Why I Code

Yesterday, I had a fantastically productive day at work. I had two separate clients with two separate issues, and I had left the office on Wednesday stumped on both.

Come a good night’s sleep, and one of the best dance lessons I had in months, I came in refreshed – and through the power of debugging, solved both issues before lunchtime. Add in a successful site re-launch, I was feeling on top of the world.

In the evening, I was chatting with two of my training partners in the change room at the dojo. One of them remarked how she doesn’t know how I can do what I do. If she had been faced with a similar problem, she’d likely throw the computer out the window.

I’ll share the answer I gave her. I code because I love the challenge. The challenge of keeping up with the ever evolving nature of tech. The challenge of making sure you adhere to the designer’s layouts to a pixel-perfect degree. The challenge of finding a bug in your code, rubbing your hands together, and wanting to squash that bug. There’s always a new challenge, and you cannot become complacent when you sling code around. It’s also why I’m teaching myself React, Angular, and Ruby. I may be a PHP and Javascript developer now, but it’s always fun to learn new things.

That’s why. To me, life without a positive challenge is boring…and who wants a boring life?

Giving Back – Professionally

I get asked all the time, “Why do you mentor with Canada Learning Code, and why do you present at WordCamps? Why do you want to instruct CLC workshops? Aren’t you busy enough?”

Yes, I’m busy. However, I strongly believe in digital literacy, and the importance of coding. No, people don’t need to make a career shift. However, understanding the technology behind what you see on the internet, will allow for people, no matter what their chosen job is, to become more fully rounded.

I’ve mentored with CLC’s Ottawa chapter for the past three years and will begin instructing in 2019. I chose CLC, because they target groups who are unrepresented in tech – which is amazing.

Additionally, since 2017, I have moderated panels and spoken at WordCamps across North America. Again, I chose to speak at WordCamps, because they are inclusive to all, and it’s a strong tightknit community.

I’m generally self-taught, and didn’t have that many mentors in development when I was a junior programmer. Now, as a lead developer, I’m in a position (and frankly, have a responsibility) that I can share the knowledge and experience I’ve amassed, and help those just starting out. Whether it’s via moderating a panel at a WordCamp, or mentoring and/or teaching with CLC – the intent is the same. I may not have had these opportunities early in my career, but I want to see others have them.

Plus, giving back is important and heartwarming. There’s nothing better than seeing a learner’s eyes light up when they get a concept, or having a hour-long conversation after a WordCamp panel.

Joy, happiness, and knowledge building. I do it as a karate sensei, and now I can do it professionally. Is there nothing better?

That WordCamp life

So, as you may have read previously here, I have gone down the rabbit hole with WordCamps this year. I was one of the organizers, and a speaker at WordCamp Ottawa. I spoke at WordCamp Montreal as well.

The panel I was on, Contributing to WordPress, has been published to WordPress.tv.

Building on that momentum, and with the full support of my current boss and colleagues, I applied to additional WordCamps.

I’m pleased to say that I was accepted to WordCamp NYC from October 21-22, and WordCamp Seattle from November 4-5. Both WordCamps I will be moderating my popular Women in WordPress panel.

I am excited to speak for the first time outside of my relative geographical area, and to a larger audience as well. Hopefully, I’ll soon have some more exciting WordCamp news to share, so stay tuned!

So, why web development?

People have asked me many times WHY I chose web development as a career, or why I went into tech in general. Below is my story.

I have always been interested in computers. My father got me playing on them at an earlier age. There’s a picture kicking around at my dad’s place, of me playing on an old Commodore 64 as a toddler, sitting on my father’s lap. I now joke that was my gateway into my career choice.

However, the truth lies in a conversation with a former manager from the grocery store I worked at in college. At the time, I was studying sociology, and was wrapping up my 2nd year. Not knowing what direction I was going to take, I started fretting, and getting emotional. My manager and I had lunch one day, and she suggested that I look into computers, “because of all the websites I’ve been building”. Yes, I had started out on Geocities about 5 years earlier, building out Sailor Moon and Star Trek fan sites. At my whit’s end, I spoke to my dad about it, and we came to an agreement. I would pursue a web development diploma, and attempt to get a job. If I found I didn’t or couldn’t handle the workload, or couldn’t get a job – I would return to the university and finish my sociology degree.

Well, I handled the workload, and I got a co-op position about six weeks after finishing my course. That lead into a six month contract as a junior developer. This was July 2005. Flash forward to August 2017, and I’m still in the industry – working as the sole developer for a boutique digital marketing firm. The longest ‘spell’ of unemployment I have had, was a two month space between jobs. Since then, if I have switched jobs, the timeframe usually was 2-4 weeks (my job search advice posts are here). I love what I do, and the constant mental workout I get when I have to debug, or create a new solution.

With my job, I have been exposed to many different technology platforms, with a heavy emphasis over the past five years on WordPress. In 2013, my boss at the time suggested that I attend my local WordCamp, and pick up some new tricks. I loved the WordCamp, and attended the Ottawa one the following year, and travelled to Montreal in 2015, in the absence of a local one.

