HeroPress: From the Outskirts to an Insider
WordPress wasn’t the first blogging platform I tried. My very first blog was set up using Blogspot (now Blogger). I didn’t even know I wanted a blog to tell you the truth. But let me take a step back.
I am a techie. A very “untechie” techie, but a techie nonetheless. I actually went to university with a plan to study mathematics and become an actuarial scientist (math and money made for a perfect career, I thought). After one year of university-level mathematics, I decided that I was done with the subject and I stuck with the computer science courses I had also taken. It turned out I had a knack for programming and was often found in the computer lab, debugging my friends’ assignments.
Following my graduation, I worked for several years as a programmer before deciding that I had no interest in coding for the rest of my life. I moved on and up, studying management and information systems, which led me into more managerial positions. On my way there, I decided that I needed to have a personal website. I bought a domain (not my real name though) and starting looking into building my website.
My very first job out of university had been with a web development company as web administrator, where I had picked up quite a bit of HTML, so I figured it would be easy to just build my own website. While researching the latest and best, it struck me that being able to easily add content would be cool, as I had seen early content management systems used back in that job (Tango, anyone?).
Suddenly my search results were showing me something called blogging. This was 2005, and blogs were still pretty new. I was excited by the concept, that I could have an easy way to put my thoughts out into cyberspace. I signed up for Blogspot and dove in. For all of 2 days. I wanted to change the design and the layout of my new blog, but I couldn’t. I was stuck in the box that Blogspot provided. A little more searching and I found WordPress.
WordPress meant I could install it myself on my own hosting and play around to my heart’s content. It was a techie’s dream. In April 2005, WordPress was at version 1.5 and I was in heaven. I spent days and nights tweaking and customizing my brand new website and blog. I was a WordPresser.
I was an avid blogger, sharing posts everyday — longer thought-pieces and short asides (who remembers that concept?). The blogging community in Jamaica was small but we were an enthusiastic bunch. Many of my friends were still using other platforms, but I was a diehard WordPress lover. They took comfort in the ease of use of their hosted platforms, while I reveled in being able to completely mess my site up myself (and fix it!).
I played with themes, and experimented with plugins. Two years later, I was helping other people set up and customize their WordPress blogs, and doing migrations from Blogspot.
I was a WordPress freelancer. I didn’t even know this was a thing people did.
It took me several years before I officially created my freelance consultancy, L’Attitude Studios and actually looked to bring in clients.
Despite the fact that WordPress is the most popular blogging platform in Jamaica, and is used by many web developers to built CMS-based websites, there is not much of a WordPress community. And despite my reading all about WordCamps and community meetups, I didn’t really think of myself as part of an actual community. WordCamps started back in 2006 and there have been hundreds since, but I only went to my first WordCamp in 2016, in Miami.
Finding a Place
The organizers of WordCamp Miami made me feel so welcome. They were excited to have me come from Jamaica “just” to attend their event. For the first time, I understood that I have a place in the community, not just as a user. I signed up with the WordPress Community team as an organizer of the WordPress Kingston meetups. Full of enthusiasm I came home, ran a survey to find out how people were using WordPress and declared I was starting local meetups. The sound of crickets followed as the interest was low.
I started a new job and didn’t have time to focus on WordPress, so the meetups fell by the wayside. But I still wanted to contribute. So In 2017, I made the leap to speaking. I decided that there were things I could offer the WordPress community based on my own experiences. WordCamp Ottawa became the first WordCamp I spoke at.
Again, the WordCamp organizers (one of which I had met at WordCamp Miami) were thrilled to have me travel from Jamaica to participate. Funnily, I had to point out to several people that it took less time to get from Jamaica to Ottawa than it did for those traveling from San Francisco.
Everyone I met at WordCamp Ottawa made me feel like a part of the WordPress family, like I belonged.
I still hadn’t got my local meetups going, but I had started making connections in the WordPress space locally. And there seemed to be more interest. I proposed a series of workshops to the organizer of Caribbean Bloggers’ Week. It wouldn’t quite be a WordCamp, which we wouldn’t get permission for, but we could try to do an educational community event to spur interest and raise awareness. WP in the City was born! Sadly, it had to be postponed, but it will still take shape for 2018.
Now bitten by the bug, I set my speaking sights even higher and made a submission to WordCamp US. A month later, I was notified that one of my two proposals was accepted. I was to be a WordCamp US speaker! Now an even bigger part of the WordPress community would be open to me. I set about making plans for Nashville in December.
By the time you read this, I will be able to announce that I was selected as the recipient of the Kim Parsell Memorial Scholarship. When they notified me, I didn’t even remember I had applied. Kim Parsell was an active member of the WordPress community until her passing in 2015. She was nicknamed “WPMom” because of the care she took in making sure any member of the WordPress community she met felt welcomed and valued.
Kim was already gone before I actively started taking part in the wider WordPress community. But the community I encountered definitely made me feel welcomed and valued, and now I want to help others feel that way. Going to WordCamp US is going to be an amazing opportunity, in part because of the size and breadth of the community I will get to interact with.
Bringing it Home
Jamaica is a small country, an island in the middle of the Caribbean sea. Most people know about our biggest stars (like Bob Marley and Usain Bolt), our culture (reggae music and jerk cooking) or our beaches. The people who go usually remember the people. Our community is what makes us a powerhouse. And I want to tap into that for WordPress.
I want to bring Jamaica into the WordPress community, and bring the WordPress community to Jamaica. I want to get more Jamaicans to WordCamps and actively participating in the WordPress community in other ways (through contributing and meetups).
I want to bring more WordPressers to Jamaica to share and exchange knowledge, not just enjoy the beach.
When I started out, WordPress was just a tool to get me to my goal. For a long time, I didn’t think much about the people behind WordPress, much less considering getting involved myself. Despite my own technical background, I am a newbie where it comes to WordPress development, having remained a tinkerer for much of the last decade. But WordPress is so much more than just code.
Through WordPress, I have been able to express myself through blogging and poetry. I have been able to help others achieve their own success. I have found people willing to share their knowledge for others (like me) to learn. I have found people willing to hear about my WordPress experiences. I have built a network of contacts always willing to help out.
Reading through the other essays on HeroPress, it is also clear that WordPress has changed lives. It has given people a voice. It has brought people together.
WordPress is community. WordPress is my community.