Empowering Women in WordPress

I used to think that the only jobs for women included only nursing, teaching, or being a mother. I had no clue that there would be something called the Internet, and that I would be making websites for it and teaching others how to code. Since its inception, the technology fields have always been under-represented by women, and there is a lack of positive female role models in the computer and IT Industry as a whole. One place where the balance is more equal is within the WordPress Community.

Kim Parsell

The WordPress Community is comprised of many different people across all backgrounds who also happen to be positive role models for their work with WP. One such woman was Kim Parsell, who was actively contributing to and involved with multiple WordPress efforts, including the documentation team. Unfortunately, we were robbed of Kim’s contributions too soon as she recently passed away unexpectedly.

I created the wpmom.org website to remember her and her contributions to the community. Along with the many individual posts by many members in the WordPress community, she has received public recognition from the WordPress.org Foundation in the form of a yearly travel scholarship given in her name. Thanks to that scholarship, each year, one woman has the opportunity to participate in the largest WordCamp in the United States. Kim was very passionate about involving women in WordPress, so this scholarship was set up to pay tribute to her by encouraging more women to participate in the community.

Overall, the WordPress community is one of the most women-friendly tech communities around. WordPress meetups and WordCamps are usually at least 30-40% women, and I’ve not found that to be the case at any other tech conference or meetup. Outside the WordPress community, I attended a dev conference once with 200 attendees, 5 of whom were women. It’s not at all uncommon for me to be the only woman in attendance at tech meetups.

Natalie MacLees, founder and principal of Purple Pen Productions

Natalie MacLees

Natalie MacLees is also another very inspirational woman in the WordPress Community. In addition to running her own WordPress development agency, she is also founder of the Girl Develop It! Los Angeles Chapter, whose mission is, “Empowering women of diverse backgrounds from around the world to learn how to develop software.” Natalie has also been the main organizer for the last two annual Los Angeles WordCamps, and she has run the largest WordPress Meetup group in Los Angeles, SoCal WordPress, for nearly six years. She is a frequent speaker at WordPress and jQuery events, and she has also authored two editions of the popular book, jQuery for Designers.

According to Natalie, “Empowerment means feeling capable and confident in your own skills and ability to get things done and achieve goals. It means feeling that you control your own destiny.”

She also feels that there are both internal and external barriers to making women feel more empowered in the WordPress Community:

Internally, women need help owning their accomplishments and speaking about them without diminishing them or apologizing for them. That’s something we can all work on. Personally, I’ve stopped saying ‘sorry’ when I haven’t done anything wrong, and have forbidden myself from using the words like ‘but’, ‘just’, or ‘only’ when speaking about my own accomplishments. When you say things like ‘It was just a simple plugin,’ or ‘It was only a beginner’s book,’ you belittle your achievement in your own mind and in the mind of whomever you’re speaking to.

Externally, we need to be aware of discrimination. The WordPress community as a whole is very open and welcoming, and there is a Code of Conduct for WordCamps, but there are occasional incidents victimizing both men and women.

Even something that seems small or minor can have a big impact on an individual. If a speaker is discriminated against or harassed on their first or second attempt at presenting, they may never attempt to present again. 

We need to have open ears and open minds to hear about these things and the impact they can have. It’s not uncommon for women to be dismissed or discredited when they speak out about incidents where they felt uncomfortable or humiliated. We need to stop doing that and really listen and look at where we can make changes.

Natalie went on to say, “We should be sure that there are women in leadership positions and in speaker roles throughout the community. When other women see that, they are encouraged and think that it’s something they can do, too. I think the relatively high proportion of women is a really positive reflection on the WordPress community. We’re not perfect, but we’re so far ahead of other tech and dev communities. In that regard, the WordPress community is a leader and other tech/dev communities should be looking to us to figure out how they can be more welcoming and get more women involved.”

