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.
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.
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”)
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?
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.
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.
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.