Meet Eric Binnion, Straight-shooting Lead Developer for Jetpack

 

It’s probably fair to say that if you have a tattoo that says “CODE IS POETRY” on one arm and a Wapuu on the other, you’re probably pretty passionate about WordPress

This ink belongs to Eric Binnion, Lead Developer for Jetpack; this phrase is at the bottom of every WordPress.org page; and Wapuu is the cuddly Japanese manga-style mascot for WordPress.

We sat down with Binnion, who joined Automattic as a Code Wrangler in 2014, to talk code, Jetpack, partnerships, and more. 


Q. How did you end up with WordPress-themed tattoos? 

I look at tattoos as telling a story. I was at the Automattic Grand Meetup and there’s usually a group of people who go off and get tattoos during the events. So I said, “All right. I guess it’s time for another tattoo.” 

I figured since I’m at a company thing, I’d get something kind of nerdy. 

I got the ‘CODE IS POETRY’ quote in the same typeface used on WP.org.  

"code is poetry" tattoo

Q. What does that phrase mean to you personally? 

To me, code is beautiful in the same sense that poetry is beautiful. With code, there are so many ways to solve an issue. Software is like a craft. You’re trying to write the best stuff and not just throw spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks.

If you take the time to write good code and think about everything and everyone that interacts with it, hopefully, it’s making your life and other people’s lives better.

Q. And what about the Wapuu tattoo? 

I knew I wanted one, but there are so many Wapuus to choose from. I picked my top ten favorites and then put them up on my website and took a poll. I ended up with Obi Wanpuu. [Automattic CEO] Matt saw it and gave me kudos for it. 

Q. How did you end up at Automattic? 

I was 23 or 24 at the time, in college, and was working at a creative agency. One day, I saw a blog post from someone I met at WordCamp: Brandon Kraft. I live in the city Kraft grew up in — Wichita Falls, Texas — and we bonded over that. He had just joined Automattic and I started pestering him with questions. He suggested I read the book The Year Without Pants. I applied for a job in April, took the code test and the trial, and started in July.

Eric's family outdoors

Q. Why did you want to work at Automattic?

It sounds corny, but WordPress changed my life. When I was 18, I was working on a side business and needed to build a website. I was going to hire someone, but it would have cost $3,000. So, instead, I decided to open a book, watch some tutorials, and teach myself. I did it all with WordPress.

I was able to get something up and running and then tweak it as I went. Through that, I learned how to develop. And that opened up a path for me to start working at creative agencies.

Q. What was it like in the beginning? 

When I started at Automattic, I knew PHP and a little JavaScript. They threw me on a Jetpack team that was Javascript-heavy and they were like, “Have a good time. You’re gonna learn.”

After about a year, I was moved to another team to work more on the framework side of Jetpack. They said, “Now you’re gonna learn PHP and go pretty deep. It’s not going to be comfortable for you, but have fun!”

Q. You got involved in the hiring process, also? 

I worked on hiring part-time. So 25 percent of my time was spent interviewing for Code Wrangler and JavaScript Engineer positions. I was interviewing people from Google and NASA and getting to meet people from all over the world, which was great. 

Q.  And now you’re the lead developer for Jetpack? 

In March, I moved into the role. I’m lucky to work with 34 amazing developers. I’m behind the scenes a lot — reporting, hiring, doing data stuff, writing scripts, building reports, helping people test things, and working with team leads to make sure we’re delivering what we should.  

Q. What does partnership work entail? 

We work with hosting partners like Bluehost, DreamHost, and others. We build API tools so partners can offer a best-in-class experience for their users. The overall idea of our partnerships is that a rising tide lifts all boats.

It’s great for hosts because onboarding with Jetpack has been a factor in decreasing churn rate, which is good for their company. 

Jetpack helps WordPress users build more secure sites, log in more easily, take advantage of backups, post beautiful pictures on their site, and so-on.  

Q. You mentioned site backups. But don’t most hosting companies already do daily backups? 

Hosts and Jetpack operate on two different levels. The host delivers basic backups. They’re at the server level. They copy the files and database once a day and they’re done and that’s cool. We hook into WordPress and see an incredible level of detail with Jetpack Backup. We see every single action that happens on a site and store backups completely off-site, so if the server is deleted or hacked, they can still be restored. And the interface is easy to use, so anyone can do it.

If your site is a storefront and takes payments, you probably want to have backups and scanning on your site. Imagine if the last backup was at 6:00 am and the site goes down in the middle of the night and you’ve lost 18 hours worth of orders you didn’t know about. Jetpack can go back and see every little event so you’ll have all that information backed up. 

Q. How do you explain Jetpack to people? 

You know when you go to a diner and the menu is crazy? It’s like 12 pages of three columns with the smallest text ever. Then, you go to Five Guys or In-N-Out Burger, and there are only four or five options.

Jetpack is like that. It makes your life much simpler by curating an experience. We’ve taken the most important tools for your site and put them all in one place. 

You just download this one plugin and you only have to flip a switch to decide which features you want. “Do I want backups? Yes, cool. Turn them on.” Turning stuff on and off with Jetpack is easy. Many other plugins and pieces of software have complex settings pages and dropdown menus and they make you type in things. 

The Jetpack interface is meant to be very simple with just the options you need to get started.

Q: Do you think some people are too overwhelmed when starting a website simply because there are so many choices?  

The last time I checked, there were 57,000 WordPress plugins, almost 8,000 themes, and 49 pages of results when you search for “backups.”

So yes, imagine that you’re starting your first WordPress site for your company. You don’t care about all the intricacies and you don’t want all the choices. You don’t have time because you’re building a business. You just want to create a site that looks great and schedules appointments or accepts payments. With Jetpack, you can just quickly switch on the most important features to fit your needs.

Q. What’s the most exciting thing coming down the pike for Jetpack?

I would say blocks are the coolest thing we’re doing right now. We’re releasing new blocks all the time. The WordPress Block Editor makes it easy for you to create pages to look exactly the way you want.

The power of blocks is you can pull them anywhere into a post and get a preview before publishing — right there in the editor.

Q. What are some examples of blocks? 

Blocks include Jetpack features like the Ad Block, Form Block, or Related Posts Block. They also include external blocks like Latest Instagram Posts, Pay With Paypal,  OpenTable, and Eventbrite.   

This is one of the first times we’re promoting external products within Jetpack. 

Q. Word on the street is that you’re a straight shooter. Literally. 

Outside of work, I do shooting sports. Specifically, Precision Pistol, or bullseye. We shoot with a .22 caliber through .45 caliber, single-armed and at 25 and 50 yards. I’ve been doing it for a couple of years.

photo from the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit
Photo © U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit

Q. How did you get into that? 

I needed something outside of work. Work used to be my hobby. I’d be sitting there at night with a sweet tea, coding. It got to the point where my wife was closing my laptop. That’s one of the dangers of working from home, I suppose.

So competitive shooting takes me outside and away from the computer and around people. It’s more of an escape. It clears your mind. You can’t be thinking about anything else. You’re being as still as you can, looking at the sight and pulling the trigger. 

I love WordPress, but now, when I’m done with work for the day, I like to focus on other things.