Devrims #TechTalk 028: Marcus Burnette Talks About The Role of Community & AI for WordPress

Ibtisam Bhatti

Devrims #TechTalk 028: Marcus Burnette Talks About The Role of Community & AI for WordPress

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With the launch of ChatGPT in late 2022, the biggest tech discussion in 2023 have been about the role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in our lives. This is where people like Marcus Burnette play an important role.

Marcus Burnette is a WordPress developer and designer with over 10 years of experience. He is also a passionate community member and advocate for AI in the WordPress space.

Marcus is a strong believer in the power of AI to help web designers and developers do their jobs better and faster. He is also a vocal advocate for diversity and inclusion in the tech industry. He is the brains behind WPAI Universe, a curated list of plugins and other AI resources for WordPress.

Marcus is also the creator of The WP World, a visual directory of WordPress professionals and businesses.

The noisy world of Generative AI only starts to make sense when influential individuals like Marcus invest time and effort to find out what’s real and what’s hype. His website WP AI Universe curates all the useful AI projects for WordPress and lists all the useful AI-related tutorials in a single destination.

If he is not busy at his “9-to-5” (or at a WordCamp event), you can hear him as the co-host of the Do the Woo podcast, where he talks with WooCommerce companies.

Devrims: Marcus, thanks for joining us today! To start off, can you share a bit about your background and what sparked your journey into WordPress development and design?

Marcus: Absolutely! I’ve been into design ever since my dad brought home the first digital art scanner from work when I was a kid. He took a logo that I had drawn, scanned it in, and brought it home on a floppy disk. I’m showing my age there a little bit, but suffice it to say that I’ve been working with design for a long time.

At some point in college, I wanted to be able to share my digital designs with others and the best way to do that was to learn how to put it on the web. This was before Facebook and other social media platforms made that easy to do, so I had to learn how to develop websites. With that, my love for development was born and I haven’t looked back. I still love to design things, but spend more time developing and, now, supporting those who design and develop for the web.

Devrims: How did you find the recent release of WordPress 6.3? And what are your expectations from the upcoming WordPress 6.4?

Marcus: WordPress 6.3 brought with it some much-needed enhancements to the site editor for folks who use it. I have to admit that I’m partial to a particular page builder, so the site editor upgrades didn’t affect me as much. However, the Command Palette feature has already come in handy a number of times!

The next version, 6.4, will continue the pattern (pun intended) of making blocks and the site editor even easier to use for more complex projects. I’m not sure I’m ready to abandon my page builder of choice just yet, but it is starting to feel like a more mature experience.

Devrims: You created a visual directory The WP World for the community. How did you think about it and how is the community benefiting from it?

Marcus: The site emerged from the convergence of two ideas; one professional and one personal. On the one hand, I wanted to have a project or task where I could learn a bit more about the Google Maps API. I’ve always liked maps and wanted to learn something new in the development space.

At the same time, we had several hurricanes come through or pass nearby the Central Florida area where I live. After each storm, I wanted to reach out to the folks in the storms’ paths and make sure they were okay.

I decided to put those two pieces together and create a directory of where my Florida WordPress friends lived for the next time I needed it. In doing so, though, I found that I don’t know where they all are and opening the site up to everyone to add themselves was the best way forward – and The WP World was born!

The site has helped folks connect in cities where they thought they were alone, only to find a “Presser” (as I call them) or WordPress business in the area. I, in fact, found out about a WordPress agency not 30 seconds from my house that I didn’t know existed!

Devrims: Your work is related to WordPress events and community. How important do you think the WordCamps are for the community?

Marcus: WordCamps are absolutely essential for the community! These in-person gatherings allow us to have conversations that just don’t (and in some cases can’t) happen online. They bring people together to collaborate and I’ve even seen whole companies formed out of these early WordCamp conversations. If not WordCamp, then some kind of similar in-person event like Pressnomics, but it’s critical that we meet offline regularly to grow as an industry.

Devrims:  How would you suggest a beginner to engage and participate in the WordPress community? What steps would you take if you were a beginner?

Marcus: I always recommend that beginners try to hop in where they feel most comfortable. With 20+ teams that make up the Make WordPress group, there’s something for everyone. I truly believe that.

