Devrims #TechTalk 026: Birgit Olzem Discusses Inclusivity and Representing The Under-Represented

Irfan Tariq

Devrims #TechTalk 026: Birgit Olzem Discusses Inclusivity and Representing The Under-Represented

Table of Contents

If you search for Birgit on X (erstwhile Twitter), you will find her as “coachbirgit”. She explains her reason why (and that too, in her introduction).

Throughout the interview, you will observe how important is the work Birgit doing. As a mentor, it’s always important to be inclusive and represented. She writes a very touching conclusion to this interview.

I have learned a lot from Birgit via this interaction, and I hope my readers will do the same.

Devrims: Let’s start by knowing why is your Twitter handle “coachbirgit”? 🙂

Birgit: Oh, that takes me back! So, I’m a certified life coach, and back in 2007, I ventured into opening my own consulting practice. It was a journey of discovery, learning, and connecting. But life has its twists and turns, doesn’t it? After losing my mom two years into my practice, I took a step back. It was a moment of reflection and redirection.

Now, WordPress had already nestled its way into my life by then. I’m a bit of a tech enthusiast, always poking around the latest in technology, and WordPress was this fascinating space of endless possibilities.

I initially hopped on Twitter (now X) under my real name. But as time went on, I felt the need for a handle that was a bit more detached from my real name yet still resonated with who I am. Coaching isn’t just a profession for me; it’s woven into my identity. It’s how I approach life, relationships, and yes, even tech.

So, “CoachBirgit” wasn’t just a random pick. It’s a nod to my journey, the paths I’ve walked, and the evolution from a life coach to a tech enthusiast, with every step, every shift, echoing the coaching spirit that lives in me. It’s more than a handle; it’s a narrative of my journey, each character a footprint of where I’ve been and where I’m headed.

Devrims: Do you have any interesting stories or anecdotes about your professional career?

Birgit: Every chapter of my career is a blend of learning, evolving, and connecting. After closing my coaching practice, a new chapter unfolded. I found a niche in offering personalized WordPress trainings tailored for small business owners and companies. It wasn’t just a job; it was a journey of discovery, each session unveiling new insights and challenges.

But you know, I’ve always been a multi-passionate soul. The world of WordPress was my playground, yet the artist in me was eager to explore, create, and express. I ventured into the mesmerizing world of vector art and surface pattern design. It was like learning a new language, a dance of shapes, colors, and textures that told stories beyond words.

Contributing to WordPress has been another enriching journey. It’s more than codes and designs. It’s a community with a shared mission. I’ve learned, grown, and evolved more in this space than in any formal employment over the past three decades. Every contribution, every interaction is a learning experience, a step closer to mastering the intricate dance of technology and community.

One of my memorable moments was at WordCamp Utrecht in 2018. Amidst a sea of eager minds, I shared my narrative, intertwining mental health, chronic conditions, and creativity. I held up an assistive gear for pulling on socks, a symbol of my journey with hip arthrosis. It was a moment of raw vulnerability yet profound empowerment.

Fast forward, the inaugural WordCamp Germany in my hometown, Gerolstein, is another milestone. Despite the transportation challenges post the 2021 flood, the spirit of the WordPress community is unwavering. It’s a testament to our resilience, adaptability, and the unyielding power of unity.

Every article, every talk, every connection is not just a professional milestone but a narrative, echoing the lessons, the triumphs, and the shared human experience that defines my journey.

Devrims: You are actively involved in advocating for women in the WordPress community. Could you highlight some initiatives or projects you have participated in to promote gender diversity and inclusion?

Birgit: Absolutely! Elevating women and fostering gender diversity in the WordPress community isn’t just something I do; it’s a part of who I am. Let me share a few initiatives close to my heart:

  • Underrepresented Gender Release Squad: Being part of this squad for WordPress 6.4 isn’t just a role; it’s an honor. We’re not just developing software; we’re weaving diversity into the very code of WordPress, ensuring every update resonates with the diverse echoes of our community.
  • Mentorship Programs: Stepping into the role of a mentor in the contributor mentorship program, I’m not just guiding new contributors; I’m walking beside them, especially women and underrepresented groups, on their journey in the WordPress world. Every interaction, every shared insight is a step towards a more diverse and inclusive community.
  • DEIB Initiative: Leading the DEIB initiative isn’t just a task; it’s a mission. Every voice, especially those often unheard, is not just welcomed; it’s needed. We’re not just building a platform; we’re crafting a space where every story, every perspective is valued and celebrated.
  • Locale Management and Community Mentorship: Managing the locale for since 2012 isn’t just about translation; it’s about connection. I’m not just mentoring the German-speaking community; I’m nurturing a space where women contributors don’t just participate; they thrive, lead, and inspire.

Every project, every initiative is a step, not just towards diversity but towards a WordPress community where every voice is not just heard but celebrated, where every contributor is not just welcomed but needed.

Devrims: Let’s take a moment to relax. 😌 How about a candid photo of your workstation?

