Interview with Arūnas Liuiza, a WordPress developer

While we were attending WordCamp Nordic in Helsinki, we had the chance to sit down with Arūnas Liuiza. He’s a long-time WordPress developer, a contributor, and a frequent WordCamp speaker.

In this interview, we talk about his experiences with WordPress, as he’s been in the community almost since the very beginning; how he deals with being a speaker and tips on becoming one yourself.

Hi, Arūnas! Is there anything more you can tell us? Anything I missed?

I’ve been a freelancer for a long time. For almost 15 years. But now I’ve switched to working full time at a big company called Kayak. I work on their content platform now. It’s still WordPress but it’s a much larger-scale project. I also do a couple more things for plugin developers that are aimed at WordPress developers to do things more easily.

And as we know you’ve been working with WordPress since version 2.6. It’s that early. So do you remember what was your first WordPress project?

As usual, I think for a lot of people, you start with your own blog and you try it out and you like it. And afterward, at that point, I was doing my own custom CMS as a lot of developers were doing at that point. But after some time I didn’t really want to support it anymore because you don’t get paid for that, but you still have to do the work. So what I did I rebuild everything using WordPress. So it made my life so much easier.

Going back to WordPress. You’ve also been a speaker at WordCamps. And as far as we know you’ve been a lecturer for nine years as well. So what are the differences between being a lecturer and a WordPress speaker? Is it a lot different?

Well, it isn’t that much different. It’s kind of a similar experience. As a teacher, you also have to talk to a room. As a development teacher or the programming teacher, a lot of that work is more hands-on. So you work usually in a computer lab. People are actually working and trying to do stuff. So it’s less speaking and more showing and fixing the mistakes of people. And when you come to WordCamp it’s more about just standing in front and talking. But it’s still talking, it’s still teaching. And in my speeches, I always try to have some teachable moments to show things that are new or maybe missed by a lot of people so that they take something out of that.

Do you ever get stage fright?

Not that much anymore, because that kind of translates also from teaching. Because when I started teaching I was fresh out of university myself and a lot of the students were my age mates or even older than I am. That was a bit scary at the beginning. So what if I get something wrong or something. It was so strange because they would be so polite and respectful and call you “teacher” and I was just doing that same thing myself three months ago. Doing that day to day it really makes you much more comfortable with an audience. And if your audience gets a little bit bigger it’s not 30 people it’s 60 now. It’s not that much of a difference anymore.

What about people who would want to become speakers. Do you have any tips, where do they start?

I would suggest starting with a WordPress meetup because it’s a much smaller one, much cozier, much more friendly and has a community feeling. So even if you don’t do everything right or correctly people will just laugh with you about that and look at you. And actually for meetup organizers, because I’m one of the organizers of Kaunas WordPress meetup. One of the challenges that we have doing the meetup three years now is that people get a little bit bored of me talking all the time. So we try to find new people to come in and talk about their experiences but it’s kind of hard because Lithuanians are quite shy about talking in public. And so we have to convince them a lot of the time. But it’s a very good place to start because then you can get the fright out of your system and see that it’s not so bad and that you can really do that.

It’s interesting for people because the most fun thing about talking in public is the QA afterward. Because if you have a lot of questions that means people are very interested. The problem is sometimes you don’t get any questions and that means either you did a very good job of explaining things or you did a very poor job of doing that. Because either people didn’t understand anything or that it’s clear for them. Sometimes like I even plan my talks that have less to speak of and hope to have a lot of QA afterward.

Well, that’s a nice way to think about your speech.

Then you have feedback about what you did and what’s really interesting. After doing the same speech next time you can actually work that out into your talk. If you want to make it better.

Going back to your speeches. How do you prepare?

I’m really bad at deadlines so what usually happens is there is a call for speakers and there is a deadline for that. At that point, I have a title and a short brief. The titles I’m quite good at. I like to use sci-fi references in them. The one I should have been doing here as a backup, but since everybody showed up I don’t have to, was called Hitchhiker’s Guide to the WP-CLI. I have another one that’s called Captain Hook, about hooks the other one is about  CLI. Those titles are quite catchy, so I stuck with that and if it gets accepted then you start fleshing it out.

I start by making bullet points about what I want to talk about. Then they become slides. Then you also have bullets about what you want to talk in that part. And that’s usually enough for me because if I’m interested in that topic and if I know about that topic from that plan I can talk. I just use the slides as a plan and then just talk about it.

It’s also a good thing to rehearse but I usually try to do in the meet up that happens just before the WordCamp I was supposed to do that. I just go there and do the same talk and see how it goes. If I’m too short or too long or something doesn’t go right, people don’t understand or things like that. And then I can fine-tune it. And that’s basically it.

So what we can take from this is – go to your local meetups!

It’s said that talking to the mirror also helps but I have never done that.

If we go back again to the speeches, do you have a dream event where you’d like to give a speech at?

WordCamp Europe probably. Because that’s the biggest WordPress event in Europe. And WordCamp US obviously because it’s also one of the biggest WordCamps in the whole world. So those would be the things to aim for. I’m actually applying to WordCamp Europe this time. Not sure that will happen. Fingers crossed. So that’s the one probably to aim for at the moment.

And outside WordPress? Maybe as you like sci-fi references, maybe a sci-fi convention?

No, no I’m not that geeky about it but I do like sci-fi. I think it informs us a lot. A lot of great inventions were first mentioned in sci-fi. The first mention of satellites of Mars is in Gulliver’s trips. And they actually got the size quite right.

Talking about conferences. I would probably like to go to something like a PHP conference or general developer conference. But WordPress conferences are more in the comfort zone because the room is very nice towards you and they want to hear what you want to say and they are positive about that. And in the developing world, there is this thing that like PHP developers look down on WordPress developers and Java developers look down on WordPress developers and so on. It would be a bit more challenging, coming to a room that is not that supportive of what you’re trying to say would be an interesting challenge, but kind of scary a little bit too.

Obviously! I think the WordPress community is quite warm and welcoming.

It is very warm and welcoming. I actually had an experience with this WordCamp. I lost my wallet at the airport. With all my credit cards, all my IDs and everything. And the guys were so nice. They told me how to contact lost and found, they borrowed me some money and showed me around how to get to the hotel and everything. And actually, the wallet is at lost and found so I’m getting it back tomorrow. But the community was very awesome about this. It really helped me out.

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