The best place to start connecting is through the Make WordPress Slack. If you’re a developer, check out the Core and Plugins team channels. If you’re a designer or marketer, the Marketing and Social Media channels are a good place to start.

Of course, the simplest and most fun team is the WP Photo Directory team. And I’m not just saying that because I am a co-rep there 😉

Also, if you live near a meetup or WordCamp location, joining us at one of those is an incredible way to get plugged in!

Devrims: Let’s do some quick rapid fire questions:

Devrims Marcus
WCUS or WCEU WCEU (I love traveling to Europe!)
Morning Coffee or Tea Tea, but iced and with a little bit of lemon
Beach vacation or Mountain hiking Mountain hiking for sure
Gutenberg editor or Classic editor It’s a trap! (Both have their purposes…)
ChatGPT or Google Bard ChatGPT all day

Devrims: You have been working with WordPress a lot. What key elements do you look for in a Managed WordPress hosting?

Marcus: Although I’ve become an active member of the WordPress community only recently, I’ve worked with WordPress and built WordPress websites since about 2015. When I think of Managed WordPress hosting, I mostly want to know that the host is watching out for me.

That means that WordPress core and PHP versions should be updated for me. Security is top-of-mind these days, so I want my host to scan and handle any security issues – as well as backing up my site in case something happens. Support needs to be accessible and knowledgeable. Even better, I want to know that I’m not just another number, so offering something like proactive steps for how I can better succeed with my site is great!

Devrims: Tell us a bit about WPAI Universe? And how helpful is the AI directory when used with WordPress?

Marcus: As if I didn’t have enough going on with my community work for my current employer, The WP World, PlutoPoints, and Do the Woo, I decided to launch a site dedicated to AI in the WordPress space called WPAI Universe (which is a bit difficult to say aloud, in hindsight). It’s a site that was built largely using AI that provides a curated list of plugins and other AI resources for WordPress. In addition, there is also a page where I’ve collected a playlist of WordPress and AI YouTube videos.

If you’re looking for inspiration or how-to videos for using AI with WordPress, definitely check out this high-quality list of AI content.

Devrims: What are your opinions on AI capturing the market? Do you think we’re going to lose our jobs?

Marcus: This seems to be the question of the moment, doesn’t it? I think the addition of AI in the market is a huge boost for us web designers and developers. Much of the code in The WP World and WPAI Universe was initially written by ChatGPT. Of course, as a developer I know what I’m looking at and am able to fine-tune the results to make it do exactly what I was looking for. Nevertheless, it’s dramatically decreased the amount of time it has taken to create these two sites.

As someone once said, and I often remind others, “accountants weren’t replaced when spreadsheets were invented, only accountants who don’t use spreadsheets.” Likewise, it will be the people who don’t embrace AI as a tool to help them with their work that will fall behind and ultimately lose their jobs.

Devrims: Can we have a peek at your workspace? 

Marcus: Thankfully, I just cleaned this up a short bit ago! The space suits me well to have lots of meetings, record podcast episodes, keep communication tools on the vertical monitor, and get the occasional design and development project done.

Devrims: Tell us a bit about your experience with podcasts. If you have to choose between Do the Woo and The HeadingTwo WP Podcast, which one would you choose?

Marcus: Well, The HeadingTwo WP Podcast was a fun podcast that I really enjoyed doing with my buddy, TJ Rogers. For a number of reasons, we haven’t been able to record any more of those in quite some time.

Do the Woo, however, is one that I get to be involved with on a monthly basis, thanks to Bob Dunn (aka BobWP) and my current co-host, Katie Keith from Barn2. We talk about business with WooCommerce companies and get to share a peek behind the scenes with listeners who may be in similar parts of their WordPress journey.

Devrims: Lastly, who would you like us to interview next? Name two people that had an influence on your journey.

Marcus: There have been quite a number of folks along my journey that would be great to interview – many of which I see you’ve already been able to publish on the site! If I had to choose two that I think you should reach out to because I think they’d provide some great insight, I’d say Michelle Frechette (StellarWP) and Winstina Hughes (Support Inclusion in Tech).

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