Nine years ago, John Blackbourn was stocking shelves at a supermarket 40 hours per week and returning home to do another 20 hours of freelance work on the side. His journey with WordPress started much like many others, when his first patch was accepted seven years ago. This past weekend at WordCamp Europe, Blackbourn was named WordPress 4.1 release lead.
“I’m sure my first contribution was because I found a bug that annoyed me, so I thought I’ll patch that up and get it in there,” he said. Submitting bug reports led him to learn about Subversion, patching files, and the trac ticket manager. “That’s actually a great way for people to get into version control – when someone turns around and says ‘Write a patch for it,’ and you have to go off and figure out how to do it.”
It started off as a hobby, Blackbourn said, “building my own websites and playing around a bit.” After awhile his freelance work started to take off. “Then I was lucky enough to be able to drop my hours down to part time while I ramped up my freelance work,” he said. A couple years later, he got a job at Code For The People, a WordPress development agency and WordPress.com VIP partner.
Code for the People is made up of a flock of regular contributors to WordPress core, with founders who are passionately committed to giving back to open source software. When Blackbourn was put forward to lead the 4.1 release, his agency was behind him 110%.
“I had previously talked to Andrew Nacin about leading 3.9 and 4.0 and he’d already spoken to my bosses at Code For The People. They said, ‘Yeah go for it – we’ll give you time off work, adequate resources, and time to lead it.'”
Simon Wheatley, one of the founders of CFTP, spoke at WordCamp Europe about running an open source business, during which his co-founder, Simon Dickson, commented on donating Blackbourn’s time to core. “CFTP is a small team. Contributing John Blackbourn to WP Core won’t make our lives easy. But it’s important to us. We’ll find a way,” he said.
What’s on the horizon for WordPress 4.1?
This will be the first time that Blackbourn has led a release, although he has been a core committer for both 3.9 and 4.0. WordPress 4.1 will be a short release cycle, with less than three months, due around December 12th. He shared a few ideas with us about where he thinks 4.1 will be heading.
We’re going to try to reign in expectations for the release so we’re going to get a few nice things to do with session management and password security, etc. If we keep the potential features reigned in a bit, then hopefully we won’t be needing to take weeks off work. I expect to be doing a couple days a week that I would normally be working.
Blackbourn hopes to further extend the improvements to sessions that were made in the previous release. “The new thing in WP 4.0 is the sessions – when you log in, you actually get assigned a session now, so you can forcibly log one of your sessions out,” he explained. “So if I’m logged in on my laptop and my phone I can kick myself out of one or the other.” This now exists in WordPress on an API level and Blackbourn is hopeful that 4.1 will add a UI for it.
He has extensive experience working with multisite on a daily basis at CFTP. “We haven’t got many clients who don’t use multisite these days,” he said. When asked if there are any multisite improvements planned for 4.1, he said that there may not be much time to make significant strides on the roadmap. However, he’s optimistic about including improvements related to multisite password resets.
Since it’s his first time to lead a release, Blackbourn plans to meet with several past release leads in attendance at WordCamp Europe in order to get an overview of how it’s done. He’s one of the most humble, talented people I had the privilege of meeting at the event. Query Monitor, his comprehensive WordPress debugging plugin, is truly a work of art, and many developers can no longer live without it. Blackbourn is a benefit to the project and an excellent example of a WordPress professional who has become a high-end expert by sharpening his skills through contribution to core.