Introducing Bianca Welds
Bianca is a WordPress freelancer from Jamaica who has been working with WordPress since 2005. She is the recipient of the 2017 Kim Parsell Memorial Scholarship for WordCamp US.
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: Today’s show is brought to you in part by Liquid Web.
Liam: We sure know that there’s a lot of choices when it comes to hosting your WordPress site. Liquid Web is the manage WordPress partner you’ve been waiting for. Whether you’re a business owner, an agency, or a freelancer, Liquid Web has you covered when it comes to performance, uptime, and ease of site management.
Tara: And one of the things we love most, when your content goes viral, Liquid Web doesn’t charge you more for huge spikes in traffic. Transparent pricing, no surcharges.
Liam: Liquid Web is offering Hallway Chats listeners 33% off for the first three months. Go to Liquidweb.com and use the coupon code, HALLWAYCHATS, all one word, to sign up.
Tara: And now the conversation begins. This is episode 26.
Liam: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Liam Dempsey. Today, we’re recording at WordCamp US in Nashville at the Music City Center.
Tara: And I’m Tara Claeys. Today, we’re excited to be talking with Bianca Welds. We’re sitting here in the Music City Center with Bianca and she’s here as the recipient of the 2017 Kim Parsell’s Memorial Scholarship. Bianca is a WordPress freelancer from Jamaica who’s been working with WordPress since 2005. Welcome, Bianca.
Liam: Welcome, welcome. Beyond what Tara just shared with us, tell us a little bit about yourself, where you’re from, what you do?
Bianca: As you said, I’m from Jamaica. That is where I live, it’s where I have lived most of my life. I was actually born in Scotland, which is where my parents were working at the time. Though I’ve spent most of my life in Kingston, Jamaica, the capital, I have actually lived in a few other places. I’ve lived in Belgium for a year when I was 18, I lived in Miami for two years while I was studying. And I spent six months in Italy a few years ago, so I do kind of take every opportunity I get to live somewhere else but Jamaica is home and it’s where I always get back to.
Tara: Yeah, it sounds like you’ve lived in some wonderful places.
Bianca: Yeah. I love traveling so I’m always excited to visit somewhere new, revisit places that I’ve been.
Tara: Excellent. Tell us a little bit more about the WordPress community in Jamaica.
Bianca: Such as it is, it is largely nonexistent in any structured way. There are a lot of WordPress users, there are a lot of freelancers that use WordPress, there are website agencies that use WordPress as their CMS. But there really hasn’t been any structured effort around the WordPress community. I have started some conversations, wanted to start some meetups from about two years ago, that’s not really gotten off the ground yet, but I am resuming my efforts when I go back this week, actually. I have identified a couple of people who are interested and so we’re going to at least start with us and then, hopefully, we can create from there. It would be great to eventually do more substantial events, maybe one day a WordCamp. Yeah, hoping to see some movement in that over the next year.
Tara: That’s exciting.
Bianca: It is.
Tara: Tell us about your journey into WordPress, how did you discover it and start working with it? Especially, if there’s not much of a community there.
