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