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    Categories: Interviews With Experts and InfluencersInterviews With WordPress Experts

Zac Gordon Talks About His Teaching Experience and the Future of the WordPress

Zac Gordon is a professional educator who is currently working with JavaScript for WordPress Master Course. Zac has previously taught WordPress at Team Treehouse. He needs no introduction when it comes to teaching because he has years of experience in educating WordPress and Web Development at different education levels. What’s amazing about Zac is his style and subtlety in teaching. His way of expressing ideas is par excellent. Apart from teaching, he is also running one of the largest web hosting company for students and teachers likewise.

Cloudways is delighted to conduct the interview of one of the key figures that have enlightened the minds of hundreds and thousands of WordPressers around the World. Let’s start our conversation.

Cloudways: Hello Zac, first of all, thank you for taking out some time from your busy schedule for this interview. Could you please tell our readers a bit about yourself? How did you start your career? Who motivated and inspired you?

Zac: Hi! Thanks for inviting me to do this interview 🙂 My work and life around WordPress primarily focuses on education.

I did not really like going to school growing up, so my original motivation to become a teacher was to go back and make school more fun and more applicable to the real world. I did have a few amazing teachers throughout my life, many of them history teachers, and they were a huge inspiration as well.

Then one day I met, Jeffrey Brown, a fellow high school web design, and development teacher, and he really got me going full throttle on the path of web education. Jeff moved on to become a high school administrator, but I stayed with the path of web education and it’s been a great ride.

As an educator, I still draw a lot of inspiration and motivation from master teachers I learned from and worked with when teaching at the high school and college level. At the end of the day though, I do this for people who find what I teach helpful. Hearing their stories brings me more joy than any other part of my work 🙂

Cloudways: You are the Lead Instructor of JavaScript for WP. Can you please tell our readers how this idea got in your mind for creating the JavaScript for WordPress Master Course?

Zac: It’s funny. And a story of deep synchronicity.

The week of the first WordCamp US in 2015 I was told that Treehouse would no longer need my services to produce WordPress content for them. I knew I would keep teaching WordPress, but it wasn’t till I heard Matt Mullenweg give the homework assignment to “Learn JavaScript Deeply” that I decided to focus on JavaScript.

Originally I was going to do small, short screencasts, like what Laracasts does. The idea for a Master Course came from Sean Wes who has a lot of advice on successfully launching online courses. I had also learned from my time at Treehouse that monthly recurring revenue can be hard to maintain, and the “buy once and have forever” model feels personally better to me. So, the JavaScript for WordPress Master Course was born just a few weeks after WordCamp US 2015.

It’s funny because I was teaching JavaScript almost before I was teaching WordPress, so it is a language I feel a lot of personal affinity with. However, to teach JavaScript Deeply, which is the goal of the JavaScript for WordPress Master Course, is no small undertaking.

Preparing all of the content to start from scratch with no JavaScript skills and work up to being a hirable, competent JavaScript developer has definitely been one of the largest undertakings of my life. It has not been easy mentally, emotionally or financially to tackle this project.

Even after a year of regularly producing content, we are just approaching the halfway mark of what I set out to do. I hope that it will be a valuable resource to the community and help create more JavaScript and API driven developers in years to come.

The site for the Master Course is also going to start offering content from other JavaScript and WordPress educators, which is exciting for me.

Cloudways: Zac, we all know that you were the teacher of WordPress at Team Treehouse. How was your teaching experience there? What makes you most excited about Treehouse?

Zac: Oh what fun I had working at Treehouse! The fellow teachers, video and audio teams, all stacked with amazing people, many of whom I am still close with. I also had a chance to see the company grow and go through a lot of changes. It was the first startup I had worked for, and that was invaluable to experience.

I think the most exciting thing about companies like Treehouse is that they lower the barrier to entry for learning really marketable and valuable skills to almost nothing. If you compare their costs and quality of content against traditional schools or even bootcamps, it’s crazy how much you can learn for a fraction of the cost. Then when you compare what it costs to learn the skills versus how much you will earn once you know them, it pays for itself many many times over.

When teaching high school, I talked with a lot of parents about whether college was the right option for students who really wanted to work in this field. While I do think degrees still open certain employment opportunities, you definitely don’t need them to become a web developer nowadays. That’s in large part thanks to companies like Treehouse and the industry in which we work.

