Pull Quote: Working harder in the beginning always pays off in the long run.

Custom is not Synonymous with Expensive

My name is Kayla Jenkins-Medina. I’m a mother of two, a wife, a banker, a blogger and a WordPress enthusiast. Do you know what that means? It means I’m a pretty busy woman.

MY LIFE AS IS

I live in one of the only 2 non-island countries in the Caribbean, Belize. It’s bordered by Mexico to the north, Guatemala to the west and south and, the Caribbean Sea to the east. We are the only English speaking (as a first language) country in Central America. And naturally, we are part of the Caribbean because of our shared history in which our ancestors were mostly English and African slaves (via Jamaica). We are a country of many cultures but the best thing about Belize is that most of our people live together in harmony despite having so many different backgrounds. If you’d like to know more about Belize, please feel free to give us a little “internet search”.

A typical day in my life starts by waking up between 5:30 am and 6:30 am, depending on what day of the week it is. I get ready for my 8-5 job as a Banker, ensure that my family is fed and, also that they are ready for their day. I go to work at 7:55 am since I live so close to work. This is a recent change because I used to live an hour away via morning traffic. Living in the city allows me time to spend with my children before I head to work. I do my “bankly” duties from 8-12, go home for a quick lunch and feed my 8-month-old. If I’m lucky, I get a glimpse of my 11-year-old leaving to go back to school after his lunch. I get to spend some time with my husband and baby and then I head back to work for another 4 hours.

After work, I spend some time with the family, put the baby to bed and then maybe I get some time to read, watch a show, write a post or thinker with a current project. Sometimes, I spend hours researching and figuring a way to get something to work the way I want it but I’m persistent. Then I finally go to bed, get up and do it all again.

It’s stressful sometimes, but I enjoy learning new things in WordPress, and I really don’t see it as working at all. Although, it will someday, hopefully, lead to actual work.

THE JOURNEY TOWARD WORDPRESS

I am not new to blogging.

I had a blog, years ago, on Blogger, but I got frustrated with the “lack” of functionality. I like to make things my own and, it was a bit annoying not being able to do that with my blog. I used to blog about life. Nothing in particular; just about things that I felt like sharing. I love to write. It’s always been one of my passions next to reading, of course. I moved my blog to WordPress.com, which is awesome because it has a great community and more features but again I didn’t have as much control over things I wanted. At the time, I couldn’t afford self-hosting on WordPress.org and I didn’t know where to start, even if I did.

I eventually gave up on that blog and didn’t blog for a few years.

It was actually my husband who got me into the idea of blogging again. Not because he suggested it or anything but, because he was featured as a guest blogger on a couple websites. He also gave me my first Kindle as a birthday gift, the first year we moved in together. He knew how much I loved to read but that it’s hard and expensive to get books in Belize. These two things are the root of my current blogging experience and what lead me to WordPress.

Actually though, many years had passed and I forgot about WordPress (Gasp! How could I??). This was 2014 and I had recently jumped on the Evernote bandwagon and they introduced me to Postach.io. It was a bit like blogger, being one template file and all, but what I liked was that I could create my posts in my Evernote and then publish them straight from there. Since I was in love with Evernote, this seemed magical at the time. I started my book review blog but didn’t seriously think about doing it long term.

After a few posts I realised that my site just looked generic. And, inherently I’m still the same person.

I love to make things my own.

At the time, I didn’t want to make an investment into hosting and a domain name so I moved to WordPress.com which is easy to then go full WordPress.org. I didn’t know how much fun I would have tweaking my own site yet, but in late 2014, I finally made the switch to .org and I don’t plan on looking back.

TAKING A LEAP

I didn’t want to make a huge investment, not knowing if I would continue with the blog in the long run, so I found one of the cheapest plans, $12.01USD with a free domain. At first, all the changes to my blog were done with the use of plugins. Book blogging is a huge community out there and lots of these (mostly) ladies refer you to other blogs where they learned to do this or that to tweak their site. I eventually found a few good sites where the blogger did web design and / or development with WordPress.