This is the picture, I recently shared with Topher DeRosia for my HeroPress essay:

Empowering Women within the WordPress Community: Embracing Contributions and Overcoming Fear – Empowerment von Frauen in der WordPress-Community: Mitmachen und Ängste überwinden

The most recent shot was taken during a co-working session with Anne-Mieke Bovelett on a Sunday evening, working on the Call for Testing post for the WordPress 6.4 release.

Devrims: What do you think about the future of WordPress CMS considering several competitors and alternatives available?

Birgit: Oh, that’s a great question, and it’s something I’ve pondered quite a bit. WordPress has been a significant part of my professional journey since 2003, and I’ve witnessed its evolution firsthand. It’s like watching a child grow, adapt, and navigate the world, each phase bringing new challenges and triumphs.

In the landscape of Content Management Systems (CMS), competition and innovation are inevitable, and I see them as positive forces. They push us to evolve, to look inward and outward, to assess and reassess.

I believe in the resilience and adaptability of WordPress. It’s not just a CMS; it’s a community, a collective of passionate individuals united by a shared journey. We are developers, designers, writers, entrepreneurs, and so much more. Our diversity is our strength, and it’s what sets WordPress apart.

Competitors and alternatives? Absolutely, they are there, and they are many. But WordPress has a soul, a heartbeat that echoes the collective passion, innovation, and resilience of its community. We are not just building websites; we are crafting experiences, stories, and connections. We are not just responding to the present; we are envisioning the future.

So, the future of WordPress, in my eyes, is bright. It’s marked by innovation, inclusivity, and adaptability. It’s a journey that weaves through the dynamic landscapes of technology, human experiences, and global trends. And in this journey, every challenge is an opportunity, every competitor a catalyst for growth.

We are not just surviving; we are thriving. And as long as the community’s heart beats with passion and purpose, WordPress will continue to be a force of innovation, connection, and transformation in the digital world.

Devrims: When comparing managed hosting and shared hosting? What is your preference for WordPress hosting?

Birgit: Ah, the age-old debate of managed versus shared hosting – it’s a topic that’s as diverse as the WordPress community itself! My perspective on this is rooted in pragmatism and tailored solutions. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, and that’s the beauty of it.

For small business owners stepping into the digital space, every penny counts, and every decision is pivotal. In such scenarios, shared hosting can be a viable option. It’s cost-effective and can adequately support low-traffic sites. It’s like setting up your first little shop in a bustling marketplace – it’s modest, but it’s yours, and it’s the first step in a journey of a thousand miles.

However, as businesses evolve and scale, so do their needs. A high-traffic site, complex functionalities, and enhanced security concerns – these are the hallmarks of growth, and they call for a robust, tailored hosting solution. This is where managed hosting steps in. It’s like moving from that little shop to a bespoke storefront, designed to cater to the nuanced needs of a growing clientele.

Managed hosting offers enhanced performance, security, and support. It’s a personalized experience, where the hosting environment is crafted to fit the unique contours of a specific project. It’s about scalability, flexibility, and the luxury of focusing on content and creativity while the technical intricacies are handled by experts.

So, if I were to encapsulate my preference, it would be rooted in adaptability. For the budding entrepreneur with a vision and a limited budget, shared hosting is a stepping stone. For the seasoned business scaling heights and navigating complex digital landscapes, managed hosting is the companion that fosters growth, innovation, and security.

In the world of WordPress hosting, understanding the specific needs of a project and aligning them with the right hosting solution is key. It’s not about preference; it’s about appropriateness. And in this dynamic dance, adaptability, and tailored solutions reign supreme.

Devrims: What essential factors should a novice website developer know when diving into their web development journey? What tools do you recommend for them to use?

Birgit: Embarking on a web development journey is akin to stepping into a universe teeming with possibilities, challenges, and continuous learning. It’s a journey marked by innovation, creativity, and the unyielding quest for growth and transformation.

For the novice developer, there are foundational pillars that are essential to grasp. First and foremost, understanding the core languages like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript is pivotal. These are the building blocks, the language of the web that will transform ideas into tangible, interactive digital experiences.

Now, let’s talk about tools, the companions that will make this journey not just possible, but efficient and innovative. Visual Studio Code is one of those companions. It’s more than just a code editor; it’s a space where code becomes art, where functionality meets efficiency. Its intuitive interface, extensive library of extensions, and integrated Git control make it a favorite.

Figma steps in when design takes center stage. In the world of web development, aesthetics and functionality are intertwined. Figma facilitates this integration, offering a collaborative platform for interface design, prototyping, and creating user experiences that are not just visually appealing but user-centric.

Sublime Text 3 is another gem. It’s where writing code becomes a seamless, efficient process. With its slick user interface, extraordinary features, and incredible performance, it’s a tool that transforms the mundane into the extraordinary.

In the digital space, security is not just a requirement but a necessity. A robust password manager like 1Password is not just a tool but a guardian. It ensures that your digital assets are secured, passwords are managed efficiently, and sensitive data is protected against the ever-evolving landscape of cyber threats.

To the novice web developer, I say this – arm yourself with knowledge, equip yourself with the right tools, and step into this journey with curiosity and the unyielding spirit of exploration. In the world of web development, every challenge is an opportunity, and every setback a stepping stone to innovation and growth.