It is important that as a community, we continue to reach out to women to involve them and one way that this can be done is through education in offering beginning WordPress and coding classes to women to help them get a leg up on the latest web technologies.

Suzette Franck

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to teach an Introduction to WordPress class to group of seventeen young women. It was a three hour workshop put on by Girl Develop It! at Kleverdog Coworking in Chinatown. Girl Develop It! is a national organization that specializes in teaching affordable technology courses for women, and they even have a scholarship/financial assistance available for those in need. All are welcome to attend classes as long as they abide by the Girl Develop It Code of Conduct.

I started by giving an overview about posts and pages, plugins, themes, settings, maintenance, and backups. We went over the difference between .com and .org, which is a source of confusion for many beginners. The intention of this class was to introduce the WordPress concepts to class participants in hopes of getting them more involved in the community and, of course, to come back and take more advanced classes and get into WordPress web development and, eventually, contribution.

Organizations like Girl Develop It! are targeted at teaching women the skills they need to be competitive in today’s job market, and more classes in WordPress are becoming available as the demand for these courses increases. The WordPress Foundation has stepped up to provide scholarships for women and I hope that other organizations follow suit. WordCamps and conferences are always looking for great women speakers, and the more women speak, the more visible we will be to young women wanting to break into the web technology field.

If you are interested in becoming more empowered (or know a woman in your life who would love to learn!), check out my next class, Intro to PHP and MySQL with Girl Develop It!, which starts February 14th and runs four consecutive weeks in Los Angeles. The following month (on March 14th), I will be teaching Intro to HTML and CSS, which is one of my favorite topics to teach about as it opens so many possibilities to beginners. Join us!

Domain Names & IP Addresses

by Suzette Franck

When you want a website, you would like everyone to be able to access it easily. This would not be possible without the Domain Name System or DNS settings. In this article, I will explain the system for assigning unique names and addresses to websites and give an overview of how this works and some explanations for some of the more common terminology used.

When you purchase a domain name, such as awesomewebsite.com, you buy it from a registrar, such as Google Domains, Hover, Network Solutions, or NameCheap, who are given the privilege of assigning unique domain names that correlate to IP addresses. Every single device that is connected to the Internet has an Internet Protocol or IP Address that is in one of two formats: 2605:e000:625d:f300:648f:bb40:4dbf:86f4 or 181.224.147.196. You can type “What is my IP address” on google and it will give you the number that is assigned to your connected computer on the internet.

Your website is also connected to the internet, so your website has its own IP address. This IP address may be shared with other websites on your web host or unique (dedicated) to only your website depending on your web hosting plan. The DNS or Domain Name System is merely the system or like a giant digital phone book that matches domain names like awesomewebsite.com with its corresponding IP address, 181.224.147.196. When someone types in your domain name into their internet browser, the DNS tells the browser what IP address that domain name is associated with and the browser goes to that location to display the content.

When you purchase a new domain, and then get web hosting at a different company, you will have to tell your registrar where your website is located. You do this by editing your DNS records at the registrar, which should be accessible through your registrar’s control panel. It is beyond the scope of this article to explain how to set these up, as it is different for every registrar, but in general, you would create an A record that pointed to the IP address of your web server. Alternatively, instead of pointing to an IP address, you could point to your web host’s nameservers by updating the nameservers in the DNS. You can get your IP address or nameserver name from your web host company. Another important fact to remember is that when you change nameservers, this points all web services to the nameserver for your web host, including email, so this is the more common choice.

When I first started making websites, Domain names, DNS, and IP addresses were a huge area of mystery. In this article, I hope that I have eliminated some of the confusion surrounding domain names, but if anything is still unclear, please feel free to leave me a question in the comments below.

Have fun and make an awesome website!

Web Security and Privacy

As a multiple website owner and WordPress front-end developer, I am passionate about website security and privacy practices, and the applications and requirements as a modern web developer. I have come to learn that just because you can do something, doesn’t mean that you should. Care must be given to the type of information stored, where it is stored, and how it is transmitted through the interwebs, the resulting consequences range from moderate to severe, but most are avoidable through a little bit of old-fashioned research and prevention.

