A couple of days ago, the WordPress community in Bhopal conducted its first ever WordCamp.
This WordCamp was organised by students and mostly from LNCT Bhopal. It was a short one day event and I came across some very hardworking and enthusiastic students who were exploring WordPress.
Saurabh and I visited from Yapapaya. We both had a lot of useful and interesting interactions with several students.
For me, WordCamp Bhopal was special because it was the first time I stood on a stage solo and spoke. The previous time was WordCamp Pune but it was mainly as a moderator and I think I managed to be just about passable there.
The Fear, the shyness!
I suffer from extreme anxiety when it comes to speaking in public. So say there are more than two or three people in a room, I tend to clam up and not be very talkative or expressive for that matter. It takes me a long time to get comfortable and I suffer from extreme shyness which makes me simply prefer to not speak out or speak up in some cases.
I have a very strong case of anxiety and stress when I have to speak in front of people. I remember from childhood, I would dread being made to try out for elocution competitions, I would dread poetry recitations often to the point of becoming physically sick.
I would not be able to think clearly, nor collect my thoughts most times, and usually it ended up with disaster and the disinterested teacher marking me out as student not to spend too much time over.
I always loved to write and I felt more comfortable laying out my thoughts on paper or on a screen later. This fear of speaking in public is a constant companion, and pretty ironic when you think of it – because much of my career is about interacting with communities.
I thought that was how it would be all my life, and then I took a dive.
WordCamp Bhopal was announced and the organisers were looking for a speaker. Since I had spoken to the organisers a few times, I knew there would be many students attending. Students still having doubts and possibly looking for ideas about their career choices. I felt “Why Choose a career in open-source?” would be a decent topic in this scenario. I applied as a speaker and got approved.
Thanks to the WordPress community, I have learned to speak out and speak up in public bit by bit. In a moment of confidence I applied. Then I sat contemplating what I had got myself into.
WordCamp in Bhopal
On WordCamp Bhopal day, I prepared well. My fellow travellers from Yapapaya, Ganesh and Saurabh helped with expert advice, tips and design magic. My slides were minimalistic and I knew I wanted to keep things simple and easy to execute. I knew what I had to say. I prepared over and over again but I was still stuck on having a good opening.
I knew that when I was nervous and froze on stage – it was usually following a bad start. If I started well, managed to keep calm for the first few minutes, I would feel less anxious and I could breathe a bit easier and basically manage to speak without sounding like Mr. Monosyllable.
Back in Bhopal, on reaching the venue early morning, I had an auspicious sighting of the [ya] papaya tree, that was outside the guest house of the college campus.
— Saurabh Shukla (@actual_saurabh) September 24, 2016
The event began with registrations and some familiar faces to me from Mumbai and Pune squatted on some stairs waiting for things to begin. The second from left with the white t-shirt is Vachan Kudmule.
— WPoet (@wpoets) September 24, 2016
A few almost by now mandatory delays to every WordCamp the event started. Then there was a nasty technical difficulty that had cropped up. The venue’s projector was not working. I am sure the organisers were very anxious.
But the Batman in disguise, Vachan Kudmule had magically produced a backup projector from his utility belt. Jokes apart for Vachan to carry a projector when he was not even going to speak, shows he is insanely thoughtful.
Soon my session was up. I almost started to feel sick by then. I busily looked at my notes on my phone all the while, trying to tune out everything. Then I looked around and saw some in the audience a bit uninterested. I think many were hungry as things were delayed and by the time I was to talk it was lunch time.
I walked onto the stage, heart pounding. Alexander Gounder threw me a stress ball so I would keep calm. I walked up the steps to the stage and threw the ball back to Alex. All this was not planned and completely non-sensical.
I looked again at all the slightly bored and hungry faces. All those faces row after row.
I suddenly realised I was not as nervous as I had imagined. I was not feeling giddy or sick. Just my hands had gone cold and I was almost shivering. You’ll be fine I told myself and asked the crowd “Every one who is present at WordCamp Bhopal stand up”
Everyone did. I followed up with questions like “Who is still a student here?” and “Who is below the age of 25?” – I asked them to stand up each time instead of raising their hands.
