I remember watching a dog I used to have jump without a thought into a river from the edge. I’ve never been someone to do that. I am cautious by nature, considered and ponderous. I plan, ponder, observe, I was always the child that watched and learnt through seeing. My introduction into the WordPress community like so most of my life experiences started with a circling on the edges, a gradual involvement, slowly acclimatising to the waters.
From DIY roots
It was the time when everyone was creating their own system from scratch, without asking if they could or should. PHP was fresh, smelt like newly baked cookies, delicious, tasty and often insecurely held together with hope, well-meaning wishes. I was riding the blogging community waves happy and fulfilled, yet frustrated by my own solution that was more a wish than an option. My blogging surf board was more a plank of wood well painted, but really close to breaking. Someone casually mentioned WordPress and after trying it, I was sold. This was pretty early in the life of the system we all enjoy now, but it had enough to show me that this was the way forward.
What truly sold me was how I could customise and theme my site so easily. This really was at that time all I cared about.
With so many events like reboots and online refreshes, sites would change their themes more often than socks.
I could embrace this with the ease of creating a theme. Style switchers were all the rage, I could change my theme as much as I wanted, with pretty minimal effort and leaving my content alone. It also meant I didn’t have to worry about security, which to be honest I avoided incidents previously out of luck over my code.
Each release saw rapid improvements, bugs were easy to report and whilst I was very much on the edges, I was slowly moving a few more rings deeper into the experience, testing the water as I went. Reporting a bug, asking a question, joining an IRC chat. My contribution circles were increasing as I moved deeper within the project.
A timeline of sorts
It would be easy to get stuck on small details in this story, the problem is I want to tell as much of my journey as possible and I’ve been lucky it’s been so long so far. The temptation to expand is heavy, so I’ll try and focus on some points over a timeline.
I am not sure when you say you joined a community, as I noted I sort of circled, dipping my toe in for a while. However, my first self noted contribution would be with the theme team. Working on building the ‘core’ of WordPress itself was a hard place to find my start. It was noisy and as I mentioned I needed a quieter on-boarding. Within this space I could work through themes, learn slowly and participate in a smaller group. It was there I stayed for a while, growing my confidence as a contributor.
Following my passion
Time moved on and my freelance business grew from an acorn to a flourishing seedling and I made a choice to put my full bet on WordPress. By this time I had discovered not only WordPress, but begun to explore more fully BuddyPress too. It was there I found a place to thrive, grow and for a long time find my contribution space.
Community and specifically enabling people to create, manage and build open source communities, was and always will be a passion of mine. Particularly in this day and age, the potential for empowerment from this type of software can’t be ignored. I count myself lucky to have been able to focus on this for the time I did.
Growing achievements with help
My passions were growing along with my business thanks to this project. It was incredible to not only run my own company, but thrive in this space and grow in confidence. I began to travel to WordCamps, speak at them, make connections and then in leaps and bounds grow my business. This continued for a number of years. I was incredibly lucky to count myself as one of the happy WordPress business stories.
I got to focus on communities and as a result got to write a book about BuddyPress theme development.
Writing a book was powerful for me as a dyslexic.
Whilst not uncommon, for someone who is, writing a book can feel like quite a mountain and you likely are told you won’t achieve that at some point in your life. Never tell anyone they won’t do anything, because there’s a strong possibility given the chance they will, try giving them the opportunity instead.
WordPress has given me some incredible opportunities in life and I count writing a book as one of them. I didn’t do it by myself though, just like I haven’t done anything in this community alone. I got to write through networking, connections, the people I met. Without the community, I wouldn’t have had the business or written the book. Behind every publication is the community, the network that helped create it.
WordPress has given me options
One thing this story so far hasn’t covered is the personal side of my life. It’s told you my WordPress journey, yet the tale of any person always has a personal side. Every single commit, every single contribution has a heart, a life behind it. Each contribution has their own ebbs and flows.
Talking about myself isn’t easy because well I have a lot of privilege and right now in this world I know I am so very lucky to work remote, to have the job I do. Being able to be a full time contributor has given me a quality of life and empowerment I daily am grateful for.
It meant I could be the sole earner when my partner was too ill to work.
It’s allowed us to move to the best location for medical care and support. I am not unique, so many contributors care, support and hold up so many others. It’s not just the contributor behind the contribution, it’s their families, those that depend on them.
Trying on contribution hats
If someone asks me where they should contribute, I always suggest they try a number of areas. This is motivated by my own journey. Your place can also change depending on where you are in your contribution adventure, mine did. Just because you enter one area, that doesn’t mean you should stay there. Often the project is enriched by you moving around, spreading your skills and activating. You have to go where you both are the most comfortable and effective, this could be a surprising place to you and others.
A lot of the new contribution hurdles that once existed have been lowered, however for anyone joining it’s never easy. Remembering those first steps every single one of us took is crucial to keep projects alive. Once you forget how hard contribution is, you set yourself up to not have contributions.
You got this
If I could time travel there is probably a whole lot I’d do. In relation to my WordPress journey, if I could travel back through the many years to me as I click that first download of WordPress, I’d probably say this quote which I think is attributed to Winnie the Pooh.
“You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”
It’s so easy for us all to think we aren’t good enough. We can’t contribute. We can’t make a difference. We will never find our place. Nobody will ever want us in their project. I can’t lead. I am not good enough to be a team rep. I can’t speak on stage. I can’t lead a release. I can’t be a committer. A designer can’t write code. Sound familiar? I am sure one of those comments you’ve said to yourself, I’ve said them all to myself.
Maybe in this complicated year, we all should take a moment to be a little gentler, kinder and more compassionate to ourselves. Take a moment to recognise that you can contribute, you can make a difference.. and you do.