We interview pillars of the Business of WordPress space, luminaries from peripherally-related technologies and accomplished domain experts who can help teach you powerful ideas to get ahead in business and in life. Brought to you by Pagely, NorthStack, and PressNomics.

Ep 3: Tessa Kriesel. Teaching under-represented groups to code

Ep 3: Tessa Kriesel. Teaching under-represented groups to code

Host: Joshua Strebel | Published: September 10, 2019

Tessa Kriesel is the Community Manager for CircleCI and founder of Outspoken Women and Coders of TMRW. She wears many hats but the consistent theme of her work is empowering under-represented groups to learn to code and transition into rewarding & high-paying careers.

In this interview Tessa shares:

  • Her public speaking experience
  • How she copes with impostor syndrome
  • A beautiful “where are they now” story of a former student now gainfully employed as a React Developer
  • Her experience chairing the speaking selection committee for WCUS
  • The criteria they used to balance diversity with content
  • And more…

Enjoy!

Show Notes

0:00:48   Welcome and context
0:01:49   What’s your programming language of choice?
0:03:26   Is there anything with evolution of WP with Gutenberg and headless solutions that interests you?
0:04:45   Can you talk about your outspoken women’s group and junior developer mentorship program?
0:10:13   What does the speaker selection process for WCUS look like to balance out the diversity in the roster?
0:16:15   What percentage of your speakers do you think checked the “diversity box?”
0:18:07   How do you deal with impostor syndrome as a speaker?
0:21:24   Do you think there’s some inherent selection bias in public speaking towards a bragadocio attitude?
0:23:57   What does Circle CI do?
0:26:13   What are the various hats you wear in your day to day role there?
0:28:31   Do you need to be naturally extroverted to be a good community manager?
0:29:47   As a female manager do you get any misogynistic BS that you have to deal with?
0:34:09   What is the format of the training you do?
0:38:47   What does that feel like to help somebody start that journey in a career that’s rewarding and pays well?
0:40:57   The trajectory of WordPress: where do you think the project might end up in 2-4 years?
0:44:04   Do you think the project will be able to overcome its technical debt?
0:45:50   You’ve been involved with both Drupal and WordPress- which community did you prefer?

Show Transcript

Joshua: 00:48 Afternoon, everybody. Thanks for joining us today on the podcast, I’m here with Tessa Kriesel. She’s the community manager at CircleCI and a woman of extraordinary capabilities and influence. Tell us a little bit about yourself, Tessa.

Tessa: 01:03 Yeah, I mean, there’s tons and tons of things to know about me but in terms of direct things and maybe things that the listeners care about. I had been a developer for over 10 years, but I’m very extroverted and anyone who has met me can definitely you know, disclaimer that, uh, and I, I just really love people and hanging out with them. So I’ve found a strong passion in the community space in my career versus just being a developer, but not just, but, but, you know, instead of sticking into those kind of behind the scenes roles. Um, long story short, I love teaching people how to Code, specifically those who are underrepresented, so women, kids, diversity, things like that. Um, and, and truly just love building relationships with anyone again.

Joshua: 01:47 Excellent. What’s your language of choice?

Tessa: 01:51 Ah, well, I mean PHP obviously, because that’s where WordPress lives. But that’s actually definitely where I started. So I started in Joomla, actually did a little Drupal, then I kind of ended up landing in WordPress for the most part. Um, but Joomla was where I got my start when I wanted to become a developer. Uh, and it was actually a pretty fun start to that, but definitely for sure. Yeah, that’s, are you kind of getting on the Javascript Java script train with a much of the WordPress community? Nope. I refuse to do it.

Tessa: 02:26 I shouldn’t say that because I do love javascript. I have to admit like the part of development that I love the most is like seeing the, the beautiful product at the end. And so I really enjoy front end development. So you would think that I would want to do that. Uh, however, I’m just like, I feel like I’m too old to learn new languages. Like I kinda want to shut down the new technology learning and learn what I need to learn to be successful and just keep it at that.

Joshua: 02:52 Yeah. Oh, that’s interesting. You know, everybody’s got their own language of choice. Some people are very, very passionate about, uh, the pros and cons of each. You know, I think a, a balanced approach of whatever works for the task at hand seems to be okay. But, you know, we’re a PHP shop mostly at Pagely. Um, our stack is written in PHP was a little bit of go and obviously we support WordPress, which is, um, you know, all PHP. But, you know, we’re, we’re experimenting with react and things like that on the front end. Is there anything with kind of the, um, evolution of WordPress in terms of, um, Gutenberg and such and some of the headless, uh, cm, uh, CMS solutions, you know, with Gatsby or something on the front end that you’re seeing that interests you at all though?

Tessa: 03:42 Yeah, Gatsby for sure. Um, I really liked the idea of having, uh, my site generated and knowing that it’s 100% performance. So for me, when it comes to programming languages, like, you know, like you said, everyone, everything has like their place and there’s a certain case for, for whatever. And if I got to a position where I needed to learn, react, I would definitely do so. Um, but I’m very interested in Gatsby because I like the idea of my site being a static site and everything is clean and performance and it’s created on the fly. Um, and I don’t have to worry about like, is this plugin effecting this thing or is this other thing in effect? Something else. Uh, and so that is very, very enticing to me. So that’s actually my next kind of code investigation plan is to start digging into Gatsby, which probably means I have to start digging into some Java script, but comes with the territory. Make friends with your enemies as they say. Yeah, exactly. That’s true. So tell me a little bit about your [inaudible],

Joshua: 04:37 um, interests. Uh, obviously you love, you love the program, but you also love helping people learn the program. Um, you have a, uh, outspoken woman group as well as kind of a junior developer mentorship program going on. Can you tell us a little bit about those?

