Introducing Miranda Knee
Tara: This is Hallway Chats, where we meet people who use WordPress.
Liam: We ask questions, and our guests share their stories, ideas, and perspectives.
Tara: And now the conversation begins. This is episode 102.
Tara: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Tara Claeys.
Liam: And I’m Liam Dempsey. Today we’re joined by Miranda Knee. Miranda is a web developer who strives to build appealing, responsive websites. She’s experienced in WordPress and familiar with creating custom themes. Miranda loves to learn and to grow. Outside of coding, she enjoys yoga, sci-fi and fantasy books, movies, and weightlifting. Welcome, Miranda.
Liam: How are you today?
Miranda: I’m doing well. I would say I’m excited and a little nervous because this is my first official podcast. So hope it goes well – that I do well.
Tara: Well, we’re so happy that you joined us. Thank you very much for being here. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself?
Miranda: Yeah, sure. I’m 30 years old and proud. I love it. I work for a nonprofit in downtown of Pittsburgh called the Allegheny Conference on Community Development. The Allegheny Conference, basically, they’re a great company. They work in many ways to make the Pittsburgh region better. And when I say Pittsburgh region, it’s typically Southwestern Pennsylvania. They do that through many means, such as trying to convince corporations to come here. And when they come here, they create jobs. So that’s good.
We have a chamber department, we have an economy department, and we have all kinds of affiliates. So all these major departments and affiliates need websites. They need a web presence and that is where I come in. I’m their web developer. I build the websites, I maintain them, I update them. That’s what I do. And I like it. It’s been a great learning experience. But I am the only web developer at the company, and so that can sometimes be challenging.
Tara: Yeah. How did you first get started and learned the trade?
Miranda: Well, I will say this is my second career choice. When I first went to school, I went to Pittsburgh Technical Institute, and I worked for Multimedia. In Multimedia, you can take two tracks. You can either go video editing or web development. In my first round, I chose to do video editing because it was fun, it was creative.
I also liked web development but at that time, I decided to go video. I did that for five years, liked it but didn’t love it. Then I had a crazy experience in my life where I broke my leg. It kind of turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life because it gave me time and time off work, time off life. And with that time, I got to really think like, “Was this the right path for me? Should I change it? What do I really want to do?” And I figured out that I wanted to build websites because I’m a problem solver, and web development allows you to solve problems every day.
So I went back to PTI in 2014, and within a year graduated with my web degree. And six months after graduating with that the Allegheny Conference decided to hire me.
Tara: Were you learning WordPress specifically or did you learn that after you got your degree?
Miranda: I was first exposed to WordPress in school. When I went back for web development, we learned what it was a content management system, how to do your basic install, how to change themes, how to update the content and get it live on the web. So we maybe spent one class on it. My most exposure to WordPress was with my first job the Allegheny Conference.
We several years ago hired a third party company to help the conference build four WordPress sites. They did a great job, and then it was my responsibility to maintain them and update them for my team at the conference. That’s really how I got deep into WordPress was through that experience. And then after that, it was like, “Okay, we have this affiliate, and we need a website or we need to redo our website, make it more modern. We want it to be WordPress. Can you do that?” “Yeah, I’ll do what I can.” From there, that’s when I started building my own custom themes using Underscores (_s).
Liam: That’s all fantastic starter them, but there’s nothing there in terms of much in the way of structure or design. How do you go about making it from the ground up there? Are you designing as well? Or is there a brand guideline that you follow – so the agency needs this, so we roll out that?
Miranda: I would love style guides and branding guidelines. But as a nonprofit, we don’t get that luxury. It’s usually, “Hey, we want this website.” They think they want WordPress because WordPress is big. It’s popular. And yes, it does a lot of great things, but our clients, my co-workers might not always understand that. They think because this is newest, latest thing, we should have it.
