063: Talking Open Source and WordPress with Naoko Takano


About Naoko Takano:

Naoko is a full-time contributor to the WordPress Polyglots and Community Teams, sponsored by Automattic. She has been involved in the WordPress community through translation and event organization for over 17 years. As one of the Polyglots Global Mentors and Japanese GTE, she helps global and local WordPress translation contributors make WordPress accessible in languages other than English.

Find Naoko Takano: Automattic  | Twitter


Women in WP | WordPress Podcast
Women in WP | WordPress Podcast
063: Talking Open Source and WordPress with Naoko Takano
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Show Notes

Speaker 1:

Welcome to Women in WP, a bimonthly podcast about women who blog, design, develop, and more in the WordPress community.

Angela:

Hi, welcome to Women in WP. I’m Angela Bowman.

Amy:

And I’m Amy Masson.

Angela:

Our guest today is Naoko Takano, joining us from Tokyo. She works for Automattic and is full-time contributor to the WordPress Polyglots Community Teams. Welcome, Naoko.

Naoko:

Hi.

Angela:

We like to start off each episode asking our guests how they got into WordPress. How did you get started?

Naoko:

So hi I’m am Naoko. I started using WordPress, actually, back in 2003 when it was version .72, I remember. How I got started was, I was just looking around the web, and blogging was starting to become popular, and I had a blog I was reading, I liked, and he was using Movable Type at the time. I tried to install it, and I managed to do that. I was kind of learning web design, but I wasn’t doing that as my full-time job. I used it for a while, and after maybe, a couple of month, as I was writing blog posts on my own, I got very frustrated with the templating system because I like to tweak the theme, but it took so long to rebuild the static pages it was publishing.

Naoko:

So I again looked around and tried a bunch of PHP-based blogging CMSs, and somehow I really liked WordPress the best, compared to all other things that were available at the time. So I think in maybe five month after I started blogging, I switched to WordPress, and after that, I discovered this WordPress community that was writing things in Japanese.

Naoko:

Back to my background, I was living in the US at the time, and I was blogging in Japanese because, I guess, that was my outlet for writing in Japanese, which I didn’t have. I kind of met these people online and started translating for WordPress documentation and the strings in the core, and maybe not plugins at the time, but that started me to get involved in the community online. I started, also, organizing events from still living in the States, but we met once in a while when I went back to Japan.

Naoko:

In 2008, I helped organize WordCamp Tokyo, the first WordCamp in Japan. The next year, we invited Matt Mullenweg, and he came to speak in Japanese WordCamp. Then he asked me if I like to help with Automattic support petition for international audience. I got the job and I’ve been working for Automattic since then.

Amy:

Wow. When did you leave the US to go back to Japan?

Naoko:

That was end of 2010. Yeah, in the beginning of 2011, I came back, which was, I think, after a year, year and a half, I worked for Automattic. Since I had a flexibility for my work, I just moved.

Amy:

So you were already working at Automattic before you left?

Naoko:

Yes.

Amy:

Wow. That’s amazing.

Angela:

It’s such an incredible story. What kind of things were you blogging about when you were doing your Japanese blog?

Naoko:

I still have the same blog, I changed the [inaudible 00:04:06] domain. But you can still kind of see it if you read the Japanese, it was really about nothing. At the time, everybody was writing about just news you found online, or things you did on that day, because there was no Twitter, I don’t think. We didn’t have Twitter. So it was like kind of Twitter, Facebook, kind of everyday findings and thoughts. Very personal stuff. Yeah.

Angela:

I am just looking at one of your very old posts from February 9th 2004. It says that, “I can’t believe that I won the first place for the WordPress CSS competition.” That is so amazing. You just dived right in.

Naoko:

Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I remember, it was a long time ago, there was only a few files in WordPress themes, and there’s a CSS competition, where you only change the CSS to change the look of the theme. I think that really helped me realize, all people, if I publish something, people use it. It’s really fun how people use what I make. That’s kind of my starting point where I really got involved in open source work, I think.

Amy:

That’s what I love about open source is you don’t even realize how many people are going to be affected by the little things that you might do.

