Five Years of Facebook

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I encountered this unassuming little anniversary reminder on Facebook today:

 Facebook screenshot: January 11, 2011 - on this day 5 years ago, you became friends on Facebook with 30 people

As you can see by the date, I was not a Facebook early adopter. In fact, for years, I called myself a Facebook Resister, and wore my defiance as a badge of pride. It didn’t bother me that others were on Facebook, it was just Not For Me. Twitter was more my thing, and as far as I was concerned, it would stay that way for as long as possible.

Here’s what I wrote in my then-company newsletter back in 2007:

My dear old friend (and Zoonini client) Victoria Stanton coined a term recently that made me howl – and she’s kindly allowed me to share it with ZooNews readers. Facebook fascism describes an increasing number of people’s irritating assumption that everyone who matters to them is signed onto Facebook and is therefore privy to their invitations, news, and other day-to-day information. As Victoria says, “Maybe that’s an extreme way of putting it, but there have been a few occasions lately where people have just assumed I’m registered and will be able to read some post they’ve made for an art event, birthday party, etc. I got an email from (my friend) and her partner who invited me to join so that I can ‘keep up with their news’. So if I don’t join, then I don’t get to know what’s going on with them?”

I have no problem with people using Facebook as a channel to disseminate information, but please folks, don’t make it the exclusive channel. It can’t be just Victoria and I who are resisting joining the Facebook throngs. We don’t want another online addiction, but we don’t want to be completely shut out of the loop!

And then one day, I relented and changed my mind about joining. (Coincidentally, so did Victoria, around the same time as me.) I realized I needed to experience Facebook for myself if I was to help my clients with social media at the time — and frankly, I was tired of feeling left out.

I remember the exact moment I finally gave in and entered the Zuckerverse. If I recall, my heart was pounding a tad. I hit Submit on the signup form — submitting in the other sense as well — and then it was done. Suddenly, I was on the inside.

Featured image (viewable when sharing on, um, Facebook) (cc) by Sam Michel

The Techie Continuum – Redux

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Based on a post I wrote this past April called The Techie Continuum, I presented a lightning talk by the same name at this year’s inaugural WordCamp US in Philadelphia.

It’s a much more personal talk than I’m used to giving and it made me pretty nervous to give it, but I’m happy that it seemed to resonate with some people.

You can also watch the original over at WordPress.tv, along with dozens of other talks from WordCamp US, with more still to come.

Transcript

First, a story

Let’s start with a story my mother told me.

There was a website she wanted to show her co-worker – who I’ll call Barbara – so my mom gave her the URL. After a few minutes at her computer, Barbara became incredibly frustrated and said, “I can’t find the site!”

My mom went over to Barbara’s desk to see what was happening, and quickly realized that her colleague had put the domain into Google’s search box instead of the browser’s address bar. My mother couldn’t believe it, and patiently showed a wide-eyed Barbara how to get to the site directly.

Now, there’s something else you should know. This didn’t happen many years ago in the early days of the web when people were just getting used to browsers, it happened earlier this year. My mother is 70 years old, while Barbara is decades younger.

It’s so easy to assume that everyone knows how to put a URL in a browser’s address bar. Sometimes it takes this kind of story to remind us that not everyone does.

Knowledge bubble

Don’t assume everyone knows what you do, even if it’s something you consider extremely basic or obvious.

We’re all wrapped up in our own little bubble of knowledge. It’s so easy to forget that not everyone knows what we know.

Do I know enough?

It’s something I’ve asked myself many times after getting involved with web design and WordPress, and maybe you’ve asked yourself the same question.

When referring to myself over the years, I’ve always adamantly declared that despite whatever skills I might have, “I’m not a techie.”

I didn’t study computer science and I’m not what I’d call a “hard-core programmer.”

And yet some might point out the obvious. I’ve been sharing WordPress knowledge in forums and at conferences since soon after I started using it. My family and friends come to me for tech support of all kinds. I spent over a decade building custom websites for clients. I now help folks with technical issues all day, every day, and even get paid to do it. I solve people’s WordPress problems, quash quandaries, clarify conundrums.

Expert, guru, unicorn

Even so, I still wouldn’t dream of referring to myself as an expert, guru, or unicorn.

(And let’s not even talk about “rock star”)

Good things

Whenever good things have happened to me in my WordPress life, I made up explanations for them that didn’t involve my skills, experience, or knowledge.

Got accepted to speak at my first WordCamp! Ah, they just needed more women.

Helped someone at a WordCamp Happiness Bar? Their question was easy. Anyone could have answered it.

