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.

A CSS Adventure

Video

If you have a WordPress site you’d like to tweak the look and feel of — but you aren’t sure how — you might like to check out my CSS Adventure presentation from this year’s WordCamp Montreal. During the 40-minute session, I walk you through the basics of using CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) to make small changes in the design of a site. Follow along with the accompanying workshop site and demo site.

Very special thanks to my colleague Michelle Langston, who originally co-developed this workshop with me.

Lightbulb Moments

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When I talk about helping people learn WordPress, I use the phrase “lightbulb moments” a lot. One of my favourite things is watching people have those flashes of clarity as they suddenly understand things that were only fuzzy before.

Which is why, when I get a reply like this in the WordPress support forums, my heart goes a little fluttery.

Wow, you just taught me more in the last 30 seconds than I’ve learned in the last month. It’s like a lightbulb just turned on. Thank you!

You’re very welcome. And here’s to the next lightbulb moment in your WordPress journey.

stuffed creature holding lightbulb

Photo (cc) by Aaronth

My People

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I walked into the large hotel meeting room in San Diego with some nervousness. 125 people I’d never met before filled the space, with just as many laptops dotting long rows of tables. A mosaic of international WordCamp and WordPress T-shirts adorned the motley crew, who’d assembled from around the world for a week of activities.

I remember having one very strong, distinct thought, as I scanned the room:

These are my people.

I’d been hired full-time by Automattic as a Happiness Engineer only a few weeks earlier – on August 20, in fact – and this was my first company-wide Grand Meetup.

Three years later, I’m still there. Automattic is now 400-strong. My colleagues are special people – funny, smart, considerate, generous – and many are also my friends. I have a wonderful team that supports and appreciates me. I feel completely comfortable to be myself.

I help people understand how to use WordPress – and delightedly watch some develop a passion for it. I teach, guide, mentor, speak. I learn new skills and refine existing ones. I love what I do, maybe even more than I did at the start.

Thank you, everyone, for the last three years. Here’s to all the adventures still to come.

Getting Comfortable With Child Themes

Video

When I get excited about something to do with WordPress, my usual inclination is to create a presentation to share my enthusiasm with others. That’s what I did for child theming, a handy way of making changes to a pre-made theme for a self-hosted WordPress site – without losing all your tweaks the next time you update the theme to its latest version.

I’ve presented this talk at a couple of WordCamps, and the video from last year’s event in Montreal is now online. Curious about child themes? Check out the talk – about 35 minutes including audience questions – and slides below.

Perfectionism and Blogging

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I shared some thoughts on the Press Publish blog about how perfectionism affects my blogging. The conversation it sparked reminded me that I’m not alone.

Press Publish

Perfectionism is a tricky flaw to have. It makes me want to do everything perfectly – and doing a thorough and awesome job at something can bring on the accolades, which in turn makes me want to be just as perfectionistic the next time.

But striving for perfection is stressful. And sometimes it stops me from doing anything at all.

Take my blog, for example. After not even having a blog for many years – especially embarrassing considering my profession, first as a web designer building custom WordPress sites and later as a WordPress Happiness Engineer – I finally launched one in late 2013. But I’ve only published 26 posts since then! I want each entry to be special and memorable, whether it’s a gallery of images I’ve taken, a story I tell, or an experience I’ve had.

Other bloggers I follow talk about their kids, or their cats, or…

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Press Publish Portland

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If you’re into WordPress, you’ve likely heard of WordCamps – grassroots events held around the world, with sessions aimed at developers, designers, and users of the WordPress open-source software. You may also have heard about tech-heavy WordPress conferences like LoopConf or business-focused ones like PressNomics.

Last week, a brand new WordPress event called Press Publish made its debut in Portland, Oregon, and I was lucky to be a part of it. An initiative of Automattic, the conference mixed advice and inspiration for bloggers with tips on making the most of WordPress. It was jam-packed with motivating talks, from speakers like Erick Prince-Heaggans, a travel blogger and photojournalist, and Ananda Leeke, a “yoga, creativity, and Internet geek,” both of whom I had the pleasure to chat with during the course of the event.

I loved being involved in Press Publish – from meeting WordPress users of all levels and helping them at the Happiness Bar, to bonding with my fellow Automatticians. Oh yeah, I also gave some talks and workshops! My short presentation Wild About Widgets was recorded, and the video should be out in a few weeks. I gave a workshop on using the WordPress Customizer with Sheri Bigelow and another on mastering menus and widgets. My colleague Michelle Langston and I ran an intro workshop on CSS, putting together a reference site and demo where we showed examples of how you can tweak your site with CSS to get it looking exactly how you want.

The next Press Publish is on April 18 in Phoenix. If you’re anywhere in the area I hope you’ll consider attending. I’d love to meet you!

I had a comment after my Hawaii post that there were no photos of me. I hope this one makes up for that. 🙂 Thanks to Josh Root and Anne McCarthy for some of the pics.