In this series, we share some of the inspiring stories of how WordPress and its global network of contributors can change people’s lives for the better. This month we feature a WordPress development and large project specialist on the difference the software and community can make to your career and life.
Dee’s story with computers started at school in New Zealand where discovering how a mouse worked and learning BASIC and Pascal was a catalyst for what later became a programming career.
At a time when computers were just becoming mainstream, there were no opportunities for girls in her school to consider this as a further option. She recalls: “No one thought to say, ‘Dee, you look like you’re good at this, you should pursue it…’. I mean, I was a girl (and I was told girls didn’t ‘do’ computers). No one in the circles I moved in really had any idea where this technology revolution would take us.”
With no particular career path in technology, Dee was encouraged in her final year of school to apply for a job in a bank where she worked and became a teller three years later. She gained financial independence, which enabled her to travel as a 20-year-old and spend the next three years exploring the US and Europe.
Looking back, she noted how the world had changed: the first computer mouse she had seen had come out in 1983, and 20 years later WordPress was founded.
Journey into coding
During those 20 years, Dee worked as a nanny, working in child care centers, in customer support, and as a temp.
In 1999, she packed up her bags once again and moved from New Zealand to Australia. She took a place at a performing arts school where she honed her singing and performance skills and volunteered her time to the music director who was starting to experiment with sending out HTML newsletters and updates via email.
“And so my personal revolution began. On the day after I graduated from that course, I walked into a full-time role as that music director’s assistant and began my journey back to code.”
As part of that job, Dee edited and sent HTML newsletters every week. This ignited her interest in programming, and she bought books about coding for the web and experimented on her home-built PC making web pages.
“I’m sure, like a lot of us, I remember the thrill of creating that first HTML file and seeing a ‘Hello World’ or similar heading rendered in the browser. From there, I was completely hooked.”Dee Teal
Later she moved to the IT department and took on maintenance of all the websites. By 2004, she was working full-time as a webmaster. A year later, she was running a small business creating sites on the side. Four years after that, her business became her full-time job as she left employment to pursue her Masters’s Degree in Digital Communication and Culture.
Dee found the theory and sociology behind the web, and its facilitation of human and machine communication fascinating.
She said: “I love the fact that the tech industry involves a constant constant curve of growth and discovery, which results in a perpetual exercise in finding creative elegant solutions for sticky problems.”
For Dee, being able to use her innate curiosity to leverage processes, people, and tools, fuelled by a focus on communicating a message, has been a defining inspiration in her work.
This combined fascination coincided with her meeting WordPress in 2009 and subsequently its community. She moved her existing blog to the software and it became the CMS of choice for all her client work.
The WordPress community can change your world
In 2011, she stumbled across WordCamps and by extension the WordPress community. Dee has reflected publicly that WordPress didn’t change her life, its community changed her world!
She flew on a whim from her then home in Sydney to attend a WordCamp in Melbourne she had found after a search for ‘WordPress Conferences’.
She said: “I met welcoming people, made friends, connected, and came back home excited and hopeful about continuing this connection with the wider WordPress community.”
Building a community locally around WordPress got off to a slow start in Sydney. From an inauspicious early WordPress Sydney meetup in the function room of a pub, her connection and involvement took off. Before long she was helping organize that meetup, and by the time she moved away from that great city it had branched into two meetups, and soon after, into three.
She was so inspired by the community that at the end of that first year and her second WordCamp, she raised her hand to help organize a WordCamp Sydney in 2012, and after moving interstate, WordCamp Melbourne in 2013.
“WordPress and any other software package exist to serve people.”Dee Teal
Dee said: “WordPress, software, technology, the Internet will come and go, morph, and change, evolve. Maybe WordPress will last forever, maybe it will morph into something else, and maybe one day it will look completely different than it did when I first started (actually, that’s true now). The thing that doesn’t change is the humanity around it. WordPress and any other software package exist to serve people.”
She added: “The thing that I have learned, not only through WordPress but in life, is that if we too serve the people around what we’re doing, we will grow, develop and change alongside the people we serve, and the tools we use to serve them.”
Dee was a coordinator for WordPress 5.6 release in 2020 and was able to encourage others to learn about the process.
Helping others and sharing knowledge through WordPress
Dee has been an advocate for cross-cultural collaboration and understanding in both WordPress and her work for a large distributed agency that has people from more than 24 countries and operates across 16 time zones. She has also written about closing the gap between diverse distributed teams and how to meet the challenges of cross-cultural remote work.
Dee has given talks at WordCamps, including at WordCamp Europe in 2019, on developing ourselves, our relationships, and our communities in increasingly diverse environments.
With a strong desire to share her professional knowledge and experience, Dee hopes her involvement in the WordPress community from being part of a Release Squad in the Core Team, and volunteering in the community to organizing and speaking at WordCamp events will inspire others to get involved.
“It’s the connections, it’s the friendships. It’s the network of work, referrals, support, help and encouragement.”Dee Teal talking about the community that makes WordPress specialbenefits of the WordPress community
In contributing to WordPress and organizing community events around it, Dee found that for her: “At the end of the day it isn’t actually WordPress that matters. It’s those connections, it’s the friendships. It’s the network of work, referrals, support, help, encouragement that has kept me wired into this community and committed to helping other people find that connection and growth for themselves.”
Dee’s career in WordPress has moved through coding, into project management of large-scale WordPress projects, and now into delivery leadership. Her connections to the community have helped ‘fuel the transitions’ through these chapters of her life.
She said: “I believe that the place I’ve found and the opportunities I have had owe as much to my own desire and ambition as they do to the help, support, and belief of the community around me; sometimes even more than I’ve felt in myself.”
She feels that she is ‘living proof’ that by helping, connecting, and resourcing other people, you can be helped, resourced, and connected to places you had never thought possible.
This has enabled her to reach and have a career in technology that she did not know existed as a teenager playing with that first computer mouse and experimenting with code. Dee hopes her story will inspire others in their journey.