Devrims: How many WordCamp events have you participated in as a speaker, and could you please share some of the topics you have covered during those events?

Birgit: I’ve been lucky enough to speak at 15 WordCamps since 2011, and each one has been a unique experience. It’s always a mix of nerves and excitement, but the community makes it worth every second.

I’ve also been part of virtual events like the “Global WordPress Translation Day” and recently, the “WordPress Accessibility Day.” These 24-hour virtual gigs are a whole different ball game but equally amazing. It’s like the whole world comes together, and the energy is just… wow!

Over the years, my talks have covered a bit of everything. I’ve chatted about how to get involved and contribute to WordPress, because let’s face it, this community is huge, and there’s room for everyone to bring something to the table.

On the techy side, I’ve dived into using WordPress as an APP framework and the wonders of the REST API for a headless CMS. It’s always fun to get into the nitty-gritty and explore what’s possible with WordPress beyond the usual.

But it’s not all code and tech. I’ve opened up about mental health and the impact of chronic health issues on creativity and productivity. It’s a personal journey, and sharing it, hearing others’ stories, it’s just… it’s powerful.

One of my most memorable talks was about how WordPress and this incredible community literally saved my life. It’s more than just a platform or a job for me; it’s a lifeline, a family.

So yeah, 15 WordCamps and counting, each one a new adventure, a new connection, a new story. Can’t wait to see where the journey goes from here!

Devrims: RAPID FIRE! 🔥Answer with the first thought in your mind:

Devrims Birgit
Leading WCDE or Speaking at WCEU? Co-Leading WCDE
Bratkartoffeln or French Fries? Bratkartoffeln
Tea or Coffee? Depends – Tendencies to good Coffee

Devrims: Being the Co-Lead for WCDE (WordCamp Germany), how challenging and rewarding is it for you to bring the German community together?

Birgit: Oh, stepping into the co-lead shoes for WCDE has been a mix of a thrill and a challenge. Every bit of it is a learning curve, and honestly, I’m here for it.

We’re hosting in Gerolstein, my hometown. It’s a cozy place, not your typical WordCamp city, but it has its charm. The journey here, though, phew, it’s been something! We initially set our sights on Munich, but the costs were a steep hill to climb. So, Gerolstein it was! A quick pivot, a dash of adaptability, and here we are.

Now, speaking of challenges, let’s talk logistics. The flood in 2021 did a number on our train rails, so we’re working with bus replacements. It’s not the smoothest ride, but hey, every journey to something great has its bumps, right?

On the ground, it’s a whirlwind of tasks. Venue specs, catering, transportation – it’s a juggle, but every catch feels like a win. It’s my first rodeo leading the charge, and every day is a new lesson. Team building, project management – it’s like a crash course, and I’m soaking up every bit.

But let me tell you, every challenge is worth that moment when the community comes together. I’ve got long-term friends I can’t wait to hug and new ones I’m yet to meet. Some friendships have blossomed online, and WCDE is the spot where the virtual meets reality.

So, yeah, it’s a mix of the hectic buzz of planning and the warm fuzzies of community. And if you ask me, I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. Every email, every call, every plan – it’s a step closer to a WordCamp that’s ours, truly and wholly. Can’t wait to see you there!

Devrims: So, you are also a writer. Can we know more about your writing and how it helped your WordPress career?

Birgit: Oh, writing! It’s like my silent companion that’s been with me through thick and thin. I’ve always had this knack for expressing myself through words. It’s not just about putting pen to paper; it’s about weaving thoughts, ideas, and emotions into something tangible, something that resonates.

I stumbled upon WordPress out of sheer curiosity. I was tinkering with b2/cafelog, and then, there it was – WordPress, like a new world unfolding before me. Every feature, every update, it was like a story waiting to be told, and I was all ears and all heart.

Writing has been my bridge in the WordPress world. It’s how I teach, support, and connect. Every article, every blog post, it’s a conversation. It’s me reaching out, and the community reaching back. It’s this beautiful dance of sharing knowledge, solving problems, and growing together.

My mom had this saying, “Those who write, stay.” It stuck with me. Every word I write, it’s like leaving a footprint. It’s my journey, my evolution, chronicled for the world to see. It’s proof of my place in this vast, dynamic community.

In the world of WordPress, writing has been my voice. It’s how I’ve carved out my space, contributed my bit, and connected with souls from every corner of the globe. It’s not just about codes and designs; it’s about stories, experiences, and the human touch that makes WordPress not just a platform, but a community, a family.

So, yeah, writing is not just something I do. It’s a part of who I am, and in many ways, it’s the thread that’s woven my journey in the WordPress tapestry. Every word, every sentence, it’s a step in this incredible journey, and I can’t wait to see where it takes me next.

Devrims: As our conversation ends, name three individuals we should interview in our next session

Keep in mind: As we journey together in this vibrant WordPress community, remember, every contribution, no matter how small, echoes in the vast halls of our collective creativity. Your voice, your experience, your insights – they matter. They are the keystones that build bridges of innovation, inclusion, and collaboration. Let’s honor and celebrate every voice, for in this diversity, we find our strength, innovation, and unity.

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