Introducing Miriam Goldman
Miriam is a lead web developer at Pondstone Digital Marketing, a digital marketing agency in Ottawa, Canada. She’s been a web developer for over 12 years, has been working with WordPress since 2008.
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 36.
Tara: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Tara Claeys.
Liam: And I’m Liam Dempsey. Today, we’re joined by Miriam Goldman. Miriam is a lead web developer at Pondstone Digital Marketing, a digital marketing agency in Ottawa, Canada. She’s been a web developer for over 12 years, has been working with WordPress since 2008. She is one of the core organizers of WordCamp Ottawa and speaks at various WordCamps across North America. Outside of web development, she is a black belt in karate, and also a competitive Latin ballroom dancer. Hi, Miriam. How are you?
Miriam: Hi, Liam. I’m good, you?
Liam: Very well, thanks.
Tara: Hey, Miriam, nice to see you.
Miriam: Nice to see you too.
Tara: Welcome. I’d like to hear a little bit more about you and your ballroom dancing and your black belt, but especially about your interaction with WordPress and our community. Tell us a little bit more about yourself?
Miriam: I’ve got into web development pretty early. I just kind of fell into it, and WordPress I kind of just stumbled upon in 2008. I just really fell in love with it and I just built on it more and more, and I managed to get jobs that used WordPress as their content management system. Do a little bit of freelancing on the side and then I got involved with the WordPress and WordCamp community just by chance. I started just attending and then my boss at the time said, “You should speak.” So I started to speak. Then we became good friends with Megan Haynes and Sean Hooper here in Ottawa. They encouraged me to join the organizing team. That’s how I became one of the co-organizers and I believe I am taking on speaker lead for WordCamp Ottawa 2018, but it hasn’t been finalized yet.
Tara: Excellent. Is WordCamp Ottawa pretty large? How many people attend that one?
Miriam: A couple hundred. I think we had somewhere between 150 and 200 last year, I don’t recall the numbers. But it’s pretty good because there’s a core of people who come up, they come from Toronto and Hamilton, or they come in from Montreal. The cities are pretty close to each other, it’s a two-hour drive to Montreal from here and it’s about four or five-hour drive to Toronto. Kind of like the eastern WordPress community is actually pretty large and people just go from city to city because it’s pretty easy to get here.
Tara: Great. Before we talk more about WordPress and web development, tell me a little bit about the relationship between being a black belt in karate and a ballroom dancer?
Miriam: I started with karate first. I started that about ten and a half years ago because I wanted to get fit, and I was watching a karate class before a kickboxing class and I said, “That looks fun. I’m going to try it.” So with that, I got discipline and self-confidence. And the ballroom came on because I liked watching Dancing With The Stars. When I got my first-level black belt seven years ago, I wanted to do something else to build different muscles so I found a studio that just had group classes, so I did that for a couple of years. Took a little bit of a break. And then I went back and studio I was at at the time, she had just brought in a new teacher who had just come over from Russia and she had a special on private classes. I did that and he was one who encouraged me to compete. We do Pro-am which is essentially like Dancing With The Stars but for non-celebrities, it’s how I tell people. I danced with my teacher and we only do competitions here in Canada, we’ve only done Montreal and Ottawa right now. I actually have a competition in about three weeks.
Tara: Wow. What is your preferred style or do you have to do them all?
Miriam: Right now, because I came from a non-dancing background, I only started with the three main Latin dances, Cha-cha, Rumba, and Samba. And I literally just added Jive this year.
Tara: Good for you, that is great. I know a couple of other people that I follow on Twitter in the WordPress community who are ballroom dancers, so maybe there’s some correlation between that and WordPress.
Miriam: Yeah, I think Raquelle down in Phoenix is also a dancer.
Tara: Yes. And Morten, I believe, also.
Miriam: Yes, we’ve talked about that in Seattle this year. [laughter]
Liam: Tell me about karate? What– I’m not sure what branch or vein of karate do you study?
