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Featured Partner: Notes From My Former Self
I’ve written and rewritten this essay so many times now I’ve forgotten what it originally looked like. In the beginning it was going to be the short(ish) story of my first year with WordPress and the lessons I’ve learned about myself. It always ends up being a long and boring story of a year of my life without ever getting to the purpose of why I want to share it. I’ve decided to over simplify it as much as possible, in order to get to the ‘why’. If you really want to read about my ‘WordPress Year 1’ you can probably put most of it together from reading my blog for 2016.
So in the spirit of TL;DR:
After an amazing first WordCamp experience at WordCamp Cape Town 2015 I chose the path of freelance WordPress developer. My current situation doesn't lend itself to being employed full time and I decided (at the time possibly stupidly) that building WordPress websites was what I was going to do. It would be easy right?
I had a developer license for the Divi theme and all I had to do was find small business clients to build websites for. What could possibly go wrong?
I spent the first year banging my head against a quite a few walls, trying to expand my mind, my skills and my experience to reach a goal that, for me anyway, was wholly unobtainable. In the end I realised the what I needed to do was trust in myself and my experience, find a better system for obtaining work and focus on the areas that I was actually good at.
I also learned the importance of community.
What follows are the notes I would send to myself, were I able to send a time capsule back one year, to be read on January 1, 2016. Hopefully it helps someone else out there.
The WordPress community is an amazing thing.
I’ve often said that the reason everyone in the community is (mostly) so open and welcoming and helpful is that it was founded in the spirit of open source. Open source software at it’s core is about being free, open and available, the ability to question a specific solution and find answers to problems and being able to extend and adapt to new requirements. The WordPress community is that in spades. Sure, there are some aspects of it that can get brutal or nasty, sometimes some parts of the community feel unheard or ignored and when I read about things like that it makes me sad. In my experience it has been a positive part of my journey.
From the local WordPress South Africa Slack team, to the two WordCamps in Cape Town and Johannesburg I attended this year, all the way to the international Slacks, forums and Facebook groups, almost everyone I’ve dealt with is positive and supportive.
I’ve contacted CEOs and owners of premium WordPress business, asking them questions via Slack. Every time they answered. In what corporate culture does the owner or CEO of a company take time to answer some random developer question? I’ve met some amazing people, locally and internationally, in person and online, and they have all been the same. Friendly, helpful and willing to answer questions. I can honestly say that without the help and support of the WordPress community I would have been able to make it ‘on my own’ last year.
Being a freelancer is more about finding your purpose and less about finding clients.
I spent the majority of 2016 trying to force myself down a new path. One where I had little or no experience and where I was surrounded by giants. My gut told me that clients would be looking for websites. So building websites with WordPress became the logical step. However I am not a web designer, a content strategist or an SEO expert. In the words of Jeremy Clarkson, ‘How hard can it be?’. I soon learned how hard. While it is good to try and expand on your weaknesses, trying to earn an income this way is eventually going to kill you. The path to true work/life fulfilment lies at the intersection of that which you love, that which you are good at, that which the world needs and (most importantly) that which you can be paid for (the Japanese call it ‘Ikigai’, roughly translated as ‘a reason for being’).
The biggest mistake I made was thinking that because of WordPress there would be no work for a PHP developer.
I soon learned that the reality was that because of WordPress there was an abundance of work for a PHP developer, I was just looking at it the wrong way. Once I knew what my Ikigai was, finding the right platform and clients to match that became much, much easier.
Never judge your experience based on someone else.
I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not the most up to date of developers. I only recently really grasped the concepts of name spacing and I still don’t quite get the whole MySQL character set thing. And that is OK. Being a developer is more about solving a problem than the tools you use to do so. There isn’t one ‘right’ way to build a plugin. There are a few recommended ways, which often differ from each other in small but important ways but they are all ‘the right way’. The important thing is to pay attention to things like standards, simplicity and security. Everything else can be learned from others. The beauty of an open source project is that everyone is learning from the community. So whatever I don’t know I can learn from someone else. At the end of the day the community benefits and you benefit. (also, refer back to ‘The WordPress community is an amazing thing’).
Look after yourself.
These seem obvious, but I soon found myself in some very bad patterns. Sleep was the first to go. It is way too easy to end up working until 1 or 2am, ‘just to get this one thing finished’. That’s great if you can sleep in the next morning, but when you are guaranteed to be woken at around 7am by your 5 year old, it soon starts adding up.
Once the sleep deprivation starts the bad food choices kick in.
Coffee becomes more of a crutch than an enjoyment and meal time decision making is ruled more by what tastes nice than what is healthy. Eventually you end up getting sick for a week and you are so run down you get nothing done until you recover, meaning your earning potential lessens. So you start trying to work longer hours. It is a vicious cycle. The problem, however, is actually a bit deeper....
Your time is valuable.
The quickest way to the downward sleep/life cycle is to devalue yourself and your time.
Learn to estimate better. Spend more (paid) time on researching the intricacies of a project to ensure you have thought about everything you can, then estimate accordingly. Otherwise you end up realising you missed something half way through, and you have to make a choice. Usually that choice is to suck up the time and add the feature. That is the wrong choice.
Your time is valuable. It is better to admit to a client that you missed something and that you will need to adjust the time line or quote than to try and kill yourself to make it based on your original estimates. Worse case the client says no and cancels the project. Learn and apply the knowledge to the next one. Better case they agree to give you more time but not more money. Well at least you aren’t going to kill yourself to get it done. Best case they understand everyone is human. I’ve rarely found clients who don’t get it.
You are capable.
Have you ever experienced this? - You have a project coming up. You've done all the ground work and made sure you've estimated to the best of your abilities, but suddenly you are gripped with fear/concern/worry that the actual project is going to be above your capabilities. So you keep putting it off and do other less important things, trying to build up the courage to tackle it. When you eventually sit down and start you realise it is well within your capabilities and had you started sooner you would probably be done already, instead of now where you are a bit behind and you'll have to either work in some extra time to make that deadline or come up with some excuse as to why you missed it.
All. The. Damn. Time.
Stop it. You can do it. You’ve done it a 100 times before. Trust in your experience and yourself.
So in short, sleep more, worry less, rely on those around you and just get on with doing what you do best. It isn't really much simpler than that. I’m still trying to figure out why I tried to make it more complicated than what it is, but perhaps that is another journey in the human psyche, for another day.
Featured Partner: WordPress Flexibility
When I was asked to describe myself and my interests for a bio at work I floundered. I felt the same way when sitting down to write this. Where do I even begin? For my bio, I decided instead of narrowing it down I’d go with “jill-of-all-trades.” I really like to do everything and if I don’t like something I only know that because I tried it first. I’ve been this way since I can remember. At school I got good grades in everything (except Chemistry), I liked everything (except Chemistry) and I wanted to do everything. Figuring out my career path was therefore a long process (I actually started out pre-med in college, but you know... Chemistry).
After graduating college I started working in marketing and absolutely hated it - I did the same exact thing almost every day. It was miserable. I missed the old web content job I had during college, where I did SEO, product photography, email campaigns, basically anything website related. Right now I can’t believe there was a point in my life that I missed HTML emails, but I did. I missed the flexibility, doing something different every day, and most importantly, I missed the creative problem solving it entailed.
So I quit my stupid marketing job and attended a coding bootcamp.
I can’t say that I loved WordPress right off the bat. When I was still mostly developing pretty simple sites with it, I was afraid it was going to become monotonous. Today I know how wrong I was. Although the majority of the projects I work with involve WordPress, I can do something new and different with every site.
Just this year I’ve worked on a WordPress theme with a headless React front end, a WordPress site with part of the admin area written in React, and a WordPress plugin with a front end built in Angular 2. Even traditional WordPress themes can be exciting. Each client has their own needs and with the flexibility of templates, post types, and widgets every site I build is a new challenge.
