Getting the Help You Need. Hint: It Takes a Village…

We’re a WordPress development shop. It’s a good tool that empowers us to run our business and it empowers us to build solid, easy-to-use business solutions for our clients. Personally, I started using WordPress back in 2009. I didn’t know much about building sites, aside that I could build them from scratch. Whoopee! I was still a hobbyist, when it came to building things on the web. I learned things by doing them; “Googling” them; taking classes where I could etc. And I would plod along, absorbing what information I could. I wasn’t really spending a lot of my time doing web-related stuff because it wasn’t my job, I already had one of those full-time gigs.

As my experience grew, I built my first site on this thing called “WordPress” and what I didn’t realize then is that it would change my life. Yes, it’s true. WordPress changes lives.

Experience is Learning You Don’t Know As Much As You Thought…

While I was diving head-first into WordPress, I saw this wonderful landscape full of so much wonder. The phrase “There’s a plugin for that…” always echoed in my head, as I looked for plugins to help do all these crazy things I wanted to achieve. And it was good…. Until I hit a roadblock…

I wanted to start accepting guest posts on my blog and provide a front-end solution for article submissions. Sure, there’s a ton of ways to do this. But I didn’t know what all of them were and my Google-fu wasn’t delivering the answer I sought.

I was stuck!

What’s a person to do? A co-worker had mentioned Hiking Meetups that he had been going to; I’d even attended a couple of these so-called Meetups. An idea hit me: “Why not look for a WordPress Meetup?” Duh!! Well, in Southern California, we’re very lucky. We have Meetups on top of Meetups for WordPress like it’s a National sport! It’s a good problem to have.

I found a Meetup, based out of Huntington Beach and so I went. As I walked through the doors, this guy, Steve, asks “Can I get you a beer?” I knew I was in the right spot. I mean, yes, the beer was great, but here was this friendly guy facilitating the event, very personable and willing to help. Within minutes I had a ton of suggestions to address my front-end form submission questions. For your information, the solution involved a plugin that rhymes with Gravity Forms along with their User Registration add-on.

That first couple of hours was pretty inspiring. There were so many people sharing what they knew and I was learning things I didn’t even really care about knowing; I had a brain-freeze moment. Sure, I’m perpetually having a brain-freeze moment everyday, but this was different. I came away from that first meetup empowered, brimming with knowledge and a desire to put it to use and so I went and began applying myself…

I Still Don’t Know as Much as I think I do, But I do Know This…

Fast-forward a few years, I attended some WordCamps. My first one was in Orange County. I continued to learn and more importantly I began to meet with and talk to people who knew a lot more than me (they still know a lot more than me). I asked questions, I soaked up what I could. Thing is that I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing, being a sponge, that is. I learned workflows; I learned methods; approaches; opinions, how to save money by simply picking up the phone and making a call rather than sending an email.

I was chatting with so many people and learning so many things that the sheer knowledge dump was staggering. The crazy thing is that these people did it on the cheap; meaning they did it for free. I didn’t have to pay them. That was nuts to me.

That’s when I truly “Got the Community” side of WordPress. You’ll hear it from just about everyone in the community. More than the software, the community is what really pushes WordPress ahead and makes it a joy to work with. When I really got what the community was and how it had shaped my life, I knew that I needed to give back because I had gained so much from it. What I didn’t realize is that by giving, too, I’d continue growing my skills and knowledge bank.

I now organize a pair of Meetups in my neighborhood along with some other great people. I also co-organize a WordCamp, also with some great people. And putting myself in a position to give back is its own huge reward. It’s cliché, but it’s true: Tis better to give than to receive. Giving some of my free time each month to help others out is something that I’m happy to do and grateful to be able to do. Helping people empower themselves is something I never thought I’d enjoy as much as I do. It’s unexpected benefit of diving into a community.

Bringing it all Home…

Last night, we had our monthly WordPress General Meetup in Pasadena. One of the attendees asked: “How do I fill the gap of knowledge between the beginner and advanced level WordPress developer?” In other words, where can one find intermediate help?

The question brought me back to that point  many years ago where I knew much more than just being dangerous, but far less from an “expert” that could make WordPress dance, sing and contort to their will…

Simply put, just showing up to events where “WordPress people” go is a good thing. Whether its’ beginner or advanced, you’ll get something out your attendance.

Talk to other WordPress developers. Ask them to look at your code; ask them for their Skype information, hit them up on their approach to projects, problems and more. Tell developers that you’re looking for small projects to work on. Getting hands on experience is a great way to level up your own knowledge base. You learn while helping others. How great is that?

More than anything, just getting involved in your community is a key to growth.

Now, I realize that for some, a community may not exist. In the absence of a physical community, you need to take the web and find communities to be a part of. Two in particular that jump out to me is the Orange County WordPress Facebook Group and also the Advanced WordPress Facebook Group. Both great places to get started!

Whether your aim is to become a stronger developer, or to learn about the tools to help you run your business, getting involved in your local or online communities will help you achieve those desires to improve. As I finish writing this, I just received an email from a person who attended that meetup last night. It reads

 I met you at the WordPress meetup on Thursday night. I am a beginner to WordPress and looking to learn more anywhere from interning to watching you or someone else work.

Looks like I have some work to do. =)

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