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Press This Podcast: How WordPress is Helping People Get Back to Work with Jason Cooksey & Miles Sebesta

Press This Podcast: How WordPress is Helping People Get Back to Work with Jason Cooksey & Miles Sebesta

Welcome to Press This, the WordPress community podcast from WMR. Here host David Vogelpohl sits down with guests from around the community to talk about the biggest issues facing WordPress developers. The following is a transcription of the original recording.

David Vogelpohl: Hello everyone and welcome to Press This the WordPress community podcasts on WMR. This is your host, David Vogelpohl, I support the WordPress community through my role at WP Engine, and I love to bring the best of the community to you hear every week on press this as a reminder, you can find me on Twitter @wpdavidv, or you can subscribe to press this on iTunes, iHeartRadio, Spotify, or download the latest episodes at This episode we’re gonna talk about how WordPress is helping people get back to work. We have a pandemic and the lockdown. And joining us for that conversation we have Jason Cooksey and Miles Sebesta of bitwise Jason welcome to Press This.

Jason Cooksey: How’s it going, thanks for having us.

DV: So glad to have you here, Miles welcome as well.

Miles Sebesta: Thank you. Thank you. Thanks for having us.

DV: Fantastic. Well, as I mentioned, we’re going to be talking about project a bit wise Industries has done around their project to bring onward ca online as part of the overarching onward, UW initiative, we’ll talk about all that here in a minute, really the point of all that is to help the millions of Americans workers displaced by COVID-19 back to work as quickly as possible. Jason and Miles and Bitwise industries helping out with the efforts there in California and using WordPress for that so I’m really interested to hear that project. I asked this question of every guest Jason and Miles and he made the short version because there’s two y’all. Tell me about your WordPress origin story what was the first time you used WordPress and Jason your first on my list, I’m just going to go with you.

JC: I first use WordPress back when it had wagon wheels for layout, actually my first WordPress experience was was pretty terrible. It took me a few years to fully understand and comprehend it. I don’t know, maybe I’m not a smart man, but it. It’s definitely grown and improved since the first first day I use it and it was, it was a client request that’s, that’s how quick it started

DV: client requests that’ll definitely get you into WordPress alright Miles you’re at briefly tell me your WordPress origin story.

MS: Yeah, I started using WordPress maybe about 10 years ago. So I had recently graduated college and started a company. And at that time, the company I was working for were no PHP, creating everything from scratch over and over again. Eventually we got a client that had a Joomla website, and my task was to edit it, and remember editing it and just thinking, Man, I’m not trying to throw any shade at Joomla, I just remember thinking, wow there’s got to be like a, an easier way to do this, and then also the same thing when it came to kind of programming, a product over and over again from scratch and just felt like that we were reinventing the wheel. So I eventually had another client come to the come to the company and they wanted WordPress. So we took a look at it and I instantly fell in love because it just sort of made sense to me were pages or pages and posts or posts. And I think that was around the time that custom posts might have been coming out, but it was just from then on WordPress has kind of been my jam when it comes to the library and just the community.

DV: So, I was gonna ask you about custom post types. You’re right. They came out in 2010 so if it was 10 years ago that would have been a little bit before I guess when that project landed on your door, but obviously a big moment in WordPress history is it became more of like a CMS if you will definitely remember days, running teams with everything hand coded so I share that transition. And I’m not sure which of us best to answer this question, but I was wondering if you could briefly tell me about bitwise industries like What do y’all do.

JC: The official response is we are a tech ecosystem. Really though we we just want to create jobs in the tech sector for folks who have traditionally been underrepresented folks and underdog cities are trying to make a place at the table for them and if we can’t do that, we’re stretching the table out ourselves.

DV: That’s awesome. That sounds like a wonderful mission, glad to hear that that’s what y’all are all about that’s that’s incredible and obviously very well fit for this project. So my next question like just to orient folks who talked a little bit about the project kind of getting on and your general mission, you just stated is to kind of get folks back to work, but what is onward, us, you’ve mentioned that kind of leading up to this and then what is its connection to onward ca like what is all that event.

MS: Yeah so honored us, is kind of the parent initiative where it’s a it’s a platform that we’ve created to get states online when it comes to having access for the individuals and citizens in that state, or the residents in that state, access to different types of needs when it comes to resources for example trying to find. Let’s say a shelter to stay the night app, or to find internships and opportunities to learn something new or applying for new jobs so the onboard us is kind of the umbrella. So we have onward ca onward And that’s just one of the states, we have multiple states were using this same platform with kind of the same solution to provide resources to citizens and residents in those different states so onward us is kind of the umbrella organization and then we have on org main on word co on or, CA, just a list of states that were providing this resource to for the government county level.