I’ve come a long way since drowning in monotony early in my career.
At home you might find me doing yard work, refinishing furniture, knitting, wood burning, or attempting to play the banjo. But at work, using WordPress gives me all the flexibility I need to be constantly learning and improving.
Featured Partner: WordPress Opened Up a Whole New World
Several years ago, I went through a tough time in my life. I lost my job and I was desperately in need of a career change. Because of the economic climate in Zimbabwe, I didn't see many options, but I felt that IT held the most promising future.
So I completed an A+ course and obtained a CCNA certification. Unfortunately, in Zimbabwe, skills and certifications were not enough to secure meaningful employment. Being a college drop-out, I didn't have the required diploma or degree that employers were looking for.
After graduating, I studied online tutorials and learned how to create a website. That was the beginning of my personal website, franksweb.org, a static HTML website that I created from scratch.
Not long after that, I was hired by an an online design and marketing firm that was looking for a web developer. To my surprise, I found that they only used content management systems (CMS) to create websites. No one was making static HTML websites!
Joomla! was the preferred CMS at this company. It wasn't until I was assigned to create a website for a local recording artist that I discovered WordPress. I was searching for templates that suited the client's needs and discovered a template that just happened to be WordPress!
I had heard of WordPress, even though they didn't teach us about content management systems in my diploma course. All I knew was that WordPress was a free blogging service.
I had no idea how much more was possible using WordPress.
I soon discovered the numerous advantages of using WordPress over Joomla! (There's a reason why 27% of the web uses WordPress, whereas Joomla! is used by only 3%!) Soon after, I re-designed franksweb.org using WordPress. So began my love affair with WordPress.
After having worked for my employer for a little over one and a half years, receiving a very small salary, the time came for me to move on. My employer had been failing to pay our salaries and owed me a lot of money in back pay (which has never been paid to me to this day). So I had no choice but to leave and I started freelancing.
Since I started freelancing, all the websites I've created for my clients (except for one) have been WordPress sites. WordPress has empowered me to make a living from creating functional websites that are easy to manage for my clients.
Here in Zimbabwe, very few web designers and web developers create static HTML websites. The majority use content management systems, and for good reason. Of course, the overwhelming majority are WordPress sites. This is just a testament to how WordPress makes our jobs easier and the potential to make money using WordPress.
The WordPress Community
One thing that we were taught in my diploma course was the importance of continuous professional development (CPD). That, and the fact that I had a genuine passion for all things WordPress, led me to soak up anything WordPress-related that I could get my hands on. I watched a lot of Morten Rand-Hendriksen's tutorials on lynda.com to advance my skills. The WordPress.org website became a permanent tab on my desktop whenever you opened my web browser (my “WordPress Bible”). I also made sure the “WordPress News” box was always open in all my Dashboards so I could keep up with the latest in WordPress.
One day I saw a WPTavern article in my Dashboard calling for applications to participate in the first WordCamp incubator program. I was very interested since Zimbabwe had never had a WordCamp before. I didn’t know of anyone else in Harare who had the same desire but I applied anyway.
More than a hundred cities applied so I honestly wasn’t expecting my application to be chosen, especially because of the challenges that my country is facing.
I was shocked when I got an email from Rocio Valdivia and Hugh Lashbrooke saying they wanted to interview me for the incubator program.
Later on, I received an email from Andrea Middleton saying my application to be a WordCamp organizer had been accepted! This was a very exciting time for me. It was now going to be possible to experience the things I had read about the WordPress Community here in Zimbabwe, too.
The first thing that I needed to do was start a monthly WordPress meetup group in Harare because there was no regular meetup that I was aware of, and therefore no real WordPress Community. It was a struggle but thanks to the guidance and support of WordCamp Central, and the support of the Computer Society of Zimbabwe, we were able to have meetups and the membership grew.
Months later, we hosted the very first WordCamp in Zimbabwe: WordCamp Harare 2016.
It was a success and much better than I thought it would be. Along with our monthly meetups, WordCamp did a lot to promote awareness of the WordPress Community. Since then, quite a number of local WordPress users have become active in the WordPress Community. I absolutely love hosting meetups and sharing knowledge about something which I am passionate about.
On a personal level, working with the WordPress Community opened up a world that I didn't know existed within WordPress. I got to know so many amazing people and everyone has been helpful and kind. The WordPress Community is made up of people who are generous and willing to give their time and share knowledge with others. For me, it is very fulfilling to be able to give back to something which I have benefited from so much.
One of the highlights of WordCamp for me was meeting Job Thomas and Herman Kok, two of our speakers who came from South Africa. They both work for Automattic, the company that owns WordPress.com, WooCommerce, Jetpack and other WordPress-related products. (Before I became active in the WordPress Community, I had no idea Automattic had an office in South Africa!) Talking to them, I got a strong sense that they were passionate, not only about what they do, but about sharing their knowledge and experience with others.
I was encouraged and inspired to apply to work for Automattic. The position that I wish to apply for is called “Happiness Engineer”. Basically, your job is customer support. For me, this is a dream job: getting paid to do something that I have a passion for which is share my knowledge of WordPress with others. They say that if you find something that you love to do, you'll never work another day in your life. So currently, I spend time helping other users in Automattic product forums in order to gain more direct experience before I apply.
This past year has been an awesome journey for me. If it wasn't for WordPress, I would never have experienced being part of an open-source community and the doors that have opened for me. There are so many awesome people that I never would have gotten to know. WordPress truly changed my life.
Featured Partner: The Joy of Being with WordPress Community
When my friend Mahangu first recommended me to Topher to write an essay for HeroPress, I could not believe his words. Quite confused I asked Topher, he repeated the same ‘Share your story on HeroPress’. It was unbelievable yet a beautiful sentence that left me stunned with pride.
HeroPress has been a place where I occasionally read the stories of the WordPress heroes. Reading the inspiring stories, I have always found new energy for Work every day. Never thought my story would be worth this platform, I was overwhelmed to receive that message from Topher.
I am NO Hero but just another full stack WordPress developer. More than that, I am a 24 years young web dude from Nepal. Nepal is a small country that lies in the foothills of the immense and sensational Himalayas. Moreover, it is the land of incredible natural beauty, adventure, and ancient wisdom and enlightenment. And this land has always inspired me to take tiny steps of truth towards the mountain-high peak.
I could not agree much with Mahangu and Topher but I decided to share my story on this amazing platform. After all, I am not any exceptional but someone who wants to be a hero like (almost) everyone.
How I started?
Even though I was highly interested to computer from early childhood, I got one of my own only when I was in the 4th grade. As a curious child, I learned about technical aspects of computer from my senior brother and within a year or so on I started fixing the neighbors and friends computer. Since then I had a will to get things “right” as opposed to just getting things “working”. I vividly recall those days when I used to spend hours of my holiday playing Mario. Honestly, that’s still one of my favourite game. ;)
Back in those days, computer and internet were limited to few cyber cafes in town. I barely had any idea what they actually meant for except gaming.
I thought they were established for the foreigners as they were mostly visited by the international tourists.
After SLC examination (10th grade in Nepal), we have 3 months long vacation when students take extra classes such as bridge courses to prepare themselves for college. Since I was from the best school and was quite good at study I didn’t go for classes required for joining college. That was the time when I enrolled in a computer institute for hardware classes as I was quite interested to know how machine work. Thereafter, I joined college with Science faculty. The only motive behind joining the hardware class and choosing ‘Science’ was to prepare myself for mechanical engineering.
But I could not do it. Physics, Chemistry barely made any sense to me and therefore started questioning its applicability in my day to day life. As a result, I failed formal education system.
This is how I faced the first and last (till now) “failure” in my life, I dropped down engineering dream right there.
Yet I no more worry, destiny had something other stored for me.
