The NPR Of All Things Gutenberg – And Interview With Birgit Pauli-Haack

Birgit Pauli-Haack Portrain

One of the most gifted and dedicated people in all of WordPressLand is Birgit Pauli-Haack. I met Birgit several years ago on Twitter and managed to strike up a friendship. In 2019 we finally met at WordCamps Boston and New York.

Her contributions and enthusiasm about Gutenberg and the WordPress Project are boundless. I can’t imagine her saying no to anything. Last year when I suggested doing a webinar on the issues of teaching Gutenberg as part of a series she did under the Gutenberg Times umbrella, she did not say no.

Every Saturday she sends forth her Gutenberg Times which is the must read newsletter to keep up with the ever-changing block editor. You can also subscribe to her Gutenberg Changelog podcast where she holds forth with Mark Uraine, lead developer of Gutenberg Phase 2.

She’s made me smile because her Gutenberg Times newsletters ends with this:

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Why Subscribe?

Nobody, and I mean nobody does a better job keeping the WordPress community informed about the progress of Gutenberg than Birgit Pauli-Haack with her Gutenberg Times. Thank you Birgit. Your Saturday morning newsletter is a must read.

I have no idea when or if Birgit ever sleeps.

Here’s my little chat with Birgit

Me: Everyone who is as involved in the WordPress community as you has a WordPress story. What’s yours? How did you come to WordPress?

Birgit: In 2009, as the president of our local Free-Net, I was researching CMS for our 40+ nonprofit organizations hosted on our servers. I tested about 20 CMSs, read their documentation and talked to hosting companies. WordPress was the final choice. The next summer, we migrated all organizations using weekly migration workshops. And that set the stage for lots of learning — about how users work with WordPress and about all kinds of different plugins and themes.

Me: You’re the founder and CEO of Pauli Systems. What does your company do and how do you do it? Are you a marketing company, do you develop sites or both? Where are you located?

Birgit: Pauli Systems was founded in 2002 in Naples, Florida. We started out as an IT consulting company, helping organizations with their office organization, databases, reporting, membership, backups, networks and their websites. We built our own CMS, taking care of the various aspects for organizations using the cloud and working with remote leaders. No one called it that back then, but that’s what practically happened.

We also implemented and managed a Homeless Management Information System in collaboration with 10 organizations, Collier County and HUD. It is basically a case management system for organizations that provide emergency services and housing to at-risk populations. Our team members worked as project managers, compliance officers and report developers. We wrote SPOs and recruited organizations to join and schedule training.

We also built a customized news site for an Aviation News outlet. We built a back-end admin interface for daily podcasts and video upload functionality. We also became their SysOps & tech strategists.

After those contracts ended and the recession hit, we became a one-stop shop for online marketing services with blogging, social media and website development. For about 8 years, we had quite a few writers working for us. That was also the time we migrated away from our own CMS and custom-development and started working with WordPress for all our new sites.

A couple years ago, our business slightly changed again. We became a 100% distributed company and we started shifting our focus. Most of our new customers request more SysOps contracts on cloud servers, Software and Platform as a Service integration, WordPress maintenance and custom development, and CiviCRM implementations. CiviCRM is an open-source nonprofits backend for operations for donors, events, membership and email marketing on top of WordPress.

Me: I see you do a lot of work with nonprofits. Do you have a niche and why nonprofits?

Birgit: Consulting with the local HMIS and working with organizations providing emergency services for the less fortunate struck a chord with me. I founded a Tech4Good club, and got involved nationally with NTEN and Techsoup. Both organizations support local peer-to-peer learning groups for nonprofit technology. It’s where I belong as a community organizer and educator. Building online solutions for nonprofits’ operational, marketing and service delivery issues seems to be a natural progression.

Me: I met you on Twitter a few years ago when you were getting the Gutenberg Times off the ground. Was that your idea? You were so early to publishing information on Gutenberg.

Birgit: Matt Mullenweg showed a preview video of the block editor at WordCamp Europe 2017 in Paris where he announced that the feature plugin was now available for people to try. I was hooked immediately. A fresh approach to editing content in WordPress. A new era began.

