Banks, Elves, Dice, and WordPress

I’m a fangirl.

You know those people who dress up in Starfleet uniforms and get called ‘Captain’? Or the ones who go to comic cons and wait in line to get autographs? Or maybe you’ve met the ones who play pretend in the city streets, using Rock Paper Scissors to determine whose vampire is more bad-ass?

Hi. That’s me.

I like that crazy stuff. I like TV shows and fantasy and scifi and everything weird and trippy. I wrote (and still write) stories about everything from space adventures to murder mysteries to a short story about flying with wine. And I worked as an underfed minion for some friends in the dot-com days, making websites when you really did stuff to your meta tags and hide text at the bottom of the page so you could get HotBot and Lycos to pick you up as #1 about running shoes.

But like all minions, I wanted money for hobbies, so I got a job as a tech consultant at a bank. Disclosure? I had no idea what I was doing. I bluffed my way through that interview (sorry, Charlotte) and guessed my whole first month. And I stayed there for about fifteen years because while the job was boring at best, I had enough money to do (mostly) what I wanted in my free time.

And that was be a geek. A big old geek. Like my baby brother used to call me “Geek-a” (rhymes with my name). Nothing wrong with that, right? One of the things I geeked about was an actress. Not in a creepy way (I hope…) but in the way that I really thought she was a good actress and an interesting humanitarian and, back in university, I’d made a webpage for her as part of a homework assignment. Remember I mentioned HotBot? That page shot to the number one rank for her. People sent me information about her, links to articles, and slowly, slowly, I developed a plethora of information.

In the begining I updated it by hand, all plain HTML. Then I found SHTML, then PHP, and then WordPress. I’d been using MovableType before on my personal blog, but like most people I was bitten by their license shift. As the daughter of a lawyer and a mathematician, both of whom are pretty unique individuals, I was born inclined to giving back and being a part of communities. As I looked up alternatives, I found WordPress and I thought it would be a bit of an overkill, but it would work for my wee fan site.

It worked, of course. But then a very odd thing happened. I had a problem. I searched for it, I found the forums, I found an answer, and I moved on, happy as a clam. Then I had another problem. I didn’t find an answer, so I posted a question and thought to myself that if I was going to ask something, I should answer something as well.

You can see where this is going.

I’d been an internet denizen for a long time by that point, used to IRC and chatrooms and MUSHes and myriad places where my name and gender were unknown to the world. By habit, I did this in WordPress as well. My username “ipstenu” was genderless, and my avatars were as well. People didn’t really know me, though if they bothered to read my blog, they would have figured it out. Funny thing was no one did for a long time. People just didn’t connect that ipstenu was a woman.

That suited me fine. I’ve noticed for a long time that being a ‘man’ online nets you different treatment (http://halfelf.org/2015/hello-mike/) and sometimes much fairer. But as time went on, and more things happened where women I knew were being harassed in tech and open source, I casually made it more obvious I was a woman. I stopped hiding it intentionally. I stopped letting people assume that since I had a girlfriend (now wife), I was a man. I corrected people once and moved on.

At the same time, I was finding that helping in open source was so much more soul satisfying than what I did at the bank. I made time at work to help out, I made time at home, and I started reading more and more about how things worked. I was inspired to mess with things and encouraged to do so. I asked questions, I broke things, and I had fun. I liked helping people. I still do. It’s something I’m rather good at, taking the description of a problem and determining what it really means and unraveling it. I think sideways and I can break problems down into logical components.

I shouldn’t have been surprised when I was asked to speak at WordCamp SF. You may be surprised to know I turned it down. Oh, I’m not talking about when I did speak about the community. Back in 2011 I was asked to speak and had no vacation time left, so I had to say no. But the question made me start to think about what I was doing and what I wanted to do. Work was getting worse, locking things down and taking away that wonderful creative outlet for WordPress that was filling my soul. They blocked Google Docs. Google Docs!

And my WordPress friends made suggestions. I started reviewing plugins and running wrangler for the support forums. I talked to my wife about it and devoted a few hours a day to working on WordPress. The goal was to get myself to a place where I could get a WordPress job. But I knew myself and I knew being a consultant would make me unhappy, so I needed a company where I could help people and do WordPress and open source.

The WordPress Community stepped up and helped me. I was introduced to companies, I had a lot of interviews, and in the end I found a place where I’m incredibly happy. I get to spend my day mired in WordPress. I’m helping people every day, I’m debugging and contributing to core, I’m reviewing code, and I’m writing my own.

But all this happened, all this started because I wanted to run a website and I had a problem. All this happened because my wife saw I was desperately unhappy and she supported me working double for a year. All this happened because I let myself be myself and was honest online. All this happened because I said yes to speaking at a WordCamp, yes to volunteering. All this happened because I took the time to recognize what I was good at, what I liked, and what I wanted.

I can’t say my path is the most well trodden. It looks different from the inside where I see all the fits and starts. I see the drama and tears when I realized I’m not going to be like Helen Hou-Sandí and lead a core release. I see the anguish when I know I won’t write a plugin like Jetpack. But I also see the success of when I wrote an ebook about Multisite and was able to pay for my brake repairs. I can see the happiness in people when, at a WordCamp, they recognize me and thank me for helping them for free, out of the goodness of my heart, on the forums.

It all happened because I’m that geek who likes to roll dice and play pretend, watch TV, and obsess about the weird little things in a mystery.

I’m Mika Epstein, a Half-Elf Support Rogue, Plugin Wrangler, Forum Moderator, and all around Multisite and WordPress Guru.

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