This is a story about how curiosity prevails over experience and why you should always encourage yourself to try new things. After all, no one can guarantee you success, but you can do everything you can to live a happy life.
When I was growing up in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s having a computer was somewhat still a privilege, and certainly not yet as advanced and efficient as the computing systems we have access to today. Nonetheless, my parents were big supporters of technology and made sure to set me up with a nice big (I mean so big it literally took up most of my desk space at the time) desktop system for Christmas when I was fourteen. I remember getting to pick out a base model from the Gateway Computers magazine at the time, and by Christmas it was all wrapped up under the tree.
This computer became my everything, putting the world at my fingertips. Of course being able to have my own PC opened up the opportunity for me to dive into homework with the help of Google. I remember using services like Ask Jeeves to solve literal questions I had, and when I finally got the AOL CD installed and heard my first “You’ve got mail” I was hooked on what a little bit of internet, technology and imagination could do for me. And in the midst of all of that, I somehow found WordPress, this small but mighty tool that allowed me to setup my first (of what would become many) blogs where I would chronicle my life happenings as a teenager and put my thoughts out into the world. I of course didn’t know it then, but now can say that I wholeheartedly credit my early blogging days on WordPress to what influenced me to get a BA in Communication. I often refer to myself as a storyteller and blogging was the ultimate canvas for me to get my stories out.
In full disclosure I am a very ambitious person and being able to have a tool that accelerated my curiosity was just what I needed and I’m grateful for my parents empowering my drive. I didn’t know it at the time when I was blogging on a myriad of sites like WordPress, LiveJournal, Xanga and Blogger that WordPress would be the one that would stand the testament of time for me. But I found myself gravitating towards it as new projects or ideas would come up, it became my go to platform. I’m trying really hard to think why I choose WordPress. Maybe it was luck or maybe it was life guiding me to something that would open doors to me later.
I blogged about school, friends, the Austin music scene, you name it and I would have an idea and a new blog to go along with it. And the older I got the more that the blogging concept turned into a full blown curiosity with learning CSS, HTML and any other languages that gave me the power to manipulate the look and feel of my website(s). It also helped that my music blog was just what I needed to get backstage access into some of the coolest music shows I’ve ever been to. (All these artist managers wanted to see was that you were legit, have a site CHECK, have business cards CHECK). I was catching onto this idea that all you have to do is ask, the worst they can say is no.
I continued to blog and build basic sites on WordPress during college, I created two music sites that I operated with a group of friends that covered Austin musicians, concert schedules, and our thoughts on popular (or not so popular) albums at the time. For me, being able to understand the digital world was a tool that I coveted having in my back pocket. I was by no means an expert developer or designer, but I knew how to use what I knew to achieve what I wanted to achieve, and I was doing it with the power of WordPress. I’m a master at networking in that regard, everyone brings something unique to the table that we can learn from and I try to always remember that when I meet people. Going into friendships thinking “what can I learn from you” is a humbling experience. Thinking you know everything is a way to get booted out the door, no one likes a smart ass.
By the time I was getting ready to graduate college, I met a small WordPress company at the time called WP Engine. There were 12 employees and they were working out of this co-working space diving headfirst into what is now a bustling category of WordPress hosting.
I remember they had a sign at this hiring event on a piece of cardboard, written in sharpie saying “We’re hiring, do you know WordPress?” It struck a chord in me, for one I was actively using WordPress so I felt I had something to bring to the table, and two the company seemed promising and that I’d get to be a part of something special. I sent them my resume and within two weeks I was hired as employee 13 to manage our events program, billing and be the office manager. I was about to graduate college, with 4 months to go till graduation and this WordPress company saw something in me. I didn’t know at the time how big WP Engine would grow to be, but I knew it had everything to do with WordPress and that was exciting for me.
I do know I wouldn’t be here writing this story to you today if those stars hadn’t aligned. And I know I wouldn’t have been a good fit had I not spent the precursing 4 years being a consumer of WordPress.
Joining “The Community”
Now it’s about four years since I’ve joined WP Engine. I’ve seen the company grow, I’ve gotten to grow with it and have changed roles since joining in the early days when there were more things to get done than people and hours in the day. But the one thing that WP Engine has also given me is a new appreciation for WordPress.
I am a big believer in everything happening for a reason, but I also believe that you have to be alert and ready for opportunities. I was actively using WordPress but I wasn’t involved in any sort of community with it. In fact, I didn’t even really know one existed before WP Engine. So if you look at my past 8+ years using WordPress, half of the time I didn’t even fully take advantage of what WordPress had to offer.
I really believe the community side of it is what has been the most impacting part of my life and is what is going to continue to drive me forward. Learning from people who have come before me and the things they have accomplished because of WordPress. Reading everyone else who has contributed to HeroPress share their stories, that is where the beauty of what WordPress has to offer you exists.
With WordPress you can be and do whatever you want to do. From writing and publishing content, to being a freelancer, to working for a WordPress company, the only limitation is the one you place on yourself and WordPress is the tool to help you overcome that.
Open your own business, you can do that using WordPress as your foundation. Quit your job and travel the world as a developer picking up business in the many places you visit, WordPress can empower you to be able to do that. It is through the people that I’ve met over the last four years that I really truly have begun to appreciate what this Open Source community is all about.
Recently I’ve begun to take my role in the WordPress community a step further, I spent the last four years representing WP Engine out at WordCamps (over 30 to be exact) tapping into the international WordPress community, and just last year challenged myself to speak at these events and meetups. I feel so inspired by the women and men who are living their life thanks to WordPress and I want to help share that inspiration with others. So I’ve been talking about community, the power of it, and how you harness it to not just help the community succeed but how you can succeed to.
I now have friends in Cape Town, Seattle, Sevilla, and Paris to name a few. These are people I wouldn’t have known if it wasn’t for WordPress and they’re the ones who are helping me grow the next four years of my life into something worth talking about. They challenge me both personally and professionally and empower me to be a global citizen of the world. It’s pretty cool to work and live in a community that literally spans the globe.
I also started a blog again. It’s funny how working at a WordPress company (or any company for that fact) you still find yourself straying away from doing some of the things you used to do in your free time. It wasn’t that I didn’t love blogging or writing, I just didn’t have time between going back to school and working full time at a startup. But I now can say I did it, I just completed one year of blogging at my food blog Dine With Shayda. It’s now a tool I use to bring me back to where I started all those years ago with WordPress. I’m a consumer again, the things that WordPress does affect me as a WordPress user. The things I learn from the speakers at WordCamps is applicable to my own website, and most importantly I’ve found my digital voice again. I love food, food makes me happy.
I’m rediscovering my happiness every day thanks to the WordPress community, and I believe you can too.
The first step is to open yourself up, introduce yourself to someone new, or pick up a new area of WordPress you’re unfamiliar with. I’m here to tell you you’re gonna feel weird, silly and nervous at times but it’s ok because we’ve all been there. And if you ever need a pep talk, feel free to say hi @shaptora.