Hands-on Child Theming

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A few months ago, the WordCamp Ottawa organizers asked if I’d turn my half-hour WordPress child-theming talk into a longer practical workshop. Always eager to spread the word about child themes, I agreed.

I wasn’t sure how the workshop would go, since there were a lot of unknowns: from how many people would show up and what their skill levels would be, to whether the Wifi would hold up and if I’d have too much material (or not enough) for the two-hour slot.

Fortunately it all worked out quite well, and with the help of a few excellent TAs (thank you again Shanta, Jonathan, and Rick!), a roomful of eager participants learned how to create a WordPress child theme last Sunday afternoon.

If you’re interested in exploring the world of child themes yourself, check out the theory behind them and learn when child themes are useful — then get your feet wet with the hands-on exercises.

Happy child theming!

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.

Passionate About Plugins and Wild For Widgets

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The ability to add third-party plugins is one of the reasons folks may choose to have a self-hosted WordPress site. But with over 36,000 plugins in the official repository, selecting one can be overwhelming. My WordCamp Maui talk looks at what to consider when selecting a plugin, how to troubleshoot plugin issues, and where widgets fit into the mix. You can also watch the presentation at WordPress.tv or check out the slides.

WordCamp Updates

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WordCamp MiamiI have two little bits of WordCamp news to share.

I’m delighted to be speaking at this year’s fifth anniversary edition of WordCamp Miami, taking place May 9-11. My session is Getting Comfortable With Child Themes. On Sunday I’ll be helping out at a workshop teaching WordPress to kids and in between sessions I’ll be volunteering at the Happiness Bar. It looks like a fun event – last year there were trading cards and an ice cream social featuring Nutella-flavoured nitrogen frozen goodies. Who knows what surprises this year holds? Looking forward to meeting new folks and seeing friendly faces.

A session I presented at last year’s WordCamps in Montreal and Ottawa called Help Me Help You: The Art And Science Of Getting Good WordPress Support is now up on WordPress.tv. The talk went on to inspire two posts on the main WordPress.com blog: The Art and Science of Getting Good WordPress Support, and its follow-up, How to be a WordPress.com Detective, which looks at more advanced troubleshooting techniques. Check them out if you’d like to learn more about strategies for solving WordPress conundrums big and small.

 

 

WordCamp London Contributors Day

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WordCamp LondonAs part of WordCamp London last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending Contributors Day at Mozilla Spaces.

The day was a chance for WordPress enthusiasts of all stripes to pitch in and make the open source project better, whether it’s by testing bugs, coding patches, translating text, writing documentation, contributing to BuddyPress, or making WordPress more accessible.

In one corner of the main room, many of my colleagues from the theme team at Automattic were busily collaborating with community members to get the next default theme, Twenty Fourteen – already available on WordPress.com – ready for shipping with WordPress 3.8.

I decided to spend time with folks like me who have a passion for helping other WordPress users, so I went into the room adorned with a sign that said Support. Tucked away at a conference table, Michael Atkins (cubecolour in the WordPress.org support forums) led a lively band of folks who wanted to get more involved in the forums. We were later joined by my Automattic colleagues Jackie and Fabiana and collectively got pretty geeky about the ins and outs of WordPress support.

Michael had created a handy site full of tips and links. We shared our favourite tools and tricks, from time-saving text expansion apps (my fave is TextExpander), to essential screenshot and screensharing tools. One thing I forgot to mention that day is the Lazarus browser extension, a super-handy add-on which restores the content of a form field if you accidentally lose it. We discussed how to keep on top of the threads you’ve answered and how to handle challenging forum situations.

Aside from the nuts and bolt of support, we talked a lot about keeping a friendly and approachable tone in forum replies and being empathetic. While we may have been using WordPress for years and know all its ins and outs, it may be someone else’s very first time trying to make a post. If they’re not tech-savvy, they might be feeling completely overwhelmed and frustrated. One negative experience in the support forums can really turn off a new user, and they may never give WordPress another shot! As support-forum helpers we have the valuable opportunity to make sure that doesn’t happen.