I am not a lawyer, but I do have many years of practical website building experience, so I would encourage you to discuss your specific concerns with a lawyer. I am going to explain several privacy related topics in a very general way, but in hopes that your interest may be piqued to learn more about each and how they are applicable to you and your website. This is by no means a comprehensive guide, however, more intended as an overview of several general areas of concern. I would like to share my experience with you in hopes that you will avoid the consequences of being naive when it comes to compliance and laws governing transactions that include sensitive information.

I was once asked by a medical professional if I could collect data so that people could fill out their medical information online prior to their visit. Sounds like reasonable request, right? There has always been a way to interact with web information via web form, even before CSS was invented, so the technology was there to store and report on the information. The doctor wanted to collect name, physical and email address, medical information, payment/insurance information and make this easily accessible to the patient via a web interface. Unfortunately, I could not do this, not that it wasn’t technologically possible, but there were specific legal issues that must be considered when accepting and storing sensitive information.

One of the issues here was that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act laws known as (HIPAA Compliance) would govern security practices for anyone collecting sensitive personal medical information together along with identifying personal information. This includes all online transactions, and requires the storage and transmissions of sensitive information be encrypted and that security practices are followed with prompt reporting of major security breaches.

Yet another entire set of laws, collectively known as PCI Compliance or Payment Card Industry Data Standard, would apply in this particular instance, as they were wanting to collect credit card information for settling of accounts. Their intention was to store the credit card information on standard web servers, for the simple reason that they were unaware of the security requirements for working with Payment Cards. Similar to HIPAA, all credit card transactions and information must be stored and transmitted in a secure manner, such as through the use of encryption, which encodes information using advanced algorithms and a private key so that it is unreadable.

Since the client was on a very modest budget, and did not want the burden and expense of maintaining sensitive information, we opted for downloadable PDFs that could be printed and brought to the office with the patient on their visit. For online payments, we set up a PayPal button that would redirect the user to PayPal’s secure website, where all transactions are performed and information is stored on their PCI compliant system.

Another requirement of the medical website involved the collection of email addresses for the purposes of marketing health classes and selling products such as supplements. At this point, the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 also came into play. In simple terms, they could not harvest all their clients’ emails from their medical records into a marketing list without first obtaining their consent. I recommended that they use a double-opt in process such as those offered by Mailchimp or Constant Contact, that would provide an initial signup form and then an email verification link to confirm the subscription.

If you are an individual or business entity, you could face hefty criminal as well as civil penalties for violations in any of these areas, as well as damage the reputation and credibility of yourself and/or your entire company. Legal compliance in all of these areas must be adhered to and implemented from the start, and ignorance of the law is never an acceptable defense for avoiding compliance with the law. I hope this article has provided you with some information that you can take into account when building/maintaining your own site and that you carefully consider the privacy and security of the information that you are storing to avoid expensive penalties and consequences, especially in the areas of email collection, personal medical information and credit card data.

Do I need my own website?

I’m on Facebook and LinkedIn, isn’t that good enough?

Even if you do not own a small business or do not sell things online, there are plenty of reasons why you, as an individual, should have your very own website. Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google Plus are all great ways to spread your social media presence and increase your personal branding, but the problem with all of these social networks is that your content only lives on that particular outlet, to be consumed only by your followers that exist on that social network. The world is bigger than what exists on social media, and if you go to your profiles on each of these channels, there is likely to be some variance in the personality that you bring to each different network. Some venues, such as Instagram, if you read the terms of service, indicate that once content is posted it becomes part of their property to do whatever they wish.

