Women in WordPress: Zee’s journey into WordPress Development

8 min read
Zee Khamaruldin

As WordPress reached its 20th year, I find myself reminiscing about my journey into WordPress Development.

Through the years, I saw the growth of the Internet, along with WordPress.

When I was in Secondary 2, in 1995, my cohort had visited the neighborhood Institute of Technical Education, where we were introduced to the Internet. I remember how the speaker was showing the dial-up connection and saying, “You can walk away to make a cup of coffee, and when you return, it may still be trying to connect to the Internet”.

It was during my tertiary education in 1998 when I first learnt HTML (Hyper-Text Markup Language). I was fascinated by how some lines of codes could change a blank page into colors of text and images. After completing Advanced Diploma, I offered to create a website for a friend who wanted to share his music journey.

Making connections through blogging

In the early 2000s, my generation was captivated by blogging. Free blogging sites like Pitas amongst WordPress and Blogger/Blogspot were used by my peers. We used these blogging sites as our online journals.

It was fun reading friends’ updates, especially when we were then in different polytechnics or universities. It was also where I found new friends. I remember vividly the first small meet-up I had with a few fellow bloggers.

One of my best memories of us was going for an outing to take photos along the Singapore River through Marina Bay. I am still friends with them to this day.

My foray into the world of tech: From technical support to freelance web design

After graduating in 2002, a company approached me to ask if I can help them digitalise their physical map into an online directory. They were producers of maps to show the location of wafer fab factories in China.

Since I wasn’t getting any full-time employment due to the dot-com bubble burst, I took up the project, thinking it was one-off. At a young age of 21, being paid S$2,500 in cash didn’t come to me as dodgy. Instead, I got excited as they had more maps for me to turn into web pages.

I finally got myself a full-time job in 2004, working as a technical support officer at one of Singapore’s first Internet service providers, Pacific Internet.

I gained experience by helping people who were not tech-savvy, explaining to them how the Internet works using layman terms.

Serving users of dial-up and ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) internet also built up my patience.

I worked 2 years as a technical support officer, and another 2 at a bank providing support to its internet banking users. After that, I decided that it was time to continue working on my freelance projects. By then, I was married, and my husband supported my pursuit.

Gaining confidence in building WordPress websites

During my 4 years of full-time employment, I was still getting constant web design projects on the side. It helped me gain confidence in building WordPress websites. I started purchasing domain names and learning more about web hosting.

This was when I started building self-hosted WordPress websites.

Back in 2009, one-click WordPress installation was not available yet. I remember how careful I had to be making sure the database and WordPress installation were done. Oh the anxiety!

As I got more opportunities to work on websites built on WordPress, security issues were rampant too. I started to trial with having WordPress installation away from the root folder. While at that time, there was no evidence that having to install WordPress in a subdirectory within the same domain was more secure, it gave me a better peace of mind.

When one-click WordPress installation was introduced by web hosts, it was so much easier to have WordPress installed on subdirectories. While WordPress is installed in a subdirectory, the website is accessible through its main domain name. I first learnt of this through WordPress documentation and it has been my practice most of the time now.

PlayPause - We Do Nice Things

My husband and I officially ran a business together from 2010; a boutique digital branding agency we called PlayPause. He was the creative director, in charge of all graphics to brand designs. Expectedly, I was handling website designs.

We went from a Sole Proprietorship to a Private Limited (Pte Ltd) in 3 years. However, it was always just the two of us running the show. We saw how many more companies trusted us when we became a Pte Ltd company.

While we were having more brand and graphic design projects from statutory boards and government agencies, one of our best statutory board clients gave me the opportunity to rework on their website.

The trust that I earned through the working relationships over the years gained me more confidence in building and developing WordPress websites.

I started experimenting with plugins on my own first before offering or implementing on clients’ websites. One such plugin was WooCommerce.

My foray into E-commerce

When I first learnt of WooCommerce, it was known as WooThemes. I built my own eCommerce website to familiarize myself with the plugin before I can be confident enough to implement it for others.

One of PlayPause’s earliest eCommerce clients was a fashion brand. The owner had a beautiful stock of abayas - modest garments for women. We helped her build her brand and her eCommerce website from scratch. It was a full-board project.

We scheduled models for the photoshoot, edited the photos and built the eCommerce website. Although the brand didn’t last through the years, it was the most fun project I had ever worked on in PlayPause history.

I have built a couple more eCommerce websites, championing WordPress being more reliable and robust than other online systems available out there. The most recent eCommerce project was with a newly brewed local cafe, State of Affairs.

Through my first decade dabbling with WordPress, I was used to working with preset or pre-designed themes available either freely through the depository or those needed to be purchased.

I started looking for a builder to work with seamlessly with WordPress. One that can allow me to be creative in designing a custom website design, yet not being too complicated for a non-techie to take over or learn.

The pandemic shift

When the pandemic hit the entire world, my life shifted. My husband and I got jaded too. After almost 2 decades of serving corporate clients, we went on a hiatus and stopped taking on new projects for PlayPause.

It was at that time when I discovered Aisha Preece. She’s a blogger who earns her income across 6 websites. I signed up for her workshop to learn how to write an SEO blog post. I found like-minded people within Aisha’s community.

Aisha has built a strong community of writers who use WordPress to publish their articles and monetize their websites.

While I was learning from her, I was also able to help her with some tech bumps she ran into across her WordPress websites. She called me her Tech Fairy Godmother.

The birth of Zee the Tech Fairy

With Aisha’s encouragement, I started offering my tech support service to help those with WordPress website issues. I took on the title Tech Fairy with pride.

In just the first week of offering my service, I managed to help 11 people with their WordPress websites. My first video call was with someone who was so anxious about taking the first step into the world of websites.

It’s like full circle for me. 20 years later, my first job got me ready for this.

I was able to guide her through each step of the way. From purchasing a domain name to setting up her web host, to finally having her WordPress website set up. In less than an hour, I felt so accomplished that I managed to help someone overcome her fear of tech.

It is so fulfilling for me to be where I am now. I have always wanted to help people get over the fear of tech because it is supposed to ease our life.

My journey through the years, growing with WordPress has prepared me for this. The tech bumps and failures I had to go through and learn from, and the skills I acquired while experimenting - these gave me the confidence that I can help others.

While designing and developing WordPress websites may earn me some handsome money, I realize that it was not as fulfilling as my ability to help someone overcome their tech worries.

Writing this piece takes me back to my humble beginnings. It also brought me back to those difficult times when tech was such a big scary thing for most people. Now, almost everyone has tech in the grasp of their hands.

At the time of writing, WordPress has just released WordPress 6.4. What a journey it has been for the last 20 years.