Introducing Reed Gustow
Reed Gustow is active in his local WordPress community. A local meetup organizer and former WordCamp organizer, Reed has been building websites and teaching WordPress for a long while now. Reed calls Philadelphia home.
Tara: This is Hallway Chats, where we meet people who use WordPress.
Liam: We ask questions, and our guests share their stories, ideas, and perspectives.
Tara: And now the conversation begins. This is episode 109.
Tara: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Tara Claeys.
Liam: And I’m Liam Dempsey. Today we’re joined by Reed Gustow.
Liam: Welcome to Hallway Chat. I’m Liam Dempsey.
Tara: And I’m Tara Claeys. Today we’re joined by Reed Gustow. Reed is active in his local WordPress community. A local meetup organizer and former WordCamp organizer, Reed has been building websites and teaching WordPress for a long while now. Reed calls Philadelphia home. Welcome, Reed. We’re glad you’re here today. Thanks for joining us.
Reed: Hello, Tara. Hello, Liam.
Liam: Hey, Reed. Thanks for joining us. Great to see you again, old friend. Tell us a little bit more about yourself beyond what Tara shared, please.
Reed: Well, I’m a lifelong Philadelphian although I went to school in New York. Went to NYU. I did live in Boston for a couple of years, but it’s not anywhere near as good as Philadelphia. I mean that sincerely. It’s not being facetious.
For most of my life, I worked for the American Red Cross Blood Services. Blood donation is still something that’s very important to me. I helped organize blood drives at my co-working space in the hall, which works with National Mechanics to do blood drives three times a year. That’s something that’s not WordPress, but very important to me. I retired about eight years ago from the Red Cross, and I’ve been mostly doing WordPress since then, and lately into photography.
Liam: Reed, you and I have known each other a few years through our Philadelphia WordPress community.
Liam: I think I described you at one point by saying, “There’s nobody in Philadelphia who has a computer who doesn’t know Reed.” You are very, very active, not just in the WordPress community, but also, as you noted, in your local meetup and other tech communities. Would you share a little bit about the other communities that you engage with and support and take part of?
Reed: Sure. That was a very flattering and grossly exaggerated statement, but I’ll take it. Well, for a long time, until last December, I was on the board of the Philadelphia Area New Media Association – PANMA. PANMA is an organization that’s been around since 1996 that serves to connect people in the digital development community – anyone who works with websites. That has grown to be so pervasive and ubiquitous that it encompasses many, many fields. That was not the case seven years ago. I was on the board. I was the treasurer, and I helped plan events and scope out the way we would operate. That was something I spent a lot of time with.
I’m also was still on the board of the Philadelphia Area Computer Society, which is an old fashioned user group that started in 1976 when people were making computers such as they were with kits and soldering irons, and that kind of thing. Very old school. It’s kind of faded out over the years. User groups used to be about the only way that people who are not experts in the field could gain expertise and share information. But since the internet has become the way we all live, their utility has markedly decreased their usefulness, and so has the numbers of the organization. But it’s still fun. I was presenting on WordPress there for several years.
I also go to BarCamp every year and I do sessions on WordCamp. If someone’s not familiar with BarCamp, it’s a classic conference where you know the date and the venue but you don’t know who’s going to talk about what till you get there.
Tara: So how did you get started as an organizer? I know you’ve been really involved in the community there.
Reed: Well, when the WordPress Meetup started in 2010, and that was I think started by Brad Williams and Doug Stewart, I went because I was still pretty new to WordPress at that point and it was a great way to learn about it. I went and made a presentation or two and thought it would be nice if I could help out because those two fellows were having to organize everything. I asked, “Do you need other people?” And they did. One thing led to another and I just stayed with it.
Liam: So you’re still running the meetup in Philadelphia?
Reed: Running is…I mean, there’s six of us.
Liam: With a number of people.
Liam: Not the Reed Gustow show. I appreciate.
Reed: No, it is not. But, yeah I am.
Liam: That’s a long-running meetup, and you’ve been involved with that for a long time.
Reed: Yeah. It’s a very good meetup. We get a great selection of people. Most of the presentations are not done by the co-organizers, which I think is very important so it doesn’t become the Reed and Susan and Brad show. Most of them come from the attendees’ great selection of difficulty range of topics from design, SEO code, everything else. We like to be able to do that. We run it 12 months a year. Of course, in December we have a happy hour instead of a formal meeting. It’s always fun.