Asked to speak at WordCamp San Francisco? Well, that was only because someone else dropped out at the last minute. It had nothing to do with me.

Got hired by Automattic — to do, uh, tech support? Ha, I must have fooled them really well. Uh oh, wait til they find out I’m a fraud.

Does any of this sound familiar to anyone? Does it sound ridiculous?

A dream

Here’s an actual dream I had shortly after landing my job at Automattic, where I would be working alongside people I admired greatly.

Actually, a nightmare

My new boss, some guy you might have heard of called Matt Mullenweg, looked at the code for a website I’d built, decided I didn’t know what I was doing — and rescinded my offer to join Automattic, before I’d even started. I was going to have to tell all my friends and family that I didn’t actually have my dream job, after all. How embarrassing.

Subtle, huh? Interesting what comes out through our subconscious in dreams.

A combination of low self-esteem, imposter syndrome, and, let’s face it, a severe case of Canadianitis — has prevented me until very recently from truly believing that I may actually know a few things. Some stuff that might benefit others.

Imposter syndrome

But how did I start to overcome this, and how can you do the same?

Start small, like I did.

Pass it on

What’s one little thing you know how to do?

Know how to change the colour of a site title with CSS? How to set a scheduled post?

Help someone do it in one of the WordPress support forums.

Is someone in your local meetup group asking for plugin ideas for their project? Suggest your favourite and tell them why you love it.

Did you just learn how to do something cool with WordPress? Write a blog post and show others how to do it.

Before you know it, you’ll start to get more confident.

Help a friend or family member set up a WordPress site.

Volunteer at a WordCamp Happiness Bar. There’s nothing quite like seeing people’s faces light up in person when you’ve just solved a problem they’ve been struggling with – sometimes for months.

Then suddenly, after a short while, you might start to find that helping people with WordPress is addictive. In a good way.

Thank-yous

You’ll probably starting getting some thank-yous from people you’ve helped.

Hugs and kudos

At Automattic when WordPress users thank a Happiness Engineer for something we helped them with, we call those “hugs” and we share them with each other. Save your hugs. Show them to someone.

Has someone helped or inspired you? Send them a hug, privately if you like but especially in public. Send them a tweet, leave a comment on their blog. Lift up someone else and make their day.

We have an system at Automattic called kudos, which lets us send a short written message to a colleague we want to recognize for something they did to help us out, a job well done on a project, or anything else we want to call attention to. Kudos are visible to anyone within the company and I go back and re-read mine every once in a while, whenever I could use a warm fuzzy or two.

Dwell on praise

Dwell on your praise. Revel in your successes, small or big. Save it all up and look at it when your brain starts to have doubts again. You deserve it. Just think, if you’re afflicted with imposter syndrome there’s zero risk of your head getting too big. At some point along the way, I stopped saying “I’m not a techie.”

The techie continuum

The way I see it now, everyone can be found somewhere along the techie continuum, and perhaps, just maybe, I’m somewhere toward the higher end of it.

No matter where you are on the techie continuum, chances are you know a bit more about something than someone else. Don’t be afraid to share your knowledge with them. It feels good. It’s giving back. And maybe some day you’ll even start to feel like you know a few things.

The Techie Continuum

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When referring to myself over the years, I’ve always adamantly declared that despite whatever skills I might have,

“I’m not a techie.”

I didn’t study computer science and I’m not what I’d call a “hard-core programmer.”

And yet some might point out the obvious. I’ve been sharing WordPress knowledge in forums and at conferences ever since I started using it. I’m my family’s on-call tech support. I help folks with technical issues all day, every day, and even get paid to do it. I solve people’s WordPress problems, quash quandaries, clarify conundrums.

Even so, I still wouldn’t dream of referring to myself as an expert, guru, or ninja. (And let’s not even bring up “rock star” – just don’t go there.)

Due to a combination of low self-esteem, imposter syndrome, and, let’s face it, a severe case of Canadianitis, I’ve only recently come to truly believe that I may actually know some stuff. I now realize that everyone can be found somewhere on a techie continuum, and perhaps, just maybe, I’m somewhere toward the higher end of it.

No matter where you are on the techie continuum, chances are you know a bit more about something than someone else. Don’t be afraid to share your knowledge with them. It feels good. It’s giving back. And maybe some day you’ll even start to feel confident that you know a few things.

Ninja

Not a ninja. Photo (cc) by Nick Harris

Girls Learning Code Day 2014

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girls learning code resultsOn November 8, nineteen cities across Canada – from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to Whitehorse, Yukon – hosted free events for National Girls Learning Code Day, a Ladies Learning Code initiative. I had the pleasure of mentoring at the English HTML and CSS workshop at Google’s Montreal office, while others volunteered at the French workshop a few blocks away.

