Finding Your Way Around WordPress

I gave a talk titled Finding Your Way Around WordPress at WordCamp Boston 2019. Here is the full talk and rough transcript.

Google Slides is a bit weird about emojis, so while I have slides below, you can download better slides here with this link.

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My name is Angela Jin, and I’m a WordPress community organizer. I’m deeply passionate about connecting and empowering people, and recently, I celebrated one year of active participation in the WordPress community.

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Why do I want to talk with you about finding your way around WordPress?

This talk is largely driven by personal experience. I speak with WordPress community members almost every single day, and many of them are new to this space. What everyone has in common  is that they want to add their voice to the internet. WordPress helps them do that. 

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And this is the coolest thing, to see so many people around the world unified by WordPress. As I continued to speak with new users this past year, I quickly learned that everyone finds their way to WordPress differently. The people involved in WordPress have a variety of backgrounds. Layer on top of that all the different cultures, we have many different frames of references and perspectives. Everyone has a unique WordPress story, and that’s a huge benefit to our community as a whole.

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All these people add to the WordPress ecosystem, a vast, intricate, rapidly expanding universe. At the core of this is a powerful content management system. There is a lot of information, and misinformation, out there as to what WordPress is and how we work together. 

Finding your way around WordPress means no matter your frame of reference, I want you to understand that WordPress ecosystem – how WordPress is built, what it even is, and why it is important to get involved.

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To share my WordPress story, and to share my frame of reference, this is me just over a year ago. I was working for a commercial real estate consulting firm where visiting a site meant this – visiting a building being built. 

At this point in time, I’d been using WordPress for eight years and I had no idea this community existed. So when I discovered it…

… it was amazing and overwhelming at the same time. Amazing, because I found myself among passionate, super talented human beings. Overwhelming, because it is challenging to find yourself in a new community to begin with. Add on top of that a global network of individuals, companies, and a wealth of information from every direction, through any media, and on every aspect of WordPress? 

Here is the most important stuff I’ve learned in the past year.

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The WordPress Open Source Project is named as such because that is what WordPress is: powerful Open Source Software.

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What this means is that the WordPress software is licensed under the General Public License, or GPL. And anything derived from core WordPress software, or which requires the core software to run, inherits this GPL license as well. You see this a lot in WordPress plugins and themes. 

This is important because the GPL provides users with four essential freedoms.

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The first essential freedom is the freedom to run the software. Anyone can run WordPress, and for any reason they chose to.

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Essential freedom number 2 is the Freedom to Study. Anyone can study every single line of the WordPress source code if they chose to do so, and modify it so that it does the desired computing process. 

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Essential freedom number three is the freedom to copy and share. WordPress software can be downloaded by anyone, and shared by and with anyone, as many times as they would like. 

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The fourth essential freedom is the freedom to modify. Anyone can download and modify WordPress, and they can distribute modified copies. 

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These four essential freedoms give everyone who uses WordPress full reign over the software, and they are in place forever, so, as Cady Heron says in Mean Girls, “The limit does not exist!”

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But wait! If all of the WordPress open source software is free for download and redistribution, you might be asking yourself, “why am I paying for that one plugin?” or “How does anyone make money with WordPress?”

While the WordPress core software is free, you might pay for some services associated with WordPress. The WordPress ecosystem includes many thriving WordPressers and businesses. Here are some primary ways that people make money from WordPress.

First is Software as a Service. You can purchase services associated with a plugin or theme, meaning that you pay for things like bug fixes, support, or updates, and these services can be limited per site. However, the use of the product itself shouldn’t be limited.

Next is Training. There are a lot of articles, classes, podcasts, etc. out there that teach you how to use WordPress. Some of these are free, and some are not. 

You could also pay for hosting services, as that is often much cheaper and easier than purchasing and maintaining your own servers. 

You also have agency work. If you wanted a custom site but didn’t want to build or maintain it yourself, you might hire a freelancer or development agency to do that work for you. 

