From User to Developer: How WordPress is Changing Careers

When Victoria Dyte of Reindeer Riot started using WordPress, she wasn’t an established developer or web designer shifting across to a new platform; she’d simply been designing and running her own online shops successfully via WordPress for several years, and decided to take the skills and knowledge she’d picked up and turn it into a new business. With the  mentorship of Sarah Rosberg of Rafiki Mwema/Castle Design, and support from her graphic designer husband Col (who creates unique logos and artwork for the sites she builds), she’s now been working exclusively as a WordPress developer for over 18 months.

This seems to be an increasingly common career path; people learning WordPress for another project, and then making it their full time occupation. So why does it happen?

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Firstly, WordPress is incredibly user-friendly. You can build a phenomenal website with nothing but a good theme, some good artwork and carefully curated plugins. If you learn to write basic CSS, you can create child themes which allow you to customise your site’s design (colour, typography, layout) to your heart’s content. In essence: building fantastic WordPress sites doesn’t require you to be a code wizard. It requires creativity, a really good eye for layout and design, unique ideas and a willingness to learn (which arguably, is harder to find than someone who can read and write code like one of the main characters in The Matrix).

Secondly: WordPress is broad enough and flexible enough to allow you to specialise. You’re not boxed into being a web designer more generally (saving you from learning or building things that you just aren’t interested in); you can focus specifically on building sites for schools, for small businesses, for online stores. You can find your one thing, really get to know all the different plugins and design elements that will allow you to create something fantastic within that niche, and then market it to people who need that particular kind of website.

Finally: WordPress offers a great sense of community. That was one of the major drawcards for Victoria – she was surrounded by other women who were doing fantastic work, and were willing to support her as she stepped out and turned a hobby she’d become incredibly passionate about and talented at into a full time job. There’s a wide range of camps and conferences devoted to this platform, and bringing together the people who use it.

If you’re stepping out and becoming a full time WordPress developer, PeepSo is a great plugin to have in your arsenal. It can help you turn a small business website into a market network, provide a discussion space for an online course; essentially, it can turn any venture into a community.

Interview: Bridie Amelia Designs

Bridie has been working with WordPress since 2011, and is really passionate about the platform; her website includes an entire page devoted to explaining why she thinks people should use WordPress, and the advantages it has over other web design choices. We interviewed her to find out more about what she does, why she loves WordPress; and in keeping with our Women of WordPress theme, we also asked who she looks up to in the world of WordPress and how gender has impacted her experience.

bridie amelia designs

Tell us a little bit about who you are, and what you do.
I’m a web + digital designer/developer with an extensive graphic and print background. I work closely with SMBs and digital marketing agencies on a freelance/contract basis, and provide services such as WordPress websites, print collateral, and animated banners to fulfill marketing, design and online presence needs. I’ve created e-commerce, membership and e-learning WordPress websites, and my focus is providing a smooth user experience for all users of the sites I create.
When did you start working with WordPress?
I did the classic seachange and moved north from Sydney when my firstborn was 2 months old. After my second child was born I moved back into part time work, and found how much the world of design and web had changed. I mean seriously, before having chidren we were making websites with frames and animated GIFs were an acceptable inclusion on a homepage! WordPress wasn’t even around.
In 2011 I inherited a client from a colleague who had a WordPress site. I’m what is now known as a digital native, having used computers from the age of 8 – our first computer at home ran on DOS, and had 40Kb of RAM! – my brothers and I used to type in BASIC games from a book, then play them. So diving into a new platform didn’t faze me – I learnt as I went, and haven’t looked back.
How has your experience as a WordPress professional changed over time (what’s different now to when you started)?
From a design and user experience perspective, template styles have changed immensely. In 2011 there were still a lot of skeuomorphic styles (when a design mimics real life, like a calculator interface that looks like a real calculator) were still pretty common. Since then trends have moved towards flat design, parallax, and minimalist. It’s also  absolutely essential now to have knowledge of responsive design and mobile device prototyping, as users commonly visit websites first on mobile devices then complete their tasks on desktop. There are some great responsive WordPress frameworks out there – Bootstrap is my preference.
 
