Introducing Ani King
Ani is a WordPress enthusiast from Michigan who works as a Manage WordPress project director for Liquid Web. She also runs Syntax & Salt Stories, an online journal of speculative fiction.
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 22.
Tara: Welcome to Hallway Chats, I’m Tara Claeys.
Liam: And I’m Liam Dempsey. Today, we’re joined by Ani King. Ani is a WordPress enthusiast from Michigan. She currently works as a Manage WordPress project director for Liquid Web. She also runs Syntax & Salt Stories, an online journal of speculative fiction.
Ani: Hey, it’s so good to be here. My name is Ani King.
Tara: Hi Ani, welcome. We’re excited to have you with us today. Can you beyond what Liam just described? Can you tell us a bit more about yourself and your background?
Ani: Certainly. I started working with WordPress just as a user about six or seven years ago, it’s hard to tell anymore. I had tried building websites from scratch, I wasn’t very good at it, and I found that WordPress made it possible for me to use my nitpicky editor skills more than my not so great coding skills to modify things. I’ve been with Liquid Web for 10 years this past October 1st. And I have kind of run that game professionally from providing direct customer support for Linux-based hosts, Windows-based hosts, to leading different teams, to creating different teams. And now I’m a project director and I’m really excited that I’m working with Manage WordPress.
Tara: That’s great. Can you back up a little bit when you say that you are looking to build websites? What drove you to that? What were you building websites for initially? What brought you into that?
Ani: Largely, I wanted to do craft blogging. I do a lot of sewing, and knitting, and drawing, and writing. And I always have some kind of hobby that you need some sort of thing in order to do it. I, at the time, thought it would be fun to connect with a lot of other, mostly women, crafters out there that I knew were running websites, and blogs, and so on. And a lot of them were using Blogger, which is where I got started. But I wanted to be able to customize more and play with it, and break it as often as possible. Because I worked in hosting, I had free access to hosting and because when you see panel, you have one-click WordPress installs and it was very easy to get started.
Tara: So you were already working for Liquid Web when you were starting to do the blogging. That kind of was a natural progression for you then?
Ani: I was, yeah. I had done a little bit of blogging prior to starting at Liquid Web but as I kind of had better understanding of, “Here’s how you can do some hosting and here are some best practices, and here’s how you can get your information out there.” It became a lot more interesting to me.
Tara: Yeah. Do you have a tech background? Is that what brought you to Liquid Web? You’ve been there a long time, I know that Liquid Web is on the radar a lot these days because they’ve launched this new Manage WordPress product, so you’ve been there for a long time. How did you get started with them?
Ani: I didn’t have a lot of technical background. I had done dial-up and ISDN support in the mid-2000s, but then I was living up north. My family and I were just looking for a way to expand from where we had been, and I had friends who worked at Liquid Web. They had naturally progressed there as part of their own technical backgrounds and helped me get a foot in the door so I can get started.
Tara: Great. It’s based in Michigan, isn’t it?
Ani: Yeah, it was started here in Lansing, Michigan in 1997.
Tara: Okay. Tell me a bit about your Syntax & Salt Stories website? I took a look at it, it’s beautiful. Where did that come from?
Ani: Thank you. I worked and collaborated with a group of, mostly, women through a critiquing site fiction, non-fiction, so on. There’s a critiquing site called Scribophile.com and I met eight or nine other women where we would work on our own personal writing together. And we found that we really had an affinity for the same genres. We loved magical realism and science fiction, we really liked it when we could help encourage other people who were terrific writers in some way, so we decided that we would launch Syntax & Salt as kind of our way, not to just work on putting our own voices out there as writers, but to start helping other people get out there. We have been open since January of 2016 and we post new issue every quarter and sometimes do special things in between just to keep engagement up and get more writers out there.
Tara: What kind of following do you have? Is it something that– this sounds like it’s a hobby, and love, and passion, is it also a business venture at all?
Ani: I would like for it to be at some point. It can be really demanding, and because my own work is pretty demanding, it’s hard to take it from that next level of, “I have X amount of time to dedicate to this and I want to make it more of a long-term and profitable thing.” From hobby state that’s in, we have eight readers, we have a lot of authors, we do a lot of social media engagement and promotion. I think that the next step is, do we continue on as an actual non-profit and start working towards grant funding, or something like that, or do we start moving towards a for-profit system, and find a way that we can engage more people and fund better and pay authors more and so on.
