An Interview with David Needham, Developer Advocate, WordPress Trainer, & Public Speaker

David Needham

David Needham, A Developer Advocate at Pantheon is with us today for an exclusive interview so without further ado, let’s hear it from the man himself.

WPJuicer: Hi David, thank you so much for taking out time for this interview. Could you please tell our readers about yourself and your journey before stepping into WordPress? How did you start your career?

David: It’s a pleasure to be here! ! I built my first WordPress site almost 15 years ago when I was in college. I was working on a Multimedia degree with a focus in Web Development and WordPress was a natural introduction to open source content management systems (CMS). I eventually started focusing on the Drupal CMS, which is what led me to presenting at my first conference and landing my first job in the real world. I didn’t get back into WordPress site-building and development until I co-founded a small nonprofit agency specializing in online marketing for churches and nonprofits. Nowadays I’m a Developer Advocate at Pantheon, which is a WebOps platform for Drupal and WordPress sites. 

WPJuicer: It sounds like you’ve spent a fair bit of time in both the Drupal and WordPress communities over the years. What have you noticed?

David: Both communities are filled with friendly people who are committed to helping people feel welcome and at home. If you want to hear more about this you may want to check out my talk from WordCamp EU 2018: Intro to Drupal for WordPress Folks.

WPJuicer: Are you saying that you gave a talk about Drupal at a WordPress conference? That’s bold. Were you nervous?

David: 😅Yeah! But I focused on inclusiveness and encouraged folks to feel comfortable getting outside of the WordPress bubble and meeting folks in other open-source projects. There are so many nice people out there (probably already in your local community) with experience and ideas that can help breathe fresh new ideas into WordPress.

WPJuicer: What should readers know about all the stuff you’re doing in WordPress these days?

David: I don’t do as much coding as I used to, but you may find me at your local WordCamp, where I’ve been known to talk about visual regression testing, public speaking, and a smattering of other things. I also help organize WordCampUS and a few other camps throughout the year.

WPJuicer: What challenges did you face in getting to where you are now professionally?

David: My challenges can be summed up with “you don’t know what you don’t know” combined with analysis paralysis. There are so many ways to do the same thing; how do I know that this is the right way? Do I need a plugin for this? And there are so many plugins that sound like they will work… which one is best? 

WPJuicer: I think we’ve all dealt with that. Any tips for working through it?

Mentors have always been my shortcut to success and I recommend that everyone has at least one. The best way to find a mentor is by getting involved with your local community. Don’t have a local WordPress community? No problem. There may be other groups or online communities you can get plugged into or watch presentations from WordPress (or recordings on WordPress.TV).

WPJuicer: Speaking of camps, can you tell us how WordCamps help the WordPress community? How does speaking at WordCamps help your career?

David: WordCamps help spread the wealth of knowledge around the community, encourage people to ask questions, and be inspired to try new things. 

And the good news is that every one of your readers has a topic they could present on. They may not realize it yet, but anyone can share a story about how they got started or overcame some problem.. My first conference presentation was literally just showing what I had done for the first time two months prior. I started my talk at WordCampEU 2019 by telling the story of how I broke a website and wasted hours when I should have used Git bisect. Just tell a story and share what you’ve learned.

WPJuicer: What are your perspectives on the future of WordPress? Do you think that the WordPress market will keep on growing? What is that one feature that you would love to see in WordPress?

David: That’s a tricky question. To keep growing we have to stay ahead of the curve. We have to keep thinking about what “democratize publishing” will look like for the average person 20 years from now. Today, WordPress is so much more than blogging… but what’s next?

This is sort of like “you don’t know what you don’t know” but from the other side of things. I won’t know what feature I can’t live without until I hear about it. There’s probably a great book or documentary that talks about the role science fiction plays in inspiring people. It paints a picture of a future far and above what we have today, which motivates people to try new things. We need something like that for WordPress.

WPJuicer: REST API is the fastest way to interact with backend data of web applications. How do you think REST API are helping developers in rapid application development?

David: Frankly speaking, I don’t have a lot of experience using the REST API with WordPress, but I know that it’s been a leg up for the Drupal community for some time. When you’re working with big data, or needing the flexibility of a decoupled website, or interacting with data on other platforms… you just need something like the REST API.

WPJuicer: How do you see the future of Drupal? Will it be able to carve a niche for itself in the CMS competition?

David: While WordPress’s motto is “democratize publishing” Drupal’s motto is “ambitious digital experiences”. Drupal has complex data structures and object-oriented programming to give it a significant advantage for those complex “ambitious” projects funded by large enterprise customers. As far as niches go, it seems like a pretty good place to be at with plenty of growth potential.

WPJuicer: What do you think about the performance, speed, and security offered by Pantheon?

David: I didn’t realize we were playing softball, but I’ll take it! 😉 

Remember that non-profit agency I mentioned co-founding? Our team was sensitive to the bottom line so we spent years doing all of our hosting and developer workflows in-house. Back then it seemed like Pantheon was going to cost us more, but then we factored in the time we spent doing things that Pantheon automated (and with far superior results). It quickly became clear that we earned more income throughout the lifecycle of the projects by using Pantheon.

Consider checking out one of Pantheon’s weekly live demos to get a better look at it yourself or ping me directly with questions:

WPJuicer: We have talked too much about your professional life. Let’s tell our readers about your hobbies and interests. What does David do other than work?

David: My family gets the majority of my time away from work and we’re having fun adjusting to online school this year with lots of learning at home. 

David Family

We like to play board games and D&D, but I’ve been having a lot of fun running Jackbox games online with friends and at the Pantheon booth for virtual events. 

I also help with a WWII documentary named The Girl Who Wore Freedom where we tell the stories of veterans and the love and appreciation that the people of Normandy have for them. Be sure to check out the trailer on the website!


WPJuicer: Any other thoughts or things you wish to mention?

David: If you want to stay in touch you can follow me on Twitter @davidneedham and subscribe to get updated on my website If you want to learn more about Drupal you can sign up for our free Getting Started with Drupal workshop on September 11th and December 11th, 2020.

See you around the community! 👋

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