Tessa: 04:55 Yeah. So I, um, outspoken women is a passion of mine for sure. That I started a couple of years ago, um, with a, a previous role that I had in the WordPress space, it became very obvious to me that it was very hard for them to find a women to speak in technical roles. Uh, and this is like a fallback, but somewhat of an upside of being a woman in tech is that it’s pretty rare that a conference submission gets not selected, right? Because there are, there are not enough women in tech who are submitting two proposals and, um, and that can be an upside, right? For some women, like give them the stage and give them this space. But it also means that because there are less women speaking, there are more women who do not feel comfortable speaking because it feels like they’re out of their norm.

Tessa: 05:39 They’re not with a similar company. So I started outspoken women with the intent of giving folks the ability to, um, have a little bit more recognition behind the fact of what they did, um, possibly for people who are new speakers who wanted mentorships. So we had, uh, an have a mentorship program that folks can go through. Um, and it, it’s really just a great combination of, of connecting someone who is less experienced as speaking and connecting them with someone who is more experienced and they kind of build that relationship together so they decide if they want to work on slides or abstracts or maybe it’s more about their personality and them starting to feel more comfortable with speaking it. It really just depends on what that person needs. Uh, and so it does that. Uh, we’ve tried to focus on on travel scholarships, which has been a little bit tricky to find volunteers, but we’ve been able to, to help a few women get to some conferences. Um, but I need more time to really dedicate to the initiative. But really the whole goal is just to get more women out there speaking, uh, who are in the open source tech space. Uh, just so that it isn’t like that, that I do get declined for submissions and then I, I that other women are the ones that are being accepted because there’s more of us out there speaking.

Joshua: 06:49 That’s, you know, I can speak from two positions on that. One. We’re an employer, half our dev team is female and one of them is uh, Martyl. She speaks a lot, you know, and it’s kind of like what you say. She submits, it’s a slam dunk. She’s going to get accepted and obviously she’s great. Smart. Um, a, a really skilled developers. She has a lot to share. I don’t, I would have to ask her personally. I don’t, I can’t speak for her whether she feels like she gets just kinda auto accepted because of gender or not. Um, but as a conference organizer as well with, uh, PressNomics, it is a very, um, delicate and at times frustrating experience to find female speakers because we’ve asked some, uh, great female speakers to come speak and like they hit us right away. Oh, am I the token woman? No, no, not at all. But uh, you know, it’s almost like a, they’ve, some of them may have been conditioned to feel that they are the token female representative or what not. But at other times it’s just, there’s really not that big of a pool to draw speakers from. And, and so I guess you maybe see a lot of the same names often.

Tessa: 08:05 Right. Well, on that note, Mara is amazing. So that’s probably why. Probably not because she’s just female. Um, but I mean it is true though. Like I think that it gets to a point where, um, I think for me, I actually like almost start feeling guilty because I’ve, I’m given so many great opportunities and, um, from, so from one side I’m like, I don’t want there to not be women’s speaking, so I’m still gonna try to at least do my part to be there. Um, but then from the other angle I’m like, is there, are there women who are out there who would rather be speaking but they just don’t have that comfort level? Because I would gladly give up my spots to know that like someone else who was newer into public speaking or even if they’re a newer into tech, but they had new insights, like everyone has insights to share no matter what your experience level is. And so it’s kind of this catch 22 with submitting because I you, we want women to be representative, but, um, I would love it to be more new women. Like let’s find them in that. I haven’t done it yet. So if you’re listening, come and find me and I will help.

Joshua: 09:04 Yeah. Yeah. You’re almost, you’re almost asking for more competition, you know, more, more a wider pool to, to compete against those coveted speaking spots.

Tessa: 09:14 Right. I am. I am, because for me, uh, and you know, like I think many, many folks in where oppressive kind of figured this out about me, that it’s not really about me. Nothing’s like ever about me. It’s about like the greater good of the community and where we can take that. And so if it means I’m not speaking, but it means that someone else who is newer, who hasn’t had that opportunity, like for me, that that’s a hundred times better than me having the opportunity to be able to speak art

Joshua: 09:40 are, uh, correct me if I’m wrong. Are you on the, were you on the speaker selection community for WordCamp u s did I read that right? You did. I’m actually the program you lead for where can, yes. Yeah. So you, you saw the whole speaker submission process and I, and maybe you can tell us that, I know some of it was like kind of blind envelope type stuff, names were an associated, but what, um, what does a conference like that do to encourage and that’s a, a sizable conference to encourage more female participants and you know, what does the selection process look like to try to balance out that roster? Yeah, absolutely.

Tessa: 10:17 Absolutely. So I believe I officially started in the role in January and we opened a submissions, don’t quote me on this cause I don’t know if it’s 100% accurate, but April I want to say. And in my head I wasn’t quite sure, like I had been on the team last year, but I wasn’t a lead and I only contributed a small amount, um, and wasn’t quite sure what it looks like from a call for proposal standpoint. So from that realm, I’ve got some ideas and I’ve got some really good things I want to do next year. Um, if I were to join the team again next year, uh, but I can definitely speak to the speaker selection. So we, when we opened up a selection, we had a maximum of two of two top topics. So in the past they get hundreds and hundreds of submissions. And the problem with those submissions is that there’s too many is that there are too many of the same topics or too many of the same kinds of content, which is a great problem to have.