Tara: Yeah, I think that’s a challenge to figure out which road you want to go down and how to fit that in, because either way you go, it becomes more than just a part-time hobby when you start making it into a business, I would think.
Tara: Yeah. Ani, your time with Liquid Web, and it sounds like you’ve got a lot of hobbies and things that you’re pursuing, so it’s maybe fulfilled all corners of yourself, one thing we talk about is success on this show. We like to ask people about their philosophies around success. Can you talk to us a little bit about that? What you define as success and where you find yourself in that picture?
Ani: I have been struggling with this question, I think, for most of my adult life. I think it’s a strange thing to define because there are times where I can look and say, oh, I’m very financially successful, I’ve come from a single-parent home where bills being paid on time wasn’t something we ever talked about. An adult who takes good care of his family, who is able to really maintain a level. My bills are paid on time, I don’t have to worry about emergencies as much as I did five years ago, and that feels like success. But then there are other times where I think even having that financial success is looking at what is my work-life balance fallout. And I think that that’s an area I’m not always very good at. Even being able to say that balance is a huge part of being successful and being happy. I’m still really trying to find a good way for me to maintain it, if that makes sense.
Tara: Yeah, it really does. I think a lot of us feel that way, that work-life balance phrase is pretty popular these days. But it sounds like you do make sense on things that are life more than work, even though Syntax & Salt is something that I’m sure sometimes feels like it’s work but it’s something that has grown out of the passion. I think it sounds like you have a mixture of both, but I can see that the balance when you’ve worked more for a long time and you love what you do, it’s hard to put that aside. And you’re probably on the computer a lot, I would imagine.
Ani: That’s a lot of it, but I think that in terms of what does my own personal success look like if I say, “Okay, so much time I want to be here and here’s where I’m at.” I feel a lot more periods of content than I think that I ever have. I’m challenged at work, I’m learning how to do new things pretty regularly. I’m teaching myself how to do new things, it’s part of running this magazine. Being able to use the things that I learn from both of those aspects, in addition to just talking to other people with different hobbies or spending time with my kids and my family. That feels like success. I have been talking to my kids a lot because they’re 11 and 14 and what is success going to look like for them when they’re older? And some of that comes from, okay, as a kid who’s going to school, you have certain things you need to do. And no, you don’t need to go to Harvard, or you don’t need to aim for the moon but you have to aim somewhere. You have to aim for the things that are going to make you happy. Even if that means that you’ll have jobs that aren’t always satisfying, you have to have some element of satisfaction there as you’re getting older. A lot of it comes back to that, if you don’t do the work now, you’re going to really regret it as you get older, as it takes more and more time for you to be able to do those things that you want to do.
Liam: Yeah, I agree. You have to aim high whatever high is for you, and it can be a great art school, it could be Harvard, right? But it can also be a tech school, it could be not even school but I want that job and I have to work hard to get there. To your point, sometimes we have to take the longer route because we don’t have the immediate capacity to get that ideal job, ideal role. And we’ve got to put our time in, kind of dancing our way to get there. I very much appreciate your definition of success. I want to go back to something you said earlier, but before you do, I think we should probably just mention, just officially for record that Liquid Web is our sponsor, we have them as hosting. This may, to the cynically-minded listeners sound like a big advert, that’s absolutely not the case at all. So just to get that big elephant out of the way. Let me come back to you around your work balance side projects, and I have a question because I run a little blog called Chickenmonkeydog and we write about a bunch of, basically, the quirky side of life is what we say. To Tara’s point, some days it feels like a job and other days it’s a hobby. And what gets me going, what keeps me coming back to it sometimes more than others is that I really enjoy the creative opportunity of coming up with something, and something that isn’t related to a client deliverable, or necessarily even to a family deliverable, if you will. And I wonder if you can speak about what keeps you going around your writing project. I imagine it’s a number of things but is there kind of one thing that even when– “Oh, I just wish it was a business, or I wish it was done, or I wish somebody else would manage it.” What’s the one thing that keeps you pulling you back there?