Despite all, I had kept myself engaged with particular computer science, technology and web. I had somehow managed to learn basic HTML, CSS and designing stuff. I had made contacts with a number of people mostly senior to me who worked with programming, blogging. And one of them has a great role in shaping me as a ‘programmer’. Simultaneously, I read a lot of articles, followed people who mastered in programming which all supported my ‘new dream’ to become a ‘Programmer’.
As suggested by a friend of mine, I created my first blog in 2010 using Blogger platform. Later, I came to know that WordPress was a better platform with more possibilities and finally switched to WordPress 3.2 after a recommendation from one of my seniors. To my surprise, it was more wonderful than what I actually heard. I loved WordPress. Thereafter, I started tweaking designs and other aspects. Since then, I haven’t looked back.
My Contributions / Together with WordPress
Above all, the global community of WordPress has been a major inspiration for me. I am always grateful to the community and millions of WordPress lovers for the generous resources. I have also been actively contributing to the WordPress translation.
Greatly benefited by the works of others, I always wanted to give back to the community. The same instinct led me to the person I am today. Literally, volunteering for making WordPress platform for everyone has given me all the honors including this (feature on HeroPress).
In 2014, among various WordPress possibilities, WooCommerce is the one which intrigued me from the very beginning. With the growing eCommerce market, I knew that it was going to be a excellent piece of software in the future because of its incredible features. Using the plugin and analyzing it from the user’s perspective, I made numerous enhancements on WooCommerce.
I introduced Nepali currency symbol in WooCommerce version 2.2.3 which proved to be a milestone in developing eCommerce in my country Nepal. Additionally, I developed a Nepali payment gateway WooCommerce eSewa plugin without any incentive. The best thing about this whole thing is that, I got great help to deal with product platform from amazing folks like Mike Jolley, Claudio Sanches and James Koster. During the period, I learned so much about WooCommerce and coding in general. Since then, I have been reporting several bugs/issues and enhanced the plugin with 200+ pull requests on WooCommerce Github repository. Moreover I have also contributed to Storefront theme.
Since I was already technical bent, I learned about Vagrant for development environment. My first instinct was to use Varying Vagrant vagrants (VVV). But as a developer, I wanted more flexibility over the stack I used. So I started looking for alternative and found PuPHPet. For those who don’t know, PuPHPet is - “a simple Vagrant/Puppet GUI”. In order to make it more robust, I started contributing to this project and have also introduced WP-CLI support.
Afterward, I started automating my development approach. Since there was no good grunt package available to compile PO to MO files, I developed grunt-potomo.
Earning my Living with WordPress
Desperate as I had dropped from college, I was quite doubtful if I would ever get any job. Web development was at its beginning stage (not established as a job), there was little hope but it proved to be an advantage for me. I got an opportunity to work as a web developer in RealTech Computer Institute which is the same institute where I had learnt hardware and programming. I worked on new and innovative eCommerce sites, finished numerous time sensitive projects, trained new developers in utilizing front-end frameworks like BootStrap, Foundation, jQuery etc.
Later in 2015, I joined a growing team of ThemeGrill as Lead Plugin Developer. Together with ThemeGrill team, I have developed several WordPress plugins. To name a few, Social Icons, RestaurantPress, ThemeGrill Demo Importer are free WordPress plugins I have developed which are available in official WP plugin repository. Additionally, I have built several internal automated tools to improve overall customer support. I am also responsible for troubleshooting production issues, assisting WooCommerce, sales and performance monitoring.
WordPress has made my life much easier!
WordPress Community in Pokhara
My hometown Pokhara is 6 to 8 hours of drive from the capital city Kathmandu. I along with few WordPress enthusiast friends used to travel all the way to Kathmandu just to attend WordCamp Kathmandu (formerly WordCamp Nepal). I was fascinated by the awesome presentations by developers and networking opportunities provided there. Within a year or so the number of WordPress lovers grew in Pokhara but we didn’t have any such event there yet.
In love with WordPress, I thought of organizing WordPress people in Pokhara under common umbrella - WordPress Pokhara.
By then, I created a Facebook group with some friends, who were involved in WordPress projects. We organized several WordPress meetups and talk about WordPress. The group has grown from 3-4 members to 1000 members in Facebook right now. Mostly I have seen students and professionals coming together and helping each other in projects. Since I am away from Pokhara, Yam B. chetri and team are involved to organize regular WordPress Pokhara meetups. Thanks to his helpful behaviour, we are rapidly growing.
Since I switched to WordPress, I have been working with a motive to program a better solution for users which is surely a challenging task. So I am taking every small step to climb the cliff and still doing homework to reach the right destination.
To be frank, I don’t want to explore how business work and I am not made for it. But I am quite confident on the fact that I am good at understanding public-facing issues to tackle with a right solution.
This is just an ordinary story like yours as I said in the beginning. And I repeat that I am no hero yet my journey may be somehow different from yours.
Just write to me if you have anything to say. ☺
And thanks to HeroPress and WordPress. Let’s keep rising high as Everest! Together!!
Featured Partner: We Are The Same
Topher asked me to write an article for HeroPress as we sat together in an alcove in the Philly Convention Center. I was in a vulnerable space. My lightning talk at WordCamp US had concluded, and I was settling into the experience of being at another WordCamp. I thought about the life experiences that brought me to my second presentation a year later, and I started to cry. Below is why.
One of my earliest memories is attending my mother's graduate school graduation ceremony. It was a huge achievement. I wore a pink frilly dress with afro puffs to her graduation ceremony. I am sure I was gripping someone's leg and hiding behind them. Behind my mother, my aunt or maybe my father. I was painfully awkward and shy. Which didn't make any sense because my family was constantly telling me, 'Be quiet'. That could have been their anthem for me. Children were meant to be seen, not heard.
I think of that young Sierra Leonean American girl I was, I think back to that day, and wonder what became of her.
She grew taller, much taller, transitioned from pink dresses to a pink bedroom, and, some say, is poised. But she is still painfully awkward. You wouldn't know it, but you can catch her at times sitting quietly at an event achingly wishing she were alone and didn’t have to perform.
I project confidence because I was drafted into an oratory competition in middle school. Something about my voice caught the attention of my middle school teacher Mrs. McNeil. She entered me into one. I don't recall what I read or the outcome. I only remember my mom driving me to my competition and her, my sister and I pulling up to a very crowded parking lot. Everything gets fuzzy after we arrived.
In high school, I didn't need to be drafted into public speaking. I had strong ideals and opinions, and when it came to debate competitions I didn't need to fit in and be cool. All I had to do was win. I debated as a Junior Statesmen, entered the Essex County Mock Trial competition, and the High School Moot Court Tournament at Princeton University. During 10th or 11th grade I got commendations for my role as a mother whose son died due to someone's negligence at school. I argued with the other team’s attorneys. I was distraught. I channeled my inner mother. The judge gave our Mock Trial team extra points because I made the case believable. In 11th grade my partner and I came second place in the Moot Court competition at Princeton.
I live in Maplewood, New Jersey. It is a town that actively engages its children. Our administration and teachers educate us to be competitive academically and in our extracurricular activities, and to actively seek out opportunities for service.
Teachers tell us we can be great - and expectations are that we will be great.
It is ingrained in us that to whom much is given much is expected. I do the best I can to embody what is expected of me.
Truthfully, as an African girl, it was wonderful to be educated like this. At home my parents, aunts and uncles expect nothing less. Outside of home and my classes and clubs, I received mixed messages about who I was and what I could achieve. I was one of a handful of Africans in a diverse community. I didn't look African or sound African I was told growing up. And I was surprised as a child of how differently I was treated by many of the same color other than my best friend and her family in elementary school. It was fascinating. On one occasion at school I achingly experienced different treatment. A college counselor lost interest in helping me with financial aid when it came up in conversation that I was African. After that conversation she was too busy to meet with me. I went to the head of guidance instead who was fabulous.