Sometimes I can convince them not to use WordPress. Not that WordPress is bad, but say, you only have one page, you only have a single page website, you might not need it to be WordPress or no one’s going to update the content. But to circle back to your question on how we do the design, there used to be two web developers. So the other web developer, he would do the design, come up with a mock-up, and once that was approved, it was my job to make the WordPress site look like his design.
Liam: So I’m curious on sites where you don’t use WordPress because there’s so many different tools available, so many different approaches, what are you doing with those one and two and three-page sites that aren’t likely to be updated or once a year? What are you building those with? It is just HTML? CSS? Are you using something like a Gatsby? What are you doing?
Liam: Only when I have a really big soda. So we’re probably…
Tara: I have used it but I’m not quite sure how I used it. I followed instructions and installed it. But long ago. Did a class with Carrie Dils and kind of learned that little thing, but haven’t done it lately.
Tara: I think I used it when I was using SAS a lot more. And so it was really great to see what it would do with that in terms of minifying. Cool. What’s your favorite thing to do in your job?
Miranda: Recently, my coworkers would come to me and say that they would like this feature on their WordPress site or…we’ll stick with the WordPress site. An example I could give is we have Pittsburgh Regional Alliance Department. The Pittsburgh Regional Alliance wants to have a “See us here” section on their homepage. And the “see us here,” basically says,” Okay, this is an event going on in Pittsburgh or outside of the region, and this is the date that it’s happening, and this is our staff member who’s going to be there.”
This was actually fun for me because I had to figure out, “Okay, how can I make this happen and make my co-workers happy and meet their need? And also, how can I do it in a way that’s easy for them so that they can update it on their own and when they need to?” So there is this framework plugin called CMB2. Have you heard of it by chance?
Liam: Little bit. Sure, yeah.
Miranda: Okay. It’s one of my favorite things right now. CMB2 is a framework that allows me to create custom meta boxes on the WordPress site. So with CMB2, I created this “See us here” function. So when my co-workers go into the dashboard of WordPress, they will look on their options within the dashboard, and they’ll say, “Oh, see us here, click on that.” And when they click on that, they now can enter in dates. Here’s a start date. Here’s an end date, what’s the title of the event, what’s the location. They can select which one of our staff members are going to be there. And then they hit post and it just populates on the front page.
Liam: That’s awesome. I’m curious how as a web development department of one, or maybe there were still two there, right? You said at some point there were two. What is your research process? Somebody comes to you and says, “Brenda, the website needs to do this,” and your immediate reaction is, “I got nothing,” where do you go from?
Miranda: That happens quite a bit. I go to the internet Google, gotta love it, Udemy, Lynda. I will say Morten Rand-Hendriksen is someone who I look to a lot and I have learned so much from him using his Lynda tutorials. He’s the reason I know how to even create my own theme. He’s been great. So I would say he’s a good resource for me.
I go to meetups as well. I try to meet other people, developers, ask for their knowledge – what do they know, how do they learn, what should I know, and then I do trial and error. So I’ll try to write the code. If it doesn’t work, I keep trying until I find something that does work.
Tara: That’s very gratifying when you find that, isn’t it?
Tara: Miranda, you mentioned meetups. Can you tell us a little bit about your involvement or your connection with the WordPress community in your area?
Miranda: Yeah. Pittsburgh recently started doing WordCamp, I think three years ago. And it was a big deal. Big, big deal. I went to that, met other WordPress developers. And then I found out about meetup. Typically, once a month on Tuesdays, the WordPress community will get together and talk about anything WordPress related. So I try to go to those as often as I can because I want to know what other people are doing, what’s out there, what can I learn. Recently, Rene, who I believe you guys have spoken with, she’s the one that recommended me to you guys…
Liam: We did speak with her.
Miranda: Yeah, she’s great. She asked me to do a talk on CNB2 forms.
Liam: That’s awesome. That’s awesome. You mentioned that you go to the WordPress meetup. I’m always interested to know what other meetups people go to. When you go to that’s not WordPress related, what are you drifting into? Where are you spending your time meetup wise?
