WordPress, a Mere Coincidence

When Topher first approached me, I was a bit unsure if my story could be inspiring enough to help others. While writing it, I realised that in some strange way, coincidences end up making sense. My whole story ended up making sense to me.

Once upon a time

I was born in San Nicolás, a mid-sized city which is 240 kilometers away from Buenos Aires, Argentina. Raised in a family in which music, arts and sports were always an essential part of everyday life.

These activities encourage human beings to be creative and participative, and at the same time they are highly formative when it comes to mold people in order to become part of a group, a team, a community.

Being the youngest of 5 siblings, I have always been highly motivated, trying to follow their steps. I still hold the pen wrong because of attempting to draw like my brother while he was learning. He’s 3 years older than me, and I always liked to do things my way :)

My first formal interaction with arts was at the age of 5, doing ceramics. At the same time I was lucky enough to have a computer at home. Having been born during the mid eighties in a third world country, I would honestly say that I’ve been pretty blessed. It’s quite common to see a lot of disparity in these lands.

A couple of years later, my family moved to the suburbs of Buenos Aires. While I wasn’t entirely happy with the move, our new home was quiet and close to nature and I came to like it. The difference in sociability between a big city and a small town people is a sociological feature common to many countries. Argentina and Buenos Aires are in this respect no exception, so despite being a social person I felt a bit of a small shock. To add insult to injury, I also had a new ceramic teacher who wanted me to mold angels. Raised in an agnostic/atheist family, that was pretty demotivating. All I wanted to do was molding Indiana Jones figures.

Hence, I asked my mom to stop with the classes, which gave me more time to make new friends.

At home, we had a 486 computer, running MS-DOS with the black screen command line. That piece of metal and circuits gained my attention. I was deeply intrigued by the things I could do with it. Not only was it a challenge, it also was the medium to interact with my new friends. Every time I went to a friend’s house, we ended up playing some computer game. I started learning some super easy stuff that made me feel like Houdini at that time. I could save a game play, something intangible, on a floppy disk and carry that piece of plastic and magnetic material back home. I was saving the play or game in a square object and then loading that back at home. I now realise, those were my first interactions with computer commands. Without being conscious of it, my friends and I were sharing pieces of code in a unique way.

I remember those days, waking up on Saturdays and feeling the adrenaline of the uncertain. I rode my bike to the newspaper stand and asked for the latest copy of the “Computer Games” magazine. It wasn’t only about games, there was always something new to learn.

Later on, in my teens, Football (what Americans call soccer) took a big part of my time. I also started doing the same things I was doing with floppy disks, but now using cassettes. As a result I dusted an old guitar and started learning to play it in order to start a punk rock band with some friends.

Education has always been important in my family, and thanks to my parent’s efforts, I attended a school where I was taught well. A place where I learned to express myself in another language and that was avant-garde enough to hire a satellite internet connection in the mid nineties, a school where HTML was part of the computer studies program. Hindsight is 20/20, but I must admit that wasn’t common, at least not in Argentina.

Browsing around the Internet opened a new universe in my mind. Again, I need to thank my parents for this one. After an intense season of begging, they yielded and we ended up having our first Internet connection at home back in 1997. This new universe was extremely fantastic and expensive. I needed to make the most of every second online.

Before Google and the search engine revolution, it wasn’t that easy to find stuff online. There were some categorized directories, but nothing more than that. Visiting sites with plenty of animated gifs still reminds me of that. It was a whole new world and one thing led to the other. I started learning a bit of everything: Editing graphics, Scripting, etc. I still remember my first website in the fantastic sunset strip, Geocities.

Trying to become a Pro

Once I finished high school, I moved to the city with my brother, Iñaki. My next stop was studying IT at the University, downtown. The country was a bit revolutionized those days, as a result of one of our deepest economic and social crisis. And being honest, I wasn’t super comfortable with life at the university. I never been that much into the formal ways of studying. And despite having a “geeky” activity, I’ve always been part of non-geeky groups of people. I would say I’m a hybrid in some kind of way.

