“Growing up, I slowly had this process of realizing that all the things around me that people had told me were just the natural way things were, the way things always would be, they weren’t natural at all. They were things that could be changed, and they were things that, more importantly, were wrong and should change, and once I realized that, there was really no going back.”Aaron Swartz
Over the past few months, I’ve had the great pleasure of working with people who are trying to break into the tech world. We all know that there are many different stacks, content management systems, and positions that one can get into. My goal has been to steer them toward WordPress, but this is not as easy as it seems. While WordPress is an amazing community to be a part of, for those that are unfamiliar with it, it can be a little intimidating. Today I want to make the case for how we can get more tech newbies into the WordPress community.
One of the most asked questions I get is “How can I learn more about becoming a WordPress developer?” WordPress.org is on an amazing track with its Learn WordPress courses. Also, there are a couple of programmers on YouTube that make videos that show steps on how to develop with WordPress. However, there is a lack of formal educational walkthroughs. Where are they? Where are the WordPress Bootcamps? Where are the courses on using some of the plugins and themes? We have thousands of companies that make plugins and themes for WordPress, but we don’t have enough resources on how to use them accurately.
The solution: WordPress courses designed with a specific focus and better documentation. Making it mandatory that theme and plugin creators provide some type of video example of how their product works help in two major ways. First, it they will help developers learn and use their products more accurately. This will also help those who cannot learn via vaguely written documentation. Second, the more people that can learn about the different themes and plugins, the more people that will use them. This will be a major help to creators who may struggle to get their products out there. They can make money from their creators, and people are able to make their sites in a timely fashion. A win-win for all.
More WordPress Mentors
WordPress needs more mentors! For every newbie that I teach about my path into WordPress, there are 10 other mentors telling them to run from the community as fast as they can. As a result, we are losing talented individuals to other sectors of tech before they even get the chance to learn about WordPress. This may not seem like a big issue to those who are in the community already, but as time goes on and the community shrinks, who will be there to keep it alive?
I recently had a chat with someone who got into the tech community around the same time as I did. They considered WordPress development but people outside of the community warned them that it was not a good place to grow and thrive. They did not have a way to connect with actual WordPress developers in a way that would help them learn more about the community. As a result, they did not see WordPress as a viable career. We lost that talent. This is still happening as I write. We have people building and selling, but how many mentors? How many giving money? And if they cannot give that, how many giving time?
The solution: We need more WordPress mentors. And we need them actively going out into the tech community and talking to newbies. Something interesting I’ve seen in my journey into tech is that the onus on learning is always on the student. Students/newbies must know what they need and what to ask for, even if they are completely in the dark about it. Rarely do we tell the educator to give knowledge where it might not be known. In a world where we must fight to be called ‘real’ developers, the best solution would be to show up and show out for them. Provide them with the resources we had to find so they will not have to fight as hard. Welcome them to spaces that will teach them how to elevate themselves and their careers. And also, teach them that while there are some that won’t want them in this community, you will speak up for them.
Which leads me to my final point.
We need an end to gatekeeping
It may be just me, but it seems that there’s an increasing number of author/dev replies to support requests that send the OP directly to the author/dev’s website for support. This may be to get around asking for credentials, but in cases where it’s not, it also seems to me that it goes against the community aspect of support. The (often poorly formed) question is asked publicly and the solution is private. This does not help the community.
Overall, I worry about the forces pulling apart the community (like the MasterWP post suggesting wordcamp speakers and organizers be paid). Support is a vital part of the glue holding together the community.
Should we always push back when an OP’s first reply is “please contact us via our website” or “fill out our contact form”?
The post shown above recently appeared on WordPress.org, and I want to talk about it for a few reasons. The first being that I agree with the original point. If you are creating and contributing to the WordPress community, the answers to questions should not be a secret. Restricting answers or redirecting them to a paid support area is a sure-fire way to keep people out of the community. Gatekeeping is BAD in the WordPress community. The safeguarding of resources, money, and access is not unique to just us – the tech community has a huge issue with it as a whole. However, as a smaller place in tech, we are ensuring a swift end to the community by keeping it run by the same dozen people with the same half dozen ideas.
“forces pulling apart the community (like the MasterWP post suggesting WordCamp speakers and organizers be paid).”
This had nothing to do with the original topic, but this person must have needed to get it off their chest. I think that this is wonderful, because it is a prime example of what I am talking about when I talk about gatekeeping.
I have never in my life seen so many people opposed to others being paid, and I live in South Carolina. We are in the middle of a global pandemic that has killed millions of people worldwide. Housing is almost unattainable for the average worker, and the federal minimum wage in the United States has not increased since 2009. Despite this, people want you to not only eat sleep for dinner but to find money to get to events like WordCamp for free. And if you support helping speakers pay for cross-country travel, it means you want to see the community torn apart. Paying people for their labor is simply not what the spirit of the WordPress community stands for, or so I am told. I wanted to take this opportunity to say this in a nice way: The community is not long for this world if its members want to depend on free work, a lack of inclusivity, and echo chambers. I for one will not fight for a spirit if that spirit is spiritually bankrupt.
The solution: I will say it again, pay people. If you can’t pay people, give them YOUR time for free. If you want people to do something for you but you cannot pay them or give them your time, take a step back, and think about what you’re asking for. Think about if it is something you would do if the roles were reversed, and marinate with it. When you see someone withholding information, call them out. Friend or Foe. Hire people that don’t look like you, and not just one. Also, pay them fairly. Share your resources and share them far and wide.
There are many many other ways we can make the WordPress community more accepting and open to newbies. The main takeaway is that the current model we have isn’t sustainable and is not acceptable for newbies. If we do not adapt, we will fade away. And with how fast technology is adapting, becoming more diverse, and becoming more obtainable in other areas, we won’t have long.