Kinsta Kingpin: Interview with Maura Teal
By Brian Jackson, Updated: January 24, 2017
Q1: What is your background, & how did you first get involved with WordPress?
My parents were both software engineers for a major bank, so I always had access to a computer and the internet while I was growing up. I built a few websites and wrote a little bit of code, but for the most part I thought that I wanted to be a graphic designer. It wasn’t until I was in college that I discovered WordPress and realized that my career path was writing code, not graphic design.
Today, I’m a web developer at FanSided, a Time Inc owned web property (and WordPress Multisite network of 360+ sites) that serves over a million users daily. I’ve also been involved in the last few WordCamp Phoenix events as an organizer.
Q2: What should readers know about all the stuff you’re doing in WordPress these days?
We’ve got a fun and unique challenge at FanSided, building writing tools for over 1800 contributors on the network while also considering what new technology we can take advantage of to continually improve the reader’s experience on the front-end of the site.
One of the most interesting challenges I’ve faced in the last year has been building a caching solution for remote API calls. We were looking for a way to eliminate the occasional wait time users experienced when a cached call expired — often these are lower-priority calls like “related posts” or similar, certainly nothing that needed to be recent up to the second. What resulted from these needs was a REST caching system that runs updates to expired values in the background (on crons) instead of on page load.
Q3: What challenges did you face in getting to where you are now professionally?
I’ve really been lucky with my career thus far. Each position I’ve held since moving away from freelancing has been a building block with its own set of unique challenges. As a lead developer at each agency, I found I continued to improve quickly at writing code, but working directly with clients and what we called “Client Translation” didn’t always come easily. I took pride in my ability to teach others, but the learning curve in translating tech-speak on the fly when discussing features and product with non-technical clients was certainly a learned skill.
When I started my position at FanSided, I came to the realization that while the clients may come in a different package (we’re not an agency but we do build and support products), I still have opportunities to provide client translation as I guide junior developers and meet with the editorial side of our company. While we spend the majority of our time wrangling code at our computers, the most important part of our jobs is still helping people.
Q4: Has anything surprised you while coming up in the WordPress world?
The people, the WordPress community. I was introduced to WordPress by a friend while we hacked away at websites in a coffee shop near my university. I hadn’t attended a meetup, a WordCamp, really any sort of tech community event. I was initially impressed by the welcoming attitude at my first WordCamp, and then my first meetup, and frankly I was surprised at how quickly people were willing to jump in and help when I mentioned an issue I was having with a piece of code. There was no sense of competition, only knowledge-sharing and a feeling of pride in one’s ability to help others.
Q5: What does the future look like for you in the WordPress world?
If I had a crystal ball, I’d say I see myself working more and more with the REST API and emphasizing ways we can utilize WordPress to further empower our contributors and FanSided and Time Inc. WordPress (and FanSided) is at the center of Springboard (http://digiday.com/publishers/time-inc-learned-small-sites-acquired/) and connects multiple brands, writers, and CMS’s.
In a similar fashion, I look forward to taking cues from the WordPress Core design leads on making improvements to the editing and customizing experience in WordPress. Improvements to usability and simplicity benefit the ecosystem as a whole, and as technology improves so should our standard of what’s “easy to use.”
Q6: What do you look for in a WordPress host?
The type of hosting I recommend is largely dependent on what type of website you’re sharing with the web. That said, when it comes to WordPress hosting I look for a few specific features that aren’t going to come with an average shared environment.
Performance, maintenance, and technology are all notable but perhaps not deal-breakers. Many sites will run just fine on PHP 5.6, for example, but if I’m looking for performance and have a project that is ready to run on PHP 7, that would be ideal. Managed hosting is another big plus as automatic backups and core update management are always nice features, but some projects don’t fit the mold of the backup processes or restrictions that occasionally come with managed platforms.
Beyond all of the above, though, is support. Support is the most important to me: if I’m recommending that a non-developer self-hosts their own project, I want to trust that the support they’ll receive is beginner-friendly. Similarly, in an enterprise hosting situation the support available should be at a far more advanced level. We all hope to never have to use it, but when it comes to keeping a business or project online, it’s important to know what kind of company you’re working with and support accurately reflects that.
Q7: What do you enjoy doing when you’re away from your laptop?
My passion well before I ever got into computers was horseback riding, and although I no longer compete at a high level, I still spend a few mornings each week riding horses and teaching the occasional riding lesson. I also enjoy photography and working on my car.
Q8: Whom should we interview next & why?
Carol Stambaugh (@carolstambaugh) a business owner, co-founder, and a core element to the Arizona WordPress community.