This is the story of a woman (me) whose tech journey began in the early 80’s and whose first interaction with a computer was as a data entry clerk in the days when punch cards were all the rage. For those of you who have never heard of punch cards, they were stiff paper cards that transmitted data based on where little rectangular holes in the paper had been “punched out.” (The image at the top of this post is what a punch card looked like). Essentially, as data was typed, holes were created in the card. Large stacks of punched cards were then fed into a mainframe and read into the system. Needless to say, if you made a typo, you had to start all over with that card because once punched, that hole couldn’t be magically restored.
Side note: Making a mistake and having to re-punch a card was difficult enough, but there was a bigger disaster that happened all too frequently. Stacks of cards, hundreds placed in a specific order, were arranged in cardboard boxes, and piles of those boxes were then carried over to the building that housed the giant mainframe computers. I’ll let you imagine the look of horror on my face each time I tripped and dropped boxes of cards, in which the cards spread out over the ground in disarray – and out of order. And no, they weren’t conveniently numbered, so they couldn’t be re-ordered.
I won’t bore you with all the details between then and now, so let’s do a rapid overview. Although I was in college, majoring in English Education during that punch-card time of my life, the work I was doing as a student worker fascinated me far more than reading Shakespeare did. Once I graduated from LSU (Louisiana State University), I ditched the thought of teaching high school and raced across the country instead to live and work in San Francisco, California. I didn’t have a job or a place to live when I packed up the car and drove away, but that’s what reckless young people do, I suppose. I just assumed both would be waiting for me, somewhere, once I arrived.
As it turns out, it was a little more complicated than that. Getting a job wasn’t all that difficult. Finding a decent place to live was much more complicated but not impossible. Over the 13 years that I lived in the Bay Area, I lived as close to the beach as possible, in the Sunset district, in the Haight, as far south as Pacifica, and as far north as Guerneville. In that time, I did everything from data entry at chocolate and cheese companies, worked as an order processor at Autodesk, was an office assistant at Korbel Winery, and I eventually learned to code using a language called Revelation (later ARev) at a marketing company.
ColdFusion: From Hot To Cold
Eventually I made my way back home to Louisiana. There, I taught myself ColdFusion so I could create dynamic websites for a network of local newspapers.
Side note: This is also the first time I ever had to deal with a hacker who injected a – let’s call it an inappropriate animated body part – graphic into our newspaper’s website. Fun times.
And then, sometime around 2001 or so (who remembers exactly), I was laid off, and ColdFusion jobs dried up. PHP kicked CF to the curb, and I was left with a few ColdFusion apps I’d written that I thought I’d try to sell on the web. It didn’t take long to realize that I needed to learn something called SEO if I wanted to get people to find my no-name site. And down the SEO-hole I went. Far, far, down.
WordPress: Perfectly Cool
Within 2 or 3 years, I was fully established as an SEO and was one of the first SEO bloggers on the web. At that point, I was running my own hand-coded blog platform, but I’d heard about this blogging platform called WordPress in the various SEO forums I moderated. By 2005, I’d decided to ditch my hand-coded CMS and jump fully into WordPress.
Let’s condense the next 15 years down into a short summary. I created WordPress sites for clients, taught people how to “make money online” with WordPress, consulted businesses who needed an online presence, and in the process, created and managed thousands of WordPress sites over the years. All self-hosted, of course.
Dramas and Rants
During that time, the consultations often included recommendations on where to host, what plugins and themes to use, and all of the various decisions one normally makes when starting a new WordPress website. Also, during that time, Automattic came into existence, as did WordPress.com. In the beginning, WordPress.com had some fairly serious limitations, so I never included it on my list of recommendations. And while I always admired Automattic and its CEO, Matt Mullenweg, specifically, I didn’t always agree with decisions made by either. Matt commented on a few of my blog posts over the years, ones in which I was critical of some decision or other. The latest one I can recall was a post (which no longer exists) in which I ranted about how the yet-to-be-released Gutenberg was going to destroy the world or something to that dramatic effect. Looking back, I wasn’t completely wrong about the fact that Gutenberg wasn’t “good enough” at the time, but it definitely did not destroy the hundreds of thousands of sites that I predicted would happen.
Flash forward to 2020, in the middle of a pandemic and the craziest year for the entire world, and change began again.
I’d been happily working remotely for one of the largest WordPress plugin companies in the world when the opportunity to work for Automattic – and WordPress.com specifically – came to my attention. I hadn’t looked at WordPress.com in many years, so when I created my first new site there, I was astonished to see all the changes that had happened since I’d last tried it out.
The first thing I realized was that all the old limitations that I’d warned about in the early days were no longer there. Of course, the free plan has some limitations, naturally, but some paid plans were practically limitless, and functionally as good as or better than any self-hosted implementation of WordPress. I say better because WordPress.com’s paid plans include some really sweet integrations that would normally be addons (often paid addons) that would have to be implemented separately on a self-hosted site. It turns out that WordPress.com is a really powerful platform! I could talk all day about all the great features that now come with a WordPress.com site, but it’s enough to say that I was so impressed that I wanted to be a part of the Automattic and WordPress.com team. People who know me well would never have expected me to make that jump, but here I am, and I love it!
Side note: I’ve also grown quite fond of Gutenberg, too, as it has also improved over the years. It’s important to recognize that even this old dog can admit that I don’t know everything and maybe I might even be wrong now and then, just as I was with both Gutenberg and WordPress.com.
These days, my work with WordPress seems light years away from my first experience with punch cards, but one thing has never changed. My fascination with computers and technology and all things “web” is still as strong as ever, and WordPress in all its forms has contributed to everything I’ve aspired to do in the last seventeen years. I ❤ WP.