Episode 2: Michelle Frechette cover art

Episode 2: Michelle Frechette

Michelle is the host of WPCoffeeTalk, head of customer service at GiveWP and fellow WordCamp organizer.


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Christina: Thanks for joining us at wp_contribute(). Today I have the pleasure of introducing you to Michelle Frechette, host of WPCoffeeTalk, head of customer service at GiveWP and fellow WordCamp organizer. Welcome Michelle.

Michelle: Hey, thanks for having me, Christina. It’s really good to be here.

Christina: It’s awesome to have you. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself in terms of the WordPress world?

Michelle: Well, people might better know me as Michelle Ames, but I did just change my name. So that’s why it’s Michelle Frechette now. But if I sound like Michelle Ames is because I still am the same person. And I’m in Rochester, New York. I do work for GiveWP. I’m the head of customer success there. And I have an office here in Rochester, New York, where I have people that work here with me and we all work for Give and you know, working with our customers things like that. I’ve been attending WordCamps for years and organizing for years too. I’ve been organizing WordCamp for about five years now. And this past year was really, really lucky to be on the WCUS, the WordCamp US team with you and with a bunch of other people too –

Christina: Yep!

Michelle: – Down in St. Louis and you know, contributing to the WordCamp US experience down there. So that was a lot of fun too. Other than that, I enjoy photography. I like to write. Like you said, I have WPCoffeeTalk is the podcast that I interviewed you on past summer. So that was exciting. And I just started a blog called Camping with Words, which is all about how you can participate and WordCamps, and some tips and tricks there. So yeah, so I guess you could say I love the WordPress community.

Christina: I think it’s safe to say the WordPress community loves you, too.

Michelle: Aw, thank you. It’s mutual.

Christina: So you mentioned of course, um, contributing with organizing through WordCamps. But I suspect that you contribute a few other ways in some other teams outside of community?

Michelle: I do actually. I am on the marketing team. And so I, I said most of the marketing stand up meetings that we have on on Wednesday mornings, unless I’ve got a conflict. And, you know, I’ve been part of the, what do you call it, uh showcase redesign, working with Harry Jackson and some other people that. I frequently take the minutes for that meeting and post those up there too. And, yeah, I guess, between organizing and marketing, that’s pretty much my thing. I haven’t done much with any of the other teams. I have posted some videos to the WordPress TV, but I’m not actually on the TV team.

Christina: That technically counts though.

Michelle: Okay.

Christina: As contributing, but I hear what you mean. You’re not a continual contributor on the team.

Michelle: Right? Yeah. And I like to think that a lot of the other thing is that I do contribute, even though there aren’t technically a contributing kind of thing.

Christina: Absolutely, yeah, for sure. So I don’t know if you remember, but do you know your contributor origin story?

Michelle: So I guess it would go back to the first time that, I mean if we’re going to talk about contributing being almost anything that you can do,

Christina: For sure.

Michelle: Probably the first time that I spoke at a WordCamp. I had been to WordCamp us the first one, and had sat down at the community table and talked to who I now know is Andrea Middleton. At the time, I couldn’t I couldn’t remember her name. I walked away like so confused with everything like oh my gosh, I can really do this. And said to her, you know, we’ve happened to meet up in Rochester. And I was thinking it a year or two, we might have a WordCamp and she said, Why wait a year or two. Let’s just do it. And I was like, Okay.

Christina: I’m familiar with that feeling.

Michelle: Yeah, so I actually reached out to the WordCamp Buffalo folks and said, Hey, can I help you guys with anything, so I can kinda learn the ropes. And so I actually joined their, their team as their social media. So I was posting everything out to Twitter and Facebook, etc. and became part of their team. And that’s the first WordCamp I spoke at. And so I kind of dipped my toes in the contributing field by doing all that, and you know, and one of my favorite ways to contribute is just to sit at the happiness bar, help desk, happiness or whatever, we’re calling it at any Camp, and just help other people there too. Even though I’m not really a developer, and I don’t do a lot of coding. You don’t have to really help people out at the happiness bar. So I guess that’s my origin story.

Christina: Cool. With the happiness bar, can you give us some examples of some people, or some problems or issues that you helped out with there?

Michelle: Sure. So sometimes it’s the help is, wow, I don’t know how to do that. But I bet so and so does, and directing them to somebody who can help, right rather than just sit there and like, trying to figure, like make something up. But I’ve been able to help people with some CSS issues. I’ve been able to help people find the right plugins for the things that they wanted to do. And just kind of, you know, generally, help like somebody will show me their site, and I’ll say, oh did you know you should set your permalinks? And they’re like, what are permalinks that I can explain permalinks and, you know, get the get the URLs a little bit tight here and things like that. So just, you know, just some basic tips and tricks here and there that I think have been helpful to people.