Tessa: 11:12 Uh, but it also means that I think people are overlooked because it’s just so hard to get through that many speakers submissions. So we thought, okay, first, first point that we can try to do is like eliminate the number of submissions that you can submit. So folks who were limited to two, and then we tried to focus that even closer. We really wanted to see some lightning talks that were people sharing some of their passions. So a Carrie Dells who is the other a one of the other leads in the programming team. Her and I chatted about what we’d like to do personally and, and just other things that we care about. Like I’m super into archery and not many people know that, uh, and not many people are, are also into archery. So it’s kind of a unique hobby. And I was like, how cool would it be if like, there was a session that’s like, here’s how you like, so you’d archery, but maybe the focus is more about like the tactics of being a responsible shooter and how you can take that into your business life.

Tessa: 12:03 Right. You know, determination and focus and things like that. And we’re like, wold this could be a great idea. Let’s hear about other people’s hobbies. Uh, and so that was our attempt with the lightning talks. We didn’t get very many that were, that fell into that category. Uh, which was unfortunate, but still got a lot of other great talks. Uh, and then we tried to focus the, the standard length talks, uh, to be, you know, WordPress driven. What are you good at? Like what if, if you had one chance to tell everyone what you really know, like what is that one thing that would be, and we were hoping to get a lot of really concentrated solid talks from that. And I feel like we truly did get a lot of really focused talks. The, the ones that, um, you know, the ones that were selected, it was like, Yep, that’s exactly the person that we think in this space makes the most sense to deliver that talk.

Tessa: 12:49 Uh, so because we had less submissions, we were able to really go through each of them with a fine tooth comb. So we are able to go through and see, have you given a talk before at word camp us? Have you, do you fall under any of the diversity categories? And we had quite a few that we started to recognize. So was it a gender diversity? Was it a sexual orientation, diversity? Is it a, uh, ethnicity? Um, are you a new speaker? Uh, there’s many different categories that we looked at and, and some of that stuff was not submitted to us. So we spent a lot of time like just stalking people on the Internet. What is their Twitter like, what are they? Talk to me on Facebook. Uh, and you know, not everyone is open about some of their, uh, diversity’s especially in, you know, sexual orientation and other spaces.

Tessa: 13:31 But we tried to do what we could. So after submissions it was blind myself. Um, and a couple other folks on the team, Carrie and Kevin Christiana did see a lot of the speakers and who correlated with their talk just because as we’re going through things, it’s hard not to. Um, but we went through and stripped everything down and so instead of letting the entire organizing team vote on the talks, we broke it down by category and we said, okay, for example, the security category, who on the team is skilled to, to rate security talks. So like Aaron Campbell was one of them. Um, I can’t remember the others, but there’s a few other folks that were very skilled at security. And so we had them only rate the talks that they were educated in. And I think that made for a much better rating process because for me last year when it was like, oh, there’s ones about like content writing, I’m like, I have no idea.

Tessa: 14:24 Like I don’t know if this talk makes sense because this is not the space that I feel most educated in. Uh, so that was a, I think a huge difference from years in the past that we implemented. Um, so that was blind. So those, the people in the team that rated those, that was a hundred percent blind. Um, and then, let’s see, what did we do after that? I’m trying to think of the next processes. I think from there we kind of broke it down again, making sure that we’re marking any, you know, levels of diversity, uh, and tried to pick, if we had three security talks that were well-rated, we picked the one that was like, oh, this person’s a female or this person’s of a different ethnicity, this person, some other diversity. Um, and if they had multiple diversity kind of little checkboxes, then we’re like, Yep, that is the person. Um, but we also tried to rate by content too. So it was a, it was a very long process to get through all of it. Um, but I am super happy with what we did. Uh, we also created personas, which were really nice. So started to break down what is the audience been in the past at word camp us. Uh, how many developers versus designers versus versus like business folks and actually selected the number of talks based on where our audiences were the strongest.

Joshua: 15:32 Gotcha. So if, if you got a large concentration in designers, you emphasized a few extra design related topics.

Tessa: 15:39 Exactly, exactly. So, um, you know, I wasn’t on the teams in the past, so I don’t know what they do, but I feel very confident that we like worked very hard to deliver a really good schedule this year and I’m really hoping that that turns out to the case and, and everyone enjoys it.

Joshua: 15:54 So, so we’ll just go ahead and telegraph that this is the, uh, highest quality content and the most diverse speaker lineup at any WordCamp us. Never,

Tessa: 16:08 fingers crossed.

Joshua: 16:11 I’m sure you got this. Um, so, so interesting though. What do you think your percentage of who qualified diverse out of your speakers, you know, if there was a hundred speakers, how many of you think check that kind of diversity box?

Tessa: 16:26 That’s a good question. That’s actually one set of metrics that we haven’t sat down and really figured out. Um, and I do want to do that before we’re camp us. Cause I’d like to write a blog post about here’s why we did this and we did do one about our selection process, but more one about like, here’s why and like, here’s what we’re doing next year and here’s how we broke it down. Cause WordCamp Europe did that and it was, um, it was awesome. Uh, so I don’t actually know, but I feel like from the ones that we selected, I feel like we were, we were able to get almost over 75% of those that fell into one of those diversity categories, which for me feels like a slam dunk.

Joshua: 17:03 Yeah, that’s, that’s wonderful. You know, I, when it comes to speaking, there’s so much imposter syndrome wrapped up in it, right? Like do you do I, are you the proverbial, you really feel like you have something of value to share to this audience, you know, and are we all just kind of faking it some degree? I run into that a lot. I’ve, I’ve, I’ve been an entrepreneur for 16 years. I’ve been running page d for 10 and I still like very narrowly submit the same kind of talk because I really don’t feel like I’m an expert in WordPress, you know, the nuts and bolts of it. And there’s gonna be people in the audience calling bs on anything I say about, you know, the framework or the lines of code or whatnot. And, you know, I don’t, I don’t like doing sponsor pitches. I’m not going to go up there and just raw come buy our product.

