In this series, we share some of the inspiring stories of how WordPress and its global network of contributors can change people’s lives for the better. This month we feature a website builder from Nigeria, who uses the open source WordPress platform to support his family and to share learning with others in his home country and beyond.
Creating a life in the WordPress Ecosystem
Collins Agbonghama started his journey to becoming a web developer by reading the football news headlines on a friend’s mobile phone. His fascination with development and learning continued to grow, and he now makes a living using WordPress and the web.
Read on to discover his story, which shows with creativity and determination you can create products and make a living using WordPress.
Starting web building on a phone
Collins began his exploration of the internet while attending Secondary School in Nigeria, or High School as it is known in some other countries.
A friend at the school had a simple mobile phone which could browse the internet. Collins had his first introduction to the World Wide Web through access to this device. He became hooked by reading headlines on a sports site about a famous English Premier League Football Club, Chelsea, a soccer team which he has long supported.
“Being a very inquisitive person, I wanted to learn how the web works as well as have my own website. I was able to buy a classic mobile phone through the menial jobs I did after school,” he said.
His first website was a wapsite or Wireless Application Protocol site optimized for mobile devices.
He took to Google to learn how to actually build a site. He discovered he needed something called an ‘email address’ to sign-up for site builders. Google Search came to the rescue again, and he created the first email account for his first website.
A desire for a website was the catalyst for further learning, starting with HTML and CSS from an online provider. His interest in building sites with more advanced tools grew, and then he came across WordPress.
Using his savings, he bought the cheapest hosting plan from a local Nigerian web host. He installed WordPress and started writing tutorials for a mobile device platform. He built the site, created the lessons, and started his entry into WordPress all on a mobile phone.
This led to him having the confidence to start building sites for others, and he was able to earn a small income from that.
Collins said: “I couldn’t go to the university because of my precarious financial situation. I continued to do menial jobs during the day and started learning PHP in the evenings and at night using my mobile phone via online learning platforms.”
He was later able to get an old laptop, which helped him access ebooks to learn more and practice his coding.
Keen to share this learning, he started blogging about what he was learning on his website.
Collins said: “I later took up a job teaching children at a school primarily because I got tired of the menial jobs and wanted to earn enough to take care of my internet data plan. After a while, I became fairly proficient in PHP and even took up a job to build a school management system.”
Using WordPress to make a living
Collins’ blog wasn’t making money through advertisements, but he discovered opportunities to write tutorials for other platforms.
“I started writing PHP and WordPress development tutorials and got paid a few hundred dollars per article. In Nigeria, that’s quite a lot of money. I was able to improve the life and wellbeing of my family and myself,” he said.
After getting into a higher education program to study computer science, his life dramatically changed. He decided to stop writing and began to focus on building and selling WordPress plugins. His first one was a user and profile plugin for WordPress sites.
“Thankfully, after a year, it started making enough revenue for me to live pretty comfortably here in Nigeria because the cost of living here is relatively low,” he said
Today, Collins has several plugins which have given him a sustainable source of income. He’s also a Core and Translation volunteer contributor to the WordPress.org Open Source project.
“I am also thankful for the community. I have made lots of friends that have been very supportive and helpful in my journey.”
He added: “I tell people, life won’t give you what you want. You demand from life what you want. You make these demands by being determined and never giving up on your dreams and aspirations.
“If you are poor, perhaps because you came from a humble and poor background, it is not your fault. You can’t go back in time to change things. I implore you to be strong, determined, and work hard.”
Thanks to Josepha Haden Chomphosy (@chanthaboune), Topher DeRosia (@topher1kenobe) and others for their support of this initiative.
The People of WordPress feature is inspired by an essay originally published on HeroPress.com, a community initiative created by Topher DeRosia, which highlights people in the WordPress community who have overcome barriers.
In this series, we share some of the inspiring stories of how WordPress and its global network of contributors can change people’s lives for the better. This month we feature a translator and campaigner who uses WordPress to highlight good causes and helps people in her area benefit from the open source platform.
Going to a WordCamp can be a life-changing experience, as Devin Maeztri discovered. Every event she attends is a further step on a journey of discovering the WordPress community and its many opportunities.
Devin’s first experience with camps came when she volunteered impromptu at an Indonesian event, WordCamp Denpasar, Bali in 2016.
Here, she made a profound discovery: “WordCamps can bring people who will give back to the community, even if they don’t get anything from WordPress directly.”
With every WordCamp after that first experience, she became more interested in WordPress and the community.
Over time, Devin found she wanted to be part of WordPress events more often. She became a regular at Meetups in Ubud and Jakarta, joining as a co-organizer at WordCamp Jakarta in 2017 and 2019. Later, she took on the role of co-organizer for Meetups in Jakarta and Ubud.
Smitten by what WordCamps can offer and how they can bring people together across national borders, she joined the organizing team for WordCamp Asia 2020. Sadly, this event was to become the first major WordPress event to be cancelled in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Naturally, Devin hopes WordCamp Asia will happen someday very soon. Beyond the expected WordPress learning and sharing that event will promote, she believes its very scale will showcase how WordCamps add international tourism and cultural understanding everywhere they take place.