I followed some of the tips I found for tweaking my site on my own and fell in love with the idea of being able to change my site on my own. I was still scared to make big changes, and my hosting provider was a bit complicated. The only way to make changes was via FTP which I found complicated at the time.

My interest in programming didn’t start with WordPress though. At work, several years ago, I was asked to create a log for tracking of our credit application and approval process. But what they really needed was a database. After thinking about it, Access was the best choice since everyone had it installed on their computers already. If I’d known more I would have used VB.net but, that’s another story. The database was much more complicated than I first envisioned and due to my lack of knowledge, I ended up creating several front-ends to avoid coding.

In the long run this was a terrible idea. It was hard to maintain. Every change had to do be done on 10 different front-ends. I didn’t want people to go looking all over for their options but I didn’t want to do the coding that filtered out only what they needed to see. As the needs of the database grew, I got books and learnt as much about Access as I could. I joined online forums to learn more about VBA and eventually I did a single front end for my database. Over the years I have created and managed several other in-house databases for my company. I can pretty much say that I’m an Access expert by now. I only achieved that by taking a leap into deep waters.

Through this experience, I learned that working harder in the beginning pays off in the long run. I learnt that planning and initial set up of tables are SUPER important to how your database will work in the future and how easier it will be to improve on.

In the years since that first database, I’ve come a long way in VBA development. I’m in charge of Quality Control and Business Process Management in my department and I try to get my new staff to use Access, since we already pay for it anyway, and because it, like WordPress, is super easy to learn.

Since moving to self-hosted, I have taken online courses in HTML, CSS, R, Python and JavaScript. To me, if you know one programming language, the concepts are the same, you only need to learn the functions used in the other language. I’ve also switched my hosting provider to one with super great customer service, but they also recognise that not all customers have tons of money for hosting. They offer tons of options and tools. Now whenever I want to change something on my blog I don’t automatically look for a plugin instead, I scour the WordPress forum and Codex and I’ll more than likely find it there. I even built a few plugins for my sites. And I’m no longer afraid to use FTP/SFTP. In fact, it’s now my go-to option for editing my site files. Sure, I broke my site a couple times, but I learnt that in learning to walk, sometimes we fall.

GOING FORWARD FROM HERE

A while back, I decided to take an online course in building my own WordPress themes but that didn’t work out and I had to stop the classes. My current mission is to go at it alone, in my own time. Of course, learning on your own doesn’t mean 100% on your own. The WordPress Codex has a whole section on theme development. I’ve built a few websites from scratch, for fun, to practice the HTML, CSS and JavaScript that I learnt so I am pretty confident in that part. My new challenge is expanding my knowledge of PHP so that I can really capitalise on my WordPress development, since WordPress is database driven.

A few months ago, I added a sub-domain, kayla.thereviewcourt.com, to my current domain, thereviewcourt.com, where I’m sharing tips on getting started with WordPress.org. I also plan to give tips on CSS, HTML, and other web related coding tips. And, who knows, I might expand from there. I also designed the theme for this site myself, using a starter theme called underscores.

I truly feel that WordPress is for everyone.

My ultimate goal, though, is to be known for my ability to help others achieve the web presence that they want and deserve. I want to show them that they don’t need to be intimidated by words like “coding” and “programming”. Or think that “custom” is synonymous with “expensive”. Although, depending on how custom you want a site to be, it can get expensive. I want Belizeans to know that if they are willing to learn a little and do some work, they too can get the website that they want.

2 comments

  1. Heather says:

    Wow, Belize must be a beautiful place to live.

    I started blogging more than five years ago first with Blogger and then, WordPress.com. I even know some CSS and HTML!

    I ended up loving WP so much I stayed.

    I did have a WP.org account, but it was too expensive (a whopping 16 dollars a month for three years). I’m a student and I can’t afford the WP.org budget. Now, I have just a WP.com account, which is all I need, but I still love learning all I can about self-hosting.

    By the way, I’m a huge WP enthusiast too. I have the swag to prove it!

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