Pull Quote: Anyone who says it's easy to change your life is lying to you.

Changing Careers with WordPress

Photo of Sarah Wefald

Sarah Wefald

Working in WordPress full time did not come quickly, directly, or in the ways I expected, and it was worth every step of the way. I started out in marketing in the music industry and ended up as the project manager at a WordPress development agency nearly 10 years later. Changing careers is a lot of work and none of it happens by accident. Here’s a story about how I took some dashed hopes and an economic crash and turned it into everything I ever wanted.

I started out by moving to NYC the day I graduated college to work in the music industry. Armed with my BA in English, I found my way in – I don’t care what anyone says, my English degree is my secret weapon.

If you can’t communicate effectively and hold someone’s interest in the process, it doesn’t matter how many letters you have after your name or how many specialized degrees you hold.

However, once I established myself as a project manager a major record label in the big city, it wasn’t easy to stay. I loved New York, but I did not love working nights to make ends meet. Realizing that my career in the music industry might not be something I could do long-term, I enrolled part-time in an accredited web development diploma program. All the classes were online, so I could do classwork around my work schedule. However, the record label was bought out and privatized, and the new owners instituted a 50% reduction in headcount worldwide. I tried to look at it as a blessing in disguise — more time to spend on completing my diploma while working fewer hours as a temp! But, answering phones and entering data didn’t exactly make me want to get out of bed in the morning. I tried to focus on shifting gears to becoming a developer.

Becoming A Developer

Though I got a great base of knowledge in HTML, CSS, PHP, Photoshop, light JavaScript, and, yes, Flash and ActionScript, I didn’t really have the goods to get a programming job right away. I was eventually re-hired in a different position by the record label, but this time I was slowly but surely working more digital into my marketing position. Finally, I had done enough to get another job as the head of digital marketing for a boutique music and entertainment-focused agency.

Though I was finally doing the type of work I wanted to do, I was starting to feel like New York wasn’t where I needed to be. One major pull was my long-distance NY to LA relationship. Sometimes, career is just not enough to keep you in one spot, so in June of 2011, I moved to Orange County, CA.

I was able to continue working remotely for the entertainment PR firm, but I wanted a more meaningful connection with the artists I was working with. I started freelancing for select bands, and then found a position handling all things internet-related for an Orange County-based artist management company.

It was an absolute dream – I was the social media voice for one of my favorite bands, plus many more new clients and projects I would have loved even if I wasn’t on the management team. In the interest of meeting new people in this new place as well as learning something, I started attending the Orange County WordPress Meetup at Zeek Interactive and learned how to take my general knowledge of PHP and apply it to this CMS that everyone seemed to be talking about. As some of our up-and-coming bands needed websites, I’d volunteer to build them. It was cost-effective for the client, and it gave me a chance to try out all the things I’d learned at the OCWP meetup. I also served as internal project manager for sites built by an external agency.

I learned more from the many mistakes I made in developing websites than I did anything else.

Coding myself into a corner was an opportunity to grow through asking someone else to show me where I went wrong. For a while, the OCWP developer night featured some time for someone to get up in front of everyone, walk the group through an issue they were working on, show their steps and reasoning, and ask for assistance. All the more experienced developers in the room were very kind to me, several of them going out of their way to help me learn new concepts to make my themes even better.

Branching Out

Bands don’t need websites all that often, and I wanted to keep learning, so I found some non-entertainment website work to do on evenings and weekends. For a lot of it, I was a second pair of hands for another developer. For others, friends or friends of friends would come to me for help with their small business sites. These small sites worked out great, but I fully understood that the way I was working had a ceiling to it. If it’s a relatively small site with not a lot of traffic to scale, I could help. If it was going to be a big site that a lot of people would see, my code would probably not be ideal. I knew enough to be dangerous, and I knew how to fix a site if and when it white-screened, but not enough to implement all the latest and greatest techniques.

So, I started looking to get back into my first love: project management, only this time for websites instead of musicians. Thankfully, my friend Steve Zehngut suddenly found himself with a need to replace his PM, and after we talked through goals and methods of working, we made it official.

I’ve been the project manager at Zeek Interactive for two years now, and it’s been everything I could have ever hoped for. It took nearly a decade, retraining, lots of late nights and weekends spent learning new things and getting way outside my comfort zone, but I successfully changed industries and careers. Anyone who says it’s easy to change your life is lying to you. But I’m hard-pressed to find a reason not to do it anyway if you want to make new and better things happen.

2 comments

  1. Robyn says:

    Very good summary of what it takes to make the shift to a new career. Especially, discussing what you can do to improve while still holding your day job. Growth is good. Everyone should be trying to grow their skill set on a regular basis. Adding new skills is empowering, whether your goal is to move up in your current career or make the move to a new one.

    I agree. It’s not easy but it’s very satisfying.

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