Amy Masson (00:01):
Welcome to Women in WP, a bimonthly podcast about women who blog, design, develop, and more in the WordPress community.
Angela Bowman (00:16):
Welcome to the show. I’m Angela Bowman.
Amy Masson (00:18):
I am Amy Masson.
Tracy Apps (00:20):
And I’m Tracy Apps.
Angela Bowman (00:21):
Our guest today is Swaahili M, who is the current content marketer for BlogVault, which is a popular backup tool. They also make Migrate Guru and MalCare. Swaahili is joining us from Bangalore, India. Welcome to the show.
Swaahili M (00:34):
Hello. I’m so happy to be here.
Angela Bowman (00:37):
As you know as a regular listener, we start off each episode by asking our guests to tell us about their journey to WordPress. How did you get started?
Swaahili M (00:47):
To be honest, I wouldn’t call myself someone who is completely into WordPress because I don’t happen to use it in my day to day life. I started working with BlogVault a year and a half ago. And that was my first introduction to the WordPress industry and the ecosystem. I’ve dabbled in a lot of things. I tried outreach for awhile including cold email outreach and then I moved to writing content. Now I’m in a PR role where I take care of marketing our content and our newsletters. I’m still handling the outreach initiatives and trying to be more of a community person. I am working in the WordPress ecosystem but I myself don’t use WordPress in my day to day life. I have created a website, which was the first task given to me when I joined BlogVault, which was to create a WordPress site. I was able to explore the dashboard and try out new plugins. But I think after that, there have been very few times that I actually used WordPress, but that’s how I got into it. However, I am still a part of the WordPress ecosystem because I’m contributing to a company that uses WordPress. That’s me!
Angela Bowman (02:17):
As you’ve gotten into this in the past year what have you gleaned is the WordPress ecosystem and what have you learned about WordPress? It’s so fascinating to hear from an outsider about this thing we call WordPress! Have you been to WordCamps? What’s been your engagement in that whole environment?
Swaahili M (02:43):
I think when I initially started, I had an outsider perspective. The challenge for me was not just entering a completely new industry or an ecosystem, but a new phase of my life. I was changing from a college student to someone working full time. My main focus was getting used to that. In the initial months I had a professional way of thinking about WordPress. It was just, you know, this is my job. This is what I have to do. I’m not going to try and get into it as much. But then with time I discovered Facebook groups. I discovered podcasts. I discovered that even if you don’t use WordPress, you can actually still be part of it. And for me, the ecosystem is primarily the repository. And I’m part of a few teams there, the marketing team and the docs team. I’ve done a few tasks here and there, but I haven’t really been able to put my time into it. I think the ecosystem also has all these beautiful WordCamps that keep happening. I was supposed to attend WordCamp Asia but that didn’t happen because of the entire Covid situation. But a few of my colleagues did attend WordCamp Europe and WordCamp US last year. We actually sponsored them as well as small time sponsors. And that was a lot of fun despite the fact that I didn’t get to go because I still got to do a lot of the behind the scenes stuff like making merchandise, getting those printed, brainstorming on what kind of swag we’d like to take, because we wanted to do something that’s different. And we wanted to do something that represents us and India. We took these really cool magnets from a place called Rajasthan in Northern India. It’s a complete desert and they have a very rich, beautiful culture. We got a bunch of stuff printed from there with with designs from their culture, and we took some of those. We also had some fortune cookies and a lot of t-shirts. So despite me not going there, I had to get that all done. That was still fun for me. And it was a challenge to figure it out how to ship everything and take it there. I was also in touch with the organizers, trying to figure that out. And then we just figured we’d just take it with our luggage in the end. That was my initial introduction to the entire WordPress ecosystem. A few months into my job and once I had transitioned to a PR role, I was told that if I want to be good at this I really should use WordPress and try to be a part of the community. That’s when I joined more groups, I started applying to a few WordCamps. I knew that once things got worse, I had nothing to lose. I can apply to all of them now. So I did apply to be a speaker. And I was so surprised that I was actually asked to be a speaker at WordCamp Kent, which was month ago. And that’s the first time that I really got to go. I just applied thinking “let’s just try it out.” And then suddenly I had to actually give an entire talk, which was exhilarating. I stayed up until 4:00 AM trying to record it because it was too noisy during the day. I think that’s when I realized that this is fun and this is what it is to be part of the community. I get to talk to a lot of people, even if I don’t know them, such as through podcasts. I’ve been listening to you guys even before we reached out and started to do the sponsorship with you. And I think your podcast was one of the first ones I heard. No, actually I heard [two WPN Up] before that which is now [Big Orange Heart.] That’s where my engagement started from. It’s been a lot of fun for me so far. There are so many aspects to WordPress besides just building a website or recording. You have forums that you can be part of. I’ve also tried to answer a few tickets on the report that we get for our plugin and be a help wherever possible. It really makes me feel like I’m doing something and I try to add value wherever I can. For me it’s more about a community and an uplifting feeling than simply using WordPress.