Tessa: 17:50 So I tend to get the same time if I submit it. And that’s like, here’s my story, you know, this is what happened, this is how we’ve done it, this is what happened to us and these are the challenges we’ve faced. So, you know, maybe if I felt more comfortable I would submit a more diverse kind of a repertoire of talks. But how do you think, um, others kind of deal with their own imposter syndrome? Is this something that maybe you, you deal with a little? Oh yeah, I deal with this on a daily basis.

Tessa: 18:19 My old manager, uh, he used to like have many conversations with me. He’s like, you know, you’re great, right? I’m like, oh, I mean, sure. Everyone is like, it’s hard to accept that like that people think you’re amazing, right? I mean that’s like, unless it’s your spouse, it’s like, oh, you know, that’s nice of you to say and you know, you kind of move on. Um, but I think that you almost need an environment like that. You really need an environment that is going to help build you up and help make you realize that you are awesome. Like everyone has something to share. Every single person. I don’t care if you learned how to code yesterday and it’s Day two when you’re trying to figure it out. Like you have something to share, you’ve experienced something early on in your life or you’ve experienced something, even that day, you’re like, yes, I figured out how to do this thing and that thing.

Tessa: 19:07 It might be that someone else’s is, there could be thousands of someone else who is sitting there also trying to figure out that same thing. Uh, and I think that, um, you know, women specifically really struggle with this and, and I don’t really know why I’ve, I’ve tried to think about it and talk through it, uh, to figure out why it is that women feel like they’re always, um, underrating themselves, right? Like they might be, we’d put a numerical scale behind someone’s experience, which is impossible, but let’s say that we could, and they’re in eight or they’re a nine or maybe there’ve been a 10. They’re gonna think that there are three or four. Uh, and, and many men do this as well. It really just kinda depends on, on, you know, their space and where they’re from. And I think that that, that’s a huge problem.

Tessa: 19:48 That is a major barrier for folks who don’t want to get into public speaking because they don’t think, like you just said, you’re like, I don’t know what to talk about, but you do. Like you have tons of things to talk about. You can talk about, you know, how you got from this point to another point because everyone is constantly going through those same, those same feelings. And I think the, the most amazing talks I’ve ever been to have been very personally related. I went through this thing, it made me feel like this, I got through this and it might not have been because the content was like, oh great, I needed to know that, but it was more about like, Oh yeah, I’m there every day and like this, if this person feels this way, then like, I’m good. Like, uh, so yeah, it’s real for sure. Imposter Syndrome is a, as a daily rollercoaster for me of like, Oh, I think I know how to do something. Nope, I don’t. Okay, let me figure out how to do this thing. I think there’s a couple of times, there’s many different types of people in the world. But to kind of come to mind is I was talking about this with another that

Joshua: 20:48 um, you know, a successful company exit or something and yeah, a particular founder might be like, I did this, I started from zero and I took this thing to it to a positive outcome. And then they’re not accounting for luck, timing, market conditions, uh, their team or whatnot. But then there’s other, um, successful exits. And I would say some of these tend to be more female oriented. We did this, we as a team accomplish this. And so I think that we versus I kind of a self talk and mentality. The eyes love to get out in front and talk about, you know, their expertise and their experience and that that tends to be probably a big chunk of conference speakers. The wheeze, you know, they’re going to sit back and say, well, why should I be talking when everybody was responsible for this event or this success? And, and we can’t fit them all on stage at once. So I wonder if that plays into some, some of the uh, speakers and the content and the relationship with the audience and such that happens on stage [inaudible]

Tessa: 21:55 I 100% agree with that. I think that, um, you know, to kind of build off of that too, there are also folks who feel who to have those personalities where they’re like, I’m gonna fake it till I make it. And then there are the folks that are like, I need to have these tangible skills before I can do it. Prime example, I’m a fake it till you make it kind of person. Like you give me a task and I’m like, cool, I got this and I’m behind the scenes. I can be like, I have no idea what to do, but I’ll figure it out. Like I’ll figure it out and I’ll learn things along the way and I’ll be a different person by the time I’m done. And that’s amazing to me. My husband is a, I need the tangible skills before I can even start anything.

Tessa: 22:31 And so we are constantly like battling with each other about let’s just, let’s just go do it. Like, let’s go bungee jumping, let’s go jump on a plane. And he’s like, I feel like I need to know everything that has to do with that first. Uh, but I think that’s right. Like a lot of those folks fall into those categories and then they also fall into those other categories of, I’m just going to figure it out. I’m going to jump into public speaking, I’m going to share my story. And once you do it once or twice, you’re like, oh, okay, that’s not so bad. And then it’s almost like invigorating where you’re like, I have a voice, I can share things. Like I can make others feel comfortable or I can teach others things. And then those other folks that are like, no, I need those tangible skills and maybe they need the workshops. So they need mentorship. And I think that you’re right. Like those I folks, I have no problem in public speaking and they’re probably the folks that are like, I’m gonna fake it till I make it. Yeah. Ones that have those tangible skills or that are super confident and know what they’re doing. And there are those we people, those are the people we need to hear from. And those are the ones that are the hardest to get to do this unless they’re actually comfortable.

