Pull Quote: It was so scary admitting my ignorance, exposing it in a remote environment where I couldn't see my teammates reactions live.

How I tried, applied, got involved. Realizing one of my childhood dreams.

When you’re born in an island, you usually grow up thinking about all the marvelous things awaiting for you on the other side of the sea. I was born in Sardinia, an island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, and as a child I dreamt about becoming an air hostess.

I wanted to travel the world and speak tons of foreign languages, to be able to communicate with local people everywhere I’d go.

But people kept telling me that I wasn’t going to become tall enough for that job (genetics don’t lie!), and I eventually listened to them. I ended up choosing a different path in life, following the Italian mantra: “You have to study something that will guarantee a stable and secure job for life”.

Even if I wasn’t that much convinced about the perspective of having the same job for all my life, as my parents did, at the same time I didn’t want to get stuck in the island forever: the unemployment rate in Sardinia is unfortunately really high and I didn’t want to risk to be part of that percentage.

Crossing the borders of the island

So I chose the Faculty of Economics and did my best to cross the borders of my island as soon as I had the chance: this happened when I was 22 and I moved to Siena, Tuscany, to finish my studies. That is also the time when I opened my first personal blog on an Italian platform named Tiscali, which I later migrated to WordPress.com.

I’ve always loved writing, and since I was a little girl I used to spend hours in my room writing stories and poems. I was doing the same with the blog but with the advantage of reaching a much larger public, virtually meeting many people and getting inspired by their stories.

After 2 years in Tuscany I moved to Strasbourg, France. There I learnt French and did several little jobs, but I found my first important one in Milan, the big city shining with job opportunities for everyone —as Italians love to say.

There I was, fulfilling the dream of many young people of my age (and their families): I was 25, with an average-paid 40 hours/week office job in the marketing department of a big international company, and I was surrounded by ambitious colleagues and a boss constantly asking for extra —and free— working hours per day.

I was feeling like a parrot inside a golden cage.

It seemed to me I wasn’t going anywhere. I also gave up blogging because I wasn’t feeling inspired enough to write. People constantly repeated to me that I was super lucky to have a permanent contract and work in a marketing department; in their eyes I was all set for life, so —using some strange equation — I also had to be happy!

Of course I was luckier than many of my peers, but I kept asking myself if I really wanted to do that life forever.
Did I really want to keep on working 10 hours per day under the neon lights of an office, annihilate my dreams and live waiting for the free time of the weekend?

The most vivid memory I have of that period is the overwhelming feeling clenching my throat on Sunday afternoons, when I started to dread the moment of coming back to the office the day after.

Facing new challenges

So I left and faced the change. At the beginning I gave myself the opportunity to test different office jobs. But the results were always the same: I kept feeling unsatisfied with my life, and I understood I had to respect my little girl’s dream and fly away from my golden cage.

I opted for emigration and moved alone to Barcelona, Spain, in 2012.

My first move was plunging myself into a few months of intense Spanish learning at the University, then I found a job in an international Assisted Reproduction Clinic.

My job title was “Patient Coordinator” and I was assisting international patients coming to Barcelona for their treatments: I was their translator, interpreter and administrative consultant. Patients were from Italy, France, England, Morocco, Senegal…it was a Babylon of people with so many different backgrounds that I felt really inspired by some of their stories.
This inspiration led me to start writing again: I dusted off my WordPress blog and filled it up with stories about my new life in Barcelona and some of the women I was meeting at the Clinic. I was feeling stronger and more independent than ever.

The job at the Clinic lasted for 3 years. Even if it was really inspiring, it was also very stressful. Imagine being a 30-something woman speaking all day long about fertility problems with women struggling to have a baby.

I realized I was getting too involved and decided to look around to see what I could do next.

How can I find a job like this?

It was summer 2015 and I was at my desk, in my little tiny apartment in front of Barcelona’s beach. I was writing in my blog and I got stuck in a technical problem. While I was searching through the WordPress.com documentation, I saw a pop-up in the bottom right corner of my screen: an Automattician wrote me to ask if I needed help. I gladly accepted her offer, we chatted for a few minutes, the problem was solved and I could go back to my writing. But I also left the chat with one question: how could that person on chat find a support job with WordPress?

Curious as I am, I started looking for an answer and I stumbled upon the official WordPress job page: jobs.wordpress.net

There I found a job offer that caught my attention: WP Media, a French startup, was looking for a polyglot and remote customer service teammate for one of their plugins, WP Rocket. I read their requirements: fluency in English, French and possibly another language, great experience with WordPress, some coding skills.

That offer was calling me, I felt it.

I knew I didn’t have all the requirements, but hey, I could speak 4 languages, and I had a WordPress blog…right? Of course, I didn’t know anything about PHP, I had always been a WordPress.com user until that moment and I didn’t really know how to manage a self-hosted website or use a cache plugin…but I felt I was ready to learn all that. And moreover, what did I have to lose?

I wrote my most inspired cover letter and sent my CV.

With my total surprise, they answered me the day after and we set up an interview by Skype. My main strengths were the fluency in 4 languages and my previous experience in customer service, so I was really confident about those skills; yet I wanted to be totally honest with them: yes, I had been using WordPress for a long time, and yes, I was digital savvy enough, but I knew very little on the technical side. I had always worked on the front end of websites, writing, blogging, learning by myself; I didn’t know anything about the backend of WordPress sites.