Miriam: Our school is mixed between Shotokan and Shito-ryu, it’s mostly the Shotokan katas. Again, I just did it because I wanted to get fit and look cool, and I liked to watch Power Rangers when I was a teenager. I was like, “Let’s go back and visit my teenage years again.” And I just fell in love with it as time went on. It’s got me fit, it’s given me self-confidence. Now that I’m one of the senior black belts at my school, I teach. That was one of the things I wanted to do as a kid. It kind of just all ties together. It’s just the community, I’ve made– some of my best friends are from my karate dojo.
Tara: Oh my gosh.
Liam: That’s wonderful. I think I heard you say, when you got your first belt. I’m guessing you are what degree now?
Miriam: I’m a third-degree black belt which I got about a year and a half ago.
Liam: Wow, that’s very impressive, congratulations.
Miriam: Thanks. I’m staying here for now so no more testing in the near future. Now I get to watch others get tested.
Liam: I love it.
Tara: That’s wonderful. Okay, now that we’ve gotten all that fun conversation out of the way and fascinating, by the way. Let’s talk a little bit about your background and what drove you to be interested in web development to begin with, and sort of what your specialties are in that?
Miriam: I started off in middle school with Geocities as a lot of people my age did. I was a big Sailor Moon fan back then so I was like, “I want to talk about Sailor Moon.” So I decided to just play around on the internet because my dad got it for us when I was in grade five. He got me into computers at a very, very young age. There’s a picture floating around somewhere at his place of me, maybe two or three years old, sitting on his lap playing on his Commodore 64, playing the Sesame Street educational game. I got into Geocities and I self-taught myself HTML, and I started building Sailor Moon fan pages. Then I got into Star Trek, so I did Star Trek pages. I just kind of fell into front-end development and I just did it for fun, while all the time thinking that I was going to go into some biology or a teaching degree. Then, that wasn’t working out for me in university so my manager at the Farm Boy, which is a grocery store here in Ottawa, she mentioned to me that, she’s like, “You’re always talking about stuff you do on the internet. Why don’t you look into that as a career?” I found a vocational college and I got a diploma in web development. I got my first job six weeks later and I’ve just been doing it ever since. My strengths are in front-end development but I also do back-end, basically hacking plugins and things with PHP if I need to.
Tara: Wow. The vocational college, how many years was that to get that degree?
Miriam: It was one of those for-profit colleges. I don’t know if they had them down in the States, but they have like the for-profit colleges where you work at your own pace. My program was supposed to be a year but I did in nine months.
Tara: Okay. And were all of the things that they taught you relevant to what you’re doing today?
Tara: What’s your favorite thing to do in web development? You say you’re mostly front-end but you do some back-end, too. Do you have a favorite thing?
Miriam: My favorite thing is actually playing in the back-end. Some people find it weird but I actually like the database optimization because I like to [inaudible 09:10] database, and sometimes it’s fun if I’m on the development site to tinker with the drawings and see what other relationships I can get. I haven’t done it in a while but when I have to build a custom plugin, it’s nice to just go in and plan it all out and figure out what should the database relationship be, how do I want to structure this, and then what’s the best way to get it through the code.
Liam: And where are you learning about database optimization and management because that’s not the casual web developer’s approach to getting into things? What are your tools, not what programs, but how did you learn that? I get you got excited about it because it’s really cool stuff, but how did you, aside from just playing around with it and breaking it and then trying to fix it, where do you learn?
Miriam: It was mostly that, and I got the, I guess, the foundation in college. Other than that, I just used Google and Stack Overflow. Stack Overflow is a web-developer’s best friend.
Liam: [laughs] You heard it here first.
Tara: I love that you have this multi-dimensional stuff and I’m so glad we started talking to you about your hobbies. I think a lot of times we get caught up in our space and you can get absorbed in code for a long time, so it’s great that you have these other things in your life. We talk about success on Hallway Chats and so I’m going to ask you one of our questions, which is, how do you define success in your personal life, your work life, what does success mean to you?