I felt bored at lectures, so I started working at a software company after a friend asked me. I worked and studied at the same time and in contrast to what I was studying at the university, the job consisted of playing around with the latest technologies of the time. It was way more appealing to work on web stuff than code in Pascal (not to offend any pascal coder).

Fortunately, the company was just setting foot in Argentina those days. Land was fertile. I brought in a good friend from university and thanks to timing and our results, we rapidly started managing teams and projects around Latin America and Spain. It was my first experience with what people usually call “a proper job”, my first time traveling abroad for work, my first time experiencing remote working, managing teams, presenting projects and speaking formally in front of Big Fish. This experience was one of the most fulfilling professional experiences I’ve had. I learned a lot and I was only in my early twenties. The company grew at a fast pace and so did we. We learned how to set up an office, how to hire, and how politics are handled within a large organization. I ended up dropping school at the same time. I felt I didn’t have enough time for everything and I wanted to give a shot to the opportunity I had in front of me. I wanted to learn in the pitch.

I think I made the right decision. I was learning stuff that can’t be found in any bachelor program. I made a valuable realisation that there is nothing special in other places, like Europe. There’s some sort of unfortunate misconception in Argentina at least, that things in the US or Europe are just better per se. Once I had the experience of working in such places, I realised there’s no such thing as a secret sauce. Projects are backed by people’s talent and time, and you can find that on any latitude.

After a couple of years, I felt I reached my ceiling within the organization, I was also unhappy about certain decisions regarding the future of the company and I quit.

It was a bit scary at first. I was 23-24. I wanted to follow my gut, do my own thing. Once I was out of the “corporate” life I had my first entrepreneurial attempt. I created a social network for photo sharing in Latin America. Something similar to Fotolog. Despite shutting the project down, I got to experience how it was to create something from scratch that was used by more than thirty thousand people across Latin America and Spain.

At that time, every “entrepreneur” (I’m not a big fan of that term) had a blog. I didn’t want to be left behind so, I started looking around and found WordPress. I ended up having a blog in less than 5 minutes (wink wink).

Hello WordPress

After shutting down my web two point o project, I went traveling with my brother around Europe for some months. Life was awesome and once the trip ended, he stayed in Germany to get a Masters Degree and I went back home.

Again, a moment in my life in which I found myself surrounded by uncertainty, I was a bit worried about what future could bring. I had some clues, but under uncertainty, the more you ask the less you answer. I started thinking about embracing the following thesis: I didn’t want to be part of a large company, I didn’t want to continue studying and I wanted to travel as much as I could.

Around the same time, a friend asked me if I had time to check a problem they were having at the website of the company he was working for. Coincidentally, their site was powered by WordPress, the simple tool I’d used to create a blog in the blink of an eye months before.

The job was fairly simple. They wanted to save the data received in the contact form. They were already using a very popular plugin, Contact Form 7, to display the form. To complete this project I discovered the Codex and I learned how easy and intuitive it is to create a plugin. I had fallen in love with WordPress.

Though, I was worried about intellectual property. Preoccupation arises. I didn’t understand open source yet and I wasn’t sure if I was actually stealing from others. That was my first interaction with GPL and open source. I was truly amazed by how I could learn from others and improve things created by others or by myself.

That aha! moment. Different signs pointed in the same direction. WordPress was the way to go if I wanted to pursue a dream of traveling, skipping winter, and working at the same time; what we now call a digital nomad. I already knew how to work remotely, I could work for companies located anywhere, as long as they could communicate in English or Spanish.

I started my web agency, where I provided services to small and medium sized companies abroad (USA, UK and Australia). I was on my own at first. I did it all through job portals like Elance, gaining reputation and building strong relationships. The experience couldn’t be better. I was learning, having fun, making a living out of it, and at the same time exploring the world.

