People of WordPress: Olga Gleckler

WordPress is open source software, maintained by a global network of contributors. There are many examples of how WordPress has changed people’s lives for the better. In this monthly series, we share some of the amazing stories that are lesser-known.

From a natural interest in computers and fixing things as a young woman, Olga Gleckler from St Petersburg, Russia, found WordPress took her on a journey to becoming a successful female tech entrepreneur. On International Women’s Day, we share her story.  

Olga with a WordCamp Vienna t-shirt

Finding your path can take longer than you expect

From the age of 15, Olga found herself under pressure to find a free place for her professional studies. She said: “I didn’t know how high or low my chances were even if I had very good marks. I could have been just the biggest fish in a small pond. But anyway, I made up my mind to go to technical school.”

On leaving school in St Petersburg with her certificate, Olga felt her knowledge of opportunities was very narrow. She had pictured being an ecologist or guide translator based on the subjects she had been taught at school. There was also an advertising boom in Russia and she began to explore this as a career avenue. She had developed her computer skills and found opportunities to practise by helping her teachers with administrative work.

Though she did not have access to any formal career advice, her journey led her into programming. She said: “The range of technical schools was not wide. I spent four years studying transistor markings, soldering and drawing PCB layouts. Programming courses using Pascal didn’t do anything useful with it.”

A lack of suitable access to English-language courses made things harder for Olga. She was determined that she would master the language later in her life. In the meantime, she left technical school with an honors degree and improved typing skills.

“I faced it was a wild, unfriendly market. I didn’t know how to recognize a genuine job offer or how to avoid the bad ones. It was difficult and I don’t know how long I would’ve looked for work without help.”

Think differently to find where you belong

Olga’s father worked in an IT company and was able to give her some advice and help with potential introductions. When she was still studying, he suggested her strong technical skills might be useful as a substitute typist. When she finished her studies, he helped her apply for a job updating a legal system on clients’ computers.

Six months later, she got a full-time job in the same service department. She liked her position and her clients. However, she was given friendly advice that without a university degree she would not be able to have any further promotions.

At this time, Olga was trying to study PHP from a book. She found it very exciting at first, but a lot of their functions did not give her explanations on how to build something useful. She found when she tried to build practical items from book reading, it did not always make sense and the solutions would often fail. 

She said: “It was hard to admit a failure even to myself and it was nagging me for a long time. I had to choose something I could handle, that I was interested in and could afford. It turned out to be advertising.”

She spent most of the family’s holidays on learning sessions during the next six years. Olga recalled: “It was tricky for my husband to make me leave a computer, once I was glued to it, so he bought me my first laptop. English was still hard for me, I got high marks through just memorizing all the words in a textbook and how they should sound.”

Doubting your professional skills can happen when you are at home isolated looking after children. Keeping up your interests is important.

Olga’s life took a change after having a new baby and she spent three years doubting her professional skills and her chances of getting a good job. She tried to get back into other interests through studying, baking and drawing, but found ‘the pram was pulling me back’. She found she became very isolated and felt less able to contribute as the family was relying on her husband’s income as she tried to focus on looking forward.

She said: “I was convinced (and saw) that not too many companies wanted a woman in the office, who with a small baby might need lots of leave.”

She finished her education when she returned to work after three years caring for her son. She secured a promotion but with changes in the company’s staffing, things were tense. She found the difficulties there had become more heightened and felt that young female colleagues were treated as ‘pieces of furniture’ by one manager. She did not want to stay in this environment and in a few months time decided to leave.

Your next chapter may be nearby

Determined to not repeat this type of experience, Olga looked at the brighter side. She said: “I wanted to be a marketer. Knowing how tricky it is to sell intangibles, I wanted a solid product to work with.” 

It turned out to be more difficult to find a job outside traditional IT as a young mother. Some human resource officers advised her to remain within the technology arena.

Olga remained hopeful and continued to study hard. She had many learning experiences along the way, which she hopes others can learn from too. One was setting a low bar to employers. She said: “Companies I worked in wanted to get all publicity and sales increases achieved through deductions from my salary.” This happened once and the next time she was in this situation she asked specifically about the budget before signing up. “I was assured this would not be the case, but again I found the budget for publicity came out of my wages. It was a tough period of disappointments. So when I was offered a part-time administrative job with basic sick leave, I took it gladly as a reprieve.”

