Pull Quote: Community isn't an accident.

Community Isn’t an Accident

5 years ago I was sitting across a table from a kid 3 years younger than me begging him to hire me to sell coffee from a drive-through window.

Yesterday I upgraded a client’s WordPress site to 4.4, and installed an SSL certificate from LetsEncrypt.org on his server, which I host for him. (he pays me $85 per month.)

5 years ago I had a couple of blogs where I wrote funny stories for nobody to read (according to the harsh reality-check that is Google Analytics) and called my student loan company to put my payment plan on “hardship deferral.”

Yesterday I sent an email to 100 people who have subscribed to get my latest updates in their inbox on how to keep their website up to date and secure. Most of them “met” me from my popular Better Click To Tweet plugin, which is quickly approaching 50,000 downloads and 8,000 active users at the time of this writing.

5 years ago I wasn’t sure exactly how I was going to pay for my then 2-month-old and 2-year-old to eat.

Yesterday WordPress picked up the tab.

Here’s the thing about me: though I am what everyone would label “entitled,” — I am white, male, come from a middle-to-upper-middle class family (read: even if I can’t provide for my kids, we’re not going to be destitute), and highly educated (I have a very nice degree in Pre-unemployment Religious Studies), none of those things have helped me very much in WordPress.

I don’t mean to say that I don’t benefit from a system slanted in my favor. I certainly do. But in the case of WordPress, the system is slanted toward everyone in a way I think is unique among developer communities. Newcomers are welcomed, barriers to learning are acknowledged and eradicated.

While I don’t think we’ve “arrived” as a community, and there is much that folks who look and think like me can do to address the remainder of the systemic injustices that exist, I do feel proud to be a part of the solution, as we model to the world what an inclusive community looks like.

Don’t believe me? Go to a WordCamp.

In early 2014, I first heard of WordCamp. There’s a local one in Raleigh, so I signed up and attended.

I was just beginning to cut my teeth as a developer at the time, and I sat in silence in the developer track and watched the concepts fly over my head. I kept a .txt file open at all times on my computer, filling it with a list of words and concepts to Google when I got home.

The moment I got my first glimpse of the WordPress Community came late on Saturday afternoon. In the developer track, during a talk about some relatively advanced front-end development concept, the presenter was interrupted with a question from the front row: “Wait, what is FTP?”

I considered myself a newb, but even I knew that such a question, in addition to being a total derailment for everyone in the room, was not fodder for the development track. I silently braced for the scathing comeback from the seasoned developer.

Instead, she answered with grace, acknowledging that a full answer would be more appropriate for after the session, and invited the newb to engage her in the hallway.

See, it’s not just who we allow in (and, taking a look around, we are a beautiful, messy, diverse group of folks!) what makes us an inclusive community is that we “watch our tone” as my mom used to say growing up. Every person, regardless of background, education, religious affiliation, gender identity, or other distinguishing factor, deserves to be answered with respect.

I fell so in love with the WordPress community at that first WordCamp that I reached out to the organizers and asked to help organize the next year’s WordCamp.

At the time of that first WordCamp in 2014, I was making maybe $10 per month from WordPress-related work. Inspired by the community, I buckled down, and a few weeks later released Better Click To Tweet, determined to give back to the community a bit of what it had already given to me.

I wasn’t (and am still not) the best developer in the community. But I make it my purpose to be the most compassionate, the most patient, and the most helpful I can be in the support forums.

That attitude has upped my monthly client revenue to around $1600 per month in the less-than-2 years since then, and has landed multiple clients for one-off projects.

I’ve also become a better developer. It turns out that when you give to WordPress, the community tends to give back.

5 years ago I had no idea that a diverse, dispersed, and delightful group of strangers would become family, over the unlikeliest of things: WordPress. After all, it was just the thing I used to write blog posts nobody read.

Community isn’t an accident.

2 comments

  1. Nathan says:

    HI there Ben.

    I can really relate to so much of what you’ve said here. Oddly, there are MANY parallels between your start in life and mine.

    Every success in the future.

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