Freed from the Soil Lab

WordPress has played a role in saving my life, extending it beyond where things were headed in 2006. Yeah, I’m looking back at a decade of WordPress and how it has impacted me and hundreds of people connected to me and you’re invited to ride along.

Origin story

My introduction to WordPress happened because I have a bad enough memory that I wanted to “log” my first World of Warcraft character’s progress. I started “logging” my virtual life on Blogger, of course, which made me a blogger at that point. This is back when people like your girlfriend and future in-laws snickered when you said “I’m a blogger.” Within a week or two, I hated Blogger as a platform. I coughed up about $50 for a year of hosting and $10 for a domain and managed to FTP up this thing called WordPress 1.5.2 to the host.

I was hooked.

Within a month, WP 2.0 released with a redesigned backend with WYSIWYG editing and an image uploader. I started blogging every day, sometimes 2-3 posts per day and spun up new blogs. This code I was seeing was completely new, since I’d only ever seen HTML before I entered the world of construction material testing and cubicle dwelling. The PHP stuff broke my site when I edited and I could play with the CSS for about a week before I had to upload a new theme and start over again.

Before too long, I was seeing comments on my posts that were WordPress support questions from fellow gamers who had also started blogs. I learned as much as I could about the dashboard options and how they interacted with each other. Before too long, I was doing volunteer support for a couple of theme shops in 2008 and quit my cushy government contractor job to join a theme startup as the first Customer Service Manager.

Stretching my wings

I went back to full-time college to wrap up my 4-year degree in Professional and Technical Writing while working mornings, evenings, and weekends on support. On Groundhog’s Day of 2009, I created my company website, started the LLC paperwork, bank stuff, and was busy swearing at Thesis Theme because I didn’t know what these files were supposed to do compared to all of the themes I’d seen before, but I had a paid job for $3,000 to do and I was going to do it.

Turns out, I had a lot of friends with money who had been waiting for me to have free time. Free time was all I had at that point, so I asked them to send me money and I’d put up come binary things in exchange.

One thing led to another, led to another, and I found myself at WordCamp Orlando 2009. I distinctly remember a handful of people you might recognize the names of: Chris Cree came down from Savannah, Syed Balkhi was a tall, skinny dude like me (skinny, not tall, quite the opposite), Geno Church, and several guys from Voce were there. I spent an hour or so with Syed in the Genius Bar by the front door for an hour or so and learned about WP Beginner and what his plans were for it. I’d say that turned out pretty well.

Also in attendance: Matt Mullenweg, in the flesh. I ventured into the developer track for a while, which is where I learned how people pronounce SQL, and after one of the sessions, Matt came in and sat directly behind me, most of the way back in the room. Not knowing what came over me, I turned around in my seat and thanked him for forking WordPress and thus creating a new economy that allowed me to work from home and support my family. I doubt he remembers that, but my gratitude ran deep that day and I still reflect on that encounter pretty often.

The rest of the story

WordPress, directly and indirectly has completely changed the course of my life and my family’s circumstances and makeup. It’s been a journey, and one that I never would have been able to predict even a portion of except home ownership.

What started with blogging had morphed into learning about this platform that everyone wanted to use. That led to the stay-at-home job. Big deal? Lots of people reading this work from home.

What I don’t put in my Twitter bio or go around whining or triumphing about every day is that I have cystic fibrosis, so to work outside or get up extra early to do 2 hours of medications before beating the rush hour traffic at 6am (or even 5am) had been slowly draining and darn near killing me.

For three years, I was a lab specialist for construction material testing. Before developments and roads are built, they need to know what is under the construction. If they dig, tests for “natural ground” density needs to be done every 1-3 feet to ensure minimal settling. Asphalt analysis. Concrete strength testing. Clay soil analysis. I did it all. It was dirty and dirt has bacteria… and lots of it. After I had sinus surgery (my 11th since the 3rd grade), I was never able to work a full day again. The dust and pressure changes from outside to air conditioning to opening the oven doors or walking into the concrete cooler was too much.

It wasn’t much better at my cubicle job that followed, also for the next three years. While it was sitting down and cushy, it was very high demand and was stressful to climb the corporate ladder. One project demanded a 100 hour sprint at the end. I slept about 6 hours in the last three days and had management bring me pizza before they left for the day. During my last year there, I was on IVs every 3-4 months. It was a pain to go to the office hiding my supplies and it was impossible the one time I was ordered on oxygen, which was really embarrassing to lug through the huge building to my desk on the 2nd floor.

When I reached a glass ceiling, I moved on to work from home with WordPress.

After months of insomnia and stress starting Petersen Media Group, I got it together, gained 35 pounds, and thus began my six-year streak without IV antibiotics, which is my current streak and still growing, six times longer than any previous streak in my 37 years.

