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A WordPress Origin Story: Courtney Robertson

If you’ve been in the WordPress community for some time, you’ve like been asked, what’s your WordPress origin story? I have been able to answer that, but had never completed that on my own WordPress profile until today. This post is part of the FromBlogsToBlocks campaign, a celebration of WordPress 20th anniversary.

My origins in WordPress

In 2006, I stumbled upon open-source software while teaching high school business, computer, and information technology. I was on the hunt for tools that could serve as an extension of my classroom. That’s when I discovered WordPress as the perfect solution for a blog for my students.

The four freedoms of open source, granted by the GPL, caught my attention and got me thinking about the potential of a new societal framework. As a teacher, it was crucial to have access to no-cost licenses for classroom use. On top of that, most of the software I used never let me peek at their code to study how they worked.

During my early years with WordPress, I found that documentation was pretty scarce. There were no handy five-minute installs back then! While I was comfortable teaching HTML and CSS, PHP was uncharted territory for me. I knew how to work with databases and write queries, but PHP code remained a mystery. It took me years to decipher the code and find helpful training materials. My initial challenge was registering sidebars to add widgets to a website using the Revolution theme, but soon, I became hooked on enhancing WordPress.

Contributing to WordPress

Fast forward to 2009, and I found myself attending two WordCamps. WordCamp Mid-Atlantic had just sold out of tickets, but I was eager to be there. I offered to volunteer at the event and ended up checking attendees in at the door, which turned out to be an amazing networking opportunity. A few months later, I attended WordCamp NYC, where I had the chance to chat with Matt Mullenweg.

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In 2014, I was back at WordCamp NYC, this time participating in the contributor day. Although I felt intimidated by the discussions about the upcoming REST API, I decided to join the Marketing or Training teams. Having taught marketing as part of business education, I was torn but ultimately settled with the Training team. I learned how to keep attending meetings and began writing lesson plans on using post formats, later adding theme support and designs for developers. By 2015, I became a team rep.

Early in 2016, I had the fantastic opportunity to teach WordPress at a vocational career technical school for high school students. We built and modified websites, and students were assessed through projects and quizzes using WordPress as a learning management system (LMS). They learned to install plugins, rate and review them, and tweak the code to suit their needs. We also experimented with multiple themes.

Later, I joined The Events Calendar, working in support and marketing release communications. I managed the knowledgebase, product pages, and staff training on release changes. While creating technical documents, I got to test new features and report any bugs I found to the developers.

In the spring of 2020, I found myself teaching WordPress in a high school classroom once again. My students were paid interns learning to build websites, and they even presented at WordCamp Philly that summer. I continued with the same bootcamp, instructing a front-end developer curriculum that covered HTML, CSS, PHP, JavaScript, Git, and WordPress. However, I still felt a need for better educational materials and standards for bootcamps funded by government organizations. I knew I needed to get closer to the source.

By 2022, I joined GoDaddy as a Developer Advocate. Now, my work involves contributing to Training and other teams, advocating for WordPress as open source software, sponsoring events, and communicating with developer-oriented customers and our internal developer staff.

WordPress origin story for the future

My WordPress journey has taken many twists and turns over the years, but it’s helped me acquire the skills I need for my current role. I’m passionate about onboarding contributors and supporting people at all skill levels in achieving their goals. Collaborating across teams and with friends around the globe is what makes it all worthwhile.