I’m a minority amongst minorities, but it doesn’t matter.
Hi, I’m Uriahs Victor and I’m a Carib – bean from the island of St. Lucia. How many Black Developers do you know in the WordPress Community? 5? 20? How many of them are from the Caribbean? How many raised up in places like this:
I chose to write on this topic in hopes that there’s someone else like me reading this article someday who’s living in an area where it may seem like there aren’t many career paths.
It doesn’t matter where in the world you are or your complexion; anyone could code.
I was fortunately raised with both parents in a community on my island called Fond St. Jacques which is a part of a bigger town called Soufriere. I grew up doing everything a typical adolescent from my community would be doing: playing football, playing cricket and going to work on my parents farm and occasionally on other farms to earn some money to burn through by drinking with friends ( don’t think about it too hard ) and partying.
One day I came home to a used computer setup in my room and was extremely ecstatic with the idea that my family now owned one. I spent hours upon hours on this computer messing around with paint but mostly playing Pinball, there was no internet in my community at the time but I was very intrigued by video games, once I got my first taste of unrestricted internet access several months after; my love for video games grew, I spent time reading about them but more time playing them and at that time I had decided that I wanted to be a Game Designer.
If being a Programmer from a rural community out of the Caribbean sounds different (not impossible) looking back at it now then just imagine how it sounded saying I wanted to be a Game Designer when someone asked me. I spent years with this goal set, I spent days reading about game designing but I always felt lacking, I believed there was always 1 skill Game Designers needed that I did not have and that was being able to draw/design.
In 2010 life was pretty easy going, I was 15 and still had not done any piece of Web or Desktop Development coding. My Secondary schooling was going pretty good, I was always the top performing IT student so this brought me comfort as I knew I would soon be writing the “CXC” exams soon.
On October 28th 2010 I woke up during the night to the sound of heavy rains, I looked through one of the windows of my home at the time and saw the trees around my house swaying pretty normal, or so I thought. The morning of October 29 I woke up to the sound of friends saying “Uriahs your mom shop is gone” in our second language (French Creole), this language naturally sounds a bit harsh when used to say various things so I thought they were pulling some kind of prank on me. What I saw after heading to the balcony where my friends were changed my life.
Some Damage done to my hometown (more images could be seen by googling “Hurricane Tomas Fond St. Jacques Damage”
My friends were right, my mom’s shop where she sold snacks and food items which generated most of the income for my schooling had completely vanished, no trace of it was left, like it was never there.
This storm had done so much damage that there was no way for anyone from my community to get to school
Roads were completely sliced through by water and eventually I had to move out of my community to live in Soufriere for ease of travelling to school.
At age 16 I still wanted to be a Game Designer, I had spent the previous 5 years excelling in Information Technology at my Secondary school but had never done any piece of programming, the damages of Hurricane Tomas were still evident and I was still shaken up at how my life had changed, I was no longer living with my parents in my hometown, everything I would not wish for a teenager.
To this day the damage done to my home town is still visible:
This is the exact same area from one of the previous images. These pictures were taken August 8th 2016 when I visited.
In the Caribbean, at the end of your 5 years of Secondary schooling you are required to write an exam called “CXC” if you wish to pursue higher education. For my academic year we never finished our Information Technology syllabus which touched a bit on Pascal programming, so when it came to writing the Information Technology exam every category was aced, but I failed the programming section, even then I still wanted to be a Game Designer and had not yet grown any affection for coding.
In 2011 I started schooling at Sir Arthur Lewis Community College (SALCC) pursuing an Associate Degree in Computer Systems Engineering which was the only option available which dealt with Technology at that college (there are only two colleges on my island). This was a 2 year degree where the first year students are introduced to both the Hardware and Software side of computing then in the second year choose the path they wish to pursue. This was also around the time I first came across WordPress while fiddling on the internet and making the mistake of not looking more into what it really was.
One year into my Computer Engineering program it finally came the time to choose my path in IT and of course I chose the Software path because I believed if I wanted to be a Game Designer then this was the best path. That remaining year was when I really started to build up my affection for code, there was only one course in the software path that actually dealt with any type of code to some extent called “Programming Methodology”. Programming Methodology was a course tailored to teach you the very basics of programming such as Loops, IF and ELSE statements, Variables and small exercises to help you put those into practice. This entire Programming Methodology course was done with VB6 examples in Visual Studio 2006 so I was not taught a single line of Web Development code.
