Introducing Allie Nimmons
Allie is a self-taught WordPress user who has done the agency thing, done the freelance thing, done the business owner thing… and is now doing the community thing! She does support and community outreach at GiveWP and is a GoDaddy Pro Ambassador. Her biggest joy comes from talking to other community members about how to maintain and foster positive and inclusive environments on the web.
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 118.
Liam: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Liam Dempsey.
Tara: And I’m Tara Claeys. Today we’re joined by Allie Nimmons. Allie is a self-taught WordPress user who has done the agency thing, she’s done the freelancing thing, the business owner thing and is now doing the community thing. She does support and community outreach at GiveWP and she’s a GoDaddy Pro ambassador. Her biggest joy comes from talking to other community members about how to maintain and foster positive and inclusive environments on the web. Welcome, Allie. It’s so great to have you here today.
Allie: Hi, Tara. Hi, Liam. I’m really happy to be here. Thank you so much for having me.
Liam: You’re most welcome. Thanks for joining us out here in the Hallway. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself, please?
Allie: Yeah, sure. I started using WordPress probably about five, six years ago. I made the transition from theater to web design. I remember finding WordPress and just thinking like, “Wow, this is great. I can build a website without having to learn how to code.” I’ve been using WordPress for work ever since. I live in North Miami, Florida. Tara and I just made a joke that even though it is pretty much winter by now, I’m in short sleeves and she’s in a sweater. I live in Miami with my fiancé. We’ve been together for three years. That’s pretty much me.
Tara: Did you say theater before this?
Allie: Yeah. I did theater the majority of my life. The first production I was when I was five. I did theater all through my childhood and through my adolescence. I went to Florida State University and I majored in theater. Halfway through that, I was just sort of like, “I don’t really like this as much as I thought I did. I don’t want to make a living out of this and being super competitive in this industry.” So I made a hard left turn into infotech, which is actually more similar than you would think. But yeah, I realized when I was in my very early 20s that that wasn’t really what I wanted to do.
Tara: I have a personal interest in asking that question because my daughter is currently a theater major in college, and she also is kind of discovering new aspects of herself. I think I don’t ever see her doing tech, but you never know. But I think that’s true, when you do it when you’re younger, as you get older and it becomes more competitive, you have to decide if you want to go all in. Like people who want to do it, they have to be all in and not do other things too.
Allie: It is very intense. I compare it to sports. There are statistics about so many kids play sports when they’re young but only like 1% are going to make it to a major league or something. And very, very, very few people quote-unquote make it in the performing arts. It’s very, very competitive. It’s an interesting industry to have worked in for so long and then come into the WordPress community where, at least as far as I’ve experienced, there’s almost no competitive feelings. Like if you go to a WordCamp, you have the two host companies in the sponsor booth can sit side by side and talk shop. People give all their secrets away in their talks, in their workshops without worrying about another agency stealing their idea. There’s none of that. That’s been a really interesting comparison coming from theatre into an industry like this.
Tara: Do you think that your background in theatre plays a part in what you’re doing now?
Allie: Oh, absolutely.
Tara: Tell us a little bit about what you might think about that.
Allie: Totally. I see it almost as a one to one comparison. Because with theatre – more so than maybe film or television, but there’s similarities – with theater, you start with a plan, like a script. And you have that as an outline, and you bring together people who have different strengths and different backgrounds, and you collaborate, and you iterate and you rehearse, and you test, and you figure out what works and what doesn’t, and then you put it up for people to look at. And even then you usually perform it a few times, and you can make changes to it.
I see the process of launching a product, whether it’s a website or an application or something like that, it’s identical. You start with the idea you, you wireframe it or you prototype it, you bring in different people who have different strengths, you know, designers, developers, copywriters, security experts, like whoever, and you work together and you iterate it and you test it and then at some point you publish it. But it’s always up for change. It’s always up for adaptation and tweaking and so on.