Joshua: 23:37 Yeah. Huh. There’s, there’s, there’s so much to unpack there that we could just keep going and going. A speaker. Submissions and conferences and personalities. I, let’s shift gears just a little bit to kind of your day job, um, or community manager for Circle CEI, right? I am. Yes. And what does circle I do, I know, but tell our guests,

Tessa: 24:01 I would love to tell her guests at home. Uh, so Sicko CII is a continuous integration and deployment platform. Uh, so if you don’t know what that means, if you’re a developer, you should figure it out because it’s mind-blowingly amazing. Uh, but essentially it helps you, uh, let’s say that you’re doing a code commit and you want your code commit to be, you know, let’s say it’s for WordPress specifically, like you want there to be, um, a, you want it to be written in the best way with the WordPress coding standards in line. So you, you need to do that testing to do that. Um, maybe you want to do some code sniffing, maybe you even want to start digging into some actual visual testing. So, you know, you create, uh, a new form for an employment application and you want to make sure that when you do an update to WordPress that that employment application remains intact and nothing breaks.

Tessa: 24:47 We’re good to go. Uh, so you can use tools to do a lot of that testing. One might be B hat. Um, there are lots of other tool suites out there. Uh, but essentially it allows you to do a lot of those things. So let’s say on a day to day, I’m building a website and I, I pushed my code. Um, I can use it to a lake circle, CIA or other tools, uh, to automate my testing. So when we kick off a commit, it’ll go ahead and it’ll run through a test that we create. And so you create this config file that config file does, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. The things that you tell it to do, and then it will deploy to wherever you tell it to deploy to. So the great thing about this is that if you’re committing to a feature branch, then it’ll deploy to like a test server or it deploy a development server or wherever you want it to go.

Tessa: 25:27 Uh, and then your production might be different. So when you’re taking that code and you’re merging it into master, maybe you’ve got a whole new suite of tests that you want to do because it’s production, it’s more serious. We want to make sure that everything is like iron clad. Uh, and then it’ll go boom, boom, boom through those things and then deploy out to your production server. Uh, so it is just this absolutely amazing mind blowing, a little bit hard to start to learn. But I’m happy to help anyone who wants to, a thing that helps your development process just to be way more successful. It kind of removes some of those Dev ops problems. Yeah. It’s just like a really awesome tool, um, to start to get into for development.

Joshua: 26:05 So you’ve done this [inaudible] role, uh, at your previous employer as well. What is, I mean, how do you primarily define your role? I mean, cause obviously you, you’re technically educating, but then you’re also kind of evangelizing the product. So there’s a little bit of sales in there. I mean, what are the various hats that go into your day to day role?

Tessa: 26:28 Uh, I kind of feel like every hat actually because you’re right, like when you get into that conference space or um, you know, delivering a session or maybe even delivering a training or a workshop, I feel very much like I’m a teacher. Like I am teaching someone how to do something. I am sharing my knowledge with them. Uh, and then, you know, there’s also that space of after my session, people are like, hey, tell me more about what you do or tell me more about your tool. And I will never say that I’m a sales person, but at the end of the day, I mean, it’s a little bit of sales stuff because I’m sharing with you why this tool is great and why I love it. And it’s, it’s authentic sales. It’s, it’s me as a developer with my background sharing with you what I know. Uh, and, and you can relate to it because this is the area that you care about in this your expertise.

Tessa: 27:13 Um, I also spend a lot of time, uh, overseeing our community programs. And so a previous role had built out an entire, you know, advocacy program, just really cool. And I’m doing the same thing in my new role. Uh, and so a lot of that is like just making friends. And so I feel like sometimes it’s, it’s almost like external HR where I’m like, Hey, I, I want to be your friend. How can I help you? How can I be, uh, an ally for you? Uh, what benefits can I give you? Uh, and, and it’s weird to think about it in like an HR space, but it feels like that oftentimes when I’m working with external folks. Um, so there’s kind of that angle to it. And then there’s also times where I’m like, oh, hey, I want this to like bought, or I need this thing to do something in discourse, so I’m going to write the code to do it.

Tessa: 27:57 So then it’s like, now I’m a Dev that day. Uh, and I think this is why it’s like, this is my calling. Like this is my space to be, is in this kind of a community management space because I get all of these, like the best of all these worlds things that I love talking to people. So as much as I’m not a salesperson, I’m totally a natural salesperson. Uh, you know, I really enjoy helping folks. So that teaching and that kind of community advocacy angle is just like butter, like on top of this amazing thing that I’m already doing. Um, I’m trying to think what I’m missing. I feel like there might be a few things. Would it be fair to say that to be a successful community manager, you need to be a gregarious and extroverted and willing to engage? Right? I mean, I think so, yeah.

Tessa: 28:42 Because the whole, and you also have to be like really in tuned with people because the whole thing about community management is that you can build something, right? Like let’s say that you just build a slack group, you’ve got a slack group of folks. It starts to get bigger. It starts to get bigger. There’s a little bit of problems of like one person has this opinion, another person has another opinion. Uh, and as a community manager you have to find that like happy medium. So you also have to be a counselor and you also have to understand like, okay, here’s their side, here’s the other person’s side, let’s try to find a compromise and let’s go, let’s get to a successful end result. So community management, even though at the end of the week as I sit here, I’m like, Oh yeah, my job is great. Like it’s pretty easy. But really there are a lots of bits and pieces to it because you’re, you’re constantly dealing with different people from different spaces and different opinions and um, and they’re from different areas and you, you need to be compassionate and caring and, and truly understand them as a person and make sure that whatever you can do in your community that they’re feeling comfortable and they’re feeling like they’re at home.

Joshua: 29:43 Um, you know, if you don’t mind, I’d like to ask your question. You know, as a female community manager of a very technical community, do you get any of the kind of the blow hard kind of misogynistic stuff coming back at you? Like, oh, come on, I already know how to do that. Well, well I learn it from a woman. I mean, do you run into any of that bullshit?

