On this week’s episode, we’re joined by Carrie Dils. Carrie has been around the Genesis community for a number of years. She’s a WordPress developer, consultant, speaker, and teacher.
Note: This episode originally aired September 13, 2016.
She loves sharing what she’s learned with others to help them be more successful in their business. She hosts a weekly WordPress podcast at OfficeHours.fm and is a course instructor for Lynda.com.
In this 29-minute episode Brian Gardner, Lauren Mancke, and Carrie Dils discuss:
- What open-source means
- How open-source projects can be attractive to developers
- The pros and cons of open-source
- Using helpfulness to build authority
- The benefits of an open-source ecosystem
- The expansion of the Office Hours podcast
The Show Notes
- Follow Carrie on Twitter
- Visit CarrieDils.com
- The Office Hours Podcast
- Carrie on Lynda.com
- The Utility Pro Theme
- The Genesis Facebook Group
Lauren Mancke: On this week’s episode, Brian and I are joined by Carrie Dils to discuss why an open-source-based community is so powerful.
Brian Gardner: Hey, everyone. Welcome to StudioPress FM. I am your host Brian Gardner, and I’m joined, as usual, with the Vice President of StudioPress, Lauren Mancke. We are very excited about today’s show because we are continuing the series where we talk to members of the Genesis community.
Today, we’re joined by Carrie Dils. Carrie has been around the genesis community for a number of years. She’s a WordPress developer, a consultant, a speaker, a teacher, among many other things. She loves sharing what she’s learned with others, and she wants to help them be more successful in their business. She hosts a weekly WordPress podcast called OfficeHours.fm and is a course instructor over at Lynda.com.
Carrie, it’s a huge pleasure to have you on StudioPress FM. Welcome to the show.
Carrie Dils: Hey, Brian and Lauren. It’s so great to be here.
Brian Gardner: Now this is full circle for us both as we’ve both been individually guests on your show, and now we get to come back to the point where you are a guest on our show.
Carrie Dils: Yeah, and just to be clear, there’s no money swapping hands there for the podcast swapping.
Brian Gardner: This is like a weird version of linking back and forth, reciprocal linking, right?
Carrie Dils: I’ll link to you if you link to me.
Brian Gardner: I’ll have you on my show if you’ll have me on your show, that kind of thing. All right, let’s get this going.
Carrie Dils: Let’s do it.
Brian Gardner: Carrie, you’ve been developing websites for many years, almost 20 to be exact. We won’t ask how old you are, but you built your first site back in 1997. Some of our listeners may not have even been born then. That’s funny, but give us the low down on your career path — how you became a developer, when WordPress came into the picture, and also what got you involved with Genesis.
How Open-Source Projects Can Be Attractive to Developers
Carrie Dils: Just to be clear, I was a toddler when I started developing websites. That’s how I started in 1997 and still have this great youth about me. I started working with websites back when it was plain old basic HTML days, working with FrontPage and other cringe-worthy tools at that time. My career has taken many winding roads, but five years ago, I discovered WordPress and was in love with it and the power of what it could do right out of the box, started tinkering with the code base, and got into starting to customizing themes.
As I was getting into the theme space, I tried out a bunch of different themes and eventually stumbled on Genesis. What I liked about Genesis, for some reason it clicked. It clicked to me the way that it’s built around action hooks and filters. I felt at home with that and started to dig in there. I think that was four, five years ago. Feels like forever.
Lauren Mancke: I also built my first website 20 years ago. I was in middle school, so toddler is very impressive to me.
Brian Gardner: Now you guys are making me feel old because, 20 years ago, I was out of high school, out of college, and a grown adult … so let’s move on.
Lauren Mancke: Anyone who’s listened to your podcast knows you are from Texas, and you’re a fan of craft beer. You actually picked a pretty good one out when I was down in Texas last. Another little fact about you is that you worked at Starbucks as a barista. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about that experience?
Carrie Dils: Yeah. First of all, when I found out that Brian Gardner loves Starbucks as much as he did, I immediately started to bribe him with coffee. I had this wild hair in my mid-20s. I thought, “I want to open up a coffee shop,” but I didn’t know a thing about business or running, specifically, a café for that matter. So I decided to go learn on somebody else’s dime. That somebody was Starbucks. I was with them almost nine years in various capacities. At the end of that career, I’ve decided that under no circumstances do I want to own a coffee shop.
Brian Gardner: Now the beauty of being an online entrepreneur is that a) you can work in your underwear and b) work whenever you want. As I know, I worked in a convenience store, retail really is the pits if you’re not overly passionate or making a ton of money from it because then you’re working for someone else, the holidays, weekends and nights, and things like that. I’m sure with you at Starbucks that probably was the same way.