Miranda: I’d have to think about that. One of my interest is yoga. I’ve done a few yoga meetups where there’s some trails within the area, Carnegie, I think is one. It’s called Yoga on the Rocks. Through meetup, I found out about this location that I never knew of. It’s in my own neighborhood. There’s this trail and you walk back this trail, and it has this little waterfall right by these large, gigantic rocks. This particular meetup, you get on top of these giant rocks and you do a yoga practice. It might sound bizarre, odd, but it was awesome.
Tara: I never thought of using meetup for yoga. That’s really cool. Wow. Thanks for sharing that.
Tara: We like to ask all of our guests about success, Miranda. Can you tell us how you define success, personally, professionally, or combination of the two?
Miranda: Yeah. I think that’s a great question. To me, success is how I feel about myself and my work. If I can feel good about me, and about the work that I give, then I think that success.
And how do I do that? Basically, I would say through self-care. So as a web developer, I’m sure you guys know we spend a lot of time at our desk, at the computer looking on the internet, but we need to have like a balance. So that’s where yoga comes in for me. Going to the gym, working out, making sure that I’m doing justice to my body. I try to eat a decent diet. I won’t say I’m a health freak, because I do love some junk food. So making sure I live a healthy lifestyle helps me stay balanced and helps me be more successful within my coding and outside of my coding.
Liam: That’s a great definition. I like that. And I’d like your emphasis on the well-roundedness of self-care and the like. One other thing you shared about your definition of success was how you feel about yourself, and your contributions in your work? How do you self-assess how you feel about yourself and your work?
Miranda: That’s a good question.
Liam: Sorry, it’s a hard one. I’m sorry to spring that on you.
Miranda: No, it’s fine. I think these are good things to think about. I would say, a client, a co-worker comes to me, they have a problem that they want to solve coding wise on a website. And they come to me and they look to me, and like, “How can we make this happen?” And if I can solve that problem for them or provide them a solution, then that makes me feel good.
Where I have to be careful is I like to do really good quality work that’s clean, and it’s very easy to mess things up or make them dirty. So people want things quick and fast. We don’t always spend time planning and prepping and preparing. They’re like, “We want this, when can you have it done? The sooner the better.” So sometimes when that happens a lot, things just get dumped on top of one another and it gets messy and you don’t always live in your comments or keep it clean. And then you leave it alone for like months and months, and then you need to come back to that web project, and you’re like, “Oh, what did I do here? Shit is everywhere.”
That’s something I try not to do but it does happen. One that does happen, still being able to feel proud or successful of your work kind of becomes like you question it. So I try to not go there, but it does happen.
Tara: Yeah, it happens everywhere, not just in code, but in life. So I understand that everybody does it sometimes as much as we want to be organized. I want to go back, you mentioned in the beginning about breaking your leg and how that sort of changed your direction and transformed your life in a way. Do you think that your definition of success before you broke your leg was different than what it is now?
Miranda: Likely, yeah. Very likely. I think as we go through life, we were always growing as people, and our perspective can change. How I saw success 5 years ago, 10 years ago, 15 years ago probably was not the same as I see success today. I might have been harder on myself or had a higher bar set, and things have to be perfect, I always have to please people, make sure they’re happy.
Now, I would say yes, I still want those in a sense, but I don’t want to set myself up for failure, or maybe giving a client or co-worker something that really won’t help them. So now success is like feeling proud of my work and not making sure that someone else is just happy. Before it might have been just so the client or coworker or somebody else’s pleased and not really how I felt about it. Now it’s more like, again, balance. I want to feel good about what I gave them, make sure what they’re asking for is really what they need, and not just something that they requested, didn’t really need, don’t know that and I just gave it to them anyways.
Tara: Do you think your focus on self-care is something that also came out of that experience with your leg?
Miranda: Oh, yeah, for sure.
Tara: You had the time to kind of realize what was important and taking care of yourself after being injured?