The job was far from home and involved a lot of travelling. Olga spent two to three hours a day on buses with Harry Potter audio books for company. “In these traffic jams, I started to feel English at last and loved it. It gave me a freedom no money can buy. Life was getting better.”

Though the job did not pay highly, it gave her something valuable – a working website. After her boss and the developer parted company, she was asked to maintain the site. Through some studying and reverse engineering, she discovered how it worked and it gave her an insight into how to write simple websites from scratch.

Olga’s first encounter with JavaScript wasn’t easy: “My first JavaScript calculator almost made me crazy, but I pursued it.”

Quickly she started to get small tasks from friends and relatives, usually to solve some urgent problems and started to meet popular content management systems. One of the first she met with was WordPress. There was an issue in a website theme used by a website which had been changed and not maintained. It took a whole weekend to solve, but she was determined to work it out. Back then, WordPress was ‘just a system’. She didn’t know then how much it was to become part of her life.

Olga spent the next two years in this role. As time went on, she started to feel worried and less satisfied with the work. The last straw for her was a negative statement from her boss, who was not a programmer and who hadn’t seen any of the work done on the website. She felt the approach was unfair as she had done extensive work on the site. She recalls: “I became angry, but it was exactly what I needed to move jobs.”

When Olga was job hunting, she didn’t feel she had the courage to apply for a developer’s role, despite the learning and work she had already done. So instead she started working on projects where she felt she was more like a ‘seller of box-ready websites’. It was another tough half a year for her with a lot of work, low payment and plans not turning out as she had hoped. On top of long hours, she ended up with pneumonia. She said: “I see now that I was doing a disservice to customers, websites are not a microwave meal – quick, cheap and dummy. There was no life in the sites without a lot of work which no one was willing to buy. Most of the sites I sold back then died after the first year and they never were truly alive and useful.”

You need to be brave and have courage

Olga in Berlin wearing the WordPress Code is Poetry lanyard and a WordCamp t-shirt

Olga really wanted a developer job but seeking jobs of this type was very frustrating. From the job adverts she found, it felt like most IT companies were asking for geniuses who already knew a lot of technologies and frameworks. She found this very demotivating.

She then found a job offer on a website outside the most popular job portals and it seemed like a perfect fit. They wanted someone with experience to write from scratch, understand someone else’s code and maintain it, with an ability to translate technical documentation and articles, and make simple designs for printing products. After completing a trial task, she was taken on, and enjoyed a better salary, in a calm environment with good colleagues and without the requirement for a lot of extra hours. 

The advert turned out to be a direct ad from one of the sales departments in a technology company. By succeeding in the task set, Olga had bypassed the Human Resources team which she felt would not normally have considered her. 

Her boss agreed to her working remotely most of the time. It solved any potential leave problems which Olga had thought may be an obstacle. 

For Olga it had been 14 years since the original decision to become a programmer and it was only the beginning. 

After a few years at what she describes as an ‘amazing experience’ in this workplace, Olga felt able to move on to her next challenge as a developer.

Decision-making can benefit from wider knowledge

After working with different systems Olga became sure that WordPress is the best CMS for developers and clients. But she was disappointed to find that the ease of use meant that good code was not always a priority for some of the sites she looked at. 

“The biggest flaw of WordPress – it’s so easy to make things work that some may feel they don’t need to bother to do things right, but this becomes a problem later.”

In custom themes for a site, she also saw sites being made and clients left without any further support, or items hard coded when clients actually needed more control to change regularly.

Olga used to rely on examples she could easily find, documentation and search engines to improve her understanding in using WordPress. She discovered that just by searching for a specific feature or a solution, you can miss the whole picture. 

She turned to online courses to get more comprehensive knowledge and then started to attend WordPress events, firstly online and then by foot, trains and planes! She discovered a worldwide community that was very much alive. She didn’t know when she started studying online materials and attending discussions that she would end up contributing herself to the Learn WordPress platform a few years later.

WordCamps and contributor days became a big part of her life. From her early days attending events and starting out contributing to WordPress, she is an active member of the WordPress.org Global Marketing and Polyglots Teams, and supported the recent WordPress release. She is just beginning her first WordCamp organiser experience, joining WordCamp Europe 2021 on the Contribute Team.

