Meet the WPMU DEV-elopers

With more than 140 plugins to maintain and other projects in the works, WPMU DEV’s team of developers have their work cut out for them. But who exactly are these developers working behind the scenes? This is the story behind our CTO and talented development team.

A blog post, much like this one, convinced Aaron Edwards to sign up for a WPMU DEV membership – setting him on a path to becoming our company’s Chief Technology Officer.

Back in 2009, Aaron was working a corporate job by day and at night he managed MissionsPlace, a free Multisite network he had created to help missionaries.

He had toyed with the idea of buying a membership so he could use Pro Sites (at the time called Supporter), but it was a post CEO James Farmer wrote about the success of Edublogs that prompted him to part with his cash.

“After joining I quickly became a very active user in the forums helping out other members and sharing the handful of free WPMU plugins I had written for my own use,” Aaron says.

“James noticed and gave me a free membership due to my helpfulness.”

A few months later when James needed another developer, he asked Aaron if he was interested in completing a trial task for the job. Aaron created A/B Theme Testing, which is still available to download today.

He became one of just three developers at WPMU DEV and his first project, funnily enough, was to completely re-write Pro Sites.

Not long after he joined the team, co-founder Andrew Billets left the company, leaving WPMU DEV without a lead developer.

“James needed someone to take on managing all the technical side of things and offered me the CTO job,” Aaron says.

The WPMU DEV Developer Team

Aaron now heads up a distributed team of more than 20 developers and system admins who live everywhere from the United States to Indonesia, Finland and Iran.

Marko Miljus
Developer Marko Miljus with his deputy Hana.

Our developers have diverse working backgrounds and experience.

American Paul Menard, who works on a huge range of plugins including Chat and Snapshot, developed one of the first online ordering systems back before eCommerce was even called eCommerce.

Serbian Marko Miljus was a lead developer and manager at Themes Kingdom before he joined WPMU DEV to work on an academy we’re developing.

Brazilian Fabio Jun Onishi is one of our newest developers, having worked on software for big companies like Ibope and Delphi in Brazil and Alstom in Greece.

“Communication is the main challenge,” Aaron says of working with a distributed team.

“Part of what helped us in the beginning was the nature of our products. Instead of one big team working on the same application, we have 180 smaller projects that have been mostly assigned individually to our developers.

“We automated processes for support, bug reporting/fixing, and feature requests, so the day-to-day communication was minimal for those. We started using Asana to manage and organize tasks so I could have a view of what’s going on in each plugin/theme.

“The challenge then was to manage consistency with things like code quality, and especially usability when you have devs working on their own unique plugins.”

“More recently as we’ve been growing more and building larger/more complex products we’ve had to manage assigning teams to work on these. We’ve tried a lot of experiments and I think we are finally settling down on what works for us only recently.”

Jumping Through Hoops

New developers are really put through the ringer, or as James says, “Hoops a plenty!”

Development jobs at WPMU DEV usually attract around 300 applications, all of whom are expected to apply with an example of a plugin they’ve built.

Aaron and senior developer Vladislav Bailović assess each application and choose about 30-50 to proceed to the next round where all applicants are asked to build the same plugin.

It’s at this point when many people drop off because the task is too hard or they’re just lazy.

Of about 20-25 people who complete the task, up to 12 (depending on how many developer jobs are available) are asked to complete a paid trial that lasts about four to six weeks.

Aaron and Vladislav score applicants out of 10 and those with the highest scores are offered a job.

“Being a distributed company allows us to hire some of the smartest people in the world at competitive prices, instead of competing against other startups or corporations in Silicon Valley for a limited pool of talent,” Aaron said.

“I’m pretty amazed at the skill level of our current developers, though. I try to only hire developers that are smarter than me, so they always stretch me to learn more.”

Working Without Pants?

After commuting 2.5 hours a day for his previous job and only getting two weeks vacation, Aaron’s only commute now is to his home office and he takes holidays whenever he wants.

Last summer he and his family spent six weeks in Maui and he worked on the beach every other day.

He also spent a week in Guatemala last year on a mission.

Aaron Edwards
CTO Aaron with his wife and kids in Guatamala last year.

“While working for Incsub I’ve been all over the world. Spent a month in India one year, and a month in Thailand with the family the next,” Aaron says.

Other developers also enjoy the freedom of working with a distributed team.

Iranian Sam Naijan says it’s a “great joy and comfort” being able to work from home, though he admits it can be hard sometimes keeping a work/life balance.

“Sometimes I work by the woods in northern Iran near the Caspian Sea,” he says.

Fabio used to commute almost 3.5 hours a day, which he says was stressful and a total waste of time. Since joining WPMU DEV three months ago, he now spends that time surfing and cooking healthy food.

Fabio Jun
Developer Fabio enjoys surfing every morning before work.

Vladislav, who has long dreadlocks, says he would be forced to cut his hair if he was to find another job in his native Serbia.

“Serbia is a conservative place, so I’d definitely had to at the very least cut off the dreadlocks, wear big boy pants and shirts with buttons and/or large brand names prints, proper shoes and act as if that’s not only normal to me, but also delightful and possibly even as if there’s some inherent value to it,” Vladislav says.

“One usually copes with senseless chores by arbitrarily proclaiming inherent values.”

Marko, who has an adorable 17-month-old daughter Hana, says the flexibility to spend time with his family has been really important.

Jeffri Hong, a night owl from Indonesia, enjoys working at WPMU DEV because he has the opportunity to be his “ideal self.”

“We are free to express our creativity on many challenging tasks and make it as good as we can, so we can be proud of our work,” he says.

Say Hello to Our Developers

If you see one of our developers at a WordCamp, go up and say hello – chances are you’ll score a free membership.

Last month Aaron and our product manager Ronnie Burt were at WordCamp Austin. The pair delivered a fantastic presentation on WordPress Multisite dos and don’ts.

In January, Aaron and Joshua Dailey from our video team were at WordCamp Phoenix where they gave out more than 50 memberships and met some of our awesome members.

Aaron Edwards
Aaron Edwards at WordCamp Austin this year.

What’s Next?

From purchasing Pro Sites to completely re-writing the plugin himself, Aaron’s story is somewhat of a fairy tale for developers.

He’s learned much from being part of a true startup from close to the beginning and hopes to learn even more as the company continues to grow.

“It’s been cool building super awesome plugins, services, and websites used by tens of thousands of people. I never would have had that opportunity or exposure in my previous job,” he says.

“I’d like to see us continue to put in place good processes and methods so we can continue to grow, yet still maintain the benefits of a close-knit distributed team.

“Most of all I’m just excited to be a part of all the awesome new products we are launching.”

Of course, he’s talking about all the cool things we’ve got lined up for release this year: our exciting, new theme project, an academy where you you can learn all you need to know to become a developer, new plugins and also big updates to some of our popular products, like MarketPress, Membership and – Aaron’s baby – Pro Sites.

We’re releasing a new post each week to give a little insight into WPMU DEV, who we are, what we’re doing and where we’re taking our members.

Did you miss last week’s post? Check out How an English Lit. Grad. Who Didn’t Know PHP from FTP Bootstrapped a Successful WordPress Company.

See you next week for part thee in our WPMU DEV series.