Tracy Apps (07:36):
What was your talk on in Kent?
Swaahili M (07:40):
It was about something I’ve never spoken about before openly. It was about my journey with ADHD and the transition from being a college student to a full time marketer. It was quite challenging in beginning because until last year I was studying, I was in college, I was in school. I still had a certain sense of control over my friends, the kind of crowd that I’m in, the kind of people that I’m meeting, because you don’t just go up to strangers and talk to them as much as college. You find your own gang and you find your own people and you talk to them. Being pushed into a job you have no control over the kinds of people who will be your colleagues, who you’re going to end up talking to. That was very interesting for me. And the entire aspect of having to focus and get work done for about eight hours a day. Oh my God, that hit me really hard in the beginning, but I eventually learned how to make do. That is what my talk was about. It was about how I managed to overcome it initial challenges in my new job. And a very big part of my talk was about community and being part of something. How that can make you feel motivated and make you feel like you want to do more.
Tracy Apps (09:13):
When you first started were you actually in the office? For me, when I first joined the workforce we were still in cubicles, which is easier for someone with ADHD. Then everyone shifted to these open office environments, which is supposed to be great for collaboration but terrible for anyone with ADHD.
Swaahili M (09:39):
Oh I know.
Tracy Apps (09:42):
Did you have to go into a physical office. Do you have to navigate that space as well?
Swaahili M (09:46):
Yes. When I look back I realize that was an absolute boon for me because right now we’re working from home for the last three or four months. And it’s been so tiring and challenging to try to focus while I’m at home because I don’t feel like focusing at home. I definitely miss being in an office. I don’t know if it was because nobody really had the guts to come and talk to me about it, but people let me just be weird at work. So whenever I was not able to focus I would just go into a conference room, go in and sit alone by myself, sit on the floor, go to the kitchen, I’d do whatever I wanted to work. I’d go sit on the terrace. People just left me alone. That really helped me even at work. There was a set system in place which kicked in about a month after working. I wake up in the morning to go to work, I take the train, I start working at 10 and then take a break at 12, I have lunch at one, we take a walk, I work some more, then another tea break and then we work some more and then I go home. So there was this entire routine that was in place, which completely got shot once you started working from home. I definitely do still work under the moment and I believe that that was something that really helped me overcome the ADHD side of things.
Tracy Apps (11:14):
Oh yeah. I remember the struggle because I need that schedule. That really helps to have that routine. I’m lucky. I still rent an office space for my own company even when working in an office for when I really needed to focus, I could go there because I found I couldn’t work from home because I had all of these other distractions. Then the pandemic hit and we’re all stuck at home. And at first I said, “okay this is great. I can focus on all these other things.” But now the routine is gone and that’s rattled everything.
Swaahili M (12:00):
Do you actually end up working more hours than you used to before?
Tracy Apps (12:04):
Yes. When I first started my company, I have a two bedroom house and converted my second bedroom into my office. And I worked in there. Some people say they can’t work from home because all these distractions. I had the opposite problem where I couldn’t not work from home. As soon as I was up, I was like, “okay!” And then I was trying to be very strict. I go into my physical office space to work and then it started to be on the couch and then it was in the bedroom. And then everywhere in the house was my office. And I couldn’t relax. Laundry piled up because I had to work. If I was home I have no excuse. I could be working right now. And I had the opposite problem. So when I started renting shared spaces with people in smaller settings where I had more control, that’s how I found my methods of doing that. But that took years out of college. It’s an amazing that you overcame that right out of college.