Occasions like this make me acutely proud of where my family comes from and the sacrifices my parents made 30 plus years ago when they immigrated here.
I see in them that resilience is a must and that success is accessible through motivation, hard work, focus, education and self-improvement.
As a child, I hurt at the barriers some put up when I told them I am African. And I still do. At times, we are misunderstood and misrepresented. And it doesn't make me any less proud of my Sierra Leonean heritage.
Three weeks ago, I had dinner with someone I met years ago. I mentioned something related to my heritage. She stopped for a second. She said she was surprised to hear I am African. Her enthusiasm towards me immediately drained. I wasn't shocked. I pushed away the feeling of disappointment I feel in these occasions. I acknowledged the difference internally and it didn't stop me from enjoying her company. It's a situation I've found myself in many, many times.
I was told I could be great as a child growing up in Maplewood. I let this propel me forward through each obstacle in my way, and I let this make me stand tall as I take on each daunting task before me. I took this with me to every college class and graduate class I have taken even when overpowered by feelings of inadequacy. I have been to events at places where very few people will ever have the chance to go. There are organizations I have worked for that have a competitive selection process. There are certificates I have earned that make me wonder how I gathered the strength to make it through. And there are presentations like the ones I gave at WordCamp US in 2015 and 2016 where I fought through feelings of inadequacy to stand on stage and speak before hundreds of people in the tech industry.
At these times, I think of the little Sierra Leonean American girl in the pink frilly dress with afro puffs, and wonder how she could achieve each one of these accomplishments.
I wonder how she became so warmly embraced by the WordPress community, invited to plan WordCamp NYC at the United Nations in 2016, and invited to be a co-organizer of Meetups in NYC. It reflects how inclusive our community is.
I think of my gender, my color, and my heritage.
To every woman - we are the same. And, even if we glance at each other and look away, I am you and you are me. We can’t let anyone convince us otherwise.
I think of the African girl on the continent who doesn’t have the choices and resources I have. I cry for her, and I cry for me.
I cry because I may never meet her, never look deeply into her eyes, never tell her that she will be great, give her the resources she needs to fully realize her dreams and give her the space to be embraced by the WordPress community. Make no mistake in this digital age that this little girl is aware of what she doesn’t have, and that she needs us to propel her forward.
Featured Partner: Full Circle: Life Lessons of a Perennial Entrepreneur
I didn’t go to college until I was in my 40’s. When I graduated high school I went to work for a family business.
There has been one common thread throughout my adult career, my love for technology.
I was 24 when I bought my first computer, it was PC running MS-DOS.
Five years later, the company I was working for bought a computer program to manage their rental properties. I was responsible for using it and data entry. The program was written by a local software developer. He became a mentor and when problems arose with the code, he walked me through on the phone how to edit and compile the source code. (Yes, he left a copy of the source code on the computer - this was way before remote support was possible.) It was dBase II. Fast forward a few years later and he hired me as a part-time contractor to help him customize the codebase for his clients. It seemed I had a knack for writing code and troubleshooting bugs.
Eventually, I would go on to purchase the source code from him and launch my own property management software company. I ran it for eight years, while I rewrote the entire codebase. My business grew. I learned a lot about sales, running a business and managing employees. Most importantly, I learned how to listen to clients and by doing so, I was able to create the products they needed to run their businesses.
Then, Windows came onto the scene. My software was not Windows compatible. It was running on FoxPro, a Dbase III competitor for MS-DOS. My business plateaued and I was faced with another rewrite of the codebase to stay competitive. To top it off, I’d lost my only support person at the same time. These are the challenges most small business owners face at some point. I was experiencing burnout and needed a change. Long story short, I eventually sold the software line to a competitor who was looking to expand their user base and incorporates some features that were in demand that my product had. It was win-win for both of us and to this day - I'm still happy about that transaction.
I went on to work at a boutique consulting services firm in Houston, Texas as an Account Manager to large Fortune 500 clients, mostly in the energy sector. It was an amazing experience and I learned a lot about working in the enterprise space. This was very different from working with the small property management companies I had previously serviced. It was a great four years. The last year boomed as many clients scrambled to complete their Y2K upgrades.
In the spring of 2000, everything changed. The company had been acquired, and the dot-com bubble had burst. All the Y2K work was done and the world did not end. I decided to take some time off.
In the fall of 2000, I enrolled at a local community college. I spent the next two years and half years completing my core curriculum and then transferred to Texas A&M in 2003 to complete a Bachelor of Science degree in Horticulture.
Why Horticulture? I’ve always loved gardening and jumped at the opportunity to learn everything I could about it.
Life Lesson: In hindsight - I wish I would have completed a degree in Computer Science. It was a bit of my own arrogance, that since I had run a software company and worked at a consulting firm, I knew all I needed to know. Truth was, I didn’t and would have benefited greatly from that experience.
Trying to make a hobby into a business.
In 2003, I decided to open an online store to sell home and garden gifts. I built a website using the Yahoo Store platform, and for the next 5 years watched it grow.
My first introduction to WordPress came when I wanted to start a blog for the store. I like the idea of a self-hosted solution and loved getting back into programming.
I went from running the business from my home to a small warehouse. It was 2007 and the housing market was booming. I jumped at the opportunity to lease a much larger warehouse with a retail storefront.
There were important life lessons in it. One that made a strong impression on me was best described by the character Justin Matisse in the movie Hope Floats:
"You're talkin' 'bout the American Dream. You find something that you love, and then you twist it, and you torture it, try and find a way to make money at it. You spend a lifetime doing that. At the end, you can't find a trace of what you started out lovin'. "
That’s how I felt sometimes when running my store. What I loved about the home and garden space and trying to make money at it were sometimes at odds with each other. I loved designing the website, adding functionality and mastering the art of improving the SEO of the site.
I was about to learn a very painful and valuable lesson. I was financing the growth with debt. I got caught up in the growth curve and was sure that things would just keep getting better, allowing me to pay down the debt. Indeed servicing the debt was not a problem, as sales continued to grow.
Then came 2008 and the Great Recession. For the next three years, I watched sales decline, my credit lines pulled and my business contract. That made servicing the debt, really hard. I was stuck in a lease that I could not afford. Many of the vendors I bought products from went out of business. Everyone was hurting. I was not financially prepared for it.
In the end, a chain of events led to a huge financial mess - one that to this day, I am still recovering from. In 2011, I liquidated the inventory, sold my online store to a third-party and moved on.
Transitioning to WordPress
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do at that point. I was depressed and dealing with the financial fallout of losing my business.
I wrote content for a garden center and slowly began working on websites for others. I chose to use the Genesis Framework and began customizing their themes for clients. I liked it because it leveraged the power of hooks and filters in a way that made sense to me - and the Genesis community is amazing.
I worked in real estate for a while to help pay the bills, but it just wasn’t right for me.
During this transition period, I used the time to improve my web development skills. I began working with WordPress every day, learning everything I could. I took online courses in HTML, CSS and PHP.
Today, I’m running my own business again, building websites and helping clients promote their digital brand. I learned a lot about SEO running my eCommerce business, how to market products, write copy and promote my brand. Now I’m helping clients do that.
With decades of business experience along with some hard life lessons, here’s what I’ve learned so far:
- Don’t assume things will continue in the same direction. Business is cyclical, so like a squirrel - stash away some nuts for the winter.
- Stay out of debt.
- Know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em. Sometimes hindsight helps make this clearer, but trust your gut and follow your instincts.
- Be helpful to others. Take time to share what you’ve learned, make friends and enjoy the ride.
- Learn from every engagement, and take steps to improve how you communicate.
- Be a Life-Long Learner. Dedicate time to experiment, think and try new things.