Imagine your own content in a central worldwide location

Another reason you should not be posting all of your content exclusively to facebook is that facebook curates and chooses who gets to see your content, regardless of whether you are friends. Posting to multiple outlets will help, but where does all of your content that you created live? Across multiple sites. So, if you google yourself, what do you see? A mismatch of social media accounts but no single place where people can really get the essence of you. When you have you own website with your chosen domain name, all of your content can live in one place, open to the entire world. You can still post everything to social networks but with one online repository of all of your content that lives on your website.

How to start your new website

So how do you go about getting a website? There is a small investment; you will need to buy your own unique domain name which will run you approximately $15 a year to retain. This should be your first step, a lot of research should be going into picking your domain name. If you do not have your full name as a domain name and it is available, you should purchase it even if you do not plan on having a website just yet, as this is important to your overall branding. You can use the domain name for email even without a website. So instead of using a free hotmail, yahoo, or gmail account, you can have an email address such as hello@suzettefranck.com, which is what I have. Purchasing your domain name will also save anyone else from creating a website with that particular domain name. I highly recommend Google domains to search for and purchase your domain name, as it is very easy to setup a website and they protect your private personal information for no extra charge.

Where will your website live?

After you purchase your domain, the next step is to get a website web hosting service. The easiest and cheapest way to get one setup is to sign-up for a low cost personal WordPress.com account for $2.99 a month, which also include the cost of the domain name. While you may not have complete control over the functionality and look of the site, there is very little knowledge and no upkeep to keeping everything up-to-date and working. You can start publishing new content right away without worrying about the look too much at first. Also, you can always migrate your WordPress.com website to a full WordPress.org website later on. This will allow more control, but also some knowledge and routine maintenance will be required, as well as a legit web hosting company. I use and recommend SiteGround web hosting which is very reliable as well as affordable, and their customer service is excellent should you run into any issues with your website.

You got this, let’s build your own website!

I hope you can see now that it is very easy to start and maintain your website, even if you don’t know anything about programming or web servers. If you can write an email with an attachment or if you can write post to facebook, you definitely have the skills required to start with your very own website. There is an abundance of self-help available online for those creating their own websites, and if you get stuck, there are plenty of people at local WordPress meetups that would be willing to help, sometimes for no charge. You may also feel free to post comments below with your questions and I will be happy to answer anything that was unclear.

Have fun and make a great website for yourself!

Thankful for WordPress

As a Front-end WordPress Developer, I’ve become an avid reader of WordPress Tavern; their articles are always relevant to me and of a very high quality with just the right amount of new information. Their recently published article, 6 WordPress Things I’m Thankful For by Jeff Chandler is no exception, and got me inspired to ponder about what in WordPress I am most grateful for and write this article. The obvious answer that most people who I know would give is the community that surrounds WordPress, which I would definitely agree with. I have met amazing new friends and have felt a strong community of support and encouragement from my peers. But what about the application itself, the one software that all the fuss is about? It must be the marvelous piece of magic open-source code to support and inspire more smart and passionate group of professionals, business owners, and hobbyists to continue create amazing and increasingly bigger and more complex websites with this community-developed software.

To truly appreciate the grace and elegance of WordPress the application, you must first consider when web publishing was not so graceful; and most times, down-right clumsy. Around 1996, there was Geocities, and for a while that was the way for the average person to have any kind presence on the internet. There was a WYSIWYG page builder, or you could upload your own files via File Transfer Protocol (FTP). Tables were used for advanced layouts and obnoxious animated .gifs littered the entire webosphere. The worst part, however, was not the blink tag, but the enormous amount of black Times New Roman text on gray backgrounds that were displayed by most browsers then when a default font or page color was not specified. Not that there were many choices at the time. CSS, as we know it today, did not become widely supported by most modern browsers until 2004.

I began web development and programming in 1996, but since discovering WordPress in 2008, I have created over 200 new or migrated from other CMS sites. I have seen many new awe-inspiring features and capabilities added to core in the past few years that would have taken me months to code for myself, if I even could. I have never looked to any other CMS, not even several that I hand-made prior to WordPress, to replace all that encompasses the WordPress application. Below, I have outlined my five favorite things about WordPress along with some of the horrors of their prehistoric counterparts.