Carrie Dils: Oh yeah. No pun intended, but the grind of it was tough. My weekends happened on a Tuesday and a Wednesday. The hours were odd. Sometimes I would be there at five in the morning, and other times I wouldn’t be leaving until close to midnight. It’s just a weird … it’s for young people. I’m too old for it now.
Brian Gardner: Its for people who were not 20 in 1997.
Carrie Dils: Just to come clean, I’m in the plus-40 crowd now. I lied about the toddler thing.
Brian Gardner: Lauren’s the one drinking Similac these days, right? All right, back to nerd talk. WordPress open source, Genesis open source — coincidence? Or are you someone who truly believes in the open-source community? In other words, did you choose these platforms which happen to be open source, or did you choose them because they are open source?
Carrie Dils: That did not even enter my thought process. I can’t say when I started that I fully even understood what open-source software meant, so it turns out that it’s a happy coincidence. Having now worked in an open-source community, there’s so many things that I love about it. Not just the community of people, but the actual process of developing open-source software, it’s cool.
Of course, Genesis, too, you guys wisely or unwisely gave me access to the repo, and I’ve gotten to contribute a couple lines of code to the Genesis project. It’s fun. It’s fun to have your name on something bigger than yourself, and I think open-source software lets you do that.
Lauren Mancke: Speaking of WordPress and open source, there seems to be a lot of drama involved when it comes to the word ‘open source’ because it could be the interpretation of what it actually means, but it seems like there are a lot of people who point fingers of other people misusing it. Would you agree or disagree with that sort of thing?
Carrie Dils: I try to steer clear of all DramaPress, as WordPress drama is lovingly called. I think there is a misunderstanding of what open source means and maybe what the ‘rights,’ big ol’ air quotes there, are of people being able to contribute to a project. I think the misunderstanding there is that, yes, while anyone can contribute, it’s not a free for all.
There’s process. There are ultimately decision makers deciding what goes into a code base and what doesn’t. I think there’s disagreement there about whether the decision makers are either the right decision makers or making the right decisions. That’s the drama I just try to steer clear of.
What Open-Source Means
Brian Gardner: I’m going to jump ahead to a question I have because I realize there’s a good chance some of our listeners don’t know what open source actually is. I don’t want to assume that they do, so I’m going to actually read the definition from the website.
“Open-source software is software that can be freely used, changed, and shared in modified or unmodified form by anyone. Open-source software is made by many people and distributed under licenses that comply with the open-source definition.”
Basically, you can inherit the code base of any project and do what you want with it — and this is the big thing — as long as you also then release whatever derivative you do or come up with, with the same license.
Basically, it’s a kumbaya-ish feel where opportunists have a tendency to come in, and this is where the drama starts, to try to selfishly monetize and then close off pieces and parts of their business. The phrase that we use is the ‘spirit of the GPL,’ which is the General Public License. That’s more or less open source and what WordPress is released under.
You have a good thing. You have someone with some bad motives come in. Then all of a sudden drama starts. The hope is that everyone really freely … it’s an open community. They help each other. They take code from somebody. Then they better it, or they use it to build something else. Both WordPress and Genesis work within that ecosystem. There’s clearly some perceived downsides in an open-source community, but at the core of it all are some values that we all share, as I just mentioned.
WordPress has grown tremendously, as has StudioPress and our Genesis community. Do you think the growth of all of that, as a whole, would be less if the software that we’re working with was proprietary?
The Benefits of an Open-Source Ecosystem
Carrie Dils: I think so. I don’t have any solid data to actually back that up, but my gut is that because of that spirit … you mentioned it, kind of that helpful spirit of, “Hey even if you’re my competitor, let me show you my code and how I fixed this problem.” That pushes the software forward more quickly than if that was not the case. Again, just conjecture, but I think definitely the fact that it’s open source has made it as popular as it is.
Brian Gardner: What was that noise?
Carrie Dils: That was my dog shaking.
Lauren Mancke: That’s a big dog.
Brian Gardner: No kidding. That was an earthquake.
Carrie Dils: Actually, you mentioned I was in Texas. I have a couple of horses in the house.
Brian Gardner: Horses, armadillos, rattlesnakes. Genesis, the community that we’ve built, for sure has grown, at least in my opinion, because of the fact that it’s open source, and we’ve basically given the license or the ability of people to build off of that in any way that they want — whether that’s taking code and teaching and training around that or whether it’s taking our themes and developing other themes as derivative works of our themes.
