I am very glad to present my first interview for PHPWomen with NancyW
NancyW – a well known drupal developer, documentation contributor, module developer/maintainer apart from these a prestigious WOMEN in the world of opensource.Here in this part of the interview she shares few of her experiences with us giving motivation to the fellow new comers (especially women new comers into open source).
1. Can you give us a walk through about what is that ‘PMP’ all about?
It stands for “Project Management Professional.” It’s a professional certification for project managers and is administered by the Project Management Institute (PMI). To obtain the certification, one must demonstrate having met certain education and experience requirements – and pass a hellacious test. You could look at it as like a “CPA” for project managers.
2. What was your college major?
Okay, no laughing! My major was physics. Of course that required a minor in math. To help with my homework, which had a lot of plug-in-the-numbers-and-turn-the-crank, I took a Fortran course. That turned into an intensive minor than almost became a second major. I did look at graduate school in computer science, but there was no real “standard” curriculum between schools then and my undergraduate studies were almost the same as the graduate school, so I just went to work as a programmer.
3. Which is your major interest – management or technology?
Yes and no.
I originally went into management because I had pretty much exhausted technology in the mainframe environment, which is where I was at the time. Then I was asked, because of my planning skills, to lead a project that involved the technology I knew so well. That was the birth of the project manager. Management without the headache part; new challenges on every project! I can learn as much or as little as I want about the technology involved. So, I guess you could say my interest is really in challenge. (Does anyone know about the “DaVinci” personality?)
4. How did you find interest in Drupal all the way from project management?
This is a somewhat condensed version of the whole boring story.
I had begun learning HTML several years ago and knew enough to be dangerous. After my husband died and being unemployed, I created a web site for me to try to organize the things I had written (and myself). Along the way, some trouble started brewing in a group to which some friends belonged and they expected it to get worse, so they asked me to prepare in case their web site to go away suddenly. When their fears came true, I was able to quickly get their site back up with some improvements.
Unfortunately, both that site and mine were using frames, and I found out that search engines don’t like frames. Converting to non-frames wasn’t hard, but maintaining the navigation was. During my time with IBM, I had a [very] slight knowledge of content management systems, so I decided to look into it. I don’t remember why, but I started looking at XOOPs, but they couldn’t keep their documentation servers up long enough for me to get a grasp on how to proceed.
So I started looking at Drupal and liked it. It did everything I needed – and a whole lot more. I downloaded it (using the package from DeveloperSode.net) and started playing. Converting my site that was all static pages is pretty close to trivial for Drupal, so it went quickly. Then my host didn’t like that I bothered them with questions and they pulled the plug suddenly on both of the sites. I found a new host in a matter of minutes and transferred my site; it was down for less than two hours. The other site still had to be converted to Drupal, but I had time while the registrar released the domain (that was a major hassle). To make it short, when the domain finally got released – a week later – I had the new, Drupal-based, site ready and it went right up. I haven’t looked back.
Since then I have created several more sites, some live, some just for me (on my PC). All of them use Drupal. I got involved on the Drupal forums as a way to help me learn more. I wrote a “book” to help other newcomers get up to speed. Then I started getting people asking for help, so Nancy-the-Drupal-web-site-builder was born. Then I needed to do something that didn’t work quite right in core Drupal, so I developed a module (an add-on feature), with help from another helpful soul, to do it. Since then I’ve written several more modules and a lot more documentation. [I'm actually a bit amazed at all that I have done in the first year with Drupal.]
5. Can you list out your best as well worst experiences that you have come across in your career path?
At the risk of sounding philosophical, I’ve come to feel that experiences are neither “good” not “bad.” They simply are; and each one contributes to who you are now. Hopefully one learns something from all those experiences whether others consider them good or bad. Having said that, let me try to answer your question.
When I joined IBM, I didn’t know that project management was something you could study, let alone be certified in. I just thought you either had a knack for it or didn’t. So I learned a lot about project management from IBM’s education and I try to pass it on when I get the chance.
Another thing I learned from IBM was how to be a consultant. Not everyone is cut out for it. In some ways it’s harder than being someone’s employee.
As for “bad” experiences, one of my most traumatic also came from IBM: being laid off for the first time (along with about half their workforce). For the first time in my life I was unemployed involuntarily. This was a big shock and an unpleasant education.
6. Have you ever had problems with people not taking you seriously because of who you are or your background?
Yes, this has happened, and will probably continue. People from all over the world adopt OS applications so you run into people from cultures where women are not supposed to work or are considered second-class citizens. You have to try to ignore those attitudes and move on.