Naoko:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. That’s what drives me still, every day, that people use what I did, maybe sometimes for myself, and people find it useful. It’s kind of amazing that everybody can do that and everybody can help each other, and you don’t have to do it for yourself, like everything for yourself, and that’s pretty easy.

Amy:

I know, you’ve been organizing events for WordPress for a long time. What’s the most recent one you were involved in?

Naoko:

I helped organize WordCamp Japan in the last week of June, June 20 to June 26th. It was a one week long WordCamp.

Amy:

A week long. So that was virtual?

Naoko:

Yes. Online. Yeah. Fully online.

Amy:

How was the attendance on that? What was that like?

Naoko:

So we have 1380 registration in the end. We streamed the YouTube videos for two days, the first day and then last day or session days. I think that in total, maybe they were watched 6000 times, like people watch it multiple times. But it was pretty good attendance.

Amy:

Wow. Were you involved in planning of the WordCamp Asia that was canceled right before COVID?

Naoko:

Yes, yes. So that was in 2019, we started planning for WordCamp Asia, which was supposed to happen in February 2020. It was the first WordCamp that was canceled due to COVID-19. It was just around the time when the news was spreading and it was only affecting Asia at the time. We happen to be in a position where it was very difficult decision, and actually Matt was involved in the decision, and he made the right decision looking back. I’m very glad we didn’t do it at the time. But, since it was so early, and we didn’t know anything, so much about COVID, and it was the first one that was canceled, it was very hard to put an end to it. Yeah, and almost year and half after that, we still don’t know when we can do it, we can actually do the event again. So that’s very tough.

Amy:

I know, there’s so much work and so much time went into planning that and then it had to be canceled kind of at the last minute. I know, it was hard for all the people that had made travel plans, but for the organizers that have put so much of your life into organizing, it must have been just heartbreaking.

Naoko:

Yeah, it was so close. I think it was like two weeks. Some people already like traveling to go there ahead of time. Yeah, it was very close to the date and things were feeling like it’s coming to happen, it’s going to happen very soon, so that was very hard. We had to do a lot of extra work to finish up the work that we started. That was kind of like losing a pet or something, someone very close. Just really sad and difficult experience.

Amy:

Well, and at the time, you just don’t know if you’re making the right decision now, a year later, it’s like, obviously, that’s what had to happen, but nobody knew just yet how bad it was going to be.

Naoko:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. I think we learned a lot about the safety and making sure things like risk management is very important as a organizer, it’s our responsibility to not let things happen if we knew this is a big risk. So we learned a lot. The year we organized the event, it was actually all almost all virtual, except for the local team that were in Thailand. Some of us never met, still haven’t met. It was all online, even organizing because we were all over in Asia. So I think we learned a lot of good communication online, and leading up to the year that we had to do it, throughout our work and other event organization, I think we still gained a lot of community experience from organizing it.

Angela:

Yeah, I knew new people who were planning to travel there. It seemed like there were many people who came forward in the community, to help people to cover last expenses. That was so beautiful. It happened to be the first WordCamp to go down. You had to be the first and that was just kind of sad that it was you but everyone else followed after that. I think it was 100%, of course, the right decision. Not knowing, but it was kind of amazing. Even though I wasn’t planning to go it, we were all watching. I just want to let you know that we are all feeling for you, and everyone who is involved, because we could as I think the whole world community of WordPress was just like, “Wow,” like that was we were all felt the impact of that. So you were not alone in that feeling. Then Amy and Tracy and I were going to be going to WordCamp Europe. I think we were still holding out hope “Well, maybe this is over in six weeks, a couple months.”

Amy:

Two weeks lockdown, and we’re home free.

Angela:

Yeah, we just locked down and we just shut it down, and then we’re good, and two weeks, maybe four, maybe six, maybe eight. Maybe we could do it in eight.

Amy:

We still don’t even know if next year we’ll be able to do things.

Naoko:

Yeah, now we are more cautious.

Angela:

Now we’re more cautious.

Naoko:

Don’t know about next year.

Angela:

Yeah.