There’s been, as you know, with your Utility Pro Theme, a lot of work that has gone into it from our end, but the community has given back so much. I just got 20 emails overnight from Gary Jones, committing to the core project of Genesis.
The good thing is, when it is working the way it should, I realize Gary has incentive to help build Genesis the framework. He has a business built around that, and if he can contribute code back to the main project, that helps benefit him and helps expedite and speed up processes by which he uses our work to then make money off of it by doing free-lance projects and so on. I’m totally cool with that. It’s win-win.
He helps us with his work and his code, as you have, Carrie. Then you get the benefit of that. Bill Erickson and Jared Atchison, two other guys I know that have come to us and said, “Hey, happy to help because this will help me and my freelance business.”
Carrie Dils: That’s where the beauty of it comes in. People are giving and taking, and we’re all benefiting from it. You mentioned even sharing code with competitors. We call that ‘co-opetition,’ where we’re going up against each other, but also helping. The hope is that 1+1 really becomes three. A lot of times your competitors are the ones who get too busy and then have to refer work even to you then because they just can’t take it all. It’s really a great system when it’s working properly.
Carrie Dils: Yeah, it’s an interesting ecosystem. You’re so right, that co-opetition term is an interesting one, one I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about and won’t ramble on here on your show. But I think there is certainly a ‘you get back what you give,’ and even if you’re giving with some ulterior motive. Ulterior motive doesn’t have to be negative. It could be somewhat self-serving, but you’re still contributing and giving and doing that.
One of the things that folks that are new to WordPress, or even new specifically to Genesis, I always encourage them to dive in, start getting involved in the community. The best way to do that is through forums, just answering questions. Even if you’ve been around WordPress one week, then you know more than somebody who’s only been around it one day. You have the knowledge to start contributing back by just helping somebody else.
Lauren Mancke: We talk a lot about all the good things of the Genesis community, the WordPress community. That’s only natural for this show to do that. But what are some things that you’d like to see differently in the Genesis community?
The Pros and Cons of Open-Source
Carrie Dils: This isn’t going to be specific to Genesis, but I see it a lot in Genesis because that’s one of the communities I’m more heavily involved in, but there’s this disparity between … let me just get down to the point. I hope that I’m not going to offend anyone. No names mentioned, but I had a support request come through — and this is not a one-time deal, it’s happened multiple times — where someone is being paid as a web developer or a web designer to deliver a website for a client, and what they’re asking for in support forums is for the work to be done for them.
I realize I’m painting in broad strokes. That’s not everyone. What I would love to see is that, if people are going to take this on professionally, that they actually are professional about it and take the time, invest the time to learn the skills to do that. I think that type of individual can devalue what a lot of people are doing legitimately and well, if that makes sense.
Brian Gardner: I know you’re not referring specifically to the people who really just don’t know how to do something and are really asking for help on how to accomplish a task. Rather, you’re addressing more the people who … I guess ‘lazy’ would be the right word. “Oh, will you just do all this work for me, so I don’t have to do it for my client?”
That’s one of the downsides, then, of this open-source community — and this gets into that dark side — is that there’s a tendency for certain behaviors or patterns for people to come in and, to some degree, can be toxic. There’s an expectation that, “All of a sudden I’m going to start mooching off of and expecting … ” I think of the TV show Survivor. We’re huge fans of survivor. Once in a while, you get somebody who comes in there, and he starts eating more rice than he should. He’s drinking more water than he should, and he’s not playing fair. He’s sort of disrupting that community by being self-serving and selfish.
The open-source community is more of a servant-first mentality, and everything in life, not everything is perfect. And I’ve seen it, and I try to address it and encourage behaviors to change or otherwise. A lot of times the community corrects itself, which is good. I can see what you’re saying, that there are people who have a tendency to come in and take more than they give. I guess we all go through seasons that we have to, but the hope is, at some point, that person says, “I’ve taken enough. I’ve built a business around this with the help of a lot of other people. Now it’s my turn to give back.”
Carrie Dils: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve been that person asking questions in support forums when I was first starting out — so certainly not at all. To your point, being clear about I’m not talking about people who genuinely don’t know and want to understand. It’s, I guess, maybe a difference in attitude.
I wish I could attribute this quote to the right person because I just heard it, and I don’t remember who said it, but in regards to seeking help in an open-source community. It was, “For every question you ask, answer another question” — that idea of balance and being reciprocal with your knowledge. Rather than just showing up and taking, to also give back. People that are new to WordPress or new to open source, I don’t think they maybe even know that conceptually that’s a thing they ought to be doing. Maybe we have to teach other people how to be good stewards of open-source relationships.