The second problem I’ve run into, and it should diminish over time, is that I’m new to OS, so people think I can’t possibly know what I’m doing. This is largely the error of the young – they have trouble realizing that experience elsewhere can be carried over to the new environment. For example, while I am new to PHP, I have been programming for over 30 years so organizing my thoughts into a program, whatever language it is written in, is nothing new. Those who started with, or have only used, PHP may have trouble realizing that my experience gives me a leg up.
And then that brings me to some attitudes I have run up against with Drupal. Being new AND a woman, many don’t take me seriously – including other women. There was one module that I was told that I couldn’t write. What a shock when I did!
But there are still those within the Drupal community who belittle me, even though I am now the fourth highest contributor to the documentation and have (at this writing) contributed six modules (more on the way) and taken on co-maintainer status on three others. What’s a girl to do?
7. What are your likes/dislikes about open source?
Hmm, this may be a case where the two are intertwined; that is that the things you like may also be the things you dislike.
I like having the source code, particularly when I’m having trouble understanding the application. It allows me to dig in and find out what it does (as opposed to what it “should” do). This can be a double-edged sword: reading and understanding the code takes time away from implementing it.
I like being able to extend or improve the code, but, again, this takes more time than asking someone else to do it.
Often OS applications are written (and maintained) by people who do not make much, if any, money from it. That means that her or his motivation to make improvements waxes and wanes with their interest and other circumstances. This may very well place the burden of fixes or improvements upon you, the adopter. Further, submitting those changes also takes time and energy. But, on the positive side, you get those changes on your schedule, not theirs.
8. Any advice from your side to newcomers to the field of open source?
These first two things I learned a long time ago, but many people don’t seem to have realized them:
· The computer is a high-speed moron. Barring electronics breakdowns, it does what you tell it to, when you tell it, and only what you tell it. If you don’t get the results you wanted, you made the mistake. Note that “you” here is plural – it includes the programmer as well.
· Don’t be afraid of the computer. It has no feelings or ulterior motives; it does not intend to scare you. If it “breaks,” it deserved it; someone didn’t do his or her job right.
Here is a bit of advice more specific to open source:
· Since the developers are often poor documenters, a good way to start is to contribute by writing better documentation. You will learn more and the developer will usually be happy that you did.
· Most OS applications have forums (or is that fora) for discussion, questions, issues, etc. Get involved; it’s a great way to learn.
· If you find a bug or need a new feature, make the change and contribute the changes (a “patch”). Most developers also welcome this. Be prepared to explain why the change is needed (also called a “use case”).
9. Can you tell us more about yourself? – Something about how you started your career, how was your journey, what are your present assignments, etc.
Well, I mentioned earlier that I started programming to help with homework. When I left college, I got a job with the State of South Carolina as a programmer. For several reasons, that led me into being a systems programmer – at that time, this was the person who maintained the operating system on your mainframe (there were no PCs then). I stayed in that role, evolving with the operating systems, for about 15 years, then became the manager over a staff of systems programmers. Then there was a need for someone to oversee a project for another division and I filled in doing that. That led to my becoming the “Manager of Special Projects” for the company.
After that, my husband and I started our own franchised business. That didn’t work out as we planned, so I went back to work as a programmer, eventually moving back into being a project manager at a large credit card processing center. But we didn’t like California, so when IBM came along, I moved. That got me into being a consulting project manager until I got laid off (the second time).
At that point my husband was noticing some serious physical problems and the job market for project managers was almost non-existent. We eventually found out it was terminal (ALS) so I decided to stop beating my head against the employment wall for a while to stay with him. After his death there was still not much of a job market and our savings were almost gone. My mother needed a caregiver so I started doing that.
I mentioned above how that morphed into doing web sites, and that’s where I am today.
10. How do you manage your time among all these things?
Poorly! My personality style is that I tend to work on what I want to at the time. This is not good when you want to work for someone else – they want your undivided attention. I am much better at managing other people’s time than my own.
11. What are your other hobbies?
Well, at the moment, I don’t have the time or money to do much, so I guess that my current “hobby” is improving, extending, and promoting Drupal.
When I had regular, gainful employment, I enjoyed “artsy” type photography, landscaping, and sailing. Unfortunately, circumstances caused me to lose my sailing partner and boat, so that’s gone. The other two I just can’t afford.