Christina: Definitely. Lots of things that your average user still doesn’t necessarily know because there’s so much to know. Right?

Michelle: Exactly, exactly.

Christina: Excellent. And what would you say is your proudest contribution moment?

Michelle: Uh, gosh, it’s um, I probably have a couple that really vie for top proudest. One of my proudest moments was earlier this year, back in the spring, I got a Facebook message from, from Megan Rose down at WordCamp Kent, asking if I was going to be coming to WordCamp Kent again this year. And I said, Well, I guess I will. I hadn’t really thought about it too much. But yeah, I can I can come and she said, Good. Will you be our keynote speaker. Like, the goosebumps went up and down my arms. I was like, glad she hadn’t called me because I burst into tears. I was so excited, so happy. And so that actually was just seriously one of my proudest moments. And I was able to give that keynote talk to two other Camps this year as well. So I was a keynote speaker three times this year, which was exciting. But being asked and to be part of the WordCamp US organizing team was also really, really exciting for me and one of my proudest moments, as far as contributing to the overall WordPress community.

Christina: Yeah, I think that was one for me too. There’s something special about that. I don’t know.

Michelle: Absolutely. If you like your I mean, like everybody’s part of the community. But when you get to organize an event of that magnitude, you feel like you kind of joined a special club, you know that we all have this camaraderie that’s just really, experienced those things together. And even though we do it all remotely, you just feel this bonding with other people. And it’s not exclusive of a, you know, other community members. It’s just a shared experience that makes you feel that, I don’t know, that’s something special about having been part of it.

Christina: Yeah. And it’s another way to expand your circle within the WordPress community as well. Right?

Michelle: Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah.

Christina: Awesome. So you mentioned with the marketing team, that you were doing some work on the Showcase? Can you explain that a bit more?

Michelle: Yeah, so we’ve been redesigning how the showcase works. So that the showcase, you know, being the sites that have been built and submitted, built with WordPress and submitted, things like, gosh, I can’t remember now what, what ones are actually like, but I remember looking through the showcase like, I don’t know, four or five years ago going, Yeah, I wonder what the showcase thing is. And I’m like, wow, Vogue Europe uses, you know, WordPress. Wow, like, the New York Times uses WordPress, wow Barnum and Bailey Circus, which doesn’t exist anymore. And so does Justin Bieber, and so does you know all these like big names, celebrities, and I was like, that’s pretty cool. But something like that can’t just like sit and and languish. So just like any good website, you need to redesign every once in a while. And so we’ve been working on redesigning how the showcase is displayed and how people can interact with the information that’s there. Also, coming up with a way to make sure that sites that no longer exist aren’t being referenced against there or we all know that sometimes sites move off of WordPress and into something else, we don’t want to put a showcase site that is no longer using WordPress. So we want to, you know, we’ve kind of come up with some checks and balances to make sure that all those things happen.

Christina: That’s a good plan. And so that’s all on the marketing team. That’s awesome.

Michelle: Yeah. So we kind of help design that. And then I mean, we could come up with what goes in there, and that we work with the design team, of course, because then the design team is going to step in and actually make it happen.

Christina: Right, awesome. Excellent. Alright. And so another question I have for you is, and this may be a couple of answers as well because you’ve got a couple of different ways that you’re contributing. But why do you contribute what’s behind your reasoning for wanting to be involved?

Michelle: So for me, it’s not just a love of WordPress, it’s also a pay it forward pay it back kind of situation. When I first started learning WordPress, I told the story before so I’ll just give you the quick version is my best friend, my best friend and I started a nonprofit. We needed a website. Her husband was a WordPress builder. He built us a website, we started sending him content and he was like, no. I built it but you’re gonna put the content in there, and we’re like, Oh, you know, what do I do with that? And so he gave us logins and we had to learn how to use WordPress. So I was like, this is really, I love this. I love working with WordPress, I love putting something like typing something up and then it lives on the internet where people could see it and interact with it. And so I was really like, excited and so I bought a domain. And I was like, well, I’ve got a domain. How the heck do I get it on the internet? You know, because I had no idea how to go from having a domain to having a website, ya know, so I sat down with him. I made dinner for their family because she worked nights. I sat down with him after the kids are going to bed before she got home, we sat down and he taught me how to do WordPress, how to purchase a hosting plan, how to connect my URL to the hosting plan, how to install WordPress. And then I was like the lights all came on, I understood how the circuit is completed. But you know, you didn’t charge me for that, I’ve been making dinner. And, you know, through the years, as I was like, gosh I can’t figure out how to change this button color, or how do I make the font bigger? Or, you know, my text is all the way up against the edge? How do I give this, you know, space around the edge, you know, so people have showed me how to find, how to change the padding, and how to use CSS to change colors. And, you know, nobody charged me to help me. And so I want to be able to give back to the same community that helps me build a career and helped me find my home. So, you know, people say, you know, if you if you are part of an organization, that’s great. If that organization feels like family, that’s even better. And so WordPress to me is like family. I tell people in the WordPress community, I love them. And I do! Their, their, that… I love my friends and I want them to know that I have that feeling for them. So So yeah, so for me, you know, contributing is a part of being, giving back to that whole community that that has just enveloped me.

