CommunityTeacher Spotlight: Zac Gordon

Teacher Spotlight: Zac Gordon

Etan Berkowitz
writes on November 2, 2012

We’re back with another iteration of Teacher Spotlight and this time we’re highlighting our awesome, expert WordPress teacher Zac Gordon. We have an army of educators on staff and now it’s time you get to know a little bit more about them and what they believe in. Enjoy!

The Interview:

  • When did you first start gaining an interest in web development? Did anyone inspire you?

In 2002, I started my first web design company. Netscape was one of the better browsers, Designing with Web Standards hadn’t come out yet, and building sites with tables was still pretty commonly taught.

I started teaching web design around this time and have always been inspired by people who not only had amazing professional careers in the field of the web, but also helped advance the field of web education.  Two particular people come to mind: Aarron Walter (@aarron) and Leslie Jensen-Inman (@jenseninman).  These two helped lead the Web Standards Education Task Force and create the open source, four-year InterAct Curriculum for colleges and universities who want to implement standards based web education courses.

It’s funny how the universe works, my current boss, Ryan Carson, is someone who I have admired for a long time, in part because of the work he did with the Future of Web conferences.  I would regularly lead field trips for my students to the Future of Web Design Conferences in New York.  It was actually attending these conferences that inspired a number of my students to start putting on an annual Student Web Conference of their own.

  • How’d you get into such a specific realm such as WordPress? Is it your favorite CMS?

Working with Content Management Systems (CMS) has been a niche of mine, both as a developer and as an educator.  While I feel that the core front-end and back-end development skills are essential for a web designer or developer today, practically speaking, most websites today are built using a CMS (if not a custom web app).  For this reason I have always liked to teach intermediate web students how to apply their skills to building sites with CMS.  It opens a whole new realm of possibilities for adding functionality to web sites as well as let’s you charge more for your work.

WordPress is definitely one of my favorite CMS, especially for blogging and simple sites.  I am even beginning to prefer it for e-commerce, thanks to WooCommerce.  I first got into WordPress when version 2 came out, so I have seen it mature quite a bit, both in terms of functionality and UI design.  Matt, Automattic, and all the other designers and developers who have worked on WordPress are pretty amazing in my opinion, not just for their skills, but for their time and effort.  I also love the WordCamp community of developers and bloggers that surround WordPress.

That said, WordPress has it’s natural limitations.  When I’m not using WordPress, I’m usually using ExpressionEngine (EE).  The two things I like most about EE in relation to WordPress is that it has a more robust, native custom fields and custom content types system and the templating language and structure is more flexible than WordPress.

  • WordPress is famous for being one of the widest adopted open source CMS out there. How important do you think open source web applications are for the future of the internet?

So important.  I don’t think we would have as much power to create on the web without open source projects like WordPress.  Imagine if you had to pay every time you wanted to setup a WordPress site.  If it was just $29 it might not make that big a difference, but if it was the $299.99 that someone like ExpressionEngine charges, it would have a big effect on people starting new sites and taking their ideas onto the web.

Charging would also change the underlying nature of the open-source software development process.  Who would the money go to?  How would that affect who determines the direction of the software, who contributes to it and to what extent?  I imagine that something like a free would not be possible as it is if WordPress was not open-source.

Open source software is a beautiful thing, but not just because it keeps the barrier to entry on the web super low.  I believe its an expression of our natural and innate desire to work on things together that benefit the greater good of all.

We also have to give thanks to the Apache Foundation and the people and organizations behind PHP and MySQL, without which WordPress wouldn’t be possible.

  • What directions to you hope WordPress takes?

I look forward to when custom post types and custom fields are fully integrated to and customizable from the native WordPress admin area.  There are some plugins that make working with these features quite easy, but I think they need be usable out of the box.

Other than that, I love the direction WordPress is going in terms of features, UI design, and community.

  • When you have a big project ahead of you, how do you stay in the zone when coding?

Back in college when I had to crank out papers I would sing myself the mantra “Just keep writing, just keep writing,” sung to the melody of “Just keep swimming” from Finding Nemo.

Just Keep Coding

Now it’s “Just keep coding.”  When the moment comes when I want a distraction or to do something else, I acknowledge it, take a big breath, and then keep on going.

For me, the problem is less staying in the zone than it is restarting a project I have stepped away from.  That’s tough.  Once I get going again, the zone usually comes naturally.  It’s actually starting (or restarting) that requires the discipline for me.

  • What makes you most excited about Treehouse?

Personally, I love how fun and creative it is working at Treehouse.  We have amazing people who work here and they are constantly encouraging and inspiring creativity.  I have written curriculum for and taught the web at a lot of different places–from middles and high schools to colleges and universities and even private companies.  By far, Treehouse has the most genuine interest in making web education the best possible.

I also think it’s exciting to see what the company is starting to do for job creation for Treehouse students.  When I was teaching, getting my students paid for their skills was one of my greatest joys.  Now I get to be a part of this happening on a much larger and better organized scale.  It’s really cool.

  • Tell us something about yourself you don’t think anyone would ever assume…

I have quite an interest in Brain-Computer Interfacing.  For a long time I have felt that the keyboard and mouse paradigm is too clunky.  Even touch devices have this limitation.  I look forward to seeing the advances in being able to interface directly between the brain and technology.

I don’t personally know a lot about the technology itself, although I enjoy learning about brain science at a novice level.  What I do know is that when we are able to interact with our technology directly using our minds in combination with more 3d holographic displays it’s going to be a pretty amazing user experience.


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