In this interview with Cloudways, John Eckman discussed his journey, Project Management, and WordPress community.
Cloudways: Hello John, I am very excited to conduct your interview, thank you for being here. 🙂 Please tell something about yourself to our readers?
John: Thanks for having me Saud – happy to participate.
Before I was a digital agency person, I had a first career in academia, getting my PhD in American Literature and Culture from the University of Washington in Seattle and teaching for 6 years. After I completed my dissertation, I spent a couple of years on the job market looking for a professorship, but ultimately realized my hobby (all along I’d been working with computers, networking, and the emerging World Wide Web) needed to become my profession.
I’ve been involved in the WordPress community for over a decade, having first identified Movable Type as a blogging platform for a company I was at in 2003. After MT changed to a proprietary license (in 2004) I switched to using WordPress, and I’ve been a happy user, plugin author, WordCamp organizer, and consultant helping companies use WordPress ever since.
Prior to 10up, I worked for multiple agencies in the Boston area: TVisions/Molecular (the DNA of which still exists as a company called Isobar), PixelMEDIA, Optaros, and ISITE Design (now ConnectiveDX). What all these agencies had in common was a dedication to doing great work, taking ownership of finding solutions to the challenges their clients face, and a focus on being surrounded by smart people from multiple disciplines. Over the course of my career, I’ve been a front-end developer, a software engineer, and technical architect, a project manager, a user experience designer, an account manager/digital strategist, a practice director, and a managing director. I’ve basically played every role in an agency except visual designer, and folks who have seen my keynote slides can probably tell you that’s a wise exception.
Cloudways: You are the CEO of 10up for more than three years now, can you please share some interesting stories, experiences, and projects that you are proud of?
John: I’m immensely proud of the team at 10up. Jake (Goldman and 10up’s founder and president) and I met originally in the context of planning WordCamp Boston 2010 before 10up existed. I watched 10up grow and evolve, and Jake and I connected multiple times to talk about when/how we would work together someday before we made it happen in 2014.
Recently we’ve been fortunate to work with some fantastic and forward looking brands, support the Windows 10 launch event and many other projects for Microsoft, building a react.js powered web experience for WAMU.org, redesigning and rebuilding SmarterTravel.com (a TripAdvisor company), MyJewishLearning.com, and UMaine.edu. We get to work with amazing clients across media & publishing, technology marketing, non-profits and higher education.
We’ve helped AMC Networks build new sites for AMC.com, BBCAmerica.com, IFC.com, and WeTV.com (including full episodes of The Walking Dead, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Orphan Black, Portlandia and countless others). We’ve had multi-year relationships with clients like ESPN, AARP, JDRF, and 9to5 Mac.
In the process, we’ve also launched a number of open source initiatives: our engineering best practices, a WCAG 2.0 accessible WordPress component library, Varying Vagrant Vagrants (now independent of 10up) and WP Docker, and ElasticPress, as well as supported numerous contributors to WordPress as a community, including Helen Hou-Sandí as a lead developer of the core project.
Cloudways: As an experienced project manager, what are the most crucial challenges you faced in your professional career? What are the essential strategies you would like to suggest to trainee project managers?
John: In addition to the specific discipline expertise (I went through the process of being PMP-certified, though I have mixed feelings about the value of that certification for digital PMs), I think we underestimate the critical challenge that is maintaining a calm, professional, and healthy mental attitude under the stress of client services.
It’s wonderful to be passionate about your craft, and invested personally in the success of your projects and your team, but also critical to be able to have a sense of perspective.
Cloudways: Since the Internet has evolved the shape of digital marketing in the recent years, what are the best trends to market your product and services?
John: I still find lots of wisdom in the Cluetrain Manifesto, which is soon to be 20 years old. New social media platforms and trends come and go, but organizations who show up, produce valuable content and products and connect in authentic conversation with interested consumers or businesses win over time. (We actually had Doc Searls and David Weinberger as a keynote panel at WordCamp Boston in 2010, talking about Cluetrain’s 10 year anniversary).
We’ve been very focused as 10up on maintaining an active presence throughout the WordPress community, arguably over-investing in WordCamps and community contribution in the early years, because we believe that a stronger WordPress community ultimately helps grow business for everyone in that community.