What’s your favorite thing about the platform?
WordPress is so accessible, and open source, which means there is a great developer community and lots of free options for those starting out. As you move into more complex developments, there are also some great premium plugins that are well supported, like Paid Memberships Pro (PMPro), Gravity Forms and Woocommerce. The successful ones, which have a good market share, often have excellent integration with each other also.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
I absolutely love learning, and believe it’s the secret to staying young – in mind at least! – but as with any digital field, if you’re going to work with WordPress, you’ve got to understand every job will have a learning curve. My most exciting – and challenging at times – project so far has been developing a groundbreaking organisational change e-learning site, 12 Steps for Business (12SFB). This has been a pretty complex project that’s already been through three or four iterations – it brings together e-learning, membership and forum functionality to deliver something quite unique for small businesses to large corporations.

Do you think your gender has impacted your work or sense of professional community in any way?
I think as women we do tend to being more intuitive, and approach tech in a different way. I guess I’m very approachable for female business owners, and I understand that how a person feels when they visit a website is as important as ensuring a website functions correctly. You’ve got to assure a user when they visit a site, and this is a core aspect of user experience.

Who are some other WordPress women who have influenced or inspired you, and why?

@messica (Jessica Oros) of PMPro knows her stuff, and has been a fantastic help in some gritty custom PHP dev I’ve implemented for 12SFB. Michelle Shearer of Mamabake is just bloody inspiring (can I say that?) – not only is she a fellow fan of 90s riot grrl bands like Bikini Kill – but she’s (almost) singlehandedly built an online community of over 24,000 women using WordPress and Facebook.
What advice would you give to other women wanting to get into working with WordPress?
Don’t be intimidated – learn the difference between wordpress.org and wordpress.com. Start playing around with a wordpress.com site to learn the ropes, then move across to a self-hosted site. The more you try, the more you learn. Make use of developer forums – there’s so many out there, such as groups on Linked In and Google+, as well as support on wordpress.org. If you’ve got technical aptitude, check out Udemy or Lynda.com for basics in PHP and CSS. When you start working out your own solutions, don’t forget to post them to a relevant forum or thread for the benefit of others.

Women of WordPress: Kim Parsell, aka #wpmom

While compiling our Women of WordPress list, we came across many touching tributes to Kim Parsell – a woman whose influence on the WordPress community was so significant that a memorial scholarship was established in her name by the WordPress Foundation after her untimely death earlier this year. This is what we found out about the woman affectionately known as #wpmom, whose legacy continues to pave the way for and inspire other women working with WordPress.

wpmom

Kim’s contributions to the WordPress platform are some of the most diverse and significant we’ve encountered during this project. She was an important member of the WordPress documentation team; she contributed to five consecutive WordPress releases, and was incredibly proud to have been acknowledged in Matt Mullenweg’s State of the Word address in 2014. This video of Kim speaking at Wordcamp San Franscisco 2014 is a great place to start if you want to understand the breadth and complexity of her practical contributions to the platform.

Beyond that, she was an incredible cheerleader for others working in WordPress; there are countless blog posts sharing how she’d encourage over-worked developers to take a break and have some lunch, built much-valued friendships over Twitter and email, drove for hours just to go to WordPress meetups and help others with their projects, offered no-nonsense advice and hugs in equal measure; essentially, she did everything possible to help turn a group of developers into a caring, bonded community. She had a special interest in encouraging older women to get involved in WordPress.

I think Kim Parsell’s legacy stands as the very best example of what it means to be influential in the WordPress community. She not only made her own, significant contributions to the platform; she made others believe they could, too – and offered practical help wherever she could.

Kim was able to attend her very first WordCamp thanks to assistance from the WordPress Foundation, so it’s fitting that her memorial is a WordPress Foundation scholarship enabling other women to have the same experience (with older women being highly encouraged to apply).

Thanks to all those who have remembered Kim, and of course to Kim herself, for showing us what a Woman of WordPress should aspire to be.

Women of WordPress: Defining Influence

There are a lot of great “Women of WordPress” or “women to follow on WordPress” posts out there; for the most part, the selections are based on the author’s personal preferences/favorites. If you amalgamate all these lists, you’re likely to get a pretty good picture of who’s making waves in the WordPress-sphere – or at the very least, who’s the most popular.

women-in-wordpress

As part of this series, we’re aiming to put together a definitive (though by no means exhaustive) list of women who are really changing the way we use and think about WordPress; the big names, and the unsung heroes. To do that, we need to get to the crux of what “influence” means and how it can be measured, with specific reference to this platform.

