WordPress Shouldn’t be Learned in Isolation

Chris Lema wrote a blog post.

Surprising, I know. But there’s a particular one that I keep going back to and it has guided me for the past couple of years.

It was January 2013. In the process of trying to rebuild my life I had made a decision to pursue computer programming of some sort. I considered many alternatives and I really don’t remember how or when I decided to focus on WordPress, but I found myself at WordCamp Phoenix – my first ever WordCamp.

Being my first introduction to the WordPress community, I was blown away. I had attended other developer events, but the friendly atmosphere and inspiration I got from the program and other participants at WordCamp was just something I’d never experienced before. It was the first place that I’d ever been that a wannabe programmer like myself was welcome and encouraged.

Of course Chris Lema was speaking there, so I discovered his blog and an article he had (at the time) recently written called Become a WordPress Ninja in 1400 Days. He laid out the fact that this doesn’t happen overnight and there is a natural progression to it. Chris’ plan seemed suited to my situation and it was understandable, realistic, and manageable, so I jumped in.

At the same WordCamp I had also met Natalie MacLees who encouraged me to start a local WordPress meetup. Being the type of person who does such things, I kicked one off shortly after I got back. I was hoping to find other people who were interested in learning WordPress. It didn’t turn out that way for so many reasons. The small group (the most that ever attended was 12 folks) disbanded within six months. This meant my nearest WordPress meetup is about four hours away.

So I took courses from lynda.com, teamtreehouse.com, codecademy.com, codeschool.com, and any others I could find. I went through HTML, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, and even a few PHP/MySQL courses. I always could follow along with what was being taught, but none of them (at that time) really addressed WordPress specifically. It always felt like an overwhelming challenge to convert courses into real WordPress projects. Having no local resources to hook into made it feel like a daunting, lonely endeavor.

Having had such a wonderful experience at WordCamp Phoenix, I craved the information and camaraderie that seemed only available at WordCamps. I committed to going to as many as I could – well, actually way more than I could afford if I’m honest. I get that not everyone has the same chance or is willing to make the same sacrifices I did to attend WordCamps, but in my world there were very few things that were a higher priority. Very few.

I think I’ve managed to get to 14 WordCamps between then and now, and I’ve even managed to speak at a few. Once again, the WordPress community encouraged me to do so and pushed my boundaries. I’ve always attended the developer tracks and contributor days if they were offered, even if they were over my head. I may not have always understood what was being talked about, but slowly over time the different pieces started coming together. Plus, the best thing about any WordCamp is the people you meet, whether new or existing friends. Being able to talk to people who speak your language is priceless.

I made a point to stay in touch with those people after WordCamps. Twitter is a great place to keep the conversation going. IRC, Skype, and Slack can be useful for that too. I’ve learned so much just from watching conversations among people whom I’ve never met. Recently at WordCamp Minneapolis I was introduced to the term “unknowing mentor” and I feel it really captures the essence of that experience. It’s another aspect of the WordPress community that anyone can tap into.

I’m on roughly day 825 of the 1400-day plan. I haven’t followed it exactly, but it still gives me direction. With the help of the WordPress community, I’m currently attending a WordPress-specific course that I believe will finally help me take all the bits and pieces I know and put them together. That wasn’t part of the 1400-day plan, but I am so grateful to have been given this opportunity. (More details can be found over at juliekuehl.com.)

If you’re feeling isolated and frustrated with learning WordPress, reach out on Twitter to me or others. WordPress is known for, and I think takes pride in, being a gateway for people to go as far as they want from blogger to user to power user to consultant to junior designer/developer to full-on designer/developer. Take it as far as you’d like. It’s a road you have to walk yourself, but there are others who are happy to walk by your side. They’re the heroes. And so are you.