WordPress is turning 20 this week. WordPress is such a big part of my life, I must join in and celebrate.
It’s crazy to think that I owe so much of my life to a single piece of software. It opened up opportunities that shaped my life, where I live, how I live. Let me share my “origin story”, just like others in the community have done here.
- Forum signatures and web design
- Publishing WordPress News
- Helping in the forums
- WordPress at work
- A meetup that changed everything
- Bonus music
Forum signatures and web design
I first discovered WordPress in 2006. My studies had brought me to The Netherlands where I spent a lot of my free time learning new things online. I had joined an online community of “graphic designers”: in our forums we answered requests from random internet users who wanted forum signatures to use in other forums. Do you remember forum signatures? I became a Photoshop expert, cutting anime and video game characters, applying brushes, creating “beautiful” bezels and shadows. I remember us doing contests and battles to see who would create the best signatures.
A few of the folks were asking for more than just a signature: some needed design elements for their own Invision Power Board or phpBB forums, others wanted a whole website designed for them. I would deliver Photoshop files and phpBB themes that folks would use to build their own site.
Naturally, after doing a few of those I had to create my own site to show off my work. :) In 2007, I built a first version of my personal site using Joomla, but it felt really complex. I quickly moved to WordPress, and loved it. It was easier to set up and there were a lot of resources online. I lurked in the forums at first, asked a few questions, and ended up building my own theme from scratch after a few months. It was so rewarding!
Publishing WordPress News
Google Reader was all the rage back then, and I found myself following a number of WordPress sites to learn more about the community. I remember SmallPotato, a prolific theme author at the time, WPhacks where you could read about WordPress news, Justin Tadlock who published great tutorials that taught me a lot about WordPress, Jean-Baptiste Jung posted code snippets on his CatsWhoCode site, and many more. I was falling down a very deep rabbit hole. :)
There was so much to read that I started using del.icio.us to bookmark the most interesting things.
At that point I wanted to start contributing back, and helping others like I had done earlier while learning Photoshop. I created a brand new site to publish my own curated WordPress news, based off my del.icio.us bookmarks. In October 2008, WereWP.com was born (“We’re WP”, yes I thought that was a clever name at the time).
I blogged a lot about themes at first. There was a lot happening in the community at the time. I remember Adii Pienaar, Brian Gardner, Jason Schuller coming out with the first very popular commercial WordPress themes. A few months later, WPTavern.com was born, and things kept getting more lively and interesting.
Helping in the forums
I continued to learn about WordPress; I started answering questions in the WordPress forums, I was more and more active in the community. Some folks started reaching out for help with infected sites and I spent a few evenings cleaning and updating sites. These were my first paid WordPress gigs! WordPress was still very much a hobby though, something I played with in the evening. I was working in customer support for a furnitures company at the time, while living in Budapest, Hungary.
WordPress at work
All this tinkering on the web gave me an opening: in March 2009 I joined a French startup. We didn’t use WordPress yet (my daily tools were Eclipse and CVS), but I learned a lot about the web. Over the next 3 years, I continued to play with WordPress during my free time, and then at work where I became the resident WordPress expert among our team of Java developers. We started using WP for our company blogs and newsletters, using themes and plugins I had developed.
A meetup that changed everything
The next turning point changed my life. In October 2011, Automattic held their yearly Grand Meetup in Budapest, Hungary. On one of the nights, they organized an informal meetup at a bar, where members of the local WordPress community could meet with Automatticians.
I had to go! I wanted to meet the people I admired and followed online! I quickly put together a small WordPress site; the home page displayed one post, picked randomly among about 15 posts I had created. Each post was a different ice-breaker. I then printed a t-shirt with a big QR code that led to the site:
Does this sound way too elaborate for a simple meetup at a bar? Is is. It definitely was. I figured it would help me making the first steps and would force me to start chatting with people instead of staying alone at the bar all night. Can you tell I’m a nerd struggling in social settings? :)
It turned out to be completely unnecessary: Automatticians were all very nice, welcoming, came to me to chat, made me feel at ease all night. And of course, almost no one scanned the QR code because it was 2011 and no one really used QR codes for anything useful back then.
It was a great evening! What’s more, a few of them told me that I would fit right in at Automattic and that I should apply. I kept telling them I didn’t have the skills, but they kept insisting. One of them even told me: “You know what, the person who would be your lead is right there; why don’t we go see her, she can interview you and she’ll tell you if you have the skills!”
There was no going back! I did my first interview right there with Hanni, a beer in my hand. She was lovely and after chatting, gave me her email address. Fast-forward a few weeks later, I was offered to start a trial as Happiness Engineer at Automattic!
In January 2012, I started my trial at Automattic. I was hired a few months later, and have been an Automattician for the past 11 years.
My life at Automattic would probably deserve its own post. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve worked on lots of interesting projects, in different roles, I’ve met lots of amazing people, I’ve traveled to lots of places.
I also lived in 3 different countries, got married, became a father of 2 little devils, pictured below in WordPress gear! :)
My life would be very different today if I hadn’t turned to WordPress all those years ago.
I continue to learn every day, and I’m thankful for everything that has happened to me in the past 17 years.
Thank you WordPress, thank you WordPress Community!
For those of you using YouTube Music, here is a playlist of 20 years of jazz, with tracks from all the artists that WordPress releases were named after:
If you’d rather listen to it on Spotify, check the original post on the #WP20 website.
2 replies on “My WordPress story”
[…] and I created a draft of this post nearly two months ago. Thank goodness Jeremy Herve published his WordPress story a few days early so I remembered to come back and finish before the big […]
@jeremy thank you for sharing just some of your WordPress story. It's amazing how much has changed over those years, and how a meetup and a conversation changed where you worked.