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What is the point of Open Source Software and why should you care? We talked about the essential freedoms, which, unlike proprietary software, gives users all the freedom when it comes to sharing their voice on the internet. 

The other benefit of open source software is evident within the WordPress Community. With proprietary software, you have a comparatively small group of people, employed by one company, building all of the software that is very limited for public input. They are driven by an internally set goal that users may or may not know about, and users have no choice but to abide.

Open Source Software has the advantage that anyone who is willing and able can contribute to the software. One principle of Open Source states that “With many eyes, all bugs are shallow”.  Having many eyes, or tons of collective input, is a faster way to identify, report, and fix bugs and to iterate on existing software. It also can take into account more thorough user input on the direction of the software. 

The WordPress Open Source Project has that enormous, global community that works together every single day to contribute and improve the existing project. 

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My colleague, Hugh Lashbrooke, has an excellent analogy for this that I’m going to share with you. Imagine that you’re hosting a birthday party for a friend, and you make some cupcakes. They’re a huge hit at the party, and people are just raving about them. Because you care about your friends, you give them a few cupcakes to take home, and you even share the original recipe. A few weeks later, you visit your friend, who presents you with a modified version of your original cupcake and they made it even better! You decide to incorporate their modifications to your original recipe for future use. You tell all your friends, and they also share with you a few changes they made. Some changes are great, some aren’t some are highly specialize: for instance, your gluten-free friend made your recipe to meet their specific needs. Just a month later, your cupcake recipe has vastly improved from that first iteration, it continues to improve, and versions tailored to individual needs are possible. 

WordPress is this cupcake recipe: there are thousands of people around the world iterating on every single aspect of WordPress, and sharing the WordPress recipe. WordPress now powers around 34% of the internet. Through open source software like WordPress, we as users have the freedom to add our voice to the internet in the way we want and understand. And anyone who wants to provide input as to how WordPress itself continues to evolve can do so. This is an incredibly powerful thing: people like you and I decide not only how we add our voice to the internet, but we decide on how it grows in the future.

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When I say that WordPress is a global community, I mean that there are people around the world working on WordPress. However, the WordPress Open Source Project doesn’t have any employees – everyone is a volunteer! We call these amazing people “Contributors”. Suffice it to say that WordPress would not be what it is today without contributors: people who deeply care about the future of WordPress. These people bring a huge variety of skills, such as software development, design, support, translation, training, content creation, and/or community organizing, just to name a few, and they all contribute with a varying degree of experience. They could be users of WordPress, like bloggers, or builders of WordPress, like a plugin developer. They could be freelancers, or part of a huge agency. There is no one kind of WordPress contributor, and that kind of diversity is incredibly important for building such a powerful tool like WordPress. And we need even more perspectives, skill sets and experience levels if we want to make WordPress as accessible as possible. 

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One question that I personally had when I first joined the WordPress community and now answer regularly is this: Do I need to know how to code to contribute to WordPress? 

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NO! You do not need to be able to code, nor do you need to have any understanding of code to contribute. 

If you can, excellent, that’s definitely a skill the WordPress Project needs, and if you want to learn, this is a marvellous space to do so. You’ll want to learn about PHP, JavaScript, HTML/CSS. But I want to emphasize that there are many other ways to contribute to the WordPress Project outside of code. I really mean it when I say that we need people with a wide variety of skills and strengths to build WordPress. 

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Where do you start if you want to contribute to WordPress? This is the site you want to visit.

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You’ll find all the amazing contributor teams here! These are the teams that build WordPress, that anyone can join at any time. If you have development experience, you might be interested in the Core team, where much of the development work for WordPress is done, but you’re also needed on the Support, Themes, Documentation, and Accessibility, just to name a few. If you know multiple languages, we need you on the Polyglots team. If you’re a Content Creator, your skills would definitely be applicable to teams like Support, Marketing, TV, or Documentation. If you’re all about community building and connecting and empowering people, join us over at the community team. And if you have a mix of any of those skills, we definitely want you as these teams need to work together to make WordPress. 