Miranda: Yeah. It was making sure that I’m choosing a career path in life that makes me feel proud, and that I really enjoy doing. Also being kinder to my body and not doing reckless things that might injure it again or break another leg or arm.
Liam: What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve addressed in your life? If it’s in the past, how did you overcome it? And if it’s something ongoing, how are you dealing with it today?
And another challenge, if you don’t mind me throwing a second one in there…
Liam: Please do. Please do.
Miranda: …is just managing others. When you’re working on a web project, and again, I’ll go back to clients or coworkers requesting things that maybe they think they need, but they don’t really need, it’s not going to solve their problem, and trying to communicate that to them and make them also understand. That’s one of my challenges because I don’t feel like I can always do that.
And when I see that happening, it’s very frustrating because I’m frustrated, yes, with them for not understanding me, but also with myself for not being able to communicate it to a way that they are understanding it. And then I have that fear of, “Okay, well, I hope we don’t go down this path and go too far or we create this project that wasn’t really needed, and it just wastes everyone’s time and nobody’s happy, and then they asked like, “Why did this happen?” “I don’t know.”
Liam: That’s making me think of those old silent movies, where someone’s on the train line, and the other person is gesticulating trying to get the attention of somebody to say, “No, no, stop, this isn’t going to go well.” I can totally see you in a meeting saying, “Oh, this is not going to end well. You don’t need that functionality. We can go a simpler route or another route. Or we already built something that’s 90% of the way there and just a sense of frustration and futility almost I imagine of that.” So yeah, I get that.
Miranda: Yeah. And it’s just I don’t have that other person, that other coworker who’s a developer to say, “Hey, what do you think about this code? Do you think this is optimized? Do you think this is efficient? Is there a way I could do it better?” That kind of thing.
Liam: Yeah, that’s tricky.
Tara: How do you process that? Because you have your meetups, your connections to other people, how do you deal with that imposter syndrome?
Miranda: So I have two brothers. They’re younger, taller, both great. And the youngest, his name is Adam, he’s also a web developer. He helps me out a lot. We have these web conversations, and I tell him how I feel, and basically, like, I don’t think I’m where I’m at, or I don’t know enough. I don’t know what you know. He tells me like, “You’re doing fine.” There’s someone who told me I have that syndrome, and he said, “You can understand code, but you can explain it yet to others, so you think you’re not a developer.” He’s like, “But you are. I have that too. We’re fine.” He’s been great for that to help me deal with it.
And then just talking to other web developers. I know they have those similar thoughts. They go through the same thing. And when you share that and get it out loud, and you hear them talk about it, and that’s like, reassuring to yourself, “Okay, it’s fine. You’re doing well. So long as you’re still trying to learn you’re fine.”
Liam: Your brother sounds like he’s a good resource and a good brother to you.
Miranda: Oh, yeah, he’s great.
Tara: Miranda, can you share with us some advice that you’ve received and implemented in your life?
Miranda: Yeah. I would say some advice that I have gotten was from Wes Bos. I listened to his podcast called Syntax. One day he brought up, “Hey, if you want to learn something, learn it more, you should try teaching it as teaching to others helps you to actually learn and become more intimate with that knowledge.” And he’s right. When I lead the WordPress meetup for CMB2, that’s why I chose that because, yes, I can read, you know, the coding going on in PHP and understand what’s happening, but I only know so much, and I would like to know more. So you know what? I’m going to lead a talk about it and try to tell others about it and go through a little demo. I think Wes was definitely right. I feel more confident and explain CMB2. And I would love to do another presentation on that.
Tara: That’s great. That’s really good advice. I think that’s definitely true, and I’m glad to hear your first experience doing that was successful. Did you get some feedback from people at that talk? Do you think that they followed your talk and learned something new?