Olga next to a banner of WordCamp St Petersburg 2018

Olga said: “Through the wider WordPress community, I knew not only where to look but also whom to ask. Most importantly, I found allies who don’t think I’m going crazy by speaking with delight about work, and with whom I share a passion and fondness for WordPress. This is what matters.

“Now, after more than seven years of full time development, I am still enjoying endless learning, frequent discoveries, mistakes and an impassioned wish to do better.”

This and a desire to help others use WordPress.org is part of Olga’s continued contribution to its Support and Marketing Teams, and led her to be involved in the Release Marketing questions and answers in 2020.

There is no chequered flag on the way

Olga at WordCamp Europe in Berlin in 2019

The road to freedom and becoming her own boss has not been easy for Olga. It is the path that got her where she is today, and she continues to find joy in it. She retains the lessons she’s learned and is always hungry to learn more.

 “I travelled through a very uneven path, with a lot of obstacles and noise, but for me it’s like a kaleidoscope where a little turn presents a new picture, a new “ah-ha” moment, new excitement after seemingly pointless efforts.” 

She added: “When in doubt I remind myself about David Ogilvy (generally considered the Founding Father of the modern advertising industry) who tried a lot of things before he struck gold with advertising, and maybe that’s why he did.”

Finally, she learned not only to keep a good spirit and try different things, but also to dare as you move forward.

Contributors

Thanks to Abha Thakor (@webcommsat), Nalini Thakor (@nalininonstopnewsuk), Larissa Murillo (@lmurillom), Meher Bala (@meher), Josepha Haden (@chanthaboune), Chloé Bringmann (@cbringmann) and Topher DeRosia (@topher1kenobe). Thank you to Olga Gleckler (@oglekler) for sharing her #ContributorStory.

HeroPress logo

This post is based on an article originally published on HeroPress.com, a community initiative created by Topher DeRosia. It highlights people in the WordPress community who have overcome barriers and whose stories would otherwise go unheard.

Meet more WordPress community members in our People of WordPress series.

#ContributorStory #HeroPress

Photo credits: 2nd and 4th Pablo Gigena, Berlin, 2019

People of WordPress: Jill Binder

You’ve probably heard that WordPress is open-source software, and may know that it’s created and run by volunteers. WordPress enthusiasts share many examples of how WordPress changed people’s lives for the better. This monthly series shares some of those lesser-known, amazing stories.

Meet Jill Binder

Jill Binder never meant to become an activist. She insists it was an accident.

Despite that, Jill has led the Diversity Outreach Speaker Training working group in the WordPress Community team since 2017. This group is dedicated to increasing the number of women and other underrepresented groups who are stepping up to become speakers at WordPress Meetups, WordCamps, and events. 

Jill’s back story

Internship

Jill’s WordPress story begins in 2011, in Vancouver, Canada. Jill secured an internship for her college program, working on a higher education website that was built in WordPress. As a thank you, her practicum advisor bought Jill a ticket to WordCamp Vancouver 2011: Developer’s Edition. After that Jill began freelancing  with WordPress as a Solopreneur. 

First steps in the WordPress community

The following year her internship advisor, who had become a client, was creating the first ever BuddyCamp for BuddyPress. He asked Jill to be on his organizing team. At that event she also moderated a panel with Matt Mullenweg. Then, Jill was invited to be on the core organizing team for WordCamp Vancouver.

Part of this role meant reviewing and selecting speakers. From 40 speaker applications the team had to pick only 14 to speak.

The diversity challenge when selecting speakers

For anyone who has organized a conference, you know that speaker selection is hard. Of the 40 applications, 7 were from women, and the lead organizer selected 6 of those to be included in the speaker line up.

At this point Jill wasn’t aware that very few women apply to speak at tech conferences and suggested selection should be made on the best fit for the conference. The team shared that not only did they feel the pitches were good and fit the conference, but they also needed to be accepted or the Organizers would be criticized for a lack of diversity.

Selecting women for fear of criticism is embarrassing to admit, but that’s how people felt in 2013.

By the time the event happened, though, the number of women speakers dropped to 4. And with an additional track being added, the number of speakers overall was up to 28. Only 1 speaker in 7 was a woman (or 14%) and attendees did ask questions and even blogged about the lack of representation.

What keeps women from applying?

Later that year at  WordCamp San Francisco—the biggest WordCamp at the time (before there was a WordCamp US)—Jill took the opportunity to chat with other organizers about her experience. She found out that many organizers had trouble getting enough women to present.