DV: Gotcha. And for clarity like how we understand like the wise industries that company name we also have honored us like what’s the connection there the more organizations involved or me understand that connection.

MS: Yeah so, it was in Bitwise Industries. This is our initiative to create on our platform. And so really the developers from bitwise consulting are the ones that created the onward and onward initiative so it’s just sort of a parent, or bitwise is the parent brainchild I guess you can say when it comes to honored us and honored ca.

DV: Awesome, so did onward come to be in response to the pandemic or was that in the lockdowns or Was this something you had worked on prior.

JC: Yeah, when, when the pandemic was officially recognized, and the country went into shelter in place last year in March a huge part of the nation’s workforce just didn’t have a job any longer. And so it was a response to those workers displaced by the pandemic all over the country. They didn’t know where to start to get help and governments at the state and county level weren’t really fully prepared to provide those answers. So, this was a response to that needs to be brought all the resources of the state and counties had to offer help them organize it into kind of a one stop clearinghouse of information.

DV: Yeah I know a lot of people were scrambling when that hit in a lot of areas and restaurants by sake of example we’re scrambling to figure out how to operationalize there isn’t as in a digital first world you know online ordering curbside. And, you know, I mean, I guess I don’t have that direct experience per se but just seeing that from the employment and like state resources perspective for folks like super super super in need. I would imagine that was a big deal. Obviously as well. Why did you think WordPress was a good answer for these challenges.

MS: So for us, we knew that we needed to stand something up quickly. And we have a lot of really talented individuals and professionals when it comes to to WordPress, and then also we’re actually integrating with Salesforce, so this build that we have is talking to Salesforce, where we’re pulling the data. And really we just have had the luck, and, of having a team with some a plethora of experience in different in Salesforce and WordPress. In organization and design, and it just sort of felt right. It felt like this is something that we can spin up really quickly and we knew that the way we were going to do this is that we’re going to create an MVP. And we’re going to just iterate through it. So, really, from the concept to the first MVP version. It took us about two weeks, we had a two week period to get this thing off the ground, and that included, getting people and gathering people to do the basic content data entry. We had hundreds of people working on just gathering resources from these different states, let alone, building the platform. And for us, it just felt like a natural fit when it came to WordPress. Because we have just a lot of talent and experience using that and so it just, it just naturally felt in place that way.

DV: Yeah, that velocity is such a strength that WordPress, you know, being able to stand something up quickly the fact that you know and I know y’all had the talent in house. But there is, you know, there’s also the side of it we’re looking, there’s also a lot of people to hire and a lot of agencies to hire. And so, you know, it does provide the scent like super fast path for for folks in a pinch. I mentioned the restaurant scenario earlier had a friend that built the platform in a hurry to support in restaurants with WordPress, also at the start of the pandemic. It’s so interesting to see it being used in multiple use cases. I do want to dig a little bit more into like the build and the why and like how how the states use it and so on and so forth. We’re gonna take a quick break. We’ll be right back. Time to plug into a commercial break.

DV: everyone and welcome back to press this WordPress community podcast on w EMR. This is your host David Vogel Paul, I’m in the middle of my interview with Jason Cooksey and Myles avesta about their project onward us helping the folks in the US affected by the COVID-19 in the lockdown. Get back to work. Jason and miles before the break, we were talking a little bit about like why you decided to choose WordPress for this application you shared a little bit like look we have that we had the talent kind of a that was kind of part of your kind of focus already you had developers that were able to work within it, but it also allowed you like incredible velocity, said you got it done in a matter of weeks, how, like I mean I get with WordPress but like what was the, how did you execute that quickly. Jesus. Are you are you like like Tell me. Let me ask it a different way like did you did you spec it out on the go and then just kind of went like in a very very super agile way. Did you, did you were you going the other way very purposeful about what you were going to build into that helped you move quickly like helped me understand that