At this college every student who does Computer Systems Engineering is required to present a “Technical Project” in a typed and physical presentation form, it’s purpose is to show what you’ve picked up from the program over the 2 years; without receiving a pass on this Technical Project students would not be awarded their Degree and would need to redo the project until they succeeded. It may sound a bit brutal but I believe this is a good final test and I hope they don’t change this procedure.
I had known about this requirement for a very long time so I decided to build a video game for my technical project, I knew I could not draw so I decided to use a RPG Maker and ponder ways I could get a pass by presenting to the graders a video game which I did not physically design any of the characters or coded them in. I eventually decided to create an Educational video game and touch on the topic of teaching through entertainment (Edutainment). There was this one course called Data Communications that students always seem to have trouble passing so I thought “Hey, maybe I should create a game showing some basics of Data Communications”.
During my time learning how to use this RPG Maker and creating this game I found myself using a lot of the logic operators I had learnt about in Programming Methodology, this was all good because in my presentation I could have shown that though I used a RPG Maker, there was actually a lot of programming logic going on under the hood and that I was actually coding.
While working on this project my love for code grew, I was having fun.
By the time I had finished creating this game my passion had already broken down from Game Designing to coding. Thankfully, I was successful with the game which I called “EduCom” and was able to finish college in a perfect 2 years (woohoo!), you can download EduCom here: Click here
Fast forward a few months and there I was as an intern from college at a web agency understudying some colleagues who didn’t build desktop apps. Keep in mind that at college I had learnt VB6 to the point where I could have switched over to self-learn VB.NET and I was now sitting in a web agency learning web development, well guess what? I still loved it. I went home each day and practiced it, I used http://codeacademy.com (which now redirects to codecademy.com) to learn HTML and CSS and I was even good with jQuery at some point! Life was great, at that time getting employed by the agency was not a big deal for me, I just loved coming to work and understudying the other Developers.
A shock came to me one day when I was told that I had went to the wrong company for my internship.
I remember to this day clearly being told that I was supposed to carry out my internship at this web agency but now I was being told that I went the wrong place. I really liked where I currently was but I actually needed to leave for the company which I was registered to in the school records, I still wonder what would have happened if I had never corrected that mistake.
With 2 months left out of the 3 month long internship program, I was at a new company with very little excitement in me. The silver lining came when I arrived and noticed that there was this 1 developer who was responsible for both building and maintaining desktop applications and websites, two things I really liked doing, so I quickly gravitated towards him and in no time we became friends. I was awed by him and I could safely say just like the previous guys at the web agency that he played a part in me not forgetting my true passion for coding. I say this because at this newly assigned company I became an IT Technician, doing everything Techs usually do such as fixing printers, troubleshooting WIFI networks, fixing computers and even building them too, but even after spending the day as an IT Technician I often spent the night as a Developer. I never stopped coding, I often came home fatigued from all the hands on tech work but I pushed myself through CodeCademy’s exercises, I spent time working in Visual Studio building simple apps that did nothing useful but I still liked the feeling of seeing my code come to life.
At the ending of my internship I had become such a great IT Technician that I got the job. I was excited because heck, who wouldn’t be excited to get a job straight out of college in a country with high unemployment rate?
On September 3rd 2013; two weeks before my birthday was my first day officially on the job. My day was going by normal, until I got a call from my sister, crying. My father had lost his life because of a mishap while working on our family farm. It took me a while to realize what had happened, I didn’t want to believe it. Might sound strange to you, but video games again came up and helped me through.
The day came when my Developer friend at the company decided it was time for him to leave the job for greater things, and guess who offered to be the new Developer? That’s right, me. With some help from my colleague I got familiar with the different apps and websites the company had under their management, again I came across WordPress but I still did not know much about it on a coding stand point, I spent time at home getting familiar with its backend but what was more unusual to me was its code. I knew how to build static websites with HTML and CSS but I did not know much PHP at the time so I had to quickly learn a fair level of PHP to find myself around and also learn different things about WordPress such as plugins and backing up… enough to fill in my colleague’s shoes as quickly as I could before he was gone.
Two years into the job and things had begun to turn sour for me, I was not happy at my job. One of the main reasons was that I felt underappreciated and overlooked. Though I was the new Developer for the company they never got over the fact that I was also pretty good with computers, so I was often asked to stop whatever software related tasks I was doing to head over to some client’s business to check out a faulty computer or things of that nature. I was unhappy, I felt like I this company did not value the software side of their business nearly as much as the hardware side, couple that with the fact that I was still being paid the same salary as when I was only an IT tech, to now being in charge of the company’s software and still finding myself doing IT Technician related tasks and then being asked by my employer “Why can’t you work on the client apps at home?”, there was no overtime pay offered in my contract, so I used my nights to better myself and also to rest my mind.