Finally, if you’re considering a career in web design and development in WordPress, take the time to learn the fundamentals of HTML, CSS, JS and PHP. You’ll be glad you did.
Featured Partner: Conquering My Obstacles To Happiness
The late great Superman Christopher Reeve once said “a hero is someone who, in spite of weakness, doubt or not always knowing the answers, goes ahead and overcomes anyway.” What if a hero instead is someone who, because of weakness, doubt or not knowing the answers, goes ahead and overcomes?
To get to the happy and fulfilling place I am in life today I’ve had to learn how to overcome self-doubt and build up my strengths around it. To do that, I discovered the power of self-reflection and began a journey to understand the very core of who I am. I’m not a hero, but I know when to be one. When fear and worry appears I recognize it. And then I conquer it.
If you don’t think you are good enough or smart enough to be and have what you want in life, then fear is holding you back, too. The story that follows is both inspired by and written for you.
You may not believe it yet, but you’ve already got what it takes within yourself to live a happier life.
Let me show you how you can discover it.
This Is Me Today.
I am a Norwegian expat in Canada. Here, I live in the heart of the world’s most multicultural city, Toronto, and lead a happy and full life with my wife and our furkid. By so many standards around our globe, my lifestyle is privileged. It hasn’t come easy, and I often am reminded of how fortunate I am.
I never could have envisioned living this life when I, one and a half decades ago, trapped, lost and without hope and goals for the future, decided on a whim to learn how to code and develop websites. I read about people making a living out of it, yet didn’t believe it was something I myself could do.
After a year of trying, failing and learning I began to prove myself wrong.
Today I work at XWP, a global company powered remotely by people working from their homes around the world. Our core expertise is WordPress. Our team dreams up and engineers platforms, tools and workflows that let companies more effortlessly connect with their audience. We help our clients to sell and deliver their services and product, and grow communities that serves as an extension of their businesses.
XWP’s roots date back to 2004, and I’ve been part of the journey for 10 of those years. In my current role I serve a team of 40 people. I was fully entrusted with the care of the company and the people working there by its owner in 2014. I am responsible for guiding our company vision, strategy and direction while ensuring its healthy growth and great performance. A vital area of my mandate is helping each person on our team have meaningful, impactful work in a purpose filled role they can be successful in.
The workplace environment and my role allows me to connect directly with my own professional purpose - to be a catalyst and energizer in helping people discover their personal and professional strengths, and uncover the opportunities and possibilities it can bring in their life. At work, I am also able to apply my strength of bringing people together to build unity and community.
At home, I am at my happiest when spending time with my wife and our senior rescue lab. The love I give and receive, our deep and our silly conversations together, and all the laughs we share are things that fills me up and re-energizes me. Cooking and serving food, especially for a small crowd, also energizes me. I’m known for preparing elaborate meals with menus that can take days to plan to get “just right”. Earlier this year I completed a Culinary Arts program at George Brown College here in Toronto to further explore my passion for food and for service.
My whole life I’ve found joy in doing sports. In my youth I actively played football/soccer and volleyball and did well with it. Since moving to Toronto I’ve taken up running, and I’ve discovered a way to keep myself motivated to exercise and train is to sign up for running races. It also has become a way I get to compete against myself, measuring my improvement to pace and finishing times. In 2015 I ran my first half-marathon. My goal was to run a full marathon this year, but I pushed myself too hard and strained a muscle, so I’ll run it next year instead. I am looking forward to passing that 42.2km mark in under 4 hours.
- I lead my life guided by a set of deeply held values, principles and beliefs:
- I value compassion, kindness, care, integrity and authenticity.
- I believe in serving others before myself.
- I offer my trust from the very start of a relationship, choosing to believe everyone has good intent in their heart.
- I strive to listen to and understand others. This lets me be empathic which will help me serve others needs better.
- I am of the opinion that everyone deserves to live a happy, fulfilling life, regardless of any personal flaw.
- I recognize my flaws and build up my strengths around them.
I am so grateful to have discovered all of this about myself at an early stage in life so I can live authentically who I am today and embrace all the opportunities it is affording me.
When I Discovered My Strengths.
I was invited to join the team at XHTMLized (today known as XFive, and a sister company of XWP), as a front-end developer in 2006. There was no shortage of work, the demand for its PSD-to-HTML service was growing rapidly. Opportunities to be part of great projects with exciting brands kept coming my way, and I continued to hone and develop my skills as a developer and project lead. Opportunities to be part of building the company surfaced, and I began investing time into helping the business grow.
Trying on and wearing the hats of different areas of the business was encouraged. I served in a variety of roles that touched on most every function of the business, including project management, sales and account management, finance and HR. I would often run into new and unfamiliar territory. Through my own determination I battled my fear of failure, and figured out how to do the things that needed to be done. I was surrounded by people who believed in me and recognized my strengths and achievements even when I wasn’t able to see them myself.
It was here that my belief in trust, empowerment, collaboration and autonomy in the workplace was shaped because I was experiencing how powerful it was first hand.
When our WordPress-focused team came together to form XWP in 2014, the opportunity to lead the company surfaced.
While faced with startup jitters and challenges of building up a brand new business, and while working with a team of enormous potential, I became uncertain of my own place in it. I questioned my ability to add value, to set us up in a way that would help us fulfill our potential. I began questioning my professional future. To deal with this uncertainty, I chose to start working with a professional coach. It was a decision that would greatly alter how I viewed myself and where I was in my career.
Through the work with my coach, I was introduced to the concept of unique ability, a belief that at the heart of who you are lies the secret to your greatest success, best quality of life, and biggest contribution to the world. It gave me new hope. I began the work to define my own unique ability. I discovered the concept of Servant Leadership, the understanding that leadership is not for personal power or gain but it is in service to others. This deeply resonated with me. I had seen traits of Servant Leadership in people I worked with and I was unknowingly applying aspects of it in my own life.
Within 6 months of coaching I had made the decision to pursue the role I have in the company today. I was believing in myself again and recognized that I could continue to make meaningful contribution and impact at the workplace I already had.
I am reminded of a quote that has served me well over the last decade of my life and often comes to mind at times when I forget my strengths:
“You must do the thing you think you cannot do”. - Eleanor Roosevelt
A Personal Sidestory.
My biggest personal transformation to date began when I found myself at rock bottom.
I was at a complete and utter dead end in most areas of my life when I chose to end a personal relationship that had kept me abroad in the U.S for 12 years. I had come to the realization that in order to have the positive change I needed for myself, I had to be the change. I found the courage within to take the action needed to close an unfulfilling and unhappy chapter of life.
To do that, I needed to break with almost everything around me and start fresh - and it was terrifying.
And exhilarating. But mostly, it was just terrifying. I had to let go of people I had grown close to and become dependent on. I didn’t have money in my own pocket nor did I have a home of my own to go back to in Oslo. I put my pride aside and asked for help from my family and the company I was working for so I could do what I needed to do for myself. I renewed an expired passport. I booked a plane ticket. I made sure I met all requirements necessary to bring my little dog with me. I began shipping the few belongings I had back to Norway. And I prepared my closest friends and extended family there for my departure by asking for their support and understanding of my decision. It was one small step at the time, and each step helped move me forward.
Letting go of what I had then was one of the best decision I have ever made for myself. I gave myself permission to create a better life for myself.
A constant during this challenging period of my life was my remote work. It offered the flexibility I needed to relocate and start my next chapter.
Back in Oslo, I settled into an apartment which my sister helped me find while I still was overseas and had been unable to travel. I took a few weeks off work, still conflicted with what I wanted out of life and worried about what the future would hold for me. During my leave of absence from work I was called upon to lead an onsite kick-off of a significant multisite WordPress migration project with an important client in Canada. In my mind, I was still in need of “me-time” to get my life in order. But I chose to embrace the opportunity to be there for our team and to serve our client together. It would be another life-changing decision. During my visit to Toronto, I met and fell in love with the person who would become my significant other.
