Introducing Cami Kaos
Cami Kaos works at Automattic. She lives, works, and parents in the rainy city of Portland, Oregon.
Liam: This is Hallway Chats, where we talk with some of the unique people in and around WordPress.
Tara: Together, we meet and chat with folks you may not know about in our community.
Liam: With our guests, we’ll explore stories of living – and of making a living with WordPress.
Tara: And now, the conversation begins. This is episode 11.
Liam: Hi! Welcome the hallway chats. I am Liam Dempsey.
Tara: I am Tara Claeys. Today we are very excited to have Cami Kaos with us. Cami lives, works, and parents in the rainy city of Portland, Oregon. She tells me that she walks around the streets wearing her WordPress t-shirt and carrying a banana. I am hoping she’ll tell us a little bit more about that. Cami works at Automattic, and she is a frequent sight at WordCamps. We’re really happy to have you with us today.
Liam: Hi Cami. So we got the brief overview from Tara but tell us a little bit more about yourself. Tell us about life and fill in some of the gaps that we haven’t covered yet.
Cami: My name is Cami, which you already told everybody. I do work at Automattic, but I am leant out. Essentially, I was given to the open source project. So while I work for Automattic, I work on the open source WordPress project. Specifically in WordCamps and Meetups (primarily in WordCamps). I like to say that I organize the organizers. Because our organizers are all volunteers, I help them and give them the tools that they need to get their very hard volunteer work done.
Tara: We’re glad that you are there to help them with that because we had heard over and over again how important WordCamps are for people in this community. They are really life-changing. We have heard that more than one time. I had that experience myself. Tell us how you got involved and how you were introduced to WordPress. Tell us your WordPress story.
Cami: My WordPress origin story is not so different than a lot of people. In Portland Oregon, we have a very vibrant startup and technology scene. We have been long known for our camps. It was joked that if we could, we would have a camp camp because we had every sort of camp imaginable. A person who I worked with on a community blog many years ago decided to run a WordCamp. I never used WordPress. I was on blogger at the time. This was way long ago. It was the first year that WordCamps were happening outside of San Francisco. He needed a hand. He needed some volunteers that he could trust to help with the WordCamp. I said I have absolutely no idea. I’ve never used WordPress. He said it is better than what you are using so why don’t you move your blog over and see if you like it. Oh, by the way, I need you to come and help me anyway. So the night before the event I moved my blog over from blogger to a self-hosted site. I spent the entire next day handing out t-shirts, attending sessions, and helping people move their blogs over to WordPress.
Tara: Wow! That’s a really interesting way to be introduced it. I think I have not heard that before. After that WordCamp how did you progress with WordPress and Wordcamps?
Cami: I kept blogging. I was a prolific mommy blogger, and it wasn’t just about being a mommy. I had a site called Mommified Me. The intent of the language was to be like this is the mommified version of Cami. This is what happens when you take Cami and make her a mom. I think how it read to most people was this is a mommy blog, and I am mean, which is fine. It was what it was. It was a great source of confidence for me when I was a stay at home mom. Is there such a thing as just a stay at home mom? Every mom works so hard.
Liam: I go to work, so I don’t have to be a stay at home parent. There is no rest there. There is no break. There is no lunch break. It’s tough.
Cami: No. It’s 24/7. I was blogging, and I was podcasting. I had both of my sites on WordPress. I continued to volunteer and help organize WordCamps in Portland. Then life changes, and I made the decision to end my marriage. I had to go back to work and parent. I wound up parlaying my skills with WordPress into a full-time work from home job (but not for Automattic) that I currently do full-time from home. I did this for a meal planning service that ran on WordPress. The owner of it needed someone who was used WordPress and had some customer service skills (which in the end was not what he needed all). But with my skills with WordPress that I gained just from volunteering and blogging and seeing how other people used WordPress were invaluable. I worked for him for many years until I went to work for Automattic.
Tara: Wow! So your experience with WordPress wasn’t in building sites necessarily or building them for other people beyond a blog.
Cami: I did build sites for a few other people, but in an out-of-the-box way, you plug this in and make it work. It’s easy to do. I am by no means a developer or designer. I’m just person who likes to make things go on the Internet.
Tara: One thing we like to talk about on this show a lot is success. As you defined your path from being a blogger, a mom, all the pieces that you put together, and working for Automattic, how do you define success for yourself?
