. Do you have any regrets about not being a game developer?

AJ Zane: That’s really an interesting question because I’ve never thought about it before. I was raised with a “go after your dreams and everything will fall into place” mentality, so I’ve just flown from interest to interest without considering every new focus as a full-on career change. Even though I haven’t made a game in five years, it’s not something I’ve given up on. It’s something I’ll get back into, just not right now.

It’s actually an interesting time to be a game / front end developer because the technologies available are beginning to fuse and so many of the principals between the two fields are interchangeable. I guess we have Flash to thank for that.

Cloudways: There are many other content management systems. A developer has a choice. What made you choose WordPress? How WordPress changed your life?

AJ Zane: I chose WordPress because its extendability doesn’t come at the expense of the interface. It will always be easy enough for non-developers to maintain their own content website, while still having the option to scale up without going through a complex platform migration.

The biggest impact WordPress has had on me, actually isn’t at the code level. It’s the community. When I moved to San Diego, I had only experienced the “do it yourself, don’t share your secrets” style of engineering. When I found out about meetup.com and the AWP group I couldn’t believe it. These people spent their free time, learning from each others’ development-related problems they were having, and giving away their advice and tactics! It sounded insane. I checked it out and was blown away by the technical knowledge and friendliness of everyone. I think I’ve only missed two sessions since then because it is so valuable.

When you visit online WordPress communities you see that everyone has the same attitude and, as we work together to push our platform forward, everyone in our industry benefits. That drive to just make everything better influenced me to start another meetup, Front End Authority, which focuses on front end web development.

Cloudways: You have also worked on freelance projects. How was your freelance experience? Did you work on WordPress to develop your websites or use static HTML/CSS?

AJ Zane: Freelance is really weird. In one sense, you have the freedom to focus on, for the most part, the kind of projects that excite you. However, you also carry the pressure of having to run a business by yourself.

I’m very glad that I spent a little time freelancing, because I know it’s not for me. I prefer working in teams and being able to focus on my strengths instead of balancing everything at once and constantly trying to figure out where the next meal ticket will come from.

When I was freelancing, it was before I got into WordPress. I was doing standard HTML/CSS/JavaScript and a fair amount of work on both PHP and Flash. In fact, one of my last freelancing gigs was to develop a custom CMS for an online magazine. After creating a very shaky file-based, PHP prototype, I said, “there’s gotta be something better” and that’s when I gave WordPress a serious chance.

Cloudways: You spent a good time at L7 Creative. Why did you make the switch? How was the experience working there?

AJ Zane: My time at L7 Creative was incredibly valuable and really helped me dive into the deep end. Although, the opportunity to work at SPARQL City came completely out of nowhere, I wanted to make the switch from the high quantity of client-based marketing projects to a single product.

Ultimately, the key with serving clients is that it’s incredibly fast paced and you end up spending a ton of time spinning up sites. I wanted to sit back, slow down, and really dig into the technologies of a single product to hone my engineering skills.

Cloudways: What are your core responsibilities at SPARQL City? Would you like to tell us about the analytics tool on which you are working currently?

AJ Zane: I’m in charge of developing our interface, integrating with other statistical and analytics tools like R, as well as some marketing for good measure.

The tool we have developed is called SPARQLverse. It sits on any NoSQL database and searches through massive amounts of data ridiculously fast. For  example, in August we announced our record breaking SP2 results, which produced an average query response time on 2.5 billion data points in 6 seconds.

Because SPARQLverse is just handling the query function, it can work alongside any existing system. When you apply this to WordPress and a specific vertical website like eCommerce, for example, the application of this kind of speed will be game changing. We just need a stable NoSQL fork for WordPress first.

Cloudways: You want to develop video games. This shows you must have interest in gaming. What video games do you like the most? Do you have any interests other than gaming?

AJ Zane: Aw man, this is kinda embarrassing. I haven’t been a hardcore gamer since the Super Nintendo. I try to play the Ludum Dare games when they’re released. There is a game development competition, where individuals or small teams have a weekend to develop a game. The time limitation keeps them focused on a specific mechanism. I like how easily digestible the games are, and it’s really inspiring seeing what people can spit out in a weekend.

I have way too many interests. Like I said earlier, I never really chose a career path, I’ve kind of – just always built current projects off of – what I’ve learned from the past. Even when I’m making music, or writing comics, or editing photos, I’m always thinking about the interdisciplinary with the seemingly juxtaposed aspects of each field together. In the end, I always come back to writing code. I think, I’m drawn to the concept of being able to get into your own zone and crank things out really quickly. Well.. when the code’s bug free.

Cloudways: You are also one of the admins at Advanced WordPress. When did you join the group and since how long you are contributing as an admin? You are also involved in arranging the Front End meetup. What’s the story behind that?

AJ Zane: I’ve been going to the meetup since the beginning of 2012 and was made an admin in February. Like I said before, the community that Michael Bastos has built was so inspiring that I couldn’t do the same thing when I realized there was no equivalent resource for front end devs in the area.

After a year of running it through meetup.com we’ve just launched an official site: FrontEndAuthority.org, moved to a bigger space and we’ve been growing every session. We’ve got a lot of cool things planned and it’s been really rewarding to see how much our community and members have grown in such a short time.

Cloudways: You are a WordPress enthusiast. Name the WordPress influencers who have inspired you the most?

AJ Zane: Oh man, there are too many talented and amazing people! Of course all my local and AWP buddies like Michael Bastos, Devin Walker, Jim Walker, Matt Cromwell, Chris Perryman, Stephen Carnam, Yaron Guez, Chris Ford, Brad Bihun, Alex Vasquez, Leon Magee, and… the list continues. Just check out the AWP Facebook group and you’ll be just as influenced!

Outside of that circle (and excluding Matt Mullenweg since, really, he’s my #1 WordPress influencer), I’ll go with Nacin, Mike Schroder, Konstantin Obenland, and Pippin. They’re always pumping out awesome code, great talks, and they have projects that always give me new ideas.

Cloudways: You must have attended many WordCamps. These conferences are helping the WordPress community growing faster. Share your experiences with us. Did you also organize any WordCamp?

AJ Zane: WordCamps are the best! The most inspiring aspect of them is how open everyone is. You not only get to listen to insane presentations at an amazing price, but it’s also so easy to walk up to anyone and continue having a conversation.

Helping out with a WordCamp is something I’ve wanted to do since five minutes into the first one I attended. I’m helping with Chris Perryman on the theme development bootcamp at the San Diego WordCamp in March, early next year.

[Read the details here: Track 7 of 8: Taking the Theme Bootcamp]

Cloudways: Using Nginx, Varnish, Apache and Memcached as a recipe to optimize the server speed, Cloudways provides one-click installation of WordPress. What’s your opinion about it?

AJ Zane: What you guys do is essential for the future of our platform. From the front-end content management or the back-end setup sides, everyone knows WordPress is super easy. Being able to clone and provide staging environments for testing and functionality without having to read through textbooks on server administration, is going to help so many developers amp up their skills and keep WordPress ahead of the competition.

Thanks and keep up the awesome work!

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About Waseem Abbas

Waseem Abbas was WordPress Community Manager at Cloudways. He loves to help people with their WordPress worries. He is a self-proclaimed "food explorer".

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