Joomlers: Jennifer Gress
Meet Jennifer Gress, a mom, a co-author of "Using Joomla!", published in 2014, and a member of the Joomla Update Working Group and Joomla User Group Teams. Read this "no holds barred" interview and see what Jenn has to say on how she became involved with Joomla as a CMS and a community; on her highlights of 2014; on her book; on why you should migrate to J!3; on the struggles of a large Joomla User Group, and on how the world totally missed the California baby boom of the 1970's.
Thank you, Jenn, for kindly agreeing to this interview for the "Joomla Community Magazine". I really appreciate it. For those JCM readers who don't know you, could you please briefly introduce yourself?
I am Jenn Gress. I'm a Joomla girl who was introduced to Joomla in 2006 while working for an employer. I did three sites for two different employers until I was laid off in 2008. Bad time to be laid off. Joomla found me again while looking for work and I did a lot of volunteering on a series of websites run by a bunch of local guys.
I learned a lot. Enough to begin building sites for clients in 2010 which I have been doing ever since. Since 2010 I've been co-organising the local JUG with James Foreman and more recently I've been helping a bit on the forums and in a few working groups for the Joomla project. I live in a beautiful and expensive area of the United States. I'm a mom of a wonderful teen (most of the time a wonderful teen).
It’s so lovely to hear that Joomla came to rescue you and your family in tough times! That’s fantastic life story. Did you possess any web-programming skills, namely CSS, PHP and MySQL, before you started your journey as a Joomla girl?
Zero web-programming skills. I've learned by reading, studying, playing, being around people with greater skills than I have, and being willing to stretch my mind. I figure I don't have to know everything. I just have to know who to call.
How do you look back at 2014? Has there been anything you are particularly happy and proud of? Anything you'd rather had not happened? Anything funny? Anything embarrassing?
2014 was a busy year. The book I co-authored was finally completed and published in June ("Using Joomla", Second Edition). It is a ton of work to write a book. Holy cow. I am proud to have completed it. I'm happy it's done. 2014 was a year filled with migrations. It's just what needed to be done.
I've migrated most of my 2.5 clients to 3 now. Just a few to go. I'll be happy when those are done that's for sure. There are always funny moments, yet nothing jumps out at me being monumentally hilarious. Embarrassing things don't happen to me. Maybe I'm playing life too safe.
Could we talk a bit about your book? I did my homework, googled you up and, sure enough, found your book on amazon.co.uk. So, ladies and gentlemen, we are talking here about "Using Joomla!" by Ron Severdia and Jennifer Gress. Lovely job, Jenn.
Renea Leathers wrote a really good book review for the Joomla! Community Magazine earlier this year about the book. My fondest hope is that the book is helping people. I love hearing that people purchased it and learned from it. It's challenging to write something for people you will never talk to.
Support for the Joomla 2.5 family of versions has officially ended. I am sure many folks in the conservative camp of J! users will look at migration and say: “Listen, my wife works for one of the largest banks in the country and they still run Windows XP. So why should I jump on the latest Joomla version right away, however secure and enhanced it may be? My site works just fine, so I am going to wait for maybe 6 months or a year and then I'll think about it.” What would you say to this?
If someone wants to wait 6-12 months to migrate to the latest release, it's a choice they can make. They should understand that no more security patches will be released from the Joomla Project and that as time goes on, third-party extension developers may or may not support their older extension versions anymore. This means that vulnerability to hacking may be increased and things may break that are more difficult and expensive to fix.
I personally think that 6 months to a year isn't that big of a deal. I'm still migrating 1.5 sites to 3 and that's been what...? - Three years behind? I like to prevent problems though. I don't like "emergency mode" when something is broken or hacked and desperately needs a fix. I try to avoid anxiety. Being on the latest version helps me to do just that.
At the top of our interview you mentioned that you helped with organising your local Joomla User Group. Could you please describe your experience? Was it easy to organise your local JUG? What were you were your JUG meetings like? Have they changed since then? If so, in what respect?