Christina: Wonderful. Excellent. Do you have any advice for people who haven’t contributed yet or haven’t done too much and want to get involved?

Michelle: Absolutely. I think one of the best things you could do is talk to somebody who is involved, because they know how to kind of navigate rather than just kind of like jumping in and going here I am. What do I do? If you know somebody, if you see people tweeting, if you see people at a meetup and you really want to get involved, ask. Ask them how they did that. Maybe you could help by starting by speaking at a meetup and sharing what you know, maybe you can you know, start with the happiness desk…happiness bar, look I just put those two things together, the support desk happiness bar. Maybe they, maybe they need people who can volunteer at WordCamp, or help organize WordCamp. And once you start to kind of get involved in those things, you can see the bigger picture and where you might be able to fit. And other people can certainly direct you into those places, too. I mean, some people just stumble into the right place. And then, you know, fortuitous. Other people, you know, join a Slack channel and they feel like they’ve been run over by a Mack Truck by the end of the day, because they don’t have any context built into their experience. So I think if you can buddy up with somebody who is willing to show you the ropes, kind of introduce you to different things you can do, you’re less likely to feel like spinning in the wind and more likely to feel like you have a direction to contribute.

Christina: Sounds good. That’s pretty good advice, I’d say. So I have a question that it has nothing really to do with contributing, but, I love Wapuu. And so,

Michelle: Me too, yeah!

Christina: So I want to know if you had to pick one who would you say, or which Wapuu would you say is your favorite?

Michelle: Well, this was easy for me because I am a huge Wonder Woman fan. And there is a Wonder Woman Wapuu. So she’s, I have about, I don’t know, 80 or 90 Wapuus on the bulletin board right in front of me right now. And she has a place of honor on my bulletin board. And she is actually a Wapuu pin as well, but if I could, you know, also say I have a second favorite. Actually, I created a Wapuu this year. I did a guest, I did, I did a guest blog post on Michelle Butcher Jones’ Can’t Speak Geek website. And it was about how to build a blog only I wrote it like Dr. Seuss. So it’s a poem like Dr. Seuss. So I created the WaSeuss.

Christina: Oh neat! So, can you describe that for us?

Michelle: I can. So his tummy like where usually you’ll see a ball or some other thing is it’s like one of those optical illusions spirals, like goes into a cone on his stomach. He’s got a top hat. It’s got all different funny colors on it. He’s blue, and his tail is different colored stripes.

Christina: Oh, neat!

Michelle: So yeah, he’s like that. I’ll send it I’ll send them to you later.

Christina: Yeah, I don’t think I’ve seen him yet. I have seen the Wonder Woman one. And I was expecting that that’s who you would say, but you never know.

Michelle: Yeah, well see, this is a little bit lesser known because I, you know, I just created him this year. And he lives on that one blog post. So we should get him out and you know, he’s a little shy that maybe he could be out in the world.

Christina: Yeah. And should we should get him into the archive.

Michelle: There you go. I should absolutely. I’ll just submit him.

Christina: Awesome. Excellent. Well, I think that is all my questions about contributing unless there’s something else that you wanted to mention in terms of your contributing experience?

Michelle: You know, one of the things I would say as contributor days are really fun ways to kind of get your feet wet. So if you have an opportunity, like a lot of local Camps, you know, the smaller local camps don’t necessarily have a contributor day. So it’s not an opportunity there. But some of the bigger camps definitely do. And I know like, some of the ones in Florida do, I don’t know if yours does where you are. But

Christina: We might soon. We have we’ve had a standalone one. It was our first one ever this year. And we’re thinking we’re toying with the idea of including it with our WordCamp in May. To be determined. It’s not, shortly after.