Tessa: 30:05 Um, I would say like in my community management roles, I haven’t specifically, I’m trying to think through to make sure cause I’m like so blind to them then I’m just like, okay, whatever and I fix it and I move on. Um, but I, I do have one story that, um, I do want to share because it, I think it will help other folks who maybe have been in this situation or have maybe been exposed to it. But, um, it happens on the regular as a developer though. Um, so it’s, it’s pretty constant. Uh, when you mentioned that you have half female on your development team, like I cannot even like applause you enough for that. That’s absolutely amazing. Um, I’ve been notoriously on a team of technical folks by myself a lot, um, as the only woman and it’s, I don’t have a problem with it because again, I’m the fake it till you make it, do whatever I need to do to be successful kind of person.

Tessa: 30:55 But if I were an introverted, we’re quiet. I need those skills. I need to feel comfortable. They do things. I don’t know that I would have been as successful and I may have jumped, shipped and found a different career. Um, but I was at Drupal con, uh, three years ago and I, this is when I was working for my previous employer and I was actually working the back booth is what they called it. So at Derbycon it’s a very trade show. Like it’s, it’s pretty intense. Uh, and the front booth is like demos. We’re showing you kind of how to use the platform, how you can integrate things and all that good stuff. The back booth is supposed to be like the technical experts. So you go back there to be like, Hey, I’ve got a question, use your platform or I’ve got a Drupal question or what have you.

Tessa: 31:36 Um, and like, I like to be kind of fun. So I was like wearing a black like skirt that was kind of shiny and glittery with like really high socks. And then I’m like, like bright yellow shirt on. So I was like looking a little, I don’t know, cheerleader, like I guess if I had to put an a persona, but I was like, I have to be a turbo call and I have to wear this really bright yellow shirt that isn’t super pretty. How can I make this better? Uh, and so someone walks up and he’s like, I have a really super advanced question that I need an answer for. And a sales rep who was a male was standing next to me and he was like, yeah, Tessa can help you. And he’s like, no, no, I need a really, really technical person. And I was like, okay, this is smelling like something I don’t want to be a part of.

Tessa: 32:18 So a, they, a person was like, yes, that is why Tessa is back here. This is the back booth of experts. She is technically savvy and she can help you. And he was like, you clearly don’t understand. I need a very technical person to answer this question. And at that point I was either going to punch this guy in the face or like lose it. So I’m like, I’m going to walk away. So I just walk away and I come back and he was like, I am so sorry that happened to you. I’m like, yeah, it happens a lot. But that was the one that like just really stuck out as, um, you know, it, it’s, um, there are lots of biases and, and people make those assumptions and whether it was what I was wearing and I was looking a little girly that day, or whether it was just the fact that I was female, um, it doesn’t matter really at the end of the day, it’s, if someone tells you that someone’s able to answer your question, like give them the chance to answer your question. If, if they can’t, then I mean, so be it. But it was, uh, yeah, I, I was so angry that I didn’t figure out who this person was and I regret it to this day, but I didn’t look at his name tag and be like, you sir are a horrible person. But, um, uh, it’s probably for the best,

Joshua: 33:26 sadly, a newsflash Jardiance a sexism is alive and well on the tech developer community. It’s a shame, you know, and he probably missed out on a great opportunity to learn to get his question answered and learn something new, but,

Tessa: 33:41 right. I mean, I’m pretty smart. I probably could have helped him. I don’t even know what he wanted to ask. That’s the problem is like, he didn’t even start to give us like an introduction of what he wanted. So

Joshua: 33:52 yeah, you do. You know, um, so you like to teach, you’re, you’re obviously skilled and capable at what you do. Um, in your notes here, you said you have taught 300 other women how to code, so you’re building an army is what I’m hearing. Tell me a little bit about that. Like what is the program? Is, is it a kind of online mentorship or are you doing this in person, in sessions

Tessa: 34:17 that is literally the most amazing way to frame that. I am building an army. Yes, this is happening. I’m going to create a new thing and we’re building an army of women. Uh, it, um, actually it’s a been a little bit, and so 300 was a guest, to be honest. It’s probably been way more than that. But when I thought back and thought about the women that have gone through from the first class all the way to the last class, um, I was like, I bet about three of them are now, or 300 of them are now successful developers. Um, I know it is, it’s the most exciting thing. So, um, actually how it was how it happened was through an organization called girl develop it, which is a little bit in shambles right now. So I don’t want to showcase that too much, but at the end of the day we can get to the root of, of what I did.

Tessa: 35:04 Um, there’s a chapter in Minneapolis. We, I had moved to Minneapolis about five years ago. I recently moved back. I’m from central Minnesota where all the beautiful lakes are. Uh, but I’d moved down there and I’m like, the reason for me, us moving was that I really wanted to figure out this stuff I didn’t know. So I’m a completely self taught developer, um, had never really worked on a team. And I’m like, there’s so much stuff that I don’t even know that I don’t know. Uh, so my goal was to get involved with as much as I could get involved with meetups, get involved with organizations, get involved with, you know, my, through my job or whatever to learn everything that I possibly could. So I got involved in a, I aid one of the classes and it was an intro to html class, like the very first time anyone’s in has seen code really. Uh, and I like went through answering questions, help people, and the chapter leaders afterwards were like, you are amazing. Can you teach the next class? And I was like, whoa. Uh, I don’t know. I really hadn’t done much for public speaking at that point. Just a few small Joomla conferences. Uh, I had never taught anyone, nor had I ever written a curriculum to do so. And they’re like, well, here’s the hangup. We don’t actually have a class written. So like, we would need you to write the class too.

Joshua: 36:14 Oh Wow. I’m jumping in and jumping right in the deep end.