Miriam: That’s kind of convoluted, but to distill it down to one thing, I would say success is happiness. If I’m happy with what I’m doing and especially if I can make somebody else happy– today, I did something at work and I just heard this cheer come from the other room, and we’re sending stickers back and forth, my colleague and I in Google Hangouts because I got something done quicker than expected. Success is happiness and knowing that I’m making a difference, because some people think that web development is just doing it, “Oh, you’ve built a web page, who cares?” But to some people, having a presence on the web is very important. And sometimes just helping people fix bugs and them just expressing their gratitude to me. It doesn’t matter if I’m the top dog at a company or anything, if I have a stable job and I’m happy with where I work, which is 120% correct right now, then I consider that success, at least in the professional sense. And then, happiness is also in the personal sense. I keep myself well-rounded, as I mentioned, and I’ve got a dog who I love to cuddle with and everything. I make sure that I have time for myself, my friends and family, and it’s just balancing it all out. To me, that’s success. If I’m happy, then I’m successful.
Liam: A happy life is a wonderful thing but assessing happiness can be a challenge, right? The kind of happiness we might feel when the website we launched is well-received is one level, and when our code works, that’s another level too. How do you assess your real inner-happiness? How do you know that deep within you are happy? What kind of approach do you take to assess that for yourself?
Miriam: I think I just take the quiet times in my life and I just sit down and I think, I’m like, “Okay. Is there something I’m really missing in my life right now? Is there something that’s really deep down bugging me?” If there’s not then I consider myself happy.
Tara: What would you say is the most important thing that you do every day related to happiness?
Miriam: It’s taking time for myself. Before work, every morning I get up, walk the dog, have my coffee and I cuddle with him. And that’s a routine I’ve been doing for the past five years. And it’s just, I guess, mentally preparing for the day. It’s not meditation but it’s just having that routine and I am very much a routine-oriented person. Just following that through. And if I deviate it, then I feel off-kilter for that day. If I stay with that, it just helps me stay stable.
Liam: I’m going to be a little bit silly here and say I often like to cuddle my coffee, too, because it’s so [inaudible 14:07].
Miriam: Yeah, it’s definitely [inaudible 14:10]. [laughter]
Tara: I think she’s talking about your dog. [laughs]
Liam: Tell me about your dog? Yeah, go ahead. I know.
Miriam: I have a little Jack Russel Corgi mix I adopted five years ago, and he’s the perfect apartment dog. His favorite thing to do is just cuddle up. Right now, he’s literally in front of my laptop on the couch just lying down. He’s quiet, he’s very affectionate, he loves people. He’s pretty good with the cold, which is important when you live in Canada. It’s very good for me because for the longest time I was just living by myself in the apartment with no roommates. I’m not married, I don’t have a boyfriend so I kind of felt alone in a sense. Then I was encouraged to adopt a dog and I did, and I can’t imagine life without having him around now.
Tara: I adopted a dog also. I adopted a dog to get me out of the house and out walking and meeting my neighbors. Then I adopted a dog who doesn’t like strangers. Now I have to walk on the other side of the street when somebody is walking by. I’m glad you’ve found a cuddly dog who likes people. But dogs in general, they do, they give you that love that I think is hard to relate to and so you have a dog.
Tara: What’s your dog’s name?
Miriam: His name is Sasha.
Liam: Giving a shout out to Sasha.
Tara: Yeah. I was expecting some kind of karate or Japanese-type name.
Miriam: No. That was the name he had at the shelter and it seemed to just suit him so I didn’t bother changing it.
Liam: I want to ask about your focus on routine and how it throws you out if you don’t have that morning routine because that is something that I also face, and I find that it’s mostly managing my own expectations around routine rather than the expectations of those around me. I wonder how or what mechanisms do you have for when life prevents you from having a routine that works best for you in the morning? How do you adjust, how do you get back in the line at any given day so that you can make the best of whatever else comes your way that day?