Tara: I recognize you because you walk around WordCamps with a camera oftentimes. Are you a photographer? Is that your hobby? Is that something that you’ve done as a profession? Tell us a little bit about your photography skills.
Reed: I’ve been taking pictures since I was probably 16, which is a very long time. But I’ve only gotten serious about it – serious, as in taking courses and learning how all those settings in the cameras work at a much deeper level – for the last year or so. I’ve taken, oh, God knows how many thousand pictures of various tech events, mostly WordPress events, but also in the Hall Arts and the Super Meetup and BarCamp and everything else that I go to.
It’s something I really like a lot. I’m spending a lot more time with it now, and I intend to spend even more time with it over the next…well, as long as I can. I’m taking courses, and I’m going to continue to do that as a way of learning and going to camera meetups as opposed to just WordPress meetups, and getting very into it and trying not to have gear acquisition syndrome, which you say, “Oh, there’s a great lens, I need to have that,” and go out and buy it. So I’m trying to hold that down.
Tara: I like that gear acquisition syndrome. We always talk about shiny object syndrome when we’re downloading things, but I guess that’s doesn’t really apply as much. Although I guess cameras have shiny objects as well. But that’s…
Reed: Oh, yeah. Lot of them. It’s worse than golf or fishing or something like that. There’s no limits in number of lenses and gadgets and filters, and who knows what all, nevermind, cameras.
Tara: Talk a little bit about what it’s like to walk around WordCamp with a camera. Because I would bet that you see things differently at a WordCamp. We talked about WordCamp a lot on this podcast because many, many of the people that we’ve spoken to find WordCamp to be a transformative experience for them professionally and also in terms of becoming part of the WordPress community and learning what that’s about. You can walk around in a daze your first few times, and then after that, I find myself at WordCamps so happy to be surrounded by my – it’s like a family reunion – by my friends that I haven’t seen for a while. So I walk around, probably it was one thing in mind. But I wonder if you can speak a little bit to what it’s like walking around with a camera and if that changes your WordCamp experience?
Reed: Well, I would echo what you felt about WordCamps. I think WordCamps are terrific way. I’m very glad we run them because one of the main things I think WordPress community needs to do is be open to new people. And that’s how we get more experienced people as we bring in more and more new people, and they hang around and learn stuff and talk. And it is part of the community and you do feel like you’re part of something when you go. It’s a very good feeling.
The camera I’m taking pictures does remove you a bit from that because you are paying attention to…I. I’m paying attention to what would be a good way to show, to the extent that I can, what’s going on in the people’s heads – the attendees. I don’t like to take closed pictures, except the certain ones where that’s appropriate – you want to catch the speakers and maybe have them give you a headshot sort of thing.
But in general, for the attendees, you’re looking to catch them with an expression of engagement or questioning or maybe even being worried or something or happy, to catch something that tells you what’s going on with them and how they’re feeling. And that’s what makes it a good picture. Because I mean, frankly, if you look at 100 pictures of people at WordCamps, they can all look alike.
Also, I think there’s another role to this. I think it’s important to show the diversity of the people that attend WordCamps, at least the ones I’ve been to, and to not take either just the speakers or concentrate on the…we have some outstanding people and concentrate on them. I want to take pictures of the person standing in the corner that’s not saying much, and so forth. And just make sure that whoever’s looking at the pictures knows that all kinds of people of all ethnicities and races and ages, and men and women, and anybody’s welcome. So you want to capture that and not just have the same 12 stars, so to speak, show up.
The process of taking pictures does…you are removed a little because you have to pull back. You’re not talking to anyone. In fact, you don’t want people to come up to you and talk to you because you’re kind of on duty, taking the picture. You just have to build that in because people are going to do that. Because hey, it’s working. People talk to one another.
Tara: I’m glad you mentioned the role that you play in terms of showcasing the diversity and the people who are standing in the corner. That’s one of the reasons that Liam and I are doing this podcast is to…So when you’re taking their picture next time, perhaps you can tell them about Hallway Chats and ask if they’d like to be on our podcast.
Reed: I’d be glad to. I’d be glad to.
Tara: You should give us their headshots to use.
Reed: Yeah. I mean, I should have a little card from you too to hand them. “Here’s the URL. Go check it out.”
Tara: (Laughing) The birth of an idea, right here. That’s great.
Liam: Reed, tell me a little bit about what you do with WordPress outside of meetups and WordCamps. We shared earlier that you build websites and you teach. But what does that look like for you day to day, week to week?