MS: I think for us. It was kind of built in a very agile way were, we had so many people just jumping in and doing what needed to be done. I think that one thing that really, we have to remember is that, when all this was happening, it was, we were in lockdown. I mean, the groceries where you could go to a grocery store and you couldn’t find anything, and there’s just a lot of pent up, energy, and fortunately for us. Our organization has just built a amazing culture and a bunch of people that say Yes we can, like we can do this. And it was a combination of really just having talent super talented designers, project managers Salesforce individuals just. Everyone who really has had their whole career, leading up to this moment. And it felt like at the time. We have to respond. There’s, there’s nothing else we can do and what we’re gonna do we can’t go out. We’re stuck in our house right so so really it was just for me I feel like the same amount velocity was is the feeling that the world around us is not right. It’s changing, and we have some talent, to be able to do this. So let’s do something about it. And everyone just kind of putting their heads down and and working as fast as they can, as hard as they can. I think it really was just, if we didn’t have the people already there and the culture already there, where everyone’s got each other’s back and our job is to help the world. We wouldn’t have been able to pull it off in the same amount of time that we did.

DV: Hey Jason What is your take on how you were able to do so quickly.

JC: Yeah, I just, you know, second what miles was saying, like we, we had already an amazing team of folks from marketing design project management, even data entry we hired, I think over 300 people, specifically for for scraping and just finding the information that we needed to provide to those folks that were in need. And then of course the development. And as Michael says the bitwise culture, put me in coach, made it happen so quickly and so successfully there were there were a lot of all nighters trying to stand this up and I should mention our coworker Brian Cadbury, he was actually the person that built the first draft of the site. And he did it in a way that was super smart, rather than using WordPress multi sites we’re actually using a custom post type and custom meta field options to set the design of each site instance. So we basically match the HTTP POST hosted determine and set the WP site URL, which allows us to launch domains way fast without having to reconfigure the site.

DV: what is specific advantages, you feel you’re getting with that approach versus multi site.

MS: For us, it’s really rather than having to duplicate a lot of work with the way we have it set up with the custom custom meta fields that we have it really boiled down to about 20 different options color options, where we’re pointing it text, and in everything else. And so with that, it just really simplifies it simplifies standing up a new site in a way that I think with a multi site. It is nice it is simple, but it was just, it wasn’t moving fast enough, it was again is like about that velocity that you were talking about. And so for us this is custom post type kind of integration that isn’t normally seen or normally used really was beneficial, and in allowing us to maintain that philosophy.

DV: What kind of entities would like warrant a new version of onward us to be sped up are the only states are you doing other kinds of new municipalities.

MS: Yes, so we’re actually currently working on and having another commercial instance of this. So, cities, counties, rather than from the state level anyone who needs a platform to be able to provide a lot of resources to an individual. So that’s definitely something that we’re working on. We’ve also been doing it for commercially for businesses. For example, if a business wants to create a jobs board, rather than using some other traditional or other method. They have the opportunity to create a jobs board where they can have people in other organizations lists jobs for example we have an organization that we’re working with that they wanted to create a, an internship platform, and they wanted it to be specifically for people and individuals who are minority, and they wanted one site that can have minority friendly internships being posted by companies that are really forward thinking and wanting to get more individuals into their organization. So it just depends on on what they’re wanting to do. It’s just a way to create a platform where if they want to list jobs if they want to list any sort of resources. We can do that.

DV: How do you explain what onward us does to your elderly relatives, give me this simple version.

JC: That’s a good question. I have had to do a number of times. I think it comes down to a it’s a collection of information. That wouldn’t normally be available. And in a one location like it is. We we work really hard and work with a lot of organizations to bring this information together in one place, and make it easy for the end user to find everything that they need if they’re if they’ve been affected by the pandemic. I guess the best thing I can do with that.

DV: And I think it’s so great you know when I, when I asked y’all earlier like what, you know, how’d you get it done so fast and I was expecting, only to hear like architectural or like workflow responses but you really kind of hit home that you know hey look you’re kind of built for this in a way but but also that purpose. It sounded like driving you to help others. And it kind of reminded me a little bit of the movie The Blind Side where Sandra Bullock’s character discovers how to get Michael or motivated with the kind of, you know, tie into that protective nature that he had Lisa they illustrated in the movie and it was like, as I heard you talk about like, we thought we had to do something and it reminded me a lot of that, that idea that you know folks are motivated often more to help others. Then perhaps to help themselves. So it’s really kind of interesting to hear you, you talk about that I was also surprised to hear you activated I think you said 300 people to help pull the resources together to make available for folks and I get that right.

JC: Yeah, yeah, I think that’s correct.