Ani: I remember the feeling that I got the first time that one of my short stories got published, and we publish a lot of first-time authors. There’s no comparison. First time you get that email saying, “We love your story so much and we can’t wait to publish it, this is incredible.” That response from people who meet– because I always send their acceptance letters out. Being the person who is the first one to say to them, “What you have done is so valuable and I’m so happy you did it.” Even when we get tons and tons of submissions and we have readers who are sick, or we have readers who are on holiday, or we have multiple readers who are affected by different weather issues with hurricanes and so on. So it gets overwhelming, and there are times where it does feel like just as much work is going into the office. Writing rejections is never fun and then some of the authors are very concerned about how we’re going to treat their story. There’s a lot of contact there, they really want to walk through everything. That can become overwhelming, but it’s absolutely that I get to tell somebody yes. And that feels really good. Then I not only get to tell them yes but then I get to present their story in a way that I think is really visually appealing. It’s not, I put my own first story up on the blog, if somebody took the time to treat my story and create or choose artwork for it and wrap some sense of feeling around it, and I really love doing that.
Tara: That’s beautiful. That is a great feeling to tell somebody yes, I think. I love the feeling of being said yes to, we all do, but I think what you’re talking about is something I don’t think about that often, which is the thrill of making someone else feel good. I mean, the ability to do that, the level that you’re talking about certainly. If you’re in the grocery store and you’re friendly with someone and say something nice, that feels good too, but the level of enjoyment that someone would get from what you’re doing, I can imagine, is great, to be validated and have your creativity validated like that. Along those lines, what would you say is your favorite thing that you do every day?
Ani: Honestly, I think probably my favorite thing that I do every day is mornings with my kids, which is not necessarily related to work or hobbies, but–
Liam: It’s more important than both.
Ani: And 10 years ago, this would not have been my answer. [laughter] But I’m really fortunate in that I can kind of set my own schedule. Through the school year now, I get at five to 5:30 and my son gets up at 5:45. I make coffee, and we have coffee together before he leaves for the bus. And then I get a little bit of time myself together before my daughter gets up, and then she usually shows me whatever she stayed up too late drawing because she does want to go to art school some day and definitely will. And I get a little bit of that time with them before their day kind of becomes their own, before it’s all about their friends and all about any drama they have going on, or something they’re trying to learn, or the things they’re concerned about, or the news. Because my 14-year-old son is a news junkie already, which is doing wonders for him. [laughter]
Liam: It sets its own challenges, doesn’t it?
Ani: It does. It’s like, I get them at the store, I get them before everything has laid all of us down and before we get to dinner when we’re all eating and I’m in a bad mood because I’m still working from my phone or my husband’s in a bad mood because he’s a stay-at-home dad and maybe his day just didn’t go the way that it needed to for him to get all of the stuff that he wanted to be done. Or the kids didn’t have a good day at school. I get them before all of that and I really like that.
Tara: Oh my gosh, it’s making my eyes well up just a little bit here when you talk about that because I’m a recent empty nester and I also worked from home, so it’s so great to hear that you’re appreciating those moments that you have. Because, before you know it, they’re gone and so to savor them, like you’re doing, I love that answer and I really value what you said. It’s truly a gift, I think, to have the flexibility. And Liam I know is in the same boat to have the flexibility to set a schedule where you can spend time with your children. I’m going to start crying now. [laughter]
Liam: I’ll take over so you have your little cry. I think it’s one of the best benefits of working from home, that flexibility to be there, and also to be there when they need it. Disruptive is the call from the school that somebody has a headache, it’s kind of nice to be able to say, “Well, somebody needs me. I’m going to go hop out where I can.” Yeah, it’s great.
Ani: I really appreciate it, I do work from the office three or four days a week just so that I’m present. But I don’t have to be there right at eight. If I’m going to take one of the kids to school– just because my daughter has not been on time once in like three years. Sometimes I’ll drive her in, but that flexibility is not common for a lot of people so I’m trying to make sure I really appreciate the fact that I have it because it does make a difference.
Tara: Yeah, it really does. I’m going to step away from that and move on to a different topic, which is the WordPress community. before we started recording, you mentioned that you’ve recently been to a WordCamp near you. Can you talk a little bit about your interaction and maybe your discovery of the WordPress community and what role you play or what role it plays for you?