2016 rolls around, and the digital team of the company I was working for had a retreat. The senior level managers encouraged the two developers (myself and another guy) to get more involved with the community, and consider speaking. So, I took that to heart, and applied to, and was accepted to speak at WordCamp Ottawa 2016. That was certainly an experience, as I hadn’t done public speaking since I was a 12 year old in a grade six public speaking contest. Consumed by what I now realize is imposter syndrome, I vowed to never speak again, and decided to just help organize the following year.

…that didn’t hold up. Kathryn Presner, whom I’ve been on two panels with now, spoke with me at the after-party, encouraging me to not give up. Shawn Hooper, who was speaker wrangler that year, sent me my feedback, with a note that I didn’t do as bad as I thought, and to reconsider my decision. Also, that fall, I was asked to re-present my talk from the WordCamp at our local WordPress meet-up. Now, of course, I had some technical difficulties with my laptop at the time, so did my whole presentation from memory and no visuals. Well, lo and behold the night went splendidly. That probably was the catalyst.

So, ignoring my 2016 self, I put forth a panel for WordCamp Ottawa 2017. Women in WordPress – I wanted to chat with other women in our community, and hopefully encourage young women, or women new to WordPress, that things aren’t that scary. My friend and co-organizer Christie asked me to be on her panel – one that discussed bridging the gap between developers and designers. Both panels went amazing – especially the Women in WordPress one. The tweets and personal comments I got afterward made my weekend. I also did a quick lightning talk at WordCamp Montreal 2017, which was a beginner’s guide to navigating the plugin repository, and what to look for when installing new ones. It’s hard to gauge reactions to a 15-20 minute talk, but I didn’t see any negative tweets, or received any negative comments after. I felt good, and inspired. The feeling of being able to share my knowledge, and help others – was addicting.

So, I decided to pursue this more. I’ve applied to four other WordCamps with the panel that I did in Ottawa (with different panelists of course), and that’s just for 2017. 2018 I plan on hitting up Western Canada, and applying to Calgary and Winnipeg – fitting in some vacation time to see family, of course. It’s an exciting venture that is forcing me to step out of my comfort zone – and I’ve never been happier with that decision.

I’ve also signed up to be an Outspoken Woman. I’m jumping into the leadership team, and I hope to encourage fellow introverts that public speaking isn’t a scary beast to hide from. There are ways to improve and learn, and while I’m still a relative newbie at it myself, there are others who might be encouraged by my journey…and that alone is worth being a mentor, isn’t it?

WordCamps and an evolution of self

Taking a break from my advice, I want to talk about a pet passion of mine. WordCamps.

I was first introduced to WordCamp in 2013, by my boss at the time. He sent me a link over our Slack channel, and encouraged me and the other developer in the company (we were the two sole developers in a large national PR firm) to attend. It was the first one held in Ottawa – a day long event at the University of Ottawa. Best thing, the company was going to pay for my ticket! How could I say no?

I was instantly hooked. It was information overload, in a good way. It’s also where I started to make connections to others in the WordPress community.

I went back in 2014. 2015, we sadly did not have a WordCamp in Ottawa – so I went to Montreal. Each time, I came out with more insights. 2015 is also the year I met some of my good friends in the community, like Meagan and Shawn.

Last year, I was encouraged by my boss, and our office general manager, to speak. That was an experience (more on that later), but it was good to do public speaking for the first time since a school contest in grade six (1995-96 school year). At the time, I vowed not to speak again, but I wanted to help out.

Fast forward one year. I am on the organizing team for WordCamp Ottawa 2017 (you should come!), and I’ve submitted a panel for both Montreal, and WordCamp US. It’s exciting times.

So, tl:dr – why WordCamps? They are a great way to learn about how to contribute to a great community, gain new insights, and also – to make friends!

Check out the WordCamp Central website for upcoming WordCamps near you!

Automation – A blessing and a curse

If you haven’t heard, there’s an important security update to WordPress that you really should download. Really, if you aren’t on 4.7.2 – why not?

That being said, sometimes upgrading can be a pain. Usually, you can either set up automated updates (which I would highly recommend), or press the magic button in your dashboard. 95% of the time, everything happens behind the scenes. You get the newest and greatest version, security holes are patched, and you are laughing.

However, if you find yourself in that unlucky 5% (and you find yourself with errors you can’t understand) – you have to get down and dirty behind the scenes. The following are steps if you wish to try and do things yourself.

This is where you’ll need FTP access, and also, just in case, access to server logs.

Your first step is to do a manual upgrade. This is where you’ll need FTP access. Follow the steps in the article, and usually, you’ll be OK.

Find yourself with a 500 error? Check your server logs. Often, there will be an error regarding particular files that have group write access. To fix this, I would recommend the following:

1. Ensure that your wp-admin folder, and all it’s contents, have chmod 755
2. Make sure that your index.php, and your wp-login.php in your root directory (where you installed WordPress) have chmod 644

(These can be modified, most of the time, via your FTP software, such as FileZilla)

And that should do it. If you are still encountering issues, I would suggest either contacting a WordPress expert (hi there!), or if you are really insistent on doing things yourself, your hosting provider.

Happy WordPress-ing!