Cloudways: Since the evolution of node.js, JavaScript is becoming the game changer in web development industry. What do you think JavaScript is really suitable to work with front and backend of apps?

Zac: Definitely. JavaScript has proven itself as a solid solution for full stack development in the wider web world.

What is interesting to see is how JavaScript as a server-side language fits into the traditional WordPress ecosystem. Since the server architecture to run WordPress is different than what is required to run Node we are beginning to see some interesting decoupled and hybrid approaches to working with JavaScript on the back end, while also leveraging WordPress.

I totally encourage this exploration and enjoy hearing about instances where Node and WP can be used in a way together that really helps solve a problem (and not just throwing new technologies at a problem because you can).

I think it’s important for anyone learning JavaScript on the front end to also build at least one or two little server side projects with JavaScript as well just to get an idea of what is possible.

Cloudways: What do you think is the future of WordPress? In your opinion, what impact will WordPress have in the theme market? Are there going to be any multi-purpose solutions or will there be niche-specific themes? And what role will JavaScript play in the future of WordPress themes?

Zac: If we look at the past of WordPress, it has had a steady, continued growth coupled with improvement in UI and functionality. I believe this will likely continue.

The theme market is insane. There are so many themes available in so many different places with such a wide range of quality and usability.

It seems that quality niche theme development is the direction to go if you’re trying to become a theme developer. You really need to be smart though about who your audience is and how they will find you amidst the forest of other themes out there.

Right now though, my focus is on plugin developers and encouraging more people to learn plugin development so they can add REST API functionality to more plugins.

The lack of API enabled plugins is one of the major things holding back JavaScript and API driven theme development.

Because of this, the hybrid of partial PHP and partial JS seems to still be the best direction for JS themes at the moment. That said, there are only a few of them out there at the moment, so that niche is still open for those interested.

Cloudways: REST API is the fastest way to interact with backend data of web applications. How do you think REST API are helping developers in rapid application development?

Zac: The only place I can see the REST API being helpful in rapid application development is if you or your team already knows a JS framework well and can prototype with that already.

If this is the case, then you can quite easily plugin in WP content and functionality without having to build a full CMS.

However, I don’t think the REST API makes development much faster if you’re still building more traditional PHP driven themes or plugins.

Cloudways: Zac, you were at WordCamp Miami (this was 2017) recently as a speaker. Can you tell us how WordCamp helps the WordPress community? How does speaking at WordCamp help your career?

Zac: First off, shout out to WordCamp Miami! It is a great one, and definitely worth traveling to if you have the chance to go in the future.

Speaking at WordCamp helps my career in a number of ways, but really I do it because I love giving talks in general and getting accepted to speak is a great excuse to travel to another WordCamp.

The first way speaking really helps my career though is that I get to meet people who have taken my courses and gotten better jobs or figured out things they didn’t understand before. That fuels my work and life in a powerful and real way.

Second, when I speak, there are usually at least one or two potential students in the audience who might go and take my courses in the future. There are also people who will think to recommend my content to other people who don’t already know what I’m teaching.

Speaking and networking at WordCamp also played a part in me doing courses with some great WordPress companies like WP101, DesktopServer, and WP Elevation.

Most people will say it’s tough to measure ROI on speaking at or sponsoring a WordCamp, but that it’s still smart to do with a long-term goal of exposure in mind. That said, if you can give talks on something at an upcoming WordCamp, I definitely encourage it!

Cloudways: You are the expert WordPress educator, I personally follow your tutorials. May I ask you, how did you motivate adults to create a WordPress website? And how you encourage them to choose WordPress as CMS? What other CMS would you recommend if WordPress had not been developed and why?

Zac: Thanks!

The thing I like about web education (versus say when I was a high school history teacher) is that most people are already motivated to learn by the time they find my courses.

Intrinsic motivation (that comes from within the student) is the greatest motivation a teacher can hope to inspire.

A lot of the time, though, I feel my role is to not just explain everything I can, but also remind people that this is a lot of information, and the amount to learn is near infinite.

Most people in this field need more help not feeling defeated, stressed, or overwhelmed than they need encouragement to work harder.

