Those who know me also know that I didn’t get started as a developer by choice. It was mere necessity that I run a website or blog to raise my profile in Google search results so companies would listen to me when I applied for marketing positions.
The thing is, I got pretty good at writing code. It quickly overtook marketing as my means of financial support and I haven’t stopped since. Though, I almost did.
With the exception of a year spent freelancing, I’ve been employed by larger dev shops for my entire career. This has been a great way to learn; never underestimate the value of peer code review. Sadly, not all of these “larger” shops were large enough for me to really grow.
I worked for a medical software company on a small dev team where we coded on ancient PCs and pushed code to a legacy blade server (bought off eBay) in the closet. It was in this job where I started contributing heavily to WordPress. I couldn’t learn much more from my team, so I looked for a team where I could learn.
Getting established in WordPress, though, is hard. If you’re a student with copious free time, work for an agency that sponsors contributions, or speak regularly at events it’s no big deal. I was none of these; so people I respected pushed me to start speaking.
WordCamp Portland was the only real event in town. It was a much younger event, and with no real speaking experience, I had no chance of getting on the schedule. Working for a Windows-based team, getting the backing to apply to other Camps was impossible.
Later, I moved to a new team. I learned even more. I kept blogging, I kept contributing, I kept trying. Still, I had no backing to attend an out-of-town event and couldn’t get on the agenda.
Thankfully, my contributions on the new WordPress Stack Exchange garnered the attention of Stack Overflow. They offered to pay for me to attend a Camp of my choice. Portland still hadn’t accepted me, but I had a friend (and thus, lodging) in Phoenix, so I bought a ticket and flew to AZ.
I wasn’t even officially on the agenda until the day before. I kept pestering the organizing team about several TBA slots during their hack day … until they finally agreed to let me speak. It was amazing.
I had no experience. No idea what I was doing. I hadn’t rehearsed. But I took the stage and presented anyway. It was the best move of my career.
My talk at WordCamp Phoenix got me in to WordCamp Seattle. Seattle eventually got me into Portland. WordCamp Portland helped cement my joining of 10up and earned me an invite to jQuery Portland. The backing of my new team, and my increased experience with speaking got me to Boston, Russia, Brazil, WordCamp Europe, WordCamp US, php[world], and so many events I can’t enumerate them.
My point is, though, I was lucky. I had someone stick their neck out to send me to an event and get me started. I had someone else take the risk to hire me. I’ve used these to my advantage to push forward in my career and have accomplished more than I ever believed possible.
Some of us are fortunate enough to work for companies and organizations that fund our travel to speak at #WordCamps, but that's not the norm— MortenRandHendriksen (@mor10) July 19, 2017
I have been incredibly privileged in my career. I fully recognize and respect this isn’t the case for everyone. It’s why I still write: to provide resources for those who have none. It’s why I publish FOSS code: to help get other devs started.
It’s why I even contributed personal finances to the WordPress Foundation: to help open the project for those with less privilege.
But those small contributions are meaningless without a larger scale, fundamental recognition of the problem and a community commitment to fix them.
I’m doing a small part. Paying WordCamp speakers for their contributions would also be a small part, but would go farther than any one person could on their own. After all, that’s what a community organization is for, right?