Tuấn Anh and I sat down with the folks at WooRockets to talk about the WordPress community in Hanoi and Vietnam. Enjoy.
2014 came and went, and some important events happened along the way…
- I left San Francisco and Automattic, and returned to Hanoi.
- I wrote about my last ten years with Vietnam.
- I organized with Tuấn Anh the first ever WordCamp in Vietnam.
- I wrote and released Subtitles. I continue to develop and improve it.
- I became the first external committer to Underscores.
- WordSesh 3 just passed and I had the pleasure of doing a theme round table with a bunch of fantastic people.
- During September I traveled to Bangkok and attended a great WordPress meetup.
Most of that sounds like work, but the year didn’t feel like work. When I left Automattic in February I took some time off to hit the reset button and think about what it is that I want from life. Leaving a comfortable job was probably the most difficult thing I’ve had to do in the last several years and it hurt a lot, but I’m in a much better place now than where I was a year ago. I’m calmer, more relaxed, less sick, and happier.
I’ve met someone also. I spend all of my free time with her and my life has become six hours of work per day, eight hours of sleep per day, and ten hours of finding life per day. That means drinks with friends, cooking at home and exploring Hanoi with my girlfriend, watching movies and listening to music, and doing things that makes life feel enjoyable.
There wasn’t much travel this year and that’s okay. I needed to stay still for a while and to think. I needed to get back to the basics and rediscover my smile. Because I wasn’t on planes the entire year I also wasn’t sick, which was a big bonus. I have no idea what will happen next year in terms of professional changes. I have a hunch or two and some exciting news coming soon, but everything’s in flux right now and that works for me.
Next year I will move into a new apartment (bigger and cheaper) and look into building more of a daily life here in Hanoi. This feels more like home than it ever has to me and I want to be nowhere else but here. There will be more travel, to be sure, but I’m not looking to escape or run away from Hanoi. I love it here. I’ve found peace here.
Life is so very short and I’m doing everything I possibly can to live it. Sometimes the decisions I make seem random or weird, but they all come from my fear that time is running out. It’s priceless, time, and next year I imagine that I’ll be even more vigilant about protecting it and honoring it.
The third WordSesh is approaching.
Join moderator Bronson Quick, panelist Christopher Cochran, panelist Sara Cannon, and I on December 20th at 3:00 UTC. We’ll be talking about everything themes, from our beginnings with them to the tools we use to make them. You won’t want to miss it.
I’ll write and maintain (to a point of absurdity) a plugin that has less than 6,000 downloads because my sense of ownership over the project is strong. I feel attached to Subtitles because it has my name on it and I’m responsible for it. I take strong pride in taking leadership over work and especially avoid projects or codebases that have no clear direction or accountability. There’s no sadder sight than the plugin or theme that dissolves into dust due to a lack of ownership.
When you give someone ownership over their work wonderful things can happen. Midday showers will create beautiful ideas and coders won’t mind sleepless nights dreaming up solutions that they are proud of. Pride and owning one’s work are what keep me going. Having space to make mistakes without judgment or overly-controlling rules also keeps me going. Being told not to do something or being hampered down by talking about coding rather than coding are what stops me in my tracks.
In my heart I am a developer. If not more than 80% of my time is being spent on the writing of code, the closing of tickets, the squashing of bugs, and the creation of things that make others go “Wow” then I feel myself losing happiness. I just want to make stuff and help others make stuff.
I think a lot of us are like this; let us always remember how beautiful coding feels when we find ourselves with an impulse to erect guidelines, standards, procedures, or rules. Let us remember how good we felt when we had our first pull request or Trac patch accepted when newcomers come along. Let us be careful with our words and gracious with others who want to help and give us their time at no cost.
Let us not push those away who would take agency and ownership over our work. It means that we’ve done something right.
From 2003 until around 2005 WordPress was something that I used to run a makeshift blog that I updated daily during my breaks between classes and work at Rice. It was a tool like any other tool; I wasn’t interested in anything other than whether or not it would allow me to write on the web.
Soon after graduating in 2006 I learned that WordPress was a way for me to put food on the table. Until around 2009 I was an independent contractor who spent every waking moment learning the platform in earnest and hoping to make a career out of it. WordPress was a permanent way out of the United States for me; it was a vehicle.
When Graph Paper Press happened in 2009 I learned that WordPress was friendship. Those two-plus years with Thad and Chandra were among the best of my life. My father died immediately after I started working at Graph Paper Press and Thad was supportive, understanding, never bossy, and never unreasonable. I was able to work when I wanted to work and I felt like the two were more than colleagues. They still are. I miss it and make a point to visit Chandra in Nepal as much as I can. I’ve never felt as valued as I did then.
Automattic was as much about making a massive impact on the web as it was feeling validated about my skill set as a developer. For as long as I live I will never doubt myself again. I worked with the best and brightest in the world and held my own, taught others, and changed lives. WordPress became social and political during these years. It was a hard balance to maintain being a pure developer and managing the corporate side of life.
It was a stressful time and I was always sick. I failed at maintaining a balance in my life and felt massive pressure at all times to perform at a high level. I was unhappy and especially unhappy at myself for not being able to find a balance with the company.
The last year WordPress was community. I spent a lot of time on _s, building up the WordPress meetup group in Hanoi, developing the first WordCamp in Vietnam, and, when time allowed, advising premium theme shops on how to develop themes the right way. Last year was about taking back control over my life, appreciating community, growing my personal roots in Hanoi, and spreading the gospel of WordPress to a new place.
For the last few months WordPress has become software to me again, a tool. For the next few years it will continue to be a tool. Just software, nothing more. Sure, we’ll have the meetups in Hanoi and possibly another WordCamp, if the community wants it. But for the most part it will be code to me. That’s it.
It won’t be news or drama or politics or this or that. It will quite literally just be code. I’ve found that when I’m able to do nothing but stare a computer screen with lines of poetry on it I’m able to do beautiful things.