Bianca: I have a technical background, I actually did a computer science degree and started out as a programmer, so I was a developer myself. And when I finally got around to wanting my own personal website, I was going to build it and code it myself. And as I started thinking about what I was going to want to put on it, I realized I was going to want to be updating it on a really regular basis. And I was like, “This doesn’t make sense, for me to have to go in and change code every time.” I started looking around and blogging was becoming a thing. Blogspot was kind of the lead hosted thing at the time. I set up a blog on Blogspot and within the first day, I was like, “Okay, this is not going to work because I want to change things that I can’t change.” Because I was still a programmer at heart and I kept wanting to make changes and I just didn’t have access. I started looking around and WordPress popped up and I was like, “Oh, this is cool.” And I realized, okay, I was going to have to buy a domain name, I was going to have to buy some hosting. And I did that and that was, I think, April of 2005. Yeah, I basically have not looked back, I’ve been using WordPress ever since. I’ve been on self-hosted all of the time. I think I’ve only ever logged into the host, WordPress.com once or twice, just to see what it looked like. Yeah, 12 going on 13 years later, I’m still using WordPress. Eventually, after the first year or two, I started helping other people who wanted to migrate from Blogspot. I helped them get set up on WordPress. That just kind of evolved into me eventually saying, “Okay, I guess I could charge people for this.” [laughs] When I realized, okay, people do charge people for this. But it really wasn’t a thing that anybody was doing around me so I didn’t know there was a WordPress community, I didn’t even know about WordCamps until many many years later. I was just kind of doing my thing. Eventually, I knew there were other people in Jamaica using WordPress but we never made much of an effort to try and build a community around it. I was always just kind of an outside observer of this virtual WordPress community. Then over the last couple of years, I guess from my part, I’ve moved out of development in my own professional life and I started kind of saying, “Well, maybe I should kind of exercise my brain and kind of get back into that.” And I started looking at WordPress development which I have not really gotten into, but that also inspired my looking at the community around it. That’s kind of how I started getting more involved and saying, “Well, maybe I should go to a WordCamp even if we don’t have any here in Carribean. Let me go to one, see what it’s actually like, see what it would take to start some meetups at home.” That’s kind of where I’ve been for the last year and a half, exploring what the community is, how it works in other places, how it might work at home. Yeah, that’s kind of where I am now. I have a side-business, I’m still not full-time WordPress freelancing. I don’t know if I ever will be but it’s something I still do on the side, it allows me to be very picky about who my clients are. [laughs] So I kind of decide who I want to work with. I want projects to interest me enough, I also do volunteer projects, which I’ve done a couple. And yeah, that’s my WordPress world right now.
Liam: I love it. Wow, that’s just so neat and so exciting to be in a position where you don’t have a local community, you’re, it sounds like beginning to realize or have realized the value of that kind of community. And now you’re on the ground taking steps to figure out how to make that happen in your own backyard, that’s really neat. We are at WordCamp US in Nashville and you said, for the last year or so, you’ve been going to different WordCamps and different places. Where have you been?
Bianca: I’ve only done a few. Traveling from Jamaica is a little pricey. My first WordCamp was WordCamp Miami which David has made sure to mention at every opportunity that he gets, that they were my gateway. Miami is pretty much the closest major city to us so that was an easy WordCamp to start with. And because I lived there, I was also really familiar. It was not too big a leap. That was February 2016 and it was an amazing experience because, obviously, that was my first time immersing myself into WordPress space and everybody was just so friendly and everybody gets so excited when they hear that I’m from Jamaica and they want to know what’s the community like in Jamaica, and everybody’s like, “When are you going to have a WordCamp so that we come to Jamaica?”
Tara: We all want to come to Jamaica. [laughter]
Bianca: Yeah, it was fantastic and I kind of spent most of the rest of that year trying to figure out, okay, when can I get to my next WordCamp? I have to kind of figure out the timing and the budget and how to make all of that happen. I was hoping to go back to WordCamp Miami this year but I had a clash in my schedule because I had something else the same weekend. But for my own professional life in a broader context, I was doing a couple of things in 2017 and I decided to fit WordPress into that because I wanted to– speaking was going to become kind of part of what I was doing strategically for 2017, and so I decided, okay, this year I’m going to speak at a WordCamp. I’ve only been to one but it doesn’t look that hard. [laughs] That’s what I told myself. But I looked at it and I realized that in general, the community seems to be very open to new speakers, less-experienced speakers, people who are newer to the community telling their stories in their way. I said, okay, everybody seems very interested when I speak to them casually, so maybe they’ll be interested if I have something presenting. So I applied to speak at WordCamp Ottawa in July. That was my first time speaking and the Ottawa community was amazing. They were so excited when they accepted my talk. Sean, I definitely count him as one of my biggest WordCamp fans right now. He was so excited to have me come. It was actually really funny because they all made a big deal about me coming all the way to Jamaica, except it actually takes less time to fly from Jamaica to Ottawa than it did for people coming from California. [laughter] I had to keep pointing out that it wasn’t that big a deal for me to actually travel to Ottawa but that was fantastic. I had a great time in July and somewhere around the same time because I think applications were much earlier in the year around maybe April, I think, for WordCamp US. And I saw the deadline and I said, “Well, why not?” So I actually submitted two talks for WordCamp US and they selected one of them. And I was like, okay, I didn’t quite expect that to happen but I guess I’m going to have to now figure out how do I get to a second WordCamp this year. Then the scholarship came up and I applied for that, and that worked out so I was like, “Awesome.” And so here I am, because I have seen the news about the previous WordCamp US events, thought about coming but just didn’t have it in my budget or the schedule to make it. I was super excited to be able to come to this one and I’ve had a fantastic time. I loved it, I’m hoping to be back next year.
