Today we have Michelle Frechette as the guest in our WP-Professional of the Month series. One of the most well-known names in the WordPress community today, she wears many hats. She is currently the Director of Community Engagement at StellarWP, and has pivotal roles with WPCoffeeTalk.com, underrepresentedintech.com, wpcareerpages.com, BigOrangeHeart.org and PostStatus.com, besides being a photographer, public speaker and author.
You are well-known in WordPress circles today. How did the journey start? How did you get introduced to WordPress after earning an MBA?
I was working at a massage school as the campus director. My best friend was a massage therapist and she said that there weren’t enough resources after students graduated to help them succeed in business. So we founded a (now defunct) nonprofit to help them. Her husband built us a WordPress website to get us started.
Logging in for the first time was like I’d walked into a magical foreign land…but I quickly figured it out. Clicking publish and seeing my work appear online was intoxicating! I was hooked! A few years later I started freelancing, then speaking at WordCamps, and eventually began working at GiveWP. The WordPress community has been amazing!
Where are you based? Does your location influence your work?
I’m located just outside of Rochester, New York, USA, in a small town called Hilton. WordCamp Buffalo and WordCamp Toronto were my first WordCamps, and in that way influenced my work in WordPress. Being in Western New York influences my photography more than my WordPress work. I love nature here, especially photographing birds, insects, bees, and flora.
Please share some projects you are currently involved with
In addition to the work I do as Director of Community Engagement at StellarWP, I’m also the Podcast Barista at WPCoffeeTalk.com, cofounder of underrepresentedintech.com (with Allie Nimmons), creator of wpcareerpages.com, the president of the board for BigOrangeHeart.org, and Director of Community Relations and contributor at PostStatus.com.
At StellarWP, we launched a new initiative that will be a resource for the WordPress community – WP.Events. It is your ultimate directory of WordPress community events, WordCamps, and Meetups – both virtual and in person.
You are a cofounder of “Underrepresented in Tech.” Can you please share the situation and participation of these people in the WordPress ecosystem and how this organization works?
Underrepresented in Tech came about as Allie and I were continually being asked to recommend people of color (specifically) for projects and positions in WordPress. We truly didn’t feel it was our purview to speak on others’ behalf, so we came up with an idea where people from underrepresented groups could self-identify not only that they are underrepresented, but areas they’re interested in contributing (like speaking, organizing, being a guest on a podcast or blog, etc.).
Inclusion of all people in tech projects and organizations is everyone’s responsibility. If you look at your group and see all one ethnicity, all one gender, or only neurotypical and non-disabled people, then you have the responsibility to change that.
What makes WordPress so special to you and what would you like to see implemented to WordPress as a Core feature?
WordPress has allowed me to grow into not only a community I love, but to become someone I can look at in the mirror and be happy about. There are so many opportunities to give back when someone wants to participate, and I’ve loved all the ways that I can be involved in this community.
As far as core features, security is always a concern. Adding two-factor authentication as a core feature would help with that. Also having notifications for abandoned plugins as we know that those become targets. Knowing where your vulnerabilities are would be helpful in site owners being more proactive in solving security issues before they are compromised.
What is your favorite a) plugin b) Theme c) Hosting and why?
Favorite plugin: GiveWP. Not only did GiveWP give me my first non-freelance job in WordPress, but they help nonprofits all over the world make their part of the world a better place. Being part of GiveWP for 4 years (and now working with them as part of the StellarWP brand family) really is an honor.
Favorite theme: Kadence. It is SO versatile, makes proper use of Gutenberg, and the included templates are a great way to kick-start your site. And Kadence Blocks are adding new features and functionality all the time. It just keeps innovating and getting better!
Favorite hosting: I’m doing all of my hosting with Nexcess as I begin new projects and migrate older ones. Of course, I work at Liquid Web, but even if I didn’t, the hosting is super fast, and the help I’ve gotten through chat (when they didn’t even know who I was) when I needed it was fast and spot-on.
What do you think about the future of WordPress, especially Gutenberg and FSE? Is it becoming more complicated?
Change is always challenging, and growth inherently carries with it some level of complexity. As our industry needs to grow, so does the response to it, which usually carries some complications with it. I’m not overly concerned with it.
We had so many acquisitions in WordPress in recent times. What are your thoughts on it?
WordPress has been around 19 years, but the early years didn’t even include a marketplace/economy. As an ecosystem, it has grown. Mergers and acquisitions are a normal part of industry growth.
The smaller companies that started 10 years ago (or even more recently) have grown to a place where they have to make decisions around their growth and next steps, and the people who lead those companies have personal decisions to make around family and career. Selling becomes part of that strategy. It’s a healthy sign of an industry, and the WordPress ecosystem is right on track.
You wear many hats – WordCamp organizer, speaker, photographer, commitments with StellarWP, WPCoffeeTalk.com, BigOrangeHeart.org, PostStatus.com, to name a few. How do you keep on top of things? Please share any time management tips you follow or tools you use to organize your work.
My calendar is my best friend. If it doesn’t make it to my calendar, then I won’t remember where I’m supposed to be. I add tasks there as well as meetings. I keep my personal calendar connected to my work calendar so that I don’t double-book myself.
At StellarWP we use Monday.com for project management. This has been a huge part of being able to stay on task and stay focused.
Slack is also a great tool for communication with all my teams and helps with organization and accountability.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that it doesn’t always work, and sometimes things fall through the cracks or get overlooked. No system is perfect. I’m certainly not perfect.
What makes WordPress unique is its vibrant community and you are a key figure in organizing WordCamps. What are your thoughts on WordPress meetups and WordCamps?
I love how WordCamps and meetups bring the community together (in person or online). It’s a great way for community members at all levels to help one another and learn from each other.
I’m excited as WordPress events move back to in-person events (cautiously, of course), but also hope we continue to see online events thrive as not everyone in every area has access to an in-person event, or the ability to travel to one.
Efforts are going on to make WordPress more inclusive and open. As a veteran, please suggest some organizations or venues where people can volunteer for the betterment of WP & its community.
There are many teams you can join at make.wordpress.org that help move the Open Source Project forward. You don’t have to be a developer to contribute. Join Marketing, or Polyglots, or photo mods, for example. Or volunteer to transcribe for WordPress.tv. You can also join Big Orange Heart, or if you’re part of an underrepresented group, join the database at underrepresentedintech.com. We’d love to have you!
Life has both success and failure. Please share one mistake that you made earlier in your career.
I make mistakes all the time. The important thing is to learn and grow from them. When I started as a freelancer, I named my company and built my site on a whim. I hated it within a year, but it was established and did pretty well, so although I really couldn’t complain, I still had to live with it.
I’ve also made mistakes like not backing up a site, or not updating quickly enough and ended up with infected sites that took hours of cleanup.
Trust me when I say, I’ve learned from all of these and make better decisions now, and take my time in setting up new endeavors. 😉
What is Michelle like away from WordPress? What are your ways of chilling?
I love photography – especially nature photos. Most weekends I’m in my car heading out to wildlife refuges or just up along the shore of Lake Ontario with my cameras looking for wildlife to “shoot.” (You can see many of my photos on my Instagram account)
I also enjoy writing, creating art, and reading. Although I don’t spend a ton of time watching television, I love a good pajama day bingeing a whole show in one day.
And, of course, I love spending time with family and friends!
The WP-Content team wishes her all the very best for her future endeavours and hopes to see her make more contributions to WordPress.
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