Let me jump this off by giving the utmost respect to all Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The family network of HBCU alums is only experienced, not explained. I also want to give the biggest shoutout to THE BEST HBCU in the world: Alabama A&M University – Go Bulldogs!! Without my tenure there, both undergrad and grad school, three significant milestones in my life probably wouldn’t have happened:
- Meeting my beautiful wife
- Having the best time of my life
- My career as a WordPress developer
In undergrad, I studied Business Administration with a Concentration in Information Systems. My major required me to take 6 hours (two classes) outside the School of Business but related to my major. Those classes became Intro to Programming 1 and 2. I was taught the basics of C++ programming and some small amounts of image processing. I passed both courses without a problem. While in Undergrad, I was asked to build a few small websites for local businesses. Usually, I was considered the tech guy in my circle, but none of what I knew was taught in my college classes. It was all self-taught.
Once I graduated, my first job was in a call center for a telecom company. Still, my love for web development never left. Like everyone else in this field, I built sites as a hobby for those who needed one, and it grew into a passion. During that time is when I discovered WordPress. A friend asked me to build an online store for his business, and the bug bit me. I eventually quit that job, went to grad school full-time to study Computer Science, and used that time to learn WordPress development. This time helped me create the career I have today.
I enjoy what I do. Like any other job, it comes with its ups and downs, but the flexibility I have built for myself is one that I truly cherish. Now that I am more seasoned, I have an obligation and duty to reach back and help many other students who don’t know this career exists.
I often think, “How different could my career be if I had been exposed to WordPress as an Undergrad”? That’s the exact reason why you are here, and I have three areas to help HBCUs get better at this:
Increase support for WordPress and Open Source Education
During grad school, one of my professors spoke candidly with me. He told me many professors who teach are here for the students, but only a few know what they teach in detail. In my case, and by grace, I was selected as a graduate assistant. That gave me time and space to be self-taught on WordPress. My grad research was in Cross Platform Application development using Open Source Languages. To spread my knowledge, I was allowed to speak to the Computer Science club on how to build mobile apps using Cross Platform languages. The response from the students was equally warming and disappointing. Many of them had never heard of what I was talking about. Still, they were excited to learn because they could envision themselves either getting a job doing it or building that bright idea they had.
Limited Curriculum Options and Resources
HBCUs tend to offer limited curriculum options compared to other universities. This can make it difficult for students interested in STEM fields to find courses that meet their interests and needs. As a result, they may take courses outside their field of interest, which can set them back academically and professionally. It also shows the need for more STRUCTURED resources for teaching WordPress development. As a self-taught WordPress developer, like many, it is a hard process to go from novice to skilled in this field.
For example, during grad school, I studied algorithms and data structures as a foundation for my journey. This was a great starting point, but what about getting more detailed work beyond that? Implementing SCRUM methodology on a project? Learning how to utilize Git and commit code you started so you do not have to rebuild the Single page template from scratch. There is entirely too much theory and not enough practical learning. Let’s not even begin the conversation around funding. Imagine if a student were to take two classes on WordPress Development. By their junior year, I consider them mid-level WordPress developers. Those two courses could have them ahead of many in the workforce.
This is an age-old fight that will forever be around. I started my WordPress development career as an unpaid intern for a digital marketing agency—the only POC on the roster. Fast forward to the various jobs I had, and it wasn’t until I reached year 6 in my career that I encountered someone that looked like me. The further I advanced, the less I saw. The hardest part is I’ve met one other person who attended an HBCU. But in grad school, I encountered some of the most intelligent people I know.
Representation is vital. More HBCUs and their graduates need to be the pillar of exposure to their fellow alums. Too many have been involuntarily pushed into careers because that’s where the money is instead of what we would like to do. In my case, I can effectively speak to students on how to get started as a freelancer, move to a business owner and grow as an agency. If more of our computer science majors understood PHP development, someone could create the next best plugin.
My mission is to revisit my alma mater to expose more of our students to life in the WordPress ecosystem. I’m not solely preaching entrepreneurship (even though that is on par with my message to them). I am preaching freedom of choice. Putting the cards in your favor to choose a career you like rather than just pays well. You deserve a life worth living, not one you are chained to (pun intended). That’s the goal for my alma mater and all HBCUs.