If you’re looking to change careers into technology, WordPress is a great way to do it.
In 2013, I was in a career counselor’s office. Just realizing that I needed to change careers out of music, almost the only thing I had known for the last 20 years:
Aside from feeling like a huge failure, I knew I’d need a lot of luck to get a job.
Someone would have to take a big chance on me.
But there were a few problems.
I was terrified of talking to strangers, much less asking them big favors. And I had almost no traditionally useful skills.
Lots Of Options
When you’re changing careers, you’ll want skills that will help no matter what you end up doing.
You don’t want to deep-dive into calculus and find out that it won’t help.
Learning WordPress is perfect.
If you get really interested in the technical side, you can be a JS or PHP developer.
If you really like content creation, that’s also great. You can start a blog or work in marketing.
If none of it interests you, at least you can help people set up a website as you look for another career.
So soon after meeting with the career counselor, I took Zac Gordon’s course on WordPress Theme Development.
I wrote a theme based on his course, and really liked how WordPress worked.
He taught me to build sites, and later write plugins.
Invite Yourself To The Party
The great thing about WordPress is that you can contribute right away.
With some careers, you need somebody to take a chance on you before you can do much.
To get experience as an investment banker or business consultant, you probably need to actually have the job.
But with WordPress, you can invite yourself.
You can open pull requests to Core or Gutenberg without anyone asking.
You can deploy plugins to wp.org that real people use, without having a college degree.
With this growing experience, I applied online to XWP.
Weston Ruter responded right away, and was really helpful.
I started opening simple PRs to “help” with the Customizer work.
In reality, my work might have slowed things down, and was really simple.
But I didn’t have to wait to be invited. I invited myself to the party, and one of the PRs was merged into Core.
Later, when I interviewed with XWP and got the job, I could show that I had a little experience working with other developers.
It’s still embarrassing looking back at the work I did. But WordPress allows you to contribute, regardless of your experience level.
Years later, when I lived in Mexico City, one of my friends got interested in technology.
He was like me. He had a degree in an unrelated field, and wanted a great career.
So I showed him how much opportunity WordPress has.
He did something similar to what I did.
He opened PRs to an agency’s repos, and the agency asked him if he wanted to talk about a job, without him needing to apply. Years later, he’s still doing really well at his job.
I did very little, other than point him to a huge opportunity: WordPress.
Changing careers is really awkward.
You read about networking, which seems like you’re asking strangers for favors and sending spam DMs.
You also learn to reframe things as transferable skills.
So if you’ve done hard things, you can say you’re “comfortable with ambiguity.”
But with WordPress skills, you have more concrete skills to offer.
It’s less awkward explaining to someone why they should take a chance on you.
You’ve shown you’re committed to your career path by your portfolio of plugins.
And you don’t have to send spam DMs on LinkedIn.
In 2014, I went to my first WordPress meetup, WordPress Los Angeles. I was nervous, but I wasn’t trying to take any value.
I could even answer a few questions.
Renee Johnson and I met there. We even reunited in WordCamp Europe and Mexico City several years later when I lived there:
With WordPress skills, you can flip from taking to giving value. Everything is much less awkward.
As you probably know, there are many self-taught developers in WordPress.
College degrees rarely come up in hiring conversations, at least in my experience.
And I’ve found WordPress very accepting of different career backgrounds. Matt Mullenweg was a musician, famously naming every release after a jazz musician.
People in WordPress are very understanding about changing careers.
Now, I don’t hide it, and it’s rarely more than a footnote in conversations.
Don’t go it alone.
It’s easy to think that you can just take online courses and eventually be ready for a job.
But code reviews are one of the main ways you’ll learn. And people in WP want to help.
If you contribute a few PRs to someone’s GitHub repo, they’ll probably do a quick code review of your own plugin or theme.
Weston was really helpful in doing a detailed review of my theme.
You also can learn a lot contributing to Gutenberg or other plugins.
They’ll give you detailed reviews. And you’ll basically get the same experience as if you were getting paid.
But if I were to do this again, I’d also look for more formal mentorship.
Hiring someone to review your plugins and themes would probably help.
Nothing To Fix
There’s a saying in marketing “what you can’t fix, you feature.”
In WordPress, you don’t have to fix your non-traditional career background.