Or for somebody else to fork it and do something that they want to do with it, I think it’s an incredibly similar process that I think about a lot in my process is in the things that I do. It’s incredibly similar as far as the process goes. And the community aspect of it too, where you’re relying on other people. You have to rely on other people for help and support.
Something like WordPress, WordPress as a huge thing is only successful when we have people collaborating together. There’s not usually one star of the show. It’s 600 plus people contributing to core and making it something amazing.
Liam: There’s a lot of talking community in the last year or two around what is the nature of the community and what is it health and is it good, is it bad, is it flourishing, is it not? Not is it intrinsically good, but more is it flourishing? Your comment just around having a star and the like…it is a challenge I see as a community to have 600 people on stage. And I don’t mean that as a negative challenge or one not worth taking. I wonder your thoughts on how do we do that so that kind of singing about 600 voices, they don’t need to all sing as one but they all need to at least sing as a series of groups so that we can understand. I wonder your thoughts on that particularly from building a community and crafting a community.
Tara: You’re getting deep right off the bat here, Liam?
Liam: Yeah, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. We can go lighter if you want.
Allie: No, it’s such an interesting question. That is something I think about a lot as a relatively new community member who is really observing and being very mindful about exactly what you just said, like what our community is and how it grows and the goods and the bads and all of that. And I think it’s definitely a challenge.
I think that when we consistently community communicate to people, that their contribution is essential and is worthwhile. Whether it is a large or a small contribution, it plays into that. So if you have somebody who contributed to course A for example, and maybe it was a very small thing that they did, and every time they use WordPress moving forward, they think about that little thing or they see that little thing that is there because of them. That feeling of not necessarily ownership, but…I’m having a hard time finding the word on the tip of my tongue. But there’s this feeling of part of this is mine, part of this belongs to me, part of me is in this thing. I think that’s incredibly powerful because it makes us care about the community as a whole. We don’t look at it now it’s just a piece of software or just a means to an end. It’s something that we feel a personal connection to.
I think when it comes to having a large number of people that come in building in leadership at different levels, which is something that we would see in theater. So you have a director, but you also would have an assistant director. If you have a chorus, you’re going to have a chorus manager. If you have an orchestra, you have somebody in charge of those individuals. And so you don’t just have one director for a production that has 200 people in it. You have delegation and you have leadership at various levels. I think that sort of a structure is so imperative and it’s why we are able to succeed because you have leads in different areas who can give those people the focus and the help and the attention and the support that they need.
But yeah, I think that’s a giant question that we’re going to answer over time. But that’s always the way that I see it is building in leadership to the system at various levels.
Liam: That’s always a challenge when effective leadership depends on communication and transparency and accountability in any community. Even a community of two, we struggle with those kinds of things. There’s a lot to unpack there. Maybe we should back up a little bit and go where go lighter where we started.
Allie when Tara read about you at the start of the show, she mentioned that you’ve done the agency thing, the freelance thing, and the business owner thing. Can you tell us through some of your experience with that? What was that like for you?
Allie: Yeah. When I decided that I was going to be a web designer, because I very much woke up one day and I was like, “This is what I’m going to do,” the first job that I got I was a junior designer at a local agency – a really, really small agency here in South Florida. I learned so much. I learned so much. I was introduced to WordPress. I was introduced to things like SEO, I was introduced to things like websites security and all of these different aspects. I learned a lot about how not to run a business. I ran into almost any pitfall that you could…anybody who’s ever worked at an agency and struggled with working at an agency, I touched on pretty much every single one of those things.
I left that agency knowing that “Okay, now I have, after 12 months, a set of skills that I don’t want to lose. And so I started freelancing because I was in such a place emotionally that I felt like I didn’t want to work for somebody else, but I wanted to build sites with WordPress. I started building sites for friends and family, for peanuts, for nothing just to get some experience. And every site I charged a little bit more and a little bit more and a little bit more, and I learned how to run my own businesses.
