Five Minutes with Alison Barrett
Every once in a while, we sit down with an Automattician to help you get to know the people who work behind the scenes to build new features, keep Automattic’s wheels turning, and make WordPress.com the best it can be. In this installment, we’re delighted to introduce you to code wrangler, video game lover, and WordPress plugin and theme developer Alison Barrett — aka Aliso the Geek.
What’s your role at Automattic?
I’m a code wrangler on the Janitorial team. On Janitorial, we work mostly on internal projects. Our focus is on making every Automattician’s day better. We clean up a lot of messes, from bugs to old code, so that’s how our team name came about.
We add new features to Mission Control, which is a collection of tools, stats, and data we use internally. We work on our private BuddyPress installation that manages permissions and serves as a company directory. We also fix bugs on P2s (the blogs we use to communicate within and across teams) and help out wherever needed inside the company.
What were you doing before Automattic? How did you get here?
Before Automattic, I worked as a web developer at local agencies. I started building client sites with WordPress in 2008. By 2009, I was working only on WordPress projects, which was fantastic.
I found out about Automattic in 2010 from a link in the footer on WordPress.org, which is the online hub for the WordPress Core community. I wasn’t completely happy with my job at the time, so I stared at the Work With Us page quite a bit. In 2012, I finally applied, and here I am!
We loved seeing you on stage at WordCamp San Francisco! Tell us about the types of things you do in the WordPress community.
Alison on stage at WordCamp San Francisco in July 2013.
Over the past year, much of my focus has been on speaking at WordCamps and other community events. I’ve never been afraid to speak to a crowd on other topics, but WordPress is a different story. I’m terrified every time! Since I was so scared of speaking about WordPress, I decided the best thing to do was to present as often as possible.
I also have a development blog that I created in 2009. I’ve written lots of tutorials and published many code snippets to help other developers as much as possible. When I ran across a difficult problem and had to learn something new to solve it, I’d put it in a tutorial.
What’s your advice to girls and women interested in pursuing a path in technology — and web development in particular?
Embrace what makes you different and know your strengths. In high school, I excelled in my math, physics, and computer classes. I knew I was good at the technical stuff but not great at being a social butterfly, so I reminded myself of my strengths as often as I could.
If you can, find another girl or woman interested in development and learn as a team. Alternatively, find a woman that’s already doing it as a career — there are plenty of women in the industry that would happily mentor you! Having another person you can bounce ideas off of, get help from, or vent frustrations to is invaluable.
Last, but not least: don’t be afraid to be successful. As women, we’re far more likely to downplay our accomplishments or be modest about our capabilities. Be proud of what you learn and do. No matter how elementary an achievement might seem — your first “Hello World!” program, your first PHP script — it’s worth celebrating. The best programmers in the world all started as beginners.
What have you learned that you can share with WordPress.com users?
We push features and bug fixes out to WordPress.com every single day, so be on the lookout for new things! A good way to keep up with the new features on WordPress.com is to read this blog.
What do you most enjoy about your job?
What I enjoy most is the autonomy. I’m trusted to get my work done, regardless of when or where I choose to do it. I’m trusted to architect my code well and take projects in any direction. This way, I end up working on projects I love, and I can guide my own professional development.
A close second is that moment when the program I wrote works, and I get to see code I wrote do something amazing. It’s the satisfaction of building something yourself and then stepping back to admire it.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
My favorite leisure activity is gaming. I love video games, especially RPGs. My husband and I often game together.
I like to learn — who knew learning could be a hobby? Right now I’m learning to cook, taking Spanish lessons, and practicing advanced Lego building techniques. (Yes, it’s a thing!)
Thanks for chatting with us, Alison! For now, we’ll see you around on the internet.
Did you know that Automattic is hiring? We want people who are willing to work hard, share their ideas, learn from their colleagues, take initiative to get things done without being told, and those who aren’t afraid to ask questions. Think you fit the bill? Apply to work with us.
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