Then I blurted, “Wow, I had never felt so powerful before.”
There was a bit of laughter going around the audience. For once they were not laughing at me, they were laughing at my silly introduction.
The rest flowed a lot more naturally. I asked questions during my talk, I got some applause too and at the end a few questions were posed to me. When I walked off, I thought I might have done okay.
But few people said, I had done a pretty decent job. I was suddenly feeling very bashful and confident.
The fear has been conquered. I have made a lot of progress since I have been involved with WordPress communities and this seemed about right.
I even put on hat after a while and posed like a thug. I am still walking around with a bit of swagger. And I have WordCamp Bhopal to thank for that. 🙂
My slides are pretty useless by themselves as much of the content in them are single sentences.
Here is a list of some folks who were attended WordCamp Bhopal and blogged about it.
Early in July, I quit my old job of almost 7 years. Around the same time, Ganesh, a friend also quit and started to work on building a WordPress based company in Pune. It’s name Yapapaya. Among the folks at Yapapaya – Ganesh Kerkar and Saurabh Shukla are probably the best friends I have in Pune.
Since I was friends with them, I started to enjoy watching their struggles (not in a Schadenfreude way), their discussions and philosophy around which they were building a company.
So sometime in mid-August, I thought, I would like to work for such a company. New, different and full of ideas that I was interested in. So I asked them if they wanted a partner aboard.
After some discussions we decided, I should be a part of Yapapaya. 🙂
And thus, a new phase of life for me has started, and yes the name really is Yapapaya.
Chief Culture Office – The weird title!
— Yapapaya (@Yapapaya) September 1, 2016
One morning, Saurabh called me and asked me about what should be my title. I have always found job titles a bit silly. With a general dislike for strict hierarchies and pyramid style organisations, though I guess in some industries it matters.
I feel there is a lot of unnecessary reverence shown to titles. So I thought it should be something irreverent and speak more about doing something rather than sounding authoritative.
I would be managing internal and external communications, interacting with the WordPress community, ensuring an environment that was open, free, safe and respectful of each individual and also helping at marketing by having a million interesting conversations with people around the world.
Here are my colleagues with whom I work with.
During a WordCamp in 2015, I remember someone being praised for contributions to the community.
The person who received the compliment made the appropriate right noises but added “I do not expect anything in return, it was simply a way to give to community.”
The man wore benevolence quite splendidly and that is where I felt he was wrong.
No, if you are making a career out of WordPress or any FOSS platform/product, building a company on it, you are doing this because a lot of people before you wrote the code and contributed.
And they did not do this because they were benevolent masters of the the technology world, but because they wanted to improve and nurture something they felt was important and useful to them. In the end, almost everyone who contributes to open source projects like WordPress, ultimately does so because they have skin in the game.
Better Software = Better Society
Okay, volunteering your time for better software is not exactly comparable to volunteering time for a better society. Writing code for a FOSS project gets you a lot of credit and improves the software you use to make a living. This cannot be compared to basically volunteering time at a homeless shelter or teaching under-privileged kids at a school. Anyone who compares the two is being conceited.
That said better software can greatly facilitate a better society.
A free open internet, will help democracy in the true sense and societies will greatly benefit from the feedback loops and organisational power technology gives the users. Millions today use the web to connect, to write opinions (including what you are reading now), to interact, to collaborate, to plan and to demand rights and change policies and hold each other and also the might governments accountable.
And such an internet should support freedom (ie: open source architecture, software and in general its philosophy), it should allow you to transfer your data from one place to another and definitely should not be a walled up garden.
This is why, people who make a living from open source software, should contribute to it in anyways they can, and not smugly say they do not expect anything in return. We have received plenty already, it is time we realise we are very privileged. It is time to stop calling contributing to something that benefits ourselves as charity.
Also check out: What is open-source culture? What does it mean to me?
Think about a large corporate company. Such a company is structured, systematic, primed to do things that experts around the world are hired to do to perfection. People come and go through revolving doors, experts are hired and fired or retired. CEOs are hired and fired. Many get jobs that are monotonous, mere cogs in a machine. The company is a machine, it is relentless and untiring. The financial resources it controls and sits atop of are enormous.