The freelancing morphed into a business owner thing. I’ve said this before. I think that the difference between freelancing and owning a business is kind of the commitment that you’ve made to yourself that this isn’t something I’m doing on the side to make a bit of extra money. This is something that I’m going to put tons and tons and tons of work and effort and planning into. And so freelancing turned into having a business.
I did that for about three years, and it was sustainable but very shaky all the time. I was always worried about all these hats that I was having to wear. This year specifically was the year that I changed absolutely everything. And it was going back to community because that’s where I end up. I started becoming more integrated in this community and meeting people and actually staying in touch with people after attending a meetup or a WordCamp. I realized that through all of these things that I’ve done, I was now marketable to another company. Like my skills were good enough that I could walk into an interview and say, “These are the things that I know how to do, and I can make your business better because of the things that I know how to do.”
Being, a, activity community member opened up certain doors to me that I was able to find a place that I really want it to work and find people that I really wanted to work with. When I look back on it now, it was a very clear and smooth…I wouldn’t even say smooth. It was a very clear evolution in my career of where I started and where I ended up. But it was very not smooth. Smooth is definitely not the word I would use to describe it.
Liam: Let me ask you. When you started to involve yourself more in the community, I’m guessing you probably started locally, and you shared that you were keeping up with the people more. So you’d meet them at the meetup on a Tuesday night, but then you’d engage with them and not just wait for the next time. Was that a tactical career choice or that was…I really liked that person, why do I have to wait until the next month to talk to them? So it was kind of more of an organic community and then you said, “You know what? A few months down the road, I could do this profession? What was your process?
Allie: It was entirely tactical. I’m not afraid to say that. It was 100% tactical. It was that moment…
Liam: Well, I don’t mean that in a negative way when I asked that question. That’s not trying to paint you as mean.
Allie: I appreciate that. But no, yes, it was definitely intentional. What spurred that was meeting Adam Warner WordCamp Miami this year, 2019. He saw me speak and he liked the talk that I did. We started talking about the GoDaddy Pro speaker ambassadorship, where basically GoDaddy sends me to various camps to talk and to represent the company. I was like, “Well, I’m 27. I really want to travel and talk. This is the dream.” So I said yes right away.
I realized that if I’m going to be going to all of these different camps, and I’m going to be meeting all of these different people, I need to do it right and I need to engage in the community. I can’t just make this a thing that I go somewhere and I talk and then I go somewhere else and I talk and I don’t really immerse myself in it and make the best out of it that I possibly can. So yeah, it was a very direct thought process of like, “I need to be on Twitter more. I need to dedicate 15 to 30 minutes a day being on Twitter and talking to people and following people and being a community member.”
The first podcast that I was on was a result of that decision. It was Michelle William’s podcast, WPCoffeeTalk. I didn’t even know her. I wasn’t following her. Somebody that I know shared her call for a speaker and I was like, “I’ll do that.” I was her very first speaker, and through her, I learned about the job opportunity that was open at GiveWP. So again, it was a very direct line of events. My decision to become more active, completely paid off and mean as far as me getting a job but also me now being somebody that I can go to something like WordCamp US and say, “I work at GiveWP,” and people are like, “I know what that is and I know the people there and they’re great.” It was definitely intentional and it worked. It definitely worked.
Tara: It really struck a chord with me what you said about freelance, the word “freelance” and that being a business owner and how that’s different. And I think I love how intentional you are and how thoughtful you are about approaching your life more as a business and as a freelancer. I think your definition is really accurate and I hadn’t really heard that before. I was just having a conversation with someone in my slack group yesterday about that very thing, about the word “freelancer,” which is a controversial term. Some people see it as not being a respected term. But I think the way you say it really makes sense.
I wonder how all of this relates to a question that we always ask, which is about success. It sounds like even if it’s been not necessarily smooth path, you’ve had a very intentional evolution and where you’ve come over the past couple of years. How does that relate to success and how do you define success?
