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 Indian-based WordPress developer and long term contributor on how it helped her find a career and a local and global community to belong to.
WordPress is an inspiration to Meher Bala, a frontend web developer and community builder from India. From using the software as a basic website tool to helping entrepreneurs and good causes around the world fulfill their aspirations, she has overcome personal barriers and now aims to inspire others.
Meher found her vocation and learned new skills through WordPress. She also discovered a way to encourage other women to consider careers in IT.
Finding her interests
As a child, Meher was diagnosed with dyslexia (difficulty in reading the written word) and dyscalculia (difficulty in comprehending numbers and mathematical functions). With the support of her parents and a tutor, she was able to overcome this learning obstacle. She developed coping techniques and a determination to work to overcome challenges as they appeared later in life.
In school, she got an opportunity to replace one subject with computer studies as an alternative. This proved to be an eye-opener to future career possibilities.
She began to research not only what the internet had to offer but also how it worked, including the new and fascinating concepts of email and websites. Her father bought the family’s first desktop computer so she could do her research at home.
Meher’s father wanted to turn her love for computers into something that would serve her well in the future. In 2005, he enrolled her in a short computer course from a global IT training provider. The course tutor was so impressed with her performance, she was advised to enroll in a four year software development course.
That meant she had studied the software development course alongside her higher education college course. Looking back, she enjoyed the dual challenge of the degree course in commerce, and the experience prepared her well to keep learning software while working as a developer. Within three years, she had learned C#, C, C++, HTML, Java, and .NET.
After graduation, she was in a dilemma to choose between commerce and IT. What to choose? She had a compulsory one-year technology internship to complete, and her choice of focus for that year would prove to be a defining moment.
In 2009, on her birthday, Meher was offered an internship. On the first day of the internship, she was introduced to WordPress. Her initial assignment was to change the look and feel of the WordPress dashboard — in just six hours. But there was a problem – she had never worked with WordPress before!
“I stared at the whiteboard and thought that task given was impossible and difficult to meet the deadline. I wondered if my boss was joking and did not know then what you could do with WordPress as a developer and how it could slot into your toolbox. It opened my eyes.”
Meher used her research skills to know more about using WordPress. She found a plugin that would help her achieve her task. She met the deadline and it ingrained an interest that she would never lose.
Five years after her initial WordPress experience, Meher was assigned to lead an international project in WordPress. She was hesitant — she had lost touch with the CMS during that five years, but the project was a great opportunity to become a team leader and lead from the front.
She decided to update her WordPress skills, relying again on the strength of her research skills and determination. In the process, she also taught her team all about WordPress, inspiring many of those members to continue to develop their WordPress skill set.
The success of that project was a pivotal moment for Meher and a new dawn as a developer specializing in WordPress.
As a team lead, Meher soon found it was not possible to always have all the answers straight away. She found internet searches gave practical solutions—but rarely explained the theory behind it.
So she went looking for a WordPress group to help her expand the scope and depth of her knowledge.
Finding the Community
Meher enjoying being part of WordCamp Nagpur in 2017
In 2015, while browsing Facebook, Meher came across an advertisement for something called WordCamp Mumbai, an event that had taken two days before. She did a little digging to learn what a WordCamp was, and about the people behind it. She took the plunge and joined the WordPress Mumbai Meetup group.
Her first Meetup experience was not love at first sight. She felt the topics were for advanced users, and the timing late in the evening made it difficult to attend.
But a few months later, the Meetup addressed a topic that could help her resolve an issue in one of her current projects. She made the effort to show up and came away with a number of important tips. The speaker had taken the time to speak to individual attendees. When he came to Meher, she took the opportunity to ask a couple of questions about her project issues.
Thereafter she went to more Meetups and got to know the people behind this group, just as they started talking about WordCamp Mumbai 2016.
A WordCamp Adventure
Meher discovering WordCamps in Mumbai in 2016
Meher expressed interest in being a part of the coming WordCamp Mumbai and started in an entry-level role with basic responsibilities.
