A Conversation with William Staley

WooCommerce is excited to ring in the new year and celebrate big strides forward with developer-focused improvements like High-Performance Order Storage. 

As a Developer Advocate, I wanted to better understand when some of these important upgrades need to be made and also get to know who is helping to drive our strategy.

I’m excited to introduce William Staley, our Director of Developer Product, whom we welcomed to the team three short months ago. Needless to say, a lot has happened since William joined in September, so let’s dive into some questions and get to know his process as well as his hopes for 2023.

Shani: Hey William, thanks for joining us! What exactly does a Director of Developer Product do?

William: Hey Shani, thanks for having me! Well, my primary focus is working with all the engineering teams to make sure we are releasing the best possible solution for developers. WooCommerce, as a product, is meant to be extended. We rely on the community for their influence and ideas so that we can, in turn, help them create amazing sites for merchants.

Shani: What is your background with WordPress and WooCommerce, and what brought you to Automattic?

William: When I first started coding, I didn’t know what a CMS was, so I just built everything from scratch.  I was working in publishing at the time and having fun tinkering with programming.  When I decided to switch careers, I landed a job at an agency in New York and was introduced to WordPress and WooCommerce.  I was floored by the power of both and how it simplified everything while allowing me to develop on top of it.  This was back in the days of WordPress 2.x.  I remember one of my first tasks on the job was migrating customers over to 3.0.  That feels like a long time ago.  I’ve been working with both ever since.

Shani: Is there anything that stood out to you about the WordPress model in particular?

William: A game-changer for me was when I was brought on to architect a solution for a large company that worked with thousands of publishers worldwide. Their intent was to create a scalable solution for their clients, and the solution was a white-labeled version of WordPress that could then be extended by their own in-house teams. This was my first experience working in a kind of/sort of open source system, developing an extendable product for a broad audience, each with unique needs.

Shani: What are some things that excited you about the development process, and what do you want to improve?

William: I would say there are two parts to this, so to answer the first part: Everyone who is building a product has a voice, from the people conceptualizing a new feature, to the ones building it, to those testing it to those that use it, and everyone in between. I think what I love the most is taking all the pieces to the puzzle and determining the best possible solution to any problem or idea.  In previous positions, I’ve always operated with a sort of flatness in mind, where it’s not just a “build this because we say so” process.  This mindset was something that drew me to WooCommerce and this position because we think that way here.  We take our time and make sure we are making the right decisions for our developers and merchants by gathering input from everywhere we can.  It can be a tad bit slower at times, but it’s more efficient to build the right thing once than the wrong thing multiple times. 

As far as improving the process, I would like to communicate more with our community, not just about what is coming out tomorrow, but about what our plans are for the future.  We are working to produce a public roadmap that can be used by both developers and merchants so everyone will have more insight into what we are working on and what to expect from WooCommerce. We are hoping to roll that out soon and update it often.  We are aiming for it to be a highly-utilized source for contributors, developers and merchants, and it is something I am hoping to gather feedback on, so we can continually improve upon it in the future.

Shani: You touch a lot of different development teams within WooCommerce. Would you say that developer product has a focus area and a team that drives changes?

William: One of the best pieces of advice I received when first joining WooCommerce was to look at our own internal teams as an audience. We have a lot of really talented teams that produce quality products built on top of our Platform. My goal it to unify the teams to uncover untapped resources and to better communicate directly with folks that are building on top of your product.  I don’t think there’s any one team that drives change. As we work to make our infrastructure more highly performant, for example, we open up opportunities for other teams to build bigger and better things. So while there are different teams on WooCommerce, at the end of the day, it is up to all of us working together to deliver change. I know that might sound a bit canned, but it’s true.

Shani: Since High Performance Order Storage was a project in development prior to your joining, what milestones do you hope to achieve in partnership with our developer community?

William: HPOS is the result of a massive change of thought process for WooCommerce.  We are constantly working to improve performance, but we’ve always been dedicated to backwards compatibility and the ease in which developers can extend our code and build on top of our platform.  So making a large shift in the underlying structure of our system was not a simple decision.  But a lot of research went into the initiative and now that we are in the throes of it, and it is gaining adoption, we are seeing good gains, and it was done in such a way that we are taking all aspects into account, I’m really impressed.  In terms of milestones within the community, I have so far been pleased with the feedback we have received as we have tried to make things as simple as possible to transition.  And as more and more extensions leverage the new system, I am looking forward to hearing about the experiences they have, both in performance but also in simplicity. 

Shani: What would you like the community to know about your approach to product development?

William: I’m an engineer at heart, I just found myself along the way developing a product focus that I think lends itself nicely to the role that I am in. But I believe, or hope I guess, that I bring a different perspective than a “typical” product manager would. I try to find a balance between data-driven decision-making, community feedback, merchant and developer pain points and internal perspectives.  I try to be open-minded about just about everything.

Shani: What would you like to know from the community to help us grow together?

William: Uhm, everything? Haha. I guess the one gap I see is not in what I would like to hear, because I’m open to anything, but how I might go about hearing it.  We have a lot of channels to developers, and they all work… kind of.  But I would be interested in understanding how we could improve that communication so that it feels like a mutually beneficial relationship because, at the end of the day, it needs to be so that we – WooCommerce and the devs that use it – can be successful. 

Shani: Thanks for much for this, we look forward to hearing more from you in 2023, and hope to see you as a guest at office hours in February.

Look for new posts from William on WordPress and the Developer Blog @williamcstaley or in the community slack as @william.

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