Allie: I think about that a lot. I think success is different for everyone and success doesn’t mean one thing. I think Allie from two years ago had a different idea of success than Allie today or Allie in five years. Even though I think about it a lot, I don’t think I have a solid definition of success because it’s like, okay, if I have a solid definition of what success is and I get to that definition, then what?
I think at this point I feel successful in that I have the opportunity to do the things that I want to do and I have people who support me and support me doing the things that I want to do. One of those definitely being Adam Warner. I run almost everything I do by him and my coworkers and my bosses at Give. I think it’s a hard question for me to answer because right now I do feel successful. I feel that I can do the things that I want to do. But I know that there’s also a lot of things in the future that I want to do and there’s a lot of things that I want to accomplish. And when that happens, I’ll feel successful then. I don’t know. It’s a tough question to answer.
Tara: I don’t think it has to be necessarily a concrete thing. It may be an approach. And you’re young, so it will change over time. I’m not as young but mine changes all the time as well. I think having it in your mind is what success mean to me right now or how will I feel successful this week, this month, this year, today. There are different time timeframes for success as well. Thanks for sharing that. I like Adam Warner a lot too.
Allie: He’s greatest.
Tara: Shout to Adam.
Allie: Shout out to Adam for sure. I call him GoDad. I feel successful now being on this podcast with you guys. This is an honor. It’s really fun and it’s great to be able to have these sorts of conversations that I know my friends and new friends will be able to hear. That feels like a success.
The fact that a couple of years ago, I never would have reached out and been like, “Hey, I want to be on your podcast. I think I would be great.” The overcoming of the imposter syndrome in the last few years has been a success I think to take off. It happens on a daily basis. It happens over long periods of time. I like the way that you phrase that for sure.
Tara: I want to ask you about the role that you’ve played in some WordCamps as a speaker or a panel member in your participation in the conversation around inclusiveness and diversity in WordPress. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Allie: Sure. One of these days people are going to get sick of me talking about this stuff because every time I have a WordPress-based conversation I manage to steer this conversation in this direction. So I’m glad that you did that.
I think more directly maybe we’re talking about the workshop that we did at WordCamp US. Me and Jill Binder, Aurooba Ahmed and David Wolfpaw did a workshop on diverse and inclusive spaces. And that came directly out of a blog post that I wrote called How to be a WordPress Ally, which is exactly what it sounds like. I broke down what allyship is, and I broke down why it’s necessary specifically in this community. Then I talked about actionable things that we can all do to be better allies for each other.
That came out of a ton of hallway talks where I was able to answer a lot of interesting questions that I think that people in our community have been afraid to ask or embarrassed to ask. I’ve been able to ask them a lot of questions and try to challenge the way that they think about what diversity means and what inclusiveness means and what mindfulness means. Like being mindful of the way that you talk to people and the way that you organize your spaces.
Even though I think that the WordPress community is incredibly diverse, especially compared to other tech-specific communities, we have a lot of work to do. I think it’s such an amazing opportunity because almost everyone that I’ve spoken to over the past nine months of being really active in the community, everyone has been willing to listen to me, and everyone has had questions, and everyone has expressed ideas like, “Well, I want to make my team more diverse, but I’m afraid to tokenize people. So how do I go about doing that?”
That worry tells me that people want to talk about this stuff, they want to have these conversations, it’s just incredibly awkward. And people get analysis paralysis. They get so concerned about how to talk about it that they don’t talk about it. So I found myself in this interesting position where people want to talk to me about it.
A few people have asked me or kind of mentioned that as a woman or as a person of color, or as someone who identifies as queer that it’s not my job to teach people about diversity because it’s something that I struggled through from that end of things. My response to that is always if people want to learn and willing to teach. If people ask me questions that are combative or disrespectful, that’s not ever a conversation I’m prepared to have. I don’t have the energy for that. But to sit down and have a conversation with somebody about how they in an active manner can make our community better, like why would I not have that conversation?