That healthy streak would not have been possible while holding down my office job. I owed that opportunity to working from home using WordPress in the best ways I knew to make a living, which has obviously evolved since 2009, but still using WordPress every day.

Running my own business also allowed for rapid income growth year to year, so in early 2011 I had grown tired of how my wife was being treated at her office job and we were in a position for her to stay home and be a stay-at-home wife. A few months later, we decided to look into adopting out of the foster care system. After one training class, we changed our status to the foster track instead of the adoptive track.

Thus began fostering

In late April 2012, we got our license and that night we got a call for a toddler boy. He stayed the night and after lunch, they said he was clear to go home. The phone rang a few minutes later and they said that when that boy left, another was on his way. He arrived close to midnight and it was love at first sight. We dropped everything and gave him the best we had. After 6 months, without completing their parenting classes, the courts ordered him back home. That was the worst day of our lives and the day we decided we saw him as family and wanted to adopt him.

We went through 6 months of depression and trying placements that didn’t work because they weren’t like him, so we started going to counseling. I tried to get projects done. It sure was quiet enough. On Mother’s Day, 6 months after he was reunited home, we got a call to come pick him up. That was our best day up to that point, but we were so guarded not knowing how long we’d have.

As it turns out, we became a forever family in May of 2015, and then that became our best day. He’s just awesome and doing great in school, and he looks like me, so there are no questions asked when we are out, which is definitely best for his situation.

The rest of the rest of the story

The Petersen boysWe returned from a family wedding in Texas in October last year, just months ago. A baby boy had been born but was in the NICU and they wanted to know if we could take him when he got out until they had a court date. When he was released, we drove across the state and picked him up from the NICU ourselves. He had red hair. That night, I named him Parker. A good, strong geek name.

This one is a long story for a short time, but we are now his adoptive family, awaiting our own court dates. It was as completely unexpected as my tachycardia in December and the heart surgery I had done in January to fix it.

Can you see any of this working out if I still was a cubicle dweller? No, this is all possible because I can work from anywhere whenever there is time and space to concentrate enough on the task I’m being paid for.

This is how WordPress has the ability to change our lives. Some people are blogging or guest writing or content marketing or doing SEO or building themes or plugins. Some people are educators of WordPress or speak on business topics or write books. Entire hosting companies host only WordPress and the same goes for support companies.

Since starting our business, I’ve learned to operate in extrovert mode, get comfortable in front of a teleprompter and do screencast courses, and speak in front of crowds of hundreds of warm bodies who can throw things at me.

Now we’re supposed to pivot to learn JavaScript. I also need to learn object-oriented programming to keep up with my peers.

Working in the WordPress community is about growing. By growing, it changed my life and has probably already saved it. More than once.


  1. Jesse,

    I had to fight the tears reading this. My grandson (now 22) has CF and got a double-lung transplant in May of 2014.

    It gives me hope to see that you can have a thriving family and work from home in a condition that allows you to self-treat, have a wonderful marriage, and a family.

    I think it’s awesome WordPress gave you the freedom to do that.

    This post needs to be on the #ILoveWP page.

    1. Thanks for being such a recent fan of things “Jesse” recently, Bridget. Talk about a small world! I have an old post on my CF site that I take offense to the label “CF sufferer.” Suffering is a state of mind and body that can largely be mitigated with attitude, and definitely shouldn’t be a label.

      If your grandson ever needs a geek beacon or pep talk, you know where to find me.

    1. And I loved your post, Amanda. When I’m having a sucky health day, my mind frequently goes to you, unable to imagine doing what we do with a visual disability. Regardless of specifics, it’s more proof of how WP rocks for people of all physical abilities.

  2. I definitely can’t write as elegantly as you Jesse, but I can say you were a great mentor and a straight shooter. For those who don’t know, Jesse was working with Valet (formerly WP Valet) taking on some large Genesis projects. After working with him for a while it was obvious he didn’t want his CF to define him. Want to know why? Because I didn’t even know he had CF for sure until I met him in person. I remember going up to give him a hug and mentioned how tiny he was. He quickly replied mentioning something about CF and I didn’t even know what it was, so I spent that night researching. Wow, thinking back, the most I ever heard him complain was, “rough cough today.” He’s honestly been an inspiration for me and I’ve learned so much about Genesis. That’s where he’s made his mark. (highfive)

    Love you bro,


    1. Thanks Dylan. Best comment ever… like out of 3800 comments since 2006. Elegant enough to make me verklempt.

      Love you, too. Keep rocking out what you’re doing. You’re going to go far, far, far because you care about what you work on and aren’t happy settling for average or status quo.

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