Miriam: I just probably take a lot of deep breaths and I try and take time to be like, “Okay, this didn’t happen today. I ran out of coffee and I forgot my cash so I can’t go and pick up coffee on the way to work. Okay, deep breath, you can survive without coffee, get through this and just take the time.” And maybe I’m a bit quieter that day, maybe I just keep to myself. But it’s more of a matter of the mental discipline. Just be like, “Okay, this is not the end of the world, something has changed today but life goes on, the world is not going to end because I don’t have coffee today.
Tara: I don’t know if Liam would agree with that.
Liam: I struggle with that, but then again, I’m not a third-degree black belt. On a serious not though, that kind of focus to achieve a degree like a third-degree black belt, and I appreciate it’s a lot of memorization, it’s a lot of physical rigor. Those tests are not casual to get home and relax tests. And the competitive ballroom dancing, those are– they’re sweating, right? The cameras don’t zoom in on them right away, it’s hard work. It looks fun, it looks amazing but it’s hard work. How do those habits and practices and exercises, how do they help you cope outside of getting the next degree or winning the competition?
Miriam: It’s just the pure exercise to bring it back to its basic essence. Some people love going to the gym and do other things, I just found ballroom and karate were my things. Just having that adrenaline and the endorphins flow through you when you exercise and it’s great because I could have– everybody has off-days, some of the times I can have like the most off-day possible at work. Say, I’m putting out fires all day or a client is not happy with something, and then I either go to the dojo or I go to the dance studio, and either I have an amazing class or my dance teacher is just being silly and makes me laugh, then we just go in and go full out on our routine, and I come out just feeling much better. Part of it’s the endorphins and part of it is just being able to put aside everything else and just being like, “Ah, this is my release.”
Liam: Having just got off the treadmill right before this conversation, yes, I get that. I think Tara, you were probably going to say something similar.
Tara: I was going to say that unlike running or other ‘more traditional exercises’, ballroom dancing and getting a black belt in karate, as Liam mentioned, they take a lot of discipline and concentration. One thing about running is you don’t really have to think about what you’re doing and where your feet are going or where your hands are going. It sounds like that is a release for you but it also sounds like it must be also challenging to have a day where you’re concentrating so much on code and then to go into something– you’re shifting your brain but your brain is still really turned on. Do you ever turn your brain off?
Miriam: Some days. I try and do it mostly on weekends. Weekends, I’m not good because I work Monday through Friday, nine to five, your usual typical job. But it’s nice because weekends I can just turn it off, and sometimes, I just go and I binge shows or my friends call me up with like, “Hey, we are going to binge-watch Star Trek: Discovery.” For example.
Tara: Good show.
Miriam: Oh, I love it. I love Star Trek. It’s just nice to just sit in front of the TV, put on Netflix and just binge a bunch of things or just go out to a movie with my brother and basically just not really think. Especially if you go to a movie, you’re just like, “Okay, I got this with my free points from my royalty program.” I’ll see it but if I don’t pay attention, it’s not necessary, it’s not one of those mental movies. It’s more like an action thriller or something like Marvel where you don’t always have to think about what’s going on. You’re just watching stuff being blown up.
Liam: Shutting off is kind of nice, I get that. Let me take us back into the workplace, back in the office. You told us what you like to do and what you enjoy. I wonder, as a developer, you being the developer, me not the developer, what is your least favorite thing to do? As a developer, not all the office stuff, and how do you get yourself to go at it in a productive, professional, efficient way?
Miriam: I have to say that testing is actually my least-favorite part of the job, especially cross-browser testing. Especially if you have to support an older version of a particular browser which will remain unnamed right now, that is not being used a lot except for some niche market, and you have to cater to that niche market. Again, it all comes down to the mental disciplines like, “Okay, I have to do this. For lack of a better word, suck it up, buttercup, and just get to it.”
