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WordPress Origin Stories, Week 2

This is part of our ongoing celebration of the 20th Anniversary of WordPress.

Aubrey Portwood

In 2007, I was offered a job at my university with the business department and was hired to help someone there (a technical writer) help keep the website running. Within my first week, I had them sold on ditching the hard-coded HTML and CSS templates and instead go for a CMS that I was going to design myself. Let’s just say that was fun-and-all but became very hard to maintain. 

I then set out to find a replacement. As a past user of Movable Type, I opted to use that first, but the IT department said no due to some technical restrictions. I then set out to look for a pure PHP alternative and found WordPress. I installed it on my netbook and found it was exactly what we needed! I started building a branded theme for the department, and we quickly became the people everyone at the university was coming to for help with their websites. Why? Because WordPress was easy compared to hard-coded HTML and CSS! 

This led to many upgrades to the original theme and the development of customized plugins for other departments (and stable jobs for me along the way). The juicy part of this story was that I had not known that the university was developing (and distributing) its own custom CMS and a small war broke out between the departments using WordPress (and me) and the IT department at the university. I preached that the future would be WordPress! 

All this helped me land my dream job at WebDevStudios, where I continued to work with WordPress for over seven years. I now work for AwesomeMotive as a Senior developer focusing more on plugin development. I dabble in other things here and there, like NextJS, etc. But as long as I can, I’ll be building WordPress things for the foreseeable future.

Chris Eller

I confess I didn’t start with WordPress. I began in 1990/91 creating basic HTML web pages (CVs) for faculty on Cal State University web servers. I did not know where this thing was going to take the world. It was easy back then, and it only got more complex with every new language and platform appearing and disappearing. I thought VRML was the thing and dove into that… oh, what could have been… 

Eventually, I hung out a “Me Do Websites” shingle and literally started door-knocking businesses in the mid-1990s. IT was so easy to get work back then. Everybody wanted a website. I was lucky too. I landed a gig managing a website for a networking company in Santa Clara, CA. My hard work there opened the doors to me becoming the developer/designer/webmaster for all of their clients! Back then it was all raw HTML/JavaScript, text editors, and everything was done in Photoshop 3. The great news is that these client sites were on the Networking Company’s light speed fast, mega-buck SGI server, right at one of the largest nodes in the Internet. 

Skipping, skipping, skipping my gigs started turning into websites based on Classic ASP and even DotNetNuke! Eventually, I hosted all my clients on IIS (starting with NT 3.5!) and the handmade ASP sites, which then became ASP.NET C# and ended up as (expensive) Telerik Sitefinity websites. Along the way, I worked for a great company (Datalicious 1998-2001 Dot Bomb), where we literally built our own custom CSM platform for all of our clients using ASP Classic. 

Then a client asked if I could help him with his WordPress blog. Blog? WordPress? I don’t think so. I wouldn’t deign to step down to that. Of course, I said yes. “I’ll help you.” He gave me his admin login, and I discovered this little framework everyone thought was a blogging platform was actually a full-blown, ready-to-use CMS Content Management System–which was FREE! I like to sleep on everything. So, the next day I slept in until 4 AM and confirmed my plan to move all my clients off of Sitefinity. That was 2007. I’ve never looked back. 

Since then, I’ve used so many hosts… Tip: When you chose a host, you’re choosing their support and service capabilities as much as their hardware and network. Today I use WordPress, CloudFlare, and premium managed hosting for all clients. And, of course, my favorite, reliable, and fast themes and plugins to begin each new site.

Lawrence Ladomery

I first came across WordPress when searching for a CMS to power a personal site. This must have been around 2007 or 2008. But I decided to use another open-source CMS called Textpattern, which was (at the time) more non-dev friendly. 

It eventually entered my life in 2010 when I started working for an advertising agency. We built some really cool websites for a number of big brands here in Australia. A dev was doing all the work, but I had the opportunity to figure out how things came together. 

I fell in love with WordPress in 2017. This is when I joined a local web hosting company and looked after marketing for their WordPress hosting brand. In all honesty, I didn’t fall in love with the platform but with the community. I was lucky enough to attend (as a sponsor) two WordCamps. 

