I never remember dates. I know the birthday of more or less five people. I insist on saying that my son was born on May 11. Incorrect, I was born on May 11, he on May 17. But for some reason, my WordPress dates are permanently etched into my brain. I think it’s because meeting the global WordPress community and helping restart the Italian community are very meaningful moments in my adult life. Please join me in a walk down memory lane
May 15, 2015
I started building websites with WordPress in 2010: my first website was my own blog, whose only purpose was to publish photos of my son so all the grandparents could enjoy seeing him grow. I enjoyed tinkering around with it, and to my surprise someone wrote asking me to build something similar for them. And they wanted to pay me for it!
For a few years I worked as an administrative manager during the day and as a web designer at night until I decided to make the jump and become a freelancer.
I never thought about contributing to WordPress because I wasn’t a back end developer and I didn’t think the project needed people that were not code wizards. Heck, I didn’t even know how WordPress was made or how open source worked exactly!
And then I went to a Freelancers conference in Italy and on May 15 I gave my first talk ever.
Up until that moment I taught small classes, but I never talked in front of more than ten people. I was terrified: in the audience there were more than a hundred people. Some of my friends, but also a lot of seasoned professionals that I respected and admired, and here I was talking about how they should and shouldn’t build a website. I was so nervous, when I grabbed the mic I did such a wide gesture with my arms that the bracelet I was wearing flew through the air to the other side of the room.
After my talk a guy came to compliment my talk, and I realised that he was one of those people that I respected and admired from afar: Luca Sartoni, an Automattician whose blog I have been following for a while.
For the three days of the event we kept chatting about websites, WordPress, entrepreneurship, open source until he convinced me to start a WordPress meetup in my hometown of Torino, Italy. He put me in contact with other people that he knew wanted to do something similar and in less than a month from that conversation we started a meetup. The group now has more than one thousand members, and in March we will celebrate thirty events.
November 7, 2015
Luca didn’t stop his proselytism in Torino That same year, WordCamp Europe was held in Seville and at the Polyglots table a revolution was started. A small group of Italians, used to travelling abroad to attend WordCamps, met there and decided that it was time to organise the Italian community.
The first step was to revive the blog on the Italian WordPress website: it was dormant for seven years and the first thing we did was publish the dates of meetups that were slowly but surely appearing in the whole country. At the beginning of 2015 there were two meetups in Italy, by August there were eight and their number kept growing.
Now, if you have met Italians, you know we talk a lot. The two Francescos from Apulia, Franz Vitulli and Francesco Di Candia, took the second initiative that was crucial to bringing us together: they opened a Slack workspace for the Italians, modeled after the UK workspace. For the whole summer we chatted every single day: about WordPress, about how to grow and manage the community that was forming in front of our eyes, how to communicate, how to contribute.
And then chatting wasn’t enough, we wanted to meet in person. We wanted to put a face and a voice to the avatars. With the help of Sara Rosso and Jenny Wong we carried out a bizarre plan, almost unheard of: a stand alone WordPress Contributor Day. We would meet in Milano for a day to get to know each other and to learn how to Contribute to WordPress.
I like to think that November 7 2015 is the day we became a community: we were not an abstract idea anymore, we were people, meeting in person to make WordPress in Italy.
April 10, 2016
The next few months went by in a blur of activities: the meetup organisers in Torino applied to host the first WordCamp in Italy in three years and I lead the organising team, I applied to attend the Community Summit in Philadelphia and I got accepted, I attended the first WordCamp US, my first WordCamp, and volunteered at it. I met a lot of people that helped me become more active and more focused: as a new contributor it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the abundance of amazing projects and tasks you can be part of, but it’s important to keep your focus to be more effective.
After meeting people from all over the world and sharing our experiences I realised the story of the Italian community could be inspiring for other communities and it was worth telling it to a wider audience, so I got completely out of my comfort zone and submitted a talk to WordCamp London.
On April 10th 2016 I gave my first talk at a WordCamp and my first talk in English. I think I didn’t sleep for days before and after the event. It was nerve wracking, but I did it without throwing any bracelet in the air this time.
September 17, 2017
Over the following year I kept contributing to WordPress, mostly in the Community team. I participated in the Polyglots activities for a while but then I had to pick and focus my attention. The more I interacted with people from all over the world as a hobby, the more I wanted that to become my job. Although my business as a web designer in Italy was doing good, I felt I wanted to be able to reach more people and find a way to be more involved with the community.
So I started looking for a job. I was hesitant at first: all the insecurities I had about myself came back to haunt me. The voice in my head was telling me: you are too old, you don’t have enough technical expertise, you have been contributing for a very short time, English is not your native language, you are a single mom from Italy for crying out loud, who would want to employ you?
Well, it turns out that if you actually look for a job instead of just telling yourself that you really would like a job, chances are you might get one.
Last September I started a new chapter in my career as the WordPress Community Manager at SiteGround and I couldn’t be happier.
The past 33 months have completely changed my life, personally and professionally: along the way I learned a number of lessons that I know will stay with me forever.
If you want to achieve something, start today. Just start. Start a meetup, leave a comment to encourage someone else, volunteer to take notes of a meeting, participate in the discussion, bring your own ideas to the table. Be a fire starter, for yourself and for the people around you.
None of the above is about you: the community is bigger than you, you are here to build a path for the future. Once you started something, don’t become too attached, let it go and let other people step up and shine. Mentor them, if they ask and if you can.
If you want to go faster go alone, if you want to go further go together
I am not a huge fan of motivational quotes, but this one is very dear to my heart and it’s one I have to remind myself quite often. I am a perfectionist and a quick learner: this is ok when you start your own business (and it’s ok only at the beginning, but this is a topic for another article!), but when you are part of a team, you are part of something bigger. It might move slower, but its impact is immensely more powerful than anything you’ll be able to achieve on your own.
I dislike speaking in public. When I say this people tend to laugh it off because I am good on stage. It doesn’t mean that I like it. I am much more at ease when I am behind the scenes, making things happen.
But representation matters: I feel that I am responsible to be on stage for all the women who haven’t found the courage yet to share their stories.
I am responsible for the young ones, so they can see that it’s possible to create a life when you can be both a good, albeit a bit absent mom, and a kick ass professional. I am responsible for the older ones, so they can see that we are represented, that this industry accepts us and recognizes our contributions. I am responsible to show my eleven year old son that women can do whatever they set out to do.
Make it better, give it back
I wish I came up with this, because it’s an incredibly powerful sentence. John did and I am grateful every day that I get to share my life with him and his wisdom.
Contributing to open source can be very frustrating: things go slow, sometimes things don’t go at all (there are numerous tickets in the WordPress bug tracker that are five or more years old), sometimes you might disagree with that will be decided, sometimes you might work alongside people that you dislike.
When this happens, remind yourself that you are working on a brilliant piece of software that is helping the lives and the businesses of millions of people.