Liam: Yeah, that’s easier said than done but I see Tara leaning into the mic and I imagine she says, that’s where the black belt and the ballroom dancing focus come in, that focus on routine and willingness to push yourself into a discomfort to get to where you want to be.
Miriam: Exactly. I found it a lot harder earlier in my career, maybe it’s because I was younger then but I didn’t have the same discipline. Going back to the beginning is karate has given me the self-confidence and self-discipline, and not just in life in general but I’ve been to port it over to my professional life as well. It’s helped me to deal with the tasks that I consider unpleasant or aren’t my favorite thing to do in the world.
Tara: I’m going to shift gears. I wanted to ask you, I heard and saw on social media or something just a really great response to a panel that you had, I believe it was in Seattle over the summer?
Tara: I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that panel and what it was about, and what was so well-received about it, what was so great about it?
Miriam: Myself and Rachel Cherry from Los Angeles had both submitted a Women in WordPress panel to WordCamp Seattle. And so she had panelists but a not good description, I had a great description but no panelists. So the organizer asked if we would join forces and we both said, “Why not?” We talked over Slack, so there is myself, Bridget Willard, Tessa Kriesel, I’m sorry, Tessa, for saying your last name wrong, and then Francesca Mirano, I believe is her last name, who came in from Italy. So there was all of us, I moderated. And it was just women in WordPress panel talking about our achievements, our struggles and what advice we could give to women just starting out whether they’re young, old. Basically, just getting started on in the WordPress world. I think, especially with society, with everything that’s been going on with the MeToo movement and all that, I think that it was well received because it was all women talking about their experiences and advice. It seems like that’s something that was needed because a lot of women needed that encouragement to get started and just to hear our stories.
Tara: Yeah, what motivated you to do this? What has been your experience as a woman in WordPress, as a developer and just in general?
Miriam: It’s been a lot better over the past couple of years. In my early career, it was a lot of– perhaps there was a combination of the fact that I started quite young and the fact that I’m a woman, but I found a lot of people just, I guess, to loosely use the term ‘mansplaining’ things to me, and looking down and saying, “Oh, you’re a woman, we can’t do that. Let’s go to the male developers.” There is that. And what motivated me to do this was coming from the fact that I didn’t want to do a traditional talk at WordCamp Ottawa, I wanted to do a panel. I was motivated by all the things going on outside of the WordPress world. I was like, “Hey, why don’t I put this together?” And we’ve got some people coming from Montreal, from Toronto, some local people from Ottawa, and we did it. And it went over very well in Ottawa. We did it this summer in Ottawa and that’s what motivated me to just be like, “I want to travel. I’ve never been to Seattle.” So I just threw in the application, thought nothing of it, and then I get the email saying, “Yeah, you’ve been accepted.” I’m like, “Guess I better find my way to Seattle.”
Tara: [laughs] Did you open it up to questions from the audience?
Miriam: Yes, we did. I don’t recall all of them but I do remember one question that in particular, was that a gentleman came up at the end and asked how men could help us more. And I don’t remember the responses but we’ve got some really good responses and the best thing is we ran out of time pretty much in all the panels that we did. Especially in Seattle, what was great is that they had a speaker Q&A lounge afterwards, and we were there for at least an hour, maybe an hour and a half talking with women coming up to us just wanting to learn more.
Tara: Wow, that’s great. I’m glad to hear that went over so well. I believe you’re going to be doing more of those panels at WordCamps.
Miriam: I guess I can announce it, I’ll be doing it WordCamp Miami and I’ve applied to WordCamp London as in London, England. The call for speakers closes at the beginning of February. As of the time of this recording, I don’t know if I got accepted or not, and I might throw it out at some other WordCamps later on in the year, but just don’t know at this point. It’s just a great idea and a concept, and even if I slow it up and I step back and be like, “Okay, great. You want all these panelists? Let them take over but it’s just good to get the word out there and put the bug in people’s ears.”