Surprisingly Vancouver had a high number of women applicants in comparison to others, and the consensus was more would be accepted  if only more would apply.

Jill decided that she  needed to know why this was happening? Why weren’t there more women applying? She started researching, reading, and talking to people.

Though this issue is complex, two things came up over and over:

  • “What would I talk about?”
  • “I’m not an expert on anything. I don’t know enough about anything to give a talk on it.”

A first workshop with encouraging results

Then Jill had an idea. She brought up the issue at an event and someone suggested that they should get women together in a room and brainstorm speaker topics.

So Jill became the lead of a small group creating a workshop in Vancouver. In one of the exercises, participants were invited to brainstorm ideas—this proved that they had literally a hundred topic ideas and the biggest problem then became picking just one!

In the first discussion, Jill focussed on:

  • Why it matters that women (added later: diverse groups) are in the front of the room
  • The myths of what it takes to be the speaker at the front of the room (aka beating impostor syndrome)
  • Different presentation formats, especially story-telling
  • Finding and refining a topic
  • Tips to become a better speaker
  • Leveling up by speaking in front of the group throughout the afternoon
women gathering to discussion presentation topics
Vancouver Workshop 2014

Leading to workshops across North America and then the world

Other cities across North America heard about the workshop and started hosting them, adding their own material.

Many women who initially joined her workshop wanted help getting even better at public speaking. So Jill’s team added in some material created from the other cities and a bit more of their own. Such as:

  • Coming up with a great title
  • Writing a pitch that is more likely to get accepted
  • Writing a bio
  • Creating an outline

At WordCamp Vancouver 2014—only one year since Jill started—there were 50% women speakers and 3 times the number of women applicants! Not only that, but this WordCamp was a Developer’s Edition, where it’s more challenging to find women developers in general, let alone those who will step up to speak.

More work is needed!

Impressive as those results were, the reason Jill is so passionate about this work is because of what happened next:

  • Some of the women who attended the workshop stepped up to be leaders in the community and created new content for other women.
  • A handful of others became WordCamp organizers. One year Vancouver had an almost all-female organizing team – 5 out of 6!
  • It also influenced local businesses. One local business owner loved what one of the women speakers said so much that he hired her immediately. She was the first woman developer on the team, and soon after she became the Senior Developer.

Diversity touches on many levels

Jill has seen time and again what happens when different people speak at the front of the room. More people feel welcome in the community. The speakers and the new community members bring new ideas and new passions that help to make the technology we are creating more inclusive. And together we generate new ideas that benefit everyone.

This workshop was so successful, with typical results of 40-60% women speakers at WordCamps, that the WordPress Global Community Team asked Jill to promote it and train it for women and all diverse groups around the world. In late 2017, Jill started leading the Diverse Speaker Training group (#wpdiversity).

Dozens of community members across the world have now been trained to lead the workshop. With now dozens of workshops worldwide, for WordPress and other open source software projects as well, there is an increase in speaker diversity. 

Diverse Speaker Training group
WordCamp US 2019

As a result of the success, Jill is now sponsored to continue the program. She’s proud of how the diversity represented on the stage adds value not only to the brand but also in the long-term will lead to the creation of a better product. She’s inspired by seeing the communities change as a result of the new voices and new ideas at the WordPress events.

Jill’s leadership in the development and growth of the Diversity Outreach Speaker Training initiative has had a positive, measurable impact on WordPress community events worldwide. When WordPress events are more diverse, the WordPress project gets more diverse — which makes WordPress better for more people.”

Andrea Middleton, Community organizer on the WordPress open source project

Resources:

Contributors

Alison Rothwell (@wpfiddlybits), Yvette Sonneveld (@yvettesonneveld), Josepha Haden (@chanthaboune), Topher DeRosia (@topher1kenobe)

This post is based on an article originally published on HeroPress.com, a community initiative created by Topher DeRosia. HeroPress highlights people in the WordPress community who have overcome barriers and whose stories would otherwise go unheard.

Meet more WordPress community members over at HeroPress.com!

People of WordPress: Alice Orru

You’ve probably heard that WordPress is open-source software, and may know that it’s created and run by volunteers. WordPress enthusiasts share many examples of how WordPress changed people’s lives for the better. This monthly series shares some of those lesser-known, amazing stories.

Meet Alice Orru, from Sardinia, Italy.