Showing how WordPress can be used locally
After experiencing several events, Devin had questions: “At WordCamps and Meetups, you hear stories about how WordPress powers the web. How it changes the lives of so many people, how it helps dreams come true. It made me think, considering WordPress is that powerful, why are there not even more people in Indonesia using websites, and more using WordPress? Why aren’t more talented Indonesian WordPress users, developers, designers, and business owners taking part in WordPress.org projects? Language, for me, was the main answer.”
The solution Devin felt was to make WordPress available in the main local language. She said: “I believe, the more content translated into Indonesian, the more Indonesian WordPress users see WordPress as more than just a blogging platform or a content management system. They will realize it’s a huge open source community that works together to make the web a better place. The more plugins and themes translated, the easier the work of the developer and designer will be. The more people see how WordPress can enhance their life, the better the ecosystem for business owners becomes.”
Encouraging others to translate WordPress
After talking with others about how WordPress could be even more useful in Indonesia, Devin felt she had to make a personal commitment to reviving the polyglot project in Indonesia. With another volunteer contributor and through promotion, the local polyglot team got bigger and the interest in translation grew. She also took on the responsibility of a General Translation Editor for the language.
Through the efforts of Devin and the other translation editors, Indonesia took part in WordPress Translation Day in 2020, and in 2021 held sprints and learning sessions spanning the whole 30 days of the event.
Her enthusiasm and dedication to helping others translate WordPress locally and promoting the global community were recognized in the Polyglot Appreciation Nominations for 2021.
Helping to give access to more diverse audiences
Through her involvement in translation, Devin noticed there were not many women involved in the WordPress community in Indonesia. Often, she found herself the only woman at an event.
So, along with a couple of community members, she started Perempuan WordPress, a local initiative. This group is open for everyone to join, but prioritizes women as event speakers.
Devin has gone on to support the work of the Diversity Speaker Training group in the Community Team, translating materials and promoting initiatives in Indonesia. She is keen to encourage others to get involved with this initiative which helps increase the diversity of presenters at Meetups and WordCamps.
In her professional roles, Devin is an advocate for WordPress as a tool for people with a wide variety of skill sets. She does not code, but uses the platform extensively for her projects. In 2014, she signed up for a free account on WordPress.com to keep and share notes about what she saw or was thinking about as she commuted on public transport to work. This site did not turn into a blog, but instead introduced her to other opportunities and the vast capabilities of the platform.
WordPress can support your skills and passions
With a background in environmental activism, Devin has worked for international development organizations on everything from policymaking to campaigning.
Behind the desk, she worked with policymakers and organized conferences and meetings. That meant doing a lot of writing and translating and working with people on the ground who were impacted by the policies. “My work on the ground usually involved researching, movement building and community empowerment,” she noted.
Her work with events inspired Devin to get involved in WordCamps and Meetups and share her energy for making things happen. As in her professional work, she felt WordPress was an opportunity to work and share with people about something that can make a positive impact on someone else’s life.
“For me, everything comes from the heart. I do things that I feel so strongly about. Things that call me, and things that I am good at but still giving me room to learn and become better at. WordPress can be the perfect place for this.”
While she was between jobs, Devin was encouraged to volunteer at WordCamp Denpasar 2016. With some help, she created an online CV. She also learned to manage a WordPress site, navigate the wp-admin, and make the content appeal to potential employers.
She eventually got a job as a campaigner to build a movement online and offline. The brainchild of many university friends in America, who used digital campaigns to go global, the campaign used WordPress.
Devin worked alongside a digital campaigner and helped shape the content, the call to action, and the user experience. She also had to use the wp-admin to make some amendments. As a global movement, it developed its resources in English, so she also reviewed the work of the translators she worked with.
She left her job as a campaigner at the end of 2018 to concentrate on freelancing – and to spend more of her free time contributing to the WordPress community. She also took up the initiative to help street cats in Jakarta.
Devin said: “So, I am busy helping these cats but also learning how to fundraise using a website. I’m learning to use online forms, set up a payment service provider, work on SEO, and do other new things I need to learn to grow my initiative. I do have the privilege to learn directly from a personal guru. The same person who convinced me to volunteer at WordCamp Denpasar, and who I married in 2018.”
WordPress gives everyone a chance to learn
Devin was so enthused by being a contributor for WordPress, she took part in the video shorts following the Translation Day events.
She is also active in other Contributor Teams and decided to become a Community Team Deputy to support meetups in new cities across Indonesia and perhaps future WordCamps.
She said: “One of the things that I like about WordPress is that it is very welcoming and open to people like me, who don’t code at all. At the same time, it shows me a different way of looking at the world.”
Devin believes in the power of WordPress to give ‘everyone a chance to learn new things’ and allows her to contribute and share her knowledge and experience. “By contributing, I hope to make a difference in someone’s life. I hope they feel the benefit of using WordPress and want to give back to create a healthier WordPress community.”
Thank you to Abha Thakor (@webcommsat) and Mary Baum (@marybaum) for the interviews and writing this feature, and to Devin Maeztri (@devinmaeztri) for sharing her story. Thanks to Meher Bala (@meher) for work on the images, and to Chloé Bringmann (@cbringmann) and Collieth Clarke (@callye) for proofing.
This People of WordPress feature is inspired by an essay 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 might otherwise go unheard. #HeroPress #ContributorStory
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.
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.
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 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 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
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.
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.