Tara: Yeah. Congratulations, that’s great. I want to ask you about advice and maybe even transitioning from that perhaps. You could start out by sharing maybe, if in that panel there was one piece of advice that came out that you would give to women who are starting out in WordPress, we can share that, and then after that, if you can answer another question that we ask which is, if you’ve received advice, if there’s a single piece of advice that you can think of that you’ve received and implemented in your life and what that is?
Miriam: The advice that I think is the best was just do it, don’t be scared and just do it. Scary as hell but once you get over that initial wall, you’ll find that the community is very welcoming. And my advice that I was given was don’t give up and persevere.
Tara: Those overlap, I guess, with each other?
Tara: Good crossover. That’s good advice. Can you think of a time when you used that advice and it worked out great for you?
Miriam: The advice was not to give up was I went through a lot of job transition over the past two years and I just kept going and I found a position now that is– when I read the job description, I’m like, “This is meant for me.” I turned to my dad, I was at his place, and I’m like, “This is the perfect job for me.” And I got it and I’ve been there six months now and I just absolutely love it there, it’s just amazing.
Liam: That’s awesome. I love that. Thank you.
Tara: Glad to hear it.
Liam: We’ve talked about a lot of different things and one of the themes that keeps coming back in my head is your willingness and ability and capacity to get things done to reach a goal and to push yourself hard to get there. Whether that’s getting a black belt or ballroom dancing or diving into database refinement or becoming a speaker at WordCamps and ultimately, an organizer, then working hard to ensure that women are welcome and that new women are feeling like they belong in the WordPress community. And I guess what I wonder with all of this is how do you keep that going? How do you, when the batteries run out, do you figure out a way to recharge them in some way, shape, or form? Because I can imagine that giving on so many different ways and so many different levels is ultimately quite draining and it’s rewarding, I don’t want to minimize that and I don’t want to– we can go for hours on this, but I guess my question is how do you get back on the horse, how do you recharge the batteries, how do you get back in the ring? Choose the metaphor. What works for you?
Miriam: Downtime. It’s just taking some time for myself, whether it’s going to a spa or just staying home all day ordering in Chinese food and having a glass of wine and watching my favorite TV show. Just taking that time when I can shut off my brain, stay home and pretty much only go out if I need to get groceries or walk the dog, and just having that time just to self-care is what a lot of my friends use, is the word self-care and just look after myself. And then once I feel that I’ve had enough time just to relax, turn off my brain, then the batteries just go from 0 to 100%.
Tara: I think the dog is a key piece of the equation.
Tara: Back to the joy and stress relief that a dog can bring.
Liam: Go Sasha.
Tara: Go Sasha. Liam. [laughs] Jinx.
Liam: You owe me a Coke.
Tara: Miriam, thank you so much for joining us. It’s really been a pleasure to get to know you a little bit more. We’ve interacted a good amount on social media and on Slack so it’s nice to actually chat with you.
Miriam: Thank you very much for having me.
Tara: Thanks for being here. Where can people find you online?
Miriam: Probably the best place is Twitter, it’s @mirigoldman and also, I have a website I log occasionally, mainly WordCamp recaps or I put up my karate story, my ballroom story, sometimes I put up tech advice. I don’t blog often but I like to try and do it. That’s MiriamGoldman.ca. Also, I have an Instagram and people like seeing pretty much pictures of my dog all the time, I believe it’s @dancingsensei but that can be found on my website.
Tara: That’s great. I have a pet Instagram that follows other pets so we’ll definitely have to do that.
Liam: Miriam, it’s been a huge pleasure having you on the show and getting to know you a little bit. Thank you so much for spending time with us and sharing.
Miriam: Thank you very much for having me.
Tara: Thanks, Miriam. Bye.
Liam: We’ll see you soon, bye.
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