Now think about a village or a small town. It is exactly what a company is not. It is not really as super efficient, it is very informal in terms of how it grows or develops. Inhabitants often are poor or do not have the best education but usually have a lot of involvement in their society around them. They have skin in the game. It is a bit chaotic and when it comes to financial resources, it would never really be able to compare to a large powerful multinational company.
But tiny villages do outlast companies. Large powerful multinationals do meet their end, over decades or over a century. Villages grow like the weed, almost seemingly by chance and randomly into cities at times and survive for centuries and in some cases thousands of years. They survive earthquakes, droughts, floods, economic crisis and several other disasters. They survive because they are not machines, they do not break down completely, they adapt and survive.
Now think of several hundred such villages, towns and cities. What we have, is essentially a living civilisation!
Wait what does this have to do with open source?
Well, an open-source project is a lot like that village. It is like a living organism, it survives because it engages with people, it is not a machine that can break down.
It can grow pretty relentlessly but in unpredictable ways. For example, Unix and Linux as projects which many an expert thought would not be able to survive the might of Microsoft, today powers 67.0% of the web servers.
I have been involved over the past 3 years around community building around WordPress – an open-source project in Mumbai and lately in Pune. So I am more tuned into WordPress community and news around it.
Today, the WordPress CMS is used on 26% of websites that are out there. Not bad for a CMS ridiculed of being just good for blogging. Maybe it is because it was just that, a good blogging software, not pretentious and easy to start using than others, but that can be another post someday.
This happens because the community around WordPress or Unix (mainly Linux) is alive, is a living organism and it is so very deliberately – so that it can adapt, absorb and outlast all machines out there by centuries.
So open-source is a philosophy?
Yes. In many ways it is. In technical terms, the source code of the software is made open. So you can play around with it, customise it, rewrite it – no questions asked. But it means very little, without a sense of culture around it.
A culture to share expertise, make it accessible and easier to use for others. A culture that is not just about learning something and becoming an expert to get paid gigs – but a culture that nurtures understanding and expertise in others and you.
The software would not last too long without a culture of freedom and openness around it. This is why it is called FOSS – Free and Open Source Software.
Code contributions, free plugins and themes, free tutorials, free support over forums, free volunteering of time and effort to write content, translate content for the WordPress project, free time and effort to organise local meetups and WordCamps, all are many different ways we can contribute to the culture of WordPress.
It is what will keep WordPress more like a living organism and less like a machine!
- Cathedral and the Bazaar by Eric S Raymond – A great book that explains how this culture of community feedback and contribution works better against a more streamlined, structured style of development. The book will give you good insights into the history of FOSS movement.
- Revolution OS – A documentary that starts with the GNU movement and is great for understanding early days of Linux growth and its blossoming.
- The Story of WordPress – A book that is hosted on Git. Its free and open for anyone with internet to read up. It will take your through a through history of WordPress and its growth and breakthroughs.
PS: Thanks Saurabh for telling me about Cathedral and the Bazaar by Eric S Raymond during a conversation.
Almost seven years ago, I joined the merry band at rtCamp with 6 founders and couple of us more. For a few years now, other than the two remaining founders, I was the oldest employee at rtCamp.
Yes, you read it right! I “was” the oldest employee at rtCamp.
Three months ago, I put in my papers. Served the notice and today was my last day with rtCamp.
I am thankful for many things there. I learned a lot over the last few years about how a company evolves. I have experienced joyous times, disappointing times and most importantly lot of freedom. Freedom at rtCamp, allowed me to do a lot of things I did not think I would have ever looked up let alone get involved. A big example of that is the WordPress and open-source community in general.
That freedom allowed me to bring some of the things I learned and experienced back into rtCamp.
I moved to Pune, recently to work from rtCamp’s office which is based in Pune. Those were major life changes. I won’t be returning to Mumbai, I will be staying in Pune for atleast the next few months.
Wait am I crazy?
Some might think I am a bit crazy to quit my job without landing another one. But since rtCamp and the ideas around it were so dear to me, I had to be sure, I was not just quitting for an extra 10% raise (not that there is anything wrong in leaving a job for a raise) or something similar.
