There is Karate inside you: Finding Mentors in open-source & WordPress

Back in 1991, VCR cassette libraries were around every nook and corner of Bombay, slightly unaware of the foreboding change that cable tv was going to bring in. These libraries introduced the latest American movies in Indian households and ours was no exception.

Growing up, I was riveted by a movie called the Karate Kid. I managed to watch it at least a hundred times.

Screengrab from the movie Karate Kid with Mr. Miyagi teaching Daniel.

Okay, maybe a dozen or so times but it still was plenty of times.

As a young child who had enough self image issues and self- confidence could oscillate from super high to non-existent, the story arc of Karate Kid resonated with me.

Okay, this is not a blog post about me taking Karate lessons and becoming a champion, and this is indeed about finding or recognizing mentors in WordPress or open-source projects.

Mr. Miyagi, the character in the movie, who teaches karate, has this very popular quote that always stood out for me.

In Okinawa, a belt means you don’t need a rope to hold your pants up. Daniel-san, karate is here [taps his head]. Karate is here [taps his heart]. Karate is never here [points to his belt]. Understand?

This very central to how I was helped by people throughout my life and especially when I started participating in the ecosystem. 

A good mentor is someone who brings home the point that we already have what we need inside ourselves and then proceeds to be a helpful friend.

In a sense, that can literally be anyone.

The right place to start

Okay, so you are new to WordPress or a particular open-source project and want to learn things. You want to learn about code, documentation, themes, and the general structure of the software. 

You want to learn skills like being able to write a project report, work at organising people, project management and more.

All these things are something you can learn by spending some time contributing to the WordPress project. And in most cases you will find people willing to help you skill up, improve and in general help you chip away all the crud to encourage a skill to develop from within.

If you think, where do I start? How do I start?

Ask for help!

The first time I decided to speak at a WordCamp, I was struggling to put together a good narrative.

I knew what I wanted to speak about, I knew the points. I knew the work that was needed to get better. But while I knew most of what needed to be done, I was not happy with whatever I was putting together. I needed some help from someone who had spoken at WordCamps earlier.

I reached out to Saurabh, a friend who I could trust. We sat for a couple of hours, working through my presentation. I trusted his process but still found my own style and ideas to speak at that WordCamp. And I did.

This happened several times over. Another person I learn a lot from watching is Sheeba, a WordPress professional from Pune. That in–person WordPress meetups exist, it is because of folks like Sheeba, who keep track of discussions, and what people are doing with WordPress and then with minimal fuss, go about helping people with their WordPress problems, finding work and network.

That is not all, from people helping me write better emails, to giving me tips on wearing comfortable footwear at conferences, to introducing me to different approaches or tweaks to my workflow with WordPress. 

I have had several dozen people who I could call mentors or as I call them now “my WordPress friends”.

What I really learned from my friends

I wrote previously about why I contribute to open source and about building in the open. I find open source very authentic, and feel that in many ways it reflects our world and lived experiences.

A project like can feel very chaotic from the outside. It can feel overwhelming in terms of the sheer number of discussions and things happening.

Mentors are like old friends who sit next to us and help us navigate this world. 

Personally, I felt my WordPress friends helped me with some of the following things.

  1. Finding my way around
  2. Networking
  3. Contextualizing my contribution with skill development.
  4. Displaying how to have civil discourse online and in-person via their own examples
  5. Discovering loads of fun and laughter

Mentors are humans

While it is easy to look at people with more experience and insights as magical wizards and yourself as a hapless hobbit. 

The likelihood is everyone is often hapless and a bit lost and any mentor you look up to can also be hapless and a bit lost. Mentors are after all human beings and they are failable.

The great thing about open source culture, is it has a healthy lack of reverence for hierarchy or seniority, which encourages mentors to be viewed as friends who you can mentor back.

Finding a mentor is not finding that one true sensei, but finding enough people who help you chip away parts of you that are getting in the way, and letting your skills that are within you to come through shining.

This post is part of a series.

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