Even so, they had faith in me and in a few days I had the confirmation: I was in! During the first days I felt so happy about this new major turning point in my life: not only had I found a job thanks to my primordial passion, speaking foreign languages, but for the first time in my life I could do that job from home or anywhere else I liked, instead of being caged in a formal office!

I got introduced to my remote teammates and I instantly felt welcomed.

Learning by doing

But, very soon, that initial enthusiasm started to struggle with another intense feeling: the fear of exposing my inexperience.

There were too many things I didn’t know!

Working in a WordPress backend was so new to me that I started studying like crazy and reading everything I could about WordPress for beginners. I went through some really intense months of learning by doing, supported by my teammates. Like a baby who start crawling and then taking little steps, I was initially answering the easiest tickets from our customers. 
At the same my teammates were sending me useful material to read, setting up video-calls for 1to1 training, encouraging me every time they could.

After a few days I received the first happy comments by the customers I was helping in their mother tongue: until that moment the plugin’s support had been offered only in English and French, so it was the first time Spanish and Italian customers were being answered in their own language…and they appreciated that!

Even so, I can’t deny it, I was scared.

It was so scary admitting my ignorance, exposing it in a remote environment where I couldn’t see my teammates reactions live.

My first instinct was imagining the worst scenarios where they were secretly hating me for interrupting their work on Slack with my doubts.

But I had no other choice than to keep asking questions and learn from their answers. Not doing so would have been much worse: silencing my voice would have slowed down my learning process.

Why don’t you try to contribute to WordPress?

We were at WordCamp Paris 2016 when one of my teammates showed me how the WordPress community worked together and kept in contact through Slack.

“You speak multiple languages, why don’t you try to contribute to the polyglots team?” —he asked.

That thought never crossed my mind before, I knew very little about contributing to WordPress. I had been working for WP Media for 6 months and, while I was enjoying my new job a lot, I was just slowly starting to abandon that overwhelming feeling of insecurity I mentioned above.

I didn’t feel ready to dive into a new challenge and start also contributing to WordPress, I thought I didn’t have the ability to do that. I was wrong, obviously.

Curiosity won on me another time and I joined the two Slack channels Making WordPress (where all the WP global community meets) and Italia WP Community. I lurked the channels for a few months, until I went to WordCamp Milan and met some members of the Italian Polyglots team.

It was love at first string: Laura, one of the General Translation Editors (GTE) for Italy, taught me how to start contributing and translating following the polyglots guidelines. She also told me about the big effort the Italian community has been doing to work together, consistently, to boost WordPress related events in Italy and to grow up.

I wanted to be an active part of it and I started contributing.

Now I’m a Project Translator Editor for the Italian polyglots team and I mentor new contributors: I love it!

Since the beginning of my journey into the WordPress world I traveled a lot, and also attended WordCamps in Paris, Vienna, Milan, Barcelona, Torino and Bilbao.

Following my teammates encouragement, I also started applying to WordCamps as a speaker, because I felt my story could be important for other people looking for new inspiration for their working and personal life. I gave my first talk in my adoptive city, Barcelona, in December 2016, then in Torino in April 2017 and I recently had the honor to tell my story also from the stage of WordCamp Europe 2017.

In a short glimpse of time I engaged in many activities related to WordPress which allowed me to meet very interesting and inspiring people from all over the world.

I’m (not) lucky.

People keep telling me that I’m lucky, and it’s true, I really am. But if I’m here, now, sharing my story (and thanks Topher for inviting me to write it!) is not because I live under a lucky star: I just used my previous skills and passions and adapted them to a new career and life path.

We all have some skills; and if we don’t know which they are exactly, we should take some time to make a list of the things we’re really good at. With that in mind, just try. Apply. Get involved. Don’t get stuck in the feeling of “I can’t do it because I don’t know enough”.

That is what I did: without even realizing it, I started putting into reality the dream of the little girl who was born in an island and wanted to travel and speak different languages.

WordPress made this possible: I’m part of a big community, and I am proud of it.

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4 comments

  1. Bjorn says:

    Alot of your story sounds very familiar to me! And some parts of your story are still my dreams 😉
    Maybe I should jump…
    Anyway, thanks for sharing your great and inspiring story!!!

    • Alice Orru says:

      Hey Bjorn, thanks for your comment!
      If you’re wondering if you should jump…don’t hesitate, try it 🙂 Good luck for your projects!

  2. Thank you SO much for taking the time to write this EXTREMELY familiar story. I think I found you at just the right moment during my day (as I type this under florescent lights inside my job box, hearing the mundane sounds of printers and telephones) I go through that “Sunday blues” every single Sunday, its such a real feeling. Although I spend much of my free time desperately searching for the gateway to my dream jobs & little girl dream(s) come true, I keep hitting walls. I will NOT give up, however and I have your story to keep pushin’ me along.

    cheers!
    -lkennedy

    • Alice Orru says:

      Sunday Blues! That’s the name of that feeling, you’re right 🙂 I wish you to find very soon the gateway you’re looking for, don’t give up!
      Thanks a lot for your comment 🙂

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