Amy:

I’m ready to just go and give myself another booster. Load me up, give me all the different variations of the vaccine. I’ll be super vaccinated.

Angela:

She’s going to be super woman by the end of this. She’ll be glowing green a little bit. Just it’s fine. But she’s not wearing a cape though.

Amy:

Super immune.

Angela:

Yeah. Well, you talked about community and how the process of even doing this planning this WordCamp, even though it was canceled, helped build community, and you mentioned in your submission form to us about your biggest challenges with interpersonal communication and team building. That’s a challenge for so many of us, and having to be in the role that you’re in in Automattic and doing the kinds of things you do, I find that to be challenging. It’s probably why I’m a freelancer. I can pick and choose, how and when I interact and work with people, but when that’s your job, you really have to learn a lot. So talk to us about in being in that role. What can you tell us about your wisdom from your learnings about interpersonal communication and working in teams?

Naoko:

So yeah, I was once a freelancer, and I really longed for working as a team. There’s a good and bad side of it, but I guess I really enjoy, even with the difficulties of working with others, I find it to be one of my strengths, or something maybe people don’t tolerate a lot, I feel like I am able to handle with patience. The reason, I think, is the experience.

Naoko:

I organize my first WordCamp in 2008 in Japan, and since then, I’ve been seeing a lot of different teams, different WordCamp teams and polyglots, I’ve organized translation day. Through the experience, I find it’s never easy to work with others, as you all know, but I think that the difficulty is also a really good learning experience, because as a WordPress community, that’s the only way we can get things done. Especially with the translation community, there are so many people who help little by little, but so many people who work on their own, independently, for a plugin or theme, to make a product in their language, to make it usable in their language.

Naoko:

At the same time, they’re under the local team, they have to follow the guidelines of the language. Seeing people start helping little by little, but combining the effort to make it even better, make things even better. I find it very interesting that I can help people work together to get bigger things done together.

Angela:

If people are going to work on a team, what would you be your advice for how you can be yourself to be the best team member? What do people need to set aside or bring forward?

Naoko:

Seeing a lot of people who are very talented and capable of doing things on their own, I sometimes see them having a hard time working with others for the first time. Especially WordPress community is so diverse, they might work well with their coworkers, but they might see different types of people they’ve worked together before, and my advice is to be open and understand that they have different background. It’s very straightforward. You might think you realize that you understand that, but I think a lot of time, everybody falls into this situation where you think you don’t understand that person and you’re doing the right thing, but, without understanding the other person’s background. You can never fully understand the other persons, what they’re going through, or what they have, but just to know that they have different situation than your own, or different knowledge, just everything that you don’t have is also a blessing. The reason that we work as a team, we bring in different things to the table.

Angela:

So it’s like you have to appreciate what each person has to offer, rather than is not… You have to recognize each person.

Naoko:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, yeah.

Amy:

For people that don’t know, can you tell us what polyglots is?

Naoko:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Sure. So polyglots is one of… Polyglots team is one of WordPress make WordPress teams, and we translate WordPress core plugins, themes, documentations, everything, that are written mostly originally in English, into about 200 languages available, but there are about 70 active locales that are making WordPress core 100% available all the time.

Angela:

My understanding was that all the translation of WordPress was done on a volunteer basis. Is that correct?

Naoko:

Yes, that’s correct. So, especially for core and major plugins, a lot of people help out to make it usable in their language. Some plugins that are commercially available, or sometimes translated by the plugin owner, but they’re more rare. So, most of the products are translated by volunteers.

Angela:

Are you translating more than just WordPress official like Automattic plugins? Does the team ever work on any of the other plugins on the repository for translations that are… Do people volunteer to translate just plugins that they don’t own?

Naoko:

So for myself, I work for Automattic and I actually don’t translate Automattic plugins anymore. I used to, but Automattic also hires a team of professional translators, and they provide translations for Automattic products. For about 15 languages that happens, and for other languages, locales, [inaudible 00:20:45] still aren’t translated [inaudible 00:20:48] commerce, and other plugins. For myself, I mostly review other people’s translations for plugins, and sometimes core, and Gutenberg is also translated by a very active volunteer in Japan. I usually don’t have to touch anything, it’s always up to date. So people who use that plugin or even core, they’re the most active translators, usually.