Amy Masson (13:24):
I see that too. I don’t move around. I work at my desk because I have a giant monitor system that isn’t very convenient to move but I’ll be cooking dinner and think I can just go respond to this email. Or we’re watching TV and “Oh, I got to go fix this website for somebody.” And if you only work at your office, then I don’t think you do that as much.
Swaahili M (13:48):
Tracy Apps (13:51):
Amy, you can just put it on wheels and just roll it around right?
Amy Masson (13:55):
If I can roll it outside because the weather’s been really nice this week that would be ideal. I see people with their laptops and that’s just not enough screen space for me. I just can’t.
Tracy Apps (14:06):
Don’t you have a pool? You could put it by the pool.
Amy Masson (14:11):
I can just wrap it in some saran wrap and float.
Tracy Apps (14:18):
What could possibly go wrong?
Amy Masson (14:20):
Nothing could go wrong.
Angela Bowman (14:22):
I actually did build a website on the back of a cruise ship watching the water. We were heading through the Caribbean but the work is never ending. I have a vacation, but I just had to get this one website done. I tried to stay back so I wouldn’t get water on me. But this isn’t a bad life. I’ll do this for two or three hours and then I’ll go…you know!
Amy Masson (14:53):
I have a picture of myself sitting on the beach with my laptop and there was no wifi. I was connected to my phone trying to fix something for somebody.
Angela Bowman (15:03):
Yeah. I’ve done that. I was at a web summit in Portugal in Lisbon and someone had this major issue on their site and I was in this museum. So I just sat down on a bench with my phone and got on their website.
Tracy Apps (15:18):
I code edited on my phone one time. It was really hard, but I fixed it.
Angela Bowman (15:26):
That’s exactly what I did.
Tracy Apps (15:27):
Angela Bowman (15:30):
Too much work. But I do love your schedule. I want the schedule documented. Okay. So let me get this again. You take the train by the way, which I love taking the train and we don’t have that in the US
Amy Masson (15:45):
We have it some places just not where any of us live.
Angela Bowman (15:46):
That’s true. Not where we live. Midwest West, no trains. East coast. Some. So you take the train, you start work at 10:00 AM?
Swaahili M (15:57):
Angela Bowman (15:58):
And you take a little walk or you take a little break at noon.
Swaahili M (16:03):
Yes, I take a break at noon. I go out to the terrace or the kitchen to get something.
Angela Bowman (16:09):
And then you take a lunch at one. I imagine your lunch is fabulous.
Swaahili M (16:16):
Actually lunch was given by the company so we have a proper caterer that gave us great food which I miss now.
Tracy Apps (16:25):
That’s nice. So do you need any other help or I’ll just hang out.
Angela Bowman (16:34):
Yeah, we’ll just come hang out.
Swaahili M (16:34):
One great advantage is that our office is in one of the most happening places in Bangalore. We have so many restaurants there that even if you don’t feel like having lunch at work, you could just pop over to another place, walk there and just eat whatever you wanted. The best part about being there, which I miss so much now that I’m at home, is that we had this really good gelato and ice cream place, two doors away, which I don’t have right now. And I was used to eating that at least once a week. There’s no ice cream within three kilometers of my house. I’ve actually gone and searched and no one has ice cream.
Tracy Apps (17:13):
I would weigh million pounds because I would just eat my way through that city.
Swaahili M (17:19):
You definitely should come.
Angela Bowman (17:19):
You do get to walk a lot?
Swaahili M (17:19):
Yes, I do.
Angela Bowman (17:25):
And then tea time, what time is tea?
Swaahili M (17:28):
Tea time used to be at five. That was a break that the entire office used to take. There was this store opposite our work. And we go and get some coffee or a sandwich. Take a walk or go get some ice cream. That was something we really look forward to between five or six o’clock for about 15, 20 minutes. And then I finished work initially at eight thirty, nine. Then I slowly started trying to make myself finish things earlier. Since last August I joined a gym. It’s not really a gym, it’s more classes. It Is very close to the office. I finished everything by seven thirty and I’d take a bus and go to that gym. And I had a class at eight. Since August onwards, I was working until seven thirty. But before that I was working until almost nine.
