My story starts in high school as a girl with a technical bent, in a small country town just as computers were becoming mainstream but well before they were in everyone’s home. (I was in high school when Apple came to school and showed off this new fangled thing they called a mouse…). We were taught BASIC and Pascal and I actually really enjoyed tinkering with programming, but no one thought to say, “Dee, you look like you’re good at this, you should pursue it…” I mean, I was a girl (and girls didn’t ‘DO’ computers), and no one in the circles I moved in really had any idea where this technology revolution would take us.
The truth is I wasn’t particularly ambitious, I didn’t have any kind of clue what I wanted to be ‘when I grew up’ so I allowed myself to be gently steered by my parents into leaving school before the end of my final year when I was encouraged to apply for a job in a bank.
I got the job and started in the MICR processing department, encoding cheques with magnetic text, and I finished as a teller 3 years later (and boy was I terrible at balancing the books at the end of the day – I was much better at chatting to the customers!).
Financial independence was the only name of that game; for me there was very little else to recommend the job, so I saved all the money I could and took off from both the bank, and my homeland (New Zealand) in very short order as a young, naive 20 year old primed to spend the next 3 years exploring the world. And by the world, I mean the US and Europe…
That first mouse had come out in 1983, WordPress was founded in 2003 and in those 20 years the world changed. While it was doing that I was at various times being a nanny, working in child care centres, working in customer support, temping, and generally ‘working to live’ in whatever way felt right at the time. However, in 1999 I packed up my bags once again, moved from New Zealand to Australia and took a place at a performing arts school where I honed my singing and performance skills and volunteered my time to our music director who was starting to experiment with sending out HTML newsletters and updates via email.
And so my personal revolution began.
On what I think was the day after I graduated from that course I walked into a full time role as that music director’s assistant and began my journey back to code. It was part of my job to edit those HTML newsletters and send them out every week. I went from there to buying books about coding for the web, experimenting on my home built PC making web pages. I’m sure like a lot of us, I remember the thrill of creating that first HTML file and seeing a ‘Hello World’ or similar heading rendered in the browser… from there I was completely hooked.
By 2004 I was working full time as a webmaster, by 2005 I was running a small business creating sites on the side of my ‘real job’ and by 2009 that small business became my full time job as I left employment to pursue my Masters Degree in Digital Communication. It was in that year I met WordPress when I moved my old Movable Type blog onto it and within a very short time I was using WP as the CMS of choice for all my client work…
Then in 2011 I stumbled across WordCamps and by extension the WordPress community. THAT was the thing that changed my world.
I flew on a whim from Sydney to Melbourne to attend this crazy inexpensive conference I had found after a google search for ‘WordPress Conferences’. In doing so I met welcoming people, made friends, connected, and came back to Sydney excited and hopeful about continuing this connection with the wider WP community.
Building a community around WP got off to a slow start in Sydney, but from an inauspicious early WPSyd meetup in the function room of a pub (one we actually held in the dark due to a blackout) my connection and involvement took off. Before long I was helping organise that Sydney meetup and by the time I moved away from that great city it had branched into 2 meetups, and soon after, into 3. Furthermore at the end of that first year, at my second ever WordCamp, I put my hand up to help organise a WordCamp Sydney in 2012 and then as I moved interstate, WordCamp Melbourne in 2013.
Here’s the point.
WordPress, software, technology, the Internet will come and go, morph, and change, evolve. Maybe WordPress will last forever, maybe it will morph into something else, maybe one day it will look completely different than it did when I first started (actually, that’s true now…) the thing that doesn’t change is the humanity around it.
WordPress and any other software package exists to serve people.
The thing that I have learned, not only through WordPress but in life, is that if we too serve the people around what we’re doing, we ourselves will grow, develop and change alongside the people we serve, and the tools we use to serve them.
In organising meetups, WordCamps, and community events around WordPress, I have found that at the end of the day it isn’t actually WordPress that matters… it’s those connections, it’s the friendships. It’s the network of work, referrals, support, help, encouragement that has kept me wired into this community and committed to helping other people find that connection and growth for themselves. Even as my career in WP has moved through coding, into team support, into project management, there too it has been the people and my connections to them in the community that have helped fuel that transition.
I believe that the place I’ve found and the opportunities I have had owe as much to my own desire and ambition as they do to the help, support and belief of the community around me; sometimes even more than I’ve felt in myself. In all of this I feel as though I’m living proof that by helping, connecting, and resourcing other people, I myself have been helped, resourced and connected into places I’d have never dreamed of all those years ago as a teenager playing with that first mouse… experimenting with that BASIC code.
Arnold Schwarzenegger said “Help others and give something back. I guarantee you will discover that while public service improves the lives and the world around you, its greatest reward is the enrichment and new meaning it will bring your own life.” and I completely agree.
Ricky Martin said “A hero is someone who is willing to help others in his or her best capacity.” Here are two very different people giving voice to exactly what I’ve found in working and serving in this great community of diverse people. This is the kind of heroism I see around WordPress, at meetups and WordCamps; it’s the kind of hero whom I want to raise up, and at the end of the day, this is the kind of hero I hope that I am.
Best of all, it’s the kind of hero that absolutely ANY of us can be.