Tara: Good. I love your sort of ‘why not’ attitude, you’re just going for it.
Bianca: Yeah. That definitely, I think any of my friends, if you ask them– I mentioned various opportunities that I’ve taken to go and live in Belgium when I was 18, to go live in Miami, I lived in Italy. And each time my philosophy has kind of been, “What’s the worst that can happen?” And I mean, I suppose on some level, the absolute worst would have been I would be alone and lost in a city on the other side of the world. But I don’t actually think about it like that, my thing is absolutely worst that can happen is I don’t like it and I go back home. If that’s the worst that can happen, why not take the chance? I’d rather take the chance and say, “Okay, that didn’t work for me. I didn’t like that. I won’t do it again.” Than not do it and then left wondering, “What did I miss? Would it have been a fantastic opportunity? Would I have become a totally different person if I had done it?” I’d rather take the chance and decide it’s not for me than skip it altogether.
Tara: Yeah, that’s worked out for you.
Bianca: So far so good, yes.
Liam: That kind of, let’s see where it goes, let’s give it a try, let’s be adventurous, is really interesting. And it leads me to want to ask you to share with us your definition of success, personal, professional or otherwise? And we didn’t give you much time to think about this in advance so I’m going to continue to string out this question for another few seconds while I give you a chance to think about it and pull some thoughts, realizing that it doesn’t necessarily have to be your final answer, just as you see it now or think of it.
Bianca: Well, definitely in a personal context, I do kind of have a life philosophy, which is that we are the sum of our choices. And every single choice that you make, it’s the consequences of those choices that kind of lead you in a direction. It means a couple of things, it means I don’t focus on regrets. If I make a choice and I don’t like the consequences, I don’t sit and go, “Oh my god, that was terrible. Why did I do that?” I learn from it and I say, “Okay, that was my choice. Surely, this didn’t quite work the way I want it. Let me chose something different.” What that kind of forms into is that definitely my personal life, success for me is being in that place where I am making my own choices and I’m happy with those choices, that’s a successful life for me. If I’m constantly in a place where I feel like I’m being forced into a choice or I’m miserable with my choices but I’m still making them anyway, I can’t imagine living like that but I know people that do. And I feel really bad for them because I think that’s a terrible way to live your life, and if you’re going to spend every day miserable with the choices that you’re making, I don’t know, I don’t actually understand how people can continue in that direction because that seems just wilfully painful. Success for me definitely, obviously, my philosophy makes that relatively easy since I don’t linger on bad choices. But that’s kind of what I’m always looking to do, I’m always trying to make the choice that I think is going to make me happier. What that means obviously changes. As I grow, what makes me happy now at 41 is not necessarily what made me happy at 21, but I don’t regret the choices that I’ve made and I don’t regret where I’ve ended up. I’m quite happy with my life and the way it has turned out. There definitely are things I might have done differently but that’s kind of how I define success and that’s how I always choose the direction that I’m going to go in next.
Tara: Well, it fits in with what you said about sort of taking chances and making choices that are risks than else.