Angela:

You talked about getting other people involved in community, and really being able to grow the community. Can you talk to us about that, and how you work to get more people involved, and maybe a little bit about diversity? What you’ve seen perhaps over the past decade or so, in terms of… One thing we’ve talked to a lot of WordCamp organizers on this podcast is about how they’ve seen the women speaker demographics change over the years. What have you witnessed in the community in terms of diversity?

Naoko:

So in terms of getting people more than there is people involved, I always find translation is a really good gateway to get involved. Then that was really true for me, even though I knew some the web design, web development skill, I never saw myself as a developer or professional developer type person, but I felt very comfortable like coping with things that I’m comfortable, which is translation and event organization.

Naoko:

I think a lot of people feel that way. At the first, they want to do something but they are not sure. So they can start with something they don’t feel intimidated. Over time, they find people they know in the community, and they become more active. I’ve seen a lot of people become more involved in that way, starting from just volunteering at a WordCamp or translating one plugin, and from there, they meet other people who are already doing other kinds of things, and they realize that they can do other things and feel more comfortable. So I think it’s always important to have multiple ways to get involved, which really WordCamp and, I think, translation, will provide, meetups also.

Naoko:

Just getting to people to come and meet other people and really see the details of what goes on rather than… Some people are very comfortable with just seeing, GitHub issue, or track ticket, and they can just dive in, which is also great. There is always documentation for development too, but people who are especially not familiar with open source community, they’re not sure what to start with. So I think it’s important to have that kind of welcoming environment for people to get started.

Naoko:

Diversity in the community I’ve seen, for Japanese community, so I’m female, and I’ve been online since early days where video, or even avatar’s not around, so I’ve never felt myself as out of pace, because people never really cared about, or cared… Cared is not good word, but never recognized gender, or that kind of identity, because you were just this username, and my username used to be N A O, Nao, which still is, but a lot of people thought I was a guy, because O, names ending O in many countries is male name. I guess, people never really thought about that.

Naoko:

As we started doing more face to face events, and avatars become more visible, maybe, because I was already in the community, I never felt I was treated differently, because of that gender, or anything. But, I also saw a lot of women being uncomfortable, being in the on-stage, or even coming to events, because there are more men, I’m talking about Japanese events. So I felt being around and just showing that we are here is a good incentive for women to get involved. Also, we have a lot of very old contributors in the community too, who are organizing meetups, and then some other contributions. There were some younger people who are maybe as young as maybe 15 years old. In the past, we had helped events and development too, and the way I think of it is that, as I mentioned, that [inaudible 00:27:07] background difference in the people. I don’t think thinking too much about the attributes of the person is never productive.

Naoko:

Even though we need to be mindful, in many cases, when there is inequality in involvement from different group of people, when people come, I try to see them on themselves, not like, “Oh, there’s an older person,” or, “There’s a woman,” there’s a such and such. I try to treat them as who they are, and just let them be themselves.

Angela:

One of the first events, and it wasn’t a WordPress event, it was just an open source event locally, that a friend of mine was organizing, and he was really, really working hard to get women into… He was a big feminist and he wants women, and he just couldn’t get women to this event. So I went to one and I felt so out of place because I was the only woman there, and I just don’t know… When I started going to WordPress events, there were more women, but I still felt intimidated, because there were less. I feel like every time I go to some events, there’s more and more women involved, and more and more women in roles of speaking and organizing, and I wonder if the push to get women to do the speaking and to be involved and to be visible, how much of a difference that’s made for women everywhere?

Naoko:

So you all know Joe is doing diverse speaker training across the WordPress community, and we have a great contributor in Japan called [Ginkgo Nukaga 00:29:06], and she’s running the program also in Japanese community. She’s been, I think, she’s had at least three or four workshops for WordCamp speakers, and for this WordCamp Japan too, she ran the workshop and had some people speaking as a result of the workshop.

