I am a self-taught graphic designer/ motion designer turned web designer and aspiring web developer from Malawi, Africa. I am a digital tinkerer who has fallen in love with and currently gone steady with WordPress. Still, the journey is rough.
A little about my home country before you hear my story…
The average entry level monthly pay for skilled jobs is about $110.
You are really fortunate if you are employed, young, working in the creative industry and earning somewhere near $300 a month. I doubt if anybody actually employed by someone in the design, creative and web services industry earns this much.
That being said, I have been a freelance graphic designer since about 2011, doing gigs from my dorm room in college and my bedroom at home. Earnings from my freelance gigs increased my interest in entrepreneurship and I soon started entertaining the thought of starting my own creative agency or media powerhouse.
HOW I FIRST CAME INTO CONTACT WITH WORDPRESS
I first came into contact with WordPress in 2014 when a friend of mine from University were planning to start a local tech blog. Before WordPress, all I had was basic and outdated HTML knowledge I learned from high school and some knowledge in Adobe Dreamweaver.
In 2014 very few websites in Malawi actually ran on WordPress as far as I remember. Most of the websites made in Malawi looked pretty archaic. With what to me was my partners expertise with WordPress Our blog looked like it came from the future. My partner knew where to get the themes (I did not know how he did it then, and still understood very little about WordPress).
In a little while, ecstatic from the praise and positive feedback from the blog we decided to pursue the idea of opening our own content and media publishing outfit.
Because our blog looked spectacular we got a few web redesign jobs thanks to the exposure the blog brought. We were ecstatic.
Unfortunately, we both had very little administrative and business skills we could not maintain the business and we ended up going our separate ways.
Fast forward post college, out of my first real job that I got in the TV industry ( terrible pay, overworked, and not being paid for about 5 months!) and failing to get more rewarding gigs as my creative agency start up side was cash strapped.
I finally took it upon myself to learn the ins and outs of WordPress. I learned how to install WordPress on a server and did some research on customising Themes. That knowledge alone and presto: I got my first web design clients and started making earning nearly as much as I did at my first job, sometimes a little more, when I get fortunate some times I even earn three times as much as I used to in a month.
It only took a very short while for me to realise that free WordPress themes can only go so far, especially with my limited code skills.
For most WordPress designers in Malawi, all we did was get nulled themes and customise them. This is the way most WordPress designers in developing countries survive. This is also why I would like to build my own themes from scratch, to avoid the situation where I have to use pirated themes that are not only unsafe for clients but unethical. In addition, I know learning to code will also set me apart from my competition.
Which leads me to the next bit….
HOW THE LACK OF AN ONLINE PAYMENT SOLUTIONS AFFECTS DESIGNERS/DEVELOPERS IN COUNTRIES LIKE MINE
My country apparently has PayPal “available”, but the truth is you cannot get yourself a credit card to be able to join creative markets, and do online courses in order to improve your WP skills. The banks here only issue out credit cards to people who travel overseas or apparently have millions in their bank account.
Even so, most of the bank personnel themselves know very little about credit cards and let alone online payment solutions. It is often very frustrating to talk to bank personnel concerning this. Wire transfer and Western Union is still the most popular way to make transactions for goods and services. So many services that we would like to access: plugins, features, etc related to the WP community are far from our reach. The learning and growth often stops the moment you see the “$” sign on websites offering WP solutions and themes.
THE CHALLENGES OF BEING SELF TAUGHT IN THE DEVELOPING WORLD
As I mentioned earlier, I do not have any programming background, I have always been more of a creative and artsy kind of person. Sure I have an eye for design but in order to grow, I need to learn to code PHP, and PHP hard and it is not easy to do so as premium online courses are inaccessible.
When you are in a position like mine, you are already deep in freelancing and getting a job is currently not the best option because the pay is terrible for people in your industry, and you have to keep on earning, plus make time to learn code. Getting to actually code well is a chore as you have to mind all the other obligations.
Between the time to make pitches to clients, finish up graphic design projects, deal with our current load shedding program (we only have about 5 hours of power a day on average now! ) is something I am barely managing.
WHAT THE WORDPRESS COMMUNITY LOOKS LIKE TO ME
I will be honest, I have only gotten in touch with the actual WordPress community only very recently. Of course I search for solutions from blogs about WordPress but never actually talked to or asked anyone from the community for a solution. The most personal interaction I have ever had with anyone from the WordPress community is when I talked to Topher when I applied to write a post for HeroPress.
I often just isolated myself from any attempt to interact at all because of the glass ceiling. There are these feelings you get; these things you tell yourself when you know you can never truly harness the power of WordPress because of your lack of a way to pay for stuff online: You could never be half as good as anyone in developed countries, you will never ever get premium support, you can never be eligible for premium support. I reckon these feelings are worse for people teaching them self how to code like me.
So when I came across a tweet from @HeroPress about a post that talked about how WordPress marginalises some, it piqued my interest. It was a post from a WordPress developer in India, and it detailed how people from developing countries could never paid the same way someone from the developed countries would for the same skills or services. I totally relate and knew right away I need to sign up to tell my story.
WordPress designers and wanna-be developers like me (who cannot access online pay systems) often feel side lined.
When it comes to classes, we stop at the freebies portion, often than not our Google Searches look like this
“Free image slider plugins for WordPress” “Free WordPress tutorials”
I wish more developers, or people with more global privilege would consider alternate ways for users who cannot pay for courses, themes, or plugins would make. We may not seem to be present, but we are there. I would love to see more WordPress tutors and developers open up ways to accommodate aspiring learners like me who cannot access plugins, courses and themes, to be able to give back and to participate at another level.
Many wannabe developers who come from situations similar to mine often shy away from participating with the WordPress community or getting deeper with WordPress because in the ways I have mentioned above, the WordPress community feels like it belongs to those only privileged enough on the internet.
WordPress has allowed me to find income I otherwise would not have any way in hopes of earning. Sure it is lower by global standards, but it makes a huge difference where I live. This is about to be my second year with WordPress, and coming across members of the community with varying backgrounds through HeroPress’ stories tells me there is hope for WordPress users like me.
I believe through sharing stories like these not only will WordPress products/services be more accessible but aspiring self-taught developers like me will also find more courage in reaching out to connect with others out there.