Amy Masson (18:33):
So if you work from ten until eight that’s almost a ten hour day. But you have all this breaks, which is how I work. I pretty much start work at ten. I worked till seven thirty or eight but I have good breaks. I have a really good lunch. I might have an exercise. Well, my exercise classes before I start working. But I’ll take nice little breaks, but it used to not be that way. The more American way would be you work from seven thirty to five thirty.
Tracy Apps (19:06):
Angela Bowman (19:08):
Head down, half an hour. But like I realized in my kind of work and doing all this coding and stuff, I can focus for a solid hour and then my brain gets tired and I have to get up and walk around. Then I can come back and focus for another hour, especially at home. At work for some reason I can focus longer, but I find hour increments, but I love the two hour. Take a break another hour, take some lunch.
Swaahili M (19:33):
Tracy Apps (19:33):
It’s so much healthier.
Swaahili M (19:36):
It was very encouraged at work. I’d always find one person taking a short nap at any time during the day.
Tracy Apps (19:45):
Naps are so great.
Swaahili M (19:47):
Yeah. And we also had this huge screen TV and you could play FIFA, you could watch Netflix. That really helped. That’s really helped, being able to take that break. It’s just like you recharge and came back, which is something that’s lacking now. I feel like the entire day is like a break to me. It’s been a challenge trying to focus.
Tracy Apps (20:19):
I think that’s a good point though too.
Amy Masson (20:20):
You said a term, “weird at work,” and I’m wondering is that is unusual? Is not everybody weird at work?
Swaahili M (20:34):
Everyone is weird, but I think compared to the others [SOUND GOES OUT] No one else is down on the floor trying to work or went to the terrace to work, that’s just me. I think everyone just let me do whatever I wanted. And for me it was primarily because of the fact that I couldn’t focus for long. When Angela said that she can work for an hour straight, that’s very hard for me. I would need to make myself keep doing something different, doing something new, even just moving around or trying to work in a different space that would really help me. I don’t remember most people trying to do that. They would be able just to get into that zone and work for a much longer time.
Tracy Apps (21:25):
That makes a lot of sense. I find those breaks helpful. When I have deadlines I think I just need to barrel through, you know? But I never get things done that way. But I take a break and then I come back to it and now I can focus on things. So I think that’s really smart. And I think now that everyone’s working from home so we have more control over that. But I think businesses were starting to get that, the idea of needing more flexibility. On the coasts I should say that but the Midwest is still about 10 years behind. I think that’s really smart and it’s really good to know yourself and how you work because otherwise you’re just gonna get yourself frustrated.
Swaahili M (22:18):
Tracy Apps (22:21):
When you were in college what were you studying there?
Swaahili M (22:25):
I did a very generic course. I did something called a B Comm, which is a Bachelors of Commerce and that covered a lot of topics under just business. So we had marketing, we had accounting and a lot of financial management and organizational behavior. A bunch of stuff that that’s actually part of it. And the reason I’m saying generic and not being very enthusiastic about it is because I think at least the college that I went to and general the Indian educational system is quite bookish. When I actually started working, I realized that there was hardly anything that I’ve learned during college that might have helped me at my work. I mean, no one teaches what are SEO’s? Or what is digital marketing about? It’s something I learned completely on the job. That’s what I studied. But I think the thing that really helped me from college was interacting with people. I went to a college which had so much diversity in terms of the kind of people that you meet. You have people from all parts of India and all parts of the world, actually. So that’s one thing I wouldn’t take back, learning how to interact with people.
Amy Masson (23:52):
And how did you get connected with BlogVault not being in the WordPress community? How did that happen?
Swaahili M (23:59):
Honestly, it was someone that I knew knew someone who worked at BlogVault and we happened to meet somewhere and they told me that they’re looking for people and they had a job opening. And I tried and I managed to get through. I remember in my first and only interview one phase of that was an entire task which was a hacked WordPress site. You don’t have access to the backend so how are you going to try and access it? You don’t have access to the dashboard, sorry. And that was the first time that I realized that WordPress had a dashboard. They gave me half an hour to figure it out. And I was absolutely stumped. And then I started Googling and I found something called FTP. And I tried [Seed Banner]. And I broke that site actually when I was trying to figure the thing out. But they hired me because I was able to get a start on what I’m supposed to do. So that’s how I actually got the job.
Amy Masson (25:19):
I loved that you broke the site. I don’t think you’re a real person in WordPress if you haven’t broken a site.