Cloudways: John, I learned from your LinkedIn profile that you are the founding organizer at WordCamp Boston for last 7 years. Can you tell us how WordCamps help WordPress community? How does speaking at WordCamps help your career?
John: WordCamps have been and remain a powerful engine of the growth of the WordPress community. They serve an educational purpose, as very cost-effective local conferences that spread knowledge and encourage people to start using the platform or deepen their usage. They serve as gathering places for folks already fully dedicated to the community, to collaborate and build stronger relationships. They serve as networking opportunities, for recruiting and lead generation, bringing together the folks who need help and the folks who need careers.
Speaking at WordCamps (and importantly at local WordPress meetups, which sometimes get overlooked compared to WordCamps) is a fantastic way to:
- a) Grow your own knowledge (the best way to understand something is to teach it),
- b) Build your reputation in the community,
- c) Give back to share what you’ve learned with others, and
- d) Demonstrate your expertise to potential future employers.
It’s not really an exaggeration to say my initial foray into speaking at WordCamps led to the idea of organizing WordCamp Boston, which led ultimately to my current job.
Cloudways: I hope you could tell us a little bit about your experience with WordPress and how WordPress helped your career, especially reaching to the current position?
John: As I said above, I’ve been a user since 2004-2005, a plugin developer (though most of my plugins are now long dormant), a site builder for clients, a WordCamp speaker and organizer, and a contributor long before becoming the CEO of an agency with a strong WordPress focus and presence.
I’m sure that in the absence of WordPress as a platform, I’d still be in the digital agency space and likely working with open source platforms — but I’m very thankful for WordPress (as a technology and a community) and wouldn’t want to spend my time anywhere else.
Cloudways: During your professional career who truly inspire you within WordPress community? Who would you like to be interviewed next on Cloudways?
John: The WordPress community is just full of inspiring folks. A quick shortlist, with apologies for inevitable omissions: Aaron Jorbin, Helen Hou-Sandí, Mika Epstein, Andrew Norcross, Heather Brunner, Morten Hendrickson.
I’d also love to hear WordPress stories from folks who are less visible in the community – clients in particular, who run businesses on WordPress and whose voices aren’t often as clear inside the WordPress bubble.
Cloudways: This has been quite an experience. We will surely meet once again. If you want to give out any message/suggestions to beginners in WordPress, please feel free to add a few words here.
John: Thanks again for reaching out – I appreciate the opportunity.
To beginning or potential beginners in WordPress? Dive in!
Check out your local meetup, make time to attend a camp, and don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions or share your experience. WordPress is at its best when supported by a broad and diverse set of users – that’s what democratizing publishing is ultimately about. Whether this is something you think of as part of your professional career (as a WordPress-using business or a WordPress designer/developer/consultant) or just a hobby you do on the side, the community can use your input and active participation.
Cloudways: Cloudways is a managed cloud hosting platform offering 1-click installation for WordPress with great caching technologies and optimized servers. What’s your opinion about managed cloud hosting services?
John: We recommend managed hosting pretty consistently. Very few clients want the challenge or responsibility of managing their own hosting stack, and few will do it as cost effectively as a managed hosting provider.
Cloudways: Let’s just put your professional life for a while and talk about your personal life. Do you have any interest in sports or food or movies or traveling or anything else?
John: I’m a huge music fan – across many genres – often arranging to attend shows while traveling for business. Over the last year I saw Gillian Welch at the Beacon Theatre in NY, Martha Wainwright at Halen in Stockholm, the Midtown Music Festival in Atlanta, and the Boston Calling Festival in Boston, as well as several shows of the Grateful Dead and Company (with John Mayer).
At our All Hands Summit (an annual 10up event where we bring the entire team together in physical space for 3-5 days of training, strategy, and team building – this year in Puerto Rico) we have a company band, the #SummitRumors, which a wide variety of employees rotate through instruments and vocals. It’s my favorite event of the year!
Cloudways: Just for our readers, can you please send us an image of your workspace? That would be all. Thank you for your time. 🙂
I blogged a while back about my home office Ikea hack. Since then I’ve added a Varidesk Pro to make my regular desk a standing desk. I try to stand 3-4 hours a day during meetings.
Here’s a recent photo: