In this series, we share some of the inspiring stories of how WordPress and its global network of contributors can change people’s lives for the better. This month we feature a WordPress e-commerce specialist on the difference it makes.
Empowered to make a change
For WordPress contributor Ronald Gijsel, open source is a lifeline and a perfect place for people with creative minds. It led him on a transformational journey from chef to WordPress e-commerce specialist. Originally from the Netherlands, where he trained in hospitality, he was to find a restorative and energizing power within the WordPress local and global community.
Ten years ago, life took a sad turn for Ronald and his wife Nihan when their baby daughter passed away only a few days after she was born. At that time, Ronald was a restaurant owner in the UK, working hard in a challenging economic environment. Discovering open source was in many ways his lifeline and helped him and his wife through their considerable heartache. Through this community, a journey to understand the opportunities of the web and new career paths began.
Ronald believes that working together in WordPress and other open source communities can lead to massive benefits for a large number of users. Not least, an online presence has been essential to the survival of many businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic.
During recent years, he has visited open source events worldwide as a partnership manager at a WordPress e-commerce plugin company and community supporter. His enthusiasm for WordPress has steered him to being part of local support, solutions and collaboration as a co-organizer of WordCamp Bristol, the WordPress Cheltenham Meetup and more.
When Nihan enrolled in the UK’s Open University to complete her computer science degree, Ronald found her course materials stirring his own interest. He started to follow the lectures with her and even attempted some of the course work for himself – all whilst he continued to work as a chef in various local pubs.
Through this, he discovered how to generate affiliate commission earnings through blogging on different platforms. “Creating websites was slowly becoming a passion. In these first few years, I enjoyed every part of the steep learning curve, from tackling the basics to more advanced coding and designs,” said Ronald.
The Start of a Web Career
Ronald reduced his hours as a chef and devoted more time to online courses learning coding, e-commerce, SEO, and online marketing. Yet when he applied for a job as a WordPress designer, he had only heard of the platform in the context of blogging. This was all to change when an online tutor on one of the training sites revealed the many functions available with WordPress. It was the start of a new career and life journey. This tutor was Topher DeRosia, who went on to create HeroPress.
Ronald with Topher at WordCamp London in 2019
To learn WordPress, Ronald ‘binge-watched’ webinars on various development topics and over time he became more familiar with it. Securing a job as a designer was only the beginning of his journey into the WordPress ecosystem.
A year later in 2015, after landing the job as a WordPress designer, Ronald’s boss asked him to consider taking on the business and its clients. With his wife, Ronald decided to take on the firm and to expand their work in WordPress e-commerce and online marketing.
As an advocate for learning new skills and practicing them, Ronald encourages others to continue to expand their knowledge through study, attending talks at Meetups and WordCamps, and using the new Learn WordPress resource.
“WordPress has evolved in so many branches that require different skills. There are hundreds of areas of expertise, roles, and jobs that complement WordPress to make it what it is.”
“WordPress is an essential tool in my box.”
Ronald believes WordPress thrives on diversity, with many contributor opportunities and jobs in the ecosystem that require a wide range of skills.
“A big part of this is that each person’s personal background complements their skill sets. Who you are and what you do is influenced by what you have done and learned. We need to cherish this. These things also add to our culture, language, experience, and knowledge,” he said.
A journey into WordPress e-commerce
Ronald shares his enthusiasm for building WordPress and e-commerce websites at WordCamp London in 2019
Ronald initially extended his interest in the WordPress ecosystem through representing a plugin company at WordCamps in the UK. He became hooked and went on to attend events in many different countries.
In 2018, he realized he could do more with his connections and create meaningful partnerships. Within a few weeks, he had crafted his dream job and sent a proposal to the CEO of a WordPress e-commerce firm.
But pitching to strangers wasn’t an easy task, as he did not know if they would understand his vision.
Ronald said: “The doubts went through my head for months. ‘Do I give up my business and work for the benefit of another company? What if I don’t get on? What do I do with my customers?’ But I decided to take the leap.” His pitch proved successful, joining his current firm in 2019.
In the firm’s CEO, Ronald found a mentor, supporter, and a friend. He explained: “Nando Pappalardo never tells me what to do, but instead, he asks questions to make me realize what is achievable, or could be even better. He simply makes suggestions that I read something and reach my own conclusions.”
Looking back at the journey
Taking risks or changing directions in mid-career often involves a giant leap. In Ronald’s view, through WordPress, you don’t need to be alone. He believes its community can offer support and help to process thinking.
Ronald said: “I often think back to the moment my daughter passed away. She only lived for a few days. Every day, I wonder how events would have unfolded if she had survived. Maybe her memory lives on in every decision I make and the paths I decide to take.”
From his experience, he found that changing a career can sometimes take a few years and have a period of transition. He said: “Only looking back do I realize that each small step slowly made a difference in my life.”
“It was WordPress that made the online world easier to navigate and empowered me to make a change”
He added: “Feeling welcomed into the WordPress community through Meetups and WordCamps added a human dimension and confidence that I can do ‘this’ too.”
Ronald’s wish is that his story will offer support to others who may have experienced tragedy in their lives. “I hope that I can give you the hope and strength to try and put your energy into something else that can lead to more significant changes in your life. Try to take it as one positive decision at a time.”
Share the stories
Help us share these stories of open source contributors and continue to grow the community. Meet more WordPressers in the People of WordPress series. #ContributorStory.
Thank you to Abha Thakor (@webcommsat), and Surendra Thakor (@sthakor) for the interviews and writing this feature, and to Ronald Gijsel (@just2ronal) for sharing his story.
Thanks to Meher Bala (@meher), Chloé Bringmann (@cbringmann), Anjana Vasan (@anjanavasan), Collieth Clarke (@callye), and Reyes Martinez (@rmartinezduque) for their content contributions, and Josepha Haden Chomphosy (@chanthaboune), and Topher DeRosia (@topher1kenobe) for their support for the series.
This People of WordPress feature is inspired by an essay originally published on HeroPress.com, a community initiative created by Topher DeRosia. It highlights people in the WordPress community who have overcome barriers and whose stories might otherwise go unheard. #HeroPress