Women in WordPress: From creative to maker of the web – Olga Gleckler’s journey in WordPress

8 min read
Olga Gleckler

I was lucky, and I still am.

I have a loving family and a good job as a WordPress full stack developer. With that, I contribute to WordPress, attend WordCamps and rock concerts, prepare to publish my fantasy saga. I have started taking fencing lessons, and have friends all over the world.

To get to this point wasn’t simple, and moving forward also isn’t. There is no finish line, but new obstacles to conquer and opportunities to jump into or not. The ability to choose makes me feel alive and empowered—not a fish in a tank but a dolphin in the sea.

I don’t want to delude myself that I achieved something significant, but the journey is enjoyable, and I had fun along the way with people I like. I stopped trying to be an average human being. Instead, I embraced this hyper and dynamic firework that I am.

All this would not be possible without the support from people who helped me get on my feet, illuminate the path and still are finding me as a good company, as well as those who try to put me down at my lowest. The experience with the latter was educational, but it turned out I don’t have to keep them in my life. A world full of great talented open-minded individuals, who willingly share pages from their books and lend a helping hand. The WordPress community assembled many of them, but they are everywhere. And if you don’t know how to find them, try to become one 🙂

Crawling to my next big break

I wasn’t born with a silver spoon, but I had a family of makers. My parents were engineers, my grandmother was a successful seamstress, and my grandfather made a whole car by hand. I was in awe of this impressive and very reliable car. My nice cosy world turned into a pumpkin when my parents got divorced. Still, I was one of the first amongst my peers who had a computer at home. As such, I quickly became a good user.

No letter came from Hogwarts, and at the age of 15, I started studying at a technical school. I had no passion for technology. But thinking logically, I decided that technology is a rapidly developing area, computers are interesting and there has to be plenty of work.

But no job offers were waiting for me after school, despite a diploma with honours. I was lost and unsure on what to do next, so my father helped me to get a job in customer service at the IT company he worked for. His help was crucial, because without that, I would probably work as a waitress just to earn a living. Later on in life, I realized that the right start is very important. It is much easier to get a position at another tech company if you have already worked at one.

For me, having money made it much easier to make choices. Disappointed at my initial choice of specialization, I entered university to study advertising. It was another fascinating area that was booming back then. At the same time, I tried to learn PHP by myself. While it was very exciting, I had no idea what to do with a bunch of functions. For me, it felt as if I had many puzzle pieces without knowing what the picture should look like. I was stuck and shelved the idea for an undefined future.

Getting up and starting afresh

Years later, my job eventually became stressful and dull. When I returned from maternity leave, I found my employment situation more unfriendly than it was before. An honours degree in advertising did me no good.

Despite fearing that it will be difficult for me to find a job while caring for my son, I decided to quit. After spending 2.5 years working in a temporary position, it was not a complete waste of time for me. I had a working site with a custom CMS to maintain and was able to study how it works.

I eventually started receiving orders from friends and took up small web development jobs. This is how I found out about WordPress. During my first encounter, it took me a whole weekend to debug a site that was down from time to time. The bug? An infinite loop made by this site developer who modified the vendor theme. Back then, I had no idea that this was not just a mistake by the developer, but that the whole approach was wrong from the beginning. Given my limited knowledge, I had no idea how bad the situation is.

Nevertheless, with all these jobs, I accumulated some experience. Finally, I was ready to apply and get my first full-time job as a web developer. Back then, remote working wasn’t common, but I was able to arrange to work from home, allowing me to work while caring for my son.

10 years have passed. Since then, I’ve changed several jobs, each time working remotely, and freelanced for a couple of years. For me, if there are no opportunities for professional growth, and when boredom starts creeping in from doing the same things over and over again, it is time to talk openly with a supervisor, clean up your real or virtual desk and leave. Challenges are a big part of my day-to-day work. It makes me happy to be able to do something that I have never done before, and I believe I am not alone in that.

Still, as a developer, my love for WordPress remained constant. I favour WordPress for the best combination of ready-to-use options, abilities for customization and integrations, and effectiveness and convenience for editors and decided to work only with WordPress.

Stepping ahead with WordPress

As long as I was working with WordPress sites made by another freelancer, I didn’t see a child theme once, and I found out about them accidentally while browsing documentation. It was a shock, after which I started paying more attention to best practices. But still, my knowledge was quite limited, and my vision angle was very narrow, even if I was relying on the documentation. The video course from Brad Schiff helped me to improve, but didn’t provide a high level overview.

Now I am advising everyone who wants to work with WordPress to start with its architecture, understand the logic behind it, and study its abilities and API. When you know what is possible and how the task at hand can be handled in general, finding exact functions that do what you need, hooks to use or customization options is quite easy. But even this will not show the full picture.

Only when I discovered our local WordPress meetup did I understand the limitations of a solo journey and started to glimpse the WordPress project not as a CMS, but as a significant part of the world and open-source culture.

Spreading my wings for the future

My contribution to WordPress has helped to shape my knowledge to a whole new level. It feels incredible to be able to contribute to a project that powers 43% of websites globally. As I continue pursuing my goals, I was able to land jobs with better salaries and more interesting projects. However, my main reason for continuing to contribute to WordPress was the community of proactive, smart, and kind people whom I’ve met along the way. They are the heart and soul of WordPress. Being part of such a wonderful company is priceless. All of us coming together to work hard on something we’re all passionate about.

When it comes to the wonderful people whom I’ve been lucky to meet and worked with, my list of names is endless. However, I want to name a special person.

When I first started contributing to WordPress, I met Abha Thakor. She is a developer, communicator, marketer, project manager and just an incredible woman. She became my friend and mentor. Abha helped me a lot and continues to guide me till this day. Now, I support new contributors by helping them to adapt and find their footing as a mentor in the Contributor Mentorship Program and by other means. WordPress opens plenty of possibilities to everyone, and we can work together towards ambitious goals, to make significant changes for the Internet, open-source and a better future while growing ourselves within this amazing project.