Twenty girls aged 8-13 – supported by an array of moms, dads, aunts, and other grownups – took over the Googlers’ colourful conference and dining area. Several mothers told me their kids had dragged them here, their husbands usually being the techies in the family. I was glad their daughters persisted since I think the moms learned a lot too!

Throughout the day, the girls used Mozilla Thimble, a free tool that provides a side-by-side real-time preview while building a site. We went over basic HTML tags, using lots of easy-to-understand analogies and interactive questions at each step. Over the course of the morning, we built out a brilliant analogue web page on a big white board, to help visualize HTML page structure. Lead instructor Alex Ruaux kept the day lively, adding CSS to the mix after a kid-friendly lunch of pizza and (yes! guilty pleasure!) Rice Krispie squares. Other treats for the kids included stickers, funky “style your code” tattoos,” silicone wristbands, and even a Google loot bag laden with sunglasses and more goodies.

At the end of the day, each girl – except the shyest ones – got up and presented the web page they’d spent the day creating. From a dog-walking business to a compendium of April Fool’s stunts, to expressing their love for Super Cats, horses, dolphins, and of course, Minecraft, the girls’ passion for both their subject matter and the sites they’d built was clear.

Ladies Learning WordPress

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Yesterday I had the huge pleasure of mentoring at another Ladies Learning Code workshop, led by the multi-talented Elida Arrizza. This one was very close to my heart, since it was WordPress for Beginners.

The 40 participants learned a ton throughout the day, from installing WordPress locally, to getting a handle on The Loop, through customizing a theme.

Ladies Learning Code WordPress Agenda

The Day’s Agenda

Have a peek at the slides and learner files on Github and some of the day’s tweets:

I’ve had a blast mentoring with Ladies Learning Code and look forward to more events in the fall. Special thanks to Nancy Naluz for bringing LLC to Montreal and doing a fabulous job organizing the workshops.

The Gentle Art of the Flatter-Nag

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Much digital ink has been spilled on the subject of diversifying the speaker pool at tech events, and in particular, getting more women to give presentations. (I won’t rehash that conversation here, and if you don’t think diversity at tech conferences is important, this post isn’t for you.)

I want to share a simple technique I use to try to get more awesome women speaking at events I care about. And it’s pretty simple. I contact all the women I know who have expertise in the subject at hand – often WordPress – and encourage them to speak.

It’s so simple, but it works. Very often women let self-doubt take over, and need that extra nudge to submit a talk. A friendly word or two of encouragement is often all it takes.

Behold: The Flatter-Nag

flattery battery

flattery battery courtesy of roadsidepictures

One of my friends who I recently prodded to submit a talk to a local conference gave my technique a name I think is quite apt:

Flatter-nagging: Asking someone to do something while simultaneously complimenting them.

Sometimes, they respond that they’d been thinking of applying, but weren’t sure what to pitch. So I help them brainstorm ideas – starting with the simple question “What are you most passionate about when it comes to WordPress” – and that usually helps to narrow down the topic pretty quickly.

Sometimes, the reaction is more like, “Who, me?” They don’t feel like they know enough to speak publicly about WordPress. What I find fascinating is this response has come from people who help users troubleshoot WordPress issues all day! (It’s amazing how we take our knowledge for granted, myself included.)

I gently remind them that they surely know more than they think, and that people love hearing speakers share what they’re passionate about.

If this is an issue you care about, try out my technique sometime – or share it with others. I hope you’ll find it simple, but effective.

Robot Calling

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The phone rings.

I glance at the caller ID screen and don’t recognize the number, so I don’t bother picking up. If I’m near a computer or my iPad I’ll probably Google the number for clues.

I check voice mail. Oh, yay! I’ve won a cruise to the Bahamas… for the fourteenth time this year.

Nine out of ten phone calls I get these days are either surveys or robocall spam. The automated calls from my local Honda dealership that are so conversational they sometimes suck me into replying “Hello?” are particularly annoying.

The days of friends and family calling to chat are just about over – and I’ll admit I’m rarely compelled to initiate a call myself. My dad still calls to catch up now and then, which is refreshing.

I miss the sound of the phone ringing as something positive to look forward to. Would it be a friend wanting to see how I’m doing? A family member calling to share their latest news?

I wonder if I’m being nostalgic for no good reason. Email, Facebook, and Twitter are are the main ways I communicate these days, and they seem to serve me well. And yet, every time the phone rings and it’s not a real human, I get a little wistful.

Do you miss having “real” conversations on the phone? Do you still call your friends?