Miranda: Perhaps. I would say actually, my brother came to that as well and maybe asked the most questions and…
Miranda: He asked me a question about, if I created this form, we can add an image, add tags made a display on the front end, he’s like, “Cool. Now, if you update those fields, will it also update on the front end.” I was like, “Yes, of course.” We’ve done this ton of times before, I’m very confident. So we go back, we change the text, we change the image and hit publish, look on the front end didn’t update? “No.” Oh, embarrassing in front of the rest of the class of five other people. So like, “Well, what happened here?” I realized that I forgot a line of code, very important line of code. Once I added that in, you know, everything updated and worked as it should. So learning experience right there.
Liam: That’s life, though, right?
Liam: I mean, we know the process, we know the thing, we’ve built it 1000 times, all sudden, someone looks over our shoulder, and we forgot even to how to spell our name right? I imagine that that advice from Wes Bos about teaching will encourage you and enable you to know it better. Imagine that you’re also going to address challenges around being able to explain yourself, because if you’re teaching it to somebody, and they don’t understand it the first way, they’re going to say, “Ah.” Then you have to say, “Okay, how am I going to explain it to this person? I need to use different words what am I going?”
Miranda: I think that’s a good point. You’re right. And I’m hoping the more I tried to teach what I’m doing to others, then yes, I can become more successful in explaining to those who are not web developers but requesting certain functions or layouts that maybe are not right for them or well suited, or there might be a better way. Me being able to better communicate that so that they can understand and we can come to an agreement and have peace and try to have less frustration with one another.
Tara: What’s been the most exciting thing about WordPress for you, whether it’s community or it’s somewhere in the software, or you finally figured something out? What’s been one of your better WordPress memories maybe is a way to say it?
Miranda: I would say WordPress is exciting because there’s so much that you can do. An example I would give was, I mentioned Morten Rand-Hendriksen, and how he’s been a great influence for me and I’ve learned so much from him. I learned how to create a customized theme from him. That moment when I created my first custom theme and showed it to my co-workers, and they were happy, ecstatic, and then asked for another one and another one, that was great.
Now I’m at a different stage where I’m using a framework plugin called CBM2 that allows me to write PHP so I can make my own custom meta boxes, and then display those on the front end of a website. I think the next stage will be creating my own plugin. So I look forward to that.
Liam: I do too. I do too.
Tara: Yeah, that sounds great. Are you also working a lot with the changes that Gutenberg has brought about? How has that been for you?
Miranda: Gutenberg actually concerned me because I wasn’t sure what it all entailed and was this great update going to affect my custom themes? Was it going to make them break? Were things going to be more difficult? None of that happened. It didn’t affect them at all.
I think Gutenberg is a good tool. I will admit that I don’t really use it. It’s hard for me to choose a custom box to put an image in when I know that I can just write the image tag myself. I think I prefer that because I feel like I’m more control and I can get what I want, whereas Gutenberg might be better for someone who doesn’t know that code and can make it easier for them to just add in the features that they want. So personally, I would say it doesn’t really affect me. At least not yet.
Liam: So Gutenberg is a conversation that we could have over weeks and hours, for sure, but we are out of time. So, Miranda, I want to thank you very, very much for joining us today. It’s been an absolute pleasure bumping into you out here in our virtual hallway. Before we say goodbye. Can you share with us where people can find you online, please?
Miranda: Yeah, I have my own personal website, mirandaknee.com. I’ll spell it out. M-I-R-A-N-D-A-K-N-E-E. You can find me there. You can find me on Twitter at @MaLandra I don’t tweet a whole lot, but I do retweet funny meme. So if you’re into memes, which I think most people are like, go ahead and give me a follow or just check me out.
Tara: Thanks so much for joining us. It’s been great chatting with you and nice to meet you, Miranda
Miranda: It was great to meet both of you. Thank you for this opportunity.
Liam: Our pleasure. We’ll see you soon.
Liam: Thanks for listening to the show. We sure hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.
Tara: If you like what we’re doing here – meeting new people in our WordPress community – we invite you to tell others about it. We’re on iTunes and at hallwaychats.com.
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