I am a trained professional dancer. As in nine years of elite ballet school. If you saw Chris Lema’s presentation at WordCamp Europe 2014 when he talked about dancers dancing on their tippity toes – that was me. All the preparations he talked about regarding the point shoes? I’ve done them, and more. That was once part of my everyday life. I have since then changed genre to contemporary dance and I have over 15 years of experience in the performing arts.
I am also a geek. I have been all my life. Let’s just say that I’m addicted to learning and figuring out how things work.
Me + code = true
I started programming when I did a university course that was meant for artists and computer science graduates to connect and produce new contemporary art. We “artists” got introductory programming classes, we were taught C and the foundations of html+css+php+mysql. I was hooked.
I didn’t have time to go very far into coding though because I kept getting dance gigs. And I felt that dancing came first – I could always come back to the code later. Dance was work, code was for fun.
But the code kept dragging me in. It was something I always did on the side, and when I was in between jobs.
My history with WordPress
I first met WordPress pretty soon after my first couple of websites. I quickly saw the merits of using a CMS instead of coding static html sites by hand. This was about the same time as the web shifted from using tables for layout and started using this exciting thing called CSS.
In my usual manner I downloaded and explored a couple of options that were available at that time. Because PHP was the language I had experience in, I mainly looked at PHP-based solutions. In the end the choice stood between Textpattern and WordPress.
I chose WordPress. And boy am I glad I did.
This was in late 2005 and beginning of 2006. I had no idea at the time how big it would become. My first WordPress version was 2.0.4. I downloaded pages of the codex for studying the template tags – I still have them on a backup hard drive somewhere.
Since I didn’t know about following the development process before the releases in the beginning, new features were almost like little surprise gifts dropped on your doorstep. Any new major feature usually sent me off on an exploration trip to find out how it worked and what I could do with it. Child themes? Ooh, nice! Custom post types? Cool, let’s see what we can do here! Customizer? Ok, let’s move in!
I began hanging out in forums and after I got my own questions answered, I started to answer questions that other people had. There are few things that make you learn more than explaining things to others or helping them solving their problems.
I started contributing to the Thematic theme framework, and in time became one of the lead developers. I learned about following the development of WordPress so I would be prepared for the new stuff before the releases came out. I learned about licensing, backwards compatibility and managing user feedback. I learned many other non-code related things that are important when working as a developer in an open source environment.
But of course I got better at writing code too. And I enjoyed it. Dance was work, code was for fun.
So WordPress and me go a long way back. I have followed it, or it has followed me, for over a decade. I have seen it grow from a small platform among others to powering a big part of the web today.
My secret alter ego
Not many of my artist colleagues know of this passion of mine, and those who do know have very little understanding of what I actually do. The creative crowd is not tech-savvy as a general rule and it’s enough to say that I “work with computers” or “make websites” to finish a conversation.
This has led me to feel pretty lonely at times since I didn’t have any face-to-face friends that shared my interest.
I almost started to feel like I was leading two separate lives.
One physical and one virtual. Either part had no idea of the other part’s existence.
I’m in a way in the same situation as when I started. Dance is work, code is fun. Even though I charge for my services today, it has not been the main source of my income. But I’m in the middle of changing that.
Moving on from moving on stage
I’m at that point in my career when I start to think about moving on. Professional dancers are very similar to professional athletes. And you won’t find any world record breakers in their fifties. While there are certainly examples of “old” dancers who keep on dancing well into retirement age, this is not the norm. Most dancers stop dancing somewhere in their early forties, some switch careers even sooner than that depending on how their body feels and if they are injured or not. Very often this is almost traumatic.
After dedicating one’s life very early on we seldom have any other education to fall back on. We are basically starting work straight from high school, and a school solely focused on honing our craft with very little academic studies.
Finding another job and starting over again is a challenge in and of itself. No education to talk of, and no “normal” work experience to draw from. Add to that the mental aspect of switching to a new career and creating a new professional identity, and you have quite a leap to make.
Thanks to WordPress, I don’t have that problem. I know what I will be doing.
What being professional really means
My process is more of a mindset shift. I have made excuses in the past to myself and to others that I am not a professional web developer since I haven’t been doing it full time. But the truth is that being professional is about the quality of your services, both in the actual delivered code and in how you conduct your business.
We often distinguish amateurs from professionals by whether or not they do it for a living. Full time = professional, part time = amateur/hobbyist. This thinking is flawed.
The amount of time in the day you spend on your job says nothing about the level or the quality of your work.
I need to mentally own the title of a web professional. Just because I’m still learning things doesn’t mean that I don’t know anything. I already know enough to call myself a pro.
It’s a work in progress
My transition journey has begun. I am finding my place in the WordPress ecosystem. I have started to make more connections in the community and I spoke at WordCamp Norrköping 2015. While I still don’t have a lot of time during the weeks, I am using it wisely and strategically to move forward.
I am working on overcoming my impostor syndrome. I do have experience in the field, and my long history with WordPress does have value. I have experience with many different parts of WordPress and this means my knowledge is broad. I want to move away from being a jack-of-all-trades and find my niche.
Part of this also involves moving away from doing smaller brochure websites and get to tackle more complex problems. It has always been the intellectual problem solving that has sucked me back into the digital world.
Lately the business and strategy side of things have received a lot of attention from me. Code in itself is not the important thing, but what problems does it solve?
I’d rather solve the right problem with code that has room for improvement, than solve the wrong problem with perfect code.
When Topher contacted me about writing on HeroPress, I was hesitant at first because I am still in the middle of this journey. It’s not a flip of a switch for me but a gradual transition. I’m not on the other side yet, but I am making progress every month. Come back to me in a year. :)
But even though I haven’t landed yet, WordPress has already made a difference in my life. There will be no harrowing self-searching crisis in trying to find out what to do when I stop dancing. I know what I will be doing. I know I love it since I have done it for such a long time, and I can hit the ground running since I already have years of experience with it.
Fulfilling my purpose in a different way
Almost everyone I meet reacts with surprise when I tell them about the different parts of me. Many seem to think my separate interests have so little in common that I need to have some kind of split personality. But the truth is that they do have something in common.
I love exploring and expanding the limits of my knowledge and abilities. And I use these abilities to make things and ideas come to life.
While my medium might change as I step away from the stage, my core purpose stays the same.
WordPress provides me with comfort and confidence in the future. Leaving the safety of my backyard and stepping out into a dark unknown future is scary. But there is a community out there waiting for me. I will not be alone. For that, I am grateful.