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.

Alison Barrett

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.

Image by Chris Frailey Photography

WordCamp Phoenix 2013

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?

laptopWhat 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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Cheri Lucas Rowlands

14 Comments

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  1. timethief

    Hi Alison,
    We have not met but I have watched your Unit Testing video. It’s good to read a little about you, your work and your interests. I particularly liked your advice to girls and women interested in pursuing a path in technology and web development. I’m not really technically inclined but I date back to when there was no support documentation and I like to answer support forum questions. Thanks so much for all you do for us bloggers.

    Like

  2. Rebecca Meyer

    This interview has some interesting information. While for a lot of us the writing portion of blogging is what we focus on, it’s cool to see the more technical side of what goes into creating a blog. I don’t think too often about just how complicated and important the technology behind blogging is.

    Like

  3. PiedType

    I don’t know why there aren’t more female developers. There should be. You’re an inspiration to young women everywhere.

    Like

  4. Margaret

    Alison, thank you for all that you do. One can see that there is a whole lot going on to keep the WordPress platform running smoothly. It’s wonderful that you recognized your talents and worked hard to develop them, so that everyone can benefit from your expertise. Keep up the good work. It’s obvious that you enjoy it immensely, which helps everybody on the team.

    Like

  5. stoneysworld

    Alison, you and your team and the wider WP crew make it possible for everyday Joe’s like me to pretend we are writers, to share our lives, passions and loves with the wider world and take a shot at our 15 minutes….

    I work in IT on the infra side of the divide, and have to tip my hats to you code writing types, no matter how many CPU’s and how much RAM I can cobble together in a box, without you guys its worth nothing.

    I want to thank you for opening up for this article, sharing with us your love and passion for what you do, and most of all for providing me with amazingly easy tools to share my pontifications with the world.
    Kudos, respect.

    StoneY (aka Brent from Upper Hutt, New Zealand.)

    Like

  6. The Hook

    Nice to meet you, Alison. Keep up the good work!

    Like

  7. Stef

    Alison, this is my favorite line from your interview: “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.” Absolutely. Identifying one’s personal strengths and being confident in oneself are incredibly healthy, powerful skills that unfortunately are seldom overtly taught. Huge kudos to you for learning those lessons on your own!

    And of course, many thanks to you (and the entire WordPress team) for developing an amazing, powerful, intuitive, beautiful product. I have been blogging with WordPress since 2009, and I love it more and more each year. :)

    Like

  8. mardi62013

    Alison I am new at this, and for a mature woman not brought up with this social media it would be great to have more help to get going. I feel overwhelmed but I am dipping my toe in slowly. It is so nice to see who is works behind the screen. Thank you.

    Like

  9. letsdrinkon

    All I can say is thank God we have people like you. Otherwise I would throw my computer out of the window. All kidding aside I think the best thing you said was your advice about young girls and women pursuing a path in technology. About knowing their strengths and embrace what makes you different. That last part is very solid advice.

    Like

  10. thuwin13

    Thanks for sharing, Alison.

    Like

  11. prospectorjack

    I would just like to thank Alison for being a part of wordpress and for her part in making it what it is. I love wordpress, I find it to be the most user friendly on the internet. Thanks!!!!

    Like

  12. vicdekoro

    I don’t know you that much but i have a feeling that somehow you are a person other ladies can look up to as their role model.

    Like

  13. socialworkingal

    I just stumbled upon this community section and I’ve used WP for three years now. Great to know that I can look up those who contribute to WP.

    Like

  14. subham007

    Nice to meet you, Alison. Keep it up

    Like

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