You’ll find more information about each of these teams on the Get Involved page.

You could also visit a WordCamp with a Contributor Day, where people get together to contribute to WordPress. Different teams will come prepared with an onboarding process for new contributors, and a project to work on that day in person. At the end of the day, each team reports back on what was accomplished. This is often a very fun way to get involved. 

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I’m not suggesting that you join every team. What I am recommending is that you take the time to explore which team you want to join. There is a lot of information on each team online, and every team onboards new contributors on a regular basis.

In deciding to join a team, think about a few different things. What existing skills do you have that you think you could contribute? That might be the easiest place to start: leveraging the skills you already have. Think about the skills do you personally want to build. The WordPress Open Source Project is a great place to learn something new. In order to be a platform for everyone, we need to make it accessible to all experience levels, so if you don’t know how some aspect of WordPress works, being able to ask those questions and get clear answers is important. 

You don’t need to default to what you do on a daily basis, or what skills you want to build: ask yourself, what matters to you the most when it comes to building the future of the internet? What part of that excites you the most, or what are you the most passionate about? 

Figuring out which team addresses your “why” when it comes to the internet is an excellent place to start. 

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When you join a team, you’ll see that we do a lot of work online. We do a vast majority of communication through Slack and team blogs, which you might hear referred to as P2s. All of that is public, and you can join the Slack channels by visiting and following instructions there. 

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You’ll find that the WordPress community is made of enthusiastic, gifted, and opinionated people. In going from an 8-5 physical office to a primarily online, open source community, I’ve had to adjust my communication style a bit. Here are three tips.

The first is to be patient. We’re an online community made of volunteers. Immediate responses are next to impossible, as we each have competing priorities in life, not to mention that we all live in different timezones. Decisions in an open source project take time and if you can work towards patience in collaboration, you’ll have a much more enjoyable experience.

Next, provide lots of context and feedback. If you’ve been working on project, or if you are particularly passionate about something, that’s awesome! You’ve probably invested a lot of time and know the subject matter inside and out, and it’s likely very important to you. However, that is your frame of reference, and your responsibility to share with others if you’re bringing this to them. Provide lots of context so that others better understand you, and add to everyone’s knowledge by answering questions, or providing feedback if you have it. 

Lastly, when in doubt, ask questions, and avoid making assumptions. The WordPress community is made up of mighty helpers. We want to answer your questions! Our global community is also made of individuals: people with different cultures and backgrounds. Instead of assuming what someone does, or that someone shares the same values as you do, ask in a polite and kind way! One example of this is in suggesting deadlines. In a multidisciplinary community, it’s likely that we don’t understand what different people do, and it is surprisingly easy to undervalue the job or the time it takes to make something happen. You as blogger, you might assume that designing a graphic should take no more than a day, but a designer who actually needs to create the graphic might see it differently. A better approach would be to ask your co-contributor how long they think the project might take. 

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I hope that you have a better understanding of WordPress, and that you are inspired to participate in the WordPress open source project. Here is another call to action for you. Go online and search for your city name, along with “WordPress” and “Meetup”. If there is a group near you, attend that meetup, and make some WordPress friends! If not, come chat with me and I would love to help you start a WordPress meetup in your city. In fact, WordPress meetups that meet regularly can eventually organize WordCamps like WordCamp Boston.

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If you’re from Boston, these fine people are the organizers of the local meetup and this WordCamp, and they would love for you to join the local meetup. The first link there is to the group. The Boston Meetup has an open application for speakers, so if you would like to not just attend but give a talk at a local meetup to share some WordPress knowledge, you can submit that talk! 

In any event, joining your local meetup is an excellent start or continuation of your WordPress journey. 

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If you ever have any questions or just want to talk about the WordPress community, I would love to meet you! You can find me online on the main social media streams and on Slack as angelasjin.

Interested in attending a WordCamp? Check out for upcoming events!