Ani: I’d love to. I didn’t know a lot about the WordPress community really until I moved into my current role with the Manage WordPress product that we have. I have used it for a long time and like a lot of people who tend to be more technically driven, I tend to go Google than I do anything. I interacted a little bit on the forums but I honestly had no idea that there was this thriving community. I didn’t know what a WordCamp was. The first time that A.J. Morris, who you may be familiar with, mentioned WordCamp to me, I was like, “Okay, I don’t know what you’re talking about but sure, I’ll go.” And I went to WordCamp Ann Arbor for my first one last year and it was wonderful. Because I was like, “What is a happiness bar? I don’t know what you’re talking about.” And I went to the happiness bar and AJ said, “Have some talks and head the booth, but here’s where you’re really going to probably get a chance to meet and talk to people.” I was like, “Okay, I don’t know a lot about WordPress, I don’t know how much happiness I’m going to spread around here.” [laughter] And I ended up talking to three or four people and I was mostly able to help them either with their question or find somebody. Because there were a couple of people sitting next to me who were like, “Oh, I know the answer to that.” And they were kind of listening and like, hey, I can help with that. It was such an interesting experience because I’ve been out for work meeting customers or meeting all kinds of people, but I hadn’t really gone to something where the point is community. The point is, let’s share what we know with each other. Let’s ask questions, let’s answer questions, let’s get to know each other. And I really loved it. Before going, A.J. had said, he’s like, “I know that you’ve built support teams.” Because that was my function at the time was to build a support team for Manage WordPress. He was like, “But I don’t think that you really understand the WordPress community and I think you really need to if you’re going to do this right.” I was a little like, “Come on, how hard can this be?” And he was right, and not in a, “Oh, this is going to be a lot harder than I thought.” But in a, “This is not as hard as you think it’s going to be because there is so much community around it.”
Tara: Right, that’s interesting. Impressive that you’ve jumped into a happiness bar at your first WordCamp, but it is a collaborative effort, it’s a great feeling to be sitting in a room, and if you can’t answer it, somebody else will chime in right behind you or vice versa. That’s a great thing about the happiness bar and the WordCamps. I’m glad that you’ve discovered it and are getting something out of it, as everyone seems to. Let’s talk a little bit about your future and where you see yourself? You talked a little bit about Syntax & Salt and maybe making that into more of a business, but if you talk about where you see yourself in a couple of years or five years, what do you see?
Ani: I’ve really been focusing on moving more into community engagement and management and customer experience. One of the things I can say through every job I’ve ever had, whether it’s this one or there’s any other role where I’m at, whether it was waiting tables, or bartending, or working for EMS, the list goes on and on, it’s that I really care about customer experience. Whether it’s making sure that you get your drinks refilled and you’re sitting at a table, or you are having a technical issue on your platform and you haven’t been able to get the response that you feel like you should and somebody needs to take care of that. I’d like to be the person who steps in there but I’m also– I’m Hermione, I’m a nitpicker. If you want somebody to test a plugin for you, my first question is, “Okay, how many layers of nitpick do you want me to go?” And it’s not because I think that something is bad, it’s because I think that I have a pretty keen eye for ways that you can improve something. And I think customer experience is really dependent on that keen eye. And because I’ve worked in so many different roles with people, I’d like to be able to kind of develop that sense of what do people want, how do they want it, and how do we deliver that so that I can affect things. If you’re developing your product, or if you’re doing web design, or if you’re doing something like that. This is really great but I think I can help you make it better. I enjoy that, I like that aspect of what I’ve transitioned into doing with Manage WordPress a lot, being able to say, “This is so good, let’s go a little bit further here.” That’s my hope is to be doing a lot more of that.
Tara: Yeah, I think when you’re working on something like you are that’s new and that’s evolving and sort of testing the waters and doing new things, that gives you a great opportunity to use that part of your brain.
Liam: We’ve talked about your definition of success, we’ve touched on what you like to do, we touched on where you want to go. What I’d like to do is just backward for just a minute and ask you what is the single most valuable piece of advice that you’ve received, be it personal or professional, maybe both, and that you’ve implemented in your life?
Ani: I think probably– and this is a little bit on the personal side. When I was 17, I didn’t have a very good home life. I graduated from high school in a county jail. Lots of bad choices but just kind of that failed perfectionist across the board. And one of the requirements for me to graduate and go home was that I had to meet with a court-ordered counselor who ended up being a really, really good friend over time. But the thing that he said was, “Not everyone is going to set you up to succeed and you’re going to have to figure out how to roll the failing.” And that is such a hard thing to do, because you go into every situation hoping that people are thinking about, “I want to make sure that you do a good job and you have what you need.” But that’s not always true. And sometimes even when people do that, what you put out is not going to be what they want. You’re not going to succeed at everything you do, and if you can’t roll with that and you can’t recover from it, and you can’t get back up and say, “Okay, this is really hard.” And then trudge forward. Then I think it makes it really hard to succeed at anything because failure is the first step to succeeding with anything.