Steps To Conquer Your Own Obstacles.
Step 1: Commit To Becoming a Better You
I’ve learned through my personal and work experiences that nothing holds you back in life more than yourself. Life has taught me that who you aspire to be and what you want to do is within your reach. It’s within you.
You can start a transformation that lets you move towards a happier, more fulfilling place by making a commitment to consciously and continuously learn and grow yourself.
Welcome failures because they will provide you with new learning. You have the ability to overcome them.
Take care to hone skills you have acquired. Develop new skills you aspire to have.
Discover your strengths. Apply them and find ways to develop them further. Your strengths makes up your unique ability, and your unique ability is who you are and why you are here. Use it, it will be your biggest contribution to the world.
Be your own hero and get out of your own way. When you do, new and often unexpected opportunities are revealed. And you’ll discover that your possibilities in life are limitless.
Step 2: Find an Encourager
When you are ready to start your own journey of transformation, or if you are in the middle of one now, it’s important to find someone who can be your encourager and your ally on that journey.
Look for someone in your circle of family or friends, or within the community. If don’t have anyone, I would welcome the opportunity to get to know you and cheer you on!
Step 3: Let Yourself Be Inspired.
Below are the key resources that helped spark my transformation in significant ways, and has lead me to where I am today. They continue to be sources of inspiration, and I hope they can be yours, too.
- Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow
- Unique Ability: Creating the Life You Want
(Dan O'Sullivan, Catherine Nomura, Shannon Waller & Julia Waller)
- Wired Differently
(Vern Dosch, Wally Goulet & Tracy Finneman)
- Creativity Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration
(Ed Catmull & Amy Wallace)
- Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...And Others Don't
- The Purpose Effect: Building Meaning in Yourself, Your Role and Your Organization
Thought Leaders, Influencers & Contributors to the Servant Leadership Community
- Cheryl Bachelder - follow @CABachelder (Popeyes)
- Art Barter - follow @Art_Barter (Servant leadership Institute)
- Ken Blanchard - follow @kenblanchard (The Ken Blanchard Companies)
- Garry Ridge - follow @LearningMoment (WD-40)
- Kevin Monroe - follow @kevin_monroe (X Factor Consulting)
I’d like to thank Topher DeRosia here at HeroPress for giving me the opportunity to share my story. It is against my nature to talk about myself to this extent, but I do it knowing it can serve others. To write my story, I’ve also had to move past my fear of being in the spotlight and accept there may be judgement passed. The reality is that no one will ever hold me to a higher standard or judge me harder than I do myself.
A very special thanks goes out to my wife, Heather, who bore with me through the, at times, difficult writing process. She has opened my eyes to life’s possibilities. In her, I found a partner I wanted to journey with. She believes in me and helps me believe in myself, and she is my greatest ally and encourager. As I write these words, I recognize they will be published the week of our 4-year wedding anniversary. Our years together have been the very best of my life so far.
I also want to offer a heartfelt thank you to another big ally and encourager, my coach and friend Jeff. He’s made me believe in pink fluffy unicorns dancing on rainbows, and I am so grateful for him coming into my life and having him be part of the journey.
Lastly, I’d like to express my deepest gratitude to Dave and to the team at XWP. They have had and continue to have enormous impact on my life, and they hold a very special place in my heart. I look forward to continuing my journey with them.
Featured Partner: The Bumpy Journey of Becoming
‘There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.’ -- Leonard Cohen
[caption id="attachment_1376" align="alignright" width="345"] Me aged 5 yrs[/caption]
My journey began when I lost my hero.
(In truth, I didn’t lose her, she died.)
We had come together during dark times. Her husband, my grandfather, passed away painfully when I was five. Around the same time, my parents were separating. We became acquainted in a black hole. Together, we decided to escape that place and conquer the world.
Her life had been very different to mine. She was born in a castle, she’d luncheoned with the queen and she’d dined with Louis Armstrong. On paper, my grandmother had led a “perfectly marvelous” life. (I’d just begun mine and my world was painfully ordinary.)
I came to love her when I realized that her life had also involved struggle. That I related to. We’d watch the Roger and Hammerstein classics; we’d marvel at the gorgeous dresses, beautiful songs and epic dance sequences, but we also understood the tragedy of it all. It hit our hearts in the same way.
In those quiet, domestic moments I saw a little girl re-emerge, just for a moment and only for me. It was there that I discovered that we weren’t so different after all.
As an army brat, her childhood had been turbulent and tough. Her father was a stern Scot who regimentally walked his children up and down hills everyday. For this reason, as an adult, Grandma refused to walk anywhere. Quite soon, after the outbreak of war, her father went missing. He was presumed dead for eight years. In the meantime, Grandma and her siblings were evacuated to Wales, whilst their mother took on factory work in London.
Her younger brother Stanley spent the war, without his siblings, living with an elusive, elderly man who cut the bread for breakfast against his rotten, wooden leg. The two sisters lived with a couple of mean, closeted, lesbians who immediately disliked my grandmother. (Apparently she wasn’t as pretty as her older sister, Ellen.)
Needless to say, after the children were all returned to London, none of them ever revisited Wales. And, when the war was finally over, a little man arrived at their doorstep, tiny and broken: their father, a long time prisoner of war, found his way home in the end.
Grandma had many other bumps along the way. She wouldn’t want them written here so I will resist. Despite having a lot to say, she was equally keen to hear our stories. We discussed politics, parties, Facebook, school, university, virtual reality, our friends, marriage, alien life forms and, of course, the dreams that occupied our minds. We frequently debated and bantered into the night.
Naturally, as our friendship progressed, I began to dread her demise.
It didn’t seem plausible, or fair, that one day my Gandalf would be no more.
This huggable tornado was still discussing politics with me, waving her big stick around (with a glass of “vino” in one hand) at eighty-seven. She still talked into the night with us, and laughed as she had always laughed. She never went “do-lalley”. She did eventually need a zimmerframe (a.k.a “faithful Fred”) but that was about it. Then one day she was gone. It wasn’t in a puff of smoke but it was close to that.
When she died I didn’t fall apart. I held it together, somehow. My sister and I wrote and read the content for her memorial. I pressed the button that sent her body into the flames. I did it all with relative composure.
It helped that, for the first year at least, I sensed that she’d stuck around just for me. I saw her in the black crow following me on my cycle ride to work and in the moth flying around the pulpit, at her funeral. I became attracted to the things that she had loved. I became strong, assertive and bold, as she had been. But, there were signs that I was crumbling.
I fell twice: once down the stairs (to be found unconscious by my now husband) and, secondly, off a horse on my honeymoon. I still have the scar where my third eye should be to remind me of that second, landing face down in a sand dune, incident. And, a few other strange things occurred, things I won’t bother you with now.
To cut a long story short, I didn’t know it then but I was ‘becoming’ and, this becoming was painful. It felt like shedding skin or letting a shell fall off. I didn’t want my shell to fall off. It had housed me all this time. But it came off, whether I was prepared for it or not, and all of a sudden I found that I was ‘homeless’.
It was as if the universe turned off all the lights so that I might find my own light.
At some point in the darkness, I began to ask myself: “what do you want to do with the rest of your life?” (I haven’t stopped asking that question. The only difference now is I’m kinder to myself.) I discovered that my intention was to bring magic and light into the world. At that time, I also wanted to bring my grandmother back. A book felt like the right portal from which I might be able to achieve this. Why? Well, stories for me have always managed to make the impossible seem possible. (Just to be safe, I decided that I would write a magical story.)
Where does WordPress come in?