Reed: Well, currently, I took the last couple of years. I’ve had a couple of main clients that have really taken up most of the time. Then there’s a whole bunch of people that I’ve done something for over the last number of years, and they’ll send me a text and say, “Hey, I need this little thing. I need that little thing.” That’s some of it. But mostly is with a couple of two, three big – well, big to me – clients that soak up most of the time, and their companies have a fairly elaborate website…well, I guess the mission is stated simply in a sentence or two. But getting that done is a very complicated process. And there’s all kinds of things in the website they’re intending to facilitate that.
So day to day, it’s mostly that. And that’s fine. I don’t have to work 40, 50 hours a week on this. That’s fine with me. I’ve plenty of other things to do. It is amazing how it’s quite true that whatever you have will take up all the time you have. When I was working, I don’t know how I planned the jobs in here. I mean, I obviously don’t have an actual job. I don’t know. Does that answer your question? I don’t know.
Liam: It does. It does. It does. It does. Let me ask you about success, Reed. One of the questions that we ask all of our guests is about their own definition of success. And I wonder if you’ll share with us your definition. It might be a personal definition, a professional definition. Maybe it’s a combo of both. How do you define success?
Reed: I guess at different times in my life I might have answered this differently. But for quite a while I would tell you that it’s when I feel that I’ve done something constructive and useful and accomplished something that was useful and constructive for myself and other people.
Tara: That makes sense. Sounds like you do that in all the involvement that you have in the various communities that you’re in.
Tara: So, you mentioned your role before for this with the Red Cross?
Tara: And can you tell us a little bit more about that, and how you got there, and how you’re still involved.
Reed: Wow. Yeah. Sure.
Tara: I think that relates to your idea of success, by the way, which is what made me think of it.
Reed: It may. It’s a completely out of the blue. I mean, I never in my life would have said, “Oh, I’m going to work for 34 years for the American Red Cross.” It could never have occurred to me to do that. I was in my 20s, I needed a job. A friend of mine worked there, and they were expanding at the time. And he said, “Why don’t you apply and I’ll give you a reference.” I did and they hired me.
The first job was delivering blood to hospitals. So I thought, “Oh, this will last six months to a year and then I’ll find what I really want to do with my life. You know, one of those big things.” I really didn’t know and didn’t figure that out for some more decades. But working at the Red Cross was a good thing to do.
So I delivered blood to hospitals and then I got to be on the phone talking to the hospitals so that I can tell the people delivering it what to deliver. Then I was put in charge of the department. One thing led to another and…I mean, over 34 years, I’ve done a whole lot of things. I wound up in the finance end of it in the biomedical finance for the field units in the northeastern part of the United States – about 10 of our field offices – working with those offices on their budgets and variances and helping them figure out how much money they could spend on this, that, and the other thing. That’s what I did pretty much for the last I’m going to say 10 or 12 years that I worked there. That was a lot of it.
Tara: How did you end up in Philadelphia?
Reed: Well, I was born here. I went to NYU and I came back. Then as I said, I lived for a few years in Boston. When I returned from Boston, I was looking for a job. And that’s when I started with a Red Cross in my late 20s. I really liked Philly really a lot. And it’s really, really changed so significantly.
I mean, certainly, over the last 10 years, everybody I know who’s been here for 10 years has seen that. But over the last 30 or 40 years, it’s not the same city. It’s not even close. It’s much more forward-looking. It’s got tons of problems. I know we have big problems, especially in the school system, and so forth, a very high poverty rate. Worst among the 10 big cities.
When I was growing up, there was nothing to do other than…I mean, if you wanted to go out at night, you could get a pizza or cheesesteak. Or if you had way more money than we had, there were a couple of high-end restaurants. That was about it. There was no…I’ll call it a scene. You know, there was no clubs and casual places the way they have now sprinkled all over the place. There was nothing like a coffee shop. Nothing like that. It just didn’t exist.
It was also a much more backward-looking city in the sense that it was run pretty much the way it’s been run in the 1950s. Very complacent and somewhat corrupt, and not thinking about the future very much. It’s more of the same, all the same. That started to change in the 60s. The last 20 years you really have seen a big change.