The workshop from WordCamp US was a great way for me and other people with other perspectives to kind of challenged the way that people think a little bit and give them some actionable items that they can implement, not only into their everyday lives, but into their businesses, into their agencies, into their WordCamps, into their meetups that will enrich our community for the better. As long as people keep asking me questions, and people keep wanting to talk about this kind of stuff, I’m here, and I’ll do that.
Liam: Thank you.
Allie: You’re welcome.
Liam: You shared a lot and there’s a lot to respond to and comment on. But I want to start just by saying and you were kind of self-effacing and so people are probably getting sick of you talking about it. That would be a nice problem to get to where what you were sharing wasn’t necessary anymore or was so common understanding in our culture and our different cultures that while culturally we might be different in this way or that way, our default is, how can I show the most respect to this human being? So I would love to be disappointed when I am sick of you. We saw that years ago, Allie. Well, I would love to get there. And we’re not.
I know that what you’re sharing comes at a cost. WordPress community is fantastic. It’s much better than the wider society in the sense of it’s much easier to have these conversations at a WordCamp or in a WordPress meetup than it is in the office or on the street as it were. So the community is absolutely to be commended for that, but it’s not universal.
I know that when you talk about things, or I talk about things, or Tara talks about these things, and we take a stance towards inclusivity, towards respect, towards welcoming, it comes at a cost. The dynamics that you mentioned, you know, you’re a woman of color, you’re a woman, you identify as queer, all of these are, in a sense, making you an even bigger target for those who don’t believe and respect and value that. Thank you very much for what you’re doing and I’m grateful to you for that.
Allie: Thank you. I appreciate hearing that. One of the things that I’ve always found so amazing is that when I first started talking about this stuff more publicly than just one on one with a friend, I genuinely expected maybe once, maybe twice to get some kind of knockback. Because 9.5 out of 10 people in our community are fantastic. There’s a small margin of people who are not here for these conversations. I’m aware of that.
What’s so amazing to me is that I’ve never, ever gotten any sort of blowback from anything that I’ve said. I don’t know. It makes me wonder if that’s ever going to happen. It’s not something that I obsess about or worried about overtly, but it’s just something that I’ve wondered about like, “Are there people out there who I make angry by any of these comments?” Because when you think about any time that people rock the boat, or anytime people try to shake things up, or anytime people try to ask difficult questions, there are always people who don’t like hearing it. It’s just how we are. And that has never happened, which I think is commendable to the way that our community is if there’s somebody out there who does want to say something to me or send me a nasty message, they don’t, for whatever reason. And that’s pretty awesome.
Tara: I think it would be sad if there were people in this community who actually did that. I have another perspective or point and I’m almost afraid to make it because, I mean, it’s so wonderful that you’re welcoming and answering questions. For me, I’m 52 years old. I’ve been a stay at home mom for the majority of my adulthood, so I’ve kind of lived under a rock to a certain degree. I’ve been in the WordPress community for a number of years. I’m so afraid of saying the wrong thing unintentionally using the wrong terms.
My daughter, as I mentioned is a theater major. I’m always feeling like I’m just afraid of my lack of understanding showing through because it’s not that I don’t respect or anything like that, it’s that I just genuinely don’t have the information and have not been in a community where that’s something that I’ve been exposed to. So I put myself in opportunities to learn that and people like you are helpful to people like me who are trying to learn more and really have a desire to be more inclusive. But there’s a fear that in that process that you’re going to reveal that you don’t know what you’re talking about, or maybe say the wrong thing.
I say that here at great risk – like I feel nervous having voiced that truth about myself. But I think it’s great for similarly for you to put yourself out there to answer those questions and hopefully make people like me feel more comfortable in learning and being better.