I had known about WordPress for a number of years because my husband and I had started a business building E-commerce stores with WordPress. He was, and still remains, the technical wiz. Over time, I learned a few things too but, in all honesty, web stuff has never impassioned me all that much. (To this day I still try and get off the computer as much as I can.) However, during this rather difficult year I started a blog. It was a way of exploring the concepts that mattered to me. I could have used a notebook I suppose but it felt better to put my ideas into posts. It felt cleaner, tidier and more productive in this format.
The blog became a vision board of sorts, where my thoughts (or my ‘wonderings’, as I would later call them) could be expressed, shaped and remade. It also allowed me to keep a record of the research that I was gathering for my book. Every time I watched an inspirational video, or read an interesting book, I would write about it.
It is worthwhile to experiment in Wordpress. Your voice will express itself in its own unique way, and differently at different times. Don’t be afraid of that. You might prefer audio, video, imagery or the written word - I recommend trying all of these mediums. I am still experimenting.
No one is you so no one will ‘create’ as you will.
Allow your creativity to run wild and try not to think too much about how others might interpret you. I found it incredibly digressive when I started trying to sell myself, and my ideas, especially when I wasn’t ready. I found myself playing the imitation game and constantly looking out for guidance. As a result, the blog got boring.
What you take away from it, the experience, that’s what matters most. That’s what will last. Not the likes or the shares. It has helped me to look back and remember that, once upon a time, it was just me - talking to myself, writing alone, trying to find order and clarity during a difficult time. I still value this aspect of the experience more than anything else.
Forget the bigger picture
In my recent talk for WordCamp Brighton I discussed The Hero’s Journey - a bumpy journey of becoming that we all must take, over and over again, as we progress throughout our lives. What I didn’t say in that talk was that I don’t think we will ever know the bigger picture until our time has come to leave this Wonderland.
We cannot know the end of any journey until we find ourselves there.
It sounds obvious I know, but we are conditioned to perfect and finish ourselves – to have it all planned out. And what we discover, quite quickly, is that life isn’t like that.
I don’t know why my grandmother died on that particular Christmas day, several years ago. I don’t know why we never got to say goodbye in person. (I like to think that, perhaps, goodbyes were never going to be possible for friends such as us.) What I do know is that it catapulted me into a new life and a new me. WordPress was helpful in shaping this new identity.
Needless to say, the journey isn’t over. Writing this first book has been a very mysterious, difficult and sometimes bewildering experience for me. Early on I decided that I wouldn’t plan it, or try to define what it was. I would just trust that something wanted to be written. It sounds strange I know. (By now you may have gathered I am a bit bonkers. They say the best people always are. :) ) The book first came out like vomit and then it began to form itself inside my head and then one day it was born on the page.
Only three of us witnessed the birth of The Little book of learning to fly: WordPress, Grandma and I. I was sitting amid lots of paper, staring at the screen and I just knew it was done.
It wasn’t walking or talking yet but it was out of me and on the page. Moreover, I knew Grandma and I had written the ending together. That was a big feat, considering she was dead and all that. And yes, I did shed a tear, because it was one of the most WONDERful surprises of my life. We somehow managed one final, great adventure together.
Whatever journey you are on - grasp it, explore it and cherish it. Don’t race to, or seek to anticipate, the ending. Enjoy the journey instead. Be willing to be brave because life will surprise you. And finally, love.
Love with all your heart, even when that heart is broken.
Below is the closing extract of the first draft of The Little book of learning to fly. Thank you WordPress.
…Frederic didn’t know that he lived in a mansion of a thousand rooms because he had never bothered to look. He was quite content in the one room that he occupied… At least, he believed himself to be. Sometimes the wallpaper was a bit off, but he got it right in the end. He felt no need to venture further. What would be the point? Would it even be safe?
From this room, at the bottom of his mansion, he could see the street and people going about their daily business. He witnessed a few instances of fighting, some moments of self-sacrifice and quite a bit of lovemaking. It was all very entertaining, but a bit disconcerting sometimes.
One day he decided to walk around all the rooms of his mansion. He’d gotten a letter in the post about it - from an estate agent of all people! So, he thought, why not? He tentatively put the dishwasher on, closed the door to his little room and ascended the stairs.
The first floor was rather difficult to navigate: some of the doorknobs were rusted from neglect, and so difficult to turn, and many of the rooms were filled with cobwebs and shadows. He found himself clearing these spaces as he went and he gave a great sigh of relief when he was finally able to leave that first floor behind.
He quickly discovered that every other floor was different. Some of the rooms were empty; some of them were full. He met many strange creatures along the way. Each of them taught him a new lesson and showed him a different view.
Frederic sensed, as he went higher, that he was beginning to forget about the original room. He was pretty sure he wasn’t going to be able to find his way back there, ever again. Nevertheless, he continued to climb.
Midway up, from the windows, he was able to see the tops of mountains, peopled by marvelous beings that he had never known to exist before. Higher up he saw a vast sea in the distance and he heard the water folk singing their strange, familiar songs.
At the top, on the roof, when he finally got there, he was able to see it all. The view was entirely different. It was far more pleasing and far more abundant than he could have ever dreamed up. And, best of all, from here he could see the stars.
It was on this rooftop that he chose to remain for the rest of his life. He liked it best. If someone wanted to see him, they would just have to come up and join him there. He decided he would never descend that stairwell ever again, not for anyone.
This rooftop living went on for a very long time. He made many friends and a few foes. It was all great fun. But, one day, he saw a ladder that led to the stars. It hadn’t been there before, or had it? He couldn’t be sure. (He was very forgetful nowadays.) He guessed someone had placed it there, just for him, and so he chose to climb that ladder and, at a certain point, he vanished.
But, what of his friends? They had been searching the mansion for hours now, with the obliging estate agent (who secretly wanted to sell the property.) Frederic’s loved ones were genuinely concerned for his safety... And, they missed him.
Well, put simply, he wished they could see the view from here. They would understand why he had to climb that ladder, if they could only see it… Still, it didn’t matter… They would understand when the time came for them to see it too.
[caption id="attachment_1378" align="aligncenter" width="604"] Grandma Jess, Uncle Just and my sister Mads, releasing a lantern on New years eve 2013[/caption]
(In loving memory of my grandmother Lady Jessica Urquhart.)
Featured Partner: A Community of Acceptance
I’m going to open my essay with a bit of self-exposure. These things aren’t really secrets, but some context places me into a broader story.
I’m the child of two Army parents, and spent at most two years at any one school, and have several cities play home at various points in my life. I’m a small business owner, and have made my living with WordPress in some form or another for the past eight years. I’ve had some struggle with feelings of depression for as long as I can remember in my life. I am a gay latino living in Orlando, FL. Those last few points have defined more of my internal life than I’d really care for in the past few months. We’ll get to that later.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s begin.
I’d been doing web development since high school, where I was fortunate enough to go to a school that taught basic programming. The dot com bubble may have been on the verge of popping, with web companies still riding high, but courses in public schools hadn’t yet caught up to that industry.
Throughout high school and college I both worked on websites for myself, friends, and a few paying clients. WordPress had not yet entered my life, and would not until the Spring of 2008 when I wanted to move my personal blog from a manually managed list of links with some basic PHP thrown in to something more robust. It helped that I was tasked with creating a new website for the company that I was working for, despite that being no part of my regular job description, or compensation for that matter.
Fast forward a few years, and in 2011 I discover that the forums that I was going to for help were populated by real people, something I’d come to know as the WordPress community.
This community was tireless, knowledgeable, patient, and generally filled with the can-do attitude that attracts people to roll up their sleeves and get to work. My kind of tribe.
Over the course of five years, a variety of web tech conferences, close to 100 meetups, and around thirty WordCamps and counting, I’ve built up a group of friends and partners that have been my hangout buddies, sounding board, business associates, and support network all in one.