I hope that I bring across some friendly encouragement to keep folks going, but also step by step guidance and explanations that keep things from getting to overwhelming.

Encouraging people to use WordPress is not really something I come across much these days. Most people who come to WordPress already know they want to use it. Occasionally, I meet people who used it a while back and didn’t like it and sometimes I’ll encourage them to take another look.

It’s all about the right tool for the job to me 🙂 WordPress can do a lot, but it’s not everything to everyone, and that’s good to keep in mind.

If WordPress didn’t exist what would I recommend? Oh geez, hypothetical history 😉 If WordPress never existed it would have had effects on the development of other CMSs, so I couldn’t say without examining the CMSes that would have existed in that potential timeline.

But short answer for developers, Drupal? Not my favorite (obviously), but I prefer it over Joomla or other crazy options like Ektron for instance. In the simplest of cases, maybe SquareSpace?

Cloudways: What are your views about the future of WordPress? Will its market share continue to grow? What is that one feature you would love to see in WordPress?

Zac: Yeah, I think WordPress will continue to grow. I think the Core Team is doing a lot currently to make the content creation and theme customization process easier. I’m excited to see what they come up with.

I don’t have one feature I’d like to see in WordPress now that the REST API is in Core.

However, the big thing I’d like to see from the WordPress world in general right now is more REST API enabled plugins. The WordPress Team did a lot bringing the REST API into Core. Now it’s on the plugin developers to support it.

Cloudways: Within the WordPress Community, who do you consider among your best friends?

Zac: Anyone I get to see and hang out with regularly at WordCamp and Meetups 🙂 This is how I have built almost all of my friendships in the WordPress space, and I have a lot of people I would call good friends–too many to list.

I will say that it has been really cool to become friends with people I look up to in the field and consider personal celebrities. Then I find out they’re hilarious, down to earth, caring human beings too. Of course 😉

Cloudways: Let’s leave all of the things for a while and talk about your personal life. I learned from your website that your mom introduced you to Iyengar yoga. Can you tell our readers about the story behind it?

Zac: My mom did introduce my to Iyengar Yoga as a teen. I had a lot of pain and inflexibility from skating injuries and learning asanas and proper alignment helped a lot. That particular style of Yoga is particularly good for that type of thing.

It was definitely the deeper aspects of Yoga though that drew me in and kept me pursuing my studies further. I have been questioning the purpose of life since I can remember and coming across texts like the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali reminded me that contrary to popular wisdom, there are owner’s manuals for life that exist in this world.

I studied various aspects and styles of Yoga throughout my twenties and even taught Kundalini Yoga (one of my favorite types) for a few years.

The chanting and Kirtan side of Yoga also took me in quite a bit. I played in a Kirtan band with a group of brothers for a while and it was one of my funnest and most blissful pursuits 🙂

To truly share my story of Yoga would be more than I can do here, but if you share an interest in this sort of thing, come find me at a WordCamp 🙂 I’d love to chat!

I will also add that my studies of Yoga have, for me, not contradicted, but rather deepened other spiritual connections I have, like with Christ.

Nowadays, I have a Yoga room in the house, and it is part of my normal routine. My sister is doing her teaching training now though, and I’m quite happily living vicariously through her 🙂

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 such as Cloudways?

Zac: It does seem that hosting for WordPress is moving more towards Managed Hosting solutions. I like the idea, and most of my sites are in some sort of WordPress specific managed environment.

I’m a big fan of what Cloudways has been and is continuing to do in this area. Cloudways is particularly cool because you can choose from Digital Ocean, Amazon and even Google Cloud platforms (along with others). I really like the flexibility, abstraction, and transparency the Cloudways platform brings to the hosting game.

One conversation I find myself having with folks new to WordPress more now than I did just a few years ago, is that quality managed hosting is definitely worth the cost.

I pay more than I would like to for hosting, but I believe it is worth it.

Cloudways: Lastly, Just for our readers, can you please send us an image of how your workspace looks like? That would be all. Thank you for your time.

Saud Razzak: Saud is the WordPress Community Manager at Cloudways - A Managed WooCommerce Hosting Platform. Saud is responsible for creating buzz, spread knowledge, and educate the people about WordPress in the Community around the globe. In his free time, he likes to play cricket and learn new things on the Internet. You can email him at m.saud@cloudways.com