My upbringing was not quite usual Serbian upbringing. I was almost forbidden to do things I didn’t really love. My parents insisted on trying things and finding that deep passion. But I didn’t have to search and try. I always knew what I’d be when I grow up. As long as I remember, there was no doubt.
A classical musician
When I was 8 my mom took me to local music school for entrance examination. I was in! Oh, joy! Finally I was learning to play and sing, to read and write this new language. Italian. Oh, music scores too! There was a whole new world that my parents, or anyone in my family, didn’t know anything about and I was stepping into it. I was doing just fine in it.. and I couldn’t live outside of it.
As time passed, I finished elementary and high music school, went to music Academy, almost finished it and then my mother died. It was 2003. Two weeks later I found out I was pregnant. There was no time for grief and I couldn’t feel the joy. I just switched off and turned to the facts: I became a mom and a wife and I needed a job.
And what a job did I found. An opera prompter. Opera Prompter! God, I love that job. Every second of it for ten years. I was yelling at singers, singing, conducting, traveling, laughing and crying. My Italian was significantly improved. Working time was great – so much free time to be a mom, study for Academy, get a hobby…
Opera prompter’s hobby
In 2007 I was administrator in one English speaking forum with focus on software and hardware topics. It helped me to significantly improve my English. And my tech knowledge. Which was close to none when I registered. As one of administrators, occasionally I had to tweak site here and there. It was great! There was this code and when I would change something in code it would show on the site. Neat! I loved reading those files, finding patterns and parts written in humanly understandable forms. Later I learned those were called loops and conditionals. Also later I learned that this language is called PHP and that many other languages for building websites exist. Forum script was phpBB3.
I was never a gamer. Never understood the point of game, besides finishing it. I guess PHP was to me what games are to passionate gamers. Like a puzzle or sudoku.
At the same time my marriage was turning from bad into worse and in the beginning of 2008 I finally decided it was enough. We were working on Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” in Theater. I remember this so clearly because my divorce was just turning from bad into worse. Those few months lasted for centuries after which I still needed a lot of time to recover what’s left of my self-esteem. My complete mental and emotional health was destroyed after years of domestic violence.
2009 was important year for me. The cognition of possibility to have local server on my own machine and test everything before executing it on live site turned out to be very helpful.
In October I needed a blog script and friend recommended WordPress. It was 2.9 version. It didn’t really work well but everyone was writing about it. There were at least 5 new tutorials on various blogs every day. I was digesting them every morning with my first coffee. The ones I really liked I even reproduced in my shiny new localhost. Soon enough I developed a local monster with different widgets on each page, future posts archive, post series done with custom fields and God knows whatnot. This WordPress was slowly taking over my free time. Every second of it.
So, the WordPress it is
One day a friend of mine asked me to build him a website for his ensemble. And for money. Money? I never thought of getting money for this. This was too good of a hobby. But he’s a friend so I did it. Then another friend showed up with the same request. And another.. I became freelance WordPress developer before I could even understand what was happening. It wasn’t really a favor to friends any more. I was a single mom with mortgage. My daughter was in primary school, life costs became serious while the art-and-culture salary was silently and regularly reduced.
I was freelancing every single minute I could. Sleeping was luxury I could afford on weekends.
My dad was helping me tremendously. He was babysitting during theater’s rehearsals and performances in the evenings. When I’d get home, my daughter was sleeping, tomorrow’s meals cooked, dishes done and shining. I could go on like this but it was uncertain for how long.
In the summer of 2013 I was recovering from what was supposed to be routine gallbladder surgery and what nearly cost me life. Almost fully operational, I was getting ready for next roller coaster known as a mix of school year, freelancing and theater’s season. Then my father died. Suddenly. In an accident.
Oh, this screaming silence..
I couldn’t think. Or breathe. For months. I needed someone to put the roller coaster on pause. Just.. Just a short one. To take a breathe. But there was no one. I was all alone with a 9 years old child who had to grow up fast. I had to grow up fast.