In those five years I’ve had a few ups and downs in my life. I’d moved jobs a few times, went from doing side freelance work in the evenings to working for myself full time, uprooting house about five times, and started and stopped a variety of partnerships. I’ve continued to make new friends, both offline and on, that I would count among my closest confidantes. The WordPress community has been a big driver of my personal, social, and professional life and I am forever grateful for that.
This group of people is as varied as any I could hope for. We’re not perfect (no one is), but we’re generally more willing to hear out opposing ideas, have frank discussions on topics that would be uncomfortable or unheard of with other groups, and represent a diversity that makes me proud to be a community member.
The things that I might be discriminated for in real life are not only accepted, but are normalized in a way that makes me feel comfortable being myself. This includes being able to share and have shared experiences outside of the expanse of my meatspace network, as well as the safety that comes with the knowledge that I am not alone. I can’t be alone when I can commiserate with a group of like-minded loners.
Big Events Stop Time
On 12 June, less than three months ago, life in Orlando was shaken. We became the latest of a list that threatens to grow to every community in America that has to contend with the fallout of a mass shooting. Pointing out that the attack occurred on Latin night at a gay club is apparently overtly political when describing the event as a multi-faceted hate crime and terrorist attack. So be it. Someone tore a portion of my community up and altered the fabric of my life.
My immediate response the day of was to worry about any other young latin gay men that I know that could have been at that club. I was also scrambling for information on volunteer efforts that may or may not have been available. Rumors circulated that the federal ban on blood donations among gay men had been lifted at some blood banks, which later turned out to be false. I was able to stew in outrage that the very people affected would be unable to offer lifesaving help to those who desperately need it, not just in Orlando but across the country.
My outrage turned to anxiety in short order. The story was dissected for weeks, and still frequently comes up in conversation. On more than one occasion I’ve had to excuse myself from those conversations, turn off the TV, or shut my laptop and walk away. I can’t claim any specific trauma, or even a feeling of “that could have been me” as I don’t frequent night clubs, but that could be any of us in some way.
Staring into an abyss for too long can make you think that the void is all that exists.
One redeeming moment throughout that ordeal was the outpouring of support from around the world, and our community pulling together to help the families of victims, and to unite in a strength that comes from our network but does not exist in any one person. Over the course of 24 hours I received dozens of calls, texts, tweets, and messages in various other forms asking if I specifically was ok. The majority of those touch points came from members of the WordPress community, who ostensibly owe me nothing and that I may interact with in person once a year at a conference, but who have a kinship that unites us.
Support Can Be Personal Or Shared
I’m reviewing this essay while sitting at my favorite coffeeshop. I’ve been coming here for twelve years now, almost as long as I’ve lived in Orlando. The coffee is great, but that’s not the only reason that I come in. As soon as I got here the owner greeted me with a hug, and the barista knew exactly how I like my coffee. The owner randomly thanked me for being dependable and a constant that she didn’t have to worry about being trouble, as something always comes up when running a small business. That’s definitely a sentiment that I can agree with.
While I don’t agree with her observation that, “David is always happy” (see prior revelation of lengthy stretches of discouragement and dispiritedness), I understand the need for constants in your life.
Those people that will be there for you, even if you don’t always know it.
Whether that’s a shoulder to lean on, a mentor when you’re stuck, or even a bright smile or online greeting for no reason than to share happiness, the amount of effort required to improve the lives of others can be as simple as the congeniality and cordiality that you would like others to afford to you.
One of my favorite things about WordCamps and WordPress meetups are the number of people that come out without financial compensation just to share their knowledge. I have the most fun helping with a workshop, teaching a group to do something that I myself had taught to me. We all needed some help to get where we are, and I don’t consider it an obligation, but an opportunity when I get to help others.
Go Forth and Be A Community
I have an ask with my essay. Be a pillar of support for your community. Not everyone is comfortable with putting themselves out for judgement, but everyone has moments of weakness.
Everyone is walking a path that you may never see when talking with them or following their lives online.
I ask that you make it clear to everyone that you are available if you are needed. You may not think that you can do anything to help, but even a sympathetic ear can be a lifeline that can come at the most important moment of need. I’ve been kept relatively sane by the community that started as a way to help me scrape together websites, and has become one of the driving factors of my life.
It’s only fair to continue paying that forward.
If you’re ever in Orlando, come get some coffee with me.
Featured Partner: The Joy of Giving Back
I was born and brought up in a very small town called Patiyali. Patiyali is on the banks of the river Ganga. It is in India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh. Patiyali was laid back and idyllic, with no real opportunities in IT or computers. My father never wanted me to go for IT Job because I wouldn't get chance to work near my town. He preferred I live closer home.
My mother supported me and somehow she convinced my father to let me follow my dreams. Thanks to my mother; she has always supported me, without her I would not be here.
In my college there was choice between Dot Net and Java, I choose Java. I have always been fan of Open Source. I loved Java, I had also started my blog on Java in my college time. After completing my MCA I had joined my first Job as a Java Developer. I did it for 1.5 years.
I never wanted to quit my job as Java Developer, but I had to because of my sister health issues. Doctors said she would not survive, it was very critical time.
How I got into WordPress (Hello WordPress!)
Unemployed for 6 months, Java was still on my mind. I could not get any Job. Meantime I had started teaching. I was hopeless, I thought I would never get a chance to work in any IT company again. Then a friend, Ankit, who worked in rtCamp, a company based in Pune told me to look up WordPress and asked me to apply for a QA opening. That lucky day I got call from rtCamp and cleared my interview. Now the challenge was to convince my parents to allow me to go Pune. Pune is in Maharashtra, almost 1000 miles away from my hometown.
My parents are from a smaller town, they were worried about me living alone in a big city. It was a challenge to convince them to let go.
Some things they worried about:
- Place to stay: It was too tough to find a place when I had no one in Pune.
- Female Count: My mother was most worried about female count. rtCamp had only two female employees including me. (now they have 7)
Before my first day, my father and I went to rtCamp's address and looked up the office. Convinced the neighborhood where it was located was semi-residential and safe, he felt much better about Pune.
But WordPress is just a blogging platform
Before joining rtCamp I had known WordPress as only a blogging platform. My friends who worked in MNCs usually dismissed it as a blogging platform that could create only static sites at best. I did not have a very different opinion than my friends.
Working in rtCamp was fun. I made friends but to be honest I did not find WordPress very interesting for the first six months in the beginning.
WordPress community called out to me
Then I saw my colleagues involved in the WordPress community as Core contributors and in many other ways. I saw how my company was encouraging people to get involved in community.
That encouraged me to get involved in with make.WordPress.org. I highly recommend you do that too.
First Contribution Core Patch
My first contribution was a small patch in the core. I was helped by colleagues and when it was accepted I was thrilled. Now something I did was on millions of websites. It might be a small line or two but still it was on millions of websites.
I try to contribute (Giving back to community) in every possible way, by giving support, translating, Review themes, and documentation.
Theme review was the challenge for me as I had no idea about WordPress development so I thought to learn by seeing other people's code. It was challenge for me because I am QA (non- WordPress Developer), other people assume that we can not get involved in any code related activity. I learned a lot by reviewing themes, every day I review a theme I learn so many new things. The theme review team is wonderful, there are so many wonderful people like Kevin Archibald, Carolina Nymark, Jon, Nilambar, who are ready to help you always. I am happy to be part of theme review team.
I love WordPress, it's wonderful, it has wonderful community.
Why do I love being part of WordPress?
I have always been crazy for being known for something. In college time when I used to get likes for my blog post or any comment, I used to feel like…...wow, I can not even express that feeling in words. So that feeling WordPress gives me every time I gets mention in any WP.org posts. It gives me recognition.
A Thank You Note
All this wonderful adventure would not have been possible without someone back in Patiyali, who stood up for me and encouraged me to follow my dreams. My mother.