In 1970, there was this thing called the Restaurant Renaissance. I believe is a man named Steve Poses who opened the restaurant school, which taught people not just how to cook, but how to run a restaurant business. Because a lot of people go in the restaurant business because they’re very creative, and so forth but in a business sense, not so much. He taught them how to run a successful business that will be around in a few years. That enabled a great deal of change and there was a little more to do. Things built on that and that was the…I’m rambling over here. But that was part of the origin of change. I mean, I’ve looked at this and every time I look around, I think, “Wow, this is so much better than when I was growing up.”
Liam: Have you lived in different parts of Philly or are you living in the same neighborhood that you grew up in?
Reed: I grew up in West Mount Airy. And I live there for…
Liam: That’s over near the museum for people who don’t know?
Liam: Isn’t it?
Reed: No. West Mount Airy is south of Chestnut Hill and north of Germantown. I live in the middle of the northwestern wing and there’s kind of a Y. It’s kind of in the middle of that. I grew up there. When I came back from New York, I stayed there for a number of years. When I came back from Boston, I lived there.
It wasn’t till I got married that I moved downtown where my wife lived. It made a lot more sense to do that. Downtown is terrific. Everything is here that we need. You can walk to everything. And given the traffic and construction, we pretty much have to walk to everything. It’s really very convenient.
Liam: Reed, I really like the way you, I’ll say, dabble. And I mean that with just being silly. You dabble in a lot of different tech communities in and around Philadelphia. Was that something that started with WordPress and you said, “This is fun and this is a great community, and let me see what else is out there?” Or were you active in other communities and then, as you said, Brad Williams and Doug Stewart started the Philadelphia WordPress meetup so you started going to that? What’s the chicken and what’s the egg here? Where did you start in terms of tech communities?
Reed: Oh, in terms of tech communities, I guess you could say kind of Indy Hall. I met a couple of folks there ran this all-day workshop on WordPress back when it was in version 2.6 or 2.7. Way, way early. Well, pretty early. I went to that and thought, “This is outstanding. This is a whole lot easier than trying to figure out all this hand-rolled PHP.” Clunky as it was, it was really slick compared to what I was doing. So I guess I got started from that workshop. That was probably in 2009. I just fooled around, fooled around. Then WordPress evolved and I got more involved with it. Especially after I retired, I had more time to do it because, you know, job.
My whole life, I’ve always had different crowds of people that I knew. They would sometimes overlap, but not always, and we’re not interested in the same things. And I’ve always been a generalist. For a long time, I thought that was a problem. I really needed to specialize a lot more. But I haven’t thought that for a while because it’s turned out to be just fine. It turned out to be a good thing.
Tara: What’s been your biggest…
Liam: I want to let Tara talk what she wants to talk about.
Tara: I was going to say, what’s been your biggest challenge as you’ve been in this transition?
Reed: In life?
Tara: No, no, in your day to day work and becoming more involved in WordPress and using it more. Or in life too. You can talk about that if you want as well.
Reed: Probably it’s staying focused. When I have work to do and a fair amount of time to do it, probably the hardest thing is buckling down to it when the deadline is there, but it’s kind of far out. You know, “I’ve got a couple of days I can do this.” And then there’s other things, “Let me look at this. Let me look at that.” And trying to really concentrate on something that probably wouldn’t take all that much time. I sometimes struggle. That’s probably the thing I would improve if I had a magic wand.
Tara: What’s your favorite thing to do?
Reed: My favorite thing to do of everything?
Tara: Sure. Yeah.
Reed: Oh, my God. Probably right now it’s taking pics. I would say that. I would say photography is my favorite thing to do. That’s a definable thing to do. That’s it.
Liam: Well, now Tara’s asking me to talk to you and I forgot what I wanted to ask you about before. Let me ask you about advice, Reed. One of the questions that we like to ask our guests is about just that advice. What’s the best advice that you’ve been given or received or read and successfully worked into your life?
Reed: Probably the most comprehensively useful advice that I’ve gotten is “live within your means. Live below your means.” And the best advice I would give someone who heard that already is “the long run always shows up.”
Liam: I like that. I have two questions. Who told you to live within your means? Was that your parents telling you that?
Reed: Yes, definitely.
Liam: The long-run showing up, is that just the ebb and flow of life or is there a particular experience in your life that makes you say that?
Reed: No, there’s no particular incident or time when “Oh, my God, the long run does show up.” I just always thought that way. It’s always in mind when I’m doing things. I’m not saying I never forget about it and do something really foolish that might be fun or interesting in the short run that has some disastrous long term consequences. Fortunately, none of the disasters have been what I would really call a disaster, because I’m still here talking to you. And not everybody got away with that.