Alice Orru was born in Sardinia, an island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. As a child, she dreamt of becoming a flight attendant, traveling the world, and speaking many foreign languages.

Unable to meet the height requirements of her chosen profession, Orru ended up choosing a different path in life, following the Italian mantra: “You have to study something that will guarantee a stable and secure job for life.”

The unemployment rate in Sardinia is very high, a challenge shared throughout the surrounding islands. In addition to that, Alice wasn’t that keen on having the same job all her life, as her parents had.

When Orru was 22 she moved to Siena, Tuscany, to finish her studies. That is when she created her first personal blog. The website was built on an Italian platform named Tiscali, which she later migrated to WordPress.com.

After 2 years in Tuscany Orru moved to Strasbourg, France. She studied French and worked several jobs while living there. Her first serious job was in Milan – working 40 hours/week in the marketing department of a large, international company. She found herself surrounded by ambitious colleagues and a boss who constantly requested extra —unpaid— working hours per day.

Alice Orru
Alice Orru

Choices, choices, choices…

Alice gave up blogging because she wasn’t feeling inspired enough to write. She questioned whether she really wanted to do that job forever; working 10 hours per day under the neon lights of an office. It forced her to set aside her dreams for the time being, and for a while, she mainly lived for the weekends.

Alice decided to leave the job and moved to Barcelona, Spain, all by herself, in 2012.

After a few months of intense Spanish learning at the university, she found a job in an international clinic as a “Patient Coordinator.” Orru assisted international patients coming to Barcelona for their treatments. She acted as their translator, interpreter and administrative consultant. 

Patients came from Italy, France, England, Morocco, Senegal, and several other countries. Alice was so inspired by some of their stories, that she started to write again: She dusted off her WordPress blog and filled it with stories about her new life in Barcelona and some of the women she met at the clinic. “I was feeling stronger and more independent than ever,” Orru expressed.

Technical issues led to unexpected opportunities

In the summer of 2015, Alice was writing on her blog and got stuck with a technical problem. While she was searching through the WordPress.com documentation, she saw a pop-up in the bottom right corner of her screen. It was a staff member of Automattic, checking if she needed help. They chatted for a few minutes and the problem was solved. Alice left the chat with one question, though: how did that person on chat find a support job with WordPress?

Alice found the official WordPress job page: jobs.wordpress.net and noticed a job offer that caught her attention: WP Media, a French startup, was looking for a polyglot and remote customer service teammate for one of their plugins, WP Rocket. She read their requirements: fluency in English, French and possibly other languages, excellent experience with WordPress, and some coding skills.

She knew she didn’t meet all the requirements, but could speak 4 languages, and she had a WordPress blog. She didn’t know anything about PHP, though. Orru had been a WordPress.com user for years and knew she was ready to learn more.

Orru wrote a cover letter and sent her CV. A Skype interview was conducted and several days later she received the news that she had gotten the job! 

A steep learning curve

The early days in her new job were intense. Alice felt inexperienced but was supported by her teammates. She started studying and reading everything about WordPress for beginners. Initially, she answered easy tickets from customers. All the while her teammates were sending useful material to read, setting up video-calls for 1 to 1 training, and encouraging her the entire time.

Soon, Orru was replying to customers whose first language was either Spanish or Italian in their native language. This was much appreciated and resulted in several happy comments. Until that moment the plugin’s support had been offered only in English and French.

Finding her way in the WordPress community

At WordCamp Paris 2016, one of Alice’s teammates introduced her to how the WordPress community collaborated and kept in contact through Slack.

“You speak multiple languages, why don’t you try to contribute to the polyglots team?” he asked.

Alice knew very little about contributing to WordPress. She had only been working for WP Media for 6 months and didn’t feel ready to dive into a new challenge and start also contributing to WordPress.

Yet, curiosity led her to join both the local Italian and the global WordPress Community on Slack. For the first few months, she mainly observed what was happening the channels. Then, she attended WordCamp Milan and met some members of the Italian Polyglots team.

It was love at first string! Laura, one of the General Translation Editors (GTE) for Italy, taught her how to start contributing and translating, following the polyglots guidelines. She also told her about the Italian community’s big efforts to work together, consistently, to boost and grow WordPress related events in Italy.

With her teammates’ encouragement, Orru applied to WordCamps as a speaker and gave her first talk in December 2016 at WordCamp Barcelona. After that, she both spoke at WordCamp Torino on April 2017 and at WordCamp Europe in 2017.