Cami: That is an emotional question for me. I am able to support myself, indulge myself, support my child and stay in the city that we love. To me, any success (whether professional or personal) comes down to what enables me to live my life. So I would say successful in my case would be stable, meaningful employment that allows me to be the best version of myself and the best parent that I can be. I don’t know if that’s too touchy-feely or that makes sense?
Liam: That is awesome!
Liam: What I really like about it is what is the best version of myself or the best parent of myself. I’m clearly not saying that verbatim.
Cami: I have choked you up.
Liam: You are much more eloquent than I. That was really powerful. Thank you for sharing that.
Liam: So within this definition of success that is the very real and very genuine in that it plays out in a practical way around stability and being able to take care of yourself, to care for your daughter and your family and to be able to live where you want and afford yourself an indulgence from time-to-time, within that milieu, what is the single most important thing that you can do every day to either achieve or continue your success?
Cami: Hmmm….my work is emotional. It is very emotional in nature because I’m dealing with people all day-every day. It would be easy to say I’m dealing with events, or I’m dealing with a program, I’m dealing with software. At the heart of what I do, I’m dealing with people, working with people, and helping people. So the single most important thing that I can do is get a good nights sleep and take care of myself so that I can continue to take care of all of the people that touch my life, both in my private life at home and in my professional life within the WordCamp and event group community. Also, I’m an avid list maker.
Tara: I love your focus on care; self-care and how that relates to caring for others because it sounds like your job (because you do deal with people and people who are are also caring for others). People who are doing WordCamps are doing it out of an interest in bettering the community and being a better version of themselves as well. So you do have an emotional job. How do you manage all of those emotions and dealing with people? I think as someone who deals with clients; I often find the struggle to be patient and kind with people who are upset or have a lot of things on their mind is a challenge. They’re paying me to do that, so I kind of have to do that. But for you, these people are volunteers, and they haven’t hired you. How do you manage that relationship and all of those pieces?
Cami: That is an excellent question. That is a really great question. Before I answer it (as a means of stalling), I am going to say…
Liam: Well played! I’ll give you a little more time.
Cami: There is a ripple effect to everything that we do. I’m a sucker for those videos where you see one thing change. Like a man walks down the street and he is grumpy and grouchy. Everything just dies in his path, right? Everything becomes just about a bad day symphony. Then the next day he is walking down the street, and instead of frowning at someone or kicking a dog, he smiles and helps a duck out of the sewer grate. One thing changes and those positives actions can change the day of everyone around. I know that when I wake up grumpy and on the wrong side of the bed, I am better off taking 15 minutes to refresh myself and remind myself that all the people I’m dealing with are a) they are people and b) no matter what they’re doing, if we don’t have an agreement about what we’re discussing, they are coming at it from a genuine place. They are not coming at it as I’m going to ruin that person’s day. They’re coming at it from this is something that I need. We need to figure out a way to make everyone understand if we can’t make everyone happy. I think I lost the actual root of the question.
Tara: No, I think that answers it. It must be hard to always to remind yourself of that because in the heat of the moment when you are dealing with emails or emotional people I think part of what you do with WordCamps (or what WordCamp organizers do) is event planning. It’s like putting on your wedding. There’s a lot of balls in the air, and you have a lot of investment in what your expectations are and what other people’s expectations are. So I think your focus on paying attention that…
Cami: I sometimes fail at that. There are times when someone is trying to have a conversation with me, and I’ve been preoccupied and thought to myself I’ll just talk to them later, and it will be fine. I didn’t realize that it was something urgent. That person had something that was important to them that I should have heard. When I become aware of the situation, I will kick myself for months.
Cami: I’m thinking of one right now, and I’m just kicking myself.
Tara: Those regrets are hard. We all do things that we wish we could do over again. It sounds like you are really focused on being a better version of yourself and caring for others. This sounds like a job that’s not only good for you but that you are good for.
Cami: I hope so.
Tara: I think the community benefits from that. So that message is important to share.
Liam: So I want to go back to where you talk about when you find yourself waking up on the wrong side of the bed and spending that 15 minutes. I think that level of self-awareness and being mindful of where we are emotionally or psychologically on any given day (or spiritually on that day) taking the time to assess and go back and reset if you will whatever our process may be. It’s so important and so valuable. I love that you shared that with us because I think that’s a step that often times…I hold my own hand up on this….that we forget about doing…when dealing with people in a stressful situation as you were talking about. Being mindful when people are coming to you with their to do list version in their own mind and being mindful and respectful of that. That’s really powerful stuff. Thank you for sharing.