Tracy Apps (25:29):
Swaahili M (25:30):
I’m just glad they didn’t ask me to fix it later because I would not have been able to do that. It was just through a friend of mine who mentioned they were hiring. I think for a very long time, I thought the company was called BlogWorld and I will have to probably do some sort of blogging for them and I wanted nothing to do with that. That’s how I got in.
Amy Masson (25:59):
You’ve had to learn WordPress on the job.
Swaahili M (26:02):
Amy Masson (26:02):
What are you doing to learn it and educate yourself?
Swaahili M (26:07):
The first week I started working I was told that my only task was to understand WordPress. There were a couple of courses they told me about and there were a lot of links. They have this entire onboarding document. And I got to create my own site, I got try all these different plugins and try to add as much functionality as I could. And I think at the end of it, I created a site where it was about…I had music for concentration. And I had a blog which was about mental health and I had a store where I sold tea. That was my entire website. I wasn’t actually selling tea but I maintained it for awhile. But then it dropped off. Besides that I didn’t get a chance to work on our own company websites, BlogVault, [inaudible.] I did some the drafting and publishing with content that I wrote. For the last two months, I’ve actively been trying to get back to that. I created a new website. The first time I made a website they gave me the hosting. They gave me everything I needed. This time I tried that by myself. I created a website and now I’m trying to follow through and find more things to work on. I’ve actually been trying to take a couple of courses as well. There’s [course name inaudible] that I was using. They have a huge course on things you can do with WordPress.
Tracy Apps (27:46):
Ok not WordPress. Do you find tea helps with your focus?
Swaahili M (28:06):
Yes, but I think I’m partial towards coffee, which is ironic because up until I started working, I did not like coffee. And it’s really since working I realize I need coffee, even if I don’t like it. So since then I’ve been more for coffee personally, but I do like tea, I like green tea. I like trying different kinds of things out. I don’t know how you guys make it, but we call it chai here in India. It’s a staple thing that we have and everyone has every day in the evening and we make it with milk and tea leaves and put stuff in like ginger and cinnamon. [Inaudible section] But yes I do like tea.
Amy Masson (28:54):
I’m a coffee girl, but I didn’t start drinking coffee until I had children because then I would have my baby and I would be up all night. And so I’d get up in the morning and in order to function, I needed to have coffee and now I’m just addicted. But it does help me work. When I have my coffee cup and I’m sitting here drinking and it’s empty, I just don’t work as well.
Tracy Apps (29:05):
I have all sorts of tea. And then there’s one company that has loose leaf tea that is Fandom. They call it Fandom. So I have all of these teas that have Doctor Who…
Swaahili M (29:33):
That’s a Doctor Who box!
Tracy Apps (29:33):
Exactly. It has Doctor Who designs on them. I never got into coffee and I actually didn’t like tea until my thirties I think. And once I started doing that I feel like it helps me work. But again, it’s one of those. I was experimenting with things and it depends on a lot of different aspects of it. I wish we had more of a tea culture here in the US but well, whatever.
Angela Bowman (29:59):
I’m totally a tea drinker. I love Darjeeling. It’s my favorite tea. And I know the Kashmir region where they make that Darjeeling is going to be impacted by climate change and political things as well. And I like English breakfast tea, Scottish breakfast tea, all the black teas. And I drink tea all day long. And I love, love, love coffee, but I’m an angry coffee drinker. I get this edge. I want it. I know this can make me think better, but then I’m just sharp around the edges. So for the wellbeing of my clients and my friends and my family, I drink in the afternoon. I have a decaffeinated cappuccino. And that’s about the safety level. But I can drink tea all day long and it doesn’t make me angry. It has a different chemical property. I’m big into tea and we have a tea house here where you can take classes and learn about all the teas and where they come from.
Amy Masson (31:10):
You wouldn’t like Angela when she’s angry.
Swaahili M (31:17):
I’ll take your word for it.
Amy Masson (31:17):
I don’t know. I’ve never seen her angry.
Angela Bowman (31:19):
She’s never seen me angry! Everyone thinks I’m so sweet. And then they’re like “whoa, don’t give her any coffee!”
Amy Masson (31:28):
I think we need to spike her tea with coffee and just see what happens.
Angela Bowman (31:31):
Then I talk too much. If I have caffeine I can not stop talking.