Alice Orru speaking at WordCamp Europe, in Paris, in 2017

Dreams evolve, all the time!

Orru knows that her experiences are not just due to luck. She used her previous skills and passions and adapted them to a new career and life path.

“We all have some skills; and if we don’t know which they are exactly, we should take some time to make a list of the things we’re really good at. With that in mind, just try. Apply. Get involved. Don’t get stuck in the feeling of ‘I can’t do it because I don’t know enough’. So that’s what I did. Without even realizing it, I started putting into reality the dream of the little girl who was born on an island and wanted to travel and speak different languages.WordPress made this possible. I’m now part of a big community, and I am proud of it.”

Alice Orru

This post is based on an article originally published on HeroPress.com, a community initiative created by Topher DeRosia. HeroPress highlights people in the WordPress community who have overcome barriers and whose stories would otherwise go unheard.

Meet more WordPress community members over at HeroPress.com!

People of WordPress: Abdullah Ramzan

You’ve probably heard that WordPress is open-source software, and may know that it’s created and run by volunteers. WordPress enthusiasts share many examples of how WordPress changed people’s lives for the better. This monthly series shares some of those lesser-known, amazing stories.

Meet Abdullah Ramzan, from Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan.

Abdullah Ramzan was born and brought up in the under-developed city of ​Layyah​, which is situated in Southern Punjab, Pakistan and surrounded by desert and the river ​Sindh​.

He graduated from college in his home town and started using a computer in ​2010​ when he joined ​Government College University Faisalabad​. Abdullah’s introduction to WordPress happened while he was finishing the last semester of his degree. His final project was based in WordPress.

Ramzan’s late mother was the real hero in his life, helping him with his Kindergarten homework and seeing him off to school every day. 

Before her heart surgery, Ramzan visited her in the hospital ICU, where she hugged him and said: ​“Don’t worry, everything will be good.” Sadly, his mother died during her surgery. However, her influence on Ramzan’s life continues.

Start of Ramzan’s Career:

After graduation, Ramzan struggled to get his first job. He first joined PressTigers as a Software Engineer and met Khawaja Fahad Shakeel, his first mentor. Shakeel provided Ramzan with endless support. Something had always felt missing in his life, but he felt like he was on the right track for the first time in his life when he joined the WordPress community. 

Community – WordCamps and Meetups:

Although Ramzan had used WordPress since ​2015​, attending WordPress meetups and open source contributions turned out to be a game-changer for him. He learned a lot from the WordPress community and platform, and developed strong relationships with several individuals. One of them is Nidhi Jain​ from Udaipur India who he works with on WordPress development. The second is Jonathan Desrosiers​ who he continues to learn a lot from.

In addition, Usman Khalid, the lead organizer of WC Karachi, mentored Ramzan, helping him to develop his community skills. 

With the mentorship of these contributors, Ramzan is confident supporting local WordPress groups and helped to organize ​WordCamp Karachi​, where he spoke for the first time at an international level event. He believes that WordPress has contributed much to his personal identity. 

Abdullah Ramzan at WordCamp Karachi 2018

WordPress and the Future:

As a ​co-organizer of WordPress Meetup Lahore,​ he would love to involve more people in the community leadership team, to provide a platform for people to gather under one roof, to learn and share something with each other.

But he has loftier ambitions. Impressed by Walk to WordCamp Europe, Abdullah is seriously considering walking to WordCamp Asia. He also one day hopes for the opportunity to serve his country as a senator of Pakistan and intends to enter the next senate election.

Words of Encouragement

Abdullah Ramzan knows there is no shortcut to success. “You have to work hard to achieve your goals,” explained Ramzan. He still has much he wishes to accomplish and hopes to be remembered for his impact on the project.

Abdullah believes WordPress can never die as long as people don’t stop innovating to meet new demands. The beauty of WordPress is that it is made for everyone.

Ramzan encouraged, “If you seriously want to do something for yourself, do something for others first. Go for open source, you’ll surely learn how to code. You’ll learn how to work in a team. Join local meetups, meet with the folks: help them, learn from them, and share ideas.”


This post is based on an article originally published on HeroPress.com, a community initiative created by Topher DeRosia. HeroPress highlights people in the WordPress community who have overcome barriers and whose stories would otherwise go unheard.

