Contributing to Open-Source: Insights On the Latest Major WordPress Release

Plenty of work happens behind the scenes of a regular website. But even more work is needed for the maintenance and development of a Content Management System (CMS) like WordPress – the software that powers 34% of all websites on the web. New WordPress versions are released regularly to provide new functionality, security improvements, and all types of fixes. In the case of WordPress, which is an open-source software, a big part of the work is thanks to the voluntary support of dedicated individuals and companies within the WordPress community. 

The team at SiteGround has a long history of WordPress involvement - we organize and sponsor both local and worldwide WordCamps, work on WordPress core and plugins, and are active on the WP.org security, community, marketing, and hosting teams. So we were stoked when our WordPress community manager, Francesca Marano was selected as a Release Coordinator for the latest major version, WordPress 5.3. On the verge of the official release, 12 weeks after she took upon that role, here is our chat with Francesca about her role and responsibilities in the process, and of course – what you can look forward to with the new release.

What does a WordPress Release Coordinator actually do, and how does one end up in this role?

Francesca: For a while, the WordPress Core team (the dev team which builds WordPress) wanted to get more non-developer or non-technical people involved in the release. As a WordPress Community Manager at SiteGround, I dedicate most of my working hours to the people and users of WordPress, and I am very passionate about offering support, and helping out however I can. So when WordPress.org Executive Director Josepha Haden Chomphosy asked me if I was willing to coordinate the next major release, I said yes!

The role of Release Coordinator is a non-technical project management one. I make sure that we meet our deadlines, keep an eye on all the moving parts (and there are a lot of them!), and talk to the focus leads to see that we are on track with the goals we set for ourselves at the beginning of the road. Up until the release of WordPress 5.0, the release had just two or three people involved, but the project now has a big team, and everyone has different tasks, so it’s crucial to have someone like me to make sure it all works in synch.

So, how does a new version of WordPress get made and released?

Francesca: There are quite a few steps to get a product ready to release. The release cycle starts with a call for tickets and features. People submit items they think should go into the next WordPress version. The suggestions get summarised and checked against the actual capabilities of the different teams involved, and then a scope and schedule are set.

After that, the work begins: the goal of the first phase, or Beta phase, is to have no bugs in the queue. There are weekly "bug-scrubs" where the Triage project manager (in this case, the excellent David Baumwald) leads a group of people to work on selected bugs. 

Then, we move to the Release Candidate. At this stage, WordPress should be ready to be released. No new features get added. Testing might have revealed some problems, so these are the only issues that get addressed at this point. Anything new goes into the next release. 

When all the features are completed, and the bugs are addressed, WordPress gets released to millions of people! It sounds simple, but there are lots of technicalities and people involved along the way, so it’s great that the team thought about having just one person dedicated to keeping it all intact. It’s also a huge responsibility!

What is the most exciting new feature in version 5.3?

Francesca: Last year, WordPress switched from a classic editor, that looked very much like a Word page with some formatting options, to a block editor that allows users to organize and format their content in a rich, visual, and compelling way. The development of this feature continues, and in 5.3, the block editor is even more feature-rich, stable, and fast.

A lot of work has also gone into preparing the WordPress core codebase for PHP 7.4, which will be released later this month – another move forward to a faster and more secure web for everyone, which is a huge part of our mission at SiteGround as a premium managed WordPress hosting provider. 

WordPress 5.3 also comes with a brand new Twenty Twenty default theme. How is this theme different from its predecessor Twenty Nineteen, and what is the most useful new functionality in it?

Francesca: Unlike default themes from previous years, Twenty Twenty is based on an existing theme, which means it is mature enough and well-supported already. It includes a rich and flexible visual design with full support for the many different blocks that are now available in the block editor. 

The theme is visually impactful and provides excellent typography and legibility. It also includes editor styles, which means while you’re editing the content you’ll see something which much more closely represents how the final result will look like once you preview or publish your content.

In your personal look back on the then 8, and now 12 weeks working as a release coordinator, you shared that it was quite rewarding and a great learning opportunity. What is the most valuable thing that you’ve learned?

Francesca: How to work in a team, spread over many time zones and with a lot of different skills. All the communication is done via Slack. It’s crucial to communicate as much as possible to make sure everyone is aligned.

And all the communication is in written form, so you lose the non-verbal communication that is very important for us humans. You make up with lots of emojis and with carefully selecting your words to make sure that what you want to communicate is clear to everyone. That’s also something I learned at SiteGround.

And of course, I also learned how WordPress actually gets made. I am a power user, and I have been involved with the projects for a few years, but seeing the whole process happen in front of me and the number of people and energies involved, was a true privilege. 

What do you think makes thousands of people and companies contribute time and skills to help build WordPress?

Francesca: I think there is more than one reason why people contribute to WordPress: but one is gratitude for sure. WordPress is free and priceless at the same time, and it allows millions of people to build a business and livelihood on top of it. 

Belonging is one of the reasons, too. As Matt Mullenweg, the co-creator of WordPress.org said during the latest State of The Word (the end of year recap he does): “The software is pretty good, but the people are amazing.” I think a lot of people found a community, and this is what pushes them to continue contributing.

And finally, a good dose of idealism I would say. WordPress powers 34% of the web. Every time we do something for it, from the smallest thing, like translating one word in our language, to the very large contribution, we make the web a little better for millions for people. The feeling is amazing!

To try the newly-released WordPress 5.3 version, go to your WordPress admin dashboard and click on the WordPress 5.3 link at the top of the page. If you’re a SiteGround client, you don’t need to do anything as we’re managing all WordPress updates for you. If you haven’t turned off WordPress Autoupdates on your SiteGround account, you can expect your site to be updated very soon, if not already. To ensure everything goes smoothly, with every update we automatically test your website for errors and create a backup just in case, so that you can easily go back to your previous version. If you want to check your current WordPress version or if you’d like to manage your WordPress Autoupdates, you can easily do so from the WordPress Autoupdate tool.

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Ilina is one of the SiteGround story tellers. She is passionate about reading and writing and is helping us share what is going on at SiteGround. Some other of her passions are traveling, board games, rock music and cats.

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