Tessa: 36:17 Right. And I was like, um, you know what, today was pretty amazing. Like, yes, I’ll do it. Like, we’ll figure it out. Fake it till you make it. Right. Uh, and so I ended up creating a class and so it was kind of the next level of html, so it got a little bit deeper into CSS and you know, some more things there. And I loved it. Like absolutely loved it. I had the most amazing day, um, and was like, I need to do this again. Like, when’s the other class? Like how many times can I deliver this class? Like, what else can I do? So I ended up creating a third class that dug into, just took taking those skills a little bit deeper and also really focusing on making sure that your websites are responsive and cause we’re trying to teach them basic skills, right?

Tessa: 36:55 So I’m getting them from basic skills to here’s the industry stuff that you actually need to know to eventually become a like full time developer. Did that we did, I actually did a WordPress class. Um, we had some javascript classes, so from start to finish, they really learned like html, CSS, javascript to a level where they could build a website because they built a website in those classes. Uh, and so that was really exciting, but we kept doing it. So we did that about four times a year. So between the four times a year that we offered those in person classes, uh, and probably for like the two to three, maybe even four years that I did it, uh, it meant that I met a lot of really awesome women who wanted to code. And even if I only taught them one class, they got something out of it.

Tessa: 37:37 They at least got enough knowledge to know how to Google something, which is the right, like give them what they can so that they can figure out how to get the answer. Um, and it was just like a very liberating part of my life. And, and I, I actually miss it now cause it’s been a few years and I moved back to central Minnesota. So in person classes are, I mean they could be an opportunity, but I don’t even know how many people know how to turn their computers on it. Peer, let alone want to be coders.

Joshua: 38:03 You, you’d have to want to be coders and about 10,000 mosquitoes as big as your hand probably. Yeah. Yeah. If I know anything about Minnesota, that mosquitoes will eat you alive. So that was, so you did that several years ago. So you did a lot of in person training, uh, you helped educate a lot of people and you know, you’re not trying to give them a degree, but you’re giving them a foundational level of knowledge. So then, okay, now you know the basics, here’s how you go and, and, you know, make this a career if you want, you need to, you know, down this path. So that’s obviously great for them. But I mean, you obviously got something out of it too, right? Like what does that feel like to help somebody start down that journey that, you know, under career that’s pretty rewarding and frankly pays really well.

Tessa: 38:54 It does. So I like to call this selfish acts of selflessness. That’s a mouthful. Okay. It is. But selfishly it makes me feel amazing, like absolutely amazing to know and even to look back that some of those women are in like full time developer jobs now. Um, that feeling feels so dang good that I feel like it’s selfish. But at the end of the day, um, I did get paid from girl develop it for a partial amount of what we charge for classes, but the costs were very low because we wanted to make sure it was accessible to everybody. There were a lot of scholarships and you don’t get paid if there’s scholarships and, and so I did make a little bit of money from it, but it definitely wasn’t what I would’ve made for the amount of time I had into it as a, as a developer. Um, so there, there was that, but just like, it feels so good.

Tessa: 39:42 Like there are a few women, and I keep saying I’m going to do this, but I, I want to kind of pull them back up and be like, hey, like where are you now? In your life. Oh, where are they now? Episode. Yes. That’d be cool. Cause there’s one woman who, the last class that I delivered was probably two or three years ago, two years ago, and it was, um, was it a workout class? Either way. It doesn’t matter what class it was, but she was there and she was a ta. So instead of being a student, she had transitioned to a ta and her and I, and got to chat afterwards and she’s like, yeah, I just got my first job as a reactive helper. And I was like, I like, I didn’t, I can’t take credit for her becoming a reactor developer. Right. Like she did that for herself. She brought her herself there. But I played a role in like helping her see like what coke can do and if she likes it and how she can get to that next phase. And so I feel like her when is like partially my, when, because I was a part of it and it is the most like amazing feeling in the entire world.

Joshua: 40:42 That’s Rad. That’s Rad. Um, let’s, let’s close here a little bit and talk about, uh, the trajectory of WordPress. Right? Where, where WordPress, I dunno, 12, 13 years old or something like that. Uh, I’ve been in this industry 10 years, things are changing, right? Uh, things are definitely changing. We got Gutenberg, we got massive consolidation going on. There’s, there’s a new acquisition announced. It seems like every couple of weeks of hosting companies or plugging companies or whatnot. What trends are you seeing, um, in, from your vantage point and where do you think the project might end up in two to three, four years? Oh man, that’s a good question. It’s a, it’s a broad question, so I answer any part of it.

Tessa: 41:30 Um, I, as much as I was apprehensive to Gutenberg, probably like many other longer term developers, and I think my apprehension was more relating to the folks that I had just taught and girl develop it, right? If they have to learn, react in order to build a block, how can WordPress be this like super accessible, easy to learn code platform? Because for me, I was always like, oh, you want to learn how to be a Dev? You’re interested in, you know, getting into maybe some back end things or, or whatever. Or maybe not. You just want to build a cool theme. You should start in WordPress. Like you should learn the basics of WordPress and figure out how to tweak your theme and then eventually you’ll figure out how to get to that other place. So I felt like Gutenberg was going to put up a major halt to being able to do that because if you can’t create blocks without having this whole Java script knowledge, how can you create a WordPress site?

