Pull Quote: The people in WordPress have been so encouraging and are always there to cheer me on.

How Contributing To WordPress Empowers Me

One of my favorite WordPress memories is standing in line to register at WordCamp London 2018. Upon saying my first name, no one looked surprised or asked me to say that again, please? Where I live, in the Netherlands, Siobhan is definitely not a common name. Also, the pronunciation is quite different from the spelling. For most languages obviously, I’m guessing in Irish it makes sense! This really gave me a welcoming feeling. At this event, I wasn’t going to be spending time explaining my name. Although I love my name, explaining it does get a bit old sometimes.

To me, this feels like a metaphor for the WordPress community. I’ve always felt very welcome without having to explain myself, or pretend to be someone different. Disclaimer: I do realize not everyone does, but this is me sharing my personal experiences. I understand that I come from a place of privilege. Not in the least by being employed by Yoast, a company that takes contributing to WordPress very seriously. I get to allocate part of my hours to contributing, which is a luxury. I also literally have lunch with a lot of knowledgeable people that can provide context when I don’t understand something, or share their opinions when I ask.

On the other hand, working for a company well-known within WordPress, has also felt like a possible pitfall. For a long time, I have felt the need to prove myself. To show that I’m capable of getting somewhere on my own merits, not just because I have a magenta hoodie.

Reaching Out

So at my first contributor day, I purposely joined a team that none of my coworkers were in. The WordPress marketing team. This makes sense anyway, as my regular job is in social media marketing. I joined the marketing team on Slack, as they weren’t physically at this WordCamp. At the time, I didn’t have one of the super recognizable Yoast avatars. I just dove in, read up on the team and the work they did, and asked some questions. To be honest, I found it hard at first to actually get to work, as I was lacking context.

After attending a few Slack meetings, I felt bold enough to take on the meeting notes. It’s a relatively easy job that doesn’t feel meaningful (it is, though!), but I loved having made my first contribution. The team was so welcoming and took the time to acknowledge me and the work I’d done. That motivated me to ask if there was any project or task I could join. Things moved quickly from there. I wrote a piece of content and got some very useful feedback from a native English speaker. They didn’t just correct my text, they explained what they’d change and why. I try to do the same now, as it makes so much sense. I still learn a lot every time I get feedback from someone in the team. Over the next months, I kind of accidentally led a few marketing tables at contributor days. I remembered how I’d struggled myself, so I enjoyed on-boarding people and getting them excited about the team. After a while, the team reps asked me to join them. Such an honor!

Understanding What Worked

All it took for me to join the team was taking that first step. Speaking up and just saying ‘hey, I’m here, what can I do?’. The team didn’t ask for any references of my work, or need to know who I was. I felt trusted, and that made me want to deliver the best work I could. Of course, after a while, I actually got to meet the people in real life. And if you’ve ever been at a WordCamp that Yoast attended, you probably know we take branding seriously. You won’t see me there without my Yoast shirt or hoodie! I’m proud to work for such a company and I get to meet a lot of awesome people because of it. But that also meant, people now couldn’t not know that I am part of Team Yoast.

Being recognizable definitely made it easier for me to move within the community. We have a lovely community team at Yoast that took the effort of introducing me to a lot of people. That helped me meet people outside of the marketing team, which has proven to be pretty valuable for my work within the team as well. So, a lot of perks come from the company I work for. What I’m trying to get at though, is that I feel that other contributors appreciate me for who I am. For my work, my knowledge, my commitment, my personality. I’d like to believe that even though my day job has made it a lot easier for me to find my place within WordPress, a large part of it is down to my own strengths.

When our founder, Joost, became marketing lead at WordPress, we worked together regularly. As team rep for the marketing team, I had experience within the team and already knew the people. Some people out there were only noticing the marketing team for the first time then. Sometimes when I spoke to people, I realized they assumed I’d gotten my position as team rep through Joost. They didn’t know I’d already been a team rep for at least a year. This annoyed me, but it also motivated me to show them this wasn’t the case. I enjoyed working on this with Joost, but I also made sure to keep doing my own thing. I’m currently on maternity leave, but I’m looking forward to returning to the team in a few weeks!

The Value Of Being On A WordPress Team

The greatest learning experience I’m having within WordPress, lies within being a team rep. I learn so much from working closely with the other reps, who come from around the world and from all kinds of jobs and companies. I learn to see different points of view, and take things into account that I’d never have thought of myself. I learn to communicate with people from all types of jobs and cultures. I learn a lot about themes I didn’t know of before, like inclusiveness, and accessibility. All of this helps me grow as a person and as a professional. And the other way around: I get to use skills and knowledge I’ve learned at Yoast to help empower the team.

I love the combination of my regular job and the work I do in WordPress. Both teach me different things as the job, the people, the context, the means of communication, basically everything, is different. It’s definitely a win-win situation for me. I also take pride in what I’ve done for myself, by taking opportunities and making the most of them. I’ve been running international meetings, getting up on stage, spoken during an online event, leading discussions on- and offline, and so on. The people in WordPress have been so encouraging and are always there to cheer me on.

Lifelong Friendships

And another thing: valuable friendships have come from it. During WordCamps, I love to spend the evenings having a drink with other attendees. I’ve met such diverse people and have had the most interesting conversations, way outside of my own bubble at home. And more recently, Abha and Yvette (two of the other team reps) were even going to come visit me at home, to meet my newborn baby girl! Unfortunately, COVID-19 put a stop to that.

Finding my way within the WordPress community, being backed by Yoast, helps me develop myself in several ways. It’s making me take steps and do things I never thought I would. I hope to make my company proud, and I’m proving to myself that I have skills to bring to the table. I’m not just at the table because of where I work.

Of course, I still feel overwhelmed sometimes, or like I’m just not getting it. But I know we’re a team, and I can ask for help. I got to where I am today, by just diving in and making myself known. Taking that step back then has brought me a lot. I’d be happy if my story inspires someone to do the same. Anyone can contribute, it doesn’t matter where you’re from or where you work. At all times, a lot is happening and contributors are working hard. They might not notice you, but that doesn’t mean they don’t care. Reach out, introduce yourself, you never know where it’ll take you!

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