That would not have been the right treatment to my time with rtCamp. I feel good about leaving, I am leaving with a lot of good memories and good friendships.
I am looking forward to freelancing.
So what’s the future!
I have been very involved with the WordPress community that is local in Mumbai and Pune. I hope to give more time over the next few months to the WordPress open-source community in India and more. I am also looking forward to giving more to the global WordPress community.
Also a few months ago, I have become a contributor to JaiWP.com. I want to interview people, search for stories that involve WordPress from around India and possibly all over South Asia.
I will be writing a lot more on this blog. So keep in touch here.
I also want to spend a few days home in Mumbai, catch up with old friends there and simply chill out a bit!
Here are some photos over the past 7 years in rtCamp.
I recently came across a funny video. The speaker essentially imitates, mocks and totally destroys every TED Talk or similar talks, that I might have seen or will see in the future.
Last weeks popular headline was “Richest 85 people as wealthy as half of world’s population”.
What seems missing are followup headlines asking or demanding changes to the system. Read more Match Fixing at an epic scale!
Last week, I got myself a place in Pune. A new place that is small, decent and comfortable. I am now living in one of these well laid out, planned townships that were probably farmlands in 2005, the year I had previously moved from Mumbai to Pune.
Mumbai remains home. I have family there and probably will spend a good number of days every month there. But my new dwelling where I am staying much of the week, was at first comfortable and useful. Thanks to having a lot of colleagues around, my social life was suddenly pretty active and I am making good friends.
But the new place felt impersonal, new and odd. It did not feel warm as a house would (maybe the Pune winter has something to do with it), it did not feel like I belonged here.
I was a bit worried wondering if I was every going to feel at home here.
Then today, I managed to come along home a little earlier than my usual time. It was before the sun had set for the day. As I made some coffee for myself, I saw out of my 11th floor window this view.
Some kids were playing cricket at a distance over a concrete pitch. I felt a bit at home, remembering a long gone yet familiar time of playing cricket with friends during school holidays.
This was good. I think I feel at home.
I usually avoid hero worship. I generally dislike thinking of any one single person having realistically made a significant change to the world all by themselves. They never really do.
Today is 2nd October, the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. He was born a 146 years ago.
‘Father of the Nation’ is a epithet that I dislike at times to describe the great man that Mahatma Gandhi was. It enshrines the entire credit of modern India to a single person. I never really feel comfortable with such notions. That said, Gandhiji was a man who had an exceptional impact and his generation was truly a magnificent one in history.
These men and women in their thousands were flawed in more than one way. They were often in many respects, beliefs and ideas, products of their times.
They were also exceptional from many other generations as they forged and nurtured a union that we know of today as India, together with several hundreds of languages, different ethnicities, religions, caste and so much more which could have torn us apart.
India today is a chaotic democracy but a beautiful experiment at the same time. The experiment that we could refer to our “tryst with destiny” is still ongoing.
A friend, rightly point out on Facebook today . (Not linking to the post as it was private and he wants to stay anonymous)
but we should also remember that Nehru, Gandhi and all those leaders of that massive pervasive and diverse National Independence movement represented a generation. A generation that in early twentieth century was thinking of us in the 21st century, thinking of our future our well-being and our dignity. They were not just bothered with then and now, they had a vision — for a world where people like you and me can live with our heads high.
That dream came true for you and me but is not yet fully accomplished for millions of our fellow humans. That dream might not come true for our future generations and descendants. That pledge with destiny has not yet been fully redeemed. Lots of work left.
My friend is right.
In recent times, India feels more divided than ever. People are often casually hurling abuses and insults towards each other for having differing political opinions and views. We would do well to remember Gandhi’s generation for a few moments.
In this generation were founders of modern India. Our nation’s fathers and mothers. They thought about the world, about India and humanity. They forged a nation with no experience and several differences even among themselves by investing in institutions and civil traditions that continue to outlast them by many a decades. We should be grateful to them, but lots of work is still left to be done.
The responsibility is now ours. This age is now ours and we have to nurture this idea of India, make it better and leave it behind for generations to come.
As goes one of Gandhiji’s famous quotes “The future depends on what we do in the present”.