Liam: So let me let roll on then. Within this work environment where you’re supporting the organizers and the volunteers who bring WordCamps to places all over the world, I am going to ask you two questions so that you have a chance to think about what might be a more challenging aspect of those questions. So within that environment what’s your favorite thing to do at work every day? The second question is…
Cami: It sucks when I get to…
Liam: I was going to give you the second one so that you can have it in the back of your mind. This one can be either personal or professional. What’s the biggest challenge that you faced or are facing and how did you overcome it or how are you overcoming it?
Cami: I will give you a specific favorite thing and a little bit more general answer. My favorite work function that I perform is something that not just the paid staff does. It’s something that a lot of mentors for WordCamps also do. Shout out to our mentors because the Mentorship of WordCamps really does make everything possible. My favorite, absolute single item is something I call the pre-WordCamp prep pep talk. This is something that takes place with WordCamp organizers a few days before the event. It’s like a normal mentorship check in call, but it really is intended to go through and make sure that they know everything they need to know to feel prepared for the next day (or two days later depending on when in the lifecycle it happens). There is just something about that call that I find inspirational and joyous because they are almost always far more ready than they expect to be. It just gives me a great sense of pride to see them at the moment and to know that they’re going to pull off a great event. In general, the favorite part of my job is working with organizers.
Tara: I’m sure you must meet a lot of interesting people. Do you work with organizers all over the world?
Cami: Yes. Because of time-zone constraints and because we have folks in other time-zones now, I more and more work with people in North America, Central America, and South America. But there are folks who are not constrained by time-zones who I still get to work with on the other side of the world as well.
Tara: Wow! Can you put a number on this? How many WordCamps are you overseeing or coordinating?
Cami: We had more than a hundred WordCamps last year. We had a vast team of deputies and mentors and people wranglers that work with so many of them. So I don’t know. Personally, at some point everyone probably touches on almost every WordCamp in some little way, whether it’s to update their status within the WordCamp central site, whether it’s to pay a bill for them, give them a piece of advice, sign a contract, or give them support. I would say probably about 75 a year that I get to have some touch on.
Tara: Wow. You must know a lot of people in the WordPress world. That’s really neat. So I think part 2 of Liam’s question was talking about challenge. What is the biggest challenge that you have faced (not necessarily only in what you’re doing now) but sort of in your daily life or daily approach?
Cami: I think for me it’s all about balance. Balance is the hard part. I hear people talk about work life balance. I think it’s amazing if someone can achieve that. I really do. I often feel though that something is going to suffer, either I’m not paying attention to enough to my child, I’m not paying enough attention to my work, or I’m not paying enough attention to my partner. I struggle and I don’t anticipate that this is something that I will ever solve. I don’t think it’s a solvable puzzle. I think just continuing to be mindful and saying right now this really needs my attention. What can I shift? Within that same vein, I struggle to turn it off. I let one of the teams I’m working with right now know hey! I’m checking it right now, and I will check in before the end of the day. I’m going offline this weekend, so don’t have any emergencies, please. There is so much going on right now that this weekend I really need to be able to shut off. Being able to say without guilt that I’m going offline for two days and I can’t help you until I get back is a struggle for me. It’s something I know has to be done from time to time.
Liam: There’s that word again, mindful. I love it. Thanks for keeping using that. Let me ask you this if I can (around balance). I very much agree with you that it’s very much like being on a seesaw. It’s almost impossible to hold a seesaw perfectly level. We go up and down; we realize we’re falling we push ourselves back (hopefully not too hard). You talked about going offline as a mechanism or a tool if you will to help you reset and maintain balance. Do you have any other thoughts or tips on little techniques (whatever it may be) around maintaining that balance; or least maintaining an awareness about your sense of balance to know when you’re not at the level of equilibrium that you want?
Cami: I have a great tool for that. It’s not something that everyone can utilize. I have a teenage daughter who will walk in the room, and if I am on my computer when I shouldn’t be, she never hesitates to let me know that. That is a built-in tool for me. Yeah, Kay is not shy about saying hey! Work has had enough attention. Come pay attention to us now.
Tara: There’s nothing like your…
Cami: On the other hand, my partner is a workaholic. So Kay really has to be the one to say hey! No more. Work will always let me know when they need me. You have a thousand voices crying out we need you to do something!