Michelle: There you go. So if you have the opportunity to, to sit at contributor day, pick a group that you’d like to work with for the day, there are 18 different contributor groups that you can pick from. I know that because I wrote a blog post about it recently. As a matter fact, next week, it’ll be on advancedwp.org about how you can contribute and how contributor days have actually move WordPress forward and advances WordPress. So I have to share that with you too. But But yeah, Contributor Day is a great way to kind of get your feet wet see what what kind of projects they’re are working on that day, and have a way to contribute in the short term and find where your passion might lie to contribute in the long term too. So and you know, there’s always free food and who doesn’t like free food?

Christina: True and I can’t believe I forgot to ask you about Contributor Day of all the questions.

Michelle: Oh, that’s ok. You know, as a podcaster, sometimes it’s hard to remember questions I know cuz I do the same thing.

Christina: That’s so true. And one of the things I love about Contributor Day, in addition to everything that you mentioned, is that if you, you can sample, too, right, like you don’t have to stay where you sit. So you can test out different things, talk to different people and have some opportunities.

Michelle: Yeah, if you ever figure out what the tide group is, please let me know because I still don’t quite understand it.

Christina: I kind of did. I have to admit, it was my mission for this year because I felt like, as somebody organizing contributor days, I should probably know what it is, other than a laundry detergent. And I’m sure they’re tired of hearing that joke, but it just doesn’t get old. So and I even know where the name tide came from, which is probably what I remember the most. It has something to do with a tide, the tide raises all ships or something to do with…

Michelle: Oh, yeah

Christina: You know what I mean? And so, and that’s all, I can’t actually remember how to explain the team now, but

Michelle: It has to do with testing I think, right.

Christina: Yeah, it has to do with testing and making sure that all, all, everything is working well.

Michelle: Yeah. There’s a log of automation involved, too, is from what I understand, but

Christina: Yes, we will have somebody, we will get somebody from tide on the podcast, who will explain it very well and it will stay drilled in my head so that I won’t fumble the answer anymore.

Michelle: There you go. Like, TV is easy to understand, marketing and all that, you can figure out with documentation. And then you come to this tide and you’re like,

Christina: Yeah, it’s the hardest one

Michelle: My flight had to leave and I couldn’t stay for Contributor Day this year like I had expected to. But this is what I plan to do at the WordCamp US next year is I’m going to walk up to the tide table and say, is this the tide pod?

Christina: That’s awesome.

Michelle: And they’re gonna groan and I’m gonna laugh like I’m the funniest thing that ever hit Contributor Day. But it’s ok. It’ll be fun. That’s my, my best piece of advice to people is that you can find a way to contribute at your level. Whether it’s your level socially, emotionally. So whether you’re shy, you can still find a way to contribute. Whether you don’t think that you’re technical enough, I promise you, you don’t need to be technical, to be able to contribute to Contributor Day. So find your niche and find somebody to buddy up with that can kind of take that stress and, you know, the anxiety out of contributing, because it’s just, it opens up an amazing world of, you can over contribute, like as far as your schedule goes, right? So

Christina: Yeah, don’t burn out.

Michelle: Don’t, exactly, don’t burn out on it. But find a way, whether it’s a you know, big or small, to, to join the community in a way that you know, you can give and take from because I swear, the more I contribute, the more I get.

Christina: Yeah, and I find, you mentioned that the first time when you were talking to Andrea, and I almost called her Michelle, because you’ve mentioned both, um, and it was, you know, you had plans for something in the future. And she said, why not just now and then you took a step. You started it. And then from there a whole world of opportunities has opened up, right. And that’s how I look at it too. It’s, it’s, I find contributor day, especially hard to explain to people. But once you’ve experienced it, you get it. And then it just keeps growing.

Michelle: Yeah, it’s kind of like a hackathon in a way except it’s not all code, right? It’s a way for everybody to just kind of like, hey, for the next six hours, we’re we’re going to just move this thing forward as much as they can.

Christina: Yeah. Awesome.

Michelle: Pretty, pretty cool.

Christina: Ya it is. Excellent. Well, thank you for joining me today. And

Michelle: It’s been my pleasure.

Christina: Can you tell everybody where they can find you online if they want to get in touch and maybe be your buddy?

Michelle: Absolutely! If you want to be my buddy, you can find me. I’m not changing my Twitter, Twitter handle because I don’t want to change that URL. So my Twitter is @michelleames and that’s with two L’s: m i c h e l l e a m e s @michelleames. My website is worksbymichelle.com, and my podcast is wpcoffeetalk.com and all my social links are on all those websites as well.

Christina: Awesome. Thank you so much.

Michelle: Oh it’s my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

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