1) WORDPRESS GALLERIES

I’m so grateful that I don’t have to create hundreds of thumbnails in Photoshop, manually code them up in a table, fuss with vertical and horizontal alignment of every table cell individually, manually update the links to the pictures, digging through the sea of table rows and table data. Forget re-sorting cells and inserting cells in the middle of the grid, and updating was a nightmare of spaghetti code.

WordPress makes creating galleries a cinch, without using plugins. By using their native Media Uploader and “Create Gallery” feature, you can systematically upload by dragging images onto your editor, create a gallery, and insert them onto your post or page in a snap. A great tip if you have Jetpack installed, you have the added ability to change how the galleries appear: circles, squares, rectangles, tiled, or as a slide show. Changing the order of the images in the galleries is also as easy as drag-and-drop and there is even an easy way to enter captions for each image.

2) WEB FONTS AND ICON FONTS

This isn’t WordPress specific, but WordPress does facilitate the changing of fonts through plugins. I’m grateful that we can use more than the 16 web-safe fonts, and I am grateful for Icon Fonts like DashiconsGenericons, and Font Awesome that provide scalable, easily styled with CSS vector icons. I remember in the old days asking visitors to my website to download and install a font file so that they could view the cool Edward Gorey font I was using for the text of a poetic website. Now you can change your font using a plugin or even as in option in some themes.

3) CHILD THEMES AND CUSTOM CASCADING STYLE SHEETS (CSS)

The ability to style your content separate from actual content was not always a thing. Styles were written inline using the font tag and, later, with CSS at the top of the file that it styled or inline with the content. With WordPress, you can easily build your CSS in a child theme on top of the styles of another parent theme or you can add additional Custom CSS through the admin, which is available in the Jetpack suite of plugins or in some themes. If you are a developer, it is very easy to roll your own theme with a starter theme such as Underscores.

4) WORDPRESS EXTENSIBILITY AKA PLUGINS

Adding additional functionality to your WordPress site is as easy as clicking a button to install a plugin to add a variety of features such as including a searchable business referral directory, an artist or musician’s portfolio with fancy flippy effects, a shopping cart, or a non-profit or educational site with ease. I remember adding the ability for a website to display an RSS feed before WordPress and I had to install a PHP application and connect it to the data feed manually and had to configure everything through code on the back-end. It was always difficult to add a web form that would just mail the form to someone and required some fancy CGI programming, but this too can be done with a plugin such as Gravity Forms or Jetpack’s Contact Form module. There are silly plugins like Pinkify It that change your site to pink and seriously comprehensive plugins like WooCommerce and BuddyPress, all are created by volunteers for the Community.

5) AUTOMATIC UPDATES

The WordPress project is worked on by thousands of contributors and tested by tens of thousands more people everyday without issue. When there is a security issue, the contributor team is on it to find a fix right away and release it as an Automatic Update. I am grateful that security is a big concern to WordPress and this is exactly why they release and, now, automatically update point releases often. I know enough about security to know that I don’t know everything about security; so to try to duplicate all the hours, education, research, and efforts put in by core contributors would be unattainable by one single person. Automatic Updates save me a lot of time, as I manage over twenty sites at any one given time, so I can feel assured that everyone is getting the newest point releases to protect against the latest vulnerabilities.

As a “websmith” that makes sites for a living as well as for fun in my spare time, I am very grateful for the existence of WordPress as a CMS, blogging, and application platform. Being able to easily upload and insert images, utilize web and icon fonts, customize the look of your site with child themes and custom CSS, the ability to extend WordPress functionality by installing plugins, and also the implementation of automatic updates has really changed web publishing for the betterment of, literally, the entire world. WordPress has given so much and the best has yet to be seen.