Pullquote: Always be flexible. Your business and your soul will die if you aren't.

It’s Never Too Late (Even in the Tech Community)

I could start with a cliché.

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. 

But that would be wrong.

WordPress has been big for me. It’s become a way a life. It changed the direction of my career. It fits nicely with my values of discovery, lifelong learning, of always moving ahead and never looking back. It has reinforced for me the importance of flexibility—in attitudes, in business relationships, in life. In the end, it led me to teaching, something I didn’t know that I would love.

When did it start?

We didn’t have computers when I went through school in eastern Washington.  When I returned to college in my mid-20s, I decided to jump into computer programming. What the heck, right? It sounded better than spending my life bartending. Working on a Trash80 (Radio Shack’s TRS 80), I discovered new languages: Pascal, Assembly, COBOL, and Basic. But after a year of it, I found it, well, boring. I didn’t yet know who I was, but I knew I was not a computer programmer. Although, I will admit that it helped me become more comfortable around computers.

Five years later, we moved to southern California , where my wife Judy took a job as Grant Writing Manager for World Vision, an international humanitarian organization. Somehow along the way I started dabbling in graphic design and the desktop publishing that was so popular then. I got my first freelance gig at World Vision, formatting country summary reports. It was pretty exciting.

A few years later, we moved back to Washington state and ended up in a small beach community called Ocean Shores. There, while bartending again, I decided to start my first business, Cat’s Eye Design. Over the years, the business grew and we became a full-service design, copywriting and marketing business run solely by Judy and me.

Somewhere around the late 90’s, as I realized how important the web was becoming in the marketing and design field,  I slowly began learning web design using HTML to build websites for our clients. I did this—reluctantly—for several years. For me, building sites in HTML sucked and was no fun at all.

In 2007, I discovered WordPress and everything changed. In 2008, I started creating WordPress sites for clients. In 2010, as the recession hit and print jobs were becoming scarcer, I made the decision to revisit that side of our business. I made the somewhat bold decision to drop all print clients and bravely announced, “I now only do WordPress websites. Period.”

Adaptability and openness to change saw me through.

I had to rely on my skills of flexibility big time and I leaned on those values of adaptability and openness to change as I began rebuilding again.

At this point in time, at the ripe age 53, I became BobWP. I was entering a tech community that consisted primarily of kids, at least from my perspective. They were young and smart, what some people older and cornier than me might call “whippersnappers.” But as I immersed myself in the open software and the community, I discovered that it was really no different. Because I am open-minded by nature, willing to learn and extremely flexible, I fit in perfectly.

I continued to do design, but I was getting more and more burned out on it. It just didn’t excite me anymore. Around the same time, I started doing local workshops here in the Puget Sound. I offered them for free so I could get the experience and get a feel for the needs in the Seattle community. What I found out was more than worth all my time. I found out it was fun.

I found that I loved to teach.

I loved seeing the joy in my students’ eyes when they experienced that ah-ha moment. I loved knowing that people walked away feeling empowered. It was too damn cool.

I immersed myself in the local WordPress community. I got involved with the Seattle WordPress meetup and was the organizer for a year. I moved right into the local WordCamp and became lead organizer for that for one year as well. I bopped around to a few WordCamps and spoke at some, other times just sitting back and enjoying all the presentations. As I reflect on those, and plan for future ones, I realize that it’s all about the people. I looked forward to connecting, visiting, sharing, laughing with others.

Now I am 58 and am a full-time WordPress trainer. With that many years under my belt, I could talk forever here. I could mention the hundreds of incredible people I have met since becoming a part of the WordPress community. I could share with you dozens of amazing experiences that constantly challenged me and pushed me to keep on keeping on. I could also outline each point in my career where flexibility was key.

I would have shriveled up to nothing if not for adapting along the way.

I have been mentored, and I have mentored. I never stop learning. At the next WordCamp, I will sit around with all kinds of people—from all over the world. That is cool. I will chat with someone who could be my son or daughter, or even my grandson or granddaughter.That is cool.

Yes, there have been tough times, and there is no guarantee that there won’t be more.  But the opportunity that WordPress gave me is priceless. The relationships and friends I have made have been nothing short of amazing.

Never say never.

So it’s never too late. No matter your age, you have value to bring to the table. Each person you meet is unique and has their own story, no matter their color, age or gender. Don’t be afraid to step into new waters. Give people respect and most of them will give it right back. I remember being at a tech conference and seeing a young man, probably no older than 19 or 20, hanging back, in the shadows. I walked over, introduced myself and got him talking. But I did have to chuckle when he said, “Wow, all these old people here are kind of freaking me out.”

I reassured him that we don’t bite.

My most important lesson has been this: Always be flexible. Your business—and your soul— will die if you aren’t. Be open-minded and embrace change. It will not only help you grow, but it will keep your perspective fresh.

In the end, don’t become an old fart. And know that, yes, you can always teach an old dog new tricks.

8 comments

  1. Merri Dennis says:

    Thanks so much for this essay, Bob. I heard another speaker this past weekend at WordCamp DFW who has about the same timetable as you.

    I’m 52 and launching my site design and tech support business. I love helping folks get started with WP so they can communicate well.

    You’re one of my favorite ‘go to gurus’ for all things WordPress.

    Blessings!

    • Bob Dunn says:

      Hey Merri, thanks so much for the kind words. And how cool is it that you are launching a new site design. Sounds like you have found your part of the WP community.

      And I know there are several in the community in our demographic as well. In fact, I think we are all kicking butt 🙂 Cheers!

  2. Fran says:

    Hey Bob! It’s always nice to be reminded there are others my age who are just as excited by technology as I am. I started on a TRS-80 in elementary school, but I never actually got it to do anything! It didn’t stop me from becoming fascinated by computers when punch cards were still in the rear view mirror. I was the only person I knew in college that had their own computer – with a hard drive no less!

    I love learning new things, and sharing that knowledge with others. I can’t imagine a time when I won’t want to be right out in front with all the new stuff. I hope to go to a WordCamp next year, maybe I’ll see you there!

  3. Bob Dunn says:

    Hey Fran, how cool, tackling the Trash80 in elementary school. Now there is some memories even though you never got it to do anything 🙂

    But yes, I know that fascination with computers, and the old punch cards.. how we progressed. And being the only person in college with a computer and a mighty hard drive… wow, cutting edge 🙂

    It sounds like you have that in-born need to learn new things and share.. we are kindred souls. And yes, hoping we meet someday. Cheers!

  4. Rich says:

    Another old dog here…. same age actually….looking to make a ‘late in life’ career change due to physical injuries. Had both a model 3 and 4 (with ORCH90 !). Always had a desire to learn the new technology. Went to night school for a year to learn web fundamentals back in 2000 and have been trying to stay current over the years by doing self study. Now, hoping to get serious about learning WordPress and coding but had been concerned about my age and ability to earn a decent wage doing this stuff. Thanks for the reassurance that it can be done. Still feel like I have a ways to go, skill wise, before I’m employable, but would really prefer to work freelance. Have been self employed for the last 38 years as a contractor.

    • Bob Dunn says:

      Hey Rich, sounds like we have a lot in common. And I’m with you there, been doing my own thing for so long every time I have moved to make a change, I have always thought how tough it would be to go back to working for someone.. it’s been tempting, but don’t know if they are looking for “an old dog”. 🙂

      Very cool to see where you are going and feel free to connect with me over on my site if you have any questions during your pursuit. Cheers!

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