The Bay Area JUG was originally formed in June of 2007 and covers a very large geographic area of the San Francisco Bay Area. I'm not sure who originally formed it but there were two other guys running it for years (Steve and Nathan). When I joined the JUG as a member there were over 300 members of the JUG. I wasn't able to attend meetups because of my schedule but mid-2010 emails started flying around the group email distribution list about location.
Everyone wanted meetups near them (in the East Bay or South Bay or in the city (SF) or the Peninsula). To add to that nightmare the meeting location the group had consistently been using started charging for the space so there hadn't been a meetup for a few months yet the same recurring meetup announcement had been sent out to members when really the group had become inactive. People were annoyed.
James and I both (separately as we didn't know each other) contacted the existing organisers to try to help with some solutions. The idea was to form an umbrella group as the Bay Area JUG and then have sub chapters (sub groups) for different geographic areas so people could meet in San Francisco or Berkeley or San Mateo or Mountain View as smaller groups. This was difficult to implement.
Ultimately, Steve and Nathan both decided to step down as organisers due to time and being burnt out and James and I stepped in as organisers. James had been organising a North Bay JUG (north of San Francisco) and eventually we combined them into one big JUG. We also got the Bay Area JUG sanctioned and properly registered at joomla.org.
At this point we were having meetups every month in different locations all over the Bay Area with all different types of topics. The group had about 500 members now but only 50-60 were actually active. The idea of sub groups died because no one wanted to step up and organise meetups in their areas. Oh well.
Generally the first Meetup of the year is for members to talk about what topics they would like through the year. The last meetup of the year is the popular extension potluck which you can read about in this mag article. We have evening meetups monthly and try to have a number of workshops for more in-depth topics. In 2014 we had three workshops; Jen Kramer did a workshop on creating a new Joomla template using bootstrap, I did one on migration from 2.5 to 3, and James did one on template frameworks. All were very successful.
We do charge for many meetups and workshops in order to cover costs for Meetup itself, domain, food, and the space/location which is the big expense as it's very difficult (seems imposible) to find free meeting space with decent parking that isn't too expensive and close to public transport in the Bay Area.
Being involved in the JUG is fantastic and I always encourage people to get involved with their local JUGs. We thinned our group earlier this year and now have about 60 members which is a smaller but more realistic and active member base. We all know each other and have resources with each other. It's wonderful.
I'm on the JUG Team with Joomla as well. This way I can help other JUG organisers get registered and give support on running JUGs. It's very cool.
May I ask you a few questions on your personal preferences for fun? What is your favorite book?
Harry Potter series.
What is your favorite meal?
Probably salmon, rice, and courgette (zucchini) but I also am totally addicted to freshly extracted green juice. Gotta have my green juice.
What is your favorite season of the year?
Summer for sure. No school, longer days, warmer weather. Yup.
What is your favorite car?
I'm very happy with my Toyota 4runner. I've had two so far and don't really like the newer body style so don't know what I will do when it's time to replace it. Perhaps I'll just repair it and keep it forever. Probably not realistic.
Who is your favorite musical artist?
Tori Amos. She is a genius how she plays two instruments (piano and a keyboard or harpsichord) and sings at the same time. Brilliant and lovely. Been a fan for years.
What is your favorite piece of trivia?
Did you know that since the 70's the population in California has doubled? There are way too many people here. That and cost of living are a great reason to leave! The question is where to go...
I didn't know California had a baby boom in 70's! Behave, California!
It’s more people moving in I think rather than people having babies.
Fair enough. On to next one. What is your favorite joke?
I never can remember jokes so I don't know any. I generally create jokes on the fly with the sarcastic wit that runs in the family. So as long as someone else is talking and it's appropriate, I can make people laugh all day long. I often even crack myself up. ha ha!
In conclusion, what are your New Year wishes to Joomla Community Magazine readers?
Keep on reading. Whether it's the magazine or anything else, reading is a lost practice and so important. Just because "everything" is online and there is tons of video doesn't mean we shouldn't read before we take action or do something. Learning is constant and reading is a huge part of it. Read. Read. Read!