I’m not sure if I even belong here.
That’s what I think to myself most of the time. I’m constantly waiting for the day when the conversations get so deep that everyone realizes I’m an outsider.
Who knows if that day is destined to come? It probably won’t. But that is how I think sometimes. I’ll tell you why.
Born and Raised In St. Louis
Yes, the same St. Louis that has recently graced the TV screens across America and other parts of the world. I’m not from the outskirts. I didn’t move there when I was young. I am from St. Louis, the city, and spent the first 18 years of my life there.
Life was “normal” for me as a kid. I had parents, many siblings, cousins, friends, and toys. I wasn’t missing anything at all, if you ask me.
Prior to my preteen years, life was life and I didn’t question it. I smiled when I felt joy, dealt with my reality like everyone else around me did, and dreamt of being a badass adult some day… most likely an athlete. I’m pretty sure that’s what all young boys do.
Things didn’t start to change until middle school and high school. I realized I was a little different. I wasn’t always intrigued by the same things my peers were. Not a day went by that I didn’t wonder why I wasn’t more like the others.
Sure, I played the same sports, listened to the same music, and spoke the same as everyone else. But at the core, I didn’t identify with the culture… at least not the youth.
A real change in me started to surface around age 14, which would be 1998. I moved out of my mom’s house to live with my aunt and cousins. They also lived in the city, but they lived in a part of the city that allowed them [by law] to be transported 30+ minutes out to the counties for an education.
So after completing my freshman year at a predominantly black high school, I started my sophomore year at a predominantly white school.
Needless to say, I was exposed to two completely different environments on a daily basis. The adults from both environments were different. The kids from both environments were different. The environments were incredibly different.
St. Louis, Missouri was my home. Fenton, Missouri was where I spent the majority of my days. I couldn’t fully identify with either.
1998 was a pretty cool year for me personally. AOL chat rooms were jumpin’ and I had a circle of black friends at our white school that made me part of a pretty popular crowd. That was a unique time for American society.
Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I was knee deep into two different cultures but fully dedicated to neither. Not too many people gave me a hard time about that, which was wonderful and sort of a new way of thinking.
By day, I was a cool kid that lived in the city but always managed to stay out of trouble. Good for me. By night, I was glued to my aunt’s computer, aimlessly floating around the Internet.
I was intrigued. None of my close friends and family were, but I was.
Technology was becoming a big deal to me and the Internet was blurring the cultural lines I was already having trouble seeing. I was hooked.
What I didn’t exactly realize until later was no one else in my situation was doing the same. The 30+ kids I rode the school bus with from the city were not heading back home to computers. That wasn’t our reality. Sure, the white kids had home computers by that time but they all lived in the county near our school. Home computers were not the norm where I was from.
All through high school, ages 14 to 18, there was a clear separation between city life and county life. Everyone saw the dividing line… except for me. And the deeper I got into things that weren’t part of my city life, the more isolated I became from both ends of the spectrum.
It got to the point where my days consisted of school, practice (of some sport, depending on the season), and the Internet. That’s it.
Because of the contrast, I felt forced to do my own thing. No one else, not even my closest friends, were willing to jump from one side of the fence to the other with me on a daily basis.
Isolation was brewing.
Escape From Reality
Fast forward to just after high school. This is the time we were all waiting for but none of us really understood. For me, though, it was the most confusing thing I had ever gone through.
Straight out of high school at just 17 years old, I attended the University of Missouri (Mizzou). Going to college right after high school was something I picked up from going to school in the county. It felt like the 13th grade. Common sense said to go, so I went.
To make a long story short, I dropped out after one semester. It was a life I was not prepared for. I felt out of place. I felt like an imposter. Once again, I felt like I could not identify with a single person there.
Shortly after dropping out, I joined the Army and left St. Louis for good. This was early 2003. Besides the strange college era, this was the first time I had been out on my own. Though I lived in military barracks, I lived alone. I was free to be me in an environment that cared much less about my address or what school I went to school every day.
After completing my duties on a daily basis, I could choose what I wanted to do with my time. I didn’t have a group of friends to keep up with or a culture to be part of. I had nothing more than my personal computer and a lot of free time.
Folks, all I did was surf the Internet. By 2004, I had over 10,000 posts on a online forum and I was very familiar with how the Internet worked. Though I still used it purely for entertainment, I was spending more time online than I was spending with humans.
Over the next six years, I would serve many overseas tours in the Army and never live in one spot for more than a year. My life was loaded with variables and only one constant, the Internet. It wasn’t long before I wanted to be part of the Internet in a more fulfilling way.
Around 2008, I tuned out the physical world around me and joined the digital one. This shift solidified my feelings of isolation but gave me a place to be where I didn’t feel the pressure to be anyone other than myself.
Fun fact: If you check my wordpress.org profile, that’s the year I joined WordPress.
Take notice that by this time, I’m 24 years old and still haven’t mentioned a single word about being a developer. It was not part of my background. I didn’t know any developers. I had no interest in being a developer (because I didn’t know what it was). Period.
Just Another WordPress Site
“Just another WordPress site” is exactly how my history with WordPress started. If you haven’t already noticed, I like to talk. When I learned that I could have my own website (blog) with WordPress and I could write my thoughts for everyone to see, I signed up.
It wasn’t long before Google and I put together my first self-hosted WordPress site and I was publishing blog posts.
Let’s connect the dots, though.
There’s a reason why I’ve taken you through this long, drawn out story. It was at this point, having my own self-hosted WordPress website, that the Sean you know of today was born.
Finally, at 25 years old and 7 years deep into the Army (which was a planned career at that time), the habit of being isolated and intrigued began to serve its purpose.
I didn’t want to party on the weekends. I wanted to know how websites were built. I didn’t want to play video games with the rest of the Soldiers in my off time. I wanted to dabble in HTML and CSS.
I viewed WordPress as a world of opportunities. I was more intrigued than ever before. Because I was always willing to let that curiosity guide me, I found myself learning how to manipulate WordPress to work for me.
What does that mean for you, or for the person who does not come from a background that naturally leads to this “geeky” stuff? It means how you got here is irrelevant. Likewise, how everyone else got here is irrelevant.
I don’t remember the days when such and such language was written using so and so syntax and could only be compiled with XYZ program. I don’t even know what I just said. I never took a programming class. Not a single person in my family understands what I do. I do not identify with the developer culture at all and I have no history with it.
I was just a guy who stumbled across WordPress and was willing to stay up all night trying to understand what it was.
If you’re in that position now and the difficulties of learning the ropes make you wonder if you are cut out to work with WordPress, I’m here to tell you that absolutely nothing matters outside of the fact that you want to work with WordPress. That’s it.
Sure, I still feel like I don’t belong. I have a severe case of imposter syndrome. But that’s only when I foolishly compare the aforementioned life gibberish to the next developer’s history.
When it’s all said and done, though, why I’m here and why you should be here is really pretty simple. We were intrigued by WordPress and we trusted ourselves enough to pursue.
It doesn’t matter where you’re from. It doesn’t matter how much pressure is on you to be a certain person or have certain interests. If you’re intrigued by WordPress, jump in. The WordPress community will catch you.