Tara: Wow, thank you for sharing that. This is the second time you’ve made me cry. [laughs] I was supposed to make you cry I think. I think that isi such an inspirational message and it says a lot about making decisions, making choices based on how inspired you are at the moment and what you’re aiming to do. I think it is really easy to fail and once you’ve done that, to turn that around, I think, is very challenging. It takes a lot to dig down deep and overcome that failure. I have some personal experience with that myself and I think it’s great to see how far you’ve come when you talked about success at the beginning. Having heard this story from you, Ani, I think really brings that full circle and makes that definition of success all the more meaningful. I guess I want to say congratulations but I also want to say thank you for sharing that.
Ani: Thank you.
Liam: I’ll double up on the thank you, to share so candidly about your personal life is very powerful and hugely moving, so thank you for that. The ability to fail in a safe way is– boy, there’s a life lesson right there, just to do that, just fail. Whether it’s failing at a job, or failing at a task, failing at a relationship, failing as a parent in some episode, and to fail in a way that we’re safe and we can get back up and we can dust ourselves off, and if we need to make amends, we can do that, and if we need to dust off other people, we can help with that. You went deep on us on that one.
Tara: Yeah, it sounds like you also had a great mentor who helped you to give you advice like that and to help pull you forward. But I’m sure raising your own children is in the back of your mind as well. And also going back, not full circle, but talking about success and sort of what people’s goals are is for them. Whether it’s Harvard or whether it’s driving a truck, “Whatever is the goal, I’m going to make someone happy.” And it might not be something that brings them joy right away as we talked about. I think all of your experience wraps up into what you’ve talked about here with us today and so, again, I’m grateful for that.
Ani: Thank you.
Liam: Ani, I wonder if I can ask you– I don’t want to dig too deeply but kind of in a practical sense, how do we as humans learn to fail safely, learn to fail constructively?
Ani: I think a lot of it comes with, those who are old enough and able and have their privilege to consider failing safely, kind of passing that on and creating spaces where the people who work for us, or our kids, or our friends, or our lovers, or any of those people where they can feel safely, and the first response isn’t, “You failed and I can’t believe you’ve done this.” But where it’s saying, “Okay, so you’ve failed. Let’s talk about it, let’s talk about what that means.” My oldest son struggles with school so much and I don’t want to say that it doesn’t get frustrating because, again, failed perfectionist. But taking a step back and saying, “Buddy, we’re going to talk about this later because I’m upset right now but I don’t think that’s going to help you. I think that we have to talk about if this keeps being a problem, how do I help you move forward from it, not– I just get mad at you because you didn’t understand this or you didn’t do this.” And I think even as adults, when we work with people, assume positive intent. People don’t fail usually on purpose unless there’s a reason there. They fail because they don’t know how to do something or they didn’t have help, or they didn’t understand the tools, or they didn’t ask for help. But not usually because they just feel like it.
Tara: Right, they don’t believe in themselves or have self-confidence. Yeah, I think that’s very true, very true. And it’s also hard if your feelings of disappointment in your children if they’re failing, or your concerns about them regretting that because we all have done things that we regret. We want to protect our children from failing in their own way or as we have. Again, thank you for sharing that. I can keep going on and on but I know we’re running out of time but this is a truly– we can keep going deeper and deeper and share more and more, but I think this has been very valuable and I really love where this has gone and the message that you shared with us.
Ani: It’s been a pleasure.
Tara: Ani, where can people find you? We’ll put some show notes together and we’ll definitely put a link to Syntax & Salt, but can you tell us some other ways people can find you?
Ani: You can find me at Aniking.info. That’s my personal website. I tend to mostly pop off about things there, whether it be bad behavior in the workplace or how to behave like a better person on the internet, that’s mostly all opinion. And then the magazine site which is great if you want to read a lot of new writers because they’re awesome. Then I’m on Twitter, just @ me, @aniking, that’s it.
Tara: Great, thank you so much. I’m so glad that you were able to join us today and I can’t wait to share this with everyone so thanks for joining us Ani.
Ani: Thank you so much for having me.
Liam: Thanks, Ani. It was an absolute pleasure chatting with you and learning from you today, thank you so much for your candid sharing, we appreciate it so much.
Ani: Thank you so much. Bye.
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.