Pull Quote: Thanks to the WordPress meetup, I found focus, fun, friends, and what passes for fame.

WordPress Ate My Life—In a Good Way

I did not spend my childhood wanting to grow up to be a WordPress consultant. Given that I was born in 1967, long before the World Wide Web even existed, I would have had to be clairvoyant to aspire to any kind of web development. I was intrigued by computers when I first encountered the TRS-80 at the age of 12, but other than learning a few lines of BASIC, I didn’t pursue programming.

Parenthetically, I don’t think it was because girls weren’t encouraged to become programmers. This was even before the days of the Control Data Institute commercials on TV. Programming as a career for anyone at all was not in the minds of the general public, at least not in Ohio. And although I thought computers were cool (being a science fiction fan and all), I didn’t have any clear sense of what you could do with them. I never made the mental connection between writing a 10-line program in BASIC and eventually creating something like a video game or a word-processing program.

During my freshman year in college, I fell into the Classics Vortex, and ended up going to graduate school to study Greek and Latin drama. I expected to get my degree and a university teaching job.

I spoke at a few conferences and published a few papers. And I discovered the World Wide Web.

I’d gotten online in 1985, also in my freshman year at Brown. We were on BITNET and someone in the computer center showed me how to get onto Relay when I was down their using the mainframe to write essays with. (Fly, sledgehammer, boom.) The Internet came into being about the time I got to graduate school in 1989, and someone showed me the Web in 1994. It blew me away, because a visual medium of communication is vastly superior to a text-based medium when you’re talking about theatrical productions.

By the end of 1994 I’d moved to England and created my first web page. (We didn’t have websites in those days, just ‘pages.’ Even if there were lots of pages. And wow, I just wrote that in inverted commas rather than quotation marks, as if my brain shifted itself back to Britain just thinking about it.)

Sallie’s first website, Didaskalia, as it was in 1998
Sallie’s first website, Didaskalia, as it was in 1998

So you’d think that maybe, from there, I would have gotten into a career in web development whether or not WordPress had ever existed, but that wasn’t what actually happened.

When Your Body Isn’t Your Friend

While I was still in graduate school, I developed a debilitating chronic illness that prevented me from finishing my PhD due to a combination of physical and cognitive problems, and although I started to get better at first, by the end of 1998, when I had to return to the US, my condition had worsened to the point where I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to work. I spent about 18 months just going to doctors and therapists and support groups. When I did start working, it was as a caregiver, doing extremely simple tasks, because my confidence in my ability to do knowledge work of any kind was so badly damaged.

I eventually started doing more kinds of things to earn money: clerical work, basic tech support, writing. Somewhere in there, I helped a couple of people with their websites, even though I’d missed a whole lot of the evolution of the Web. (I’m not at all sorry to have skipped Flash.) I was feeling considerably better thanks to new medication, and easing my way toward being self-supporting, but at the time I discovered WordPress in 2005, I was suffering from a bad case of Multiple Business Personality Disorder. I had a number of useful skills, but no clear focus or unifying principle.

I had started my first blog on Blogger in January 2005, but within a few months I found myself hanging out with a lot of podcasters, and almost all of them used WordPress because the PodPress plugin (RIP) made it so easy to publish feeds with enclosures. I started to explore WordPress further, and within a few years had migrated my blog from Blogger because they stopped allowing you to self-host your blog. WordPress had meanwhile introduced pages, making it possible to build an entire website rather than having an HTML website and a WordPress blog.

Finding Community

But WordPress would probably have remained a sideline if I hadn’t started going to WordPress meetups. I was at a podcasting meetup in San Francisco in late 2008 when someone mentioned a WordPress meetup in SF. I went to a meeting (I think in January 2009) and someone THERE mentioned that there was a WordPress meetup starting in the East Bay, closer to where I lived. I went to that meeting in February 2009…and the rest is history.

It wasn’t that the first meetup was such an amazing experience. The organizer was new at running a meetup and we were all strangers to each other. But somehow talking about our shared interest in WordPress just made us more interested.

I’ve always been a service junkie, and I’d been involved with other networking groups for years, so it wasn’t long before I found myself co-organizer, helping to plan and run the meetup and welcoming new members as they joined. Through the meetup, I started to learn more about the WordPress community and open source software. A group of us went to WordCamp SF 2009.

East Bay WordPress Meetup members at WCSF 2010
East Bay WordPress Meetup members at WCSF 2010

Because of the meetup, I made more and more connections in the wider WordPress community. Because of the meetup, I learned a lot more about WordPress than I would have on my own, in part because I often had to teach it. Because of the meetup, more WordPress-related work came to me. I started to learn more code, little bits and fragments at a time. WordPress drew me in deeper and deeper as time progressed. In 2012, I officially registered WP Fangirl, and since that time, almost all my income has come from WordPress work.

All the WordCamps

I went to all the San Francisco WordCamps between 2009 and 2014, after which WordCamp US was instituted. By the time the first WordCamp Sacramento was announced in 2015, all the meetup presentations I’d done gave me the confidence to submit a talk. It was accepted. I’ve since spoken at WCLAX 2016 and WCSAC 2016. I’m working on my presentation for WCSAC 2017. (I’d love to travel for more meetups, but it’s not in the budget.)

Speaking at WordCamp LAX 2016
Speaking at WordCamp LAX 2016

The experience I had with the Meetup made me want to connect more and more with other WordPress people, and to help out where I could. As I said, I’m a service junkie, so I readily embraced the idea of giving back to the community. I’m not a good enough developer (yet, anyway) to be a core contributor, but there are lots of ways to contribute. The main one, in my case, is organizing the meetup, though it took me until 2016 to join the official WordPress Community meetup program.

I was also very active in the main WordPress LinkedIn group for several years, which led to O’Reilly hiring me as the technical reviewer for WordPress: The Missing Manual. (It may also have contributed to the gig I had in 2011 making WordPress videos for Peachpit Press and the one in 2012 and 2013 teaching WordPress for Mediabistro.)

I started listening to WordPress podcasts in about 2006, though WP Weekly is the only one of those early shows that’s still around. There are tons of new WP podcasts now, more than I can keep up with. I got invited to participate in one, the WP-Tonic panel, starting in 2015. You can hear me being mouthy and opinionated there almost every week. I follow WordPress people on Twitter, belong to WordPress Slack teams, and have been known to dream about WordPress.

Thanks to the WordPress meetup, I found focus, fun, friends, and what passes for fame. I’m still working on fortune, but I can tell you that the secret to the many great referrals I’ve gotten from my extensive network of WordPress connections is this: don’t go into it looking for what you can get. Just concentrate on what you can give, and never stop learning.

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