Initially, we’d considered limiting the list to women who have in some way changed the platform itself (creating a plugin or theme, being part of the WordPress team, etc), but that seemed restrictive; there’s some women out there putting together fantastic tutorials and discussion posts, and through those posts significantly changing the way people think about WordPress and the ease with which they use it (or just leading by example).

Here’s a few of the items we ended up using as a yardstick in our quest to quantify influence, and build a meaningful list; we’ll be sharing said list in a few days, followed by more individual features and interviews.

1. Social Authority

Moz has developed a metric to measure how influential someone is on Twitter; and it’s really pretty genius. You can read more about it here, but in a nutshell: it looks primarily at retweets, and takes into account a user’s friend count, follower count, etc. It also adjusts for time, favoring recent activity (aggressively discounting scores for people who haven’t said much recently). They see retweets as the holy grail of Twitter activity; to share someone’s content to your feed/your circle, it must have resonated with you on some level. Combine this with the #wordpress hashtag, filter by gender, and you’ve got a pretty excellent measure of who Twitter thinks our Women of WordPress should be.

2. Content and Contributions

To be a woman of WordPress, you’ve got to have done something of note that’s WordPress-specific. As mentioned above, we’re being pretty flexible about what counts as “something of note”; it’s the WordPress part that counts. This could mean they’re using WordPress in a way that’s being picked up by others as a direct result of their influence and visibility, it could mean that they’ve put together a really excellent plugin, it could mean that their tutorials are the go-to spot for people wanting to learn the basics of this platform.

Admittedly this leaves us with a pretty huge list (which is awesome); so we’re curbing it by picking women whose content/contribution is either a) original and mostly unprecedented or b) has consistent traffic/downloads/comments/shares (ie, activity of all kinds). If what you’re putting out there is good, it will stand the test of time.

3. Appearances on other “best of” lists.

As we stated above, these lists are kind of a popularity contest; but here, popularity matters. Unlike high school, people who are popular in the tech world usually have that status for a reason (based on their merits and achievements). To make a “Women in WordPress” list, you have to have more than hair that’s full of secrets – so we’re taking those appearances into account when building our list (as a “nice to have, but not necessary” qualification).

Again, the full list will be released in a few days; if you have any thoughts, questions or even rebuttals, we’d love for you to connect with us in the comments, on Facebook or right here on PeepSo’s own social network.

Women of WordPress: Karly Nimmo

Karly Nimmo is one of our featured Women of WordPress because she’s not only used WordPress as the foundation for her own incredibly popular podcast; she’s using WordPress to encourage and enable other women to create great podcasts too.

karly nimmo and podcasting

Karly has been using WordPress as the foundation for her online presence for several years, and this April she started podcasting using a combination of WordPress and Libsyn. Within two days, she’d hit number one in her category, and made it into iTunes’ “new and noteworthy” section. Since then, her audience has been growing and growing (currently at over a thousand downloads per episode). As an added bonus, the guests Karly interviewed were getting sales and new clients as a direct result of appearing on the podcast; inbound leads which essentially converted themselves, because they’d already heard the person’s voice and through that established trust.

WordPress has enabled Karly to get a really effective and efficient podcasting system going: create fantastic audio (something Karly had been doing for years as a voiceover artist and radio jock), and then upload each episode to a file hosting service synced with her WordPress site, where WordPress would create a new post and send the audio over to the iTunes store. Thanks to her use of WordPress, she was also able to get people subscribing directly to her RSS feed using other apps; capturing the Android/non-Apple market too.

As her podcast became more and more successful, she was approached by a number of women wanting to know how they could get their own message out there through podcasting; and to meet that need, she set up a six week podcasting course on her WordPress site using OptimizePress. The Radcasters Podcasting S’Cool opened its doors at the start of this month, and the number of students is continuing to increase; alongside modules on how to create great audio and figure out your topic, there’s a wealth of information for beginners wanting to use their existing WordPress site as a podcasting platform (similar to how people are using PeepSo to create a private social network on their own site, rather than paying for a completely new platform).

What we love about this story is that it’s a great example of someone with expertise in a non-Wordpress/information technology field (audio recording and editing) really changing the way people use and think about WordPress. There’s a whole range of things you can use this platform for (from building your own private social network to podcasting) – it just takes one person to make those possibilities transparent and available to others (as Karly’s doing through her podcasting school, and we’re doing through our plugin).

To connect with Karly, visit her Facebook page, check out her podcast, or head to her WordPress site.