Bianca: It’s similar in my professional life. I tend to use the same philosophy, my career trajectory has not been that straight lined that a lot of my friends have had. I do have friends, from we were kids, they knew they wanted to be the doctor, the lawyer, the engineer, and that was awesome and I’m really happy for them. I have some very successful friends in their careers and they’re thrilled with the path they’ve taken, they’ve reached where they wanted to reach and that’s amazing. And they look at me and I’ve only ever had one job that lasted for two years and I’m okay with it because I’ve always just chosen, if I start to be really unhappy with where I am in a job, in a particular direction with my career, then I choose something different and I move in a direction that I think would make me happier. That’s kind of been my journey. It’s been a little bit, for some people, they definitely think it’s been a meandering path without a clear direction. I am now actually finding a coherent direction in all of the stuff that I’ve done, so I’m happy.
Tara: That’s great, where do you see yourself, let’s say, in five years?
Bianca: Ooh, I hate when people ask that question. [laughter]
Tara: I think it actually is not fair.
Bianca: I hate when people ask that question, I have no idea. Because of the philosophy that I have, it’s very difficult for me to picture five years out because to a point, that kind of requires sort of a straight line thinking and it’s hard to picture a straight line from today to a point five years in the future, I don’t know how to do that.
Tara: If you’re just doing the same things that you’re doing now, that sounds like you’re happy now. Maybe you wouldn’t change.
Bianca: Right. But then I don’t know where that’s going to take me, I can’t say where that will have me in five years. I don’t doubt that I will be happy and still think of myself as a success but I mean, not be doing anything like what I’m doing today. And I’m okay with that, so that question is always a little bit tricky for me. Yeah, I never know how to say where I might see myself in five years.
Tara: If you turned that around on me, I wouldn’t know what to say either.
Liam: So I’ll ask you this, following on from that wonderful definition of success, what is the single most important thing that you do every day to keep looking for them to not let regret creep in, negative regret to creep in? What do you do?
Bianca: I would say it’s simply being aware so it’s paying attention to what I’m thinking, what I’m feeling, what’s going on around me, who the people are that are around me because that obviously factors a lot into whether I like the choices that I’m making. If I don’t like the people I’m around, then surely I may need to make a different choice. It’s really about being aware, it’s not falling into that day to day rut where three years have passed and you realize you’re in the same place. That has never actually happened to me, definitely not in my professional life, hardly ever in my personal life. But that’s definitely something that I do quite a bit is just kind of paying attention and being aware. I’m not one of those people that has that daily gratitude journal practice that a lot of people recommend, I have never done that. But I’m very conscious throughout every day how I’m feeling, what I’m thinking. If something doesn’t feel right then I’ll take a step back and say, “Okay, hold on. What’s going on here? Why is this not working?” When something is fantastic or it feels great, I’d usually make a note of it, I’d make a mental note, I make a mental note and file it away and say, “Okay, this was really good. Let me pay attention to that and see can I do more things like this.” That’s what I’d say I definitely do every day.
Liam: That’s great. This philosophy you have, this looking forward, this constructive movement ahead to make yourself happy by paying attention to what you think can feel sounds very healthy and you speak about it with a lot of enthusiasm. It’s very clear you very much believe what you’re saying and you’re not just making up answers. It sounds like you’ve been doing it for a while now and I wonder if you could just tell us a little bit about, is this something that you’ve done since you were a child or since a teenager? Is it something that over time you realized, I find myself not being happy when I’m regretful and worrying about the past, how did this come to be for you or how did you make it happen?
Bianca: It’s not something that I would say I was doing since I was a child, when we were children, we were very self-absorbed, we either do exactly what we’re told or we do whatever we want and there’s really no middle ground, there’s no balance, there’s no compromise. But I think definitely somewhere in my 20s, I started to kind of– partly because by then, having graduated with my first degree I was into the working world, I wasn’t super thrilled with what I was doing, I was a programmer. It wasn’t exciting to me, I wasn’t feeling challenged most of the time. And that was when I kind of started to think, I saw other people around me who seemed, I mean, people would always present a strong outer face but they seem to be happy with what they were doing, they were happy with their lives, they were happy with where it was going. And I definitely started to think from then, okay, how do I get that? How do I find where I feel good? It still took me a while to figure it out but it was around the same time that I started working with WordPress and putting on my personal site because at the time, I was actually approaching 30 and I was now doing quite a bit of self-exploration. And that’s actually why blogging kind of became a thing for me, because I was using it to– it was a very personal blog at the time and I was sharing my observations about life and about myself, and about whatever, whatever I was doing with my work life, what was making me happy, what was making me unhappy. I was doing a lot of self-exploration and I actually did start a process shortly after, maybe in about 2007, which funnily enough, this is about the fourth or fifth time I’ve ended up explaining this to somebody in the last couple of weeks, which is interesting.