Tracy Apps (31:33):
That’s a good experiment.
Amy Masson (31:45):
We can do an episode where we give Angela a coffee and see what happens. And then I think it would be fun to do a Women in WordPress drunk episode.
Swaahili M (31:55):
Yes count me in!
Tracy Apps (31:59):
I feel like it would be pretty much the same.
Angela Bowman (32:02):
Tell us about something. We’re in this special time, we call it the special time. A global pandemic is a special time in history. We are living through this. We will tell our grandchildren and great grandchildren, if we have them about living through the 2020 global pandemic. What is it like in Bangalore? And I know Mumbai has some unique challenges, you know, different parts of India have unique challenges. Bangalore is much more of a tech hub. There’s a whole different vibe happening in Bangalore, but what are you seeing? And are there different levels of experiences people are having there right now?
Swaahili M (32:51):
With Bangalore we went into a complete lockdown about four months ago for almost a month and a half. Then they slowly started opening things up. And currently we’re in a state where everything is open, we have malls open. I think besides the trains and all kinds of public transport, it’s completely functional now. But the number of cases have dramatically increased, especially in the last month and that’s where we are right now. And like you mentioned it’s a tech hub so I think more than half the population here are people who are working for IT companies. So thankfully for a lot of us, we were able to adapt to the work from home culture. Considering that it is an IT hub there is an equal number of restaurants and pubs and whatnot and all of those are definitely affected. But I think we managed to power through. We have a great system of delivery. Even before the entire pandemic we were so used to using delivery apps that it didn’t really make much of a difference after. But I think for the initial month or so, it was quite a challenge for people to just get groceries and be able to go out of the house. When you consider the fact that it’s an IT hub, it means that you have a lot of companies and a lot of buildings and infrastructure, which means that a very big chunk of the population are people who work in infrastructure and construction. And it definitely affected them negatively once the pandemic and lockdown hit because they were not able to go back to wherever they’re from. And they definitely could not afford to live here. So there was a lot of challenges at that point. A lot of organizations were delivering food for free to people who are needy, people who are poor, and people who don’t live with anyone. A lot of people are also trying to help people get back to where they are from. Bangalore is handling it as well as you can possibly can say, but the cases have dramatically increased in the past month. But like you mentioned, Mumbai had its own challenges, I have a lot of friends there. And from what I know, the capacity has been reached a very long time back and it’s getting really hard. They have a lot more cases than Bangalore does and they do not have the infrastructure to actually handle the problem. They don’t have enough beds and they don’t have enough hospitals. It’s a much more worse situation, but I think relatively Bangalore has managed to get through the worst of it.
Angela Bowman (35:53):
[MIC GOES OUT]
Swaahili M (35:53):
Yes Mumbai has one of the biggest slums in the world so it’s definitely a big challenge.
Angela Bowman (35:53):
[MIC GOES OUT]
Swaahili M (35:53):
Angela Bowman (35:53):
[MIC GOES OUT]
Swaahili M (35:53):
For quite some time. Last month they set up everything we wanted. You get a desk and a monitor if you want it. Just to make sure we have everything set up at home because we’ll be working from home for quite some time. I think out of the 20 people that work with me more than 15 of them are not from Bangalore. We have people from Kashmir and a lot of places in Northern India. Most of them went back to their hometowns and very few actually stayed here. And it’s worked out pretty well for us. We’re still able to have that same sense of productivity and get things done. So we’re going to continue with this for at least a few more months. [INAUDIBLE]
Angela Bowman (37:09):
Swaahili M (37:09):
Oh man, I wish they could deliver but I live very far away from the ice cream store so there’s no chance.
Amy Masson (37:38):
Well, thank you so much for being with us today. It’s been great talking to you. Before we go can you tell everybody where they can find you online?
Swaahili M (37:47):
You can find me on Twitter it’s [SwaahliM] and I’m also part of another Facebook group, so you can find me there.
Amy Masson (38:01):
Awesome. Well, thanks for being here.
Swaahili M (38:04):
I had a lot of fun. A lot of fun. I honestly did not know what I was going to talk about. This has been great. Thanks so much.
Amy Masson (38:15):
Thank you for listening. Interested in being on the show, sign up on our website, Women in WP.com. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram and join our Facebook group to have conversations with other women in WordPress.