In 2019 I started working for a US-based WordPress hosting provider – a new player with a unique solution, so a super-interesting challenge from a marketing perspective. I started to meet more people in the ecosystem and make connections, and I joined Post Status, too. 🙂 

I’ve been freelancing since August last year and have helped a couple of plugin devs with marketing. I’m also working on a side project – WP BizDev – a job board for marketing and sales roles for WordPress businesses.

Patrick Rauland

My first job out of university was developing custom PHP websites. We built custom content management systems (CMS) for local businesses all over town. And they were actually pretty great. They give site owners access to one or two parts of their site that they wanted to update frequently. But after a while, I got tired of rebuilding login pages, rebuilding file uploads, and spending 8 hours integrating with PayPal. That’s when I decided to try WordPress again. 

I tried WordPress prior to version 3 and didn’t get it. But now I knew how much time I could save just by not rebuilding login pages. We started building some of the cheaper sites with WordPress, and then we started building some of the bigger and more complex sites with WordPress. 

At this point, I started learning how to take my custom PHP and package it into WordPress plugins that could be reused between sites. Then I started using Git for file control. (Before this, we lived in the dark times of saving PHP files in a separate folder.) Then started using GitHub to send pull requests to WordPress projects. 

I applied to WooThemes and got a job as a Support Ninja. I did that for about a year before moving on to developer, and only a couple months after that, I moved to be the Product Manager for WooCommerce. I absolutely loved talking with store owners and trying to solve their problems with software. 

Since then, I’ve become obsessed with e-commerce as a way to help people run their own businesses. I created a ton of courses on LinkedIn Learning, as well as offered my own e-commerce consulting. I launched my own physical product (Fry Thief) on Kickstarter just to understand the process. I’ve worked for a few more companies in the meantime, but my real passion is helping people start their own businesses, and I hope I can keep doing that throughout my career. 

WordPress simplified the mundane. Spend less time building login pages and more time developing custom functionality. And WordPress unlocked e-commerce for small merchants giving them the power to run their own businesses. That’s what I’m here for, and I love it.

Robby McCullough

My first experience with WordPress was around 2010, when I was in my early twenties, working hourly jobs that didn’t feel like they had much of a future. I was building websites on the side as a hobby, learning about SEO, and trying to make a few bucks running AdSense ads. Around that time, I remember going to see Matt Mullenweg give a “soapbox” talk at a little-known local agency called Zurb – before they became a household name in the web industry from their Bootstrap framework competitor, Foundation. 

One of my more successful but short-lived web projects was a guitar tab site that utilized new web font technology to make a more aesthetic notation for guitar music. I created a WordPress blog to write and share the experience of building the site and new features and upgrades with the community there. About a year into running the site, I got a very threatening letter from the MPAA, a.k.a. Music Publishers Association of America, informing me that all of my content infringed on copyrights and that I had to take the website down or they would sue me. This wasn’t long after the Napster pirate MP3 era. 

Sadly, I shut down the website that I had worked so hard on, but kept my knowledge of web and WordPress and used the experience to land a job at a web design agency that would later become the birthplace of Beaver Builder!

Ashley Pfeil

It was 2014. I was only a couple of months into my professional web development journey. I was working for an agency, and at that time, the websites I was working on were just straight-up HTML websites. My code editor was Dreamweaver. My boss asked me if I had heard of WordPress. And so it began. 

I started out implementing 3rd party themes. Then I started tweaking them with child themes. Then I started creating my own. I’ve since gone down the headless WordPress path, which led me to React. So basically, in a nutshell, I owe my career to WordPress. 

I started my career in Houston and enjoyed going to WordCamp San Antonio and WordCamp Fort Worth. I couldn’t get over how financially reasonable the conferences were; they even included lunch! So much knowledge was shared, and they were always enjoyable experiences. 

When I moved to Philly, right away I found out about the Philadelphia WordPress Meetup. They were so welcoming! A couple of times they even had a Help Desk Night, and it felt so rewarding to be able to help others out. 

A few months after I found out about that group, I found out there was another group called Philly ‘Burbs WordPress Meetup that meets out in the suburbs. They were super welcoming as well! I was recently asked to become a co-organizer of the group, and I was honored to accept. I still attend both groups, which meet on a monthly basis. I enjoy the wide variety of topics that both groups give presentations about. 

The thing I always say about WordPress is that it’s as simple or as complex as you need it to be. WordPress is moving the technology needle forward, and I’m excited to see what the future holds.

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