Naoko:

So I think it’s just the encouragement saying, “You’re doing great, and you should come and be visible.” I think it’s not that people are not capable of doing what… Not even like coming to the event, or speaking at the event, being team leader of a committee type of thing, I think it’s just a small encouragement from my side. Like sending them a message, sending them a encouragement publicly, I think those small things will really help. I think what people need is that kind of little push that okay, they should be doing what they want to do. That’s the things I try to do in small ways, but since direct messages might be invisible, so it’s good to bring it up like this and encourage everybody to do that also.

Angela:

Who has been your greatest supporter for what you’ve done?

Naoko:

Hmm. I always say, I always bring up Andrea Middleton as a reason I’m still around and being here, because she’s really great leader. I mentioned Ginkgo, and she’s also a deputy for our press committee team. She’s also a great peer and great person to work with. Also, the WordCamp Asia organizers, I’ve seen great talent and just really great community mindset, and then so I have several people.

Angela:

Yeah, Andrea is pretty amazing. I got to talk to her once and was so enjoyable. I was doing WordCamp Denver keynote, and I was so nervous. Wasn’t actually a keynote, I was doing a talk after I did a keynote. But it was on, what is, WordPress, and she took so much time to explain to me everything about WordPress, like community, Automattic’s role, everything, and she was amazing. Such a fun person and so warm. So great. Who wouldn’t want to work with Andrea?

Naoko:

Yeah, she’s always have very good, great perspective, long term vision, which I wish I could learn a lot more from her. I think the reason I always think WordPress community program is great is Shane, also [Tim Miles 00:32:23] they had placed the really basic box of what the community team is now. The way they try to distribute the contribution and giving other people power to do their own thing is really good spirit for how we can expand our community.

Amy:

I was noticing that before, I think, before you worked for Automattic, you were a web designer?

Naoko:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Amy:

That was while you were still in the US.

Naoko:

Yes, yes.

Amy:

So what kind of websites were you making? Who were your clients?

Naoko:

In between my freelance days, I worked for web… Not web design, but ad agency called Campbell Ewald. I don’t think they exist anymore. I think they merged into another company. For that company, I was making sites like chevy.com and navy.com, that kind of like national client site, and I was a frontend engineer. Yeah, as a freelancer, I mostly made small sites for local clients and sometimes Japanese client. I don’t think none of them are very familiar names, but like a local shop, local drapery shop website, and coaching website, coaching coach website, that kind of things.

Amy:

Were you using WordPress for those sites?

Naoko:

Yes, yes. All the time. All the time. Yes.

Amy:

Did you do anything else or was it just WordPress?

Naoko:

I think it was pretty much WordPress. Sometimes I was asked to do CakePHP or a few other things as help, like maybe another online shop tool. I don’t remember. But mostly WordPress. The reason I wanted to do freelance again, after working for companies, is that I wanted to do more WordPress work, which was not always the case for the-

Angela:

You couldn’t get enough WordPress.

Naoko:

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. When I was working for the company in the US, I was also writing Japanese book about WordPress. The company encouraged me to do it, as long as I do it outside work. They even gave me bonus for publishing, even though it had nothing to do with their work. Yeah, it was kind of like they probably knew that I really wanted to go into WordPress more.

Angela:

Isn’t that amazing that you discovered that so early and it just became your career? What a blessing that is.

Naoko:

Indeed, yeah, I don’t know where I would be without meeting WordPress at the time, it pretty much changed my entire course of career in life.

Amy:

I think that a lot of us in this field that are in the WordPress community can say the same thing. I was a teacher before I started making websites for money, and if I hadn’t found WordPress when I did, and if I hadn’t started building WordPress websites, I don’t know that I would still be doing that now. I think I would probably be back in the classroom teaching. It’s a noble profession, and I cannot be more grateful for teachers, but I don’t want to do that anymore.

Naoko:

Yeah, I still see that happening to many people discovering WordPress, and that changing life, and that’s probably why they enjoy doing what I do, a possibility of helping those people who are a lot like me. I was very frustrated with not being able to do what I wanted to do. Now I feel like I’m very lucky to be doing what I enjoy, and also helping people who were like me, at the time, and it’s always, because you feel so much, it’s like nothing you can exchange for.