It wasn’t until mid 2012 that I discovered and experienced the full power of the WordPress community first hand. In my spare time I was already developing my current project, NiceThemes, and I wanted to attend a WordCamp. I had plans to visit some friends in London. WordCamp UK in Edinburgh, Scotland was going to happen almost at the same time. It sounded like the perfect plan, I went on and bought the tickets. The experience was extremely positive, I got to meet many super talented people, and the atmosphere of the event was insanely awesome. A place where competitors were colleagues. Seeing the humility of somebody like Mike Little, the co-founder of WordPress, was amazing.

While there, unconsciously, I started dreaming with something like that in Argentina.

Back home, while browsing the Codex to resolve one of the many problems I face in my daily tasks, I happened to see that WordPress was turning 10. A lot of meetups were going to be organized worldwide in order to celebrate the birthday. But there was nothing organized in Argentina. That was easy to solve, I clicked a simple button and created the meetup. I wasn’t sure if somebody would join me, but fortunately, I was not alone. Almost at the same instant, Serafin Danessa signed up. He was in a remarkably similar situation.

Together, we organized the 10th birthday meetup. More than 20 people showed up that 27th of May of 2013. Most of us were in the same situation. There was a common denominator. We all loved WordPress, it was part of our day-to-day life. We wanted to share experiences, make new friends and continue growing from what we could learn from others.

That day we were a group of people with shared interests. That’s the simplest way to define a community, isn’t it?

The next step sounded pretty obvious. If we added some organization we would end up having a proper community. That’s what we did. We started shaping what we now call “WordPress Argentina”.

Later that year, winter was coming (wink wink) in the southern hemisphere. I was still on the quest of skipping winter. As my brother was going to be for some months in Washington DC, I arranged things so I could visit him, meet my newly born nephew, and attend one of the biggest WordCamps in the world in San Francisco. As a complement to that I would go to other places I always wanted to visit in the US.

The journey didn’t end there.

I crossed the pond from NYC in order to attend the first edition of WordCamp Europe in the Netherlands (within an itinerary filled with other super cool destinations around Europe).

There’s almost nothing I could write to express what you experience in such events. They are the main WordPress events worldwide. I think it would be similar to what Jerusalem means to many religious people. The best part: I made a lot of good friends from many different places. I’d need a whole new essay to mention all of the great people I met there. I’m glad I have more excuses to continue traveling.

Once again in Argentina, our organization started growing. Thanks to the energy of the whole group and in particular the efforts of Andrés Villarreal, Javi Schvindlerman and Damian Suarez (among others), we started hosting formal meetups.

Everything was falling into place. And here we are today.

We wanted to create an organization independent from its organizers and we’re still struggling with that.

A couple of weeks ago, the 30th of May of 2015, we crowned all these efforts with a new WordCamp in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The event was magnificent, or at least that’s what I felt.

Organizing such an event with the folks I met a couple of years ago, that 27th of May of 2013 for the WordPress 10th birthday, my super awesome friend and colleague at NiceThemes Andrés Villarreal, the insanely talented friends Javi Schvindlerman and Mai Knoblovits from QuadroIdeas among other good peeps from WordPress Argentina, was an experience I’ll always keep with me.

Your own path

Life is about experiences, it is about the people you surround with and trying to do what you love. What you can find in an open source project like WordPress is basically an environment full of people who work with a tool they love. An environment that is ready to help, to give advice and (most of the time) expecting nothing in return.

Hindsight is 20/20. Coincidences can only make sense when looking back. Sometimes all we have is uncertainty. And it is ok to embrace it. It is always better if you reduce the amount of questions and try to move forward.

After writing this and, at the same time, trying to synthesize things into one piece of advice I would say: try to follow what makes you happy, try to be surrounded by people who make you better, try to empower others, try to give back. Try. Make your own path.

In the end we are all amateurs.

I would like to express special thanks to:

  • My good Brazilian friend Rafa Ehlers who thought my experience could be inspiring.
  • The awesome Karen Arnold for encouraging me to write in English.
  • Javi, Andrés, Mai and the good friends at WPArgentina.
  • Topher for inviting me.
  • All of you who reached this line and read the story.

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