I followed all the developers and designers involved and read everything and anything people would write about it. I experimented with it and published with it. It started on Storify, but soon we needed to migrate to our own website, and Gutenberg was born. I am very grateful for the extraordinary support Pantheon provided to the Gutenberg Times for the first six months to get the word out to collaborate with their Gutenberg webinar series in 2018.

My gratitude to the developers of Gutenberg is infinite. They have been very supportive of my work and took part in the first series of Live Q & As. They are always available when I have questions. Many of them became very good friends, and I hope to see some of them again at WordCamps around the world.

Me: Then you got into podcasting with Mark Uraine. What’s that all about and where can anyone subscribe to it?

Birgit: After a series of Live Q & As, I was again marveling about the vast amount of news, discussion and development that was happening around the second phase of Gutenberg. I empathize with developers, designers, and site builders to keep their businesses going, and also keep up with all the new features and APIs that are going to be part of the future of WordPress. Every other week, there is a new Gutenberg plugin update with a mile-long list of changes to the block editor.

If a WordPress professional could just listen from their car for 30 minutes or during a workout, they wouldn’t need to be in front of their computers to get the headlines and details. If they hear something relevant to their work, they have a place to start their research and come back to it when they are back at the computer.

It didn’t take long to convince Mark Uraine to be my co-host of the Gutenberg Changelog podcast. Mark is the design lead of Gutenberg Phase 2, and author of regular updates on the make design blog.

Every other Wednesday, the core team releases a new version of the Gutenberg plugin. Mark and I record on Friday evening, and publish on Saturday evening. We try to keep that rhythm, but sometimes we are traveling, or a release is pushed, or there are two releases in two weeks.

We have five sections: We talk about the current week’s plugin release. We review the new features and enhancements, and also touch upon bug fixes, new APIs and some of the Documentation updates. Mark and I select line items and discuss what we find to be newsworthy. We include Announcements, Listener Questions, and we talk about what caught our attention in the community–be it a plugin, a blog post, or a new service.

Mark Uraine is a fantastic co-host and we enjoy working together every other week. After our 8th episode, we finally met in person and had breakfast before Contributor Day at WordCamp US in St. Louis last year.

We are very grateful for all our listeners and they are spreading the word, most recently during the WPBlockTalk when listeners mentioned us on the Live Chat and Ellen Bauer mentioned it on one of her slides. That weekend, people would binge listen to all the episodes. We just published the 18th episode and are coming up on 4,000 downloads.

Me: I really admire your commitment to the WordPress community. This year it’s been really hard to stay together. WordCamps and MeetUps have moved to online events. Have you been doing anything to facilitate that move?

Birgit: You are too kind! But look who’s talking! Your dedication to the WordPress community doesn’t seem to know any boundaries.

Yes, you are right. March was a very sad month when more than 34 WordCamp organizer teams needed to make the hard choice and cancel their WordCamps because of the coronavirus global pandemic. All deputies on the community team were busy working with the organizers through the cancellation process.

At the same time we fielded a lot of questions from the Meetup organizer as to how they can go virtual. I worked on the first version of the Handbook page about virtual events for Meetup organizers. For the first virtual WordCamp San Antonio, I joined the website for the last week to work on the live stream pages with the meta-wordcamp team and the lead organizer. I also joined both days as a back-up moderator. Locally we just had our own virtual meetup and it was good to see everyone and we had some great fun!

I was also the program lead for WPBlockTalk, a conference for developers and designers to take a deep dive into Gutenberg, with case studies and presentations from the team who built Gutenberg. Also early adopters in the Community: plugin developers, and Theme builders talked about their work and their experience. The talks are now available on WordPress TV. I highly recommend them to anyone who wants to catch up on Gutenberg Phase 2.

Me: Did I leave anything out? You’re always doing something and I can’t keep up with you.

Birgit: Funny you should ask…. For the second year in a row, I have been working with Zac Gordon on the JavaScript for WordPress conference as a sponsor liaison in the community. The conference is July 8 – 10, 2020. It goes for three days including one-day workshops for React and WordPress. The second day is an all-day talk about Headless WordPress, and the third day is all about Gutenberg development and themes. A call for sponsors has been out for a while, and just this week we posted the call for speakers.

This week, I started a 30-day Challenge: Post a new article per day or update an existing article of the End User Documentation. I am telling you and your readers about it so you can hold me accountable.

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