Liam: At least now it’s recorded and you can send them to the timestamp in the show.
Bianca: I actually used to send people to my blog and say, “Hey, I wrote a post about this. You can just read this instead of us having this conversation.” But I started a process which took the place of setting New Year’s Resolutions. So I no longer blogged as actively as I used to but while I was still blogging regularly, I used to do what was very common at the time, which was a year in review. A lot of bloggers used to do this year in review and they’d look at what they had done through the year, and figure out what they wanted to do in the next year. I started that process but I realized that New Year’s Resolutions didn’t really work for me because it was very much, the way most people do it, it’s kind of a pass-fail scenario. You either stick to it or you don’t. Most people, before the end of January, resolutions are gone out the window and it’s, “Oh, that’s it. I’ll try again next year.” And that didn’t seem to be very productive to me, not if you were actively trying to grow and to develop. Over the last 10 years, I kind of fine-tuned my own process which– I do start, I look back at my year and I look at what worked and what didn’t. I’m not necessarily doing it in a structured way, I definitely don’t write it down in the same way that I used to. But I do still do that process, usually in the period leading up to my birthday which falls in November. That’s kind of where my year begins and ends is at my birthday. In looking at what worked and what didn’t, I start identifying what do I feel was missing overall from my entire year. And it’s usually I’m identifying a trait in myself or a characteristic that I think I should work on, that I feel would have made the year that just ended work much better. So what I do is I actually choose a theme for my next year. When I describe it, it sounds fantastic. It’s something, it just happens in my head but because I know how to explain it to people, I’m starting to kind of figure out a way to explain it. I choose a theme and it’s usually a one-word or one to three-word mantra. I’ve chosen different things. Let me think what were some of them. I’m not even remembering now. One year it was foundation where I was trying to go back to basics and go back to things that I know had worked for me in the past that I’d maybe left behind and kind of go back to those and reground myself. 2017 was actually the year of me so it was really about recentering myself and putting myself back in the center, instead of focusing too much on other people to the detriment of myself. I was doing that in personal and professional life just kind of trying to get back to what is it that works for me and makes me happy. And 2018’s theme is actually going to be self-discipline because I got quite of it done in 2017 but I think I’d have been much more productive if I have had a more structured disciplined approach around it. So 2018 is the year of self-discipline. And once I choose a theme, I use the wheel of life approach which divides your life into about eight segments. It looks at health, it looks at finances, career, relationships. And I decide, again, based on what was missing from my previous year, which areas I’m going to focus on. That’s why I don’t resolutions because, as I said, it’s kind of pass-fail, you either do it or you don’t. I choose an area of focus and within those areas of focus, I then try to figure out what habits am I going to try and develop, what am I going to work on. It ends up being less of, did I make it or not, and more of, how well did I do along the scale of getting to that. It’s definitely a lot more about the process and the journey. It means I never reach the end of a year and thing to myself, “Oh, I failed. This was a terrible year.” It’s always going to be, “Okay, I wasn’t as far along as I might have liked to have been, how can I do it better?” It’s a much more positive outlook and to me, it’s definitely far more personally inspiring and motivating. That’s kind of the approach that I take.
Liam: I’m feeling inspired just listening to you.
Tara: I know. You are very thoughtful about the way you approach your life.
Liam: I’m glad you spent that time about ten years ago, so you said, “Thank you for that.”
Bianca: Yeah, it’s been a process, it’s been a process.
Tara: Tell us a little bit about where some of this comes. I know Liam was asking if it’s been something that you’ve had your whole life, but have you had influences from your parents, and we like to also ask people about advice, what advice you’ve received that maybe has fostered this approach?