I was still 20 but soon to be 21 at the time and I felt overworked. Having to condition your brain to work on VB.NET apps some of which were not built by yourself requires time to be spent getting familiar with the source code, but often minutes after I would have to recondition my brain to think of reasons why a computer has a certain issue, this was like P90X on the brain, it was a daily thing and I began disliking as weeks and months went by. Time passed and things became sourer, I began contemplating my resignation; I did not like the way I was being treated and it had begun to show, I often only found joy when practicing my code at home, this late night practicing also often caused me to arrive late the next day for work which I compensated for by leaving at late hours.
The day came when I decided to resign from my job but something inside me said “Uriahs, give it another shot”, that voice was the bad voice, I was let go from the job the same day I planned to resign.
So there I was, a 21 year old who had no backup plan and no job applications out in the wild but I was happy. I had felt relief that I did not have to deal with working in an environment I didn’t like. I was told by my past colleagues that my replacement had come in the next day and I thought to myself that maybe this company was contemplating letting me go just as long as I was contemplating leaving (lol). Well, let’s just say this replacement only lasted 3 days on the Job then quit after messing up one of the company’s high end clients website, a news publishing website: http://stluciastar.com/ built on WordPress which I had been maintaining and making code modifications for when asked.
I don’t know why the company thought it was ok to call me 3 days after letting me go, asking for my “help” in fixing whatever problem a replacement Developer (who I believe shortly quit after the incident) had done, but after consulting with the WordPress community, it was made clear to me that I should either charge for my services or decline; heck, I was unemployed and still had rent and bills to pay but I instead eventually declined.
Weeks went by with me just getting used to being out of an office type job to being home, I had been living alone since I had gotten the past job so I also had to get used to having less people around me. I took that time to learn more about WordPress, Udemy pricing scheme didn’t change yet so I bought myself a few WordPress Development courses for $10USD each when they came on sale, such as: WordPress Theme Development with Bootstrap by Brad Hussey, in that one course I learnt more about WordPress than I had learnt in all my time working in my last job(wut?). I began doing freelance work online and locally, there were not many other options on my island to work in software so I started questioning whether I should be sending out applications for new jobs or just do full time freelancing; I had my doubts about the few companies there were, and I actually enjoyed working from home. Time passed and I fell more and more in love with WordPress, I watched tutorials and googled away trying to pick up knowledge, the WordPress codex which I once found intimidating began to look sexy.
Once I felt I had gathered enough knowledge on WordPress, I thought of a plugin idea and began working on it. I had no immediate help except for the WordPress community populating the codex with all the useful information. I spent a few weeks working none stop on this plugin which I thought did a pretty good task which was to Inform buyers of a downloadable WooCommerce product that there is an update for that product after the shop owner has marked it as updated. After completing the plugin I was ready to submit to the WordPress repository, it brought me joy when I got the e-mail letting me know that the plugin was accepted to the WordPress repository! I love open source so just having a plugin for WordPress which could at least help some people made me feel warm inside.
Around that time something equally interesting happened. I had completed a short video chat with Ionut and Sabina from ThemeIsle and found out that I would be part of their WordPress support team for their themes and plugins! Obviously I was happy, I would be amongst like minded individuals, a team who appreciates WordPress as much as I do, a team I could learn from! All without needing to fly over to Romania!
One day while performing a random Google search for my plugin I saw in the search results a link to WPTavern, I curiously clicked on the link and saw that my plugin (TLD WooCommerce Downloadable Product Update Emails) had been picked as one of the top 3 plugins of the week on WPTavern, my very first plugin and it was mentioned on WPTavern?!
In under 1 year I have achieved more than I did in the recent years. It wasn’t easy, many nights were spent awake googling away, many parties were missed so I could save and be able to pay bills. If you like something, do it!
Programming is for anyone and when I notice someone from my island or the Caribbean show interest in coding I never refrain from encouraging them.
I am currently 21 and will be 22 next month, I still have lots to learn, I still have lots to give back to the WordPress community and open-source community on a whole, I currently aid small businesses and non-profits on my Island grow their brand with WordPress. I have plugins and plugin ideas in the pipeline which I am currently not able to complete, but through learning and growing my skills I eventually will.
It doesn’t matter which part of the world you grew up in, what challenges you’ve faced, nor does it matter your race, all it takes is the internet, passion, patience, practice and of course prayer.
WordPress has been good to me, if it has been good to you, then helping the WordPress Community in any way possible is the best we could all do.