Angela:

I think that’s why we like having this podcast, because it has changed so many women’s lives in particular, like being able. I feel like WordPress has given women an avenue into tech, that maybe it’s a little bit harder in other kinds of software platforms. It’s very accessible, I think, for all the women that we’ve talked to, they didn’t have to have a computer science degree to become technical.

Naoko:

Yeah, at the time, when I started, I was living in the States and I had no background in actually in translation, or community management, or anything. There were places that needed me for doing what I do, and I think it is always going to be that way that WordPress will need people to do, for people to try their best to make things happen. That’s always a satisfying feeling, because you learn something new, and you can help others, and you can also feel good about yourself being able to do something that you couldn’t do before. I had really nothing much in the background in terms of the background, but I think WordPress always enables people to come and help, and that changes people’s lives, and it’s amazing.

Amy:

Wow. When we can go back or when we were having in-person events, what is the WordPress community like in Japan, compared to in the US, since you’ve experienced both?

Naoko:

So yeah, I just finished the organizing online event and it was interesting how some things are similar to an in-person event and in a way it was good for people to be able to join from anywhere in the world. But as an in-person event, I think I’ll see more. I think people will make the best use of their in-person time, try to do things that they can do online, like not just sitting down and listening to lecture, maybe they’ll try to incorporate interactive, or team building, or more community building activities, because that’s what people long for now.

Naoko:

Compared to US, I don’t know too much about the US WordPress or WordCamp organizing, but I used to run small Meetup group when I lived in the US, and I think it was smaller, because Tokyo is big city. But this always, I think, because we are used to running events online, which are very easy to do and less preparation required. Maybe there’ll be more events that just happen at small scale without having to book a venue, and just borrow office space and gather few people to talk about something. I hope that will help them because that’s something we can’t do, right now.

Angela:

Yeah, as a meetup organizer, it’s been a lot easier to do the Zoom, for sure. we had our first in-person social time, but we’ve lost our space, because they closed down due to COVID. So when I do go back to in-person, when our community does, I’ll have to find a new venue and there’s a lot to that. But our little social event this week, people loved seeing each other. They were all smiles and there was so much tenderness, there was so much softness, because everyone kind of knew like, “Oh, this has been a hard time,” and so everyone was very gentle with each other anyway. It was quite lovely, and just the sweet quality about it. I hope we carry that through, that we realize how precious life is.

Amy:

I don’t think we realize how hard this last year has been until you start getting back out there and doing things with other people. We went on a trip for the first time in a year and a half, and we rode on a plane, and we went in restaurants, and we hadn’t eaten in a restaurant in a year and a half, and I almost cried because it was just… I missed it, but you don’t realize what you’re missing until you do it again. It wasn’t the same kind of realization. So I’m hoping that in 2022, we can really get some WordCamps going in-person and I can see all my friends again.

Angela:

I really hope with Japan that the vaccine rollout happens as quickly as possible, because I imagine it’s just even tougher, you did so so well to begin with. Then now to be lingering in this liminal state for so long is pretty challenging. We’re going to be rooting for you and I hope my son will be there in the fall, and that you can have your meetups by the fall too, would be so amazing. We wish you the best of luck with the Olympics and with everything. I hope I could come to a meetup in Japan, even if it was on Japanese, it would just be fun to sit in a room with a bunch of Japanese WordPressers.

Naoko:

I’ll make sure that that will happen when you come. I can book to wherever you are going. Organizer will be happy to welcome you and anybody who’s coming to Japan. If you have a topic you want to bring in, I’m sure organizers are very happy to host a meetup, and depending on the language capacity, but we can do one online. If anybody wants to come online event, we’re happy to welcome you, so let us know.

Angela:

Thank you.

Amy:

It’s been so wonderful having you with us today. Before we go can you tell everybody where they can find you online?

Naoko:

So my website is naoko.blog and my Twitter handle is @naokomc.

Speaker 1:

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