Act 1: For the love of Poetry
It all started in 1999 in Bombay. A PC was considered a luxury; very few people had one and OS and Windows were synonyms. I was eighteen and a prolific poet, having fallen in love with poetry at a young impressionable age. Like all creators of any sort, I had a need to exhibit my work. I became aware of an online magazine called freshlimesoda.com that published poems, photographs and artwork in weekly issues. I was very pleased when I got published a few times. It was the most exciting thing I knew. Unfortunately, all good things come to an end. The magazine shut down.
By now, I was addicted to the content, the forums and the high that came with getting published. I had unsuccessfully mailed them, offering to take over or maintain the site. What would you do if no one was selling what you needed? You start selling it yourself. So, I decided to start a freshlimesoda.com of my own. The problem was, I just couldn’t afford it.
I had to either raise the money or learn how to build a website, myself. Like all fools (or was I?), I chose the latter. Having no idea that there was a world beyond windows, I learnt ASP 3.0 and made a website which sucked on multiple levels. I had to look for better ideas and that’s when I stumbled upon Drupal. I was a technical zero and found Drupal a little difficult to digest. Drupal led me to Joomla because it was supposed to help build portals. In about a month of wrestling with it, I realised I had recurring urges to break my monitor. I had come across this software called WordPress but it was for blogging and the admin was too simple and uncovincing (1.5.something, it was 2003 by now) for a portal. I had to move on and try to build a custom website in PHP.
However, there was a problem. There was college to attend to. Just when I was about to give the whole idea up, I contemplated blogging my poems. That train of thought led me to the realisation that all CMSes are just a blog and vice versa. I could easily use categories to get most of the functionality. That was the start of something important. Only, I didn’t know about it yet. I was busy helping deliver babies in the labour ward (I was studying medicine to become a doctor).
Act 2: Because knowledge needs to be accessible
Fast forward to 2007. More than one turn of events made me leave medical school and wander, trip and stumble across various professions, jobs and spiritual beliefs.
At the end of these wanderings, I became a communications coach and ESL (English as a Second Language) trainer. I was good at it and I enjoyed teaching. However, it paid very little. You’d be surprised how little teachers and trainers are paid in India. I increasingly got disillusioned with the system and ditched it to work with non profits. The pay was as bad as for profit gigs but the job satisfaction was amazing.
One such project was with visually challenged children and adults. I loved teaching them and inspite of my initial reservations, found communicating with them very easy. The students wanted to have something to refer to outside the classroom, to strengthen their learning. The management suggested creating a braille book, but that was tedious and expensive and would only generate one or two copies. They discussed audio casettes but then the pace would be fixed and it’d still be expensive. There had to be a simpler, cheaper solution.
Fortunately, someone had donated a computer lab to the school, some time ago. I could use that to install a cheap software that’d let me store all the lessons. The content neede to be easily accessible and readily editable by teachers, students and me. I needed a content management system. I searched and looked at a lot of options, but I didn’t like any. Then I found an accessible, high-contrast theme for this old blogging software that I knew of, which had moved to 2.3 now. I installed it on WAMP on the intranet, installed a high contrast theme, and WordPress suddenly brought a ray of light.
Act 3: At times it is your destiny
A year later, in 2008, I was broke, had no career, no direction and no spirit. You could call it a midlife crisis, but I don’t think I was going to die at 54.
Following some useful advice from Google, I went to a career counseler. They didn’t exist when I made my career and education decisions after high school. After a series of tests, I was told that of all the things that I could choose to do in life, I’d be the best at programming.
I didn’t have the money to enroll in a proper course. I was in need of something that I could build tangible products with, quickly. Websites sold well and I remembered just the software that could help me.
Conclusion: A programmer and a fan boy
As of today, I think I am a decent programmer and have built fairly complex products and WordPress plugins. All the html, css, js, PHP that I know, I learnt because I was learning WordPress. I could do that because WordPress enabled and encouraged me to take things in my own hands.
I have heard people complain about how WordPress doesn’t follow MVC. In contrast to this school of thought, I found WordPress’s architecture to be closely aligned to a user’s mental model of the software (the loop, for example). For someone with no background in programming, I could quickly learnt how to build a theme or a plugin. Each time I pasted a piece of code from somewhere, I learnt at least one new thing and I never copy pasted anything thrice (twice is allowed!).
I owe a lot of things to WordPress and try and give back as much as I can. One of the ways I do that is by helping build a strong WordPress community in India and evangelising WordPress wherever it makes sense.