Meet more WordPress community members over at HeroPress.com!

People of WordPress: Amanda Rush

You’ve probably heard that WordPress is open source software, and may know that it’s created and run by volunteers. WordPress enthusiasts share many examples of how WordPress changed people’s lives for the better. This monthly series shares some of those lesser-known, amazing stories.

Meet Amanda Rush from Augusta, Georgia, USA.

Amanda Rush is a WordPress advocate with a visual disability. She first started using computers in 1985, which enabled her to turn in homework to her sighted teachers. Screen reader technology for Windows was in its infancy then, so she worked in DOS almost exclusively.

After graduating high school, Amanda went to college to study computer science, programming with DOS-based tools since compilers for Windows were still inaccessible. As part of her computer science course of study, she learned HTML which began her career in web development.

How Amanda got started with WordPress

Amanda began maintaining a personal website, and eventually began publishing her own content using LiveJournal. However, controlling the way the page around her content looked was hard, and she soon outgrew the hosted solution.

So in 2005, Amanda bought customerservant.com, set up a very simple CMS for blogging, and started publishing there. She accepted the lack of design and content, and lack of easy customization because she wasn’t willing to code her own solution. Nor did she want to move to another hosted solution, as she liked being able to customize her own site, as well as publish content.

Hebrew dates led her to WordPress

At some point, Amanda was looking for an easy way to display the Hebrew dates alongside the Gregorian dates on her blog entries. Unfortunately, the blogging software she was using at the time, did not offer customization options at that level. She decided to research alternative solutions and came across a WordPress plugin that did just that. 

The fact that WordPress would not keep her locked into a visual editor, used themes to customize styling, and offered ways to mark up content, immediately appealed to Amanda. She decided to give it a go.

Accessibility caused her to dive deeper

When the software Amanda used at work became completely inaccessible, she started learning about WordPress. While she was learning about this new software, Web 2.0 was introduced. The lack of support for it in the screen reader she used meant that WordPress administration was completely inaccessible. To get anything done, Amanda needed to learn to find her way in WordPress’ file structure.

Eventually Amanda started working as an independent contractor for the largest screen reader developer in the market, Freedom Scientific. She worked from home every day and hacked on WordPress after hours.

Unfortunately Amanda hit a rough patch when her job at Freedom Scientific ended. Using her savings she undertook further studies for various Cisco and Red Hat certifications, only to discover that the required testing for these certifications were completely inaccessible. She could study all she wanted, but wasn’t able to receive grades to pass the courses.

She lost her financial aid, her health took a turn for the worse, she was diagnosed with Lupus, and lost her apartment. Amanda relocated to Augusta where she had supportive friends who offered her a couch and a roof over her head.

But Amanda refused to give up

Amanda continued to hack WordPress through all of this. It was the only stable part of her life. She wanted to help make WordPress accessible for people with disabilities, and in 2012 joined the  WordPress Accessibility Team. Shortly after that, she finally got her own place to live, and started thinking about what she was going to do with the rest of her working life.

Listening to podcasts led her to take part in WordSesh, which was delivered completely online and enabled Amanda to participate without needing to travel. She began to interact with WordPress people on Twitter, and continued to contribute to the community as part of the WordPress Accessibility Team. Things had finally started to pick up.

Starting her own business

In 2014, Amanda officially launched her own business, Customer Servant Consultancy. Since WordPress is open source, and becoming increasingly accessible, Amanda could modify WordPress to build whatever she wanted and not be at the mercy of web and application developers who know nothing about accessibility. And if she got stuck, she could tap into the community and its resources.

Improving her circumstances and becoming more self-sufficient means Amanda was able to take back some control over her life in general. She was able to gain independence and create her own business despite being part of the blind community, which has an 80% unemployment rate. 

In her own words:

We’re still fighting discrimination in the workplace, and we’re still fighting for equal access when it comes to the technology we use to do our jobs. But the beauty of WordPress and its community is that we can create opportunities for ourselves.

I urge my fellow blind community members to join me inside this wonderful thing called WordPress. Because it will change your lives if you let it.

Amanda Rush, entrepreneur

This post is based on an article originally published on HeroPress.com, a community initiative created by Topher DeRosia. HeroPress highlights people in the WordPress community who have overcome barriers and whose stories would otherwise go unheard.

Meet more WordPress community members over at HeroPress.com!