Tessa: 42:17 Um, and obviously I’ve gotten over that. If you’ve attended any of the sessions I’ve delivered previously, recently, I should say. Um, I think that WordPress is going to continue to evolve to being a amazing mix of user, like user friendly, but also developer, uh, interested platforms. So when I say that, I mean even with Gutenberg, you can still dive in. There are plenty of blocks that are in core and that will just continue, which I’m excited to see, uh, that you really can spin up a site and you don’t have to be a coder. You can go into a managed hosting platform and they’ll spin up the site for you. You don’t even have to set up WordPress. Uh, and that, that’s actually, you know, it’s fairly new within the last like 10 years of having that ability. And so I think it’s still going to continue to do that.

Tessa: 43:01 And I think Gutenberg is actually even taking it closer to that because you’re given the power to be able to create this like modular block, uh, level of page. Uh, the thing that most, like in my previous roles, I created an entire page builder out of advanced custom fields and I taught my clients how to drag and drop these things so they could easily have the same exact concept that Gutenberg is. Uh, but yet WordPress is recognizing that the space is growing. There are many developers who are getting involved with WordPress. Uh, Java script is kind of the latest and greatest thing. As much as I hate to admit it, it’s like this thing that we have to, we kind of have to adopt and that’s where things are going with headless and decoupled and, and things like Gatsby. Um, I think that WordPress is continuing on that path of trying to stay with the latest technologies. And I think that’s really important. So between being user friendly and, and starting to focus more on getting to those advanced, um, Dev technologies, I think it’s just going to the share count’s gonna get even larger. That’s my personal opinion, but

Joshua: 44:04 right. Do you think the project’s going to be able to overcome its technical debt? I mean, cause you got level that is pretty bad ass and it’s, it’s modern, it’s quick, it’s fast, it’s got better design patterns. But obviously it’s a fraction of fraction and the market share. But do you see, do you think the technical debt of backwards compatibility and you know, 15 years worth of code, you think they’re going to be able to get past that?

Tessa: 44:30 Um, I’m hopeful. I am curious to see what’s going to happen because in other cmss, like Joomla for example, and durable and your ball is still like this to this day, there’s no one click update like you have to update to the next version. And it means bringing everything into almost a new code base and into a new functionality. Uh, and I’ve been thankful that we’re precedent like that, but I, I am curious if like that’s going to happen one day where it’s going to be, if you’ve got WordPress five or earlier, yeah, you can keep upgrading, but when you hit six or when you hit seven or whatever version, it might be a, we’ve started over and we just need this clean code base. Um, and honestly, I’m not close enough to core and I’m not close enough to what some of that technical debt is to feel educated to make that call. Um, but that’s been kind of a lingering thing in my head forever is like, how can you continue this? Eventually something’s going to snowball in and it’s gonna fall. But, um, we’ll see what happens, I guess. Right. Okay. Yeah. Last question. This one. This one I’m going to put you on the hot seat. You right. If you ready. I got it. I’m a fake it till you make it kind of person. I got it.

Joshua: 45:37 You’ve worked with both the Drupal and the WordPress community. Which community has, which community has better looking people? Oh, better looking people. I’m teasing. I’m teasing. Which community did you prefer? I mean,

Tessa: 45:54 um, so I have reasons that I like both of them. So it, uh, I think WordPress is where I’ve always gravitated to and I’ve always felt most natural and I actually attend way more WordPress, uh, events than I do dribble. So the, my friend and community spaces larger there. So if it’s like, Hey, Tessa, do you want to go to a WordPress oven or dribble event? I’m probably gonna pick WordPress because of people like love people. But if I am sitting down and it is like I’m going for a reason, like I’m going because I need to learn things, I need to talk to other developers, I need to network with folks who are like me. I’m probably going to pick Dribbble. And the only reason I say that is that when I go to a WordCamp, I can assume that 25% to 50%, you have no idea, are going to be developers.

Tessa: 46:43 If you go to a Drupal event, it’s going to be like 85 to 95% are going to be developers. So when I go to a joyful event, um, it’s more likely, which is weird for the triple con instance, but it’s more likely that people don’t assume I’m a designer or don’t assume I’m a content writer or whatever. Um, they’re just like, oh, we just assume you’re a developer and we don’t have to say that and we don’t look at you weird cause you’re a female. Like we’re all developers, we’re WordPress. It’s like, Ooh, we don’t really know where you could be anything, which is great about WordPress. Right. But, um, yeah, it just depends on what my needs are at that time. Do I need code? Do I need knowledge or do I need people? Do I need friends? Yeah, yeah,

Joshua: 47:22 yeah. WordPress is a big tent, isn’t it? There’s, there’s every, every discipline you think of. Can fit nicely under the WordPress tent.

Tessa: 47:33 Yup. Which I love. I love because everyone feels welcome. Like everyone has a place at the table, everyone has something to offer. And I think that is what is so amazing about WordPress.

Joshua: 47:44 Nice. Well, Tessa, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. We’re about to the end of our time together. Um, can you please tell our listeners where they can find you and learn more about yet?

Tessa: 47:56 Yeah. Um, so I’m @Tessak22 pretty much on every social platforms, so Twitter, Instagram, whatever. Otherwise my website is just Tessa krystle.com. It’s pretty easy to find me if you just Google me.

Joshua: 48:08 Excellent. Well thank you so much Tessa, and I look forward to seeing you next week at a press. Nomics I hope you travel safe and come enjoy the sunshine with us in Tucson.

Tessa: 48:16 Yeah, I can’t wait because it’s like very fall weather here suddenly. So it’s pretty chilly. I wasn’t a tee shirt earlier and cold, so Tucson will be a warm, warm little trip and I’m excited to go to PressNomics. This is my first time, so.

Joshua: 48:29 Well, we’re excited to have you in. We’ll leave the, we’ll leave the heat on for you. Sounds good. All right. Thank you so much, Tessa.

Tessa: 48:37 See Yah.

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