Giving Back to the WordPress Community
Brian Gardner: We speak about this in terms of Genesis, but also, to some small degree, I do feel a bit of conviction myself just with StudioPress and our company as a whole that we’ve benefited so much from the creation of WordPress, what Matt did back in the day, and all of that. I feel like over the last few years we’ve been so busy and doing our thing that we’ve probably taken a little bit more than we’ve given. So we’ve tried to do our best.
Maybe it’s come out in just by providing opportunities for people like you and others in the community, just a way to monetize and build a business around it. I know that, as we move forward, there’s a few things we’re doing within our company to help give back to the big project of WordPress. One of those things is we’re going to take some of Nathan’s time — Nathan Rice, our lead developer — and earmark some of his time throughout the week to give back to WordPress, the big project, as a way to pay that back. There’s a few other things.
I’ve actually tried to spend a little more time on the support forums at WordPress just to help people out because I forget. It’s easy to get complacent, on cruise control, and say, “Thanks, WordPress, for helping us kick start our business,” and then to go back and remember that there’s so many people who are new and just need help. Their questions aren’t dumb and things like that. Moving forward, I’m trying to go out of my way to help bring back a communal sense that I felt years ago that I’ve lost over the last couple of years.
Carrie Dils: That’s awesome. That’s really exciting to hear about Nathan.
Brian Gardner: So going along with what we just talked about, by far, in my opinion, the best thing about the Genesis community is the Genesis community. There are so many folks out there willing to lend a hand, whether it be, like you said, in the forums, or the Genesis Facebook Group, even the Twitter hashtag. That’s a great place for people to ask questions and to give back, like we talked about.
No question here really. I just wanted to thank you as a member of that community. I’ve seen you on a number of occasions go out of your way to help people. You write tutorials, and you do all of this stuff for people. I know a lot of people have helped you along the way, too. No question here, really — just a way of saying thank you for your participation and helping build our ecosystem. I know that you have your own incentives for that. You’re building a business, which is great, and I hope that that continues to grow and to flourish. Just wanted to say thank you for what you’ve done.
Carrie Dils: I appreciate that. Right back at you. You guys have had an incredible way of supporting the developers and people in the Genesis community that want to build businesses around it. It’s kind of great. StudioPress can make money off of WordPress, and StudioPress customers can make money off of StudioPress. It’s a giant circle of life.
Brian Gardner: Yes, we love it.
Lauren Mancke: So speaking of making money off of a wonderful community, is there a strategy involved for how being helpful and having the gift of teaching can affect your business?
Using Helpfulness to Build Authority
Carrie Dils: Absolutely! It wasn’t something I started out with in mind. Really, giving back to the community was something I started doing just as a thanks for all the community had given me. As I started to blog tutorials and that sort of thing and grow an audience that needed help with WordPress or Genesis, I saw opportunity there.
Definitely, Brian, I can’t remember the exact phrase you used, but yes, there is an incentive for me to continue giving back to the community. I guess it comes back to me in indirect ways, but certainly helps to build authority and teaching courses. Helping other people just lends back to the credibility and my personal brand. As always, even now in my 40s, I’m not sure what my personal brand is, but I know that it’s a good thing for it.
Brian Gardner: We talked about your podcast, OfficeHours.fm. A lot of people may not know this — it started out as a Genesis podcast, one that I was on a number of times, as was Lauren. Midway through, you switched to just Office Hours. In other words, you ditched the Genesis name, which I am completely okay with. In fact, I don’t know if I ever told you this, but I applauded that move. I realized that, to some degree, Genesis within the context of the whole Internet is a very small piece of the pie.
WordPress, in and of itself, is a bigger piece of the pie, and there’s even more outside of that. So I commended you for that in my head. I think it’s a smart move. I completely understand that. Just talk to our audience a little bit about why you made that transition and how that’s been for you since then.
The Expansion of the Office Hours Podcast
Carrie Dils: First, thank you for that. I appreciate that. I started realizing that the topics that we were talking about, they could apply to broader WordPress principles. We’re talking about development tools, or hosting environments, or process and things that would apply to anyone working with WordPress.
I was limiting my audience to people who thought we were just talking about Genesis all the time, so if someone wasn’t familiar with Genesis or wasn’t using Genesis, they were never ever going to tune into the show. By dropping the name Genesis and just going with OfficeHours.fm, I felt like that was my opportunity to stretch my legs a little bit and invite other people within the WordPress community on to share their knowledge.
Even since that transition from Genesis to just plain Office Hours, the show has shifted. It’s still somewhat techy, but it’s not super techy. It’s really been more focused around the business of WordPress and those of who either provide services or products based around WordPress, what are some of the business skills and things that we can do to be more successful. That’s more the recent direction of the podcast, and that’s kind of a sweet spot for me. I’m going to go ramble again.