Allie: Absolutely. And thank you for sharing that. Because I think maybe that’s part of the reason why people ask me these questions is because I recognize that your experience is your experience. I can’t assume that you understand just off the bat where I’m coming from. I can’t assume that anybody does. We’ve lived different lives. That is a virtue. That’s a good thing.
The willingness to learn I think is so inherent in this community. If you just look at WordPress, when you look at WordPress, and how in order for you to use WordPress, you have to learn how. It’s not a 1, 2, 3 Wix website, I just press a few buttons and I’m done. There is this constant feeling of learning in our community and admitting, “Hey, I don’t know how to do this. Can we work through this? Can somebody show me how? Can somebody point me to a video, whatever?”
I think it’s the same thing in this regard. If people can admit that, “Hey, I don’t know, I don’t know something, can you explain it to me?” The worst way of handling these sorts of situations is declaring that you do know something that you don’t. That’s always when we run into problems is when people declare that they know about everything, because of the experiences that they’ve had and they can admit a gap in their knowledge. And so I think that you not knowing and asking questions makes you stronger.
Tara: Thanks. Well, now I’m going to ask you a lot of questions off…
Allie: Please do. That’s part of the reason that I think we need instances where people can have one on one or hallway talks or small, not super-duper public conversation is about these so that you can ask questions and not feel shame for asking the question. You should never feel shame for asking a question.
Allie: You’re welcome.
Tara: I could talk about this for a long time. I want to ask you another question that we asked everyone because we are running out of time. And that is about advice. If you can think of any advice that you’ve received that’s really stuck with you and that you have implemented into your life that you’d share with us.
Allie: I’ve gotten so much good advice over the past few months.
Liam: Not to put you on the spot. Oh, go ahead. You’ve got something.
Allie: Yeah, I kind of got something.
Liam: Go, go, go.
Allie: The advice that I would give is to give value to others. Like when I decided that I was going to be more active in the community, that wasn’t me posting a bunch of stuff about myself all the time, like tweeting about myself or tweeting my thoughts or this and that. It was, “Hey, I’m going to retweet this thing that this person said, or I’m going to reply to this thing that this person said” or “I met these two people and I’m going to try to connect them because they couldn’t find value in meeting each other.”
I think that has made me feel way more like a community member than quote-unquote, “putting myself out there.” Which I think a lot of people get afraid about when they think about being super active on social media feel very vulnerable or going to a meetup and going to a WordCamp and speaking it feels very vulnerable, like you’re giving a piece of yourself away. I think in a way you are, but you get so much back almost right away, especially from this community. So to simply say that, don’t be afraid of giving pieces of yourself away as long as you are getting pieces back. If you’re feeling like you’re giving yourself away and you’re starting to feel drained and empty because of that, then it’s not worth it. But contributing and then taking I think is a healthy way of going about it.
Liam: I totally agree with that. And I think it’s really important to say when we’re learning about the different life experiences of others is to think about what am I getting back and to try to keep an open mind on what that may look like. I’m sure we both have experiences where somebody has contributed and they throw up their hands and frustration, but I didn’t get any work out of it. Well, that’s one way to get back from the community but it’s not the only way or necessarily the most valuable way. Thank you for sharing that a bit of advice. I think it’s great to give value to others.
Allie, Tara made it pretty clear earlier in the conversation that we could go on for hours but we do have a 30-minute show format and we’re over time here. Before we say goodbye to you, can you share where people can find you online and catch up with you?
Allie: Absolutely. I’m most active on Twitter, @allie_nimmons and my website is allienimmons.com. I try to be pretty regularly putting out content there. Those are really the two main places to find me.
Tara: Thanks, Allie. It’s been great having you on the show. Appreciate it.
Allie: Thank you, guys. I really loved being here.
Liam: Thanks, Allie.
Liam: See you soon. Bye-bye.
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.
Liam: Better yet, ask your WordPress friends and colleagues to join us on the show. Encourage them to complete the “Be on the show” form on our site, to tell us about themselves.