DV: Wow. Well that’s incredible. And to take action like that and not just posting on Facebook that’s it those affected by the pandemic. It’s really good to hear that in a material way and it’s really encouraging to hear you know how WordPress played a role in that. I have some more questions about this, but we’re gonna take a quick break and we’ll be right back.

DV: Everyone and welcome back to Press This the WordPress community podcasts on WMR This is your host David Vogelpohl, talking with Jason and Miles about the onward us platform. Essentially they built to help people find resources and employment. During the lockdown and the pandemic. Before the break. Jason was talking a little bit about how many people you’d activated and pulled together these resources for people in need. We talked a little bit about how you know that that kind of sense of purpose was what was driving you early on, especially, helping you get this out in a relatively short period of time. You mentioned to me I think you mentioned even earlier here that you had that you can pivot the onward platform from COVID response into, like, you kind of referenced it earlier as like a dynamic matching platform. And you kind of touched on that I felt a little bit, but maybe you could explain more about what you mean there and like how that might work.

MS: the integration between Salesforce and WordPress. And we have created this system in this platform that allows us to kind of use WordPress and connect and sail with Salesforce, and we’ve developed a middleware, essentially, where the Salesforce side we can do a really cool wizardry to find out how to match individuals based upon certain preferences. Let’s say if they’re looking for a job in a certain zip code or another instance that we have that is kind of same type of idea as the onward and onward matching system is this website that we have which is popped up now. So pot up now is built on sort of the same principles of connecting WordPress and Salesforce together, where families can go on there, they can put their preferences in the sense of like, how do they, how do they view the pandemic How do they, how did the their family currently respond to it. Are they okay with meeting outside. What type of like masks all sorts of just quality of life and how they live life. And based on those answers, they can find individuals and be matched with individuals that have the same idea so basically they can create a pod together to be able to write out this pandemic that we’ve been going through COVID-19. So, it’s really his platform, this dynamic matching system is a way for us to be able to pair. Individuals with any type of resource that they need.

DV: So like when I think of Salesforce and pardon my ignorance, but I imagine someone fills out a lead form it gets into a salespersons hand, they turn it from a lead to an opportunity and eventually close it so help me understand like how you’re using it in this, in the onward sensor just the kind of platform since like you’re just referencing like in terms of like individuals and preference matching and things like that.

MS: Yeah, so Salesforce is super robust and I know that’s a common misconception with Salesforce is that it only is for sales leads. Really, it’s matured in a way where it’s a giant database and a giant place to, to store lots of data. And we have access to really talented individuals that can come up with the data scheme that’s necessary for, for them to put in any type of information to build out a Salesforce classic Salesforce platform that just makes sense. And it’s, you can expand it beyond just. There’s a sales cut there there’s an opportunity coming in to sales. And then, you know, pose it out like you said, all sorts of REST API endpoints that you can point to just do some really interesting things. And it but it does take that sort of, you have to step back from it and you have to look at Salesforce as a different way as, as this is a place to put a data set, and it’s a place for us to be able to edit the data. And just rely on the individuals in the Salesforce side to to construct it that way.

DV: It’s gonna say you inherit the maintenance from Salesforce you inherit all the tools around it. It’s kind of basically your user profile system if you will. Why didn’t you use with it were those the reasons why you didn’t use more like the native WordPress user component,

MS: yeah for us we. When it comes to the data, and I guess your question is probably more so on the, on the user, are we are we talking about like on the Salesforce side you have a record with an individual who could have, you know, had that record live and WordPress.

DV: Was it the reasons I had mentioned around all the capabilities of Salesforce with identity metadata and things like that is that is that fundamentally why you chose to do it there versus say in WordPress itself.

MS: So we have the some of the user data that we have on these platforms do actually live in WordPress, but we’re using API calls to push that data into Salesforce as well so it’s kind of it’s it’s a bi synchronous sort of flux and it’s the best of both worlds.

DV: I love it. Well this has been very interesting. Thank you all so much for walking me through this very interesting project and I’m glad to hear you all are doing some good in the world, but thank you for joining today Jason,

JC: thanks for having us.

DV: Awesome, thank you too, Miles.

MS: Thank you so much.

DV: Awesome. If you’d like to learn more about what Jason and Miles are up to you can visit or check out, Again, this has been your host David Vogelpohl I support the WordPress community through my role at WP Engine, and I love to bring the best of the community to you here every week on Press This.

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