All of a sudden I realized that I can not afford a single mistake any more. I can not be ill, get in debts, lose job. Or mind. I was the only one I could count on.
In 2014 my theater salary got reduced once again. And again in following year. 30% in total. For ten years it never covered all of my monthly expenses but this was ridiculous. It was a time for me to stop playing it safe and see what I’m made of. That was probably the most difficult decision I have ever made. A heart breaking one. Stop being musician. So I quit being Opera Prompter and started working as a full time WordPress developer.
Well, hello, World!
I didn’t really know for which wage level my knowledge was. For years I was the only WordPress developer I knew in person. The rest were all online superstars I was learning from. So I started as a shy medior and the only WordPress developer in agency. It turns out that, for this agency needs, I was senior and soon enough I was organizing and leading development processes for new projects.
From the business point of view repeating similar projects makes you “niche expert”. I do understand that. But, as many other developers out there, I don’t like repeating the same tasks or projects. Not even once. I missed variety which led me to become more active contributor on wordpress.org.
For years I was just contributing to codex here and there and never really thought about all the people behind WordPress.
In my vague image, they were a bunch of really great developers and they were doing just fine. I was learning from them so I could not possibly help them. I would just be on their way.
However, in my attempt to find something interesting to keep my mind amused with, I came upon Slack url for communication between contributors on WordPress project. What a crowd! And not just developers – everyone! Doing all kinds of different bits, and all important. How odd. WordPress is not like any other open source community I saw before. So much more open and inviting! I remember reading through channels and thinking: “I could do this”, “Oh, I’d love to learn that”, “This person is funny”.. I’m gonna stick.
Antisocial extrovert in a more open open source community
No matter how I tried, and I did try, I’m just not a people person. Among other antisocial treats, over the years I have developed a heavy dark humor which, more often than not, due to lack of social interactions I reveal in a completely wrong way. But these people seem not to mind so I thought to give it a try with them. Don’t get me wrong, Code of Conduct is extremely important in WordPress community. No community wants bullies. But rare communities accept social weirdos and misfits. And this one doesn’t just accept them, it makes them feel like fits. That was a nice change.
I started attending local Meetups, even gave a talk on contributing to Theme Review team after which I was invited to join Toptal platform as a freelance developer. My social adventure got me volunteering on WordCamp Belgrade and WordCamp Europe in Paris. I must admit there were “too many people at the same time” moments but there were lots of ways to stay involved with controlled dose of human interactions. I chose volunteering at Experts bar and it worked out just great. I really loved all the hugs though.
Today I try to keep my focus on just a few channels in make WordPress slack and my contribution wish list regularly updated. One can have only so many hours in a day. Most often you’ll find me in #docs and #core-docs channels, doing various stuff with Documentation team.
Among all the questions I get about my professional path, the most commons are “How come you made such a huge change from music to web development?“, “Did you go to school to become a developer?” and “Do you miss being musician?“. Answer to the first question is quite easy:
“Being musician and writing code are pretty much the same. They both require the same parts of your mental struggle and make you go through the same emotional tortures and enlightenments.”
The second question, however, is a bit more difficult to answer. In the light of the first answer, I could say that I was exposed to the required way of thinking. Practicing an instrument 6 hours per day for over a decade does teach you a couple of things about commitment. World of classical music is a world of magnificent talents and varieties which touches you all the way to the humble self where you find appreciation for being able to feel this way. Personally, I believe this is extremely important for developer – to be humble and grateful to person who helped them find this humbleness.
No, I don’t have a formal developer’s education. It doesn’t seem to prevent me from being developer. And no, I don’t miss being musician. Because I never stopped being one. I listen to classical music while I code and play piano when I have a difficult programming problem to solve. Feels so natural.
I’d like to say that everything turned out pretty good at the end but, as my father used to say: “Life is the greatest screenplay writer” and my life seems to be the witty one too. In expectation of future turns I’d recommend Beethoven’s Symphony No.7, II movement, some very loud laughs and lots of WordPress loops.