Tara: Do you have backup? There is a team of you?
Cami. Yes. We have an entire team of folks who work on this all together. We collaborate fantastically. I am so fortunate. I have two teams. I have a team of my coworkers who are also working on the WordPress open-source project with WordCamps and Meetups. Then we also have the community team which is a team of folks (some of them are also paid by their companies to work on the project, and some of them are just outrageous amazing community volunteers). So I have backup most places.
Tara: Yeah. So if you take a weekend off, you know someone else is keeping an eye on things.
Cami: We are very much encouraged to take time off that we need. I think this kind of work lends itself to caretakers who are often better at taking care of other people and communities than they are at remembering to take care of themselves.
Tara: Yeah. It sounds like your daughter is keeping an eye on that. Is she interested in technology or WordPress at all?
Cami: (laughs) No, not really. She’s an amazing person. She would like to be a filmmaker (or something). That’s currently on the list; which is phenomenal. I fully encourage that. My working in technology and my partner working in startups that mainly focus on technology has soured her on that direction.
Tara: Yeah. My children are the same. It’s a turn off to see your parents. It’s so weird.
Cami: She thinks my job is really cool. She loves to tell all her friends about it, and her friends are like seriously? Does she work for WordPress? No. Nobody works for WordPress. They work ON WordPress. No. I’ve soured her on that. If it’s not Snapchat or Instagram…no.
Tara: Cami? Knowing WordCamps as intimately as you do, what advice do you give to people who have not been to WordCamp before? What would you tell them?
Cami: I would tell them to go with an open mind. You might walk into a WordCamp thinking these are the three sessions that I’m going to see and that’s all of what’s of value to me. You might walk into WordCamp thinking this is too much me. Why did I come here? If you’ve never been to a WordCamp before, you will likely walk in not knowing anybody. The WordPress community is so amazing, welcoming, and inclusive. WordCamps seem intimidating (they really can seem intimidating) but at their root or their heart from the very beginning, they are meant to be casual conferences that are organized by people who care within your community about WordPress. So just the fact that you are there and interested in your community means that you have things in common with other people. I find the more WordCamps I go to, often what I gain from those events, is talking to people not just hearing the talks. So there are times where I gain more from the hallway track then I do from sitting in sessions. Although, sessions are still awesome.
Tara: I agree.
Cami: Also close your phone. Close your laptop. Listen and talk to people. Meet the sponsors. Hang out with the volunteers.
Liam: Yeah. I love that last piece of advice. I was at WordCamp Baltimore last year (or the year before). I think it was two years ago. For whatever reason, I decided I’m not going to bring my laptop. I probably brought it, but I will leave it in my bag. I’m going to take notes with a pen and paper. I found that after the second or third talk that I had so many more notes, so many more takeaways, and so fewer retweets. I actually learned a lot more and really felt a much deeper connection with the material that was being presented. I think that’s great advice. Electronics are great but focus on the people.
Cami: We couldn’t do WordPress without them, but we can do WordCamp without them.
Liam: So as we come to the end of our conversation we have a question that we would like to ask you. What is the single most valuable piece of advice you have received and implemented either personally professionally?
Cami: Wow! That is a show stopper.
Liam: That is why we ask it at the end.
Cami: Yeah. You know? I feel more like a touchy-feely nature mama than I ever have in my life answering this. But the single best piece of advice I received has been applicable both to my professional and personal life. It was some version of being yourself. You can’t continue to pretend to be other things. You can’t be all things to all people. No matter what you do, you’re going to make someone happy. You are going to disappoint someone so just be true to who you are and take care of yourself. It has informed my work, it has informed my parenting, it has informed my romantic relationships, and it has informed my friendships.
Tara: I can see how you have woven that into your life just based on our short conversation today. It’s nice when people take advice and actually do take it to heart and use it in their lives. Thank you for sharing that with us. Cami? It’s been great having you on the show and getting to know you a little bit. Where can people find you?
Cami: The easiest place to find me is @CamiKaos on Twitter. CamiKaos.com is my blog.
Tara: Ok. Maybe people can keep an eye out for you at their local WordCamp.
Cami: I hope to see you there.
Tara: Yes. Thank you so much for joining us and for what you do for the WordPress community.
Cami: Thanks for having me. I really enjoyed it.
Liam: Absolutely. Thank you very much. We will see you soon.