Alex King

I’m sad and mourning along with the community the loss of Alex King, who died from cancer after a battle of over two years.

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Matt Mullenweg and Alex King, WordCamp Utah 2008 (by Sheri Bigelow).

Alex was one of my web heroes! I followed his blog closely during my formative years, used his task software and WordPress plugins, and once upon a time reached out to apply for a job in his company, at a time when I was just beginning to develop WordPress sites full-time. (It didn’t work out since the position was Denver-based and I lived in an RV, and wanted a remote position).

He inspired me in person as well; I met him first at WordCamp Utah in 2008 where he gave a talk about new tools from Crowd Favorite, including the Carrington theme and framework. Ran into him again in 2010 at WordCamp Boulder—and enjoyed talking shop with him then, and over the years at other WordCamps.

I admired Alex’s pragmatism, friendly writing, and open speaking style—and his technically savvy blog posts inspired me to do better work, to think more clearly. He contributed an enormous amount to WordPress, the open source community, and to the web. He’ll be missed.

Photo credit: Sheri Bigelow.

Other remembrances:

Book Review: Let My People Go Surfing

“Quality is absolutely objective and definable” is the main idea I got from this book. Patagonia founder and owner Yvon Chouinard tells the story of his journey of starting a company, defining its quality and ethical standards, and running it sustainably through the years.

My favorite passage that relates directly to my work at Automattic is about the questions designers at Patagonia ask to see if each product fits their standards—things like functionality, durability, simplicity, authenticity, and timeliness. I loved reading about their central tenet of concurrency versus assembly line production. Every product decision involves the designer and producer at all stages, and they work together until it’s done.

Recommended if you love reading about products and companies, as well as an intimate look at a very popular outdoor clothing and equipment company.

Many of the principles built into Patagonia’s standards can and should apply equally to software and product design. Here are some of my favorite bits from the book.

Without a serious functional demand we can end up with a product that, although it may look great, is difficult to rationalize as being in our line—i.e., “Who needs it?”

This is relevant to building web apps or products—who’s going to use your app? Is it needed in the marketplace? Does it add value? As product builders and managers we should cut out products no one uses. They clutter up our codebase and confuse users away from our core products that help them the most.

The best restaurants in the world have set menus, and the best ski shops have already decided which skis are best for your skill level.

Make the best choice for people. You know how your product works intimately, and you use it yourself. Design for that core use case and you’ll find your software helps other people, too, naturally. This goes well with the WordPress project’s philosophy of decisions, not options.

The best-performing firms make a narrow range of products very well.

I love this since it requires you focus on doing one thing really well—a principle espoused by software greats like Microsoft, Apple, and Google.

Moreover, we carefully define, rather than just assert, what makes each product the best of its kind.

This is important for the why below the what. Explaining your philosophy and why it’s important—and carefully building your products to match that creed—rather than just saying you do things the right way.

Market trends are less important than strong intuition.

As a craftsperson, go with your instincts born from experience and intuition and pay less attention to what everyone else is doing. Don’t just copy your competition. If you follow your own way, you’ll innovate and they’ll soon be copying you.

Photo credit: Tom Walker, Flickr.


surfing

This is my book review of Let My People Go Surfing, The Education of a Reluctant Businessman by Yvon Chouinard—founder and owner of Patagonia clothing and equipment company, based in Ventura, California, USA.

See more of my book reviews and check out my Goodreads profile.

A Journey of Theme Craftsmanship

My name is Lance, and I love themes.

What was my standard opening line for many years when starting a WordCamp talk is still true today. “My name is Lance, and I still love themes.”

I’d like to tell you the story of my journey of theme craftsmanship—the ups, the downs, the unexpected results—and how I’ve now become an apprentice again in a new field.

It’s been a journey of adventure and learning where my skills have expanded beyond anything I’d expected—not just the technical path from web designer and developer to “front-end expert” and WordPress themer—but also writing, speaking, and leading. And more.

It’s September 2015 and I’m now back in an apprenticeship role. Working hard on finding my craft: tools, skills, patterns, workflow, and process. Discovering myself, my passion, my community, and opportunities to learn.

Continue reading “A Journey of Theme Craftsmanship”