But, in general, I’ve kind of always thought, “Down the road, what’s going to happen?” I mean, I have no particular ability to predict what’s going to happen, I just know that things will not be as they are now, that things will be different. Some of it ties to if you live within your means or below your means, you’ll probably have more money in the bank than if you don’t. And that’s not a bad thing when you get to my age or any age really.
Tara: I think that times have changed a lot and that’s not advice that people are given very often anymore, unfortunately.
Reed: They’re not. They’re told the opposite. One of my things that irritates me the most is that some of the brightest, most creative, hard-working, best-educated people we have in our culture find great success in marketing. And they’ve been building on the decades and decades. Probably, modern marketing era started maybe 1920, something like that, and every decade, we accumulate more information, more science goes into it, more sociology, more psychology, every other branch of science basically geared to get people to buy more stuff.
Now, that did give us a $21 trillion GDP, which is very useful. It’s a good thing to have. But an awful lot of it is built on hot air. And a lot of people are much worse off than they should be or could be if they could be taught maybe back off on that a little bit. You don’t really need to have every shiny object that’s out there.
Tara: Yeah, there’s immediate gratification that I think the internet has given people the expectation for. And that’s the ease of ordering something on Amazon and having it arrived the next day or even the same day. You can’t even wait for it to arrive. So I’m guilty of that very much. It’s not necessarily a good thing for your pocketbook or…
Liam: Especially if you don’t have to pay for it, right? I mean, we do…
Tara: It goes on the credit card.
Liam: …but it goes right onto the credit card, and there was no handing over the cash and say, “Wait a minute, I need those hundred dollar bills because I’ve got this and I’ve got that.” It can be tricky to manage impulsivity when it comes to internet expenses or internet purchases. That’s for sure. As we sit around and talk over the internet with…
Reed: Of course. I mean, the internet’s just like fire. It’s really, really necessary and really useful. YAnd you can get awful hurt with it too.
Liam: There you go. That’s I think our phrase for the podcast. The internet is just like fire, Tara Claeys. It’s just like fire.
Reed: Oh, boy.
Tara: Well …
Liam: Reed, let me ask you. We’ve got about a minute left and I want to ask you, what is one of your most poignant memories of a WordCamp? You’ve been to a ton, you’ve spoken at some, you’ve organized more than a handful, which one is the most memorable experiences, either something you witnessed or you saw or happened to you at a WordCamp?
Reed: Wow, that’s a big one. I’ll say what springs to mind immediately. So it must be important to me. There was a person that we know, who I will not name, who is shy and not comfortable, as many people are not, speaking in public. And speaking in a WordCamp is speaking to a whole lot of public. And even though it’s a very friendly crowd, I mean, no one is hostile there and it’s a very welcoming thing, it is nonetheless very scary to get up and talk to a bunch of people, especially if you haven’t done it very often. You can hear and see the body language and the voice and so forth. Nonetheless, plowed through it, got through it, and did a terrific job, great content, slides with a little bit humor and making the points well, and got through the whole thing. And I thought, “Well, you know, hat’s off to you.”
Tara: It’s nice. It’s nice to see someone making that step and growing. It’s good. And it’s good to see that happening often in our community where a lot of people are sort of shy. If we can encourage them to do that at WordCamps or meetups, it’s a great way to learn. And I think one of the great things about the WordPress community is that it is so collaborative and encouraging in that way. So thanks for sharing that.
And thank you for joining us today, Reed. I think we are out of time. We are very grateful for you being here and it’s great to see you and get to know you a little bit better.
Tara: Where can people find you online?
Reed: Oh, I’m easy to find. If you just Google my name you’ll find deltaangel.com, which is my business. You will see my Twitter account under @tangofoxtrot. I’m on Instagram as Angel Foxtrot. Not sure why.
Liam: You do a lot of different kinds of trots and echoes.
Reed: I cannot dance any of those.
Liam: Fantastic. Thank you so much. It was an absolute pleasure.
Reed: You’re welcome.
Tara: Thank you, Reed. Take care. Bye.
Reed: Take care.
Liam: Thanks for listening to the show. We sure hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.
Tara: If you like what we’re doing here – meeting new people in our WordPress community – we invite you to tell others about it. We’re on iTunes and at hallwaychats.com.
Liam: Better yet, ask your WordPress friends and colleagues to join us on the show. Encourage them to complete the “Be on the show” form on our site, to tell us about themselves.