At first, she thought WordCamp was a formal conference with about 100 people. So on the first day of WordCamp Mumbai 2016, she was surprised to see so many WordCamp enthusiasts attending and enjoying such a relaxed and friendly conference.
After that great experience, Meher went to many more meetups and did more volunteering. She started taking on responsibilities in the coming WordCamps and getting to know the different aspects of the camp.
In the following years, at each WordPress, she took up a new role like speaker vetting, sponsors, and volunteer coordination. This allowed her to know more about what an organizer needs to do, from planning to execution, to make WordCamp a successful event.
With the team at WordCamp Mumbai in 2017
Meher is grateful for her WordPress journey which was fostered in the Mumbai community. It has been filled with beautiful surprises.
When people ask why she’s chosen to specialize professionally in WordPress, Meher says WordPress is easy to teach a non-technical person, yet it is still highly customizable. Being a WordPress developer has given her the opportunity to work remotely for global web development companies that let her think out of the box. And she learns new skills with every release.
The community makes WordPress special
Meher says that some of her most memorable WordPress moments have revolved around special friendships, trying new things, and participating in community building.
WordPress has let her explore different parts of India, make new friends locally and internationally, and encourage women to be a part of meetup groups and events across India.
One of Meher’s biggest dreams was to lead WordCamp Mumbai as a lead organizer and show others what could be achieved working together in open source. In 2019, she did just that and has volunteered at international WordCamps and meetups, and been a very active contributor to a number of WordPress.org teams.
Taking to the stage at WordCamp Mumbai in 2019
As part of her enthusiasm for sharing the opportunities WordPress can give people, especially women, she has given time to co-organize two global WordPress Translation month long events and contributor events in India.
Meher said: “I was first introduced to translation at one of the meetups which was organised to support the WordPress Translation Day. I realized this was another way to support my local communities and bring the power of WordPress to them by contributing in Gujarati and Hindi. I did not imagine I would a few years later be a global organizer for the event itself!”
With her commitment to ongoing learning as a developer and to model what she believes about the value and community growth opportunities of open source, Meher has given time and energy to the Marketing Team, where she has been a Team Rep, to the Training Team, and to the Core Team contributing to multiple releases.
The developer adventure with WordPress is unlimited
At the start of my software developer journey, I always thought the C++ and Java were the only skills you required to excel in your career. From the time I started exploring WordPress in depth, I realized the potential and the power of WordPress in web development.
Being a part of the WordPress community, Meher learned that there is so much more than just building blogs on WordPress. She started exploring different features of WordPress, created her first theme, and eventually specialized as a frontend specialist.
Meher now works as a consultant and front end developer with an international agency specializing in WordPress. Asked what she thought was the best thing about being a WordPress developer, Meher replied: “Through WordPress, I have an opportunity to build unique out of the box websites and work remotely for global web development companies that encourages you to think out of the box. There is always opportunity to continuously advance my coding skills and learn new techniques with every release.”
She believes that there is no limit to where using the software can take you and what you can combine it with to find solutions to projects big and small.
If you earn a living from WordPress, her advice is from the heart: try to give back to the WordPress community.
“I am sure you will learn or teach something new and definitely make friends across the world. There is no shame in making mistakes, as you can learn from them and develop your skills further. You can also help others as they build their skills.”
Meher added: “Don’t let the things you find difficult get in the way of your success.”
Share the stories
Help share these stories of open source contributors and continue to grow the community. Meet more WordPressers in the People of WordPress series.
Thanks to Abha Thakor (@webcommsat), Larissa Murillo (@lmurillom), Mary Baum (@marybaum), Chloé Bringmann (@cbringmann), and Meg Phillips (@megphillips91) for interviews, writing and image work on this story. Thank you to Meher Bala (@meher) for sharing her experiences and to Josepha Haden Chomphosy (@chanthaboune) and Topher DeRosia (@topher1kenobe) for their support of 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