Bianca: Yeah. I don’t think anybody goes through their life without being influenced by other people. I don’t think that’s possible, so definitely I’ve had a lot of influences. My parents, for sure, I’m very close to my mom. But I also read a lot, both on and offline. So I also get very inspired by process thinkers, people who kind of take this approach, kind of breaking down what they’re doing, what they’re thinking. Figuring out is there a structure underlying all of this, is there a way I can make this better? And yeah, I guess I have just compiled things from people in my real life and people in my online life, people in books that I’ve read and just made it my own.
Tara: You’ve taken it to heart, for sure, yeah.
Bianca: In terms of advice that I’ve gotten, it’s hard to even single anyone personally because I do take advice from lots of people. One of the recurring themes that I have heard as long as I can remember is about being yourself. Definitely from my parents, my parents, they’re both doctors but neither myself nor my sister went into medicine. And people often ask like, “Did your parents want you to be doctors?” And I’m like, “I have no idea, They’ve never said.” That’s not how they were. They would never have thought to say, “Well, we’re doctors, you should become a doctor too.” That wouldn’t have occurred to them. They very much were like, “Oh, choose what you like to do. What subjects would you like to study? What would you like to do at university? Decide for yourself.” And so I’ve always kind of taken that with me. It never occurred to me that there was something I should do or I should become. I was allowed to kind of figure it out. Definitely, I’ve always taken that with me just about being myself and figuring out what’s authentic to me.
Tara: It’s a good combination of them letting you have that flexibility and you also coming back to what you talked, you kind of taking the opportunity to say, “Why not.” And doing it. Using that independence to try things out, it’s really great.
Bianca: I mean, I know definitely as parents– I mean, I’m not a parent, my sister is, you don’t– her kids are still really young so I don’t think she’s even reached this part of her thought process yet. But when I look at my friends as parents and seeing how my parents were, you’re obviously not always going to agree with what your children think with what they want to do. But you have to reach that point of sometimes allowing them to learn for themselves, basically. And I think that’s really what my parents did. A lot of times when I sort of have this decision in front of me and I go to them and I say, “Well, what do you think?” And they say, “Well, what do you think? Which way are you leaning?” And I’ll say to them, “Well, this is why I think it would work, this is why I think it wouldn’t.” And they say, “Oh, yeah, that’s interesting. Okay.” And eventually, if I pressure them, they may say, “Well, if this was me, maybe what I’d do is–” But you still need to decide. And definitely, my why not approach, they’ve kind of let me have that. So when I say, “Well, what’s the worst that can happen? I don’t like it, I come back home.” And they say, “Yeah, pretty much.” And then they support me in my going off and having these adventures, and so far, so good.
Tara: That’s worked for you.
Bianca: Yeah, so far, so good.
Tara: That’s great. I think we’re just about out of time. We’d love to hear you share with us where people can find you or they can read that blog that you’re talking about, and any other resources that you’d like to share?
Bianca: I am definitely very, very findable on Google. If you can spell my last name, you can find me. Bianca Welds, and that’s Welds with a D. I’m at Biancawelds.com and @biancawelds on Twitter. Twitter is where I spend most of my time so that’s the easiest place to find me. I really have not been writing actively on my blog but if you’re interested in pouring over my old archives, they are still there, I don’t delete stuff. All my old thoughts on a lot of this, they’re still there on my blog. I’m still hoping to get back into blogging so we’ll see what happens in 2018, as part of my self-discipline theme. Writing is actually one of the areas that I’ve noted down that I’d like to improve.
Tara: Excellent. Thank you so much for joining us.
Liam: Thanks for joining us, Bianca. This has been an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much.
Bianca: Thanks for asking. It really was great, thank you.
Tara: Well, it’s a treat to actually record Hallway Chats in the hallway. [laughter]
Liam: At a WordCamp.
Tara: Clearly, from the background sound, this has been in the hallway but we loved meeting you and thanks for sharing your story.
Bianca: No problem guys, no problem, this was great.
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.