Brian Gardner: Ramble away.
Carrie Dils: As web developers or designers, we’re technicians, right? We like to get in code. We like to solve problems — whether we’re solving it with code or with a beautiful user interface. Those are the things that we’re good at, but actually running a business is not a skill that is inherent to most people.
Unless you grew up as a kid working in a family business or unless, Brian, like you did, working in a convenient store, and just being around business, you don’t know that. You just get stuck. Here, you’re a technician and you want to be successful and make money doing web development and doing the thing you do, but if you don’t have the right business skills, then you kind of stagnant there.
When I say my ‘sweet spot,’ I really enjoy business. That sounds nerdy, but I like the numbers. I like everything that goes along with the mechanics of running a business. To be able to take that knowledge and share it with people who are like me, other technical people like me, my hope is that they can be more successful in their business just by doing things a little smarter.
Brian Gardner: When Lauren and I were heavily asked by those in our company to come up with StudioPress FM, one of the big concerns I had would’ve been the same thing you felt with that Genesis name, in that people would think we’re only going to talk about StudioPress stuff or Genesis stuff, try to sell our products, or whatever.
This series is the first step in trying to go outside of just that perception. I didn’t want the same 30 people to be listening to our show, and I wanted to open it up to topics and things that, even though they pertain to Genesis and our ecosystem, can go well outside of that.
For instance, we had Rebecca Gill talking about SEO, and that’s clearly not a Genesis thing. It’s not even necessarily a WordPress thing. It’s something that a general business owner, or someone who’s online trying to become an entrepreneur, that’s something that they can take away. The hope is, I’m sure this is the same case for you, when you shed that and go more ambiguous, you turn it from a ‘I’m just going to talk to my people’ to a potential lead generator, right?
Getting people from the outside who don’t even know who you are, what products you build, or any of that. The hope is they’ll say, “Wow, I like what these people are doing or what Carrie’s saying,” and it’s an authority opportunity where you can teach somebody something they may not know, then bring them in.
The podcast for you, now that you shed the name of Genesis, really, I think there’s a lot of opportunities, especially Office Hours. That’s a very broad term, and you could do all kinds of things with that. I look forward to seeing where you go.
Carrie Dils: Thank you.
Lauren Mancke: What does the future hold for Carrie Dils? What are some things that you’re working on, and what should we expect to see from you in the next year or two?
What to Expect in the Future From Carrie
Carrie Dils: Well, you mentioned Rebecca Gill and SEO. I’m not sure what all you guys talked about, but I’m actually partnering with her to do an SEO Bootcamp in early 2017 that I’m very excited about. I’ve always admired Rebecca, professionally and personally, and this is an opportunity to get to work with her and partner with her on something. Super excited about that.
The podcast season two comes to an end with tomorrow’s show. Then I’m going to take a little break and revamp, redo some things under the hood, and then the launch season three of the podcast later this fall. I can’t tell you what all it is going to be, but it’s going to be awesome.
Also, it’s on my bucket list in 2016 to write a book, so I don’t know.
Brian Gardner: You’ve got three months to do that.
Carrie Dils: I’ve got three months. I’ve been told that, that might be a little ambitious, but we’ll see.
Lauren Mancke: You can do it.
Brian Gardner: If you’re looking for something to do, in five or 10 minutes when we’re off this, you can go listen to the episode of StudioPress FM with Rebecca because it’s being published probably as we speak. And yes, we did promote the SEO Bootcamp conference on that, so hopefully that will, at the very least, bring a few people interested over there to you guys. Hopefully, that will work out.
Carrie Dils: Thanks! Much appreciated.
Where (and) When to Catch Carrie’s Show
Brian Gardner: So everybody listening, are you looking for success through leveraging WordPress as both a tool and a platform? If so, we heavily encourage you to check out Office Hours, Carrie’s podcast, especially with season three coming up. You can tune in live every Thursday at 2 o’clock Eastern as she interviews a variety of folks within the WordPress ecosystem — from plugin developers to marketers, to business owners. For more information on that, visit OfficeHours.fm.
And if you like what you heard on today’s show, StudioPress FM, you can of course find us there at StudioPress.FM. You can also help us hit the main stage by subscribing to this show in iTunes. It’s a great way to never ever miss an episode.
Carrie, we want to thank you so much for being on the show. As we look forward to doing more episodes, we’d love to have you back to talk more specifically about some of things that you’re doing as a way to take that expertise you have and bring that to our audience.
Carrie Dils: Thanks, guys. I always enjoy chatting with y’all.