What’s it like to be a product evangelist in the WordPress space? And how do you get to be one? Find out from Jamie Schmid.
Jamie Schmid has a particular passion for creating excellent content experiences. Originally from Milwaukee, WI, she has been working as a WordPress freelancer and consultant since 2012, regularly taking sites from conception through a well-managed build process that encourages communication, planning, and smart use of content. She has a background in Information Architecture and Content Strategy plus a big ol’ enthusiasm for all things WordPress. Now living in Portland, Oregon, Jamie is a Community Evangelist for SiteLock, travelling the country and helping build awareness of website security best practices and solutions.
DK: How did you first get involved with WordPress and the WordCamp circuit, and what was your path from developer to evangelist like? Are there things you miss about development work?
JS: Ooh, everyone loves this question, don't they? We've all taken our own serendipitous paths to get here. In 2011 I was a front-end developer at a small agency in Milwaukee, learning WP dev through the forums, Stack Exchange, tutorials, the Codex, so I knew there were lots of helpful and selfless WordPress people out there, but I didn't realize there was a WordCamp community until a few years later.
My agency was primarily a .NET shop that took on large projects requiring five or more people — and months or years — to complete. But the rest of the projects we took on were for smaller businesses, and those went to me. It was actually an amazing job. Because with WordPress, I could take a site design and build it out into a fully-featured website ready to go live in a few months (and usually less). I started to realize that a lot of the issues I'd run into could be traced back to decisions made higher up in the chain. In trying to make my job easier, I began asking questions to help me understand the decisions that went into the instructions I was given. Which led to better decisions and a better website build process, and I saw my role evolve from front-end developer to website architect. That's what I was passionate about enough to preach to strangers at my first WordCamp, WCMilwaukee 2013, and the friends and connections I made there brought me into the community.
My first time hearing of evangelism was meeting Suzette Franck when she was an evangelist for Media Temple at WC Chicago 2014. I had no idea there was a job out there that actually paid for you to talk at and attend WordCamps, two of my favorite things in the world! So when SiteLock asked me to come on as Community Evangelist I knew it was just what I wanted to do. It's a LOT of work, and I'm now in a Marketing department which is very different from a Dev department, so I'm learning every day, and it's hugely rewarding. I love talking with people who use our products, getting feedback (and praise!), and just generally educating everyone on website security. I've had the opportunity to give more talks already this year than the past few years combined, and it feels really great to know I'm able to help people on their own WordPress journey.
Fortunately, I am still able to do freelance design and development work, so it thankfully wasn't a tough decision of “pick one, evangelism or web development!” It's really important to me to keep up that knowledge and continue learning. Web security gets VERY technical also, so there is no lack of challenges for me in this job.
What are the biggest changes and/or consistencies you've observed in the WP community over the years? Do you have any hopes (or predictions) for the future?
Wow, has it been six years already?? My first impression of WordCamp was at the Speakers' dinner, which then solidified over the next two days: “EVERYONE knows each other here! How?” And within about a month, I also felt like I knew everyone too. The way WP comes together as a community is pretty unique in the space, and that's still going strong today. Everyone knows each other, and we all welcome newbies with open arms.
One big thing I've noticed is there are more speakers travelling to WordCamps outside of their own state than there used to be. WordCamps were originally started as local community events, but they're so fun and a great way to get together with people you normally only talk to online, many people are travelling to them now. Even people paying out of their own pockets just to go! It's worth it!
I've seen the Evangelist role growing too, with more businesses realizing they need to have real people giving back real value to the community in order to thrive here. And I think that's great! WordPressers can smell selfish marketing from a mile away, and we even have rules against it in the WC speaker guidelines. And that's just the selfless theme that we all flourish under, asking how can I help YOU instead of the other way around.
Was this year's WPCampus event your first? Any impressions you'd like to share about it and the higher education opportunities involving WordPress?
WPCampus was AWESOME! It was my first one! The talks were superb, the presenters were super knowledgeable and experienced. I love higher ed! I did six years of schooling in it myself, and I've seen all kinds of issues with higher ed sites. WPCampus is such a valuable conference, I could easily see it doubling in size. Basically, any campus using WordPress will learn so much from this weekend. And you can't understate how GOOD it is to get together with people facing your same problems and frustrations — and sharing the successes!