“Why do I write? It’s not that I want people to think I am smart, or even that I am a good writer. I write because I want to end my loneliness.”
– Jonathan Safran Foer
In the beginning was the Word
A decade ago, I was in ninth grade and plagued with an insatiable stutter. Needless to say, high school was an extremely difficult period of life for me. Every word stumbled upon its own announcement. Every word, fodder for bullies shouting “Could you repeat that?”.
I could only speak well when I was with close friends or family – often, they never saw my stutter or understood what I went through in public environments. I was quite a quiet child, I was not wasteful with my words.
I began writing in a journal as a way to have an avenue where every word arrived smoothely. As Jonathan Foer said, I write because I want to end my loneliness. Alone with a pen was the only time I didn’t feel truly alone.
Enter stage left, WordPress.
In 2004, a leap year, I developed my first romance – blogging. It had the beauty of writing in a journal with the brilliance of my first fluent conversations defined as ‘comments’. Little did I know that this small act, over a decade ago, would influence the rest of my life.
It was in 2005 that I also decided that I was no longer going to let a stutter get the better of me. With the encouragement of my readers, I spent my entire summer break locked away in my room speaking away my stutter. Even though I no longer stutter, when I speak I still feel the scratch of words in my throat – each spoken word, a tiny victory.
Had it not been for that first blog, I would never have connected with others like me who taught me that it was possible to overcome it – until that point I believed this was how my life would be, broken in articulation.
I did not know that the tool that helped me connect with these people was called WordPress, I suspect that many users do not know what they use either. It all began with WordPress 1.2, code-named Mingus.
In 2008, another leap year (those seem to happen a lot), I was in my final year of high school. I was lucky enough to have Java Programming introduced into our curriculum which taught me the foundations of algorithms, logic, and problem solving. With these new-found super powers I had the confidence to update my “blog software” to the latest version on my seventeeth birthday.
WordPress 2.1, Ella was her name. Updating on a slow 56k dial-up connection was not an easy task, but it was definitely worth it.
It was at this point, I believe, that I fell in love with WordPress. Rich editing, spell-checker, auto save, and even a theme system – she was beautiful. That is when I spent most of my time on Google searching for “Customizing WordPress” and “Making WordPress your own” – I didnt know how important these searches would be for me later, but they were.
It was in this year that my parents lost their business as a genuine oil painting dealer. Art became a luxury, and the Chinese brought in mass produced acrylic replicas which shut down many art businesses overnight – my parents art gallery being one of them.
I wrote my final high school examinations not being able to afford milk for my cereal. As soon as I finished high school, I applied for every entry-level web related job that I could find. It was all I knew to do at the time – I was on Facebook since it went global, I was on WordPress since its version one release cycle, I knew enough.
I was hired in a few months by a company called Alchemex, which soon got acquired by Sage – The international accounting software company.
I had milk again.
Had it not been for those searches on “Making WordPress your own”, my life would have turned out a lot differently. It was an unfortunate gift which I am more than thankful for.
Love, Community, and Overcoming
There is no accident why I chose WordPress as my platform of choice for development. It was not because it was the most popular platform out there, nor was it because it was the best platform out there (even though it is both of those things) – it is because of the community WordPress has behind it.
The first WordPress developers I connected with, whom I owe a lot of my growth to, are Sean Davis and Alex Mangini (Alex the kid). I have never met them in person – but I did connect with them through their blogs and contributions.
After five years working at Sage, and two years in a long distance relationship, I finally made the decision to move cities for love. The side-effects of moving were glorious.
Cape Town, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, home to the WooThemes HQ and South Africa’s WordCamp. Up until this point, I had not met any other WordPress developers in person – I was the sole WordPress developer for Sage.
I started work at a Cape Town-based Web Development Agency called Wobble (now, Net Media Planet) where the best part of my development journey began. Starting of as a regular developer in a team, I transformed to Senior Developer and Head of Development managing a small team of brilliant individuals.
The greatest thing I had to get over once I met others in the WordPress community was Imposter Syndrome. I never felt like a real developer – I am basically self taught from breaking down other peoples code and putting lines of logic together until it worked. It was a blessing when I realized that that is pretty much what everyone else did too. I was not alone.
Being part of this beautiful community, I have learned and grown more in the last six months than I have in my entire decade being connected to WordPress. That is the power community has. Accelerated mutual growth.
I am now mates with many other like minded members of the WordPress Community, such as Hugh Lashbrooke, Jeffrey Pearce, Job Thomas from WooThemes in Cape Town (to name drop just a few), not mentioning those on twitter that this has opened me up to. I also have the honor and opportunity to speak at the second official WooCommerce Meetup in Cape Town, the first meetup after the WooThemes acquisition by Automattic.
Yes we can.
After getting over my stutter, I learned a mantra that has yet to fail me – nothing profound, but it works, “I can do it!”. It seems strange having a mantra that I repeat often after being plagued with a stutter for so long – but this repitition is worth it, “I can do it!”.
I have had many struggles in my journey to becoming Head of Development at an international web development agency.
Getting over a stutter, getting over poverty, being urgently self-taught, growing in a somewhat third world country with “loadshedding” electricity outages, and one of the slowest rated internet speeds in the developing world, and yet, my friends, I want to say that this is just the beginning.
WordPress has a bright future and has given bright futures to many who could not have had it as easily without such a community as our own.
Never, ever think you do not have the “right” circumstances for success. Just keep going, progress over perfection – YOU can do it.
P.S. Matt, if you’re reading this, Hi! You’re awesome, thanks for WordPress, the four freedoms, and the awesome community you helped give us.
P.P.S. Needless to say, I am no longer lonely.