People of WordPress: Ugyen Dorji

You’ve probably heard that WordPress is open source software, and may know that it’s created and run by volunteers. WordPress enthusiasts share many examples of how WordPress changed people’s lives for the better. This monthly series shares some of those lesser-known, amazing stories.

Meet Ugyen Dorji from Bhutan

Ugyen lives in Bhutan, a landlocked country situated between two giant neighbors, India to the south and China to the north. He works for ServMask Inc and is responsible for the Quality Assurance process for All-in-One WP Migration plugin.

He believes in the Buddhist teaching that “the most valuable service is one rendered to our fellow humans,” and his contributions demonstrates this through his WordPress translation work and multi-lingual support projects for WordPress.

Bhutanese contributors to the Dzongkha locale on WordPress Translation Day

How Ugyen started his career with WordPress

Back in 2016, Ugyen was looking for a new job after his former cloud company ran into financial difficulties.

During one interview he was asked many questions about WordPress and, although he had a basic understanding of WordPress, he struggled to give detailed answers. After that interview he resolved to develop his skills and learn as much about WordPress as he could. 

A few months passed and he received a call from ServMask Inc, who had developed a plugin called All-in-One WP Migration. They offered him a position, fulfilling his wish to work with WordPress full-time. And because of that, Ugyen is now an active contributor to the WordPress community.

WordCamp Bangkok 2018

WordCamp Bangkok 2018 was a turning point event for Ugyen. WordCamps are a great opportunity to meet WordPress community members you don’t otherwise get to know, and he was able to attend his first WordCamp through the sponsorship of his company.

The first day of WordCamp Bangkok was a Contributor Day, where people volunteer to work together to contribute to the development of WordPress. Ugyen joined the Community team to have conversations with WordPress users from all over the world. He was able to share his ideas for supporting new speakers, events and organizers to help build the WordPress community in places where it is not yet booming.

During the main day of the event, Ugyen managed a photo booth for speakers, organizers, and attendees to capture their memories of WordCamp. He also got to take some time out to attend several presentations during the conference. What particularly stuck in Ugyen’s mind was learning that having a website content plan has been shown to lead to 100% growth in business development.

Co-Organizing Thimphu‘s WordPress Meetup

After attending WordCamp Bangkok 2018 as well as a local Meetup event, Ugyen decided to introduce WordPress to his home country and cities. 

As one of the WordPress Translation Day organizers, he realized that his local language, Dzongkha, was not as fully translated as other languages in the WordPress Core Translation. That is when Ugyen knew that he wanted to help build his local community. He organized Thimphu’s first WordPress Meetup to coincide with WordPress Translation Day 4, and it was a huge success!

Like all WordPress Meetups, the Thimpu WordPress Meetup is an easygoing, volunteer-organized, non-profit meetup which covers everything related to WordPress. But it also keeps in mind the Bhutanese Gross National Happiness four pillars by aiming to preserve and promote their unique culture and national language. 

Big dreams get accomplished one step at a time

Ugyen has taken an active role in preserving his national language by encouraging his community to use WordPress, including Dzongkha bloggers, online Dzongkha news outlets, and government websites.

And while Ugyen has only been actively involved in the community for a short period, he has contributed much to the WordPress community, including:

  • becoming a Translation Contributor for WordPress Core Translation for Dzongkha;
  • participating in the Global WordPress Translation Day 4 Livestream and organizing team;
  • inviting WordPress Meetup Thimphu members and WordPress experts from other countries to join the local Slack instance;
  • encouraging ServMask Inc. to become an event sponsor;
  • providing the Dzongkha Development Commission the opportunity to involve their language experts.

When it comes to WordPress, Ugyen particularly focuses on encouraging local and international language WordPress bloggers; helping startups succeed with WordPress; and sharing what he has learned from WordPress with his Bhutanese WordPress community.

As a contributor, Ugyen hopes to accomplish even more for the Bhutan and Asian WordPress Communities. His dreams for his local community are big, including teaching more people about open source, hosting a local WordCamp, and helping to organize WordCamp Asia in 2020 — all while raising awareness of his community.


This post is based on an article originally published on HeroPress.com, a community initiative created by Topher DeRosia. HeroPress highlights people in the WordPress community who have overcome barriers and whose stories would otherwise go unheard.

Meet more WordPress community members over at HeroPress.com!